Andreas Öberg is today one of the most outstanding jazz guitar players in the world. Since 2004 he has released five albums under his name and one live DVD. He has also completed multiple international tours and has a very fast growing fan base.
Last year, he opened the Andreas Guitar Universe, an online music education platform powered by ArtistWorks. On May 24th, I had the privilege of chatting with Andreas, who was in Stockholm at the time.
Ernesto: By now, you have released several records. Each one of your albums seems to have a particular style/theme. There is your Gypsy Jazz album titled "Andreas Invites Yorgui & Ritary ". Then there's "Young Jazz Guitarist", which has a very traditional feel to it as well as "Solo" in 2006. "My Favourite Guitars" steps on different grounds completely. And "Six String Evolution" seems to go back into a traditional feel, but not entirely. Can you talk about the concept behind "Six String Evolution"?
Andreas: Me and my manager from Resonance records, Joseph A. Donofrio, we were planning to get a number of songs that would work with my style. We tried to find a platform where I could improvise and speak my musical language. We wanted to find songs that fit my style .
E: How do you define it?
A: Good harmonies and chord progressions that I enjoy playing and that I like.
E: There are different styles in it.
A: Yes, there's also songs that people can recognize. I took songs like "From The Bottom Of My Heart" and made them my own.
E: What is your next project going to sound like?
A: I don't know, but I'm interested in finding new audiences. I'm probably interested in doing something with house grooves. There's stuff I've done with different DJ's in the past. That's something I'd like to work on and that I like. If you go to my page in myspace.com you can find some of that material.
E: Tell us more about your personal style.
A: I check the old styles and try to combine them with new music, with energy. I have one foot in jazz history and one foot in the future.
E: How do you define your modern side?
A: It's more influenced by other instruments, for example [John] Coltrane, [Herbie] Hancock. I like some of fusion guitar players like Frank Gambale as well.
E: You obviously have developed a very advanced guitar technique. What can you say to guitar players about the balance between technique and musicality?
A: I practice to maintain my technique, but I always sing when I practice. My concept to improvising is to sing a solo. You don't have to have a guitar to practice, for example I practice when I'm in the car. I don't always have a guitar when I practice. It's important to learn fingerings, but music is about phrases too. I teach my students techniques such as practicing lines on one string, so they can focus more on the melody than the fingering.
E: What percentage of your preparation time do you dedicate to developing/maintaining your technique? What percentage to other aspects of music? (like theory)
A: 80% hearing harmonies, singing harmonies. Sitting in the car and improvising over songs. Hearing Autumm Leaves and singing [Andreas starts singing some improv lines to show his point]. Most of it I can do it without a guitar. That's a very efficient method. I can imagine it in my mind now. Then when I take my guitar I can start playing anytime and just continue with the voice. It's a really good exercise. It's important that when playing you communicate with musicians and the main thing is that you hear it. It's all about hearing, scales are just names.
E: I think I've heard references from you regarding relaxation as a way to achieve high speed.
A: I'm really relaxed when I play. My right hand specially. Relaxed when you play fast and slow, that's a good general rule.
E: Are you studying anything these days? Or learning something?
A: I learn all the time. If I hear a CD or the radio. I like to learn short phrasese and then try to incorporate them into my style.
E: By now, it's fair to say you have reached the point where you have influenced many guitar players around the world. Of all guitar players you've shared a stage with, which ones have left the biggest mark on you?
A: I haven't played with George Benson, who is one of my main influences. But I've played with Bireli Lagrene and Les Paul. They have been very important to my development. You get to learn something every time you play with great musicians. I've played with Martin Taylor and Jimmy Bruno (they both have online lessons powered by ArtistWorks). We all have different approaches.
E: Do you have a mentor?
A: No, I wouldn't say I have one. I've had different teachers, though.
E: What can you mention as your most important learning experiences in general (like your studies at the Royal Music Academy in Stockholm)?
A: To play on stage. That's where it's at. To be able to play on a stage. Playing in a room. That's the best way of learning. The lesson of playing live is priceless.
E: Let's talk about the Andreas Guitar Universe. It is a great example of using new technologies to the service of music.
A: The great thing about the AGU platform is that it enables me to teach to thousands of students. Everybody can watch my videos and the feedback I provide.
E: Have you learned from your students as well?
A: Sure. I always ask for feedback to students and I always try to improve my teaching. Lately I've noticed students want to know what to do next. When I started, I just gave them feedback. I now give them feedback and some tips about what to work on next.
E: How do you balance your tour schedule and the AGU?
A: It's great, I can bring my video equipment anywhere. I can still produce the same high quality videos while I'm away. I can look at the site anywhere. The site is designed for a touring teacher.
E: Are there any instructional books on the way?
A:I did one instructional book. But now with the AGU that's where I focus on. I believe more in this new concept. But maybe I'll do a new book sometime in the future.
E: Finally, this is probably one of the most common guitar questions. But it's always interesting nonetheless. What is your choice of gear and guitars? Are you still playing AJL guitars?
A: I use Benedetto for electric. I have 2. One Manhattan and one Bravo. And one AJL. I also use a Henriksen JazzAmp.
A: No, but sometimes I use pedals in the studio.
I hope you enjoyed this post and I want to thank Andreas for his time and for his insight on guitar and music in general.