While Joshua Breakstone has been a guitarist since his early teens, cutting his teeth on Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, his most profound influences have come from players of other instruments. The fluid lines of his improvisations have often been compared to those of a trumpeter or saxophonist, and when he cites Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker among his prime influences, the comparison comes into focus.
“I think that really what I was listening for more was just music,” says the 54-year-old guitarist, “and the musicians that happened to be playing other instruments just happened to be the people who were producing the music that I was finding most impactful.”
“Just music” is exactly what Breakstone has been delivering for years, both on stage and on 19 recordings as a leader, playing with the likes of Kenny Barron, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Pepper Adams and Jimmy Knepper. He typically offers his music up one thoughtful, clean, mellow-toned note at a time, spiced with tangy chords. It’s what you’ll hear on his latest CD, No One New (Capri Records), and at the Outpost on Thursday, with familiar collaborators Earl Sauls on bass and Santa Fe’s John Trentacosta on drums.
Born in New Jersey, Breakstone had parents who exposed him to a variety of music, from Broadway shows to the New York Philharmonic. His sister Jill, who ran lights at the Fillmore East, opened the door to live rock performances. But it was Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown who sealed the deal with jazz.
“As a musician, and now later as a teacher, it’s very important to me not just what we play, but also how we play the things we play—how to play them beautifully and naturally,” he says. “After a while, I came to realize that it’s about playing things the way we would sing things ... especially Clifford Brown, for me, is a real example of how to play incredibly musically, how to have respect for each note, how to give each note the full duration and the full sound. That’s a real goal for any musician.”
It’s a goal he works on with his students, as well, teaching via the Internet, privately and in clinics. His classroom has suddenly expanded with the October publication of Jazz Études: Studies for the Beginning Improviser (Cherry Lane Music), the first in a three-part series, which has already attracted readers from Moscow to Hawaii.
Breakstone takes a relaxed, unhurried approach, whether meditating on a ballad or blistering through a burner. His tune “Over-Done,” the opening track of the new CD, starts off at a ripping pace, but the crisp, single-note line of the guitar seems to swoop and slide easily on a cushion of air over bassist Lisle Atkinson and drummer Eliot Zigmund. On his ballad “The Unknown One,” the guitarist slaloms cleanly through the changes in slow motion, carving out a reflective ambiance.
Perhaps his best work comes on Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks.” “For me, it’s really important to have an emotional attachment to anything that I play. ... What we’re trying to do is make beautiful music, and we’re trying to express what it is about that song that we love. ... It’s a very beautiful and also kind of eternal feeling and sound. For me, I can really get a connection with that kind of song.”
From bop burners to reflective, swinging ballads, Breakstone finds the meaning in the music and puts himself at its service with an elegant, understated grace.