...started at the age of nine in 1964 when I, along with the rest of America, watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Within a few short months I had my first guitar and shortly after that I joined my first band.
My interests included a variety of musical styles from Rock, to Blues, to Jazz. My intensive studies at the age of 16 with Jazz great Linc Chamberland prepared me to begin to play Jazz. My professional career began then and continues to this day. In addition to recording, performing, producing, and arranging, I have a teaching practice in Fairfield County, CT.
In the course of my career I have had the pleasure of working with or just jamming with some of the most respected musicians in the business. The list on the right is a partial look in to these moments of my life. My first real gig came in L.A. when I was 20 years old. I toured with the Main Ingredient performing at venues such as Shea Stadium and the L.A. Forum. This lead to meeting and recording with drummer extraordinaire, Alphonse Mouzon. At that session I was honored to be sitting next to Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, David Benoit and George Duke. After my experiences on the west coast I moved to New York City and did movie sound track and jingle work with the help of guitarist Joe Beck. Back in Connecticut in my hometown of Westport, I was given a steady gig on Sunday nights at The Players Tavern. Here is where I was able to truly hone my jazz skills amongst the best players in the Tri-State area. The stage at "The Tavern" will always hold a significant place in my life, as it was a playground for many musicians in and out of the area.
The Main Ingredient
Pee-Wee Ellis Band
Vicki Sue Robinson
How did this new album and overall concept for it come about, and what are your ultimate goals with it?
Conceptually, all I knew was that it was going to be an instrumental CD with the guitar featured and also that I wanted it to have nice earthy grooves. It evolved in three phases. The first phase, was more of a rock-fusion element. These parts were worked out with a wonderful keyboardist and engineer Nick Bariluk. We spent some time listening to my ideas, picked a few and tossed them back and forth. We came up with three solid arrangements then brought in drummer Chris Parker and Dave Anderson on bass. We did the basic tracks in a day. After this recording the project went dormant for a while. In the next phase, I called keyboardist Jay Rowe who has written and performed with with a lot of people in the smooth jazz genre. We got together for five days in his home studio and fleshed out five more tunes. We booked time with engineer Andy Able and a second rhythm section to record these next tunes. The idea was to get a good set of basic tracks done and re-record some of the guitar tracks later. I did go back into the studio and do a series of overdubs but kept coming back to the scratch guitar tracks. With the help of engineer Andy Able tremendous skills and ears, we spent a lot of time “EQ’ ing” and fattening up the original guitar tracks. So at this point we had five tunes that sounded pretty different than the first three. In the third phase, Andy and I went over some more unfinished ideas, agreed on a form for them, brought in a few other players and recorded the last three tunes. In the end with Andy mixing and mastering the entire recording, we created a cohesive album that ties all the elements together. The name of the CD came about fairly easily. I had this picture in my mind of all the blocks to finishing the project. It was like a big ocean and I was in a little boat being tossed around. The name of the CD and the concept for the artwork came almost in one thought. I wanted to make it look kind of folk artsy and a bit playful with color and thanks to the creative effort of artist and friend Steve Russell it was exactly as I had pictured it. My goal and dream for this project is to get the music out there and share it with an appreciative audience! I’m excited to be getting some airplay and I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to perform as much as I can with this wonderful group. I would also like to play in Europe and other countries. I’m already looking forward to doing another recording. I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from musicians and friends who hear it and I’m being encouraged to really step out. I’m very proud of this project.
What do you find the most challenging aspect of recording a new album?
This is my first solo project and it has taken a long time to start and finish. Having played many different styles of music with many different groups the question about this CD was - what kind of CD should this be? Is it jazz, funk or maybe the blues? I’m not a singer and more often in the past having been in the role of sideman, my “voice” wasn’t clear to me. My focus had always been to accommodate the artist I was working with. At one point, a friend said to me “your guitar IS your voice”. I have always kept recordings of short musical ideas that I would come up with hoping that some day I would finish some of them. I have shoeboxes full of cassettes and discs. The ideas are everything from funk, smooth jazz to blues and even folky ideas. The problem is I didn’t finish them. I could help others finish their ideas but not sit still long enough for my own to come fruition. I have always enjoyed working with others so it eventually occurred to me to put some of my ideas on a disc and bare my soul so to speak so to someone else. The first person was my friend Nick Bariluk. I work pretty quickly and comfortably in the studio so for me, the challenging part of the recording process was getting to point where I was willing to show my ideas to someone.
Going back as far as you can remember, what song or performance is the first you recall hearing and being affected by.
Without a doubt at 9 years old the Beatles performance on Ed Sullivan was the one event that started my desire to play music and specifically the guitar. I’d never seen electric guitars before, the way they blended together with bass, drums and vocals. It was like I was taking it all in as an impression while at the same time wanting to know how the music was made. Their songs still grab me today.
What would you top desert Island classic albums be regardless of genre…the albums you turn to time after time for your own personal enjoyment and inspiration?
My “desert island” albums have remained the same for a long time. As many albums or CD’s as I’ve listened over the years there are three that immediately come to mind. One would be Taj Mahal – Natch’l Blues album that I’ve been listening to since I was about 14 years old. The thick gumbo earthy grooves always grab me the same way with each listening. I’ve owned the vinyl record, cassettes and CD’s of this recording over all the years. The uncomplicated and sparse arrangements hold together so well. Each song has such an infectious groove to it that speaks to me so strongly. When often asked who I’d like to play with, I find myself answering: Taj Mahal. Another album would be Jimi Hendrix – Axis Bold as Love. I was lucky to see Hendrix perform three times. The first time was right when Axis first came out. I was about 15 and was so mesmerized by his flawless and expressive playing. I never knew that so much could be done with the guitar. I love his first three albums but this is my favorite. The third would be Miles Davis - In a Silent Way. To hear all those musicians working so well together while at the same time leaving space fascinates me. With so many powerful players the restraint is hypnotic. I would be remiss not to bring along Wes Montgomery – Boss Guitar. I was actually only in 6th grade when my mothers friend gave me this record. I had been playing the guitar for almost 3 years at this point and what grabbed me about it was, not only Wes’s lyrical playing, but the warmth of his sound which to me was like getting a hug from someone you love. Wes is at the top of the list of my musical heroes.
What aspect of the creative process from concept to market, do you personally find to be the most rewarding?
The part of the process I like best is after the music has been charted out and we are ready to go into rehearsal with the rhythm section. I really enjoy the interaction of other musicians contributing along with my own ideas, working out different endings, segues and hearing the song come to life. It feels like I am on a team working together as one unit. It’s exciting to hear the song come together. There is often an intimacy to it that I think is unique to creating music. I love the focus on being in the moment and not being distracted. I feel alive during this process and my mind and creativity are often free. In fact I enjoy this process so much that at this point in my life I think I would rather hear a band or musician rehearse instead of seeing them in concert. Ironically, it’s the process that inspires me more than the finished product. It can be akin to watching a sculptor take a lump of clay, take away and add to come out with a work of art. This is not to say that I don’t like to see shows, it’s just that the journey not the destination holds the most rewards for me.
When the time arises for you to give back for the success and abundance you enjoy, what kinds of opportunities do you look for?
Often situations present themselves to me, giving me the opportunity to give back for the treasures in my life. I believe music has healing qualities and I’ve experienced that by watching peoples reactions when playing for them. On a personal level, I’ve had the chance to play for friends, ill or dying in the hospital. I’ve seen music offer relief, sometime laughter and levity to an otherwise painful and frightening moment in life. Often their spouse and family can share these moments of relief as well – sometimes even nurses and doctor will come into the room to share the moment. Secondly, I’ve performed in Connecticut with a group called Band Together CT that performs for five or six charity events each year. They raise money for people and organizations in support of various community outreach programs. These are always festive and the people appreciative for any efforts to help their cause. Teaching offers another special type of relationship as a mentor and is another way of passing on what I’ve received from my own mentors. There is definitely a spark that happens and feels good when you help someone.
"A fine debut album from one who should have done this a long time ago. No matter. He’s on the solo scene now, and you will likely agree that we jazzers are all the better for it." - Ronald Jackson, SmoothJazzRide.com