Keeping Jazz alive is what Tyler Reese does. He is a guitar virtuoso, with wide experience in live performance, writing, production, and studio session work. From a young age, he always wanted to be a studio and session player.
Tyler is an innovator of Contemporary Instrumental music, particularly Jazz-Fusion. This music has a Jazz base, but it also contains rock, funk, rhythm and blues, fusion and orchestral.
At the age of three, he began studying classical piano. After he turned 11, he changed to guitar and by age 15, he was studying Jazz. Tyler was well known in his local area for many performances in his hometown through his teen years. He studied performance at the Berklee College of Music. Then came his studio session work and playing many venues and events all over the world.
Now focusing on a solo career, his latest Jazz-Fusion focused release “Reminiscence,” debuted on Billboard for Best Contemporary Jazz Album at #5.
He talks about his life and music career.
AG: How did you move from session player to solo?
Tyler Reese: It was always my dream to be a studio and session player. I followed that dream with intensity and focus, landing in Nashville at age 20. I was fortunate to have some very connected people looking out for me and got plugged in gigging 5-6 times a week in addition to studio work. So by age 23 had I become cynical, stagnant, and felt like I was losing my musical soul. I was boxed in, restricted, and dummied down.
The fix was simple, I needed to return to my jazz roots. The popular pathway of moving to a big music town to make a living and focus on getting the big “gig” was not the right direction for me. I needed to refocus on myself, and be free to explore my musical passion without distraction. The result of this was my latest album, Reminiscence, a catharsis of pent up ideas, and my return to musical fulfillment.
AG: You started very young, and took an interesting path!
Tyler Reese: My experience in music started at age three when my grandmother, Edith Dyal, started me on piano theory. She had a Doctorate in Music Education from Columbia University Teacher’s College, and teaching young children was her area of special interest. I studied with her on piano through high school. I started guitar lessons at age 10, and switched my focus to jazz from age 15. I went on to study guitar performance at the Berklee College of Music.
In high school, I gigged often in a number of bands of varying genre rock, metal, classic rock, pop, R&B, funk, blues, country, and jazz. In high school, I played the tenor sax for 4 years with the concert band. Nashville gigs were mostly rock and country, although my session work was more varied depending on who I was working with, and ranged a little further, including orchestral.
AG: You wanted to be the session musician. Why wasn’t it as fulfilling as you hoped?
Tyler Reese: I see myself as an artist, constantly evolving, with free flowing ideas. Music is my canvas, and what I found in Nashville was that I had to paint by numbers, and stay within the lines.
Jazz-based music is my place of peace, it allows me to paint outside the lines. It is dynamic, individual, fluid, free flowing and literally lets me put my experience and personality on a given piece of music making it my own.
AG: Your grandmother was a great teacher. Who else helped you, and what advice do you have for others who want a career in music?
Tyler Reese: I’ve had some wonderful teachers over the years who taught me the true message behind music, particularly jazz (Pat Metheny, Dave Fuze Fiuczynski, Julien Kasper, Lane Drum, Jeff Lockhart). My advice to others is to incorporate yourself into your major influences, take a little from them and add a whole lot of you. Take in all the theory you can possibly take, study different concepts and focus on fundamentals, but when it comes down to it, just play in your natural state. Feel the music and let it come to you.
AG: Why Jazz?
Tyler Reese: Jazz is a culture with traditions and history. It is a rapidly evolving and changing genre, that always respects and learns from it’s past. Music without an ego, it’s academic, focused, and sober. Through the years I would practice several hours a day and study the methods of every great jazz and fusion guitarist I could find.
My mission was not to be better or more accomplished in a competitive fashion, but to simply learn. My long-term goal is to have people respect me for my improvisational talent, and jazz is my vehicle.
It means much, much more to me to be able to capture a room of 30 focused listeners and take them on a journey, than playing a big show where all the nuance and intonation is lost on an audience there for the party.
AG: Tell me about jazz improvisation.
Tyler Reese: I was fortunate at age 20 to have been contacted by Prince. I had recently released an album which was a co-write I had done with one of his backup singers, Elisa Fiorillo Dease. It caught Prince’s attention, and he noticed my guitar playing. He was always very supportive of young talent, and enjoyed working with young musicians. He was among many other things, a teacher.
When I got the call, I freed up some time, and Prince flew me up to Paisley Park. At one point in particular, during the visit, he wanted to test me. He was looking for improvisation, to see if I was limited in my ideas, and to measure the depth of my knowledge in theory.
He was testing me with jazz. He paired me up with John Blackwell on drums and Andrew Gouche on bass, pulled up a chair 3 feet in front of me, sat down, and said “play.” I’m not sure how you measure time with Prince sitting 3 feet in front of you staring at your hands, but it felt like about 20 minutes before he finally said “ok, stop.”
The story ends well as he was very complimentary, but the point is, it all comes down to jazz. Jazz is the tool we inevitably use to probe the depth of music theory realized and how tightly it is bound to the musical soul.
AG: Where are you going next?
Tyler Reese: My varied experience takes my music in multiple directions, but it’s all based in jazz. I continue to find new challenges and learn every day. I want to experiment, explore new frontiers in music, and grow. Some refer to me as an old soul, but the truth is, I’m just fortunate enough to know where I want my musical journey to take me. It is simply a matter of drawing from the energy of the past and keeping jazz alive.
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