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Guitar Gallows Bio Information - LENNY BREAU
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Lenny Breau (August 5, 1941–August 12, 1984) was a guitarist. He was known for blending many styles of music including: jazz, country, classical and flamenco guitar. Breau, inspired by country guitarists like Chet Atkins, used fingerstyle techniques not often used in jazz guitar.

Breau was born August 5, 1941, in Auburn, Maine. His francophone parents, Harold "Hal Lone Pine" Breau and Betty Cody (née Coté), were professional country and western musicians who performed and recorded from the mid 1930's until (in Hal Breau's case) the mid 1970's. Their son began playing guitar at the age of eight. When he was twelve years old he started a little band with friends, and by the age of fourteen he was the lead guitarist for his parents' band, billed as "Lone Pine Junior", playing Merle Travis and Chet Atkins instrumentals and occasionally singing. Breau made his first professional recordings in Westbrook, Maine at the age of 15 while working as a studio musician. Many of these recordings were released posthumously on a CD appropriately titled Boy Wonder.


He met pianist Bob Erlendson, who began teaching him more of the foundations of jazz. In 1962 Breau left for Toronto and soon created the jazz group Three with singer/actor Don Francks and Eon Henstridge on acoustic bass.

Three performed in Toronto, Ottawa, and New York City. Their music was featured in the 1962 National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz, and they recorded a live album at the Village Vanguard in New York City and appeared on US network television on the Jackie Gleason and Joey Bishop shows. Returning to Winnipeg, Breau became a regular session guitarist recording for CBC Radio and CBC Television, and contributed to CBC-TV's Teenbeat, Music Hop, and his own Lenny Breau Show. To many Canadians, Breau's jazz is still an evocative memory of the sound of CBC in the sixties.
The Breau family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1957, and their new band travelled and performed around the city and province as the CKY Caravan. Their shows were broadcast live on Winnipeg's CKY on Saturday mornings from various remote locations. One of their regular listeners was Randy Bachman, who was sixteen years of age at the time. On one occasion Bachman bicycled to a Caravan performance in his West Kildonan neighborhood and ended up meeting Breau. Breau and Bachman soon became friends, and Breau informally began teaching Bachman, who has since described those lessons as "...the beginning of my life as a guitar player."

Around 1959 Lenny Breau left his parents' band after his father slapped him in the face for improvising on stage and sought out local jazz musicians, performing at Winnipeg venues including "Rando Manor" and the "Stage Door".
He met pianist Bob Erlendson, who began teaching him more of the foundations of jazz. In 1962 Breau left for Toronto and soon created the jazz group Three with singer/actor Don Francks and Eon Henstridge on acoustic bass.

Three performed in Toronto, Ottawa, and New York City. Their music was featured in the 1962 National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz, and they recorded a live album at the Village Vanguard in New York City and appeared on US network television on the Jackie Gleason and Joey Bishop shows. Returning to Winnipeg, Breau became a regular session guitarist recording for CBC Radio and CBC Television, and contributed to CBC-TV's Teenbeat, Music Hop, and his own Lenny Breau Show. To many Canadians, Breau's jazz is still an evocative memory of the sound of CBC in the sixties.

In 1963 and 1964 Breau appeared at David Ingram's Fourth Dimension at 2,000 Pembina Highway in Fort Garry, a suburb of Winnipeg. Every Sunday night was a hootenany open to all. Another regular at the club on Sunday Nights at the same time was Neil Young and his band with Vancouver CKNW's Rick Honey as his drummer.

Breau's fully matured technique was a combination of Atkins and Travis fingerpicking and Sabicas-influenced flamenco, highlighted by extraordinary right hand independence and flurries of artificial harmonics. His harmonic sensibilities were a combination of his country roots, classical, modal, Indian, and especially jazz, particularly the work of pianist Bill Evans.

In 1967, recordings of Breau's playing from The Lenny Breau Show had found their way into the hands of Chet Atkins. The ensuing friendship resulted in Breau's first two LP issues, Guitar Sounds from Lenny Breau and The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau. Live! on RCA. He lived in various Canadian cities until 1976 when he returned to the United States. He spent the next several years moving between Nashville, Maine, Stockton, California and New York City eventually settling in Los Angeles in 1983. These years were spent performing, teaching, and writing for Guitar Player magazine. During this time, he had custom 7 string guitars made, one classical and one electric. Only a few more solo albums and albums recorded with fiddler Buddy Spicher and pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons were issued during his lifetime.


Breau had continual drug problems from the mid 1960s, which he managed to get under control during the last years of his life. On August 12, 1984 his body was found in a swimming pool at his apartment complex in Los Angeles, California. The coroner reported that he had been strangled. His wife Jewel Breau was the chief suspect in the case but she was never charged with his murder and the case is still unsolved.

Many live and "lost" recordings have been issued since Breau's death. His studio recordings have also been reissued. Thanks to the efforts of Randy Bachman of Guitarchives, Paul Kohler of Art of Life Records and others, a whole new generation of listeners have access to his music.

A documentary entitled The Genius of Lenny Breau was produced in 1999 by Lenny's daughter Emily Hughes. It includes interviews with Chet Atkins, Ted Greene, Pat Metheny, George Benson, Leonard Cohen, Randy Bachman and Lenny's family members. One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau by Ron Forbes-Roberts (University of North Texas Press 2006) is considered the definitive work on Breau. Nearly 200 people were interviewed for the book which includes a thorough analysis of Breau's music and an extensive comprehensive discography of his recordings.

CBC Radio presented a documentary-soundscape on Lenny Breau entitled "On the Trail of Lenny Breau" (the title is in reference to Lenny's parent's song "On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine"). It was first broadcast on September 13, 2009 as part of a regular weekly program called Inside the Music. It was narrated by Lenny's son Chet Breau. The one-hour feature was produced in Montreal by John Klepko.


The Genius of Lenny Breau
A young Lenny Jazz session
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Lenny LIVE in Maine
"They Marvel At Guitarist's Mastery" By Ralph Thomas
(From The Daily Star-September 4, 1962)

Three months ago, a small baby-faced young man came to the "big city" to make his way as a jazz musician. Only 20 years of age, Lenny Breau arrived with his wife and two children and more pluck than cash for the grind to recognition.

In fact, until two weeks ago, when he finally got his permit to work regularly in the city from the musicians' union, Breau had to live in the home of his manager, George Sukornyk, a lawyer recently turned manager of young talent. He had to send his wife back home to Winnipeg. His professional life consisted of a few appearances in coffee houses, alone or with Don Francks, with whom he is now appearing at George's Spaghetti House.

But however few his engagements, jazz buffs sought him out, and sat and listened to his work. Perched on a stool, he has a way of making the guitar expressive of anything from the absurdly comic to the most delicately beautiful, to the wildly angry and dissonant. He weaves, he makes faces, and he grunts. But he comes across.

Veteran musicians have marvelled at his mastery and showmanship. Ed Bickert, long considered the leading guitarist in the city, grunted as he hurried away from hearing a Breau performance; "I'm going home to practice."

Self-taught, Breau learned to play the guitar at the age of six. By the time he was 12, he was touring regularly in the Grand Ole Opry country and western show with his father and mother, recording artists Hal Lonesome Pine and Betty Cody.

Born in Malta, he went to Winnipeg at the age of 15, when his parents took a two year contract with a local radio station. When they left, Breau stayed. One reason for staying was a pretty Winnipeg girl, named Valerie, whom he married at 17. The other was the the desire to broaden his musical abilities. Jazz became and still is his main interest.

"There were only three jazz musicians in Winnipeg then," Breau insists, but one of them was ex-Toronto trumpet player, Bob Earlingston. "I'd always played by ear till then," Breau remembers, "but Bob started to teach me what I was doing on the instrument." He also picked up mainly from records, the guitar techniques of flamenco and classical artists. "You gotta learn as much as you can about what the greats are doing," he said, "before you can develop your own personal style."

It was at one of his classical recitals in Edmonton that Carlos Montoya heard him. Later Montoya wrote away to Ramirez, the famed Spanish maker of flamenco guitars, asking that he make Breau a guitar. He works on flamenco especially because no other jazz guitarist today, except Charlie Byrd, plays in the Spanish style.

"My ambition is to make the guitar sound like a piano, like it's being played with two hands at once," he explained.

"Usually a guitarist has to play with a group or other instruments. Here I have a chance to develop."

And the price of developing the lines he wants Breau hasn't feared paying. In Winnipeg he was offered a chance by Murray McEachern of the Benny Goodman band to play in Los Angeles.

"I turned it down. That style of jazz is 30 years old and it doesn't interest me," he said.

Recently he was offered a job in New York playing in a dixieland band at the Metropole. Again, Breau wasn't interested.

The next six weeks will see Breau going on a tour of Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto, and possibly Montreal clubs, with Don Francks.

Then its back to hold down a steady television job on "Country Hoedown" as soloist and member of the band. He will also be on radio.


"Two Other Virtuoso Musicians Doing Fine Work In Town"
By Jack Batten
(From The Globe And Mail-January 25, 1973)


There are a couple of virtuoso jazz musicians at work in the city this week-and that isn't even counting Ella Fitzgerald or Oscar Peterson. The othe two virtuosos are Lenny Breau, the Winnipeg born guitarist who's leading his trio at George's Spaghetti House, and Hugh Thompson, a pianist who moved to the city from Cleveland a couple of years ago and who has taken his trio to Stop 33 at the top of Sutton Place for the next couple of weeks.

One of the great appeals of breau's work-and it was appealing enough to pack George's to the walls on the night I visited the place, packed with a crowd that included a high percentage of dazzled and envious fellow musicians-is that he approaches each of his numbers with a kind of wide-eyed curiosity. He lends the impression that he doesn't know any better than the audience what's going to spring from his guitar, and when the music begins to flow, he seems as agreeably surprised as his listeners at the grace of his inventions.

He played three tunes in the set I heard, and each one represented something different in style. On the first, he got inside the tune, which happened to be "Autumn Leaves", in a Bill Evans-like way, discovering as he went something new and involving in the melody. On the second number, it was all stops out, and he didn't so much explore the song as overwhelm it. And the third, "Shadow Of Your Smile", offered a combination of the two approaches, good swift inventive jazz.

A word, too, for Breau's bassist. He's Michel Donato. He plays a stand-up wood bass, and he attacks it with just about prodigious technique and imagination.



Lenny Breau Remembered
By Jim Ferguson
(Guitar Player Magazine November 1984)


"Lenny Breau was the most innovative guitarist since Wes Montgomery," is how jazz artist Phil Upchurch describes the legendary fingerstylist. Lenny's friend and mentor Chet Atkins profiled him as "the greatest guitar player in the world today." And tributes by Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, and Johnny Smith have been equally strong. Regardless of style, few musicians have been universally held in such high esteem by their peers.

While Lenny's untimely death on August 12 was initially reported to be a swimming related accident, several days later it was announced that he had apparently been strangled. This brutal end to one of the instrument's most brilliant voices shocked the jazz world and especially the guitar community in Los Angeles, where Breau had lived for approximately the last nine months. At this writing, the case is unsolved.

Best known for his stunning, crystalline octave harmonic arpeggios, Lenny Breau possessed one of the most comprehensive musical vocabularies in the history of the instrument. Although he will no doubt be most remembered for his talents as a solo artist, he was an expert ensemble player who felt equally comfortable with bebop, fusion, rock, and funk. In a solo improvisational context, he could transform a familiar jazz standard into an extended tonal painting, complete with changes in meter and mood, rich harmonies, and introspective sections offset by formidable technical displays. A student of jazz, classical, and country styles, as well as more exotic forms such as flamenco and East Indian music, he had a vast array of sounds and textures at his disposal.

One of the cornerstones of the Breau style was his uncanny ability to play chords with his right-hand thumb and first two fingers, while superimposing single-note lines with the third finger and pinky. Early explorations of Chet Atkins' right-hand approach led him to master the coordination of two distinct parts and develop the skill to emphasize a voice at will. He occasionally added a bass line to this concept, resulting in a mind-boggling three-voice tapestry that made an indelible impression on all who heard it.

The son of country music performers Hal "Lone Pine" Breau and Betty Cody, Lenny was born in Auburn, Maine, on August 5, 1941. According to his uncle Gene, he was "clapping hands in time onstage to his parents' band as early as three." By the time he was eight, the inevitable influence of country music had taken hold, and Lenny began playing guitar. Four years later, the lad was performing with his folks on country circuits, occasionally billed as "Lone Pine, Jr. "In an unpublished interview from 1981, he recalled: "My folks were country music performers. They made records and even did a few tours with the Grand Ole Opry. There always were a lot of guitarists around." While Lenny was still a teenager, his family relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Largely inspired by Chet Atkins' work, Breau had been primarily playing country music prior to moving north, although he had also begun listening to jazz guitarists, including Tal Farlow, Johnny Smith, and Barney Kessel. In Winnipeg, he met several jazz players and was intrigued by melodies, harmonies, and progressions more complex than those country music had to offer. "I started playing jazz by slowing down Tal's records and analyzing his runs," he explained. "Bob Erlendson, a local piano player, taught me chord structure and which scales go along with them. Later, I began listening to [pianists] Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. Then I got interested in [saxophonist] John Coltrane." The combination of practice and experience eventually began to pay off, and Lenny soon developed a considerable reputation, working as a studio musician for the local Canadian Broadcasting Company affiliate and even hosting his own program.

Chet Atkins knew the Breaus through their record label, RCA. However, he had no idea they had such a talented son. Lenny explained: "Chet heard one of my studio tapes, and evidently was impressed." While Atkins made the young guitarist a standing offer for a recording contract, at the time Lenny felt he wasn't ready. A few years later, however, his confidence had grown. In 1969, he cut the legendary Guitar Sounds From Lenny Breau under Chet's auspices. Later that same year, he produced The Velvet Touch Of Lenny Breau Live.

Despite the undeniable talent that Guitar Sounds displayed, it featured popular tunes that had little appeal for the jazz record-buying public. Consequently, the album sold few copies, although Breau became known among musicians-especially guitarists-as the most innovative instrumentalist in years. Velvet Touch fared little better, and Lenny's commercial potential looked uncertain.

Unable to cope with the pressures of performing and financial struggles, he turned to drugs and alcohol, which plagued him on and off for rest of his life: "When I initially recorded, I didn't feel ready-I wanted to practice for another 10 years first. And then the records didn't sell, because RCA didn't get behind them. I got depressed, and after a while had a drug problem, which added to everything."

It wasn't until nearly 10 years after Velvet Touch that he recorded again. During that time, the Lenny Breau legend grew as fans fueled by rumors generated by infrequent club dates-speculated on his whereabouts. "I never quit playing," he explained. "During that period, I learned about pain, which became evident in my music. I also became inspired by impressionist painters such as Renoir, and wanted to do the same sort of thing with music-portray whatever mood strikes me the way Keith Jarrett does on piano."

In 1978, Breau emerged from obscurity and appeared as co-leader with pedal steel master Buddy Emmons on Minors Aloud. Recorded in Nashville, the swinging session proved that Lenny was not only alive and well, but also in top form. Outstanding cuts include the melodic solo with self-accompaniment on "Secret Love," a rousing series of fours on Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple," and his jazz-waltz version of J.S. Bach's "Bouree In E Minor."

After being absent from the the public's eye for nearly a decade, Breau cut three albums in 1979. Recorded in late 1977 and early 1978, Five O 'Clock Bells found the guitarist in an uninhibited yet meditative solo setting on electric and nylon-string instruments. Featuring clearly unrehearsed first takes, the disk stands as one of the most striking examples of solo guitar impressionism ever recorded (Mo' Breau, recorded at the same session, was released in 1981). Another solo work also appeared that year-The Legendary Lenny Breau ... Now!-which was recorded by Chet Atkins but received little promotion.

Lenny's third album from 1979, Lenny Breau, featured the Canadian rhythm section of bassist Don Thompson and Claude Ranger, and friend Chet Atkins on one track. Recorded via the challenging direct-to-disk method, which requires cutting an entire side at one sitting with no restarts, the hip group effort is an exciting example of Breau at his imaginative, free-blowing best on electric. Playing a radically cutaway custom Tom Holmes solidbody, he creates the illusion of an electric piano comping behind his extended single-note solos.

Not content to remain at a comfortable plateau for long, Lenny continually searched for new ways to expand his art and play what he imagined. Inspired by the sophisticated chord voicings of Bill Evans, he began using a unique acoustic 7-string instrument made by Dauphin. While most 7-string exponents follow in the footsteps of pioneer George Van Eps, who utilizes an extra A tuned an octave below the open fifth string, Breau instead conceived of playing high-register close-voiced chords with a high A. Until he found a fine enough string for the high A, he employed a 20-lb test fishing line. Breau later played solidbody 7-strings made by Holmes and Kirk Sand, who is based in southern California.

Standard Brands, Lenny's last available LP, was released in 1981, although it was recorded over a three-year period. A duo with Chet Atkins, the album is a refined blend ofjazz and country textures, reflecting the pair's roots and mutual admiration. That same year, Breau appeared in the documentary Talmage Farlow, and began writing a well-received monthly instructional column for Guitar Player (an interview appeared in the October 1981 issue).

In November 1983, after spending the previous three years in Canada, California, Nashville, and Maine, Lenny settled in Los Angeles and began teaching privately and giving seminars. He appeared at the Hyatt Sunset with Tal Farlow and regularly played Monday nights at Donte's in North Hollywood, where the audience frequently included many of the area's top guitarists. After Lenny's death, a benefit organized by the club featured vibraphonist Red Norvo and guitarists Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, and Ron Eschete. A similar concert in Nashville included guitarists Mike Elliot and John Knowles, as well as Buddy Emmons. Guitar Player and GITjoined to create the Lenny Breau Memorial Scholarship (for details, contact the Musician's Institute, 6757 HolIywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028).

For a musician as unique and innovative as Breau, he was probably the most underrecorded guitarist in the history ofjazz. His inability to sustain an active career resulted in him being known primarily to guitarists. Unfortunately, he had yet to make the definitive work representing his vast talents. Of the eight LPs under his own name, only four remain in print: Five O 'Clock Bells, Mo ' Breau, Minors Aloud, and Srandard Brands. However, there has been talk of his first two albums being reissued, and arrangements are being made to make available some previously unreleased material. Lenny appears on two tracks on Phil Upchurch's soon-to-be-released album on JAM (1737 De Sales St., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036).

Recently, Chet Atkins said of his longtime friend: "He was a great fingerstylist with fathomless knowledge. His legend will continue to inspire future generations." All who knew Lenny will remember him as a softspoken man with a warm sense of humor. For being such a musical giant, he had no pretenses and was always more than wilIing to share his knowledge with fellow guitarists. And like so many artists, he received little in return for what he gave the world. But for those touched by his exceptional music, Lenny will live forever.


Lenny and Chet LIVE