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Interview by ARTURO MORA

Guitarist, composer, arranger and producer, Chuck Loeb has just published his latest CD Presence on his new label, Heads Up. In July 2007 he will perform several gigs in Spain with the Reunion Band, featuring some big names from the jazz fusion movement. A few days before he flew to Spain from New York, Arturo Mora spoke to Loeb over the phone; the guitarist talks about various aspects of his career and music in general, showing a rare clarity of ideas.

ARTURO MORA: You will play five gigs in Spain in July with the Reunion Band (Eric Marienthal, Till Bronner, Chuck Loeb, Jim Beard, Tim Lefebvre and Dennis Chambers with special guest Michael Franks). What can you tell us about that band?

CHUCK LOEB: It began as a project to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Festival Jazz y Más in the Canary Islands… that was last year. That band was basically the same, except the bassist and the drummer. This year instead of Josh Dion on drums and Anthony Jackson on bass we have Dennis Chambers on drums and Tim Lefebvre on bass. About five years ago they started talking to me in the Canary Islands about putting together a band to celebrate the 15th anniversary, and over the years we spoke more and more about who should be involved, along with some guests that we had in the shows last year: Rosa Passos and Hiram Bullock and a local bassist named Charlie Moreno. Then we decided after the success of the mini-tour in the Canary Islands last year to continue it, because it was so much fun and the music was good. We tried to get the entire band back, but there were some problems with scheduling; for example: Anthony Jackson is on tour with Mike Stern this Summer, and Josh Dion has his own rock'n'roll band, and he's very busy with that this Summer. So we found that Dennis [Chambers] was available and Tim Lefebvre as well.

ARTURO MORA: With such great players in the band, was it difficult to choose the repertoire?

CHUCK LOEB: Yeah, that was one of the biggest problems actually. First of all, because everybody had so much music that they wanted to play, and of course we tried to play something by each member of the band; so, it takes a little bit of juggling and sacrifice, but we have a very good programme that features originals and some standards too.

ARTURO MORA: Are there any plans for a future recording?

CHUCK LOEB: Actually we did a recording last year, one of the concerts at the Canary Islands, and it's being mixed. Unfortunately won't be finished in time to sell at these concerts that we're doing now, but it should be coming out some time within the next year or so.

ARTURO MORA: Perfect. In which label?

CHUCK LOEB: We don't know yet, that's a problem. Everybody is on a different record label, so it's a little bit of a negotiation (laughs).

ARTURO MORA: What would you like to tell us about your new CD Presence (Heads Up 2007)?

CHUCK LOEB: Well, for me it's a big change, because I've been in a record label (Shanachie) for ten years, doing seven of my CDs and many others as a producer, and a couple of years ago that relationship came to an end, and I got together with Heads Up International, which is part of Telarc and Concord; so it's been a big change for me, a new label, new people, but they're doing a great job and I'm very happy with it.

Presence is a typical Chuck Loeb record anyway, there's a different mix of styles, but somehow it sounds like me.

ARTURO MORA: You have worked with Heads Up before as a producer, haven't you?

CHUCK LOEB: Yes I have, and I've known Dave Love, the owner of the company, for many years. The good thing about it is that a lot of the other artists in the label are friends, people that I've worked with in the past: the Yellowjackets, Spyro Gyra who I work with very very much, Michael Brecker, who unfortunately is no longer with us, and Mike Stern. So it's a good place.

ARTURO MORA: You've mentioned Michael Brecker, whom you played with in Steps Ahead in the mid-Eighties. What can you tell us about your relationship with him?

CHUCK LOEB: [Pause] Well, first of all I would say that he was one of my major influences and idols as a musician. I think that there are people that become kind of a standard, like they set a standard of where you should try to arrive as a musician. When he died I wrote a little article about this. As a young musician I had a lot of idols like Wes Montgomery, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Pat Martino... and then in the mid-Seventies I got to hear Michael Brecker play in a small club, and all of a sudden he was a new label that I found available, that became kind of a standard, something to strive for.

ARTURO MORA: I agree. You've produced records for musicians like Donald Harrison, Spyro Gyra, Larry Coryell or Warren Bernhardt. What would you emphasize from your production work?

CHUCK LOEB: Well, for me that part of music is maybe the most fun, because you are involved in the very beginning, picking the material, the musicians, the studio, the engineer, the order and the sequence of the tracks, ... it's the whole thing, it's a complete involvement with the music, and to me that's really fun, because it's a big picture. It's great to just play the guitar in a concert, but I do love production, and to work with artists like the ones you mentioned, or Bob James, or Michael Franks is like a honor to work with people that are also producers and they're asking me to help them make music. It's a pretty thrilling experience.

ARTURO MORA: So you're a producer, a composer, a jazz guitar player who's also played in other different styles... How would you define yourself as a musician?

CHUCK LOEB: I like to think of myself as what I call a round musician, I mean someone who composes, produces, plays, performs, arranges, ... plays in all different aspects of the art form. I like people like Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea, Marcus Miller, Dave Grusin or Bob James, who are musicians that do a little bit of everything and are involved in the total process.

ARTURO MORA: Have you ever thought on releasing a straight-ahead jazz CD?

CHUCK LOEB: Yes, I'm thinking about doing this way my next CD, because jazz is the basis I come from as a guitar player. I think about the music I've made so far in my CD's, and I see that my original drive for playing music comes from pop music, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Cream and Stevie Wonder... My compositions tend to be more like pop, but my guitar playing completely comes from this Wes Montgomery-Pat Martino-George Benson-Joe Pass jazz guitar playing. So most of the time my records end up being more in the pop-jazz direction which you know, but in this point I would like to move in the direction of something more acoustic, more spontaneous and more straight-ahead, although it won't be a be bop record.

ARTURO MORA: Have you already chosen the musicians to play with you in that future record?

CHUCK LOEB: Not yet.

ARTURO MORA: Which will be the criteria to choose them?

CHUCK LOEB: I think they will obviously have to be musicians that are able to play in the straight-ahead field, but I think they also have to be musicians that understand where I come from as a composer, someone who's aware of pop and rock and R&b but still are great jazz players. If I think of people that come to mind, for example, John Patitucci, who I've worked with many times in my other CD's, would be a great guy, because he really plays the two styles perfectly, and understands them. The drummer must be more difficult.

ARTURO MORA: Perfect. What about the new Metro recording, Music Box?

CHUCK LOEB: We have the recording completed, now we're just waiting to do the mix. We're trying to get it released by the end of this year or the beginning of 2008. There's a new bassist in the band, which is Will Lee, an old friend of ours. It was pretty fun recording.

ARTURO MORA: You've played in many sideman situations, with people like Jim Hall, Stan Getz or Steps Ahead. Which one did you enjoy the most?

CHUCK LOEB: I have to say that Steps Ahead, from the musical standpoint. Personally, to be involved with Michael [Brecker] on such a regular basis, was very inspiring and a great learning experience for me. He was a guy that, when he was playing every day he had an incredible amount of intensity. But also the fact that it was like what I told before, there was people that were round musicians. Mike Mainieri is another example of a guy who's a composer, arranger, great player and a producer. Michael as well, Victor Bailey as well, Peter Erskine too. It was like playing in a band of producers.

ARTURO MORA: Are you disciplined when you compose?

CHUCK LOEB: Yes and no. I've though a lot about this recently 'cause my daughter, who's 20 years old, is now very involved in composing and writing songs as a singer and songwriter, and we talk about how it works, and I think that there's two different things that happen, two or three: one is that a song might just pop into your head, and to me that's the best, when you just have this idea and you have to write it down in a piece of paper or going to record it immediately. But also things come from playing the guitar, and playing an interesting progression and the melody comes out of your fingers, and then you take it and work on it, that's more disciplined. Or the other thing [Chuck laughs], good for composing, is a call from the producer [laughs]. Somebody calls and says: "There's a new Spyro Gyra record and we need some songs, and we need them by Thursday". Then you get disciplined very quickly. [laughs]

ARTURO MORA: I guess so. What music are you listening to at the moment?

CHUCK LOEB: There's a guy I like very much, you know I'm still a fan of pop music, and there's a guy called John Mayer, he's a guitarist and a singer and a songwriter, he's pretty well known in the States, and I really love his music, it's great to listen to. The other kind of music that I listen to in a regular basis comes from Brazil. From some reason the music from there always seems to touch my heart in a certain way.

ARTURO MORA: And talking about guitar, which current guitar players do you enjoy the most?

CHUCK LOEB: I've been listening to Ben Monder, and the other person who's influenced me a lot over the years is pianist Brad Mehldau. I find his music, not all of it, but some of it, very inspiring.

ARTURO MORA: Which were your major influences when you started playing?

CHUCK LOEB: Originally it was Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and the Beatles, and Stevie Wonder, and then, once I began to play jazz it was Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, George Benson, John McLaughlin and Joe Pass. And then later Pat Metheny became a very important influence.

ARTURO MORA: Great. Anything else you'd like to add?

CHUCK LOEB: Well, about the concert that's coming up in Spain, it's a very interesting band to check out, because it's a mix of very different kinds of personalities and styles, so I would just say to the audience to come in and enjoy the shows and have a good time.

Text © 2007
Chuck Loeb Photographs by John Secoges