Jimmy Bruno, John Pisano, and Tommy Tedesco (left to right).
Jazz guitar giant Jimmy Bruno worked alongside Tommy Tedesco on thousands of sessions in Los Angeles. Here are a few of his remembrances as well as a few of the insights that he brought away from that experience. (And be sure to read my Artist feature with Jimmy Bruno in the November 2010 issue of GP.)
“First of all, every one of the stories that you hear about Tommy’s sight-reading abilities, no matter how difficult they are to believe, are true,” says Bruno. “He could site-read anything, and his ability was so absolutely amazing that he could be talking to you while he was doing it. I’d be like, ‘Tommy, how can you do that? Don’t you count?’ And he’d go, ‘Count? If I had to count I’d still be moving boxes in the UPS warehouse!’ He said he did it with his eyes. He’d divide the bar in half. He’d get a piece of music and go, ‘Look, the rhythms are easy. How could you screw it up?’ He really did that. That was a big revelation for me. Another revelation was to relax while you are reading. He said, ‘Why are you worried about making mistakes? Half the time nobody’s going to know. But you’ve got to relax when you read. You’ll get good at it. Read anything. Any piece of music you see, just read it. Don’t worry about whether you play it right and you get good at it.’
“Tommy also had a great sense of the whole music business and the whole guitar world that was unique to him. He was really an advanced thinker, but to talk to him it’s like talking to a truck driver. Everything was Bb to him. There was nothing special or far out. He used to just laugh about artistic integrity and stuff like that. I said, ‘Don’t you care about the music?’ And he said, ‘Yeah I care about the music. But let me tell you something. Is it okay to go tell somebody to go f**k himself? Well, you probably shouldn’t do it. But look, if you’re going to tell somebody to go f**k himself, then don’t be pissed off when he calls somebody else for the next gig. If you tell the guy that you’ll be cut off.’ It was so simple to him. He also said, ‘Don’t say nothing. And never ask what movie or TV show it is, that’s the sign of a newbie. Don’t ask nothing. And if you make a mistake don’t say that you think you screwed up. Just keep quiet, and if they come over just say you’re sorry.’ He just had it down. He could also play jazz pretty good. I think that was his frustration at the end of his life—towards the end of his career anyway. He certainly didn’t need to go play any movie scores. He liked to hang out with Joe Pass and Frank Zappa. He wanted to be an improviser and he was. He was really good at it.”