Jimmy Raney – the legend continues on the Internet(?)

photo by Doug Raney

photo by Doug Raney

One of the things that I consider a personal privilege is to have been able to see and hear my father, Jimmy Raney live. He always had this ability to hook you in – it’s a difficult talent to describe – where you are hanging on every note waiting for something great to happen. It’s something that only can be shared now via the few videos available I have posted and segmented on my YouTube channel. There are tons of dedication YouTube videos out there where free album tracks are posted under the gray area of “fair” or “educational” use of both Dad and Doug. (As if Spotify artist thousandth of a cent payouts weren’t piddly enough). I’ve also seen people posting themselves playing transcriptions of their solos for their own satisfaction and for the rest of us to see. I really don’t understand this practice but in the end I would have to say I’m personally flattered for my brother and father at their attempts. I also have encountered some live clips of my father’s playing that I never heard on at least 2 sites. The latter is a quite humorous and humble account by a Dutch guitarist whom was at a clinic of Jimmy’s in Holland in 1983.

Sometimes I shared these reminiscences of seeing live Raney with forum denizen, some time poster here and guitarist, Steve Cimino, who also shares his personal experiences of hearing him live and is one of his most ardent supporters on the former usenet board rec.music.makers.guitar.jazz (now Google Groups). The forum site has been around since the 90s and one of its earliest posters (if not THE earliest) is guitarist, Tony DeCaprio whom actually I had met when I was in diapers in Briarwood, Queens. He had studied with my father during the early sixties and often recounts his experiences of that time on the forum for the benefit of younger posters at the site who were not around at that time. I was posting there for a while until I ran into a troll there whom I’m not going to give the vain SEO benefit of mentioning his name on my own blog. Suffice to say he is from “down under”, has certain ideas about who can play and who can’t (despite his own playing short-comings which he has expunged carefully from the Internet), dismisses Jimmy Raney and other jazz guitar greats  and doesn’t have the capacity to understand what makes the players he insults great. He has done so on several sites getting himself banned from them. My personal recollections of Jimmy Raney admirers John Scofield and Pat Metheny (his heroes) were still not enough for him. In plain, there are certain assholes that are very content in their ignorance and force feeding reasonable arguments with such people is such a colossal waste of time that I realize my personal frustration at his audacity and narrow-mindedness was only inflaming his immense need to feel important. How one wakes up and decides to have these types of interactions on the Internet is beyond me, but let it be. It takes all kinds.

Any way back to the topic at hand, if you could catch a lesson with Dad or manage a conversation with him on a gig (given his tendency to sit in the corner to escape people) it was an unforgettable experience. His wit and intelligence of things related to the nature of music I would rank as some of the most sophisticated and true to life appraisals of the art. Those little bits of pithy wisdom are reflected on this video  and here as well. Given I consider myself principle spokesperson for all things Jimmy and Doug Raney I often Google their names to see what’s going on out there on the Net and who’s discussing them. The greater majority of times I find people who felt what I know to be true, they are great players deserving of much wider recognition. One of the funny facts in regards to my father is that he won the “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” award for Downbeat nearly a decade after he won the “New Star” and “Best Jazz Guitarist” awards.

Even as I speak I find more and more transcriptions out there by his fans and I’ve also seen YouTube guitar teacher channels that use his solos and parse some of his licks for the guitarists who seek to capture some of that magic for themselves. In the end I would have to say it’s all good but I would have to point out something that both Stephen and I have talked about which is that Jimmy Raney was not a “lick” player. He has certain vocabulary that is recognizable sure but I find that the more you concentrate on certain licks as the “playing itself” the more you dilute what was behind the thinking patterns of his “choices”. The parenthesis is intentional here as my father describes in the above video how that when improvisation is really clicking there is not really “choosing” going on at all as much as being in touch with the process utterly and completely that the choices are made of themselves. Another interesting point in the video as this immersion he describes as implications beyond music and into science. I think the fact that he talks about larger picture ideas is the very lesson you need to learn in order to approach playing like Jimmy Raney. You could become an expert in his licks but it would be better imitate his mindset and dedicated focus to zoning into the process that produces such licks.

Parsing my father’s approach is one of the things I find so debilitating in completing my 100+ page opus to my father. How do you think like Jimmy Raney and if you could would you really need a book? Playing like Jimmy Raney would literally mean walking thru his shoes, rejecting bad lines and incorporating only the ones that pass his very high bar and being around and recording with the best players in the world. This is something that is a rare privilege that is earned. To have that kind of self-belief is something that very few of us will attain. And even then this is creating discernible the path of his own creation. By his own account he can only describe his humble goals of just getting better and following that path logically.  I would sit and think of trying to break down the subtle concepts and found I had to invent new musical terms to describe these subtle details. I would literally have to immerse myself so deeply into the lines, playing along with them and imagining his mind as they were happening. I’d get an “aha” moment and find that by the time I could describe this multifaceted concept and all of its sub concepts to paper I suddenly became convinced it was impossible to do so.

Still let me not be elitist in this. There are many people who appreciate where they are on in the process and accept that ; Jimmy Raney’s lines, solos and records are constant source of inspiration to them. So let me not ruin that experience for them. Every person has the right to have their “aha” moment and perhaps be elevated to a level that hopefully  may be the catalyst that eventually has others admiring what they have to say musically. That is what my father’s goal was when he sat and transcribed Parker note for note. You never know. Each person has to be honest with themselves and be committed to improving and widening their musical scope. So in terms of the legend of Jimmy Raney, this Internet experience of Jimmy Raney’s notoriety is far beyond the “unsung hero” status he had been occupying all of his life before the Internet’s existence. Eventually I hope that this deserved recognition breaks thru the consciousness of the larger listening public. I often imagine things on TV – a documentary or the like.  And often things I imagine become reality – they just take a really long time. So let’s wait and see!

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