Guest post about Jeff Beck, by Jon Gagan. Jon wrote about Jeff Beck and I found myself nodding in agreement with every line. So I asked him whether I could post it here.
Jeff Beck 1944-2023
The true power of music lies in its ability to make us feel. It almost doesn’t matter which feeling is evoked: joy, sadness, inspiration, anger, we want to be moved.
It is a true rarity when an instrumentalist comes along who can harness that power to the fullest. Jeff Beck was one of those players. While absolutely no one could out-rock him (one needs only to read the tributes pouring in from just about every legendary rock guitarist alive to know that this is a widely held view) his real genius was perhaps in his ability to play beautifully.
Here was a guy who invented and mastered his own guitar language, wringing emotion out of every note with his hands, the volume knob and whammy bar on the guitar, and his amp. He had the lyricism and expressive powers of the best vocalists and combined that with high voltage to create a singular voice on electric guitar. It’s obvious that he cared deeply about going for something way beyond being impressive, beyond being a rock star or guitar hero. He created beauty, whether it was the rich wall of sound coming from masterfully controlled high-decibel feedback, or gently bending the string into an evocative cry.
His version of Puccini’s Nessun dorma* (Emotion & Commotion, 2010) fully exhibits this incredible emotional range. Nessun dorma is an aria that opera tenors have used as a tour-de-force since Puccini wrote it in the early 20th century. Jeff Beck played it on guitar, complete with the kind of devastating climax that made Pavarotti famous.
He had skills as an improvisor that put him in the company of jazz musicians. The flow of ideas in a typical Beck solo is truly astonishing. He was able to cook a stew of memorable spontaneous melodies, inimitable guitar techniques, and a deep grasp of the blues into masterpieces.
His passion for pushing the boundaries of electric guitar led Jeff Beck to be a serious person. Absent from his life story are the tales of excess and self-destructiveness so common among his generation of famous musicians. In this way he has provided a guiding light for many of us who have a straightforward passion for being as good as we can be as musicians, never mind the trappings of stardom or the rest of it. He reminded us over an extraordinarily long and vibrant career that music and playing instruments is a worthwhile pursuit for anyone who chooses to be truly devoted. He was 64 years old when he recorded Nessun dorma, fully at the top of his game. It wasn’t an isolated feat, either. It is but one example of the stellar work he did in the last few decades of his life. Forever searching, learning, innovating, and expressing emotion.
For me, he has always been the ultimate inspiration.
R.I.P. Jeff Beck. Your contribution to the world is beyond measure.
*also mentioned by Steve in the comments section of Ottmar’s original post on Jeff Beck