By Rebecca Redshaw
Smooth jazz, like smooth whiskey, rarely disappoints. The Coachella Valley is fortunate to host two jazz events in the next two weeks that virtually guarantee a good feeling without the need of a breathalyzer test.
Festival in the Canyons, will be held May 19th and 20th and already boasts a Sold Out sign for Saturday night’s gala fundraiser featuring famed smooth jazz saxophonist, Boney James and the Scott Wilkie Band.
The concert weekend, sponsored by Desert Healthcare Foundation and produced by Frank Ercoli, M.D. still has tickets available for Sunday’s slate of the Scott Wilkie Band joined by Rick Braun on trumpet and guitarist Peter White.
Ercoli is excited about the annual event. “Smooth jazz is highly intellectual and contemporary but at the same time it’s soothing, relaxing and a tremendous source of enjoyment. We have a great cause and a great event.”
This Sunday, May 13th four of the hottest talents in the jazz world will grace the stage of the McCallum Theatre for an evening of music produced by Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald, who will also serve as Master of Ceremonies.
“These guys are the crème de la crème of the young, contemporary jazz world. What’s exciting is they are friends as well,” Fitzgerald notes.
Featured on the program are artists Warren Hill, Craig Chaquico, Jeff Golub and Jeff Kashiwa. Each musician will perform his own set on the program utilizing the same back-up band. Part of the fun of the evening is the opportunity for a “guest” to take a solo turn with a fellow headliner. The finale features all four artists performing together.
Fitzgerald is enthused about the line-up.
“A lot of us old rockers have gotten into Smooth Jazz, but I prefer to call it Contemporary Jazz because the music can be intense and up-tempo as well.”
Saxophonist Warren Hill finds the moniker limiting. “It’s weird that we call it [this style of music] jazz at all because to me jazz, by definition, is improvisation. This music is completely arranged. I’m a lover of great songs and great melodies. When I incorporate any jazz into my music, it’s in my live shows.”
Hill finds people come back to his concert performances precisely to hear his new slant on a tune. As an artist, he loves performing and taking the audience to a higher level.
The Colorado resident didn’t start playing saxophone until he was seventeen years old and after graduating high school tried his luck as a physic’s major. The time demands of the university curriculum forced him to give up music during the school year, a factor that changed his life.
“It was taking the music away from me that made me realize how much I had to have it,” Hill said. “The next year I enrolled in the Berklee School of Music in Boston and spent every minute from the time I got up to the time I went to bed playing music and I wanted more.”
Craig Chaquico’s evolution from Rock and Roll guitarist to Smooth Jazz artist has taken many turns. As a sixteen year old, he landed the gig of lead guitarist with Jefferson Starship and he is the only member of the band to play on every recording from 1974 to 1990.
“During that time,” he says, “the musical style of the band went through three distinct musical flavors. I’ve felt fortunate over the years that my music evolved and changed with my tastes.”
Coming from a musical family, Chaquico only took one guitar lesson. He remembers growing up with his parents singing and playing the accordion after dinner. “I also listened to the radio and copied artists like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Somewhere in the middle I found inspiration.”
He also found courage. At age twelve, a drunk driver hit Chaquico. With his leg broken in three places and two broken arms, his long recovery included strenuous physical therapy. Craig’s father told him that Les Paul, a famous guitarist, had once been in a car accident and the doctors set his arm so he could still play guitar. Chaquico’s reward from his father for his hard work in getting better was a Les Paul guitar, which he still owns.
As for his segue from rocker to smooth jazzman, Chaquico is both practical and philosophical. “When my wife became pregnant, the acoustic guitar was more welcome around the house than the electric. Little did I know it would lead to a number one album and Grammy nominations and this great opportunity to explore musical territory.”
Both Hill and Chaquico explore other artistic endeavors, writing lyrics and poetry, which compliment their music. Hill’s young daughter is a constant source of joy and was the inspiration for his latest CD, “Love Life.”
Chaquico, who often includes poetry as well as sketches with his liner notes, believes “a song has the same elements as a painting. You’re dealing with the concept of a subject matter that needs to be in focus. It should be embellished with continuity and harmony and contrast. All those things are synonymous to art and music.”.