Music for Music: Joe Policastro Trio, Part 2


Joe Policastro Trio: Replicating the Voice

By Dan Ursini c2017

The members of The Joe Policastro Trio take on ambitious arranging projects and they have fresh ideas about how they do it. In an email interview, guitarist Dave Miller said:

“Although this trio heavily arranges a lot of its material, one of the ideals we try to uphold is the integrity of the melody. Basically, we still want the casual listener to be able to recognize the song.”

An intense, 12-minute version of “America” from “West Side Story” opens a performance video posted December 21, 2017:

Playing the melody often means covering the vocal on guitar. Miller explained: “In many cases, the original melody is sung by a singer and my job is to replicate that feeling of the human voice, which has a different set of nuances and parameters than the guitar. Though often, especially in the blues guitar tradition, people have been trying to do this for decades with bends and slides, etc., they mirror the ambiguous pitch qualities of the human voice….”

The trio’s version of “Me and Mrs. Jones” features very nuanced playing, here with special guest Andy Brown on guitar:

Miller continued: “When I am practicing the melodies… I want to find the way that this melody speaks most effectively on my instrument. When I was living in NYC, I took about a year of weekly lessons with pianist Connie Crothers. Most of what we worked on was singing along with Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, etc. Either singers or instrumentalists who were experts at phrasing like a human voice. I’ve taken this idea to become a sort of gospel for me moving forward.”

Here is the trio’s distinctive rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Miller discussed the guitarists and vocalists who influence his playing:

“I gravitate towards guitarists who are really strong and expressive when they play melodies. Off the top of my head, in no particular order, that list might include Link Wray, Gabor Szabo, Chet Atkins, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Steve Cropper, Neil Young, Ry Cooder, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Ribot, Dick Dale, Duane Allman, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Jeff Parker, Bobby Broom, Peter Bernstein… And, of course, a whole slew of singers,… Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Donny Hathaway….”

The trio does an elegantly phrased cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’” with a brilliant crisp vamp at the end:

Links to related columns:

Music for Music: Joe Policastro Trio (Part 1)

Music for Music: Joe Policastro Trio (Part 3)

Link to Dave Miller’s Website