Born: July 19, 1941 Primary Instrument: Guitar
Chicago-born guitarist and bassist Phil Upchurch has been backing jazz, blues, and pop stars for over 50 years. What magic formula has allowed him to record and perform with everyone from Otis Rush and Donny Hathaway to George Benson and Michael Jackson? Aside from Upchurch’s immense talent and versatility, it also has to do with the fact that the guitarist is very detail orientedparticularly when it comes to rhythmic and melodic phrasing. Whether comping or soloing, Upchurch thinks like a drummer and always plays with and not on top of the band.
“If you listen to [drummer] Philly Joe Jones’ snare, you can get a lot of ideas for rhythmic comping on the guitar,” offers Upchurch, who also points to Miles Daviswith his masterful blend of sustained notes and silenceas essential listening for all aspiring jazzers. Upchurch says that, like Davis, a great soloist must practice mindful interaction with the band, knowing exactly when and when not to play.