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Obituaries

Ted Greene, 58; 'Living Encyclopedia of Guitar'

August 10, 2005|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

In the world of guitars and guitarists, Ted Greene was a Yoda-like figure.

A teacher, arranger and theoretician, Greene was "a living encyclopedia of the guitar," according to one student, with a wealth of knowledge that he passed along to students for a pittance.

A shy, self-effacing man who loved guitar but loathed the limelight, Greene possessed astonishing range and style in his playing. He performed infrequently at clubs, generally venues in the San Fernando Valley. Friends said he preferred the informality of a Sunday brunch setting, where he would relax and play whatever he wanted. "He had a national reputation among students of the instrument," Larry Baione, the head of the guitar department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, told The Times. "His name should have been more widely known."

So when the 58-year-old Greene was found dead at his home in Encino on July 25, the guitar community reacted with an overwhelming sense of shock and sadness. Barbara Franklin, his longtime companion, said Greene died of a heart attack.

The son of a salesman, Greene was born in Los Angeles but lived in Cleveland, White Plains, N.Y., and Atlanta before returning to Los Angeles and graduating from University High School.

Greene started playing guitar at the age of 11, and studied with a teacher who used the Mel Bay books. As a teenager, Greene played in rhythm and blues bands and was a highly accomplished guitarist by the time he finished high school. He went to Cal State Northridge to study accounting, but quickly gave it up to devote his full energies to guitar.

During the 1970s, he found plenty of work accompanying singers but rarely worked in a group setting, which he found restrictive.

While connoisseurs of guitar may find evidence of his playing on several albums from the 1970s, he recorded just one under his own name: "Ted Greene 'Solo Guitar,' " a 1977 LP recently remastered and available through Art of Life Records.

Greene came to be considered one of the most influential teachers in Los Angeles, instructing hundreds of students over the next three decades. He wrote four books -- "Chord Chemistry," "Modern Chord Progressions: Jazz and Classical Voicings for Guitar," and the two-volume "Jazz Guitar: Single Note Soloing," which are still used widely three decades after their publication.

Baione called "Chord Chemistry," the book that "every jazz guitar student should have."

Ry Cooder, the guitarist, recording artist and producer who worked with Greene briefly in the 1970s, said he was amazed by Greene's ability to transcribe music.

"I was working on a jazz album and wanted to transcribe some Bix Beiderbecke arrangements for the guitar," Cooder said, referring to the great cornet player. "I thought it was hard stuff but it wasn't to Ted. He created arrangements that sounded like eccentric Beiderbecke."

Going to Greene for a lesson was an experience like no other, guitar players said.

Beth Marlis, director of the Guitar Institute of Technology, remembered Greene as a purist "who just lived in the world of guitar."

"He could go on for hours about the guitar," she told The Times. "There was no answering machine on his phone and his apartment had little furniture. It was filled with guitars and filing cabinets containing his guitar arrangements."

She also said he was self-effacing about his talent and would charge relatively little -- $25 -- for a one-hour lesson.

John Pisano, the well-known jazz guitarist, studied occasionally with Greene, starting in the 1980s. "He had so much knowledge of harmony. Every time I would go there for a lesson I would learn so much that I would forget half of what he told me. I began taping the lessons and find more and more every time I listen to them."

Pisano also remembered Greene as an excellent guitarist in his own right.

"Ted could play authentically in several different styles," Pisano added. "He would play standards like 'Stella by Starlight' and could also play endlessly in the style of Bach."

Pisano recalled that Greene "was very shy and got real nervous about performing."

"If you were a professional, you could feel his anxiety for the first couple of tunes," Pisano said, "but by the third tune he would open up and it was devastating music."

In addition to Franklin, Greene is survived by a brother, Ronald Greene of Agoura Hills; and a sister, Linda Jainchill of Tiburon, Calif.

A memorial tribute to Greene is planned for Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at Beverly Garland's Holiday Inn, 4222 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood.

More information on Greene and his career is at www.tedgreene.blogspot.com

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