Born July 31, 1959, in Chicago, Ill.; raised in California. Education: Princeton University, B.A. in music, 1981. Addresses: Home-- New York, NY. Office-- c/o Blue Note Records, 1370 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
Stanley Jordan grabbed the music world by the ears when he arrived in New York in 1984. Musicians and critics alike were blown away by the guitarist's radical approach to the instrument, which left listeners shaking their heads in disbelief. Jordan's technique of using both hands to tap the fingerboard like a pianist (as opposed to the traditional method of strumming with one hand and fingering with the other) allows him to play chords, melodies, and bass lines simultaneously. Players like Jimmy Webster and Eddie Van Halen had previously used the tapping technique to embellish their solos. But never before had anyone been as innovative with the concept as Jordan, who, according to guitarist Al DiMeola in Guitar Player magazine, "has taken tapping into another dimension. He has to be twenty years ahead of his time."
The road to New York began at an early age for Jordan. Born in Chicago and raised in California, he started his musical training with classical piano lessons at age six. A short period with the trumpet a few years later eventually led him to the guitar at a time when guitar heroes were becoming household names. It was during this period that he discovered his biggest influence, Jimi Hendrix, while reading an article at a doctor's office.
"One of the main reasons I got interested in jazz was from listening to [Hendrix].... I came to realize that the sky is the limit, that there's no upper level to the content of the music," Jordan told Guitar World. He added that he was led to look for other musical forms, mainly jazz, that were beyond what he knew. "And the only reason I was searching in the first place was because of the inspiration I got from Jimi Hendrix."
Shortly after picking up the guitar, Jordan began playing in soul and rock bands. By age fifteen he was captivated by the sounds of jazz music and his six-string instrument, but he wanted to bring the flexibility of piano to the guitar. Frustrated with having to deal with all the complex fingerings of standard tuning (E,A,D,G,B,E), Jordan began experimenting with alternate tunings. He finally arrived at what is now known as fourths-tuning (E,A,D,G,C,F). The combination opened new doors for the teenager in his effort to simplify the guitar's fretboard. As he told Guitar World: "Now I had hundreds of chords with about half as much to learn. And that was really significant. The whole world seemed to open up after that. I could begin to think more about music and less about mechanics."
Just six months after his tuning breakthrough, he began to toy with the idea of tapping. Because he was basically pioneering the field, Jordan had very little information to rely on except for his piano training. That knowledge and coordination helped him to perfect the tap technique, and he soon developed his own theory system to complement it. He calls it the chromatic system (briefly, the system utilizes the chromatic scale as opposed to the major scale for measuring intervals, and starts at zero instead of one when counting intervals).
Enrollment at Princeton University in 1977 yielded some startling news for the young guitarist. Faculty member Milton Babbitt had devised a similar system in the late 1950s. The two began working together, and Babbitt eventually became Jordan's adviser. Besides music theory, Jordan studied computers and their role in music composition, a field in which he continued to break ground even after graduating.
Armed with his degree in music, Jordan set out to conquer the Big Apple. In 1983 he released a self-produced LP entitled Touch Sensitive. While it contained all the trademarks of his remarkable style, the all-solo effort did little for advancing his career. He literally resorted to playing in the streets, dues-paying which eventually caught the attention of some of the jazz world's heavyweights. He wound up auditioning for impressario George Wein, which led to an unannounced performance at the 1984 Kool Jazz Festival. That gig was impressive enough to earn Jordan the right to open for Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis at Avery Fisher Hall. Stanley had indeed arrived.
In 1985 the jazz guitarist rose nearer the top with the release of Magic Touches. The record, produced by Al DiMeola, sold over 400,000 copies worldwide, an incredible number for an instrumental jazz album. Aspiring guitarists went back to their woodsheds while the critics' praise dispelled any notions that Jordan's tap technique was merely a gimmick. Dan Forte wrote in Guitar Player, "His music is valid regardless of the fact that he employs exclusively two-handed tapping --what he plays is as important as how he plays it." In the 20th anniversary issue of Guitar Player, Jim Ferguson selected it as one of the twenty essential jazz LP's of all time, stating that it "immediately assured him a prominent place in the annals of guitar history." The success of Magic Touches allowed Jordan some time off to delve back into computers, but a restless public necessitated the early release of his follow-up album.
While his first major outing contained three originals, various ensembles and a few punched-in solos, Jordan shifted gears for his next effort. Entitled Standards, Volume I, it was recorded live and completely unaccompanied in the studio. down beat reviewer Frank-John Hadley complained about poor song selection but still gave it a four-star rating. That in itself is a testament to Jordan's brilliant musicianship. His 1988 release, Flying Home, contains only one non-original, which should negate any complaints that might be left over from Standards. With eight compositions of his own, Jordan is just beginning to tap his writing skills.
by Calen D. Stone
Stanley Jordan's Career
Began studying classical piano at age six; later played trumpet and then guitar; played in soul and rock bands in high school; while in college, played with Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter; began recording, 1983; has also toured and played with such musicians as Michael Urbaniak, Richie Cole, Quincy Jones, and Grover Washington, Jr.
Stanley Jordan's Awards
Nominated for two Grammy Awards; has won several magazine readers polls.
- Selective Works
- Touch Sensitive Tangent, 1983.
- Magic Touch Blue Note, 1985.
- One Night With Blue Note (with others), Blue Note.
- Hideaway (with Stanley Clarke), Epic, 1986.
- Standards, Volume I Blue Note, 1987.
- Blind Date (film soundtrack; with others), Rhino, 1987.
- Morning Desire (with Kenny Rogers), RCA.
- Artists Against Apartheid--Sun City (with others), EMI.
- RU Tuff Enough (with Rebee Jackson), Columbia.
- Also recorded music for "The Bill Cosby Show."
- down beat, March, 1987.
- Guitar Player, September, 1983; July, 1984; May, 1985; October, 1985; December, 1985; February, 1986; January, 1987; February, 1987; December, 1987.
- Guitar World, May, 1984; September, 1985; September, 1986; January, 1987; March, 1987; April, 1987.