Steady Progression, Jane Getter Scales New Heights and Finds Her Voice Amidst the Notes

Jane Getter began her career as a precocious straight-ahead jazzer, rapidly securing gigs with luminaries such as saxophonist Joe Lovano and pianists Kenny Barron and Richie Beirach— but it was an extended outing with Hammond B3 maestro Jack McDuff that dramatically altered her perspective.
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JANE GETTER BEGAN HER CAREER AS A precocious straight-ahead jazzer, rapidly securing gigs with luminaries such as saxophonist Joe Lovano and pianists Kenny Barron and Richie Beirach— but it was an extended outing with Hammond B3 maestro Jack McDuff that dramatically altered her perspective. “I had been writing music that was more of an intellectual listening experience, and people in the audience would just stare off into space,” says Getter. “But Jack played jazz-blues party music that was really fun to listen to, and people would be dancing and clapping and having a great time. That experience made me want to do something more like that with my own music.”

From there, Getter continued to expand her curriculum vitae, winning the ASCAP Gershwin Award for Music for Theater or Dance, co-writing the smooth jazz hit “Hopscotch” with drummer Lenny White, amassing credits with artists ranging from jazz sax giant Kenny Garrett to punk veterans the Jam to hip hoppers the Roots, playing in the Saturday Night Live Band, and recording two solo albums and a collaboration album with guitarist Bruce Arnold.

On her latest release, Three [Digital Nations/ Alternity], Getter ventures into progressive rock territory accompanied by her keyboardist husband Adam Holzman, bassist James Genus, and drummer Anton Fig. She also makes her debut as featured vocalist. “I’d sung backups in different contexts before, and after taking some voice lessons I decided to go for it,” she says. “After all, the singing doesn’t necessarily have to be the strongest element in a primarily instrumental rock band as long as the artist is communicating what they want to communicate in the song.”

Have you become a progressive rock guitarist?

I don’t know if I’m a progressive guitarist, though my music has been slowly going in that direction, because that’s the kind of music that has gotten me excited for the last few years. My husband plays with Steven Wilson’s band, and I particularly like what Steven does on his own and with Porcupine Tree. There are also some jazzier pieces on the album, though, such as “Scofused,” which I dedicated to John Scofield. I like many different styles of music and so I’ve never really been comfortable just staying within one genre—but I’ve always maintained my jazz roots.

What guitars did you play on the album?

I played my ’71 Tele with a Roger Sadowsky humbucker in the bridge slot on a few tunes. That was my main guitar for years before I became a Fender artist and they made me a Stratocaster. My Strat is based on a ’60s model, and other than swapping out the bridge and tweaking a few things I kept it the way it was. I also played a ’74 Martin D-28 acoustic and an ’80s Ovation nylon-string on the album.

So, the Strat is your main guitar now?

Yes, though Paul Schwartz at Peekamoose built an instrument for me that I just got a few weeks ago. He knows what I like, right down to the finish. I’d wanted a Les Paul for a while and this is similar, with incredible Seymour Duncan humbuckers.

Do you have other guitars, as well?

Yeah. I have an amazing ’53 Gibson ES-175 that I used to play back when I was doing straight-ahead jazz with Jack McDuff and others. These days that guitar sits in its case a lot, mostly because it feels so different from my other guitars, though I do pull it out for certain gigs. I also have a nice Fender cutaway nylon-string.

Do you string the ES-175 with flatwounds?

For a while I was using flatwounds. The straight-ahead jazz tone is really round and midrange-y, with no highs or punch, and that’s the sound that I used to love. But now I like to have a little more punch and edge. I tried putting lighter strings on it so that it would feel more comfortable, but .011 sets were as light as I could go before I began losing some of that beautiful, round sound.

What strings do you use on your Fenders?

I use GHS, because they make the inbetween gauges that I need. Right now the gauges are .046, .036, .026, .017, .0115, and .0095, low to high. They were making .0165 for a while, but now I can only get .017 for the third. I like .0095 for the first string because .009 is a little too light and .010 is a little too stiff.

Do you have a favorite amp, and if so, did you use it on the album?

I have a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV and a Fender Hotrod Deluxe. The Boogie is so heavy that I only take it out for certain gigs. The Fender is my main “around town” amp. I used both of them on the album, as well as a Marshall half-stack that they had at the studio.

What’s your signal chain?

My foot is always on my Ernie Ball volume pedal, because I’m continually feeling like I need to adjust my volume. My basic clean sound is an MXR Dyna Comp into a Boss DD-3 set to a short delay, and the reverb on my amp. I leave the compressor and the delay on all the time, so I’m getting a second delay pedal that I can use for longer delays. I also have a Vox Wah pedal and an old TC Electronic Stereo Chorus+ pedal that I use sometimes.

So, you get your overdrive and distortion tones from your amps?

I use the Lead channel on the Boogie, which I love, but when I’m playing through the Fender or a backline amp I’ll often use pedals. For lighter overdrive I’ll use a Boss SD-1 Super Over Drive, and for heavier distortion I have a Seymour Duncan Lava Box, which has a really full sound.

You play with a hybrid picking style. Describe what’s going on there.

When I’m playing straight lines, I use a pick and alternate picking, but I use hybrid picking for just about everything else. I hold the pick with my thumb and first finger, and use my other three fingers to play the strings I’m not playing with the pick. That gives me more precise articulation of each string, particularly when playing rhythmically complicated patterns, and even some melodic lines. I also just like the sound of flesh against the string.

What kind of picks do you like?

I prefer the heavy teardrop-shaped white Fender picks, though they don’t sell them anymore. The company that made them says that the currently available picks are the same exact weight and size, but they aren’t. To make them more comfortable, I file the point and the edges down so they are a little bit rounder.

You sometimes create your own scales. How do you do that, and how do you use them?

I started experimenting with my own scales when I was looking for certain sounds that I wanted to have in my lines, and there weren’t scales that I knew about that had those sounds. For example, one of the first ones was basically a minor pentatonic scale, but with a major 6 instead of a flat 7. It still had the pentatonic vibe, but with an added little something that sounded slightly different, and didn’t scream “minor pentatonic scale.” Then, once I had the notes, I worked out the fingerings all over the neck by simply modifying the five basic fingerings of the minor pentatonic scale, and connecting everything together. I also created arpeggios within the scale that brought out its nuances.

Another example might be a situation in which I want to maintain the root and the 7 within a scale, but be able to use it in either a major or minor context. I could leave out the 3, or include both major and minor 3rd tones, and either would accomplish that. And then I would decide how many notes I want to have in the scale—five, six, seven? There are lots of techniques you can use to construct new scales, including using triads [see “Creating Scales” in the August 1999 issue of GP and “Synthesizing Scales from Triads” in the January 2000 issue], but the important thing is to get them under your fingers and be able to use them in your playing.

Do you ever reverse the techniques and harmonize the new scales as part of your compositional process?

No, I haven’t. That’s an interesting concept that I’ll have to think about. But the riff on the opening track on Three, “Inversion Layer,” was derived from one of my scales, as was the riff on “Over the Edge,” so the scales do inspire songs.

You’ve played with some great horn players. Has listening to horn players influenced your approach to your own instrument?

Like a lot of people, I was really inspired by John Coltrane, and when I was getting into jazz it was like what the heck is this guy doing? What are these notes he’s playing? How is he thinking? I transcribed his solo on “Blues to You,” so I could at least see what he was doing in that particular case, and among other things that really opened my eyes to the concept of superimposing different triadic lines over the notes in a certain key. I think listening to that kind of approach also helped me to develop this whole thing with creating scales, because I wanted to get those sorts of sounds without just playing back-to-back arpeggios like a lot of guitarists do. By creating my own scales I’m able to play more fluid, horn-like lines in a way that works for me as a guitar player.