Howard Morgen Plays Gershwin (CD)
The Gershwin Collection For Solo Guitar
Paul Simon For Fingerstyle Guitar
Preparations: An Introduction To Fingerstyle Playing
Concepts: Arranging For Fingerstyle Guitar
Fingerstyle Favorites – Intermediate / Advanced

Howard Morgen Plays Gershwin (CD)

Guitarist Howard Morgen spends so much time writing and teaching, that he seldom gets into the recording studio. So when a CD like HOWARD MORGEN PLAYS GERSHWIN (Grace Court West Productions) comes along, it is a cause for rejoicing.

The disc is an offshoot of Morgen’s incredibly successful and edifying book, "The Gershwin Collection for Solo Guitar (Warner Bros.), which was reviewed in these pages some months back. Howard liked the arrangements so much that he decided to release them on CD through his own Grace Court West Productions.

"Lap piano" fans will bc mesmerized as Morgen weaves the 7 strings of his Foster guitar through this engaging program of more than one dozen favorites from the pen of one of the most prolific masters of American popular music.

Morgen's approach to the music might be best he described as "respectful." It’s hard to improve on the perfection of a Gershwin melody, so the guitarist skillfully frames them to exploit the unique mechanics of the guitar, tailoring his arrangements to enhance crystalline chord voicings and rich bass underpinnings.

The tunes will all be familiar ranging from the sultriness of "Summertime" to the infectious pairing of "I Got Rhythm/Fascinating Rhythm." Even if you’re not a fan of jazz or guitar (though I doubt you’d be reading this column if you weren’t,) Morgen’s presentation of these classic songs is guaranteed to delight.

- Jim Fisch / 20th Century Guitar Magazine, October 1999

If you are going to feature an album's worth of material by a single composer Gershwin, has to be the number one choice such is the wealth of beautiful tunes available. “They Can't Take That Away From Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Summertime,” “A Foggy Day ”- the list seems endless, all classics in the truest sense.

Howard Morgan is a seven string pioneer and here features his prowess as a solo performer, playing his own previously published arrangements of the Gershwin song book. While treading a well worn path Howard's interpretations sound fresh such is the inventiveness of his arrangements. His playing too has an authority not necessarily found on all solo guitar releases.

My only minor quibble is the sound of the piezo pickup and light strings employed on some tracks as I much prefer the sound of his barely amplified seven string Foster electric archtop guitar. All that being said this is another fine release in the steadily growing line of quality performances, started way back by George Van Eps, that reinforces the seven-string guitar as a major jazz instrument and not an unwieldy hybrid.

-Andy MacKenzie / Just Jazz Guitar, February 2000

Howard Morgen Play's Gershwin [GCW] will satisfy the most ardent jazz purist. On this solo outing, Morgen swings 15 classics by George Gershwin, simultaneously coaxing legato melodies, slinky bass lines, and contrapuntal harmony from a pair of Jimmy Foster solidbody 7-strings.

It takes courage to perform cover tunes in a solo setting. Playing originals, you have the luxury of building music around comfortable riffs, but when you tackle well known music, there’s no place to hide. The audience has a reference against which to evaluate your technique, sense of time, melodic abilities, harmonic savvy, and heart. In Plays Gershwin, Morgen passes this test with flying colors. (Fingerstyle jazzers will be glad to know that Morgen has published 6-string versions of his colorful arrangements. Titled The Gershwin Collection for Solo Guitar [Warner Bros.], the book offers years of study and enlightenment.) This is choice music from a fine player and gifted arranger.

- Andy Ellis / Guitar Player, August 1999

...Howard Morgen, FG's own Fretboard Insights columnist has put his own concepts to work, providing a guided tour of twelve (fourteen including the tunes in the medley) of George and Ira Gershwin’s choicest tunes on a CD entitled Howard Morgen Plays Gershwin [Grace Court West Prod.]. Throughout all ten tracks, Morgen varies the textural topography - walking bass lines, single note riffs, lush piano-like chordal passages, and ear-catching substitutionary twists - all to great effect. And though his toolbox is chock full of harmonic ideas, they always serve the music – not vice versa. Morgen remains faithful to the spirit of each song, resisting the temptation to springboard into harmonic acrobatics that leave all vestiges of the song – and the listener’s interest – in the dust. Sporting that arid tone that has become so inextricably intertwined with traditional solo jazz guitar, Morgen simmers throughout all ten tracks, giving us a window seat and the chance to enjoy the landscape, which is breathtaking.

- Fingerstlye Guitar, Sept./Oct. 1999

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The Gershwin Collection For Solo Guitar

While solo jazz guitar collections too frequently feature lackluster arrangements and overly rely on individual song titles to sell copies, Howard Morgen's work is a notable exception. A master of fingerstyle chord-melody, he typically takes an approach that is tasteful and imaginative, using an array of devices and an abundance of diverse grooves, textures, and hip voicings, regardless of the material. When he sinks his teeth into music with the depth of George Gershwin’s, the results are invariably several cuts above the norm.

Throughout this 16-tune folio, Morgen retains many of Gershwin' musical trademarks as he thoughtfully adapts the music to keys more suitable to the guitar and creatively adds touches like combining “I Got Rhythm" and “Fascinating Rhythm" (and other tunes) into brilliantly honed medleys that seamlessly pivot from one key to the next. Adding depth to this project, he frequently includes a song's verse, which is typically dropped by jazz musicians. And while none of the arrangements are exactly easy to play, many will be accessible to intermediate level guitarists and those with the will to intensely woodshed. (Other titles include "Summertime,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me," "A Foggy Day," "Someone To Watch Over Me," and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.")

Rounding out this tastefully presumed package (which features both standard notation and tablature) Morgen beautifully performs the arrangements on the accompanying CD, proving that he’s an artist as well as one of the guitar's leading instructors.

- Jim Ferguson / Jazz Times Magazine

It seems inconceivable that George Gershwin (1898-1937) was born 100 years ago. His melodies, which spewed forth fountain-like during his short life, remain as fresh and vibrant today as when they were first played. Combined with the clever wit and romanticism of his brother Ira's lyrics, the vast catalog of Gershwin songs like "Someone to Watch over Me", "Summertime", "I Got Rhythm" and "A Foggy Day" (all included herein) has served as a musical touchstone for three generations. It is no wonder that from the beginning, jazzmen have gravitated towards his tunes. They are intelligent, satisfying, inspiring and needless to say, ideal vehicles for improvisational music.

Howard Morgen has chosen one dozen of the Master's best to arrange for solo guitar, and the results are nothing less than wonderful. One word of advice. First unwrap the accompanying CD and give it a listen. If this doesn't make you want to learn this material, nothing will! The CD alone is worth the entire purchase price itself.

As with all Morgen projects, his arrangements (presented in standard notation and tab) require at least a medium level of proficiency on the guitar, and can be viewed as broader lessons as well. There is much to learn, as he fills the tunes with lush chord voicings and well-conceived bass motion. Once mastered, these arrangements will not only give great personal satisfaction, but also point the way towards new found avenues of individual expression.

- Jim Fisch / 20th Century Guitar Magazine Dec '98

The Gershwin Collection is a solid tome of guitar arrangements for the intermediate to advanced level guitarists. This is not a teaching text per se as there are no instructions or explanations on how the arrangements were written or how they should be executed. That being said, if you are an intermediate to advanced player you really should not need any explanations and learning is truly best taught by doing and listening which is what the Gershwin Collection is all about. By the time you work your way through these arrangements you will be more than worthy of an advanced degree in form, function and economy in motion as far as voice leading goes.

Howard states in his intro that his goal was to maintain the flow and essence of Gershwin. He achieved that, but in many cases managed to come up with reharmonizations that I do not feel are typical of these tunes, but Howard has pulled it off without interfering with the melodic flow or the "Gershwin Groove." George would have liked it!

The tunes are the normal Gershwin standards that you would expect: "I Got Rhythm," "Summertime," "Our Love Is Here to Stay" etc. Two of my favorites were: "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and "Lady Be Good" as they both have a little twist that I was not used to and were exceptionally pleasing to the ear.

The arrangements are notated in traditional notation as well as tab with left hand fingering. To me, the fingering is the most important part if you want to get the correct sound and learn the pieces in the most expedient manner. From my own teaching experience I find students often ignore the fingerings and immediately try to use their own assuming they know more than the author. Don't do it! The fingerings are well thought out and make a lot of sense.

The CD like the text is a "no bull" affair with the performance following the text without any verbiage before during or after the arrangements. The tunes are well executed and I could not hear any delineation from the written arrangements. The recording is very good both in the audio and performance quality. In fact, this CD makes a nice record just to put on and "chill out."

Beware you don't get discouraged. Howard makes the arrangements sound easy and the text also does not look that difficult. He writes more pianistically and less guitaristly than most authors of guitar literature (not a bad thing), but that does make for longer "down time" before you can truly enjoy this great music. I do not believe you have to be a strong fingerstyle player to execute these arrangements, but with the string skips and the manner in which the voicings fall I cannot see anyone executing these tunes with a pick or even pick and fingers.

Put the "Gershwin Collection" on your must have list as it's a keeper and a class act.

- Charles Chapman / Just Jazz Guitar Feb 1999

I am a perpetual student of guitar and have been impressed with Howard Morgen as a teacher, writer and player since I met him four years ago. At this point he has definitely outdone himself with this wonderful package.

Let’s start with the cover. Here is a b&w insert of Gershwin at the piano, a great shot of a blonde Jimmy Foster archtop seven string guitar and Howard playing a solid body D'aquisto Seven string dual pickup model. Turn to the back and see him playing a Foster solidbody seven string and the beautiful back of that achtop.

The list of Gershwin tunes include fifteen well loved pieces carefully transcribed for guitar played fingerslyle on steel or nylon strings. They range in difficulty and complexity from intermediate to advanced, but anyone who reads music or tab can derive a wealth of instruction from all the pieces. Howard has made some very interesting and unique arrangements for guitar and still kept true to Gershwin by preserving his phrasings, harmony, and particular stylistic approach. What an accomplishment, and of course, a labor of love. Interesting variations in keys, tempos and using the verses here and there make this book a worthwhile study. I got the biggest thrills from "I Got Rhythm/Fascinating Rhythm" and "Someone To Watch Over Me". “Summertime,” ”Bess," “A Foggy Day” and “Oh Lady Be Good” are fun for me too.

The book is for six string guitar despite Morgen’s exclusive use of seven in performances. The printing is good and easy to read and the notation and tab are accurate. Melody lines are well stated in each work and then improvised choruses follow. Chord symbols are clear and well placed and give guidance to following Howard’s approach to embellishment, substitution and reharmonizing - the most exciting part of the work.

Students using this book will learn some fresh approaches to harmony and get a good workout in chord voicings including many chances to see the advantage of open string voicings. See how nicely the bass lines keep the harmony together and drive the solo performance along. All or parts of earth piece are well worth working up to performance level and of course, Gershwin never lets us down.

The book itself is worth the price and to add immense enjoyment, value and entertainment is the accompanying CD recorded by the author who plays the pieces exactly as they are written. The recording quality is excellent and the performances are flawless and sensitive. In addition to its value as a teaching tool, this collection of heartfelt Gershwin classics reflect the genius of the author as a guitarist as well as a teacher and arranger. This is not your average CD demo to accompany an instructional tome, but a solo guitar album that stands on its own, a joyous collection of the greatest Gershwin interpreted on guitar as only Howard Morgen can.

- Dr. Frank Forte

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Paul Simon For Fingerstyle Guitar

...the transcriptions not only provide you with some classy material for your repertoire, but will help you gain insight to Simon's compositional genius...

- Rich Maloof / Editor choice Pick of the month / Guitar Magazine.

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Preparations: An Introduction To Fingerstyle Playing

Preparations is an excellent introduction, from the ground up, to the art of solo guitar playing (as contrasted to "guitar solo playing"). A good foundation is developed for the second volume in the series by the use of exercises, musical selections and fundamentals of music theory as they apply to guitar. This volume can be used by players to set the groundwork for classical, pop or jazz styles (Some of the techniques covered here also wouldn't hurt any of you rock and rollers, either!)

- Guitar World / January 1986

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Concepts: Arranging For Fingerstyle Guitar

If you've always stared in awe at jazz guitar chord symbols and envied players who could lay down mysterious chains of chordal delicacies, and if you've found yourself just wishing you could work some of the same magic, Concepts will get you started and keep you going. Morgen unravels and analyzes the voicings of fingerstyle jazz arrangements from square one, assuming that you can read standard notation and have a modicum of playing experience. This edition takes you through dozens of fingerstyle arrangements of popular standards, step-by-step. No excess verbiage, just musical meat. Logically organized and beautifully developed. Put this one on your shelf.

- Frets Magazine / April 1983

Probably the only book of its kind...features expert arrangements of complete tunes including: Don't Blame Me, Stomping At The Savoy, and Laura...what sets it apart is the fine material and the way it is presented...

Guitar Player / March 1983

With the current renewed interest in guitar synthesis, books like Howard's have an entirely new relevance

- Guitar World / January 1986

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Fingerstyle Favorites – Intermediate / Advanced

Whether you're looking for a few classy tunes to play on the gig, or new ways in which to approach your own arrangements, this volume is filled with priceless material.

- Guitar Player / May 1987

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