Mark Small (*) pays tribute to the massively influential guitarist and educator Mick Goodrick.
On 16 November 2022, American jazz guitarist Mick Goodrick, a sought-after performer and educator who deeply impacted three generations of guitarists around the world, departed this life. He passed away peacefully at his home in Boston, Massachusetts, surrounded by close friends. Despite obituaries in notable publications citing various illnesses as the cause of death, those who knew Goodrick best say there was no definitive diagnosis for the medical issues that beset him in recent years. Put most simply: he battled a progressive degenerative disease that limited his mobility and prompted his 2020 retirement from Berklee College of Music, where he had mentored countless students for three decades.
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Goodrick grew up in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and took up guitar at age 11. He was initially attracted to the instrument by the music of Elvis Presley and Link Wray, but turned his attention to jazz after attending a Stan Kenton Summer Band Camp where he met Berklee professors John LaPaorta and Jack Petersen. After high school, he enrolled at Berklee in 1963, where Petersen had established Berklee’s guitar department and become its chair the year before. Goodrick joined the faculty while still a student before his earning bachelor’s degree in music education in 1967. With a grin, baby boomers who were at Berklee back then still tell the story of Goodrick teaching his students in a suit and tie but attending his classes in street clothes to differentiate his roles.
When fellow Berklee faculty member and vibraphonist Gary Burton was assembling a new group, he tapped Goodrick, bassist Abraham Laboriel, and drummer Harry Blazer. Their 1973 album The New Quartet for the ECM label plus extensive global tours introduced Goodrick to a large international audience. He left his teaching post at Berklee to pursue his performing career and to teach guitar privately. Goodrick recorded five albums with Burton, including two after the quartet became a quintet with the addition of a second guitarist, Pat Metheny. A video of that group filmed during the 1974 Molde Jazz Festival in Norway documents Goodrick’s thoughtful, relaxed approach to soloing, highlighting his self-assured phrasing, wonderful note choices, and trademark chord comping.
Goodrick left Burton’s group in the late 1970s and began performing and recording with Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Jim Hall, Mike Gibbs, Steve Swallow, John Abercrombie, and Wolfgang Muthspiel, and many others. He also released five albums as a leader or coleader.
Goodrick will be remembered best for his teaching. He spent decades of his life mentoring guitarists at Berklee, New England Conservatory of Music, and at his home. His book, The Advancing Guitarist, is still embraced by guitarists around the world.
This author had the privilege of studying privately with him off and on for a few years beginning in 1976. I did a few group lessons dealing with free improvisation in which the half dozen students followed Goodrick’s verbal instructions. He would set his metronome to a slow tempo and not suggest a starting key, everything was to unfold in the moment. He’d restrict two players to improvising in half notes on the bass strings, two others to stick with quarter notes on the middle strings, and the others to play eighth notes on the top strings. The aim was to experience leading and following, letting your ear orient you to the musical motives of the others while trying to make something worthwhile happen as a team.
During solo lessons at his home, we only occasionally took out the the guitars. Goodrick seemed to prefer sharing his philosophy about music and performing. I was a young player just beginning to gig, and his thoughts as a seasoned performer were often ideas I hadn’t considered. One topic he frequently expounded on was the tension and angst the dedicated student builds feeling driven to practice hours each day in order to develop technique, learn numerous jazz standards inside and out, and ultimately have ideas flow out, perfectly executed on the bandstand. He spoke of visiting a park and watching a carefree dog run about joyously. Goodrick’s observation was that the dog had no thought of stopping the fun because he had to get home and practice.
I enjoyed going to his place and observing things in his living space that gave clues to his latest explorations. I recall when he was transitioning from using a plectrum to playing only with his right-hand fingers, I saw on his music stand the gray-covered Hofmeister edition of J.S. Bach’s lute music. By his turntable was the two-LP set of John Williams performing that music. Goodrick was seeking ways to improvise contrapuntally on the guitar and add chordal accompaniment under his improvised solos. Who better to learn from than Bach?
Goodrick was always anxious to share music he’d discovered. One week he’d spin a solo guitar rendition of “Embraceable You” by Ted Greene, the next it was Julian Bream playing Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal, the following week it might be vocalist Karen Carpenter.
Goodrick resumed teaching exclusively at Berklee in 1997, and helped to rewrite the private lessons guitar curriculum. The span of 23 years he spent during his second stint at Berklee may have been the most fruitful time of his life. Berklee’s current guitar department chair Kim Perlak states: “Mick worked with then-chairs Larry Baione and Rick Peckham to write our department core curriculum—known widely as the Berklee guitar proficiency. Mick’s curriculum has provided a fretboard foundation to thousands of Berklee guitarists, and will continue to do so for thousands more moving forward. Mick himself took the art of modern jazz guitar and improvisation to a new level, and his students became contemporary leaders in this art form. His legacy in our department is one of instrumental depth, creative musicianship, and strong musical relationships. ”
Goodrick had a knowledge of the harmonic possibilities of his instrument that was vast, which made his playing and composing extremely colorful. In 2000, he teamed up with fellow Berklee faculty member Mitch Haupers to self-publish the three-volume Mr. Goodchord’s Almanac of Guitar Voice Leading. Goodrick exhaustively catalogued his thoughts about triads, seventh chords, and other harmonic structures derived from the major, melodic minor, and harmonic minor scales. He presented the diatonic chords in close and spread voicings moving through root motions in seconds, thirds, fourths. fifths, and sevenths. The books were endorsed by such jazz luminaries as Michael Brecker, Lyle Mays, Dave Liebman, Pat Metheny, Carla, Bley, and others.
In the late 1970s, when Goodrick was not on the road, he would sometimes book gigs in small clubs in a duo setting with another guitarist. He was a master of the two-guitar format in jazz. With only word-of-mouth publicity, a capacity crowd of Boston-area guitarists would turn up to hear Goodrick play with Pat Metheny, Randy Roos, and others. Sometimes the duo was augmented by bassist Steve Swallow. Goodrick’s incredibly quick and droll sense of humor nearly always surfaced in conversation, but also showed up in his playing. At one of those now-legendary duo gigs, Goodrick and Metheny played Erroll Garner’s “Misty.” Goodrick wobbled slightly, sitting on his stool using the whammy bar on his Epiphone Sheraton guitar in a hilarious interpretation of the song’s well-worn melody. He created a vivid caricature of the melancholy drunk at the piano bar who always requests “Misty” sending laughter rippling through the crowd.
The list of guitarists who studied with or were influenced by Goodrick is vast. It includes Mike Stern, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Lionele Loueke, Randy Roos, Julian Lage, Wayne Krantz and Wolfgang Muthspiel. These guitarists and many others offered tributes at Berklee’s “Mick Goodrick Legacy Concert” earlier this year. (LINK BELOW).
Mick Goodrick had a one-of-a-kind musical mind and he will be missed. We are fortunate that he documented so much of his life’s work on recordings and in his writings. Plans are being formulated now to set up a non-profit foundation in his name and to establish scholarships for young guitarists at Berklee and New England Conservatory.
Mick Goodrick. Born Sharon, Pennsylvania, 9 June 1945. Died Boston, Massachusetts, 16 November 2022. In sadness.
(*) Mark Small is a music journalist, guitarist, and composer living in the U.S. For 26 years he served as editor of Berklee Today magazine, published by Berklee College of Music. He has contributed to Downbeat, Acoustic Guitar, Guitar Player, Classical Guitar, and Soundboard magazines as well the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society Journal.
(+) Photo from the GoFundMe set up to help with medical expenses a few weeks ago