Driven by the limitless possibilities of music, Melanie Jag is an excellent example of representation for women guitarists in jazz. She has been playing guitar for eight years and has no intentions of stopping her grind as she continues to pursue her goals of writing and producing for industry artists. Listening to Jag regurgitate Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s guitar solo for “Didn’t It Rain?” it’s obvious that she plays from the heart as she creates a whirlwind of nostalgic riffs while leaving room for slightly distorted undertones and reverb.
This Toronto native is a graduate of the York University Jazz program and uses guitar improv to voice her passion of highlighting women guitarists within the music industry. Using social media as the stomping ground to connect musicians, Jag believes that representation matters and that it is important for women to see themselves as they discover their calling in life.
Tell us a little about your musical background. How old were you when you started playing guitar, and what inspired your passion for music?
I was 12 years old when my parents agreed to buy me a guitar and signed me up for lessons. I was in love with the music I used to hear on the Disney Channel (specifically the Jonas Brothers), but I was also listening to Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, and lots of country albums from my parents’ music collection. I loved how the guitarists looked free and like they were having so much fun when they were playing. As a kid, I watched them and wanted to be just like them one day. Throughout the years, I ended up picking up other instruments, like the bass guitar and the bass clarinet, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I started to take playing the guitar seriously. I enrolled at York University when I was 19, where I studied music and specialized in jazz guitar. I currently play in an electro-acoustic orchestra, where I’m learning to play my guitar in unconventional ways while extracting unique sounds from it, similar to “prepared guitar” techniques.
What truly inspired my passion for music were the live concerts I attended as a kid and in my teens. Being able to see my favorite artists and scream their lyrics at the top of my lungs is one of the best feelings in the world to me. I’m also inspired every time I discover an artist whose music is able to deeply resonate with me or a song that’s unlike others I’ve heard before.
What inspires you to wake up every day and continue pursuing your dreams?
The endless possibilities that music entails. When I think I’ve mastered one skill, there’s always a million different ways to approach it, or there’s always someone who can offer a new perspective. When I first started studying music, theory was always intimidating to me since there were so many concepts to wrap my head around. Once I realized that there’s always room to learn more and that even the “simplest” concept can be used in the most complex pieces of music, it became something that I’m now super excited about and not something I fear. Also, there’s a unique connection that happens whenever I perform with other musicians, collaborate on a song, or even just discuss music with another musician. I’ve met so many incredible musicians all over the world through social media that always keep me motivated and inspired.
Take us through your songwriting process. What types of environments do you feel you need in order to be your most creative?
My songwriting process is quite a messy one. The one thing that ties my songwriting process together is definitely my voice memos app. Anytime I have an idea, I always pull out my voice memos and hum the melody or chord progression that I hear in my head and later figure it out on my guitar. The initial idea can strike at the most random times—in the shower, driving, or even in the middle of an exam. From there, all I need is my laptop and a quiet space to develop the idea!
What guitars are you playing right now? Name your top two or three, if possible.
I currently play a Fender Strat American Pro HSS, a Gibson SG Standard, and occasionally, a Little Martin acoustic.
Finish this sentence: I believe music…
Can be found within every avenue of life. Whether it be the sound of someone walking down a staircase, the sound of someone typing on a keyboard, or a conversation with someone you just met, anything can be a source of inspiration and be turned into something musical.