“You won’t believe what I just discovered,” he said, taking from his guitar case a piece of notebook paper on which was a hand-scribbled note.
“Shakespeare sonnets are constructed like a 12 bar blues. Listen,”
Then, Jimmy Raney, 65, one of the world’s greatest and most influential jazz guitarists, played and sang the blues, lyrics provided by William Shakespeare.
That kind of spontaneous imagination has always been part of Raney’s character. It led him to leave his Louisville home in 1944 and travel to New York City, and later Chicago, to play with some of the world’s best jazz musicians like saxophonist Stan Getz and band leaders Woody Herman and Artie Shaw, to name but a few.
In 1954-55 he was voted best guitarist in Downbeat Magazine’s Critics Poll.
Along the way he and guitarist Tal Farlow managed to transfer saxophonist Charlie Parker’s convoluted bebop jazz style and phrasing over to the guitar.
Farlow and Raney have a lot in common. They both played with vibraphonist Red Norvo and Artie Shaw. And they both name each other as their favorite guitarists.
But Raney is much more than a great musician. He is also a painter and his eclectic interests range from writing to quantum physics.
During the 1950s, while Raney was living in New York City, he used to hang out at the Cedar Bar, well-known gathering spot for modern painters.
It was there he became friends with artist Ray Parker, who he later dedicated an original song to, “Parker 51.”
Raney said he became so obsessed with painting at one point in his career he worried that he was devoting to much time to it.
“I had to make up my mind what I wanted to be a musician or a painter,” he said.
Raney still paints occasionally. One of his works, a self portrait, was recently on display at Twice Told Coffee House.
This has been a good year for Raney. Despite a hearing loss which has plagued him for several years, his playing is as eloquent as ever.
His newest recording, (he’s recorded over 40 albums), “But Beautiful,” Criss Cross Jazz 1065 was hailed in “Jazz Times” as “the most important guitar recording of the last decade.”
Critic Doug Ramsey goes on to say that Raney is and has been since the late 1940s “the very model of the complete guitarist.
May 26, 1993
From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz”