Mike Merola isn’t just another technically skilled blues and jazz guitarist based in New York City, one voice among so many. What emerges most memorably from listening to his playing in his band The City Boys Allstars is its sense of intertwined emotional honesty and naturalness. No wonder some of the best singers and musicians in the big city choose to keep his company on gigs and in the recording studio.
Mike, born in the mid-1950s, introduced himself to the guitar at age 9. His first teacher was a Joe Pass fan named Frank Terris, who for five years honed Mike’s keen ear for music. Rather than playing sports like many kids, he tirelessly practiced guitar and spent hour after hour listening to records by blues-based rock bands of the 1960s like Cream and the Yardbirds. Teenager Mike was specially drawn to the smooth vibrato and wailing sound of Cream’s guitar god Eric Clapton. He also grew fond of jazz standards. Joining his first band at 14, Mike played note-by-note covers of then-current rock material. This stifled his inclinations to improvise creatively, and he soon steered clear of these unimaginative bands. Guitar lessons from Ron Parker at Paul Simon’s brother’s music school in NYC, along with extensive practicing, increased his confidence about improvising and he worked with freewheeling R&B bands in the 1970s.
Significant to Mike’s musical development, too, was his taking a History of Jazz course taught by Dr. Billy Taylor at C. W. Post College of Long Island University, where he majored in Communications and minored in Music Theory. For good reason, Mike was in awe of his teacher, known as “the world’s foremost spokesman for jazz” because of his extraordinary educational efforts on behalf of jazz. Mike says, “Billy became a friend and really opened my ears to a wealth of great music and to the many aspects of his journey discovering the music he loved, including all the many stories he told about his life, like living with and learning from Art Tatum for over a year.” Mike was thrilled beyond words when Taylor gave him an A+ for a paper on stride-and-boogie-woogie piano genius Meade Lux Lewis. The guitarist enjoyed hearing the highly regarded Billy Taylor Trio in local performances.
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