Is Andreas Varady the
Future of Jazz Guitar?
In case you are wondering whether putting
13 year-old Andreas Varady on the cover of the April issue of
Guitar Player has something to do with April Fools Day, rest assured
that it does not. The junior jazzman has shared stages with some of
the world’s greatest guitarists and other musicians, and unless you
are of similar stature, the precocious youngster could likely play circles
around you—no joke.
Born into a Hungarian Gypsy family in Slovakia, Varady was
immersed in music throughout his childhood, and took a special
interest in the Django Reinhardt and George Benson albums played
regularly by his guitarist father. “Andreas was about four years old
when I first became aware of his musical talent,” says Bandi Varady.
“I bought him a small nylon-string guitar, which became his favorite
plaything. At first he just played rhythm along with the CDs, using only one finger, but his sense of rhythm was
perfect. Eventually, I taught him to play ‘Blue
Bossa,’ which he learned very quickly, and I
realized he also had a fantastic musical ear.”
Young Andreas soon added Joe Pass and Wes
Montgomery to his list of favorite guitarists.
The Varady family relocated to Ireland
in 2008, where the young guitarist and his
father performed together on the street to
make practicing more enjoyable, to bring in
a little fun money, and most importantly, to
focus attention on the boy’s prodigious talents.
The word spread further after Varady
attended weekly classes at the Limerick
Jazz Workshop, was featured on The Guitar
and other programs on RTE (Irish National
Radio and Television), and appeared on various
BBC television and radio programs. He
has also performed live at numerous festivals,
including the Cathedral Quarter Arts
Festival, the Sligo Jazz Festival, the Cork
Jazz Festival, the Brecon Jazz Festival, the
Edinburgh Jazz Festival, and the Derry Jazz
Festival. In June 2010 he attended the Skidmore
Jazz Institute in New York City on a
scholarship from the combined Arts Councils
Musicians that Varady has played with
include master guitarists Martin Taylor, Andreas
Oberg, Frank Vignola, Tommy Emmanuel,
and Louis Stewart, along with celebrated
alto saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch,
renowned trumpeter Terell Stafford, virtuoso
double-bassist Michael Janisch, and Irish
drumming sensation David Lyttle.
Varady’s debut album, Questions [Lyte], is
a collaborative effort with Lyttle that also features
Janisch and Bandi Varady. “Recording
with Andreas was very easy, even though it
was his first time in the studio,” says Lyttle.
“We just set up in the live room and played.
We used mostly first takes and there were
no edits in post-production. It was all done
in one afternoon. Andreas obviously has a
superb technical facility, but what’s most
special is his genuine sense of musicality.
He improvises by ear and can aurally learn
a melody or chord progression very quickly.
It is only in recent months that he started
learning about written music and harmony.
Andreas is a very natural musician, and he’s
also a great writer.”
Varady’s writing skills are evident on the
two tunes he penned for Questions, the Benson-
esque opener “A Day in New York,” and
the super-swinging and soulful “Blues for
Edward,” both of which feature Wes-style
octave lines and imaginative single-note
and chord melodies punctuated with freewheeling,
angular runs. Miles Davis’ “Donna
Lee” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” (the
latter cleverly and convincingly arranged in a
relaxed bossa nova style) are among the featured
standards, and Varady kills on acoustic
while burning through Django Reinhardt’s
“Festival 48.” A gorgeous solo performance of George Benson’s arrangement of “The
Shadow of Your Smile” closes out the ninetrack
“Andreas has a lot of ambition and he’s
constantly pushing himself to be the best
he can,” enthuses Lyttle. “I believe that
this, combined with his natural talent and
modest attitude, will allow him to do whatever
At what age did you realize that you had a special
relationship with music?
I realized it when I was four, when I
started to play the guitar. My father played,
and was performing at the time, and I wanted
to play like him.
Do you remember the first time that you tried
Not really. It was a long time ago, you
know [laughs]? I had a really small guitar,
and I’d practice with my dad, and he showed
me some easy tunes.
How much of what you do is the result of natural talent and how much is the result of hard work?
I think it is mainly natural talent, but it
is a bit of hard work, too. I’d practice, like,
once a week, and then after that I’d want
to practice another day, and then after that
I wouldn’t want to ever practice again—so
sometimes it seemed like hard work.
What sorts of things do you practice when
you do practice?
I practice new tunes, and the tunes that
I play with my father. I don’t play scales or
exercises because I actually don’t know many
of them—I only know, like, two scales.
Two scales? It seems like you can play more
scales than that.
I haven’t actually had a real teacher. I
saw one for about five months, but mostly
I play by ear.
You’ve studied some music theory, though, like
when you attended Skidmore Jazz College. What
did you learn there?
Skidmore was really great, but I mainly
just learned about the history of jazz music
and jazz musicians, and only a wee bit about
notes and music theory. I’ve always mostly
just played by ear.
So, you must have a pretty good ear?
Describe what’s going on inside you when you
are playing over changes.
When I know the tune, and I know what
the changes are, I just react to the chords. So
when I improvise I’m just playing the notes
that I think best suit the chords, and I try to
play really good lines. Sometimes I’ll go outside
of the chord, because some notes that
are outside of it harmonically can still sound
really good. It is kind of hard to explain.
So you just hear the chords and sense what are
the right notes without really thinking about it?
Yes. I don’t ever think about which scales
or things will go best with the chords in that
way. When I improvise it comes from me,
you know? It doesn’t come from scales. I just
play what I think it will be good to play over
those chords, and I get that just by listening,
and also from experience.
When did you first become aware of jazz, and
what was it about the music that attracted you in
the first place?
There were lots of things about jazz that
were attractive to me. Number one, I really
liked George Benson when I was younger,
and he is still my favorite player. My dad bought lots of CDs by him and other jazz
musicians and played them all the time and
I really liked them, so I got into that music,
and then later I got into all sorts of other
jazz. But George Benson was the first one
that really moved me.
Do you feel strongly attracted to other types
of music besides jazz?
Not really. I like funk, and I like intelligent
rap, like Q-Tip, with no bad words. I
like all sorts of music except for maybe heavy
metal, because I don’t understand it.
What was your first guitar?
My first guitar was a Richwood. It was a
very small nylon-string, and not too bad for
a beginner. The funny thing is that when I
was younger I didn’t have a pick, so I played
with my thumb.
Like Wes Montgomery?
You still do that for some things, don’t you?
Yes, when I’m playing octaves, because it
makes a warmer sound. I just palm the pick
and switch over and play with my thumb
on those parts.
You are playing several different guitars in the
photos I’ve seen. How many guitars do you have?
I have several, but I didn’t buy any of
them, they were all presents from different
people. The guitars I play most are my Tokai
Signature model and a Yamaha SA2200. The
Tokai is my favorite, because it has a warm
sound like George Benson’s, and the Yamaha
has a great sound for modern jazz. Another
guitar I have is a one-of-a-kind electric with
a great acoustic sound, handmade by Fritz
Howard. It was patterned on a Benedetto,
has an Eastern European spruce top and
flamed sycamore back and sides, and a floating
Benedetto pickup. I also have a Fender
Stratocaster that I got for a birthday present,
which isn’t bad, but I don’t use it much,
because it isn’t really made for jazz. I play it
at home when nobody is there, with lots of
Did you have much input when they were building
your Tokai signature model?
Mainly I told them that I wanted it to be
a full-sized guitar in most ways, like with a
full-sized scale length, but with a smaller
body to fit my size.
What type and gauge of strings do you use, and
how important are strings in achieving your sound?
My favorite strings are D’Addario Chrome
sets with an .011-gauge first string. I have
an endorsement with them. The strings
are really smooth and make a warm, jazzy
sound, like the old flat-wound strings they
used back in the ’60s.
How about picks?
I use Dunlop Jazz IIIs, but I also have a
big pick collection. Like, I have a lot of Bart
Have you ever played with a turtle shell pick
like many of the Gypsy jazz players use?
Do you mean the really big ones? I would
like to, but I don’t know where to get them.
They don’t have them here.
Describe your picking style.
I mostly pick with up and down strokes
in the normal style, though sometimes I use
just down strokes if I want to emphasize particular
How about when you are playing those superfast
arpeggios across all of the strings? Are you
sweep-picking those parts?
No, I don’t use sweep picking. I just pick
up and down really fast [laughs].
Do you have a favorite amplifier?
I actually have a signature amplifier, but
it hasn’t arrived yet, and I can’t tell you
who made it until they give me permission.
I mostly use an AER Compact 60/2 when
I’m playing the Fritz Howard guitar, but sometimes I use a Roland Cube 60D when
I’m playing the Tokai. I think the AER is the
best amp you can get for hollowbody acoustic-
You don’t use many effects, do you?
It depends on what I play. I like chorus
and all that stuff—mostly whatever I can
find on an amp. But I prefer a clean tone for
You played on the street for a while. Describe
that experience and what it taught you about playing
and also about performing.
I played on the street with my father for
about a year. The main reason we did that
was to get recognition, and lots of people
came around and listened. We also did it to
make some money and to make contacts with
people that could help me, so it was really
good. It taught me a lot about performing in
public and what people liked. I really like to
play live, and busking on the street helped
to make me feel comfortable doing that.
Wes Montgomery and George Benson are
obviously big influences on you. What is it about
those two guitarists that you like so much?
What I mostly like about George Benson
is the way he sounds—the tone that he gets—
but I also like that he plays very melodically
and doesn’t show off by playing fast all the
time. I also really like his singing. He has a
great voice. Wes Montgomery also had an
amazing tone and played really well. I love
everything about his playing.
Did you listen a lot to those guys and try to
learn their songs?
Yes, I did. I learned them by ear. I would
put on a CD and just play along until I got
the parts, though sometimes that could be
kind of hard.
You learned to play all the parts by ear?
Yes, that’s the way that I learned nearly
everything that I know by them, and also by
other musicians. Like when I arranged my
version of Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee” for Questions,
I did that by first learning the tune by
ear. But let’s say I’m trying to learn a John
Coltrane solo. I can do it, but it would make
things much easier if I was shown the notes.
And I think you should know how to read
notes, because if you are playing with someone
who has their own tune and you’ve never
heard it before, they will give you the music
and you have to play it.
So you would like to study more music theory
and learn to read music?
I want to learn more about music, and I
also want to learn the notes. But I don’t want
to learn too much about reading music—I
mostly just want to learn how to read chord
charts, so that I can solo over the tune. But I
want to play in the way that I want to play, not
the way that written notes tell me to play.
You cover “Festival 48” on your album. Do you
feel a special connection to Django Reinhardt?
I really like Django’s playing. I listened
to him a lot when I was younger and he is
really amazing. I’m a Gypsy, too, and if you
are a Gypsy you kind of know the music.
You are born and you know it. It just comes
What do you think of the worldwide Gypsy
That’s great! Everybody should play that
music. You don’t have to be a Gypsy to learn
how to play it. Like Andreas Oberg—he isn’t
a Gypsy, but he really knows how to play
the music well.
What do you think of jazz-rock fusion?
You mean like Allan Holdsworth? I like
his music sometimes, but not always. I like
to listen to it more than I like to play it.
Do you like Mike Stern and John Scofield or other
guitarists with a more contemporary sound?
I don’t really know a lot about those guys.
I know their names, but I haven’t heard
You do a very laid back version of “Giant Steps”
on Questions. Why did you choose that song, and
why that arrangement?
I chose that song because it is a really
good song, and it is a great song to solo
over because of the cool chord changes. I
like to play hard songs. Most people play it
as a swing piece, so I decided to arrange it
as a slow bossa nova, instead, which I think
came out really nice.
What was it like playing with other great guitarists,
such as Martin Taylor, Andreas Oberg, Frank
Vignola, and Tommy Emmanuel?
Well, all of them are really, really, really
great guitar players. I like to play with all
of them, but my favorite is Martin Taylor.
He brought me over to play with him at the
Edinburgh Jazz Festival, and there were like
900 people there. We did lots of crazy stuff
during the gig. It was so much fun to play
with him. Martin is one of my favorite guitar
players, and in my opinion he is the best at
playing chords, bass lines, and melodies at
the same time. Joe Pass was really good at
doing that, but I think Martin is even better.
I’ve said that I think Martin Taylor is arguably
the greatest living solo jazz guitarist in the world.
Would you agree?
Are there any musicians that you haven’t played
with yet, but would like to?
I’d like to play with Birelli Lagréne, George
Benson, Herbie Hancock, and Diana Krall.
You have chosen to play in a relatively straightahead
style. Can you imagine a time when your playing
might evolve into something different, and if
so, what do you imagine it might be?
Right now I play modern jazz, but I also
play hip-hop style jazz, and I think in the
future I may be doing more of that. But I
would also like to play old-style music. I’m
really interested in playing a lot of different
styles of music.
What advice would you give other young players
who are hoping to become jazz guitarists?
They should learn a lot of chords and
try to play by ear, but at the same time they
should try to do their own thing and make
their own music.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Guitarists should definitely play more
quietly when other musicians are soloing.
PEER PLEASURE Andreas Varady’s Instrumental Admirers
“Andreas plays with
confidence and maturity
and has a total
understanding of the
language of jazz improvisation.
to hear him improvising
because he has so
many ideas and knows
how to put them all
together. He doesn’t
just play a bunch of
licks, he improvises for
real and tells a story
when he plays. It’s
going to be interesting
to watch Andreas
develop over the years.
He’s already an incredible
player, but I have
the feeling this is only
the beginning of an
amazing musical journey
for him—and for
“Andreas has a natural
blues feel, a relaxed
and fluid technique,
and the ability to
improvise already at
a young age. He definitely improvises a lot,
and that’s rare among
young guitarists of
today because most of
the youngsters you see
on YouTube just play
and solos. It
will be interesting to
follow his progress in
the years to come. I’ve
met lots of young talents
through the years
and many of them have
ended up on the wrong
drugs, etc. Andreas has
a nice family and a lot
of great support, so
I’m sure he’ll avoid the
many temptations to
come and have a bright
“Andreas sent a message
to my YouTube
account saying he was
12 years old, played
guitar, had heard about
me, and would love to
play some day. I was
very impressed by
the clips of him playing
duos with his dad.
I arranged some festival
Andreas, and began
featuring him alongside
some of the international
guests in my own
band, such as Soweto
Kinch, Terell Stafford,
and Andreas Oberg.
Every time I play with
Andreas, I notice a significant improvement
of some kind, be it in
his lines, his comping,
or his interpretation of
a tune. In addition to
growing as an artist,
he’s learning other
important things, such
as how to present a
performance and how
to play for an audience.”
“Andreas not only has
prodigious gifts, he’s
also so composed and
comfortable at his
instrument that you
never feel like he’s
trying to prove anything.
I find all his
even more remarkable
as he hasn’t studied
and isn’t a theory whiz.
His senses of harmony
and phrasing are
really developed, however,
and show maturity
well beyond his
years. I really look forward
to hearing how
he will grow and evolve
creatively in the years
“Andreas sounds like
George Benson, and
has an incredible feel
for the music and a
respect for many different
players. He has the
potential to be one of
the greats of his time.”
“I had the pleasure
of jamming, unrehearsed,
at my concert in Limerick,
Ireland. We never
even met before the
show, as he was driving
with his family from
another show. I introduced
him onstage to
wild applause. He came
out very shyly then
proceeded to take over
the show like a pro. He
played so well I couldn’t
believe my ears and
eyes. We jammed our
way through three jazz
standards, and had so
much fun together. Let
me tell you: It looked
like a young, freshfaced
kid playing a
big guitar beside me—
but in truth, Andreas
is a giant. His talent
is enormous, and his
heart is so in the right
place. He’s a gifted
young player with a
huge future. Much
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