Jeff Gunn: Sharing the Joy of Music

Jeff Gunn  is Juno Award nominated guitarist, songwriter and producer for his work on Emmanuel Jal's The Key (Gatwitch/Universal). He is the author of the Hidden Sounds: Discover Your Own Method on Guitar (Mayfair Music Publications) and a regular guitar tips contributor in print and film with Acoustic Guitar Magazine, Guitar World, Canadian Musician, Overdrive (Thailand), The Guitar Mag (Thailand), and he is a contributor with National Geographic History Magazine. He co-wrote the song "Scars" with Jal and Nelly Furtado for the film The Good Lie (Warner Brothers) soundtrack. Jeff has performed at the United Nations, Glastonbury, Dalai Lama One World Concert, SXSW, John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Jimmy Kimmels Annual Italian Festival, Juno Awards Songwriters Circle, and the Grammy Museum concert series in honour of Bob Marley. In Fall 2017, Jeff released his debut solo guitar album All The Roads We Take. All The Roads We Take is a collection of sonic stories base Springsteen fs world travels as a musician, writer and backpacker to more than 100 countries. He aims to capture the emotion and wonder of these journeys while exploring the creative sonic possibilities of the guitar. Recently,  he did Hidden Sounds Guitar Workshop and performed  songs from All The Roads We Take at the Alliance Française du Bengale organised by the Calcutta Classical Guitar Society.  

How has your relationship with music evolved over time?

Music is a huge part of my life. It has allowed me to travel the world and connect with people from a range of cultures and all walks of life that I otherwise could not image happening. Music changed my life at the age of 14. I had always loved music as and would often play beats and rhythms on my Grandmothers pots and pans as a 3 year old kid. I still remember my Dad coming home after work and presenting me with my birthday gift which also my first record, Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA album. I knew the lyrics for every song and would spend hours singing along and dancing as if I were on stage when I played the record. I loved music but it was not until I was 13 or 14 and spent a summer listening to all of my Dads records like Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Beatles and The Doors that I was called to play the guitar. I immediately devoted all of my free time to playing guitar, learning guitar and writing songs.  I started my first band at 14 years old only knowing 3 or 4 chords. I knew then that I wanted to be a musician as it brought the most joy and happiness I had ever experienced.  I went to York University for the Music Program and studied Jazz guitar. I also earned my Bed in Music. However, I did not take the teacher route following graduation. From 24 years old until now, I have made either my entire living or a significant part from live performances, songwriting, delivering workshops and writing for guitar magazines. I have found a lot of joy in having a number of musical outlets, playing a live show, teaching, publishing a guitar tips article with Acoustic Guitar Magazine, Guitar World, Canadian Musician, or scoring an animation or songwriting with an artist. All of these outlets offer a way of sharing music. I love them all. Music has been and will always be a huge part of my life. I never take it for granted and make a promise to give 110% every performance or event I do whether on solo guitar or with a band. One thing that has never changed since I began playing guitar is that I still get excited like a kid running in the ocean when I perform on guitar.  Performing for me is the highest state. Its about service and being a vessel for the audience. For their happiness. Overall, music has been a huge source of joy in my life and I am grateful for every opportunity.

Pic courtesy - Darrin Davis
What would you say was the most cherished moment in your professional career?

Its hard to break it down to one moment. So, Ill give you two. One was opening with Emmanuel Jal for Peter Gabriel at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. I grew up listing to Peter Gabriel and watching his Secret World Live Tour DVD probably one thousand times. I had always been inspired by his collaboration with musicians from a variety of global backgrounds. I remember arriving for our sound check at the Roseland Ballroom and as I entered I heard In Your Eyes and on stage was Peter Gabriel and his band doing their sound check. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I was consumed by the beauty and power of that song.  It was a surreal moment only topped by talking with Peter backstage following our set and he told me something I will never forget; he told me I was a great guitar player. This meant so much to me. The second moment that sticks out was playing the Dalai Lama One World Concert at the Syracuse Dome in NY. It is to date the largest concert I have played, which had a crowd of 26,000. I remember during out soundcheck just looking out at the huge space and thinking how lucky I was to play for all those people that night. After our soundcheck, Dave Matthews came on and did his soundcheck. It was only myself and author Roxana Saberi in the front row seats as I recall and Dave playing his songs on solo guitar. It was very special. That evening I walked onto the stage with Jal and our featured guest Swizz Beatz (Alicia Keys husband) and performed our songs to a huge crowd. I remember the immense joy and love I felt and a connection with the audience. A oneness that was so powerful. I also remember I almost cried I was so happy. Its the level you work for your whole career as a musician and it felt so good to play at that level.

You've collaborated on projects with a number of musicians over the years. What do you look for when you are collaborating with any musician?

Overall, I try to work with artists who have something to say and whose music makes the world a better place. I find that many collaborations just happen. Sometimes I get invited to record with an artist, while at other times I reach out and pitch an idea. There is no saying which is the best way. In terms of recording collaborations, I have landed songs I co-wrote on two Hollywood soundtracks including The Good Lie (Warner Brothers 2014) and The Black Prince: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture (Rukus Avenue 2017) and both of these were the result of a spontaneous collaboration with Emmanuel Jal and Nelly Furtado. I played guitars, co-wrote and co-produced 5 songs on Emmanuel Jals Juno-nominated album The Key (Gatwitch/Universal 2014), which was such an incredible experience contributing to the album, which also featured Nile Rodgers, Peter Gabriel, DMC, and Nelly Furtado.  Other times, I have reached out to artists and it works sometimes while others for a number of reasons beyond your control not so. Still other times, I have been invited to co-write and contribute guitars on a number of albums including my co-arrangement of Annie Lennoxs Why on Dwayne Brittons self-titled album (LML Music 2009), contribute guitars on Rayzaks Water, which was produced by Brian West. I am also involved in a collaborative project with multimedia artist Terrence Jon in which music and art come together in an interactive multi-media performance and experience.  Regardless of who I am working with, I am always mindful thatfrom every experience you learn and develop your craft further.

Pic courtesy - Stephanie Kretzschmer
You tour the globe as lead guitarist with singer/activist Emmanuel Jal .What is it about Jal as a person or musician that makes it so easy for you to musically gel or get along with him?

Let me say that over the past 8 years, Jal has become family to me. I have been lucky to perform with him in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia.  Even after 8 years, I am inspired by the power and sincerity of his performance.  Ive seen a lot of powerhouse performers, and Id put Jal up there with the best of them. Whether playing to 100 or 26,000, Jal has the ability to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Its a rare gift.  Night after night, he gives 110% of his energy and he inspired me to do the same.  Musically, my own performance style has been inspired by everything from Reggae to Rock and Malian guitar music. The cool thing is that Jal writes in a number of musical styles and this is exactly where I feel comfortable playing. One song we rock out and the other is an African inspired ballad. My strength as a guitarist is my versatility and ability to perform and write original music in a number of genres.I think we click on stage musically because we both understand that we are involved in service. We are here for the crowd and are giving everything to the crowd to make sure they have the best time they can. Its our job. Beyond the stage, Jal is one of the most generous individuals I have ever met. He always speaks the truth without fear and I look forward to a lifetime of friendship with him. He will always be a dear friend to me. 

Can you describe how a concept of song of yours is born?

As I have gotten older I have become more self-aware. That is to say, I am open to musical ideas all of the time whether is walking down the street or when I am sitting with the guitar on my couch. I find myself inspired to write music most of the time. Often, an idea will just come to me; a melody, a progression on guitar, ukulele or piano/keys.  I will record it and keep coming back to it until it is ready. Travel is a huge influence on my writing. After going to West Africa I wrote Starlight; after going to a festival on the Mekong in Thailand, I wrote Candle Lanterns and after hanging with Antoine Dufour in his studio I wrote Everything You Ever Wanted, the first two of which appear on my debut fingerstyle album All The Roads We Take (2017). I write instrumental and songs with lyrics. There have been times when I have sat with a singer and we had a few hours to come up with something. There is more pressure here especially if you are in a studio. But it is fun and usually something good comes out of it. I like to write the music and come with a melody and then present it to a singer. However, I had also had the experience of a singer coming to me with a melody and having to come up with the music for it. Both ways are enjoyable and present their own challenges.  One of the coolest experiences where a song was jammed into existence was when I performed with Jal at the Warchild Concert 2014 in London, UK. I was working on a riff and Jal went on drums and played a beat. Suddenly, Marcus Mumford from Mumford & Sons (we were opening the night for Marcus, Ellie Goulding and Emeli Sande) walked in our room sat at the piano and improvised a solo on our new creation. It was spontaneous and an experience I will not forget.

             calcutta classical guitar society

Do you teach or act as a musical mentor? If so, what areas do you emphasize with your students? 
I like to be a facilitator. I will show students the basic building blocks of music in order to get a strong foundation but I am careful to not tread on their creativity and force them into a mold.  When I teach, I want to inspire my students to find their own creative voice and feel the joy of expressing themselves musically. That is the goal of my Hidden Sounds Guitar Series (Mayfair Music Publications, 2012), to offer guitarists some interesting techniques and approaches that have enriched my own performance in the hope that they will be inspired to make their own discoveries and share them.

As someone who has toured far and wide, which places have resonated with you the most and why?

Let me start by saying that I am thankful for all of the crowds I have had the privilege of performing to everywhere.  As a solo guitarist, the crowds on my latest Hidden Sounds Tour in Asia including here in India have been very receptive and inspiring.  In terms of playing with Jal, I enjoyed opening with Jal for Xavier Rudd to huge crowds in Australia. The crowds were really engaged with the music. There are so many great festivals worldwide and I enjoy playing the festival circuit because besides the main set there is usually an interactive set with other musicians in which you play for one hour together. Playing an interactive set with Billy Bragg, Arrested Development and a Gospel set with Serena Ryder have been some festival highlights. The crowds at these sets are so focused on the performance, which usually has some kind of a theme binding the artists together.

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