Howard Roberts at a seminar organized by Johnny Smith (on bass) in Colorado Springs in 1969 or 1970 (picture from the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph). Thanks to Lewis Mock for this.

Music Education

Howard Roberts had a great interest in musical education. He wrote a number of books about guitar playing and also was well-known for his seminars. He was one of the founders of the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, California and this has gone on to become a very famous music school now called the Musician's Institute. Below is provided some material concerning his activities in musical education.

Westlake College of Music

For some period during the 1950's Howard Roberts was an instructor at the Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles. Here is a portion of an article, concerned with Westlake, called "The Sankofa Tradition: A Reminder for the 21st Century" and written by Dr. Bob Morgan. The full text of the article can be found on trumpeter Marvin Stamm's website ubder Cadenzas.
Berklee opened its doors in 1945. The following year, a similar school was established in Los Angeles - the Westlake College of Music, founded by one Alvin L. Learned. The school was named after a park, Westlake Park, which was near its first location. Westlake is pretty much forgotten today, and that is precisely why I would like to discuss its existence.

However, there is not much information to be passed on. Of all the subjects being discussed, Westlake is far and away the one that has been researched the least regarding any information in print, on the Internet or elsewhere; but it was a very prominent school in the jazz world in the 1950s. Remember, the 50s was the heyday of so-called West Coast jazz, and a lot of attention was given to all matters pertaining to jazz on the Coast, especially Los Angeles, and this would include Westlake. I first became truly aware of jazz in the mid-50s. I would guess in junior high school and I can remember reading of both Berklee and Westlake in Down Beat, Metronome, etc., at that time. I can't say that Westlake was as prominent as Berklee, but I can attest that it was very prominent.

As I mentioned, Berklee and Westlake shared several similarities:
The general goal of establishing a true jazz conservatory.
Benefiting from the fact of the then-new GI Bill.
An emphasis on teaching the Schillinger System as a compositional technique.

I will share with you what I can relate as fact:

Of the Westlake faculty names I have seen, most were unfamiliar to me, but I can note that Russ Garcia, Howard Roberts, Dick Grove, and Bob Graettinger (private lessons) all taught there at one time or other. Students included Bill Holman, Gary Peacock, Bob Gordon, Charlie Haden, Bob Cooper, and Bob Graettinger. Reading a web site quote by Bill Holman that "we were all going to Westlake College of Music at the time," this implies that there were many students and a great deal of activity at the school, though there seems to be little surviving history. This would be another wonderful project for a dissertation. In fact, it seems to me a comparative study of Berklee and Westlake would be fascinating. Why has one so gloriously succeeded, while the other disappeared, pretty much without a trace? I am sure the reasons are a combination of artistic and business matters, but, again, it would be very interesting if someone would flesh out the details.

Speaking of business, apparently Westlake struggled from a business standpoint from day one. A former student there told me that the school had eight different locations during its existence, most of them in Hollywood, including one period when it was in the abandoned Screen Cartoonists office building. It moved from Hollywood to Laguna Beach in the summer of 1960, continuing to operate for about one more year, but drastically reduced in size and scope. There apparently was no fanfare when it ceased to be, probably around the summer of 1961. This same person related that the last he knew of Alvin Learned years ago, he was running a piano studio somewhere up the Pacific Coast Highway called "Al Learned Piano by Ear," a rather sad fate for this man who was reportedly much admired for his valiant efforts at Westlake.

Incidentally, readers may be familiar with a book entitled "West Coast Jazz" by Ted Gioia, published in 1992. Upon reading this book, I eagerly hoped for it to fill in some gaps about Westlake, but it does not do so. It does mention the school, but only from the standpoint of "Bill Holman attended Westlake," "Bob Graettinger attended Westlake," etc. Mildly critical, in one place it states that Westlake did little more than "churn out studio musicians."

Despite Westlake's ignoble lifeline, from all indications, it did play a vital role in the jazz education world of southern California for over fifteen years, and I certainly think it should be remembered and credited for whatever was accomplished.

Books

There is some additional published material that I do not have. If you know of other works by him please let me know.

Articles

Quote

Mitch Holder, who studied with Howard Roberts, supplied the following quote from H.R. which he recorded during his last lesson with him 11/12/70.

Through thematic development, anything will work over anything. Through voice leading, any chord will go to any chord.

To quote Mitch "That about sums up his whole basis for his playing, thematic development was first and foremost and you can hear that principle on anything he ever recorded. I've got it framed in my home studio as a reminder when I get out of line. H.R. is watching (and listening)!!"

Seminars

Prior to the founding of G.I.T. Howard Roberts was involved in conducting seminars in many cities across North America. Many guitar players came into contact with H.R. through these. For example, here is an account and some photos from a 1972 seminar he conducted at Lenny's on the Turnpike in Peabody (Boston), MA. The following pictures show Howard Roberts in action at one of his seminars: montage 1, montage 2.

Here is an excerpt (in Real Audio format) of a seminar held in London in 1985. H.R. discusses Sonic Shapes and the importance of singing what you play. Bill Williams of Portugal supplied several hours of recording from this seminar.

Jason Torres kindly supplied the following letter (pdf file) written by H.R. to Jason's father Henry Torres, a guitarist in Southern California, after he had attended one of the seminars held at the Knickerbocker Hotel in 1971.

Seminar Materials

G.I.T. Materials

Lectures

Howard Roberts was well-known for his seminars. Here is an example of a lecture he gave at GIT in 1984 and recorded by Timothy Dalton of Redondo Beach, California who was a student there at that time. Tim has kindly made this material available. Although the sound quality is not great the lecture is quite interesting both with respect to its content and for the insights it provides into H.R. himself. The lecture is clearly "improvised" and proceeds more like an informal discussion. Still the overall effect is quite impressive and repeated listenings bear fruit. I learned some things! I've tried to summarize some key points below but probably have to think some more about this; let me know if you disagree with what I say. In particular I found the ideas of "melodic force" and "any chord leads to any chord" quite enlightening and helpful.

The broad theme of the lecture is harmony and in particular bitonal and atonal harmony. But there is much more in the lecture. I've broken it up into parts of more or less coherent pieces. Thanks again Tim!

I also have a recording of an orientation lecture H.R. gave to G.I.T. students in 1989.

Videos

I have one video of a lecture Howard Roberts gave at G.I.T. to the incoming class sometime in the late 70's. The talk is basically called "The Theory of Learning" but he ranges far and wide about music and guitar playing generally. Most of the time he is responding to questions from the audience.

Playback Press

Playback Press is now run by Patty Roberts and she can be reached at playbackmusicpubco@comcast.net.

Playback was a publishing company started by Howard Roberts to publish books on guitar instruction. While primarily publishing his books (see above), I have encountered interesting books by other authors published by Playback.

I recently found a catalogue from Playback that I received from H.R. sometime in the 70's. It has an accompanying letter from him, addressed to "Guitar Player and Musically Driven Friend", that contains the following interesting quote. It indicates what his ambitions were for Playback.

I've always had a fantasy of a huge place, maybe like an old Victorian house with 30 or 40 rooms in it, where each room would contain any subject area that one would ever want to explore about guitar playing or relevant music, where you can wander from room to room at will, exploring any and all aspects of your interests, and moving on to any other room at any time. Since we don't have a big place like a house to roam around in, this catalog could form the basis of perhaps a more mobile and easily accessible substitute. Perhaps a School of Thought will work for us right now as a starter! Let me know what you think!
Here are some of the other books published by Playback.