Jazz Rock Guitarist and Educator Pete Sklaroff
UK Jazz Rock Guitarist Pete Sklaroff
Photography by: Zoltan Dekany

(August, 2003) -  Guitarist and educator Peter Sklaroff's passion for guitar was sparked by legendary performers like Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore and Paul Kossoff.  Sklaroff is on the faculty of Leeds College of Music in England.  He was coordinator of the Guitar/Bass Department for many years and was recently promoted to the senior position of Higher Education Admissions Tutor.  Peter continues to teach guitar and is a lecturer of Jazz Performance Studies and Harmonic Techniques.

Sklaroff has toured alongside groups such as The Pretty Things, and artists B.B.King and Jack Bruce.  He is also a former member of 'Blues'N'Trouble'.  Some of the jazz artists Sklaroff has conducted workshops with include Mike Stern, John Scofield, Lincoln Goines and Joe Pass.  Sklaroff's background is as rich as it is diverse having explored rock music in his youth, then later expanded those interests and influences to include studies and performances in jazz.

       - Mark D McKinley     [Mark's Online Music Source]

The Interview  How long have you served on the faculty at Leeds?

Peter Sklaroff:  Well over thirteen years now, in fact I began working there initially in 1990 after I had just finished a long UK tour with a group called 'The Big Picture'.  I had also been a student there (at Leeds College of Music) some years before that, so it seemed like a natural progression.  At that time I was only working part-time, just a couple of days a week teaching guitar.  What's the average number of students enrolled in your harmonic techniques and jazz performance studies?

Peter Sklaroff:  These classes can vary in size from year to year, however an average number for the BA (Jazz Studies) Degree would be around 40 students.  The classes are comprised of all types of instrumentalists/vocalists not just guitar players or piano players.  Each year there are some very talented players too.  Some of the best teachers have said that they have learned as much from their students as they have taught.  Do you find this be true, and if so, would you elaborate on one such occasion?

Peter Sklaroff:  Yes...I would wholeheartedly agree with that statement.  It's difficult to single out one particular occasion but I can certainly recall teaching two guitar students a few years ago both of whom had a tremendous natural affinity for playing jazz despite the fact that they were struggling a little with the theory behind it.  What amazed me was their ability to sound 'right' when playing the music.  What I mean is that they sounded very natural despite some obvious gaps in their vocabulary.  I have seen many students who can readily understand the theory behind jazz but have difficulty producing the appropriate sounds on the instrument.  I've certainly had to deal with this myself in the past so I'm sympathetic to the situation.

If I can elaborate a little; the students I mentioned had both come from a background of blues/rock playing and had a reasonably good aural ability because of that.  They were however having a hard time understanding chord/scale theory but when they played, their 'time-feel' and overall conception of jazz phrasing was very good indeed.  Their ears had taught them that.  The experience taught me a lot about the importance of careful listening and playing for the music rather than just being aware of theoretical concepts alone.  I have to also say that I have come across some extremely dedicated students who improved almost on a weekly basis and that is always a great inspiration.  What's the single most important thing you'd like for your students to take from your lectures that is not directly related to music?

Peter Sklaroff:  That's a very interesting question ... In short, I would like it if they left the class more open-minded about life as well as music .... however I would be happy if they all understood that whatever you do in life, musician or not, you are judged on your actions and ability to relate to others.  Most of them I might add know this already.  I also hope that my students feel that they are part of a process which in fact we are all involved in, namely the passing of information from one generation to the next.  I am teaching them primarily because I have some information to pass on.  As a teenager you were inspired by guitarists such as Free's Paul Kossoff.  Was it the trademark vibrato through his repeated use of string inflections or something else that [caught] your attention?

Peter Sklaroff:  Paul Kossoff was certainly a major influence on me when I was younger, but now that I think about it (some 25 or so years later..) I truly believe that it was the combination of his guitar playing and Paul Rodgers incredible voice that really caught my attention.  His vibrato was quite unique and his note choice always seemed to match Rodger's voice so perfectly.  It's strange to think how young they were when they wrote those first few albums as the song-writing is very mature (as was the playing of course).  'Fire and Water' is one of the best albums that any British group ever produced in my opinion, great playing and outstanding performances all round.  Do you occasionally take time to revisit those rock influences?

Peter Sklaroff:  Yes ... I do.  As a matter of fact some of my students are genuinely surprised at my interest in rock/blues perhaps assuming that I only listen to jazz now.  For example, I have been a great fan of Steve Morse for over 20 years and although he doesn't play jazz as such, I love the intricacies of his compositions and his general approach to the instrument which is quite unique.  Jeff Beck is another all-time favourite musician of mine.  He never seems content to rest on his laurels and is constantly exploring new directions on the instrument.  I really admire that .... very much the same approach Miles Davis had.  I still think that 'Where Were You' from his 'Guitar Shop' album is one of the finest pieces of music ever recorded. It's magnificent.  Would you comment on influences outside the realm of music that have had a unique and positive effect on your life and your music?

Peter Sklaroff:  Well I'll need to think about that a little.  I enjoy reading history a great deal and I firmly believe that we should all learn to study the past so that we can be more prepared for the future.  I gain a lot from reading. Many years ago I studied art and one way or another I always get some inspiration from paintings, photography or sculpture.  It is usually in quite a subtle way, but sometimes you can see something that is so absolutely breathtaking it can't help but inspire you.  If someone approached you about writing a film score about a day in the life of a dragon fly without the use of traditional instruments, what items might you consider using to accomplish such a soundtrack?

Peter Sklaroff:  What a great question! ... let me see ... I would have to really research that I think by watching the insect and observing it's actions and activities to see what instrumentation would fit.  I couldn't really answer without doing that.  Interestingly enough I remember some years ago listening to Jeff Beck's soundtrack for the TV mini-series 'Frankie's House' about the Vietnam war.  I'm not sure what his brief was for that project, but I seem to recall that he mentioned in an interview that he spent some time just playing to the video tape with whatever came into his mind at the time.  I like the sound of that approach.  I would certainly hope that I would find something appropriate for the project.  What nontraditional instrument can you imagine incorporating into a jazz quartet?

Peter Sklaroff:  I love the sound of traditional pipes (the Gaelic variety) and I can imagine them being very successfully incorporated into a jazz setting particularly on ballads.  The harp could also be used well I think, although I think that someone has probably already done that.  What element would you be looking for with the inclusion of that instrument?

Peter Sklaroff:  A vocal quality more than anything else.  A lot of my favourite players have that kind of quality in their playing.  Some films in recent years have made use of pipes (or samples of them) and it seemed to work pretty well.  For melodic purposes I think they are very expressive.  Tell me about the new trio you're currently rehearsing with.

Peter Sklaroff:  Well this trio has had to make a few changes in recent months due to conflicting work schedules, but the general idea is to have a very interactive group where it's not just three soloists.  I love working off the ideas supplied by the other musicians and trying to put a personal group stamp on our arrangements.  We play a mixture of original material and some jazz standards.  I have played a lot in the past with a piano player so it has been a rewarding challenge to work as the only harmonic instrument for a change.  You have to be pretty careful about chord voicings and the like, but it has been great fun and continues to be.  Our next plan is to get some sort of CD out into the public domain, which is something that I have been planning for a while.  Organizing this seems to take forever but we're a lot closer now which is great.  I hope that people will like it.  Given the opportunity to explore unique collaborations with musicians of other musical styles, what would you expect to discover about yourself during such a project?

Peter Sklaroff:  I'd love to do more of this type of thing as it's easy to get into a musical 'rut' by playing in the same format all the time, (i.e. a jazz trio or quartet).  As one thought, I would like to work more with musicians who play very rhythmic music, say 'African' or Latin styles as I love that.  I would also enjoy writing with someone who is not constrained by traditional harmonic rules as it were.  In both cases I think it would be of great benefit to me as a musician and hopefully I could bring something positive to the project.  I think that no matter who you work with, if the end result is musically satisfying, then everyone will learn more about themselves as musicians.  Your thoughts on life and music have certainly been interesting.  What hobbies or interests do you pursue outside of your music and teaching?

Peter Sklaroff:  Although I donít get as much time to pursue it as I would like, I enjoy drawing a great deal (and if I had not pursued music as a career I think that art would have been my occupation of choice.  In fact at one point in my youth that was the plan).

Photography is still a great interest for me as I studied it at Art College in the early 1980ís, and one of these days Iím going to invest in a good digital camera to take advantage of the amazing technology that now exists.

Web-design is also a lot of fun for me, but Iím really still a novice with all that.  I have certainly enjoyed building my own website and where possible I try to keep improving that.  Itís had over 23,000 hits thus far and Iím very happy that others have found it interesting.

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