What are the chances that, in the six weeks since I started “Noteworthy,” there would be new releases from The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and now Jimi Hendrix? But Hendrix’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl, at once frantic and sluggish, is not what I’d like to draw your attention to here.
Instead, it’s the latest music from a guitarist of almost unbelievable skill and musicality, Julian Lage: specifically, his new single “Omission,” released November 14, and his album The Layers from earlier this year, which has just been nominated for the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album Grammy.
Julian provides an inspiring example of single-minded yet patient devotion to a craft one loves. He picked up the guitar at age five, and his parents had a hard time getting him to put it down—ever. There’s a documentary of him, made three years later (yes, his prodigious talent had already warranted such attention), in which he says, “Since I was five, I’ve played every day, except this one day I had to go away and couldn’t take the guitar on the train.” He adds, with genuine sadness, “I really regret that day.”1 The documentary, Jules at Eight, shows the eight-year-old, with a guitar as long as he is tall, fronting a band and soloing to waves of applause. In another scene, when someone asks what he’s been listening to lately, he says “just lots of Wes Montgomery and Coltrane.” Many regard Montgomery as the greatest jazz guitarist of all time, and credibly so. But, if we can really rank such things, then Lage is, by this point, certainly offering stiff competition, and it’s not uncommon to hear him proclaimed the best guitarist alive.2 He had played with Carlos Santana by eight, had performed on the Grammys and with legendary vibes player Gary Burton by twelve and, by fifteen, had joined the Stanford Jazz Workshop—as a faculty member.
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3. Interview with Lee Mergner, “‘A Cycle of Love and Curiosity’: Julian Lage’s Lifetime of Inspiration from His Elders and Peers,” WBGO, August 3, 2023, https://www.wbgo.org/music/2023-08-03/a-cycle-of-love-and-curiosity-julian-lages-lifetime-of-inspiration-from-his-elders-and-peers#.
4. “2024 Grammy Awards Nominee—Julian Lage,” Facebook, November 11, 2023, https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=881459286670998&set=a.250774489739484.