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Frank Jolliffe, "Touchstyle" Guitarist, Dies at 53


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Frank Jolliffe
Jazz instrumentalist and music educator Frank Jolliffe, 53, died of a heart attack on February 8.

Jolliffe originally embarked on his musical career playing electric guitar, but made an early switch to the Chapman Stick, the electric stringed instrument designed by Emmet Chapman in the 1970s and played by tapping its fret board with the fingers of both hands, rather than being strummed or plucked.

Later in his career, Jolliffe played the Warr guitar, a similar instrument designed by Mark Warr. Jolliffe coined the term “touchstyle" to describe the Stick, Warr guitar, and other comparable instruments, a term that came into wide usage. Tony Levin of the progressive rock band King Crimson may be the most well-known musician devoted primarily to touchstyle instruments. Jolliffe stood among the most accomplished touchstyle practitioners working in a jazz context.

Jolliffe performed widely, playing at clubs in New York and music festivals in Europe. He taught at the National Guitar Workshop and the European Tap-Guitar Seminar in Belgium, as well as the Hartford Camerata Conservatory. His publications included The TouchStyle Songbook and a newsletter, The TouchStyle Quarterly.

Jolliffe began playing the Chapman Stick in the mid-1970s, shortly before entering Berklee College of Music as a guitar major. While at Berklee, he decided to focus entirely on the Stick, but the school wouldn't allow him to major in the instrument or even study it until after he had completed two years of guitar requirements. Jolliffe left Berklee and studied composition and orchestration briefly at the Mannes College of Music and the New School before enrolling in the jazz performance program at William Paterson University in New Jersey, where he completed his Bachelor's degree.

In the 1980s, he teamed up first with pianist and saxophonist Joe Ruddick and later formed a duo with drummer Jim Mason, playing at clubs in New York such as Rick's Café, the Star and Garter, the West Boondock Café, and the 55 Bar. Jolliffe impressed audiences and critics with his ability to simultaneously play solid walking bass lines with his left hand while deftly soloing and playing chords with his right hand. Guitar Player dubbed him “a Chapman Stick maestro" and, in surveying Stick musicians, New York Post jazz critic Chip Deffaa called him “the best ... straight-ahead jazz ... player on the New York club scene."

Jolliffe had returned to regular performing in 2010 after having left music to pursue a second career as a librarian. He earned a Master's in library science at Rutgers University and worked at the Bank Street College of Education, the South Orange Public Library, and the Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies, where he helped develop the Center's Jazz Studies Online and J-DISC, an online jazz discography.

Jolliffe made a departure from his earlier straight-ahead jazz style in his most recent playing, centering on free improvisation and electronic music. He performed and recorded with The Flying Particles (a collaboration with Robert and Miles Nasta) and with ArtCrime, an ensemble led by multi-instrumentalist John Korchok.

Jolliffe's recordings include Solo Stick (TouchStyle, 1988); Live on Comcast (TouchStyle, 1990) and In the Pocket (TouchStyle, 1991) with Jim Mason; Live in Brigitines, Brussels (Clic, 1993) with guitarist Pierre Van Dormael; Totems (Sonic Utensil, 2011) with The Flying Particles; June 2011 (ArtCrime, 2011) with ArtCrime, and the self-titled ArtCrime (Unseen Rain, 2012). His recordings from the 1980s and '90s are available at Selected videos are available at

Jolliffe overcame Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in his late 20s, but he faced severe heart disease in his final years and had been a candidate for a heart transplant. He was a long-time resident of the Essex and Phoenix Mills artists' housing in Paterson, New Jersey, a complex of converted 19th-century textile mills near Paterson's Great Falls.

He is survived by his former partner Laurie Lynchant and her son, Stephen Gravatt, a close circle of fellow musicians and other friends, and extended family.

There will be a memorial at the Ivanhoe Wheelhouse in Paterson, April 1, beginning at 1 p.m., with performances by ArtCrime and other musicians.


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