Henry Acker: 14
2018 Modern Artist Records
Syncopated Times readers were introduced to guitarist Henry Acker back in March of 2017 by our Jazz Travels writer Bill Hoffman. Bill discovered Acker at The Chicken Fat Ball, an annual traditional jazz event in Maplewood New Jersey, and sat him down for an interview. At the time Acker was just 12 years old.
In the interview, Acker describes the family background that set him on a musical path:
“I come from a family of a lot of talented musicians. There were ten siblings in my grandmother’s family and they all played well. Most of them were jazz players. The family reunions were big jam sessions. I had some great uncles who were horn players in some of the big bands in the 40s.”
He grew up in the Boston area where his father, Victor Acker, and uncle Dana Acker, both Berklee alums, are part of a jazz trio. It was during their preparation for a French-themed show that Henry was exposed to the music of not just Django Reinhardt but the many Gypsy Jazz guitarists that have followed him. He feels particularly inspired by Biréli Lagrène. Acker has played at several festivals, appearing with many notables of the Gypsy Jazz community and the traditional jazz scene more generally. In the interview with Bill Hoffman he runs off their names like star players on a baseball team.
He became enamored with not only the technical proficiency on display but the fun the greatest musicians seemed to be having on stage. He has a natural ear for catching the playful humor in a solo, and an exuberance about making those connections. As he put it in the interview:
“I love these guys because they are incredible players who also are able to make the music very beautiful and at the same time throw in some very funny stuff if you are listening hard enough. You never know what they are going to sneak into their solos.”
This joy in making music is on display in his new album 14. Along with his father, he is joined in a quartet with Frank Vignola on Guitar and Nicki Parrot on Double-Bass. They play 15 standards of Gypsy jazz, mostly at a high tempo, bringing out the fun angles inherent in songs like “After You’ve Gone”, “Caravan”, and “Song D’automne.” I especially enjoyed the treatment of “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” which opens with a rhythm suggesting rock before passing into a series of inspired interactions between musicians clearly enjoying each other’s company.
One other comment from the interview is worth repeating:
“Some people say that I am a prodigy. I don’t know if that is true. I work very hard and practice every day.”
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