An Interview with Jason Williams, part 1

Jason Williams is a guitarist and teacher based in Washington state. I first heard of Jason when I had a chance to listen to his great CD Homenaje. The album features a solid blend of repertoire combined with great interpretation. Jason is currently teaching at Rosewood guitar in Seattle and at Western Washington University. You can listen to some of Jason’s recordings on Myspace.

Buy Homenaje on CD Baby


When did you get started on guitar?  What made you choose classical?

When I was about twelve my parents gave me a guitar for Christmas. It was a pretty horrid instrument, which I am pretty sure they bought from one of the chain department stores like Sears or Kmart. I think what sparked the gift was when my older brother had a friend come over one evening with an electric guitar and played, which pretty much blew my mind. I can still vividly remember watching that guy. I suppose it was a pretty typical event many musicians have at an early age. Hearing those strange and wonderful sounds coming out of that guitar, I was hooked from then on. I think I managed the usual chords etc… until about fifteen years old I convinced my parents I was serious enough to start taking lessons.

Classical guitar did not really enter the picture until the age of seventeen or eighteen. I am pretty much a typical American suburbanite that grew up on rock and roll, and, come to think of it, I am still amazed that I fell into classical music so hard. None of my family listened to classical music and I really had no immediate influence. Even my first guitar teacher was really a jazz player. At the time I was pretty interested in Jimmy Page and all the Led Zeppelin I could handle. I still think he is probably my favorite rock guitarist. For me he is the Julian Bream of electric guitar. Virtuosic, spontaneous and creative with an intuitive approach…..great artist that really had a lot of soul to his playing.

At some point before my college days, I was faced with the decision of classical or jazz guitar. I knew I wanted to go into college and major in music but I was torn on what to do stylistically. At that point I was playing a few classical pieces by Tarrega and Sor – although on a steel string guitar, but I think I was simply smitten by the sound of that music. My teacher Lou Carfa sent me off to a friend of his named Jan Ryberg that taught classical for a living at the community college and off I went. I was pretty gung ho and walked in his studio the first day trying to play Asturias on my steel string. Heh… I just did not know any better.
Needless to say, I eventually got the classical guitar and Jan started me down the path that led me to the University.

Tell us a bit about your studies with Tom Johnson.

When I arrived at the University of North Texas, I was still pretty green. It was good to have Tom as my instructor because he immediately began to straighten me out. I would say he really formed the bases of my tone and technique. Come to think of it, I am not sure I have ever heard someone come out of that University that I did not like there tone. I think he was able to slow me down a bit and have me go through the usual guitar pedagogy of Sor, Brouwer, Carcassi at the same time always keeping a high standard. He has a great ear and that is something that I was thankful for. In my own teaching I still utilize things he told me to do as I pass it on to the next generation.

You’ve also studied in Spain and with British guitarist Stanley Yates, do you feel those studies have had an influence on your playing?  How?

Yes I did spend a summer in Spain based out of Madrid. While I was there I spent a few sessions at the home of Jose Luis Rodrigo who was teaching out of the Royal Conservatory in Madrid. I think the influence was in part the atmosphere and inspiration it provided but is was also the first time I had spent a considerable amount of time with another guitarist other than Tom Johnson. I think I crammed at least half a programs worth of music in those lessons which Jose generously took the time to go through. I remember he had an extremely musical approach, which had a very genuine romanticism or maybe spirituality behind it.

Back at the University, I was headlong into my studies as usual when this British guitarist moved to town to do a Doctoral degree who soon completely changed my perspective on the classical guitar. That guitarist turned out to be Stanley Yates. I can remember sitting in performance class watching him play; I think it was the second time as he performed Stepan Rak’s Elegy. That is pretty much what did it for me at that point. We were probably some of the first people on this side of the pond that had ever heard that piece and it started me down a road that I have not turned back from. In my later years at the University I began to take some lessons with Stanley. Eventually it became a regularity and I actually found myself babysitting his kids in trade for lessons. That turned out to be a pretty good deal because at that time his kids would go to bed and I could just sit up and practice and maybe rifle through some of his music! Also he would come back home and we would stay up going over this or that about the classical guitar world. I probably learned as much away from the guitar with him as I did with the instrument. He really opened up new repertoire for me and he challenged me by asking the question, “why are you playing this phrase like that?” Nothing could be pulled out of thin air without making some sense or having some context. Stanley influenced me to go beyond my ear and the four or five favorite recordings I had of some piece. He had a scholarly approach that asked me to understand the composer, the style and history of the music. Since he had such a wealth of knowledge behind what he was saying and a technique to back it up, it gave a justification to his teaching that has always influenced me to aspire having those elements in my own playing.

Let’s talk about your new CD, Homenaje.  How did you choose the repertoire for the album?

In part by design and in part by default. I have probably sat down and written out twenty or thirty different ideas for a CD and each time was with a mixture of repertoire that I had down or wanted to learn to put the package together. I am never satisfied and as my thoughts and pieces changed so did the plans that I had made. Eventually I finally pulled together the resources to record and put together a program that I had been partly in and out of for a long time. Over the years I have probably played the Turina Sonata for Tom Johnson, Stanley Yates, Scott Tennant, Costas Cotsiolis, David Russell, all my colleagues and most recently with Kevin Callahan. I know that piece pretty well and at the very least know how I want to play that piece. It was a definite track that was going to be on the recording.

I think I have learned and relearned Bach’s sixth cello Suite a few times and since Bach is probably my favorite composer I really wanted to record that suite. As for the rest of the tracks I think I put the Bach together with the Turina and found that it would be difficult to have some sort of theme to the recording so I went with a few pieces that I was playing at the time. The Dyens Libra Sonatine is another piece I have a history with and the Pujol and Falla were relatively new pieces for me. For sure I wanted to record the Bach, Turina and Dyens because at this point I finally feel like I can move on from this music and explore other repertoire. I also put this program together as a recital and that sort of helped push me to record all these pieces on the CD. Personally I feel like it is perfectly fine to have a recital type CD for a debut recording. It introduces a player to the listener in a nice way with variety and does not corner you into one genre or composer that some people may not like.

[Part 2 of this interview]

Posted on in Interviews with Classical Guitarists