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Jeff Wahl: Bio

I have been playing guitar for a lot longer than I have not been playing guitar. Does that make any sense? I play solo guitar and I have recently added singing to the mix as well, which feels great.

I grew up on a farm out on the eastern plains of Colorado. What a great place to grow up. All that space and all that sky. Amazing. People think of Colorado as a mountain state, but where I grew up, it was dry, flat plains as far as the eye could see - wonderful. I love the mountains too, but there is a special, quiet, sort of lonely beauty about the plains that is sort of breathtaking. I think that solitude and open-ness worked its way into the way I write music, it's just always been there, lots of silence and space.

I first played piano but I gave up on it because our family's piano was in the living room and I had to practice and make my mistakes in front of everyone. I next played trombone in the school band, and that instrument was great, if nothing else, for how cool it looks, and that slide! Amazing instrument. But, while I was pretty good at the trombone, I could never quite understand it too well because I couldn't "see" the notes. They were all inside that instrument somewhere or inside my lungs or something. I couldn't really visualize the notes or the theory of the music while playing that instrument. Cool though, and loud, like the trumpet's big brother.

I always wanted to play the guitar though, that was the one. I received a small, child's guitar as a Christmas gift when I was about 7 I think. I was shocked to learn that it didn't just jump to life in my hands, I had to practice. What?! Also, a string popped off of it one day and hit me in the eye. That scared me away from it for quite a while and that little guitar went back in it's case. I mostly used it as a prop in my air guitar fantasies after that.

So, a few years later, when I was 12 I think, I asked my dad to show me a few things on the guitar and to let me use his guitar to learn how to play. He showed me a few chords and let me borrow his Mel Bay guitar chord picture book. Did anyone else use those books? That book was great, photos of hands holding the chords, so useful. Things were going great until the "F chord." Do you know what I'm talking about? The F chord required you to hold down two strings with one finger, a mini barre chord. I struggled and struggled but could not do it to save my life. I eventually became so frustrated that I gave up and put the guitar away. Then I took up the bass guitar. I played the bass pretty successfully for about 6 months and had decided that was my instrument. One day, just out of curiosity, I picked up the guitar again. After the months of playing the bass, with those big strings, the guitar was now easy, even the F chord. From then one, everything on the guitar was somewhat easy for me and I've been playing ever since. The main thing I liked about the guitar was that I could play it quietly in my room and no one could hear me make all of my mistakes while practicing. That's still the biggest draw to it for me.

I had a band teacher who thought that I was pretty talented at the guitar and he sort of set me up with a guitar teacher in Denver when I was about 16. Mind you, Denver was 120 miles away from my home. But, I drove every weekend to Denver to take lessons. The lessons were very good and my guitar playing really took off, although mostly in a jazz direction. My teacher was really into jazz and that's what he taught me. It was very challenging and very useful even though I never really did become a jazz purist.

I eventually ended up going to college to study music in Denver. My teachers kept kind of heading me down the jazz guitar path. I studied mostly solo jazz guitar (Joe Pass, Tuck Andress, Johnny Smith, George Van Epps).

But who wants to be a solo guitarist? I kept getting booked for solo gigs. I never took them very seriously for some reason though. I always thought, "Yeah, but I play in a band. These solo gigs are just something else." Why is it so hard to accept success that just sort of naturally happens? I don't know, but I just couldn't see it in those days, even though solo gigs were easy, plentiful and successful for me. I kept trying to force the band thing to happen.

I had a friend in college who played open tuned acoustic guitar. As a jazz guitarist, I was so offended by open tunings. That was cheating! You can't do that on the guitar. It isn't right! Secretly, of course, I loved what he was doing on the guitar and I was terribly curious about those open tunings. Years later, those tunings and that approach to guitar, would take a very central role in my own playing and composing.

Eventually, I started to start recording solo guitar. I put together a bunch of compositions for solo jazz guitar as well as a few classical guitar pieces and even a sort of attempt at playing an Indian Raga on the guitar and recorded my first album. It was really easy, comparatively speaking, and I sort of realized that maybe that's what I should be focusing on. After that first album, I admitted that I never really was a pure jazz guitarist and I started to play acoustic guitar mostly. I also started working with a lot of alternate tunings on the guitar and that really opened things up.

Since then, I've recorded a whole bunch of albums, 9 to be exact. It's something that just doesn't stop - musical ideas that is.

My music has been used in a lot of things, more things than I even know. All of my albums have been instrumental, solo guitar, until just recently. In 2018, I decided to add vocals to my music and I recorded two albums of guitar and vocal music.

It's hard to describe what music is to me. If you listen to the lyrics on the album "Jeff's Wall," it kind of sums it up better than I could write about it. Music is like this strange door that I can walk through at any time that leads me into another world. It's always been that way, even when it's frustrating. My sense of time completely changes or even disappears when I'm involved with music. The guitar is just this wooden object with strings stretched over it, but when I play it, it just seems to open up another world. I think most musicians can understand that. Even if I'm working on some super difficult classical guitar piece that I may never be able to play correctly, the time I spend working on it is "different time." I can easily lose track of an entire day when working on music because I just have no sense of time once I start working on it.

If I hadn't picked up the guitar, I have no idea what my life would be like today. I have a song on the "Jeff's Wall" album, titled "My First Guitar," that tells the story of how the guitar changed my life and me. I think, in life, given who you are, and given the conditions you find yourself in, certain things are going to happen one way or another, regardless of what you do. I think that music, and specifically, the guitar has been one of those things in my life.

Oh, also, I have a regular job as well. I'm a librarian. It's a cool job. I've always been a voracious reader, so this profession was sort of inevitable it seems as well. My musical life and my librarian life are two separate lives for the most part. I like it that way. Sort of a Clark Kent thing. I manage an academic library during the day, and sometimes at night. It's a great job and I'm lucky that I found it.