If you go to Charlie's Georgetown tonight or Monday, don't expect to get a front-row seat. Washington's guitar corps is likely to be there to catch Stanley Jordan, the 24-year-old Princeton graduate who performed unannounced at last year's Newport/New York Jazz Festival and walked off with better press than a number of legendary players.
Much of the buzz centered on Jordan's unorthodox approach: he plays the guitar fretboard with both hands working independently, tapping the strings rather than strumming or picking and creating chords, leads and arpeggios all at once. In his busy hands, the guitar becomes a new instrument offering new possibilities.
"The front rows are very often guitarists," Jordan says with a slight chuckle. "I play the guitar the way you're supposed to play keyboards, that's the simplest way I can think of to explain it. It allows me to sound like two or three guitarists playing at once."
If Jordan's technique is vanguard, his repertoire is, for now, quite accessible: classic Miles Davis tunes are mixed in with Beatles and Michael Jackson ballads and a number of originals. Says Jordan, "I wanted to create musical settings that people are pretty much familiar with so they can hear what's unique about my playing.
"I just want more people to find out about this way of playing because I'm amazed at the possibilities. It's done so many things for me. I started out as a classical pianist, studying from age 6,, and started playing guitar when I was 11. I came to a point where I realized guitar was my favorite instrument, but the musical ideas I wanted to explore were only possible on keyboard instruments, so I had to find a way to transfer those possibilities. It was a major frustration in my life."
Technique now under his belt, Jordan is currently spreading the word in performance and on his Blue Note debut, "Magic Touch." He was the first new artist signed to that revived label, and Angel wants him to record a classical album. Eventually, Jordan may have a guitar custom-built to take advantage of his 10-finger technique, but "right now I feel it's a good idea for me to play a regular guitar because, while my main interest is being a musician, I also want to be a teacher. I've discovered something that can benefit others and I want to present it in a way that can be developed by other people. And I don't want people to think you have to get a special guitar in order to play this way."