When Jordan, a guitarist, songwriter, and four-time Grammy nominee, was in his mid-20s, he dazzled veteran musicians with his novel fast-tap method of playing, adapted from his classical piano studies as a child. But by the mid-’90s, after a half-dozen albums and, he says, too many attempts by the music industry to control and limit him, he dropped out for a time, studied music therapy, and rediscovered the fun of “pure rocking out.” With a mix of Béla Bartók and Katy Perry, samba, blues, and jazz, Jordan’s Friends album, released in September 2011, belts out that he will not be labeled.
“In the beginning, people were saying, ‘Oh, you can’t have a career where you play different kinds of music,’ but I pushed back and would mix the rock and the funk into my jazz, and took heat for that. Then some of the old fuddy-duddies from the jazz world were complaining because I changed my look. Now I’ve taken it to even another level because I’m sitting in with these rock bands — Dave Matthews, Umphrey’s McGee, The String Cheese Incident, Phil Lesh.
“It’s this whole jam-band scene where they were doing what I was — rather than keep the music in one vein, they’re open to changing things around. They had room to open up the song and just improvise, and I could take my solos on it. They didn’t have this idea that we’re only doing one kind of music. They just said, ‘C’mon! Play!’
“The real turning point was on this past New Year’s Eve . I was in Hollywood, went online, and saw that [guitarist] Tim Reynolds was playing right around the corner. I ran over there and ended up ringing in the New Year with his band. I felt like the whole rock thing was sort of a guilty pleasure that you weren’t allowed to do if you were a jazz musician. And now, here I was just going crazy, just pure rocking out, you know? The openness in the rock world was something I had been missing.
“I mean, jazz is my favorite, there’s just no question about that — jazz is my core. But I’ve played songs like ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ I played Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Bach, Mozart. I mean, any music that I like, I’ll play it. There’s so much pressure to strip music down so it can be easily packaged and marketed. But [Princeton professor and composer] Milton Babbitt [*92] had a quote that really sums it up for me: ‘Make music all that it can be, rather than as little as one can get away with.’ That’s what told me all along I was going in the right direction. So one of the songs on the ‘Friends’ album is called ‘One for Milton.’”