Harmonyville 01625 by Jon Damian

Jon Damian’s fourth book takes the reader on a magical journey through the town of Harmonyville. Meet the main characters Gino Dominante and Dee Mineur Septieme and follow along as they travel and meet an assortment of musically inclined friends. Jon’s wit and humor shine in this tale which tells the story of the relationship between these two chord symbols and his illustrations help the reader find their way through the town of Harmonyville. Readers will enjoy the journey!

Professor Jon Damian retires after 45 years in the Guitar Department

Jon Damian plays his beloved Gibson Super 400

(This article and interview is reprinted from the Fall 2008 and first online edition of Open Position managed and edited by Robin Stone)


Jon Damian, has been a Professor in the Guitar Department since 1974…

In December 1987 Jon created the first published newsletter for the guitar department and named it “Open Position”. Containing interviews, transcriptions and articles written by fellow faculty, Open Position proved to be an informative publication for student and faculty alike. This December marks the 20th anniversary of Open Position. Jon talks with me about how the newsletter got started and what it’s been like to teach in the guitar department for the past 34 years. Jon has written numerous articles and has had two books published by Berklee Press. ”The Chord Factory” (2007) and “The Guitarists Guide to Composing and Improvising.” (2001) are available from the Berklee campus bookstore. Jon will soon release his first film documentary entitled “Heavy Rubber. 30 years in the life of an instrument: The Rubbertellie”. (2007) Filmed by his son Gene, this unique documentary details the making and history of the Rubbertellie, an instrument Jon created to “stretch the traditional boundaries of the instrument”.

Jon has presented clinics internationally. He has performed with many well known performers such as Johnny Cash, Luciano Pavoratti, Linda Ronstadt and the Boston Pops and Boston Symphony Orchestras.

He has done an extensive amount of theatre work and has appeared on numerous CD’s including his own release entitled “Dedications, Faces and Places”. (2000)

Throughout his tenure at Berklee College, Jon has been responsible for creating the following organizations.

The Buddy System and The Buddy System Recital Series, created in 1984, provides a network for like minded guitarists to get together, play tunes, develop their repertoire and perform in concert.

G.A.R.A.G.E, The General Association of Really Astute Guitar Enthusiasts. The Guitar club here at the college, was founded in 2000.

P.O.P.! The Performance Outreach Program.1986-1993. Hundreds of Berklee College faculty and student musicians donated their time and talent by performing at schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and prisons. The program received the “Pro Arts Public Service in the Art Award” from the City of Boston.


Jon Damian The Interview

OP: Jon, you were a student here and were about to graduate when Berklee offered you a position in the guitar department.

Jon: I started teaching here in my senior year. They asked me to do some ensembles and then when graduation came they offered me the opportunity to continue teaching. I had already spent so much time out on the road that I thought it might be nice to land in one place for a while rather than jump out on the road again. So I began teaching here, enjoyed it and stuck around.

OP: What year was that?

Jon: January of 1974.

OP: What made you think of the idea of creating a newsletter specifically for the guitar department.

Jon: It was an idea Bill Leavitt and I had, to try to get word through the guitar department about all the talent that exists here. The newsletter idea came up and I got it started in December of 1987. I was the managing editor and Steve Carter and Joe Rogers assisted me in it’s publication until 1991 at which point Charles Chapman joined in. Charlie and I were co-editors of Open Position from 1991-1994. Charles took over the newsletter in 1994.

OP: It’s been twenty years.

Jon: Twenty years ago this past December! That’s kind of exciting. A big anniversary.

OP: What did you hope to accomplish by creating this newsletter?

Jon: Just to let the faculty and students know of the talent that can be found throughout the department. We accomplished this through articles that were written by staff, faculty and students. We also had a bulletin board on the back page, showing upcoming gigs, CD’s coming out etc. So it really started to become popular after a while, people started to say “Hey this is a nice venue for a faculty member or a student who wants to express themselves in some kind of a way”.

OP: How often did you publish an issue?

Jon: One edition a semester maybe two in the beginning. Charles Chapman has the whole collection.

OP: Why did you finally give up your position as co-editor of the newsletter?

Jon: Well I did it for about five years. It’s a lot of work because you have to compile articles and you have to find people and try to fill up ten pages or so. Designing logos and getting it printed, also takes a lot of time. So after about four or five years of that, Charlie came on board in ’91. We were co-editors and finally Charlie took over the whole thing in November 1994 and it was sort of a relief for me to finish it. Charlie became the sole editor and he published the first online version of Open Position in the Winter of 2001. His last online edition was the Spring 2002 edition.

O.P. What keeps you motivated to teach here year after year. Do you ever get tired of it?

Jon: No, I never get tired. In fact I actually pick up more energy as I go along. To me, teaching is as much a performance art as sitting on a stage with my guitar. That’s what keeps me vibrant and growing all the time. Of course I channel a lot of this energy into producing books and things like that which is fun for me. Writing is an area of creative work that I love to do. The only frustration, at times, is that it’s tough when the students aren’t totally dedicated to the instrument. It’s getting tougher for me to deal with that because I’m putting in my one hundred percent and when a student is not putting in as much it’s frustrating. I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone at the college is performance oriented. That’s the real big thing that’s changed at the college. Back in the old day’s as students we were here for our instrument and for writing.

O.P. You have two books “The Guitarists Guide to Composing and Improvising” and the newly released “The Chord Factory”. You must be very proud of these books.

Jon: I am, I’m excited. The first book has done pretty well for itself. I’ve gotten some nice reviews from a diverse group of people. It’s like giving birth. “The Chord Factory” just came out and it’s such a relief after four years of hard work on it. It took a year and a half alone just to edit the book and then to realize that I had finally convinced my editor and  publisher of all of these ideas and to finally see it and have it in my hands is really exciting.

OP: You have played with so many great musicians. People such as Bill Frisell, Pavoratti, James Taylor and Johnny Cash to name a few. You have also played in some amazing venues such as Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops and the BSO under the direction of Seiji Ozawa. Which of those experiences are the most memorable for you personally. 

Jon: Some of the most fulfilling gigs were some of the most difficult ones. Playing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) or with a group called “Collage” a group comprised of BSO players in a chamber ensemble setting. They were happy moments but they were stressful as well. The music can be ridiculously difficult. Working hard on the music and then the feeling of satisfaction, of accomplishment with this really high level musical organization. That’s really fulfilling. But I find now, even though I’ve played places such as Carnegie Hall, that to me it’s not any more exciting than playing small clubs and I have as good a time at those gigs as I do at any other gig. To me they’re all the same, they’re all improvisational challenges. Trying to know the tunes, trying to play well, focus on my other players. Whether I’m at a small club or on the stage at Carnegie Hall, I have to have that same awareness and presence. So of course there are gigs that you can be proud of, I worked with Leonard Bernstein and Pavoratti which are exciting and it’s cool to be there but I have fun on the good old club date as well.

OP: What advice do you hope to leave your students with as they prepare to head off into a highly competitive world once graduating from Berklee? What words of inspiration do you give them as they embark upon their musical journey into a field that’s increasingly more difficult to make a name for oneself.

Jon: I hope that I’ve done that already in the lessons in that when they see my energy and see my connection and involvement with the guitar, that’s the most important thing that I want them to learn from me. Not a technical thing but just “Wow this cat’s really into what he is doing. He really loves that guitar, he’s very dedicated to it. I want to be able to do that.” So hopefully over the one to three years that a student spends with me here at the college,  they’ve picked up on that and that’s going to be the most valuable thing. In my opinion there isn’t anything else that is going to be as valuable as that. It’s letting them have faith in themselves and that they can do it. There is so much diversity in music and so many possibilities. Even if you end up teaching out of your house. That’s a great gift, to number one have your health, have the axe in your lap and do gigs and get paid for them. For a lot of people fame is the measure of success. To me that’s not the real important part of success. To me it’s appreciating that you’ve been given music in your life and that you get to play your instrument, practice and watch your connection to it grow. I try to let that be my message to them. If you keep your health and look at the guitar as a gift, then you are half way there.

OP: You have had your Gibson Super 400 for as long as I have known you, what year is that guitar?

Jon: It’s a 1968.

OP: When did you acquire that guitar?

Jon: Sometime around 1976, I traded in a Gibson L7 along with $700.00 and I got it from George Mell in Staten island. He was the cat to get a big box (guitar) from back then.

OP: You’ve played it ever since.

Jon: I have probably twelve guitars for different reasons but this is my main axe. I once backed over it with my truck and I always love saying to people “you should have seen the truck!”

Click on the link below to watch my interview with Jon from 2008!

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