Pete McCann is undoubtedly one of the most respected and industrious electric guitarists on the New York and international scene – a popular sideman in innumerable jazz and jazz/rock line-ups over the past 25 years, as well as a recording artist in his own right with five solo albums released to date.
McCann’s prowess has led him to perform with many of the jazz greats, including Kenny Wheeler, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz, and Brian Blade, and the breadth of his experience – incorporating jazz, rock, Latin, fusion and contemporary classical – has prompted his appearance on over 80 album recordings. Working with the likes of Patti Austin, Grace Kelly and Curtis Stigers, as well as the Mahavishnu Project, he has progressively forged an enviable reputation for both exactitude and exhilarating musicality, influenced by seminal guitarists including Wes Montgomery, John Scofield, Allan Holdsworth and Mike Stern.
Born into a hard-working and supportive Wisconsin family in the mid-1960s, a young Pete McCann (the third of four children) had his ears opened to the thrill and love for music in a bustling, non-working farm household which resounded to homegrown music-making, as well as eclectic radio and LP listening that included country, rock’n’roll and heavy metal. Eight year-old Pete’s desire to take up the guitar almost faltered when the local music store refused to teach him until he reached ten. But it was his mom’s persuasiveness – vowing to sit in on all of his lessons and ensure he practiced in-between – that became the early catalyst for the creative talent that would soon flourish.
In 7th grade, the young guitarist was introduced to jazz and improvisation by teacher Steve Sturzl, who suggested to Pete a summer camp – Shell Lake Jazz Camp – which was to prove a major influence in those formative years, offering the daily opportunity to soak up masterclasses and become immersed in improv and wide-ranging ensemble sessions. Pete’s enthusiasm was further nurtured in high school by established guitar teacher Russ Moss, especially through their swinging, Django Reinhardt-style duets; and his first year at college saw him reunite with Shell Lake teacher Mike Irish, who encouraged his successful audition to attend the University of North Texas. Pete’s time at UNT was filled with the excitement of playing alongside visiting guests such as James Moody and Jon Faddis, as well as being coached by “walking jazz guitar encyclopedia” Jack Petersen; and a summer period at the famed Banff Center for the Arts, in Canada, provided the invaluable opportunity to study with Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland and a host of other big names.
After graduating with a BA in Jazz Performance in 1989, and via a 14-week stint as guitarist on an Alaskan cruise ship, McCann arrived in New York City, ready to make his mark. Initially a bass player in club bands, his determination to succeed gradually brought him guitar gigs which stylistically raised both his skills and profile, including the East Down Septet (led by drummer Rich Rosenzweig) and Horse (Bobby Previte’s large ensemble which focused on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew period and other jazz fusion artists of that era). He became a member of Lindsey Horner’s Splendid Splinter and also subbed for Ben Monder in the Maria Schneider Orchestra; and, in 1995, he joined influential saxophonist Erwin Vann’s Worlds project, Kenny Wheeler featuring as soloist.
1998 saw the release of debut album Parable, with the help of drummer and good friend Matt Wilson; and in the following year, he recorded with the Palmetto Allstars (featuring Wilson), winning a SESAC award for radio play of the album. Pete also joined Gregg Bendian’s Mahavishnu Project who authentically recreated the original ‘70s excitement of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, and which was endorsed by the great man himself.
Since then, McCann has been a constant first-call for a profusion of projects, including several led by singers such as Melissa Stylianou and Alison Wedding, as well as long-time collaborations with the groups of Chris Tarry, Ohad Talmor, Pete Mills, Dan Willis, Dave Pietro, Tom Varner and Asuka Kakitani; and the guitarist has more recently joined the personnel of bands headed-up by Aaron Irwin, Jacob Varmus and Ben Kono.
Pete McCann is unequivocally a versatile leader (with his own quintet and trio), sideman, composer, recording artist and educator; and he continues to relish his popular appearances at Greenwich Village’s celebrated 55 Bar. Now much sought after for his intelligently-crafted musicianship, his fifth solo album, Range (released on Whirlwind Recordings on September 2015) demonstrates all of the impassioned progressive jazz/rock verve with which his name is increasingly becoming synonymous.