The Quest of Mr. Goodchord
By Mark Small
Guitar Professor Mick Goodrick
Photo by Mark Small
Musical careers frequently blossom after an important musical experience taking place during childhood. Often the fruit borne of later serious musical commitment hardly resembles the buds that appeared in youth. Such is the case with Professor Mick Goodrick, an internationally hailed jazz guitarist known for his harmonic mastery of the guitar.
"I started miming Elvis by holding a tennis racquet for a guitar and mouthing the words to 'Hound Dog', Goodrick revealed. "I asked my parents for a guitar, but they didn't know how serious I was about playing, so they bought me a ukulele." By the age of 11 years old, Goodrick had sidelined the uke in favor of a real guitar and was trying to master Link Wray's 1958 rock and roll instrumental hit "Rumble." By the time he was 15, Goodrick was tuning in to jazz.
"The summer I turned 15, I went to the Stan Kenton Summer Band Camp," Goodrick recalled. "There were a lot of people from Berklee teaching there. That's where I first met John LaPorta (now a professor emeritus) and Jack Peterson (Berklee's first guitar professor). After that, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in music and check out Berklee." By the fall of 1963, he was enrolled as a music education major at the school.
After graduating in 1967, Goodrick taught for four years at Berklee before shifting gears. "A lot of my friends had moved to New York or gotten gigs with established bands," he said. "I decided that if I was going to get a chance to play, I'd better get out there too." He joined Gary Burton's quartet in 1972 and began playing on international stages alongside Burton, Harry Blazer '70 (drums), and Abraham Laboriel '72 (bass). Goodrick worked with Burton's group through 1976 and recorded five albums with the vibist.
As a member of Burton's band, Goodrick explored some challenging repertoire and gained acclaim for the harmonic intricacy of his accompaniments. During that time, Goodrick also decided to depart from established jazz-guitar technique. "After playing classical guitar and knowing what was possible playing with the fingers instead of a pick, I felt that as a jazz player, I should have those techniques available all the time," Goodrick said. "I phased out the pick a little at a time and finally threw it away in 1976."
Soon afterward, Goodrick left the Burton band, turning over all guitar chores to rising jazz star Pat Metheny, and for several years focused on teaching. In 1982, he began getting calls to play in Europe, Asia, Canada, and even Cuba with such artists as Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, and others. In the 1990s, Goodrick led his own quartet in concerts throughout Europe. He also joined forces with Berklee faculty members including Mili Bermejo-Greenspan, Laszlo Gardony, Hal Crook, Greg Hopkins, and George Garzone to play concerts locally and abroad. He returned to the Berklee faculty in 1997.
Goodrick's deep knowledge of the guitar's harmonic possibilities, a pursuit he has explored from the time he was a teenager, has been his professional trademark. "I remember getting a Mel Bay guitar book with diagrams that were labeled 'orchestral chord forms,'" he said. "There were so many different types of chords in there. The first time I played a C7 flat-five with the F-sharp in the bass, I thought it was the hippest thing I'd ever heard. At an early age, I developed an interest in unusual harmonic sounds." For decades, Goodrick has continued his quest for chordal sounds that he hasn't heard before.
The search led him to team up with Associate Professor Mitch Haupers in 2000 to organize and publish Mr. Goodchord's Almanac of Guitar Voice-Leading. In its first two volumes (totaling 600 pages), Goodrick, a.k.a. Mr. Goodchord, reveals his findings about triads, seventh chords, and other harmonic structures derived from the major, melodic minor, and harmonic minor scales. Goodrick and Haupers present the diatonic chords of each scale in close and spread voicings moving through six cycles (root motion ascending in seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, and sevenths).
The exhaustive study yielded some unex- pected results that extend far beyond the harmonic exploration of the guitar that the title implies was Goodrick's original intent. Actually, some of the material is nearly impossible to play on guitar and is much simpler on piano. Goodrick's systematic approach to voice leading makes valuable tools available to composers and improvisers regardless of their instrument. To date, the first two volumes have been hailed by such jazz artists as Michael Brecker, Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny, Russell Ferrante, Dave Liebman, Carla Bley, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Haslip, and others. (Visit www.mrgoodchord.com to read the artist endorsements of the books and more.)
"If I had understood the scope of this project before I started, I might not have done it," Goodrick said. "It's massive. As I started working, it kept growing. I was writing and working out these chords that I'd never played or heard beforeeven in a diatonic setting. For the first time, I think, all the diatonic, four-part chords that occur within major, melodic, and harmonic minor scales are identified. There is no way there can be any others."
Goodrick is pleased at the reception of his work by nonguitarists. "When you work with the books, it is almost like the material speaks to you. And it speaks to everyone differently. Everyone can use these books, and whatever music comes out of the experience will be entirely their own. Mitch and I thought that was very important."
A younger musician might have been tempted to hold back some of his hard-won
knowledge, but Goodrick is philosophical about passing along what
he has gained from his lifelong musical quest. "In getting older,
I have thought that there are some things I've learned that could
be useful to other people. From a purely human standpoint, it seems
really important for me to share them." Goodrick and Haupers are
completing the final volume of the voice-leading almanac and have
started a new book on rhythm.