Gary Wittner – guitar, composer
Howard Johnson – tuba, contra-bass clarinet
Bruce Ditmas – drums
Dominic Richards – bass
Gary Wittner’s first CD, Roadway, was released in July of 1999 by Invisible Music. It combines all of the elements of Gary’s musical life – original compositions, Monk’s music, and solo guitar Blues/Folk Americana.
Among the most unique elements of the album are the 5 bassless trios – original compositions performed on guitar, drums, and either tuba or contra-bass clarinet. Howard Johnson (whose performance/recording credits are like a who’s who in music: Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, T.S. Monk, Paul Simon, Gil Evans, John Lennon, The Saturday Night Live Band, The Band, etc.) covers the sonic territory of the bass on tuba or contra-bass clarinet. However, he does so without duplicating the role of the bass, and the result is a more open, freer rhythmic approach. This is augmented by drummer Bruce Ditmas (performed/recorded with Gil Evans, John Abercrombie, Paul Bley, Sam Rivers, Ira Sullivan, Reggie Workman, and many more), who paints a tapestry of rhythms around the guitar and horn, while still laying down a strong groove.
The 3 Monk tunes are performed more traditionally with acoustic bass in quartets with tuba and a duo with the guitar. They clearly show Gary’s 2 decades of involvement with this great body of American music.
The three solo guitar pieces are representative of Gary’s involvement with Blues/Folk Americana. This connection comes from his first love of Rural Blues (particularly the music of Lightning Hopkins and Big Bill Broonzy). Not a vocalist, Gary has incorporated this style in a fascinating way – he has created instrumental arrangements of Folk and Blues tunes using the guitar style of the blues masters, and then adding the harmonic and rhythmic sense of Monk. The result is a style that Gary refers to as “Big Bill Broonzy meets Thelonious Monk”. In his travels to universities throughout the world, Gary always includes a few of these pieces in his concerts, and they are a huge crowd pleaser. On Roadway, this style is represented by “Release Me”, “John Brown’s Body”, and “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry”.
“This is the best attempt I’ve yet heard of a guitarist capturing the quirkiness and pure eccentricity of Monk’s music… if Thelonious Monk is your bag, you’ll love this fine CD. It’s obvious that Wittner has digested and lived the music by the quality of his writing… backed by a great band, including the wonderful Howard Johnson on tuba, and some stellar arrangements, this is Monk for guitar at its best. Highly recommended.”
Jazz Guitar International – Rating – Four Stars
“… full of thought provoking inventiveness and humor. Wittner has a unique command of the guitar which is a wonderful, unifying presence on this recording. Add to this the unique virtuosity of Howards Johnson’s tuba and contrabass clarinet and the sensitive drums and bass of Bruce Ditmas and Dominic Richards, and the result is a concept like no other. Wittner is… an expert performer of Monk’s music, and his original compositions reflect Monks influence on him as a guitarist. Wittners live solo guitar performances of “Release Me” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” are a treasure.”
Dr. David Demsey – Contributing Editor Jazz Player Magazine – Chair, Jazz Studies Dept., William Paterson University