Just got around to viewing these, when in turn prompted me to search for previous Ranglin discussions. In one of them I quote from an interview with the man so thought it might be appropriate to scan in the entirety. The first sentence sounds a bit "iffy" but anybody who knows Val will attest that it's not intended to be.
ERNEST RANGLIN an important 'find' talks about jazz and blues to Valerie Wilmer
NO ONE can deny the vast influence various West Indian musicians have had on British jazz men, but usually when they come jumping off the banana boats their musical offerings are still in a pretty raw, unfinished state. So when one polished, completely professional jazz musician is dropped in our laps, as it were, we tend to be a little taken aback.
I first heard of Ernest Ranglin a couple of years ago when Mike Butcher wrote a piece on the Jamaican guitarist in "Jazz News". The name stuck in my mind and when I heard he was in Town and the locals were raving about his talents, I took a trip down to Scott's to find out what was happening. It was all happening! As natural a jazzman as ever there was sat calmly on the bandstand telling a story all his own. Ernest's fingers skipped lithely over his instrument to produce some highly imaginative guitar work, truly astounding by its quiet, relaxed beauty.
The amazing thing about the man is that he is completely self taught. He started at the age of fourteen and for two years depended on chord symbols in tutors. At the age of sixteen he joined a nine piece unit "playin' the old time swing music", as he put it. "One of the first people to show me how in jazz was Joe Harriott. I remember I was playing Night and Day from the score and Joe said 'look, you can do something else with those chords and showed me the be bop way."
Ernest, who until recently was arranging for Chris Blackwell's Island label back in Jamaica and is continuing to do so in London (he was responsible for the backing to Millie's My Boy Lollipop), is also a self taught arranger. "I learnt my harmony in the nine piece band by listening to the section," he told me. "I only had the chords, you see, I was just strummin', and I seemed to get a kick out of what the other boys were doing. So arranging became the problem and I went around to each man and asked him to show me the range of his instrument. From there I started knowing what to write."
On the merits of self tuition Ernest feels "I have a fairly good knowledge of the instrument now but it takes longer that way. Generally it's like any experience, you have to go through it yourself to know what it's all about. I didn't learn to read until two years after I had been playing chord symbols, and I think that it was good because it trained my ear so well,"
After a couple of years with the nine piece combo Ernest decided to find more freedom by forming his own quintet. They mainly played hotels on Jamaica's North coast and with a trumpet/guitar/piano/bass /drums line up it was "like a Miles Davis kind of thing. We had a lovely sound everybody contributed to it. I used to do the arrangements and I remember my bass player at first used to just play four notes in a bar, you know. When I first gave him a part he said 'man, this a guitar part you givin' me", but after four months he had it all happening. He used to bring his bass over to my place and practice every day, Incidentally, I play bass, too, but I don't want to do it professionally because it spoils the fingers too much."
Although not a pace setting style, Ernest's guitar playing embodies more of himself than the more obvious influences, not surprising when you learn that "The first real good guitar player I heard was not until 1951 when I heard Tal Farlow who was with Red Norvo at the time. After that I started to hear Charlie Christian and soon found out that everyone had heard him! I didn't hear Django till about 1955. Johnny Smith is one of my favourites, and Wes, Barney Kessell, Jim Hall I like Laurindo, too. The only person I haven's heard is Jimmy Raney. And I think Joe Pass is playing some beautiful guitar now."
Ranglin never plays acoustic guitar "I'm strictly a plectrum player," he declared. "I'd like to try finger style but I guess I haven't practiced it enough. You do get a lovely sound from it, though. But electric guitar can sound just like finger style, it all depends on the player. Some people turn their amplifiers up so much and thump at it. Music shouldn't be loud that way it gets boring. Amplification is only meant for reaching a larger audience."
He is a highly competent musician who can play anything that is demanded of him and has no adverse comments to make on the beat music scene. "Guitar has reached such a stage today when everybody is playing so beautifully, it'll take a genius to come along and change everything. As for the beat guitarists, well music is music, there are various kinds. It all depends what a person likes, maybe they can't play any better, but they may be encouraged until eventually they play something good.
I think as far as this era is concerned, there was no time guitars sell like now, so it's really good for the trade! I enjoy any part of music generally and I listen to everybody. It doesn't matter what instrument, everyone has something to offer. It's the idea behind it that helps you learn so much. It's like some people only listen to jazz records - me, I listen to symphonies, too. I have played a few semi-classical thing in my style, too."
And for a better example of the Ranglin style you can do no better than hear his Island album, Wranglin', (ILP 909). where in company with Malcolm Cecil and Allan Ganley Ernest romps his way through thoughtful interpretations of half-a-dozen pretty numbers. Ernest intends staying around for a while if the inclement climate doesn't chase him away, so make sure you catch him while the sun is still trying to shine. You won't regret it.