Life History

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1958, a Gemini and only child. My father was Greek and my mother American. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was raised by my mother until she remarried. I grew up too fast (my mom’s “young man”), and I was intelligent, independent and sometimes rebellious. My first music lessons were on accordion when I was 9 yrs. old. Because the teacher said I had some talent for music, it was decided some music lessons should continue. I was very keen to play drums but my stepfather said no to that because he didn’t want to hear me practicing in the house. My mother preferred piano, but in my ignorant youth, I thought piano was for sissy’s. Guitar as the instrument of choice was a compromise, though once I heard Hendrix, I wasn’t sorry for the choice. I began guitar lessons in 1968 at Hoffman Music Studios in Hamilton, Ohio, under Helen Hoffman who took me through the MelBay guitar method books. Soon she said she had taught me everything she could. During that time, in 1969, I won 2nd place in the American Guild of Music contest involving about 100 guitar contestants. 

Get a “real” job!, or, what is it you really do for a living?

It was always assumed by my parents that guitar would merely be a hobby, nothing more. My mom thought I couldn’t earn a living from music, and that was her main concern. My stepfather didn’t believe I had any talent whatsoever in music, despite what the teachers told him. He wanted me to be an engineer. But when I finished high school I refused to go to collage to study anything but music. My stepfather refused to contribute any money for my collage education. Luckily my mother helped financially, plus I earned a partial scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music in 1976 as a performance major, against the wishes of my parents. In fact, I was one of only two from my graduating class in high school to study music. I felt my desire to play guitar was somewhat abnormal.

The lost years, party-time in the Big Apple

I completed 3 yrs. at Berklee, but I coasted through much of my class work, favoring solitary guitar practice and ‘jamming’ with others. I still managed to make the dean’s list. But it was all study, and money was very tight. Sometimes all I would eat for days was peanut butter sandwiches. On a long Xmas break from school I stayed in Roslyn, New York with my father, and got what was supposed to have been a month long job in a restaurant. I was due back in school after the holiday break. There was quite a wild nightlife where I worked. I was away from my family, earning steady money for the first time, and it was so exciting to be ‘free’ in the ‘Big Apple’, the ultimate party town. Here my stepfather’s words of warning came true. He had said that as soon as I got a job earning a salary I wouldn’t want to go to school again. Sure enough, I stayed on in New York and dropped out of collage. Greg Chako working at a Guitar WorkshopI worked in kitchens and partied it up in the bars and beaches of Long Island, NY. I traveled to Greece once and camped on the beach in Corfu for 4 or 5 months, occasionally playing guitar for fun. Upon my return to NY, I gained my first experience in Arts Administration working briefly for the Guitar Workshop school in Roslyn, NY, though when they quickly closed, I resumed cooking in order to make a living.

Cooking with Jazz

By this time I had gained experience in kitchens andit was apparent I had the talent to be a creative and competent chef. I was groomed by two different executive chefs for a cooking career, at one point being offered a partial scholarship to the famed Culinary Institute of New York. A career as a chef was possible, and I liked working with food (still enjoy eating it), but I didn’t like the long hours and that particular kitchen smell that permeates all your clothes!

I married in 1982 and moved to Amherst, Massachusetts where my wife was going to school. I became Assistant Chef at the Lord Jeffrey Inn, New England’s oldest and most prestigious Country Inn. I was practicing guitar too, and teamed up with a bassist in Amherst who also had a ‘day job’. So far, my music was not earning me any money. My reputation as a chef there was good, so I set up a meeting with the General Manager of the Lord Jeffrey Inn. I convinced him to let my bassist and I play jazz in their lounge on my only two nights off, telling him I was a better guitar player than a chef (I lied!). He agreed, so I cooked in the kitchen 5 nights and played guitar in the lounge for 2, a full 7 nights a week work. Eventually I asked the executive chef to let me take off one more day a week to play guitar but he said no, saying he preferred I work even more in the kitchen rather than less. I quit the cooking job and began searching for playing gigs anywhere I could find them.

Boy returns home, now a young man, jazz guitarist & promoter

While in Amherst, Massachusetts I founded a Jazz Society and, obtaining the support of both local businesses and the Massachusetts Council of the Arts, I organized a jazz concert series program and an outdoor jazz festival (I played with Slide Hampton, Bill Hardman, Ed Jones & other top players). I was on a mission to promote the art form I loved, and I had the skills necessary to do so. The Director of the Fine Arts Center of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Dr. Frederick Tillis, once commented that I alone, in organizing the jazz festival, accomplished the work of his entire staff!

When my wife finished her Masters degree in 1984, we moved to my hometown of Cincinnati. We might have moved to New York then, but we thought Cincinnati would be easier and less scary (it wasn’t). In Cincinnati, I got a job teaching guitar at a music school. The teaching wasn’t satisfying because my students were either beginners or interested only in the latest Van Halen licks. More importantly, they weren’t serious and didn’t practice. I ‘sat in’ around town, playing for free anywhere, just to play. Eventually I got a steady gig as resident bandleader and booking agent at a club called Doc’s Place, owned by a real doctor who loved jazz. I booked and played with some name players there (Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Rusty Bryant, Junior Cook, Lanny Morgan, Bobby Watson, Jim Snidero, Mike Wolf, Othello Molineaux, etc…). I also hired and featured ‘unknown’ local groups, sometimes giving those who hadn’t the opportunity to play for years, a chance to strut their stuff (I was by all means an ‘equal opportunity employer’!). This was good experience as a steady working musician, promoter and agent. It would have seemed then that the ‘jazz life’ was there to stay, but it wasn’t to be so.

The yuppie years, real estate mogul

The excitement and diversity of New York City lured us out of Cincinnati (in case you don’t know, Mark Twain said of Cincinnati that when the world comes to an end he hoped he was there, since everything happens 10 years late). We moved to Brooklyn, NY in 1986. I was disillusioned with playing music in bars, and living in New York brought out the materialistic aspect in me. I felt I had to support my family, which roughly translates into, ‘I’m tired of my wife earning more money than me’!

While living in Brooklyn I quit playing completely again, from1987-1992 (my longest hiatus from music). I went to school, got my brokers license, and began selling and leasing industrial real estate for a large firm called Kaplon-Belo. I still considered myself an artist (seemed to still think like one), but I didn’t touch the guitar at all during this time. I earned a lot of money compared to playing guitar. I learned more about selling, setting a sales record for the company in my first year, experience which served me well when I became a music promoter again. I also enjoyed the human interaction and dynamics of working with such a diverse range of people making ‘The Deal’. I became active serving the community when I was appointed to the local Community Board. I started a crusade against the garbage transfer stations scattered illegally throughout the neighborhood and tried to make the neighborhood more safe and clean. I was, by all outward appearances, a community-conscious ‘yuppie’. But another major change was about to occur. 

Carpel-tunnel syndrome

I was beginning to miss the creative expression of playing music, and began to doodle on my guitar when not working in the office. Eventually I was practicing more seriously for hours at a time, writing incredibly complex solo arrangements. They were brilliant, but then I noticed problems with my wrist. Perhaps what happened to me then is similar to what happens to someone who doesn’t warm up before exercising. I was going too fast for my own good. I had carpel tunnel syndrome, a repetitive motion disease affecting the wrist. Twice I had to completely stop playing for two to three months, and for a year and a half I resisted an operation and fought the disease with occupational therapy. What little bit of playing I could manage, I did without the aid of a pick. I liked the sound and feel of playing with only my thumb. I vowed that if I were going to play at all, I would learn to play melodies with feeling and emotion. But it took years to gain fluidity of technique with the thumb, not to mention the confidence and physical strength to play again. That was to happen later, in Asia.

We moved to my wife’s hometown of Hong Kong in 1992 in order for her to start a new job and be with her family again. It was there that I resumed my professional music career in earnest. I had by this time controlled my carpal tunnel by practicing Tai Chi, adequately warming-up and exercising. I began working solo, and as a sideman in trios and quartets for private parties. I jammed with the marvelous Filipino musicians whenever I could. My classical guitar training then came in very handy as I could earn good money doing that. I also played in a couple Broadway shows (including West Side Story), and did at least one concert with the Hong Kong Philharmonic. I became a bandleader and booking agent again in Hong Kong, playing and providing other entertainment for private clubs, restaurants and corporations. I recorded my first CD, “Everything I Love”, and started an annual fortnight of jazz, and weekly jazz every Sunday night which continues to this day at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

Singapore Swing

We moved to Singapore from Hong Kong in Aug. ’94, once again for my wife’s job. I incorporated a small entertainment co. and by April ’95, was busy on the local music scene as a performing artist, bandleader, and entertainment organizer. My first steady gig was at the Pan Pacific Hotel with the famous Redd Holt. But by the end of that 3 month engagement (June ’95), my wife of 13-14 years had left me, and we were divorced shortly thereafter. This sudden traumatic event triggered a year or so of ‘soul searching’ when I struggled to find myself again. I have always been interested in spiritual matters, self-development, psychology, philosophy, the relation between mind-body, and spirit-physical. But now my interest was re-kindled anew as I read loads of good books on these subjects, trying to find some answers. Eventually I curtailed drinking and smoking, began exercising more, and changed my diet by practicing food combining. I began meditating and re-learning to enjoy time with myself. And, I delved into my own past, my parents, childhood and upbringing, to discover how all that related to my adult problems. It was a time of healing, a re-birth of sorts.

I was very tempted after my separation to return to New York in the fall of 1995, when I secured my current job at Raffles. It was that opportunity to play jazz every night which prompted me to stay on in Singapore. My booking and promoting began taking off again as I was the agent to bring to Singapore the Jean Du Shon trio from New York featuring bassist Victor Gaskin. By the end of 1995 I led a steady trio at Raffles Hotel, and in Nov-Dec ’96 I released my 2nd CD called “Sudden Impact”. It was produced in Singapore and features 4 of my own original compositions, and 5 latin-jazz tracks.