Andy Summers was my first guitar hero, and The Police were my first favorite band. Listening to their albums, I was struck by how Summers could make the guitar sound like so much more than one instrument. I wanted to play guitar like that. Now. Of course, most of their songs are well beyond the reach of a beginner guitarist learning their first chords, but I persisted and eventually, note by note, chord by chord, convinced my fingers to attempt to learn these sounds. When I learned the songs, and later understood the theory behind them, I was amazed by his use of extended harmonies, advanced theoretical concepts, and incredibly wide-ranging musical vocabulary that goes so far beyond the typical major, minor, power chords and pentatonic scales that are mainstays of rock, pop, and related genres.
As I started learning jazz standards, I noticed that many of the harmonies and concepts in these tunes overlapped with some of Summers’ guitar parts (for instance, in the songs Murder by Numbers, So Lonely, Message In A Bottle, Walking On The Moon…the list goes on and on). When I began studying classical guitar, and by extension, the guitar music of Heitor Villa-Lobos, I found many instances of chord voicings which seemed eerily similar to some of the voicings in Summers’ guitar parts (especially the use of moving parts of familiar chord shapes up and down the fretboard with several open strings on top, as well as some unusual and extended harmonies). To me, Summers and Villa-Lobos ‘get it’ in a very rare and singular way. They ‘know’ how to bring out the best of the sound, timbre, and capabilities of the guitar. Of course, this is just my opinion; I intuitively ‘feel’ this quality of guitar writing, rather than having arrived at this opinion solely through objective analysis.
I have been recently revisiting the guitar works of Villa-Lobos, as one of my guitar playing goals this Summer is to learn all of Villa-Lobos’ Five Preludes. As I explore these pieces, I am reminded yet again of these seeming similarities between Summers and Villa-Lobos’ sound and approach to the guitar. The inventive use of open strings, movable shapes, and surprising, sometimes unusual harmonies. The sound of the guitar transcending accompaniment and melodic roles, instead becoming something so much bigger, so much more interesting. This is music that just feels meant to be played on guitar. Everything works so well, both in terms of playability and musicality. Curious about a possible link between Summers and Villa-Lobos, I did some research and found this interview, in which Summers notes that in fact Villa-Lobos’ music did make an impact on his musical journey (see the following link for this interview: https://andysummers.com/writing/articles/interviews/#tabs-34-tab-2). Summers says: “Like many guitarists I have lived with this music through most of my playing life. Lived with these seminal works by Villa Lobos that sit in your head like a monolithic presence. Like a place you know and love, it is music that you invariably return to once again to take in its exotic aroma.”
While claiming purported influence in music is always tricky, to say the least, I would like to think that there is a link between the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos (and those who may have influenced him, including J. S. Bach, Frédéric Chopin, and numerous, mostly anonymous, Brazilian folk musicians), Andy Summers, and the countless guitarists who have been inspired by their music, including myself. Many similar links between musicians have been found in nearly all styles of music, and it is fascinating to think about. Who influenced who, how, and, often most puzzlingly, how do we prove it? Even if we could prove it, does it matter? How does it matter? Why does it matter? Like so many other aspects of musical study, questions lead to other questions, which bring us to still more questions. Does it ever end? Sometimes it does; sometimes, even usually, it doesn’t. Regardless, there is so much for us to learn and discover, and, really, isn’t this what it’s all about?