I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, where my father was a musician and a lawyer. He was always playing banjo and trumpet and guitars. We had a family connection to New Orleans so there was a lot of jazz and Dixieland.
He taught me chords on the guitar, so I started playing radio songs and Hendrix with other kids in middle school. At the time I had a nice guitar teacher named Barry Leach. He taught me popular rock songs or Stevie Ray Vaughn licks, but he also pushed jazz and improvisation.
Eventually my friends and I were sneaking into bars for blues jam nights. The other kids provided healthy competition for me to get better, and the blues jams then led to jazz.
I went to University of Southern Mississippi to study modern jazz. It became very scholastic, so I found other outlets through playing punk rock and Flaming Lips–type psychedelic stuff and composing a lot. When I moved to New Orleans, I realized the beauty, simplicity, and purity of playing acoustic guitar, which put me on the path of playing Gypsy jazz.
Gypsy jazz is the opposite of the school approach. It’s very simple, like punk rock. I could be as beautiful as I wanted or get down and bluesy.
Everything is based on patterns and learning traditional music. It covers the old jazz repertoire mixed with this beautiful right hand picking technique, which helped me correct some bad playing habits. Playing this technically proficient and beautiful music on acoustic guitar can be difficult, but once I got the hang of performing and composing in the genre, I saw that Gypsy Jazz takes all my favorite parts of jazz, classical, blues, and punk rock and puts it into one focus.
Playing with Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns shows why simplicity is so important. As a musician, you have a job to do before anything. The band has to work as a unit to support Meschiya. This isn’t my time to work out new guitar stuff. It’s all about time, feel, groove, and support. The reward is that great flying feeling when the band is swinging hard.
It changes with each band. With my group, I’m my own boss, so it’s more of a playground for my own personal ideas. It’s nice to be able to change that depending on whose in the band and what I’ve been working on—keeping my identity while adapting to each new band is an art in itself.”