[JPL] Smooth jazz: Back to basics

Jazz Promo Services jazzpromo at earthlink.net
Mon Feb 11 10:31:55 EST 2008


Smooth jazz: Back to basics
On his latest disc, Earl Klugh goes solo on an acoustic guitar
Earl Klugh performs Friday evening at Notre Dame Academy in a show moved
from the Valentine Theatre after it was damaged.


After releasing more than 30 albums in 30 years, spanning a wide range of
musical styles and formats, Earl Klugh decided it was time to strip things
down to the fundamentals.

His latest, Grammy Award-nominated CD, suitably titled ³Naked Guitar,²
features the Detroit-born guitar virtuoso playing 14 songs on solo acoustic

³I spend probably 99 percent of the time playing guitar by myself, and I
have made
quite a few records and I haven¹t done much of just me and a guitar,² Klugh
said in a recent interview. ³So it seemed like something that would be fun
to do.²

Klugh returns to the area for a Valentine¹s concert of romantic music on
Friday night
at Notre Dame Academy, a show that was moved from the Valentine Theatre
after the historic downtown venue was damaged by an explosion in its

While the unifying theme of the disc is Klugh¹s masterful finger-style
picking on a
nylon-stringed classical guitar, the selections reflect his interest in
music of all eras and styles.
They range from Sammy Cahn¹s ³Be My Love² to Henry Mancini and John H.
Mercer¹s ³Moon River² to Lennon and McCartney¹s ³I Want To Hold Your Hand.²

³Naked Guitar² was nominated last year for a Grammy in the Best Pop
Instrumental category, the 13th time Klugh has received a Grammy nod (he¹s
won one, for his 1980 collaboration with keyboardist Bob James, ³One on

While Klugh is often cited as a pioneer of smooth jazz, he doesn¹t consider
himself to be a true jazz artist because he never stays within the
boundaries of any one genre.

³I¹m kind of into the thing of not trying to label anybody¹s music,² he said
from his home in Atlanta. ³I work long and hard to learn everything I can
about jazz. But I do that with all areas of music. What I really was after
was learning to play the guitar on a high level, and jazz is one of those
types of music that will get you there. Jazz and classical music take real
work and dedication to achieve.²

He realizes that jazz is the term that most people wind up pinning on him,
and he¹s OK with that.

³I know it¹s important to have some kind of name or identity. It¹s helpful
for music. And I don¹t have any problems with the jazz label, but if I had
my Œdruthers¹ I would rather not have a label at all.²

Klugh is finishing up a disc, which he hopes to release at the end of April,
that reflects his musical depth and diversity.

³It¹s a little bit of everything,² he said. ³I have two solo pieces on it
that I wrote. I did a bunch of songs ‹ five songs ‹ with Don Sebeski, the
great arranger, and some things with my electric band. And some
Caribbean-type stuff. The instrumentation goes from solo guitar to 20-piece

The title provides a clue to Klugh¹s artistic credo: ³The Spice of Life.²

³There¹s a lot of variety, and variety is the spice of life,² he said with a
laugh. ³I¹m pretty happy with the record. It kind of satisfies my need to do
a lot of things.²

Klugh, 54, started playing guitar in grade school, but his vision and goals
for the instrument changed dramatically after seeing country guitar virtuoso
Chet Atkins perform on the Perry Como Show in 1967.

³I¹d been playing about three, almost four years, and I saw him on the
television show and it just really clicked for me. Just watching him play, I
never heard anybody play the guitar without singing and playing the melody
and all the parts,² Klugh said. ³I said, ŒBoy, this is what I really want to

He learned to pick the notes with his fingers, rather than using a pick like
most guitarists. It is a style that is suited for the acoustic classical
guitar with its nylon strings, but Klugh said he has never felt comfortable
playing electric guitar.

³I never developed the technique for it. To me, I look at the two
instruments as being very much like acoustic piano and organ. You can kind
of play them but you don¹t really gain an understanding of the instrument,²
he said.

Klugh saw many great jazz performers at the legendary Detroit jazz club
Baker¹s Keyboard Lounge, including Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Joe Pass,
and Bill Evans. Many Motown stars, including Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey
Robinson, and Stevie Wonder, would finish their day¹s work in the studio and
head to Baker¹s Keyboard Lounge for the night.

³I¹d go there after school and sit and listen to the bands. It was about a
mile and a half from my house,² Klugh said. ³Once I was 16 and had my
driver¹s license, the club owner would let me sit there and listen. From
time to time I sat in with people like George Shearing and Yusef Lateef. I
got a chance to play for Bill Evans.

³It¹s so funny when I think about it. I was a kid doing this, and although I
was pretty shy, I think I¹m shyer now than I was then. As a kid I didn¹t
know better.²

Another early influence on Klugh was George Benson, the jazz guitarist and
singer whom Klugh befriended after meeting at Baker¹s Keyboard Lounge.

³When I met George, he was interested in my playing because I had chosen to
play classical guitar,² Klugh said. ³He had always been interested in that
instrument but he never took it up. So we struck up a really good friendship
and it goes on to this day.²

At 17, Klugh was invited to be a guest artist on Benson¹s 1971 album ³White
Rabbit,² and the veteran guitarist then took Klugh on tour with him for a
year and a half.

³That was a lot of experience in a quick amount of time. It let me know what
I was up against if I wanted to succeed in the music business,² he said.

Just as his friendship with Benson remains strong, Klugh also is still close
with Bob James, the pop-jazz keyboardist. The two just returned from a tour
of India, along with singer Patti Austin, that was sponsored by the U.S.
State Department.

³I went on a tour of India about three years ago with the State Department,
and I was surprised to be asked back so soon. There are a lot of people who
would love to go on a trip like that,² Klugh said.

He said Indians are ³curious² about American music in general, and although
they know something about jazz, they don¹t know much about individual jazz

³A lot of the kids are into the American culture, and although there is some
American music in India, there doesn¹t seem to be as much as you would
think,² he said.

He recalled how on his previous tour of India, while traveling with Al
Jarreau, George Duke, and Stanley Clarke, the drummer was delayed and they
had to play their first show without a drummer.

³There was no drummer so we ended up playing with three Indian
percussionists,² Klugh said. ³We rehearsed the music just like it was but
incorporated their rhythms into the songs we were playing. At first I felt,
ŒOh man, this is not going to work!¹ But as soon as we started playing the
show, it all came together. It was a very interesting night.²

He is pleased to be coming back to Toledo for a Valentine¹s concert, a theme
he enjoyed when he played a special Valentine¹s show at the Valentine
Theatre in 2003.

³I think it¹s great and I look forward to doing shows like that,² Klugh
said. ³We don¹t do many holiday shows, and I¹ve never made a Christmas
album, so this is as close as we get to a holiday show.²

For tickets to Klugh¹s performance at 8 p.m. Friday, call the Valentine box
office at 419-242-3490 or 419-242-2787. Tickets are $33, $39, and $45.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke at theblade.com or 419-724-6154.


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