"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."
Learned From The Greats
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.