Must reading for many musicians - GPI magazines
New York — The music student who finds herself drifting off to dreamland during theory class, the struggling young guitar player trying to put a band together, the serious keyboard player trying to break into the studio scene in Los Angeles. These and many other musicians are finding good advice, information, and inspiration from three magazines - Keyboard, Guitar Player, and Frets, published by GPI Publications in California.
Over the years, these magazines have been filtering into high school and college classrooms. They've gradually taken their place among traditional textbooks and method books. Teachers find them helpful and informative, as well as entertaining, especially in situations where students are reluctant to respond to usual classroom methods.
Guitar Player, the first of the three, is geared largely to rock and jazz artists who play electric guitars, whereas the newer Frets is primarily concerned with acoustic stringed instruments. Keyboard, on the other hand, covers the whole ground, from the acoustic piano through all the electronic keyboards and synthesizers, with articles running the musical gamut from classical through jazz, country-western, folk, rock, disco, funk, soul, and so on. All three magazines, in addition to stories about prominent musical figures and events, feature columns on a wide variety of instructional and informative topics.
Publisher Jim Crockett takes a personal interest in all of this. He's an accomplished musician himself, with a varied background in radio, concert production, writing, and editing. He recalls how the GPI project began:
''Bud Eastman, a music-store owner and teacher, originally started with one magazine -- a kind of newsletter for his students. He wanted it to be an educational vehicle, but he also wanted to make it entertaining. There are a lot of musicians out there who are bored stiff with the classroom approach -- with a Walter Piston harmony book, for instance. Not that there isn't value in those things, it's just that not everybody can relate to them.''
Crockett feels that many music students today can relate, however, to a ''slick-looking magazine that can be bought on the stands, with a picture of Peter Frampton playing guitar on the cover.''
''But,'' he says, ''inside it's got instruction by Howard Roberts and Larry Coryell.'' Not to mention advice about where to find jobs, how to deal with unions, contracts, and the myriad other things that working musicians need to know, but often don't find in the classroom.
Roberts and Coryell, both well-known guitarists, are only two among many prominent musicians -- pianists Dick Hyman and Garrick Ohlsson are two others -- who write regular columns for GPI Publications. For some time GPI has been running columns by such figures, rather than the unknown, moonlighting high-school teacher or music-store owner.
The reason for this, according to Crockett: ''If Herb Ellis, or Barney Kessel , or another experienced guitar player writes a column about chord substitutions , you know he's paid his dues and he knows what he's talking about -- it's not just theoretical.''
And the musicians really seem to enjoy writing the columns, often finishing them up on breaks at work, or on a bus between jobs.
''Sometimes they're telegrammed in, or phoned in to us. Once a guy remembered his column at the last minute, so he phoned it in from London. These musicians, many are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and yet they take maybe three days, during which time they could be playing studio sessions, to sit down and do a column for us.''
Crockett sometimes gets letters from teachers requesting permission to use the magazines in the classroom. But, he says, ''More often than not, we'll hear through a letter to the editor from a student who says, 'My teacher was passing out the xeroxes of the so-and-so column' etc. and asks a question about it. If I were to hazard a guess, among all three magazines, probably 20,000 teachers are subscribing.''
The career-advice column in Keyboard, entitled ''Where the Jobs Are,'' started just 18 months ago and is one of GPI's most popular columns.
''Musicians today want to know - 'how can I make a living?' This is where part of our educational value comes in. How many musicians do we all know who have studied an instrument and don't know what to do with it? It's not just being a big rock and roll star, or touring throughout Europe with your favorite quintet - you can make a living repairing instruments, or selling them, or tuning pianos. There are all sorts of ways to capitalize on all the time you spent with your instrument.''
And ''Where the Jobs Are'' isn't afraid to touch on the unusual. One of the more recent columns told about what seems to be an emerging fad, the pizza-parlor organ, and how to get a job playing one.
The magazines have often helped the writers themselves, too. Crockett tells a story of how GPI Publications turned the career of one musician-columnist totally around.
''Tommy Tedesco, probably the best-known and most-highly respected of all Los Angeles studio players, who has been around for years, started writing a column for us to teach people about the L.A. studio scene. When GPI hit its tenth anniversary, about five years ago, we had a party and a jam session. Tommy came, and Herb Ellis and Lee Ritenour, and our staff was playing, too. Then Herb got Tommy to come and sit in and do some two-guitar stuff. Tommy hadn't played publicly since he was a teen-ager. He had been content just to sit in a studio, where nobody could see him - he was terrified to play in front of people. But he did it and loved it.
''In fact, he had such a good time, that that experience, coupled with his starting to become a star through the columns in the magazines, started him playing in a couple of clubs in L.A. Now he has at least five or six albums out, club dates all over southern California, and travels throughout the world doing concerts and clinics.''
So what Crockett describes as a ''nice symbiotic relationship'' has developed among the staff and contributors at GPI. Originally, these musicians were persuaded to write an educational column in exchange for free advertisements for method books, records, or other items they wanted to sell.
''From that situation developed the concept of making about a third of the magazines into how-to material,'' Crockett says.