There have been a few jazz guitarists who have played the classical (nylon-string) guitar. Charlie Byrd and Laurindo Almeida come to mind, and Lee Ritenour (who plays it on a few songs) and Peter White are a couple of more recent players. Earl Klugh is one of the best of the bunch, who was praised by Modern Guitar magazine in 2006 as “one of the finest acoustic guitar players today.” He started out as a kid playing the piano, but switched to guitar when he saw Chet Atkins on The Perry Como Show when he was thirteen. He’s played on a couple of albums by Chet and got his break when he played on albums by George Benson and toured with him. About him Wikipedia says “His sound is a blend of these jazz, pop and rhythm and blues influences, forming a potpourri of sweet contemporary music original to only him.”
The song that hooked me on Earl’s playing has to be “Amazon,” which originally appeared on his 1980 album Dream Come True. I have it on his 1991 Blue Note “Best of” collection from 1991.
“Theme For A Rainy Day” is from 1991’s Midnight In San Juan. He’s joined on this song by harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans.
Earl has earned 12 Grammy nominations, including one for 1979’s One On One, which he recorded with keyboardist Bob James and for which they both received the 1981 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. He’s recorded 30 albums altogether, most of which have reached the Top Ten and five of which have gone to #1 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. His most recent album was 2013’s Hand Picked, on which he’s joined by Jake Shimbakuro, Bill Frisell, and Vince Gill.
Earl Klugh, your Two for Tuesday, October 16 (Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!), 2018.
The band Spiro Gyra was founded in Buffalo, New York in 1974. It was a group of jazz and rock musicians that played in the local bar scene. When asked by a bartender what the band’s name was, founding member and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein told him “spirogyra,” after a form of algae. The bartender wrote the name as Spiro Gyra, and the rest is history. Currently, the band consists of Beckenstein, keyboardist Tom Schuman, bassist Scott Ambush, guitarist Julio Fernandez, and drummer Lionel Cordew. Their most recent album is 2013’s The Rhinebeck Sessions, a live album; their most recent studio album is 2011’s A Foreign Affair, according to their website.
“Morning Dance” was the title track from their 1979 album. It reached #24 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, while the album reached #27 on the Top 200 albums chart.
“Cafe Amore” was from the band’s fourth release, 1980’s Carnaval. It reached #77 on the Hot 100 and #14 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
Spiro Gyra, your Two for Tuesday, October 9, 2018.
George Benson is an early smooth jazz artist. He got his start playing soul jazz with Jack McDuff and led his own band in the early ’70’s. His 1976 debut album on Warner Brothers Records, Breezin’, could be considered one of the first albums of the genre. It topped the Pop, Jazz and R&B charts, went triple platinum (3 million copies sold) and won the 1977 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and was nominated for Album of the Year (which was won by Stevie Wonder for Songs In The Key Of Life, which, coincidentally, George played on).
Two singles came from the album. The first is the title track, which has become a smooth jazz standard.
The second is his cover of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade.” It was a Top 10 hit on the Pop and R&B charts in 1976 and won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1977.
George Benson, your Two for Tuesday, October 2, 2018.
Joe Sample was around the jazz world since the ’50’s when he, Stix Hooper and Wilton Felder started the Jazz Crusaders. By 1971, they shortened the name to The Crusaders and played some fantastic fusion, including having a Top 40 single, “Put It Where You Want It,” in 1972. He also started a solo career in the ’70’s and has worked with Miles Davis, George Benson, B. B. King, Eric Clapton and Steely Dan, among others. Here are a couple of examples of his solo work.
Rio De Janiero Blue (with Randy Crawford)
Hippies On A Corner
Joe died in 2014 after battling mesothelioma, leaving behind 25 albums as a solo act and many more with The Crusaders and as a sideman.
Joe Sample, your Two for Tuessday, September 25, 2018.
I can hear you now: “Herb Alpert, a smooth jazz musician? No way!” We all remember Herb from his days with the Tijuana Brass, and they did jazz mixed with pop and Latin music. If he’s not a smooth jazz artist, he certainly inspired a number of them. Besides being a musician, he’s a producer and, for many years, ran A&M Records with his business partner Jerry Moss. A&M was home to Wes Montgomery and Chuck Mangione in the years that those artists were playing more pop-oriented music.
Herb had an early smooth jazz hit, “Rise,” the title track from his 1979 album. It rose to #1 on the Hot 100 and on the Adult Contemporary charts and to #4 on the R&B chart that year, and still gets considerable airplay on smooth jazz stations.
“Manhattan Melody” is a track from his 1981 album Magic Man. It was released as a single, but failed to chart, for some reason.
Herb has been married to Lani Hall, who was a vocalist for Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, since 1971. He’s continued to perform and release albums, still going strong at 83.
Herb Alpert, your Two for Tuesday, September 18, 2018.