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Jazz Education Program

Rountree picks classic genre -- with new spin

Friday, March 25, 2005

By Linda East Brady
Standard-Examiner staff

Local guitarist 'next generation' of modern jazz

Jazz guitarist Tucker Rountree struggles to find the right handle for the music he makes. "Probably the easiest thing to call it is new modern jazz," Rountree said in a phone interview from his home in Austin, Texas.

"We can't really call it modern jazz because that emphasizes, like, what Miles Davis was doing. Pat Metheny is another hero, and he's kind of billed as post-modern jazz. Well, I'm the next generation. Or, hopefully I am. And we didn't want to call it post-post modern jazz!" he said, chuckling a little. "It's just too long."

The Tucker Rountree Quartet (tour lineup: Andy Dollerson, piano; Jason Friedrich, drums; and Salt Lake-based Ben Johnson, bass) will be stopping off in Ogden as part of its national tour. The group will be performing April 3 as part of the Wine Cellar's first-anniversary weekend celebration.

A father's influence

Rountree cites many influences on his sound, but first and foremost was his father, Philip Rountree. "He's originally from Brigham City," Rountree said of his dad. "He'd tried to pursue a professional career before I was born. But he wanted to be a good father. ... He's never stopped playing and composing, though."

The elder Rountree is currently free-lancing soundtrack work and composing a Renaissance/fingerstyle music book. Rountree also remembers his grandfather, Will Rountree, playing jazz standards on guitar and piano.

Growing up in Salt Lake City, young Rountree was given his first guitar at age 4. He grew serious under his father's tutelage at around age 7 and never looked back.

Fate intervened when he was an adolescent and mistakenly checked out a big-band album from the local library. The record grabbed his ear, and his interest in the genre grew from there.

Rountree's quartet now plays strictly instrumentals, but that wasn't always the case.

"Growing up in Salt Lake, I wrote jazz/R&B kind of things," Rountree said.

After making his move to Austin three years ago at the ripe old age of 20, he started out playing gigs at jazz and supper clubs.

"Once in a while, I'd pull out a chart of one of my old songs, but I'd play them instrumentally. And people really seemed to like it."

Rountree sound

Though jazz and its classic stylists certainly shaped Rountree's playing style, he is no jazz snob. Among others, he cites James Taylor, Steely Dan and the '80s pop group Tears for Fears as prominent influences.

Among the CDs resting near his home stereo are ones by vibraphonist Gary Burton and violinist Jason Bell.

Currently on heavy rotation in his car stereo is a work by soundtrack composer Jerry Goldsmith. "It's an amazing soundtrack from an '80s science-fiction movie called 'Explorers.' I've been kind of transcribing some of his melodies. I think he's just an amazing composer."

He also mentions Austin's The Illustrated Band as one of his current inspirations. "They are a very tasteful jam band. They do have vocals, but maybe only 20 percent of the time. They have extremely precision instrumentation, and one of their hallmarks is that they play everything in an odd meter."

Rountree has been so inspired by the band that he is experimenting with his own compositions in alternate time signatures.

Mentor Eric Johnson

One of Rountree's all-time guitar heroes, Eric Johnson, is the young man's mentor and friend. They first met when Johnson came through Utah in the mid-'90s.

"His music was stuff I'd been listening to since I was 13. I only talked to him a second and he gave me an autograph ... but it was an amazing experience," Rountree said of that initial meeting.

Johnson came through Salt Lake again a few years later, and Rountree decided to take a chance. "By that time, I was 18 and I was getting pretty good. I felt confident to try and approach him.

"I went to his sound check at Kingsbury Hall. I'd read he was a perfectionist about sound checks -- spent hours and hours on them -- and it's true.

"I told (Johnson), 'I've learned all your tunes. Maybe you can listen to me and give me some advice.' We talked and talked, and he gave me two backstage passes and two tickets to the show. He told me to keep in touch, to mail him recordings off and on as I worked through my learning curve. And that's what I did."

Recently, Johnson gave Rountree and his band the opportunity to use his studio to record their first serious release, "No Goodbyes."

"At first ... I was just going to record a few compositions and see what came out. But it turned out to be an amazing experience with my quartet. We kept everything, essentially ..."

Though self-released, the CD is being considered for distribution by a label. For now, it is available online from CDBaby.com and at the quartet's gigs.

From SLCto Austin

Rountree made the move with his wife from Salt Lake to Austin in large part to further his musical career. As well as composing and playing, Rountree teaches music at the Albertson's School of music when not touring.

When the couple arrived in Texas, Rountree's wife was busy with school, and he was playing a lot of gigs. "The level of musicianship was so much higher than anything I'd ever experienced," he confessed. "It was really incredible -- and it scared me, too.

"I was so used to showing up at gigs and playing a certain set of standards. But here, there were hundreds of more things (fellow musicians) knew than I did.

"So I kind of went through this eight-month process of just woodshedding-- I continued to play gigs, but I was very hermit-like. I would get done and say, 'What do I have to work on now?' "

He notes that all of the practice and fine-tuning was hard work. "I came out of it more in tune with my inner voice and more in tune with what I was naturally going to do. It helped my songwriting, too. I also have a bunch more standards under my belt.

"For me, personally, I would not have reached the different levels in my playing had I not moved (to Austin)."


WHAT: The Wine Cellar's First Anniversary Weekend

WHO: Tucker Rountree Sound

WHEN: 6 p.m., April 3

WHERE: The Wine Cellar private club, 2550 Washington Blvd., Ogden

TICKETS: Available at the Wine Cellar between 4 p.m. and midnight Thursday-Sunday, $15 for Tucker Rountree Sound alone, $5 discount if purchased with tickets for the Saturday Catfish and Blues Night featuring Dan Weldon. For information, call 399-3600.

Images and text copyright 2005 by Ogden Publishing Corporation. Reproduction or reuse prohibited without written consent.