Interview with Teddy Pantelas, Jazz Musician.
Written by Erin M. Scull, 6/18/01
*Below is an interview I conducted with one of our area's favorite and most respected jazz musicians, Teddy Pantelas. He was nice enough to take the time out of his busy schedule so we can catch a glimpse of what is in the mind of a jazz great.


ES: Where are you originally from?
Teddy: Warren, Ohio

ES: How old were you when you got interested in playing the guitar and actually started to play?
Teddy: Well, I remember the first time I picked up a guitar was around 41/2 years old or so. Just about 5 years old to be more accurate. I got it for Christmas and I started messing with it, but it wasn't until I was about six that I really focused in on it a little more, but I had been messing around with it up until then. an early age.

ES: What prompted you to want to play the guitar?
Teddy: The Beatles. They were my favorite band-a big big inspiration. They had come out around that time. So, that's why I had to play the guitar.

ES: Do you play any other instruments?
Teddy: I play the bass and that's basically it...electric bass. I have messed around with the upright a little bit, but nothing worth going out in public and playing at a gig.

ES: We all know you as a jazz musician. Was jazz music always a passion from the start, or did your interest evolve from liking other music types?
Teddy: Well, like I said, I was raised with rock music and also my family introduced me to soul music like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations. So, when I was a kid, I had that as an influence, too, and I had done a lot of styles of music when I was younger, mainly rock. When I grew older, as a teenager, I started to listen to jazz a little bit. Artists like Chic Corea , John McLaughlin, George Benson, and Wes Montgomery. Once I heard Wes Montgomery...! See, the others were more like jazz rock. They were mixing the rock with the jazz and it was a good introduction to real jazz. But, once I heard Wes Montgomery, I knew that jazz was for me. It hit me right in the heart and I knew that was what I wanted to do.

ES: What were some of your favorite musicians growing up?
Teddy: Like I said the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Todd Rundgren, Phil Keaggy of the Glass Harp, got to mention him, and as I got into jazz it was Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Bill Evans. They were very big influences on me coming up as an artist. And now, also Pat Metheny, once he came out, it really hit home with the type of guitar playing he did.

ES: Music has changed throughout the years tremendously. Compared to the music of the past that has been wrote, composed, and performed by the musician themselves, how do you feel about today's mainstream artists that have no say in their music along with over produced sounds? Do you feel they can be considered artists?
Teddy: Well, you know, I'm not a judge of anyone or any style of music. Just like the past, there will be those bands that come and go. The ones that are here for maybe one year, two years, they might make alot of money, but then someone else comes along and fills their place. It's always the same style music that you hear on the pop stations. I've noticed that it always sounds the same. But, there will always be those artists that I feel that have a strong say in what they do and are really true to themselves, like,in modern times, Dave Matthews. You know, he's been one who's stuck around. U2 has been a band who's stuck around. Nirvana was a band that, even though they were short lived, they had their own originality. So, these band will come, and the other ones will just be like a product of a manufacturer. They have a little formula, a little look, and they do what they are supposed to do for that time, but they don't last as long because the product that they have isn't timeless. It doesn't go beyond generations.

ES: As a witness to many of your performances, I have to say you have a very unique sound. Can you explain how you have come up with your style, and who or what has been an influence to you and your music?
Teddy: Well, I think my style has been a mixture of alot of other styles. Like I said, the music I listened to growing up...Stevie Wonder, also, Donny Hathaway, singing wise. It's a cross between all of that style of music and jazz together because I'm not one of those musicians that just play "Bebop" jazz music. I like to play a wide range of music. I think that has to do with alot of how my style has developed. Also, I would have to say the original music I write has alot to do with it because the way the songs are made, there is a certain structure on how you have to solo over them, or improvise over them. This is because of the chord changes in the songs, and time signatures, and the format of the song. That helps you create a way of speaking through the instrument, a vocabulary that you have to use that works on those songs. I think all of that has to do with how my style is developed.

ES: Do you have any personal favorites in the Jazz world? Let's do top 3?
Teddy: 1. Keith Jarrett, a jazz pianist. I think he has got to be in the top three because his music has such a depth to it. He is one of the jazz musicians that also plays classical music, too. He's made CD's doing classical music, and when he does standards, he does them in a way nobody else does. All on acoustic instruments...piano, bass and drums, and he really digs deep. I feel his music will last centuries beyond this. They'll be studying his music just like they study Bach today.
2. Pat Metheny, he has been a very big influence and inspiration to me because he is not only a great writer but also a great musician, improviser, and he constantly keeps getting better. He never stays in the same place. He is never content with the place that he is...he is always pushing forward.
3. Stevie Wonder, I would have to say. The songs that he's written and the voice that he has... I feel that the message he gives has always been a positive message for the time. It seems like he really does care about people.

ES: Frank Tirro, author of the book "Jazz" describes jazz music as the only art to originate in America and he also believes the improvisation is the key to good jazz. Do you agree with Tirro's statements?
Teddy: Yes, I think it is our American Heritage. I think it came from the spiritual music of when the,sad to say, the slaves came to America and they worked in the fields... they would sing spirituals. Through that, that was a means of expressing themselves, and through that came the blues. And through the blues came jazz. It was all about the expression of the self, and I feel it is the one true art form that we have in America. It doesn't quite sound the same from anywhere else. You have to be a very good improviser, I mean, that's what jazz is. It's expressing yourself and improvising. It's limitless. That is one of the key things that makes the bulk of what jazz is and what the artist really is about. That has to do with improvisation.

ES: Teddy, you must be a busy guy! I hear that along with playing your music all over, you also teach and have been an active part of the music in plays at area playhouses and schools. What can you tell me about those experiences?
Teddy: Yes, I teach alot hear at my home. I have about 10 or 11 students. I really enjoy teaching very much. You get to see the student grow, a kind of metamorphoses. Something they weren't able to do in the past. That's alot of fun. Also, for the last, maybe, nine years, I had the opportunity to work at Ursline High School at least once a year, the last two years it's been twice a year, doing the music for their plays. That's been a big inspiration to me because I get to be around youth who have alot of talent, drive and energy that you can't even speak of. When you see them doing well, it's such an inspiration. I really enjoy doing that. I have also done some things at the playhouse and other events around the area. I also like that too. They are different venues, but it's fun.

ES: We know you have taught many students, but what has being a Jazz musician taught you?
Teddy: Well, it's taught me that you never know it all. There is always something more that you could do, there is always another level that you grow too, and you never stop learning. Like I mentioned about Pat Metheny, and how he'd never stopped growing, when you follow musicians that have been around since you have and you see how they grow, it's inspiring because it shows you that you can grow too. It just shows you that there is so much more out there, you can never be content or totally satisfied with your your playing or your music. You can't sit down, like you are in a rocking chair taking it easy, because there is so much more to do. You really miss out when you take a laxidazical approach to the music because you missed out on all that you really could have done. I feel it's so important to keep moving forward and never stop.

ES: I've seen many exciting and intense performances of yours in the past. Can you describe the feeling of being on stage, lost within your music?
Teddy: Good question. As you would imagine, you can't explain it in words, but when things are going just right, everyone is connected, all of the musicians are like one and your playing it's just such a free feeling. It's as if you not thinking about anything. You are just letting this thing flow through you like a spirit, and you are just letting it happen. You're kind of just there watching this happen. That's how I feel when things are really flowing. You know it's right because there is no thought or effort. It just flows. You are one with the music.

ES: What has been the most satisfying experience in your career so far?
Teddy: Well there have been alot of experiences for me that I have enjoyed. One has always been playing with a very close friend of mine, Jeff Grubbs. Whenever we play together, it's like a match made in heaven. It's a connection that you just can't explain, but every time we play together has been the most satisfying experience... our connection is so perfect. Just like in everything, chemistry is everything. Sometimes there are people that just aren't meant to play music together. They can be great musicians, but their not meant to hook up as musicians. One thing that I just told you today was that it was a very rewarding experience being able to have played on the Glass Harp's "Strings Attached Concert" that happened in September with Phil Keaggy. He has been a very big influence on my life, from 10 years old on up, and I actually got to play a concert with him, and there was a section in the concert where him and I actually got to trade solos together. That was very rewarding and satisfying for me to be able to play with this musician who has inspired me since I was young, as an adult, and share with him what I have to offer. Very rewarding.

ES: If someone likes music, but has never listened to jazz before, what can you recommend to them to introduce this exciting style of music in their life?
Teddy: Well, I would say to go listen to it live because you get to capture the feeling of the music happening right on the spot spontaneously. Even if you don't know or understand the music, you are hearing music that is being played right here in our time. There is a modern feel and originality that happens from this time, and I think the feel they would get from the music is the vibe from the heart of the musician or the writing. Even if they don't understand it, they can feel the vibe happening. And being live, one can get closer to it, and get more aquainted with it.

ES: Do you believe jazz is for everyone/all ages?
Teddy: It can be. It's definitely an acquired taste, I'll say that. I know even for myself, there was some jazz music that, when I first started listening to it, I didn't understand. As listened more, I began to appreciate it more, and understand it. It's there for everyone who wants it. That's the beauty of it, not everyone has to like it. It's there if they want to check it out, and like I said, it's a big growing tool.

ES: For all aspiring musicians, do you have any advise to share, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of being a musician?
Teddy: My advice is to never stop, and practice all the time. Always continue to practice, and get as much music you can, that you can your hands on and try to learn and read it. If it's jazz music, learn as many songs as you possibly can learn. Not only the melodies, but the chord changes, and know them inside and out. That will help with the vocabulary and the language that they are trying to check out. There is always going to be downfalls with anything. You may not become a rich famous star, but you'll never regret playing music. It not only makes you happy, but it makes other people happy too. That's what I've found. The fact that it is endless in learning, you will never be able to get bored with it. You'll never be able to say "I got it now." So I would say, keep pursuing it, working hard at it and write your own music, too.

ES: 10 years from now, where do you see yourself...still in music?
Teddy: Well, I hope alive, for one thing, and I hope I have a smile on my face. I hope that my music will have reached a much wider audience. That's the one thing I really do want. I feel that I have been given a gift of playing music and I have been working hard at it. Also, I have been given a gift to write it. When I write music, I have to feel it come upon me. It's kind of like a spirit in a sense saying it's time to write now. It's never methodical or formulated, in other words. I feel there is a reason for it. I have to work at these songs I write, but I feel that they just can't be for no reason. So, I would hope that, 10 years from now, my music has a much wider audience. That's really what I desire and want.

ES: We know you have been playing at Cedar's every Tuesday night for a long time. Any other upcoming plans or dates at other venues planned?
Teddy: Yes, I play all over the area. Anywhere between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I have played in Seattle and other places also. Every Thursday I am playing at a restaurant in Warren called Opus 21. They are having a jazz night there. You'll find myself with a trio there. I basically free lance, where ever the jobs are. I'll be doing some different things in Pittsburgh as the next couple of months go on. It's never just one place, it's alot of traveling and playing with other musicians...It's alot of fun.

ES: Well, Teddy, thank you for your time.
Teddy: Well, thank you Erin. It's been a pleasure being interviewed by you.


Copyright © 2000Teddy Pantelas