by John W. Barry, Poughkeepsie Journal – May 12, 2006
Sinatra. Miles. Duke. Paul Simon. Richie Havens. Stan Getz. Larry Coryell.
Whether they are known by one name or two, these superstars all have a connection to jazz guitarist Joe Beck. They all worked with him.
Miles Davis hired Beck to be his first guitarist.
“In that era, I was the go-to studio guy in the 1960s,” Beck said. “I played jazz and rock. There was nobody like that back then. Miles wanted to turn his band a little more electric. It was the first call for that kind of stuff.”
Sinatra hired Beck to write arrangements and conduct and produce recording sessions.
“He had extremely good ears,” Beck said of Sinatra. “He had a great memory for melody. He could hear something once and remember it forever.”
At the Towne Crier in Pawling tonight, Beck will be playing with someone who might not be as well known as Sinatra or Miles. But Joyce Lyons is a vocalist who has caught the guitar master’s ear nonetheless.
Beck and Lyons are set to perform tonight at 9 with bass player Bill Crow. This will be their first public performance together.
Peers express admiration
“He’s a real pro,” Joe Giardullo, a horn player and composer who lives in Cotteskill, Ulster County, said of Beck. “This is a guy that’s been around — a straight-ahead player. A great player.”
Giardullo is also familiar with Crow’s playing.
“Bill Crow’s been around forever,” Giardullo said.
Regarding the entire evening, the horn man speculated that it would be “wonderful music.”
As Giardullo speaks highly of Beck and Crow. Beck sings the praises of Lyons.
“I enjoy playing for singers and Joyce is a good singer,” Beck said. “She delivers the songs. She sings the lyrics and she picks good tunes to sing — “Cry Me A River,’ doing things from the Great American Song Book.’ Those kinds of tunes are what I like to play.”
On her CD, “Sooner or Later,” Lyons performs, “You Go To My Head,” “Love for Sale,” amd “Round About Midnight.:
Lyons traces her singing career to the fourth grade in her native Maryland, when she sang, “Easter Parade” for her classmates. In high school, she sang in the choir and got into musical theater. After graduation it was off to Colorado Women’s College, where she majored in musical theater.
She didn’t sing much after college, but took roles in a couple of local theater productions. While out to dinner in New York once while visiting a friend, singing waiters and waitresses caught her eye.
In between waiting tables, these servers would take the stage and belt out a few songs. Lyons auditioned on the spot – with a Liza Minnelli tune – and got the job. She quit after 3 weeks, but continued singing, nurturing her love of lyrics while working at a management consulting firm in Manhattan.
“That’s who I am,” Lyons said of being a singer. “I sing because it fills my soul, to reach out to people through a lyric. I feel so much more at ease on a stage then I do sometimes sitting here at my desk, talking to a client. It’s like someone who says, ‘I was born to be an actor.’ I was born to be a performer. It’s when I shine the most.”
She met Beck while attending an art opening in Connecticut where the guitarist was performing.
“It’s wonderful, it’s easy and intricate at the same time,” Lyons said of Beck’s playing. “There’s so much going on in his playing. ‘There is a simplicity about it that is inspiring.”
Beck’s foray into music was launched when he was a child.
“I found a banjo up in the attic and figured out how to play that,” he recalled. “Then I got a guitar when I was 6 or 7.”
Passionate at an early age
That first guitar was a Christmas present that cost $9 and was purchased at Sears. Then, Beck heard classical guitar.
“I heard Segovia play when I was very young and wanted to do that,” he said. “It’s beautiful music.”
Beck started working professionally in bands at age 14.
“Put yourself as a semi-gifted person in the 1950s and listen to the Platters and you’re not going to want to do that,” he said. “I was driven to jazz by the low quality of pop music in the 1950s. They were all loud and out of tune. They all had bad suits and couldn’t sing. The doo-wop bands were a distraction. The music wasn’t of a very high caliber until the 1970s — the fusion guys, when rock and jazz started to blend.”
Jazz aside, contemporary music that Beck likes to listen to includes some major rock and pop acts.
“I like any band where the level of musicianship is high,” Beck said. “You look at John Scofield, Dave Matthews, Mariah Carey — they’re making good records.”
But music for Beck, it seems, always comes back to the guitar.
“I don’t want to stop playing,” he said. “I play all day. I still love to do that.”