May 24, 2024

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Interview with Greg Chako: It is not one artists responsibility to get any people interested in jazz

Interview with an ungrateful, impolite, dull, unhuman, drawn creature, as if  guitarist Greg Chako. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Greg Chako: – I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. My mother told me that as a baby I seemed to respond to the classical music she played at home. She said that I appeared to bang out rhythms on the floor. I began music lessons on an accordion at around age 9. I excelled and the teacher told my parents that they should consider providing more musical training to me. I wanted to play drums, but was not allowed to pursue that interest. My Mom wanted me to study piano, but I ignorantly thought that piano was for ‘sissies’. I’d heard Jimi Hendrix and liked him, so I set my sights on guitar and began taking guitar lessons at age 10. By the time I got to high school, I knew I wanted to play music. I was already teaching guitar myself and seeking any chance to play with others. I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston when I turned 18.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2023

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

GCH: – The biggest thing to point out with regard to my sound is that I threw away my guitar picks and began playing with my thumb instead, in the style of Wes Montgomery. Playing with my thumb helps to give me a fuller, fatter, more percussive and natural sound I believe. Over the first few years of making the change, I developed a thumb style that utilizes both downstrokes, and alternating up & down strokes (like one does with a pick). Additionally, I also came to rely on a finger style that was a remnant of my formal classical guitar training, except that unlike most classical guitarists, I included the use of my ‘pinky’ finger along with the index, middle, and ring fingers. That way, I could arpeggiate or play at once, a 5-note chord voicing, with the thumb playing the bass note and the four fingers playing the 4 higher notes of the chord. Using my own hybrid finger style has a lot to do with my guitar sound, but that alone cannot explain it all. It’s difficult to say what else contributed the most to my original sound, but I believe two other factors that go towards answering the second part of your question may be worth mentioning:

I have not had a primary guitar teacher since I was a very young teenager, and my teacher then (Herb Rodgers) had me play simple chord-melodies he would write out as a lead sheet with chord diagrams, but we never delved into guitar technique or music theory. I have had much formal musical training, but not on the guitar per se. The biggest influence on my (bebop) jazz playing was a piano teacher named Dave Frank, who passed along wisdoms he’d gleaned from his own lessons with Lennie Tristano, but Dave didn’t play guitar nor did he teach me anything on the guitar. I think it’s fair to say that my style is home-grown, organic, and influenced more by what and who I listened to than by any particular individual.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

GCH: – I am 64 years of age, and my days of routine ‘exercises’ or practicing for hours a day are over. I surround myself with the best musicians I can and try to, as best I can, motivate myself to keep creating and pursuing new musical projects.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

GCH: – As my living environment has changed, through relocation, divorce, death of a spouse, remarrying, new job, etc., all of that affects how we behave. For instance, where I live now is not as vibrant and diverse a music community as where I lived in the past. That makes a huge difference in the opportunities that exist on a daily basis.

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

GCH: – That depends on the individual. In all facets of life, balance is important, and in all art and jazz music, the ultimate goal is to realize ones highest self. Each person is unique, but we are all on different paths towards realizing our potential. I believe that the effectiveness of our musical impact is determined, to a large extent, on where we are in our own inner development. The most achieved artists answer your question on their own terms, by developing that balance. The goal of my music is to move people. I’ve heard players who have fantastic technique, but their playing doesn’t move me. I have no time for them.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

GCH: – That is my chief goal – to elicit an emotional response in listeners.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

GCH: – The Great American Songbook comprises great music that will stand the test of time. But obviously, the jazz repertoire is not limited in any way to that, nor does everyone have to play the same songs the same way. Just as classical soloists approach the same composition with different styles, so do jazz artists reinterpret standards. The downfall of jazz as a popular music is linked to the digital revolution and to the dissolution of many smaller labels interested in seeking out talent for their label in favor of huge corporate conglomerates not interested in seeking out new talent as much as making a quick profit irrespective of an artists’ talent. The diminishing quality of education over the past few decades in the USA also plays a role. Anyway, it is not one artists responsibility to get any people interested in jazz when in fact, the best way to change our outer circumstances is to change our inner outlook. Our biggest responsibility as an artist is to be the best that we can be. That’s all we have control over.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

GCH: – I am and have always been keenly interested in the relationship between spirituality and music. When I was in college, I wrote a series of papers that investigated this topic, including this, my Masters Lecture: Our own spiritual development has a major impact on our success as an artist. For as is said in Mysticism of Music, Sound, and Word, by Hazrat Inayat Khan …

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

GCH: – The one thing that would change my own musical world the most is to have enough money to focus 100% of my energies on advancing my musical production levels and my creative life with the best collaborators, wherever they may be. The words. “it takes money to make money,” are so true in the music business. It is extremely difficult to produce great works of art when one is constantly struggling to pay for the bare necessities of life.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Association 2023

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

GCH: – I am so tied up with my own recording projects and making a living as a teacher that I don’t have free recreational time to sit back and simply listen to music . . . that’s a luxury I cannot really afford. So, my listening is limited to brief snippets online.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

GCH: – I would like to have the freedom (money again) to relocate to NYC and fly to other parts of the world to make music consistently on an international level.

Interview by Simon Sarg

Note: https://jazzbluesnews.com/2023/03/19/useu-jazz-blues-association-festivals/ You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here. https://jazzbluesnews.com/2022/11/19/useujba/

Once I Loved - Greg Chako

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