Alexander Nathan Skolnick (born September 29, 1968), is an American metal and jazz guitarist who is the lead guitarist of the Bay Area thrash metal band Testament, and heads the jazz band Alex Skolnick Trio. According to a Guitar World magazine reader's poll he is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time as well as one of the fastest guitarists in the world.
Born and raised in Berkeley, California by a "non-traditional" Jewish family, Skolnick began playing the guitar at age nine. He was influenced by Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Kiss, and Scorpions. He was a student of renowned guitarist Joe Satriani and was one of many guitarists (Steve Vai, Larry LaLonde, Rick Hunolt, Kirk Hammett, Andy Timmons, Charlie Hunter, Kevin Cadogan) who studied under Satriani to achieve fame. His parents, Jerome Skolnick and Arlene, both PhD graduates from Yale University, were professors of sociology at New York University and have previously taught at UC Berkeley. Skolnick has an older brother, Michael.
Skolnick was a member of the San Francisco Bay Area thrash metal band Testament from 1983 until his departure in 1993. He returned briefly to re-record some old material for the band's First Strike Still Deadly release, as well as the "Thrash of the Titans" all-star performance in 2001, before returning full-time four years later.
After his first departure from Testament, Skolnick joined the band Savatage in 1994 for the recording of Handful of Rain, as well as its follow-up live album and home video release Japan Live '94. In 1991 he recorded and toured with the Stu Hamm band. He also played guitar for Ozzy Osbourne in 1995. In 2004, Skolnick made a guest appearance on Lamb of God's Ashes of the Wake album, recording a solo for the album's instrumental title track.
During the mid to late 1990s, Skolnick fronted several projects in the Bay Area, including Skol-Patrol (a funk band exclusively dedicated to cop-show themes, both covered and original, featuring Michael Manring). He also recorded two albums with Attention Deficit, a 3-piece featuring Tim Alexander from Primus as well as Manring. In the late 90s, he collaborated with electric violinist Joe Deninzon (who he met in New York City at the New School) in Stratospheerius, recording The Adventures of Stratospheerius album. He also appears on their Live Wires album.
In 1998, Skolnick relocated to New York City and began devoting all of his energy to jazz, enrolling in The New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music and graduating with a BFA in jazz performance.
Since 2002, Alex has been touring and recording with the Alex Skolnick Trio, a jazz group known for playing rousing bebop renditions of classic rock and heavy metal tunes. The Trio has performed at the Rochester International Jazz Festival, Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany, at the National Center for the Arts, Mexico City, at the Iridium Jazz Club, New York City, and numerous other venues all over the world. AST blends the conviction of rock with the elegance and sophistication of jazz. Since their debut, AST has been honored with 4 ½ stars by Downbeat, reviewed by Jazziz, The Village Voice and has charted on the JazzWeek radio charts. Fans of the group include international superstars Rodrigo y Gabriella who have recorded and performed with Skolnick and Metallica's Robert Trujillo, who joined the band for an impromptu jam at Radio City Music Hall.
The trio's latest album, Veritas, reached the Top Ten of the iTunes jazz charts at no.7, positioned between Dave Brubeck and Esperanza Spalding, and is released via the esteemed jazz label, Palmetto Records. In October 2007, the Alex Skolnick Trio were a support act to Rodrigo y Gabriela on the US East Coast. In 2009, Skolnick featured a guitar solo on 'Atman' for Rodrigo y Gabriela's studio hit album 11:11. The Alex Skolnick Trio was also the main support band on Rodrigo Y Gabriela's consecutive European and US tour in 2010, including five sold-out nights in London. Alex released a 3 DVD Jazz tuition set with Rock House Method in May 2010. Skolnick appears on "What's Next?" - a jazz duo album by pianist-composer Randy Klein released in October 2012.
Skolnick has also been active in blending music with works of art and literature. In 2007, he contributed a solo for Egyptian artist Nader Sadek's project, "Faceless." The song was only to be heard in an art gallery in New York. In 2012, he performed live at the Feature Inc Gallery in New York, for a musical interpretation project for the works of visual artist Douglas Melini. He is currently working on a musical spoken-word project "The Bestiary" with author Bradford Morrow.
In the spring of 2005, Skolnick and the rest of the classic Testament lineup reunited for a short European tour 10 Days of May Tour, with some American dates appended on. The tour was successful and a CD/DVD release was put together from the May 8, 2005 London show. On April 29, 2008, Testament released their first studio album in nine years, The Formation of Damnation. Alex and Testament finished work on a new studio album, entitled Dark Roots of Earth, released on July 27, 2012. The album debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200 and debuted at No.1 on Billboard Hard Rock and Rock albums. It was no. 9 on the World Charts.
Skolnick has composed music for the USA Network's broadcast of the 2002 Westminster Dog Show (a big band jazz piece), and the MTV series "Makin' The Band." He played one of the solos of the song, "Ashes of the wake," of Lamb of God with Chris Poland, formerly of Megadeth. For the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Hockey on NBC Networks Skolnick performed the music for NBC's television commercial. He has appeared as the guest guitarist on That Metal Show hosted by Eddie Trunk in episodes featuring Lars Ulrich and Sammy Hagar. Until 2009, Skolnick also toured as a lead guitarist with the East Coast set of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in the winter months.
In 2010, Alex Skolnick became a producer for the Iraqi Thrash Metal Band Acrassicauda which was the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad. In 2013 he was appointed to the board of directors of the Musicians Institute, Hollywood.
Raised in the Bay Area, he now considers Brooklyn, New York his home. The silver streak in his hair is natural, and appeared at age fourteen. He is also a writer, penning a popular blog, "SkolNotes" (featured on Alltop.com) and is a frequent contributor to Guitar Player Magazine online.
His first book "Geek to Guitar Hero", a memoir, which he wrote between 2009 to 2011, was released in January 2013. He made the announcement of the book on Sirius XM Radio during the New York Comic Con in October 2012. The book has received glowing reviews from authors Bradford Morrow, Anthony Bozza, Ned Vizzini, Guitar World Magazine's Editor-in-Chief Brad Tolinski and The Village Voice, among others.
On June 21, 2012, Summer Solstice Day, Skolnick launched his new world music project "Planetary Coalition" at the annual Make Music New York festival sponsored by Guitar World Magazine at Union Square.
The musical vision of the project was stated as follows by Skolnick: "An ethnically flavored collective of musicians from all over the world, driven by acoustic guitar and bringing together inspirational melodies, in-depth improvisation and the passion of the musical styles of Gypsy, Middle Eastern, Indian, Latin, East Asian, Mediterranean, Balkan/Eastern European, African and other indigenous lands - Planetary Coalition has been guided by a single hope: that by weaving the threads that connect musical expressions with regional identities, we can bridge the gap between diverse cultures and people, and increase awareness of the ecological and social issues facing the planet, our island in the sky." The project has endeavored to combine Art, ecological, political, social issues as well as showcase the unique landscapes and architecture of different regions through music and brought in New York based international architect and landscape architect/urban planner Maddy Samaddar Johnson to work as its artistic/visual and ecological consultant and collaborator since its inception to completion.
Planetary Coalition's CD and iTunes album was officially released on 11/11 on 2014 commemorating the centenary celebration marking the end of the First World War. It is released under the label ArtistShare. The 14-track CD features 27 accomplished and award winning world musicians from five continents including stalwarts like Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, Cuban drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, Indo-Canadian ghazal singer Kiran Ahluwalia, Palestinian oud player Adnan Joubran, Argentine bass player Pablo Aslan, Mali's kora player Yacouba Sissoko, Chinese pipa player Yihan Chen, members of New York Gypsy All Stars, Turkish kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi, Albanian accordion player Raif Hyseni, Israeli percussionist Gadi Seri, violin virtuoso Rachel Golub, members of the Brooklyn-based group House of Waters and many others. In the album Skolnick uses a variety of guitars including steel string, nylon string, acoustic and electric. All compositions are by Skolnick, except two which are jointly composed by Skolnick-Joubran and Skolnick-Hernandez. The tune from Mali and from China are first-time guitar-kora and guitar-pipa duos of two traditional songs from those regions.
The album has received widespread recognition and praise from many publications, papers and blogs. There have been live performances at Union Square and the Liberty Science Center.
In January 2015 Skolnick was featured on the cover of Making Music Magazine to discuss his new album "Planetary Coalition" and also in a special featured article and interview in Guitar Player magazine for the project.Guitar World magazine featured Planetary Coalition as one among the top 50 albums of 2014 and among the top 10 acoustic guitar album releases of the year.
Skolnick now plays ESP Guitars electric and Godin hollow-bodied models with Seymour Duncan pickups. He formerly played Heritage and Ibanez guitars.
In 2009 Heritage released Alex's first signature guitar. His signature is a solid body based upon the H 150/157 model. In his early years with Testament he endorsed Ibanez guitars and mainly played the 540SLTD model. For amplification, he uses Budda amps and several Marshall amps including the discontinued Marshall ModeFour hybrid amps.
In 2013, Budda released a signature amp for Skolnick, called the Preceptor, and later in the same year it was announced that Skolnick was signed to ESP guitars, with an ESP and LTD model in the works for 2014.