Wayne Krantz’s singular and frequently
visionary playing has made him one of New York
City’s most highly respected and sought-after guitarists,
resulting in performing and recording gigs with
a host of luminaries such as Steely Dan, Victor Bailey,
Michael Brecker, Carla Bley, Billy Cobham, and Chris
Potter. Beyond those celebrated sideman roles, Krantz
has led his own trios through intriguing and ever-shifting
musical landscapes for nearly two decades, specializing
in structured improvisations that showcase
his formidable stylistic scope and uncanny real-time
compositional prowess. (Intrigued listeners with the
aspiration and determination to plumb Krantz’s conceptual
depths for themselves may attempt ingress via
his instructional masterwork, An Improviser’s OS, published
On Krantz’s latest release, Howie 61 [Abstract Logix],
the perpetually restless guitarist’s polyglot musical trip
mutates into an unprecedented take on the “singersongwriter”
format. Except for an extended improvisation
on Ice Cube’s “Check Yo Self,” the songs are relatively short, have easily discernable
sections, and feature Krantz’s lyrics and
vocals. The album also departs from the
past by featuring combinations of more
than a dozen stellar players rather than
the familiar trio lineup.
Was there a concept behind Howie 61 when you
started out, and how did the circumstances surrounding
the making of the record differ from
those surrounding your previous albums?
The process began on Krantz Carlock
Lefebvre , which contained a few
actual “songs” in terms of shorter length,
lyrics, and singing. Howie 61 continued my
exploration of how I might take all of the
stuff I’ve learned about guitar playing and
improvising, my thoughts about what kind
of words I want to be responsible for, and
what was possible given the limitations
of my voice—and pack all that stuff into
a short song.
Another huge shift was that going
back to 1993, all of my records have featured
the bands that I was working with
at the time, and I wanted to get away from
that because I felt I had already done it.
So I invited a lot of musicians that I had
played with previously, or had wanted to
play with, and combined them in different
ways to expand into a broader thing with
more colors coming in from other places.
Some tracks were recorded in L.A., some
in London, and some in New York. Everyone
gave their all and were really into it,
which was very gratifying because there
were no limousines or complimentary sushi
dinners—it was pretty rough and rugged.
What about the title track? Is there a direct
connection to Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”?
There actually is. It’s an example of starting
with a title—in this case a play on words
that I thought was funny. Instead of saying
“Highway 61,” which has the historical weight of both the Americana and Dylan
things, switching it to “Howie 61” made
it ridiculous. The wordiness of the song is
also kind of a reference to Dylan, and the
song’s form—which is basically a weird,
expanded blues—is based on the structure
of a Dylan tune. As far as the album
title, I was going to call it something else,
but Howie 61 was kind of funny and easy to
remember, so I decided to use it. And I had
no idea that that song was going to open
the album when I wrote it, but I like that
it provides a soft opening and just kind of
eases the listener in.
Is there a single guitar part on the album that
you were particularly pleased with?
I like the guitar solo on “How the West
Was Left” a lot because it was an overdub
and I wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach
it sonically. I experimented with some different
things and ultimately I discovered
that using the back pickup with pretty high
gain on the amp but the volume turned
down and playing with my fingers rather
than a pick gave me the sound I needed. I
was happy with that, though by nature I’m
not motivated to sit around trying to figure
out what the best sound for something is.
You have always said that you aren’t a “gear
guy,” and that you don’t spend a lot of time messing
with things—but you have good gear and
always get good sounds. Do you just choose a few
things and focus on getting them to sound right?
That makes me wonder if I’ve just been
fooling myself all these years [laughs].
But the second part of what you said also
makes sense. The beginning of my sound
was in 1993, when I got rid of a bunch of
amps and just plugged a Strat directly into
a Fender Deluxe turned all the way up.
That sounded terrible for a year or so, but
the good thing is that I had to figure out
how to make such a thin tone sound good
just by using my hands rather than relying
on an amp.
That said, fast-forwarding to the present,
I’m kind of excited because Matt Brewster
at 30th Street Guitars—who does all my
guitar work, advises me on gear, and built
my pedalboard—showed me this Tyler amp
that I really like. I believe its called a JT46,
and its based on an old Marshall. When I
heard it I said, “That is a sound I can use,”
so I bought one, along with a couple of Tyler
cabinets, and I also tweaked my pedalboard. So maybe I am getting into gear.
Did you use that rig on the new album?
Yes, on part of it. I also used my Marshall
2553 Jubilee head, which I still love.
In fact, just this last week I started using
the two amps together. The Tyler cabs are
super lightweight and loaded with both 12”
and 10" speakers. I use them with the Tyler
and Marshall heads, with a little more breakup
on the Marshall, and delay and reverb on
one side. It’s essentially an exaggerated clean
sound, and then I add more distortion with
a pedal when needed. The reason I’ve just
used one amp for so many years is that the
sound is more focused when it comes from
one place. That’s particularly important
rhythmically, as the more spacious the sound,
the less rhythmic it is. Rhythm is like the
crack of the snare when you’re a foot away
from the drum. On the other hand, I think it
is nice for the audience to experience some
lushness and beauty. I don’t want everything
to be harsh and difficult just because that’s
what gets me off.
What’s new with your pedalboard?
I’m still using the Boss DD-3 delay and
OC-2 octave pedals, and the Moogerfooger
MF-102 Ring Modulator, but I added a Strymon
El Capistan delay and a Wampler Pinnacle
distortion. I also have a Hiwatt wah and
a Dr. Scientist Reverberator pedal, and very
recently I got an Electro-Harmonix Freeze,
which sounds sort of low-fi and funny but
is really useful.
Are you still playing the James Tyler Studio Elite?
Yes, with a Duncan Full Shred in the
bridge slot and two Suhr single-coils. James
is also working on another guitar for me
that may become a signature model. The
neck is modeled on the neck on my ’73
Fender Stratocaster, which is not a particularly
good guitar, but I love the way the
neck feels, probably just because I’ve played
it for so long. I got that guitar in 1980, and
learned to play on it.
Did you use any other guitars on the album?
Yes, a really cool ’67 Fender Tele with a
great neck that I got some years ago and love
very much, and a Godin dreadnought acoustic.
Transitioning away from gear, briefly describe
what An Improviser’s OS is all about.
It contains the method I stumbled across
for practicing the chords and scales that are
part of chromatic tonality that we are subject
to here in the West. But the method
is creative and musical, as opposed to recreative
and pattern oriented, and the
material is presented within the context
Talk about your approach to groove.
I’m coming from the James Brown, Sly
Stone, Prince camp—and I list those guys
in order of my discovery of them. As far as
I understand it, their groove has a lot to do
with rhythmic counterpoint. Ellington talked
about it, too, and when I analyzed his music
I saw that the use of rhythmic counterpoint
gave a certain kind of bounce to the groove.
I think of it as a vertical lift that the groove
has, where the 2 and the 4 just pop up off
the snare. The energy is going up, whereas
in a lot of rock music the energy is going down, as in to the floor. That vertical energy
fits perfectly with what I do, because while
the ball is in the air, before it hits the floor
and bounces again, all kinds of things can
happen—and that’s where I live. That’s where
all my stuff is happening.
Your improvisational style involves harmony
as much as it does melody. To what extent are
you consciously thinking about harmonic relationships,
and to what extent are you just going
with the flow?
It’s a good question. Surprisingly, it’s kind
of hard to answer because the space that
I’m in when I’m playing is something that I
haven’t really quantified. That said, I’ve been
practicing that approach for so many years
that I don’t even think about it as adding harmony.
I’m either playing one note at a time,
or more than one note at a time, but it’s all
coming from exactly the same place. The
only difference is the kind of impact it has.
There’s a certain effect when you do one of
those two things and then suddenly people
perceive it as a chord or a line or something.
But as far as how it feels, it’s not really a distinction
that I make.
You are able to find space for your parts even
when navigating the densest musical environments.
How do you do that?
That’s counterpoint. And although it may
seem like there is no space in the music, almost
inevitably there will be—and that’s my place.
I’ve likened it to looking at an image and then
seeing a negative of the image to see what
isn’t there. It is also a little like looking at a
page of text and seeing the spaces between
the words. Those kinds of images sort of
describe what I’m talking about. Honestly,
though, it is a classic skill that many different
types of musicians have. For example, all
of the great R&B session players have that
ability. In order for them to create a part that
matters, they listen to where the cracks are
in the music, center their parts those cracks,
and then maybe ornament them beyond
that. They may bleed over into space that is
already occupied, too, but the fundamental
parts are in the places where nothing else
And the same is true in terms of sound.
When I first got to New York many years
ago, I attended a David Sanborn rehearsal
and Hiram Bullock was the guitarist. At the
time I was playing through two amps, stereo
chorus, stereo delay, and all this stuff that
gave me a big, lush sound. When Hiram
started playing he had a really thin and not
great sound, and I thought to myself, “Why
would he opt for a sound like that?” Then
the band started playing, and that place
that he occupied sonically was completely
his own. The lushness of the overall sound
came from the entire band. His experience
told him that that’s where he had to be to
make a difference, and it sounded incredible
in that context, whereas a big, luscious guitar
sound would have been inaudible. That was
the voice of experience talking. And it was a