When Simon Salz plays the guitar, you have to wonder - “ Where is this guy coming from?” He plucks with his fingers, with a solid classical guitar technique, and yet swinging jazz and blues inflected lines emerge -reminiscent not only of founding jazz guitarists like Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Django Rheinhardt, but also of horn players like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Clifford Brown. Just when you think you’ve got Simon pegged as a traditionalist, he’ll play a line that stems from his own voice, sounding very much in the 21st century with its up to the minute rhythms, intervals, and harmonic concepts.
At times it looks like he’s holding a pick, although he is actually using his specially shaped acrylic covered nail in what turns out to be an ancient picking technique called dedillo, used by vihueluists in 15th century Spain. At other times he alternates his index and middle fingers like a flamenco guitarist, and still other times he arpeggiates his right hand like a traditional classical guitarist, while his left hand is precisely releasing and articulating notes to give convincing jazz inflection to the melodic lines. His classical training enables the precise voicing of chords to bring out lines in any voice. Independence of fingers allows maintaining a tumbau (Latin bass pattern), swinging stride, or samba pattern while improvising gentle melodies. The Classical approach also allows Simon to draw from a broad pallet of colors from the guitar using a wide variety of right hand techniques.
When playing rhythm guitar in the Count Basie’s Freddie Green mold, flamenco rasqeado (strumming technique) is employed in unconventional ways to create exciting, swinging jazz rhythms. In his solos, you can hear the influences of country blues finger-pickers, swing pianists, and Brazilian samba players.
Now approaching 40 years of playing the guitar, Simon Salz has evolved into an original talent formed from an incredible variety of influences. As a child in Buffalo, NY, the influences were the folk, classical, and Jewish music of his home life. As a teenager, the influences were the folk, blues, rock and jazz scene surrounding the University of Buffalo, as well as the Avante- Garde classical movement around Lukas Foss, John Cage, and the Creative Associates active in Buffalo at that time. In his 20’s, formal training at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY and the University of Miami in FL, gave Simon a strong foundation in theory, arranging, and improvisation. Private studies with the late Cuban classical guitar virtuoso Juan Mercadal and numerous master-classes with some of the world’s greatest classical artists like Pepe Romero, Sharon Isbin, and Manuel Barrueco, gave Simon his strong technical foundation.
He began to put all this knowledge to practical use in 1976, starting a long stint with the legendary jazz multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan. Ira taught Simon to play in the moment, “straight ahead and strive for tone,” as Ira likes to say. Simon also took Ira’s advice to build up his repertoire: “ learn a tune a day.” While working with Ira, Simon had the chance to perform and jam with jazz greats such as pianist Eddie Higgins, Stan Getz, Louie Bellson, Duffy Jackson, Jaco Pastorius, Eddie “Lockjaw Davis,” Billy Butterfield and Lee Konitz.”
South Florida is also a center for Latin music, and Simon has had the opportunity to work with many top Latin and Caribbean jazz artists such as Puerto Rican flutist Nestor Torres, Trinidadian steel drummer Othello Molineaux, Uruguayan violinist Federico Britos, and Cuban saxophonist Carlos Averhoff. The classical organizations in South Florida also began to take notice of Simon’s abilities and soon he became the first-call guitarist with the Florida Philharmonic and the New World Symphony. Simon had numerous opportunities to perform with artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, James Galway, and ensembles such as the Florida Grand Opera, the Royal Ballet, the Palm Beach Pops, the Ballet Flamenco LaRosa, and the Bergonzi String Quartet.
In 1990 Simon established a jazz repertory band for the Gold Coast Jazz Society, an organization dedicated to classic American jazz. Coming together with like-minded musicians who love the jazz music of the first half of the 20th century, this group has formally become the Gold Coast Jazz Society Band and since 1992 has performed hundreds of concerts dedicated to the music of such artists as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Django Rheinhardt, Bennie Goodman, and Charlie Christian. The group also performs special programs for hundreds of school children annually.
Currently Simon leads an active and varied musical life in Miami, Florida with his wife of over 25 years, pianist and teacher Sarah Neham Salz and their 2 daughters. During the Florida “social season,” Simon plays a dizzying variety of music. One day he’ll be playing salsa with a traditional Cuban band, the next day he could be playing a Boccherini Guitar Quintet with the University of Miami Faculty String Quartet and the next day could find him playing with “Heavy Shtetl,” Klezmer band for a Jewish holiday or festival. Frequently Simon can be spotted playing solo guitar at one of South Florida’s top resorts from Palm Beach to the Keys. Sometimes he will be in a recording studio; most recently he contributed the opening and closing tracks to “The Porter Project” on Kriztal Records new release “In the Chill, In the Still of the Night.”
On a typical night Simon might be leading a variety dance band for a charity fundraiser for the Kidney Foundation or the Young Patronesses of the Opera, the Concert Association of Florida, or playing a jazz concert at the Broward Performing Arts Center. In the summertime, Simon and his wife direct the University of Miami Frost School of Music Young Musicians’ Camp.
Luckily, Simon also has time to do some traveling. In October, 2004, he’ll be playing swing jazz in Salt Lake City with former New World Symphony clarinetist Tad Calcara. In August, 2005, Simon will teach at the Hartt Suzuki Institute in Hartford, CT. He’s also beginning to develop an international reputation through his widely distributed book “The 21st Century Pro Method Classic and Finger style Guitar - Traditional and Beyond,” published by Warner Bros. Publications, Inc.
So the question: “Where is this guy coming from?” now becomes ----
“Where is this guy going?”!
Since Simon’s untimely death from melanoma in 2005, his wife, Sarah continues to run Simon Salz Productions and the Young Musicians’ Camp.