All About Jazz Interview

#1 Teachers and Influences:
Life itself is the biggest teacher. For my compositions, I am usually influenced by some life experience or one of natures rich scenes. Musically, in the beginning, Horace Silver was a big influence on my writing style, and I also admired the music of the Art Blakey and John Coltrane group. I think I was initially inspired more by piano players and sax players than by guitar players, but, as jazz guitar players go, I like Wes Montgomery the best. I llistened to Charlie Christian before that for rhythmic attack, and before I got into Jazz I liked Jimi Hendrix.

Two of the most influential music teachers for me were John Damian in Boston and a Lennie Tristano-clone pianist I met in New York named Dave Frank.

#2 I knew I wanted to be a musician when..:
Before I even realized I wanted to be…. As a baby I used to bang out rhythms hearing the music my parents played on the stereo at home. In Middle School I played drums on my text books. In High School I copied music from records and played in amateur rock bands. The first jazz album I heard was Oscar Peterson with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis. I loved that, but didn’t realize that was jazz! Don’t recall any specific defining moment – I guess I can say… as early as I remember!

#3 My sound and approach to music:
The liner notes of my newest CD release, “Paint a Picture, Tell a Story” may best sum this question up: The title of this CD is inspired by my approach to the guitar and music, and it echoes the kinds of comments I have gotten from other musicians about my playing. I have been told over the years, on more than one occasion, “…you paint a picture…”, or “…your solo tells a story…”, and each time I hear that about a solo, I know it’s a good one, and I take heart that my musical goal may have been achieved. I contrast that kind of comment with: “…nice lick!…”, or “…you have amazing technique!…”. For while most players are pleased to know their technique is admired, the more important aspect of ones’ playing is, do you SAY anything! Do you have a style that is significant and your own? This is what I aspire to. Each time I put together a CD, I think long and hard about making a unique statement, which tunes to include, in what order to present them, who the members are to be, etc… I have always done this, but I hope this CD in particular exemplifies that ideal, and satisfactorily displays the culmination of my recording, composing and playing experience. I hope for you, the listener, it paints a picture, or tells a story…

#4 My teaching approach with students:
Give them everything! Tell them everything (at the right time). Your passion for the music is infectious.

#5 My dream band, how to build, and who is in it:
That’s a little hard to say, but I think a dream band must like a dream family – people who know what to expect of one another, love each other despite their differences, and manage to make the most of their time together, communicating effectively with a common goal. There are so many talented musicians! So, sometimes the personal relationship can make a difference, because, if the band is really digging each other and feeling good, then it’s more likely that positive feeling will come out in the music. One thing I can say is this – I love drummers and rhythm, so my dream band will have many drummers and percussionists.

#6 Anecdote from the road/humorous or unusual:
There are so many, but let me use a “safe” one, from the song description of one of the original tunes (called “Hurry Up and Wait”) from my newest CD: “This is a song dedicated to the type of jobs we can play in Japan as working musicians. I wrote this in a humorous attempt to musically capture the nature of being told by the agent to hurry, then wait, then hurry, then wait. Though I have experienced my own fair share of such gigs, an extreme example was told to me by my sax player in Japan, who was flown to a far away province only to be sent home the next day (paid amply of course) without actually ever playing a note, despite being asked to go onstage with instruments, standing there for awhile, on three separate occasions, before being sent back to the hotel!”

#7 Favorite Venue:
Any venue where we are treated with respect by the staff, paid well, and with an interested, appreciative audience. Of course, the interested, appreciative audience is foremost, but the the other things are necessary too. My regular trio gig at the Intercontinental Hotel in Japan is good. My 7 year gig at Raffles Hotel in Singapore was good. For jazz clubs, one gig that stood out was The Cotton Club, because all three criteria above were met royally, despite a fairly low customer turnout overall. I’ve heard The Blue Note in Japan is great too, though I’ve only played at their sister clubs (same owners), Motion Blue and The Cotton Club). Ultimately, what happens on the bandstand is THE most important.

#8 Favorite CD in my own discography and why:
My stock answer to that question is: “…the NEXT one!…”, but I suppose, if I am forced to pick one, it would be the Integration releases, an intended double CD set released separately as Integration, and Integration II. The reason is, it represented a sort of culmination of my work during one particularly important period of my life which was happy and fruitful both professionally and personally.

#9 What`s the most important thing I contribute musically:
I want to say honesty, a voice, a style, a passion, a love… But perhaps that is not unique…
I can say, I have not heard Jazz that is at the same time, true to the roots and traditions of the Music, yet simultaneously incorporating instruments like Didjeridu, Tabla, Surdo, etc… and front-line combinations of guitar/trombone/tenor, or, soprano/ trombone/bass clarinet, etc… One tune I wrote called The Sweet One, has guitar melody with no drums, only acoustic bass, tabla and conga. My songs are at once, complicated and simple, with depth yet easy to hum, traditional and yet contemporary.

#10 Something not readily known about me:
I love cooking and was once offered a career via a “keyhole” job at the FourSeasons restaurant in NYC and an “in” to study at the famed Culinary Institute of NY. I was a real estate salesman who “talked his way” into a job with one of the biggest industrial/commercial firms in NYC, to set a company sales record in my first year.
I am quite the organized homebody and to some extent, enjoy housekeeping.
I sleep in the nude.

#11 How do I use the internet:
I have invested a lot in my website, which is one of the more comprehensive and informative on the web I believe. I have had a bulk mail list for years. Before the internet, I used paste-on mailing labels, now I have one on my server. The site and the list have been recently updated and re-designed, so hopefully, both have never been more user friendly. Generally, I never liked computers, and was late to get into using one. But once I overcame my child-ish resistance to them, I quickly became addicted (in a way) to email. I think the computers’ advantages have made it invaluable to my staying in touch with people, particualrly since I have moved around a lot in countries where the phone lines can sometimes be unreliable. I am fairly sure that there are yet untapped benefits of the internet I have not had the time or inclination to utilize fully. I am not a techy-person, and don’t like spending hours in front of the computer screen.

#12 CD’s I am listening to now:
The only CD I am listening to now is my own – the rough unedited, unmixed music of my newest release due in a couple more months. To tell the truth, I rarely listen anymore due to a grueling time schedule with both work and home life. Normally, on my way to gigs, I would listen to the radio, but in Japan, there’s no radio worth listening to (for me). And at home, I’m usually cooking, eating, cleaning, doing emails and marketing work like this, or watching TV. In truth, at my age, I prefer silence, or natures natural sounds (birds singing, ocean waves lapping the shore).

#13 Desert Island picks:
This is a silly question. There’s a list of my favorite (jazz) albums on my website. If I really were stranded on a desert island, cds would be the last thing I’d think about. Give me my Golden Retriever and a good knife! ok, well… maybe Coltrane’s Afro Blue or Transition, Art Farmer/ Pepper Adams with Herbie Hancock “Out of This World”, Gnu High-Kenny Wheeler with Keith Jarrett, Blakey’s Live at Birdland 1963, The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery. Alternatively, some James Brown, Graham Central Station, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dinah Washington and some Jimi Hendrix! Geez what a question!

#14 How do I describe the State of Jazz today:
Wow! from a question about (only 5) desert island picks to something as serious as this… That’s a tough one. Let me say this: Jazz is alive and well. With the exception of some great pop/rock/folk/blues music (in the minority for sure), and some classical-romantic music from the late 1800’s, Jazz is THE most expressive and evocative music on Earth.

It’s evolving and changing like everything else, so perhaps, some older traditional definitions may become obsolete as more and more unifying and mixing of styles/cultures occur. There are a multitude of negative things to observe, if one chooses to focus on the negative. However, Jazz can best be served by focusing on the positive – so I say, keep swinging and grooving and listening to the Masters to learn from.

#15 What are essential requirements to keep Jazz going:
It’s like the joke about Real Estate – what’s important? 1. Location 2. Location 3. Location. For Jazz I suppose it’s 1. Listen. 2. Listen 3. Listen. For musicians, respect the traditions, the Masters, study and learn how to play, but most of all – think about developing your own voice/style, even if it may not seem profitable at first. For the general public – be more open minded! Go out to more live jazz shows. Find out what local and independent musicians are doing and support them however you can. Don’t accept the brainwashing music some major media outlets are pushing – tell yourself you want to look for music that moves you and makes you think, that stimulates the brain and body, not numbs it. Go your OWN way, seek alternatives to the numbing, mindless, music by formula trash that pervades much of todays scene.

#16 What is in the future for me:
I am focused on finishing my 8th CD. I just returned from Singapore where I began recording my 8th CD, titled “Paint a Picture, Tell a Story”.

It will contain 6 Chako original compositions, and feature Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone and Don Byron on sax and bass clarinet, with a rhythm section of Christy Smith on bass, Greg Lyons on sax, and Mark DeRose on drums. Besides the 6 Chako originals, there will be 2 trio tracks and 2 quartet tracks (4 non- originals). I am very excited about this – look for more news as and when things develop further.

Once that is done, I will look forward to another recording project in the States, either in LA or NYC. That 9th CD project will be mostly trio music, including both standards and originals, and involving all major “name” players. In the meantime, I am busy trying to make a living to afford the recording I`m doing, teaching and playing, trying to boost my reputation both internationally and in Japan locally. Then, there`s housecleaning…

#17 By day:
I am teaching English in Japan for Berlitz, the world’s leading language school. At first I took the job out of (financial) desperation, not expecting to really enjoy it. But, in fact, I do. I enjoy the students I teach, and end up learning quite a bit from them in the process of helping them with their English. Also, they are quite interested in my music and tend to come to the clubs where I play here, which is an added bonus. However, as my music career here has grown significantly in the past year or so, I have, as of July 2006, changed my teaching job to a part time one, so that now I can be more flexible with my schedule for gigs and recordings. Now, every day, I am either playing a music job, or teaching – no day off!