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Singapore Swing & Filipino Parties 

My first highlight of 2023 occurred in January '23 when my wife and I returned to Singapore and the Philippines to visit her family there, and if that weren't already good enough, I was able to secure a two-nights in a row ticketed weekend jazz gig at The Jazz Loft. There I was reunited onstage with musicians I hadn't seen in person or played with for about 25 years, not since I lived there 1995-2003. The quartet that accompanied me in Singapore was Mei Sheum-piano, Christy Smith-bass, Greg Lyons-sax, and Benjamin Low on drums. I had recorded with each of them (except Ben) ‘back in the day’ on the following records: https://gregchako.com/album/1900351/integration-ii & https://gregchako.bandcamp.com/album/paint-a-picture-tell-a-story. So, to see those old friends and bandmates of mine after so long, and to perform with them for such an enthused full house audience was a dream come true! You can see our first set here: https://youtu.be/EsTg0XOtTGk?si=KKuwbn0bjLHrdrMF 

 

Visiting Asia after living for so long back in America was a (welcome) culture shock . . . Singapore is one of the cleanest and safest countries on Earth. There are exotic sights, both in Nature and architecture. The food is as diverse as the peoples, and its amazingly FRESH and available virtually 24/7. In that way, it's like NYC, the city that never sleeps! 

Pictured directly below is a familiar structure in Singapore. It has a casino on top in the shape of a ship, a hotel with rooftop “Infinity” pools, and it's surrounded by lush tropical gardens and much more interesting architecture. My wife is pictured in front:

Some friends here in the States seemed surprised that I was able to hook up with such good players there. But the diversity in Singapore is really across the board. I feel more of a real community vibe in Asia than I do here, and without a doubt in my mind, the people there have more social consciousness than we do in the USA. It's also notable that there are more venues for live jazz in tiny little Singapore than there are in my hometown of Cincinnati, and the gigs pay better there too! I can count on one hand the number of ticketed jazz performances I've played in Cincinnati, and I have never played two nights in a row with the same band the way I did in Singapore, much less to full houses. Some may be surprised at that, but as many great jazz artists have already said jazz, arguably America's greatest artistic contribution to the world, is often more popular outside the USA than it is in its birthplace!

With regard to cultural and life-style differences, I will relate a true, humorous story. I took a train and walked to my first night's gig, leisurely taking in the many sights. It was different not having to load up the car, drive and try to find an acceptable parking place. I was plenty early, so I stopped just in front of the club on a bustling alleyway for some Indonesian Satay and a local Tiger beer. The weather was in the high 70's Fahrenheit (in January).

After our 1st nights show was finished, I noticed that our bassist Christy had left his bass onstage. I was borrowing a guitar from a fellow Ohioan, Rick Smith, who has relocated to Singapore permanently. I didn't feel comfortable leaving all the gear there without checking first, so I asked our sax man Greg Lyons (who had managed the booking). He smiled and said: “Greg, did you forget where you are? This is Singapore!  you could leave your wallet onstage and the next night, it would be exactly where you left it, untouched by anyone” He was right. I walked of the club empty handed and met my wife in Chinatown near our hotel, where we walked the streets and ate late-night (after midnight) Chinese food. 

Now that's a prime example of the type of nightlife in Singapore that I miss dearly since returning to Cincinnati.

The second half of our trip was spent in my wife's hometown, Agoo, in La Union, Philippines. Not much jazz there, but I was impressed that the local markets open at 4am. Every morning we bought our food for the day there, fresh fish (see video below), meats, fruits, veggies, deserts, etc. Didn't eat anything out of a can or microwaved. Everything I ate and drank was fresh and locally sourced. Every Sunday people from the local neighborhood gather in the streets with brooms, sweeping and tidying up the block - nobody has to tell them to do it - it's simply that they take pride and care for their immediate environment. If you walk down the street in the early evening, you will invariably be enthusiastically invited into someone's house for refreshments, and if you're braver than I am, to sing karaoke. These are examples of the true neighborliness and social consciousness that I mentioned before. Please see these short video clips I took while there. #'s 1 & 2 are just 30-seconds, and #3 is 60 seconds. 

1) Agoo (my wife's hometown) fresh market w/live jumping fish: https://youtube.com/shorts/jgGYI6ZuAqQ?si=g-QZMPKXQDMP4Dyq 

2) Delivery of fresh fish just outside the front door of my wife's family house in Agoo: https://youtube.com/shorts/1sLCS4YQTvs?si=H7IO0ZNn7YLxP7HV 

3) A common backyard party at my wife's family home: https://youtu.be/tx4D-ir08lA?si=5nw6qjvZhKGI-bZy Jay's brother keeps guard of the party-food just before guests come to the backyard:

To the right I'm seen hanging with the boys . . . the brown bottle in the forefront is Red Horse, an extra-strong lager made by the San Miguel brewing company . . . popular in the Philippines for its bold taste & high alcohol content. Jay's family knows to stock up on the Red Horse when I come to visit. That's usually what I drink when I'm there.

 

 

Red Horse is the perfect compliment to roasted pig, which is always a part of the menu . . . very crispy skin and the most moist meat . . . I'm about to dig in below. One afternoon we went to the local beach in Agoo, just a short drive from my wife's family house. We barbecued fish on the beach as the sun settled . . . My wife asked me if I wanted some fresh oysters, which are extremely common there. I told her I didn't like oysters. She said, “you've probably never had a really fresh one.” She insisted I at least try it. I never had such a delicious oyster before. It tasted like nothing I'd ever had.

Though I have surely been blessed by my various life experiences, particularly those that occurred abroad, none of them would have happened if I hadn't been willing to seize (and imagine) opportunities when they presented themselves, to travel and try new things with a child's curiosity, a lover's passion, and without fear. While I was living and working as a musician in Singapore, there was a film made about my life there, titled “An American Cat in the Lion City.” If you are at all interested in my life as a ‘Jazzman’ in Singapore, or just curious about Singapore, you may enjoy watching the film, located on the video page of my website: https://gregchako.com/video 

From that page, scroll down through the videos until you come to the one titled: “An American Cat in the Lion City, Guitarist Greg Chako in Singapore, HQ Full Version” The full version of the film is 46 minutes. Please tell me how you like it, ask me questions about Singapore, or share some of your own experiences abroad.

Greg Chako, Feb. 23rd 2024. Blog # 9 from “2023 Highlights”

Guitar Trio Reigns - A Return to my 'Standard Roots' - New Album Press - Final February Gigs. 

I played two nights in a row this weekend in a guitar-led trio with bass and drums. I and everyone there had a blast! When you're playing with musicians you like for a receptive audience, it's so much fun, and not ‘work’ at all. Playing jobs like that is my favorite form of therapy!

The G/B/D trio is how I became a professional, it's my ‘roots’. That's the format I started working with in 1995, when I began playing 6-nights a week for literally year after year after year! In the beginning, I played all covers. But, as I became more experienced composing, and later recording my own songs and, as I met a variety of horn players and percussionists, I began moving away from the traditional G/B/D trio format. The varied and vibrant musical community, and the exotic, locale environment of Singapore where I lived then inspired new sounds I began hearing in my head, and I needed more instruments and larger ensembles in order to flesh those ideas out. My albums, Integration https://gregchako.bandcamp.com/album/integration, Where We Find Ourselves https://gregchako.bandcamp.com/album/where-we-find-ourselves, and Paint a Picture, Tell a Story https://gregchako.bandcamp.com/album/paint-a-picture-tell-a-story, featured larger ensembles and all-original music scored with unique instrumentation.

Having re-located to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio in 2017, I no longer live in a tropical paradise with such an open and culturally-diverse musical community as Singapore, nor since I returned to the States have I enjoyed the marvelous opportunity to work 6-nights a week with the same hand-picked players night after night over a period of years. And obviously, since I'm not working as much as I used to, I can't afford to make the records here that I did when I was living and working abroad in Singapore and Japan, even if I could find the players.

But G/B/D trio gigs like the ones I had this weekend are such a joy! My love for the format is awakened. Even though I treasure my own song-writing above all else, I have never tired of playing the standards. Songs from The Great American Songbook (GAS) are still popular, and given the writing quality of composers such as Porter, Arlin, Hammerstein, etc., there is always ample opportunity to flex ones' improv and arranging chops on the GAS repertoire. This weekend, we got and fulfilled requests from customers asking for: Any Luiz Bonfa, Mingus, or Sinatra; Autumn Leaves, Green Dolphin Street, and Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most. It's not called The Great American Songbook for nothing! These songs are masterful, at-once fun & popular, and playing them while leading a guitar trio with (the right) bassist and drummer is beautiful!

My recording trio of Michael Meloy on drums and Mason Daugherty on bass have finished tracking my 17th album. After recording so many albums featuring my own compositions, this new one is a return to the type of music I played at the outset of my career more than 25 years ago, and it'll include some of the songs that we often play locally, like on the gigs I played this weekend. The new album will feature all covers, alternating in Swing and Latin feels. True to my own history, as well as to the material covered on the record, it's going to be titled: Standard Roots, and I expect it'll be released this summer by Mint400 Records and Raining Music.

We'll be mixing and mastering Standard Roots in just a week from now, but meanwhile, we just received more positive critical acclaim for my last album, released just a month and a half ago (with the same trio), Life After 40 https://gregchako.bandcamp.com/album/life-after-40. The brand new review can be read here: https://ink19.com/2024/02/magazine/music-reviews/ynvzei-greg-chako-trio

I'm also excited to have 6 new gigs in the remaining days of Feb. 2024. Two are private and the other four are open to the public. The upcoming gigs start this week and feature a wide variety of formats (trio to sextet) and styles (Blues/Latin/Vocal). Find out where I'm playing and who I'm playing with here: https://gregchako.com/live-performances and please come to one or more of the shows and say hello! I guarantee we'll be having a BLAST!

I hope you enjoy my blog posts - I love doing it! Please leave a comment and/or share it with friends.

Greg Chako, Sunday Feb. 18th, 2024. Blog #8 from “What's on My Mind?”

 

Blog #7: From Student to Pro - the Learning Never Stops! 

My mother was a career teacher for the Princeton School District in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. 

 
Though I did teach guitar in my late teens for Howard Early Music, a chain of Cincinnati-based music stores, I never intended to teach for a living. But that changed in 2003 when I began teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) full-time for Berlitz Language School in Japan. In Japan from 2003 until 2009, when I returned to the USA for my Masters in Music degree, I taught over 5,000 English lessons and completed 80 hours of formal teacher-training. I experienced first-hand how I can learn from my students, and how rewarding it is to see them achieve fulfillment under my direction.

 
In 2020, when we ‘gig-workers’ lost most if not all of our employment due to Covid, my online teaching took off like a rocket! Student enrollments steadily increased and by 2022, I was teaching at The Oxford Music Academy, The Guitar Center, and at my home online and in-person. My students were telling me that they wanted more opportunity to play music with others, so I began a series of weekly ‘garage-band’ ensemble workshops. I provided all the materials and a rhythm-section, and my guitar students  jammed on any music they wanted, but with my professional guidance and critique on how to best function in an ensemble. 

 
I met vocalist Al West Jr. after he called in 2022 to say how much he liked an article I had published (see the article here):  https://jazzguitartoday.com/2022/08/things-they-typically-dont-teach-you-in-music-schools/ He began taking private lessons from me on piano and overall musicality. In February of 2023, I began a weekly vocal workshop on Wednesdays with Al in mind. Focusing this second weekly workshop around a singer was beneficial to my guitar students, because since the singer and not the guitarist was performing the ‘lead' role in the group, the guitar students had a great opportunity to hone their accompaniment skills.

 
Our humble beginnings in my garage over a year ago has evolved present-day in truly ideal fashion: the student is now also a professional collaborator! With my help as Executive Producer, Al West Jr. is soon releasing his first-ever album, titled “I Wish You Love.” We expect to have CDs within days, and the official world-wide streaming release date is Friday, April 19th, 2024. We will have a CD-release party on Thursday April 18th live at Cafe Vivace in Cincinnati. 
 
Al and I have been performing professionally since the middle of last year, in a duet-format (Guitar/Vocals,) and as a quartet (Al West Jr. & The Greg Chako Trio). Our next quartet show is in less than 2 weeks, at Cafe Vivace on February 22nd (details here:) https://gregchako.com/event/5411085/668657064/the-vocal-stylings-of-al-west-jr-featuring-the-greg-chako-trio) 
 
Indeed, this is the best possible result for any student-teacher relationship. I couldn’t be happier for Al’s success, but of course, he has to be given all the credit for putting such serious work and dedication into his dream of becoming a skilled and well-informed jazz vocalist. To view the video for the upcoming album, go here: https://youtu.be/P6QIgoJLT8E?si=f2hGBA8SyJdpP4Eo
 
Al and I look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming shows in Cincinnati, where we hope you also intend to pick up a copy of the new CD and tell your fellow jazz fans and friends! 
 
I continue to accept new students, in-person or online. I love teaching almost as much as playing! Future blog posts will include some tutorials under a new blog category to be titled “Instructional & Inspirational Articles.” For details about Greg's lessons, please go to: https://gregchako.com/music-lessons 

Blog #6 - Singapore Integration 

 

Living and playing music nightly for years in the tropical island city/state/country of Singapore was a life-changing experience on so many levels, personally and professionally. It permanently molded my current world-view and played a huge part in my maturity as a man and as a working musician. 

On a personal level, I got divorced from a 14 year marriage; fell in love with the girl next door; got my heart broken and sought therapy to mend my wounds; began a long and deep inner quest for peace and purpose; resumed in earnest a life-long search for knowledge of Asian culture and philosophy; remarried a Japanese woman; bought the best dog in the world, the late JoJo, Golden Retriever; developed a far keener sense of self-identity and acceptance of others; learned to scuba-dive (over 200 dives in 6 countries and 2 continents); and greatly broadened my love and appreciation for all things Asian!

On a professional level, I obtained my 1st 6-night a week jazz gig; I incorporated my entertainment company for the 1st time; I played and often led as much as 500 gigs a year for consecutive years; I recorded original music for the 1st time, starting a successful and prolific trend of composing, arranging, and recording; I performed in front of hundreds of people and more at Jazz festivals; I made more income as a musician than I have ever in my 65-year life to-date; I kept up to 50 different musicians of all genres working and getting paid regularly; I hired my 1st publicist; I played on national TV; I took my show on-the-road to different countries; I established myself as a first-rate bandleader and event manager, and became known on a first-name basis to corporate-level V.I.P's.

I think of Singapore as a ‘melting pot’ in the same way that New York City is. It's the melting pot of Asia because of its huge diversity of peoples, food, and culture, unlike any other Asian city. Like NYC, it's a city that never sleeps and it's a picturesque walking city. While it's not the center of the international jazz world the way NYC might be, there are more jazz clubs in tiny, little Singapore than there are in my hometown of Cincinnati, a medium size American city. It's the only place in the world besides Rio de Janeiro with a tropical rain forest within city limits. I have lived in some of the best cities on Earth: New York City, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo . . . but for exceptional and overall quality of life, there is no place better, in my opinion, than Singapore!

Cooperating and collaborating with the musicians living on this exotic sub-tropical island was always exciting and enriching. My Integration band featured players who identified culturally as Chinese, Filipino, EuroAsian, British, African-American, Australian, Malaysian & Indian, an impressive swathe of Singapore's melting pot!

Perhaps the crown jewel of my time in Singapore can best be exemplified musically by what was originally a 2-CD set called Integration & Integration II, recorded in 2000 and re-issued by Mint400 Records and Raining Music in April of 2022 as one album titled “Integration.” As I explained in the liner notes of the original Integration CD, 

“I think of ”Integration" in terms of the Self; the awareness and reconciliation of the four aspects of our being: spirit, intellect, emotion, & body. This CD represents the integration I have achieved within myself during the past few years. On another level our band, comprised of individuals from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, is integrated by the music which draws us together. I believe it is unity of people and integration of Self, which is the overriding theme of the new millennium. Greg Chako - June 2000"

As I read those words above, written almost a quarter of a century ago, I feel in my heart the immediate and timely nature of them. When I listen to the 130+ minutes of music presented on Integration, the words I wrote ring true, and the music sounds as fresh and remarkably contemporary as ever. I believe the reviewers got it right: 

"Guitarist Greg Chako is a forward thinker and this two disc set presents his vision, serving as a musical road map. The combination of Chako's acoustic guitar with horns, percussion, keyboards, and acoustic bass lends his group a wholly original sound, with sweet surprises all over this set. These songs move through swing, the blues, and ballads. Sonically speaking, this set is outstanding. The cymbals are bright, the drums pop, and each instrument comes out sparkling and clear In this age of reissues and alternate takes, it's refreshing to hear jazz that takes some chances and looks the future right in the eye" - All About Jazz.com

"His guitar shines and he creates a new style, breathing exotic jazz-ethno music full of spirit and solid musical foundation" - Jazz Dimensions, Germany

"With a vibrant recorded presence, this is HUGELY enjoyable stuff!" - Cadence, New York

"...This is music that transcends geographic boundaries and cultures, and communicates the happiness and friendship that all music should provide... well-crafted, harmonically strong, with catchy, memorable melodies... Chakos' tone and phrasing are exceptional!" - Professor Vince Lewis, for Just Jazz Guitar, USA

"...a trip around the jazz galaxy... I think it's safe to say that Greg Chako and his magnificent band are one of the world's best kept secrets... don't hesitate in seeking out this essential jazz experience." - Keith 'MuzikMan' Hannaleck, JazzReviews

"Hard Bop is the focus of most cuts often mixed with rhythms and sounds of the Far East. All show flair, imaginative application of tempo and harmony, and unexpected jagged rhythmic diversions guaranteed to keep listener attention. Integration is recommended!” All Music Guide, USA

"Chako, the composer, takes his inspiration from the rich Blue Note lode. Echoes of Shorter, Hancock,and Dorham reverberate through these tunes, which all sound like they could have found a home in the Jazz Messengers' book."Cadence Magazine, USA

"A blend of musicians and music of different cultures. His jazzy playing is relaxed and confident. Most of the upbeat tunes share a groove that will make your head bounce... solid and entertaining!” - Jazz Newsletter O's Place, USA 

I hope you will check out this music for yourself, and/or leave a comment about living abroad, playing abroad, or ask me questions about any of the aforementioned, yours truly, Greg Chako https://gregchako.com/store

Blog #5: A Place for Bass 

For the latter half of my 40-year career as a professional guitarist and bandleader, I have considered myself more of a composer than merely as a player. I have recorded over 70 original compositions, many of them for small ensemble multi-horn & percussion formats. My formal music education, culminating with a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) program at The Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, greatly informed my compositional skill - if I was a good writer before attending college - I am certainly a better one since! The featured album herein is a good example of how far I've come as a composer.

During the outset of Covid in 2020, I spent many solitary hours at home with my guitar. I wrote and arranged music for specific formats such as: Solo classical guitar arrangements of traditional Xmas songs; A program of 2-guitar + rhythm section arrangements inspired by Great American Songbook standards titled, “Swingin' Axes” debuted here: https://youtu.be/roreINJ2bYk?si=b-fFrM1MuyFARVIQ

But the project that I am most proud of which came out of Covid, so to speak, was a jazz-classical fusion duet of upright bass and guitar. My recordings up to that point in time included one duet album (Two's Company, Three's a Crowd https://www.rambles.net/chako_2crowd06.html) alternating pairing the guitar with a pianist and a vocalist, but I had never recorded a guitar-bass duet, nor had I ever thought of composing something specifically for that format . . . until then. 

Guitar-bass duos are the “go-to” format for local gigs, because with a good bassist playing time, I feel I can play anything and everything; with the support of a walking bass line I am free to solo and syncopate because the bass line provides the necessary steady rhythmic backdrop. The two acoustic instruments compliment each other sonically, and are usually softer and less boomy in some rooms than electric instruments like keyboards. Practically speaking, they do not take up too much floor space in playing venues. Duos are relatively inexpensive and offer the most ‘bang-for-the-buck’, in my opinion, for venue owners wanting quality ambient music.

Given all the benefits of the guitar-bass duo just outlined, I determined that it was well worth my time and effort to write original music for this format. But I wanted to make it entirely unique, something never done before. After all, there were already famous guitar-bass recordings out there, made by better and far more famous players than me, such as those made by Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, & Joe Pass. 

I believe it was my original writing that sets this album apart from all others. I utilized somewhat of a “through-composed” writing style, and I deliberately put the bass either ‘"on-top," playing the lead melody lines, or on ’equal-footing' with the guitar. Rather than one of us ‘backing-up’ the other, we are both “. . . attached at the hip capturing the essence of each track . . . ” as Master bassist Rufus Reid said in his review of the album. I sent the album to every guitarist and bassist that I knew and respected, and was truly over-whelmed by the positive responses I got. There was not even one ambivalent reaction. All were enthusiastic. Among many others who sent their praise and appreciation for the music contained on this album were: Dave Stryker, Ron McClure, Jimmy Bruno, Rufus Reid, Pete Bernstein, John Clayton, Ben Monder, & Rodney Jones! I have included the official one-sheet for the release below for your perusal. 

As heart-warming it was to be officially endorsed and recognized by those ‘monster’ pros and heros of mine, perhaps the biggest compliment I got on this album was from an informed personal friend who is extremely well acquainted with jazz writ-large, including all the most famous guitar-bass duo albums ever recorded. He said simply, “It's the best guitar-bass album that I have ever heard - it's my favorite!

Unfortunately, duo records are of far less popular to the jazz media at large and to fans in general, than larger ensembles with horns and piano are. Though master players who heard this, loved it, and sent me personal notes of appreciation, the album hasn't garnered the broad-based critical acclaim that I most desire and dream of. Since I have a sub-header called “2023 Highlights” in this new blog series of mine, I had to include this ASAP, because this album was not only a highlight of the year 2023, but also a career highlight of mine. I hope the post serves to inform and encourage some more people to listen and learn about this album that is so special to me. I'm seeking new listeners - please write or comment.

Available from me directly, or: https://gregchako.bandcamp.com/follow_me

Blog #4: Hometown Disadvantage 

I have learned that musicians can often be neglected in their hometown, regardless of whether their hometown is Cincinnati, Ohio like mine, or a jazz mecca like New York City, New York. After returning to the USA for the first time in 7 years abroad, (2 years in Hong Kong and 5 in Singapore), I returned to Cincinnati with a Japanese girlfriend to visit my parents in Cincy, via NYC where my international flight had landed. Before coming to Cincy we hung out in NYC for a couple nights. I went to a jazz club in NYC to see some jazz and as I walked into the club, I heard someone shout out: “Greg Chako! How ya doing' Come here!” I was really taken aback, because this was my first time back in 7 years and I knew virtually nobody in NYC. It was the publisher of a jazz magazine in NYC who had called me over. I asked him how he knew my name? He said he recognized my face from media advertisements of my work and . . . “of course” he knew who I was! 

Similarly, after leaving Singapore where I led my trio for years and was well known as a jazzman there in the late 1990's, I returned in Jan. 2023 for some concerts. I was amazed at how many people recognized me and came up to talk to me about my music, even though almost 30 years had passed since I'd last played in Singapore. 

Recently, I saw Russell Malone play at Cafe Vivace in Cincy. I approached him and said, “you probably won't remember me . . . ” and before I could finish the sentence, he said, “Greg Chako, Tokyo Blue Note, right?” He was right! That was almost 20 years ago. We'd only met that once in Tokyo, and even back then, he told that he'd heard about me from NYC . . .

Yet, in my own home town this sort of thing never happens. Nobody recognizes me. Nobody in public comes up to chat about the old days or asks me about my music. For a year, just before I finally moved from Cincinnati to New York City in 1987, I booked a regular jazz series showcasing a multitude of locally-based talent as well as internationally-known jazz stars. When I returned to Cincy in 2017, even people whom I had hired to play there regularly didn't remember who I was or that I had hired them back in the day. One guitarist(!) even thought that another top local player/bandleader booked that club when in fact, I managed the 4-nights a week of jazz there in 1986. I hired his bandleader on a regular basis, to play with his own group as well as my own as a sideman. I hired everybody on a local level who was anybody, as long as they could play, a veritable who's who on the Cincy jazz scene at the time. I did not hire only my inner circle of friends . . . no, I didn't do that. 

Unfortunately, none of the local players I hired repeatedly then, guys who are still on the scene today in fact, ever actually returned the favor and hired me at any point during my 65-year life. I don't even get friendly phone calls, unless it's from someone I played with while touring the Far East back in the day. I have noticed that musicians who have played internationally do tend to stay in touch with each other. In fact, the first musician who gave me my first gig in the Cincy area after I moved back in 2017 was not any of the local players I'd hired time after time at Doc's Place, but rather now locally-based saxman Brooks Giles, who I'd met whilst we were both gigging in Asia. Despite my impressive resume and 16 albums to my credit, I struggle to get good gigs in my own hometown. The local scene is somewhat clique-ish. The best pay and response usually comes when playing out of town. For instance , the reception I got in Miami, Florida where I performed a month ago, was outstanding and highly validating for me. I am looking forward to upcoming gigs in Cleveland, New York, and a return to Miami later this year.

We artists long for more acclaim and recognition, to be sure. But I believe that in order to achieve the recognition many of us desire, we must leave our hometowns for greener pastures beyond. As an example, two of the most skillful jazz guitarists to have ever lived anywhere(!) were from my hometown area: Cal Collins and Kenny Poole. Cal accepted road tours with Benny Goodman, left Cincy and achieved an international reputation; Kenny preferred to stay in Cincy close to his family. Having never left, he never achieved the world-wide recognition that Cal did, despite his high worth and value as an artist.

As far as I know, my booking 4-nights a week of authentic jazz in Cincy featuring such a varied roster of quality local and internationally known artists, is quite unique in any decade and any city. I'm sharing for those who either have forgotten, or never realized that this scene existing for a hot minute, and to say that I take immense pride in what I accomplished in my hometown. I will continue to share and promote this music that I love for the rest of my life, regardless of where I am and whether or not it's appreciated. 

There's not room here to list all the amazing musicians I hired to perform at Doc's Place back in the day, some of whom are no longer with us, but this is just a sample of what Cincinnati's jazz scene looked like when I was doing the weekly booking at Doc's:

During this time, I brought singer Francine Griffin out of retirement. She'd given up on the scene here until she met me. I'm happy to say that she moved to Chicago after I left Cincy and ended up recording with pianist Willie Pickens and a stellar cast on Delmark, a fantastic album called, The Songbird. But before then, while we both lived in Cincinnati, we talked on the phone daily . . . and I convinced her not to give it up entirely just yet . . . I hired her for my ‘house' band of Wayne Yeager-B3 organ, Bobby Scott-drums, Dave Blinkenstaff-ten sax, and myself on guitar. I also featured her with Cal Collins and others at Docs. I miss her dearly . . . she passed away some years ago in Chicago. She felt over-looked here in Cincy too - I know because we talked about it all the time. Check out her album The Songbird. In Chicago, she found some of the attention she deserved as an artist. When I visited Chicago on one of my trips back from Asia, she had me sit in with her amazing band at some club in Chicago and we had a great time.

Parochialism and cliquishness is antithetical to my artistic vision for the future. But when you encounter it, as I have, you must stand firm in your commitment to the music. Please feel free to comment - I welcome a civil exchange of thoughts and ideas!

Blog #3: Reuniting a 20 year friendship - from the Far East - to the Midwest! 

20 some years ago Brooks Giles was playing 6-nights a week with former Ramsey Lewis bassist Eldee Young's group at the Westin Singapore's Somersets Bar, while I was playing 6-nights a week leading my trio at The Bar & Billiard Room of Raffles Hotel. We were playing right across the street from one another and met for the first time then. We became friends and saw each other every now and then after his 3-month contract came to an end, when one of his tours would bring him through Singapore again or when I would come through someplace like Thailand where he held down a residency for a while. Even after we each left the Far East for home in America, we kept in touch intermittently by phone. When I returned to my hometown of Cincinnati in 2017 Brooks was in Frankfort KY taking care of his elderly parents. He gave me my first gig in the area at Jimmy Can't Dance in Louisville sometime shortly after I got here. We don't play together often, but I have played in his band in KY and he has played here with me at The Greenwhich or The Washington Platform, and Brooks did appear on my 2022 album, Friends, Old & New

Organist and pianist Wayne Yeager I have known even longer than Brooks, from when I booked jazz 4-nights a week at Doc's Place in N. College Hill in the mid-1980's. Wayne was also on my Friends, Old & New release. Drummer Isaiah Cook is a 'Young Lion' who I've had the pleasure of playing with a few times in the Cincinnati area, when I can get him(!) . . . when he isn't on tour with singer and violinist, Emmaline. Almost 250 years of experience will be on display this Friday Jan. 19th @The Jazz Spoon https://gregchako.com/event/5400718/669096433/greg-chako-s-all-star-organ-quartet

Free off-street parking on-sight. Authentic Mexican Food. Besides Brook's awesome vocals, Blues & Jazz, we will also be playing selections from my album Friends, Old & New! https://gregchako.bandcamp.com/album/friends-old-new

 

Blog #2: Life After 40 - culminating a dramatic one year-long surge of new recording projects 

The release of my 11th album, Friends, Old & New, in late 2022 broke a more than 8-year recording hiatus for me while simultaneously jump-starting a flurry of new releases and recording in the following year: a re-release of Paint a Picture, Tell a Story w/Delfeayo Marsalis and Don Byron (a studio date from 2007); Tokyo Live! & Yokohama Live! w/Gene Jackson & Hiroshi Tanaka (live dates from Japan never released before); A Place for Bass - Chamber Jazz Duets (a unique studio duo date of all-originals); and Christmas Time - Live in Izu Nagaoka (a live date from Japan never released before). Friends Old & New contained 10 original compositions of mine and was recorded in a Cincinnati-based studio called Great Wave Recording

In the summer of 2023, my working trio of bassist Mason Daugherty and Michael Meloy began tracking Life After 40, a collection of 10 all-original songs I began writing the year before for some musicians based in Miami, Florida. All the songs have a Latin twinge. There is no 4/4 swing time or blues. It was my initial intention to perform that music with them in Miami, however I got antsy when “The Miami Project” concerts got delayed until Dec. of 2023, and by the time I did get to visit Miami, the music I'd written a year previous was already recorded and ‘in the can’! 

Life After 40 is my 3rd all-originals studio recording from Great Wave Recording in Cincinnati, and I'm very proud of the music presented on this album (my 16th). I was overjoyed to be able to enlist the services of former Miles Davis percussionist Steve Thornton, who currently resides in K.L. Malaysia. He and I played and recorded together when I lived in Singapore from 1994 till 2003 (hear us together on my double-album called Integration). He graciously laid down all the percussion tracks after hearing what my trio had already done, and that added the perfect extra element to the trio music presented.

Hear or buy the music here: https://gregchako.bandcamp.com/follow_me

Guitarist Joe Finn and well-known writer Scott Yanow contributed to the following glowing press release: 

Blog #1: The Miami Project  

A huge most enjoyable and monumental step forward for me, both professionally and personally, at the end of 2023 was a long awaited trip to Miami, Florida for two live concert shows there with a stellar ‘creme-de la-creme’ cast of players: Jim Gasior-piano, Jaime Ousley-bass, & Ludwig Afonso-drums. The events were brainstormed with me by my friend and fan for almost 20 years, jazz radio personality, writer, and patron, Edward Blanco. The first of two concerts occurred on Dec. 1st at The Jazz Gallery in the studios of WDNA (https://wdna.org), one of the greatest jazz stations in the world. That concert was recorded and we anticipate it to be released on CD later in 2024. I had a great time in Miami, being hosted by Ed and his wife Pillar, and WDNA. I made new friends and fans. I was introduced to the vibrant and appealing culture of Miami, while Miami was introduced to my own unique brand of Latin-Jazz. Thankfully, the results were warm, embracing and loving on both sides! Hence, more concert visits and musical collaborations between Cincinnati & Miami peeps are now in the works. The 2nd show I did was at The Miami Jazz Cooperative, where Ira Sullivan used to hold fort: https://miamijazz.org You can see that show in its entirety and unedited on my YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/ecQIZG_rsSo?si=fx18QPXb9Sbc50j7

Greg’s ability to arrange events and ‘all the trimmings’ at the drop of a hat, makes him reliable, value for money, and above all – a good mate!”

— Dean Winter, The Oriental Singapore

a total orchestra, the complete package, I LOVE his arrangements!”

— Gene Bertoncini , World-renowned guitarist

Emotionally rewarding and clearly developed. Greg’s tunes are melodic and richly complex, with intelligent and sensitive performances . . . He’s World-Class!”

— Joseph Taylor, Soundstage

An American Cat in the Lion City (short)

The documentary film An American Cat in the Lion City is a short gaze, a palimpsest, into the life and work of the American jazz guitarist, Greg Chako. In the film we experience swinging acoustic jazz of a very high calibre indeed, the jazz that Greg and his various bands have played in Asia for over six years. This short version of the film was expanded to a full length movie of the same name a year later.