Viewing: 2023 Highlights - View all posts

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: & 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: 


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: 

2) Delivery of fresh fish just outside the front door of my wife's family house in Agoo: 

3) A common backyard party at my wife's family home: 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: 

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”

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:

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 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:

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:

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 (, 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: You can see that show in its entirety and unedited on my YouTube channel here: