I started off by congratulating Chuck on his second release for Heads Up
and I asked him to explain the title ‘Between 2 Worlds’.
CL – As you can imagine, I’ve been talking about the album a lot in
the last few weeks because it’s coming out on the 24th. I’ve been doing a
bunch of interviews so I kind of have it together in my mind. It’s
interesting that you’re writing for a German site because it’s related to
There’s a geographical aspect to the title and there’s also a musical
aspect to the title. For the last three years I’ve been doing a week-long
engagement at a place called the ‘A- Trane’ in Berlin. My albums in the
past have been dominated to a certain extent by keyboards and production.
There have been lots of keyboards and a big, produced sound.
When I started doing these week-long engagements at the ‘A-Trane’ it was
just with a trio: myself, a German drummer named Wolfgang Haffner who’s
been a member of the band metro with me for about fifteen years and Dieter
Ilg who’s the bass player. Part of the idea for doing this album came out
of those gigs because the sound of the trio without keyboards was a
different sound. It was a more open sound, more space and it kind of
suggested moving in that direction.
The other part is that my wife is from Madrid, Spain, so we sort of have a
double life, going back and forth between Madrid and New York. So I sort
of have this double existence.
So when I finished recording with the trio in Germany, I wanted to do the
other side over here so I went into the studio in New York with Dave Weckl
and Gerald Veasley and Will Lee. So geographically I did half of it in
Europe and half in the United States and so there’s a different kind of
sound that happens. Musically I’m going back on the CD towards my pure
I listened to Chuck’s previous album ‘Presence’ while I was preparing the
interview and understood the direction he was moving in – more acoustic
and simpler production. I felt that some of the songs had elegance that
maybe they wouldn’t have had if technology had been more to the fore.
CL – Precisely and I’m making a move from one musical world to
another. There’s a funkier feeling on the music recorded in New York and a
more airy feel to the music recorded with Dieter in Germany.
I then asked Chuck about his playing with Metro as an example of the
different music styles he’s able to adopt. I thought I was familiar with
Chuck’s sound until my review of Metro’s ‘Grapevine’ CD on this site…
CL – (laughs) I know what you mean – the rock and roll monster
rears its ugly head on the Metro record.
Bearing in mind, how adaptable an artist Chuck is, I asked whether he
thinks of ever making a straight-ahead jazz album.
CL – Yes, and I think this is the beginning of a move in that
direction. And it’s interesting that you talk about Metro and the ‘Jeckyl
and Hyde’ aspect of it because in the last two or three years I’ve been
doing a lot more touring with that band and we have a new CD, called Metro
‘Express’ so I have an outlet for that side of my musical personality.
With ‘Between 2 Worlds’ I’m moving towards a more straight-ahead sound…
I then asked Chuck which were his favourite songs from the new CD.
CL – Well it’s a little sad or poignant but I’m very happy with the
song I wrote for Hiram, my wife and I wrote for Hiram Bullock.
I told Chuck how much I loved Will Lee’s fretless bass playing on that
It’s an interesting story about that. For a brief period of time, he had
Jaco Pastorius’ bass which was recovered – at his apartment. Now Jaco and
Hiram had a pretty close relationship. Will and Jaco and I also were
friends – and Carmen as well, who was the co-composer of that song. He had
that bass at his house for a few days and actually played it on that track
– that’s Jaco’s bass. Some real serendipity in there, you know…
I’m also happy with the way the very last track turned out. The ballad
‘Early Turns to Late’ – I’m happy with that one too.
I told Chuck I particularly liked the pure sound of the harmonica on that
song – reminiscent of Toots Thielemans’ playing. Then I picked out two
songs that had really had an impact for me. The first was ‘Oh No You
Didn’t’ which features his daughter Lizzy. I wondered if it would be
released as a single…
CL – You’re the second person today to bring that up. I think it
should – not only for jazz radio, but for pop radio. In America it’s a
little bit difficult, that whole thing. They’re so focussed on smooth
jazz, they have the blinders on. So, despite the fact that everybody who
hears it says it should be a single and that’s a hit tune, they always
want to go first with an instrumental. So in America, that’s possible.
However, I do think that people in Europe would like it. In Spain, the
distributor said ‘we have to get this to radio – people will respond to
this right away’. And in England I think it would really work well.
So I’ll keep my fingers crossed – it would be my dream come true if it
Given the present popularity of female singer/songwriters like Amy
Winehouse, Duffy and Adele, I said I thought Lizzy’s vocal style would fit
CL – You could be the champion of that. If you know anyone who
could get that on the radio…
Chuck then sent me a link to Lizzy’s MySpace page – here it is:
I also mentioned
how much I like the song ‘The Great Hall’, written for Jim Hall. It seems
it’s also one of Chuck’s favourites. I asked about songs written, like
this one, in waltz time and whether that was a deliberate thing.
CL – In this case, it just happened that way. I have written things
in the past where I did want to write in 6/8 or 4/4 – I have done that.
When you listen to the record ‘Express’, the new Metro one, there’s a song
called ‘Rio Frio’ which I’m very happy with. On that one, I was really
trying to write something in that time signature.
This one, at the beginning of the song, the rhythm starts with me playing
a lick on the guitar and then I was trying to emulate some of the
open-string voicings that Jim does. And then it just kind of happened to
be in 3/4 because the lick was in 3/4. Little inside info on that: the
chord pattern, once it moves from the intro into the song, the changes are
fashioned after a standard called ‘On Green Dolphin Street’. So it’s a
little bit of a mix. ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ is not a waltz, so it’s a
I’d already spoken about Lizzy’s vocal on the CD. I then talked about
Carmen’s vocals and very enjoyably for me, Chuck introduced us as he was
at home. Perhaps I’ll even get the chance to interview Carmen when her own
CD comes out…
CL – I was just going to say that the song ‘Sò Tinha Que Ser Com
Vocè’ is also going to be included on Carmen’s new CD – an all-Brazilian
project. We’re in the studio working on that right now.
It also occurred to me that Chuck may consider making an all-Latin album
CL – I had experience of playing with Stan Getz in my early 20’s –
that’s how Carmen and I met – when she came to see Stan play in Madrid.
She came because she’s a fan of the bossa nova. So the bossa nova had a
big influence, not only musically but personally. We did a tour on the
50th anniversary of the bossa nova, in 2008. We did a tour in America and
we decided that Carmen’s next project, which will be her 5th CD, will be
It’s such a collaborative thing that it’s a chance for me to stretch out
on those Latin grooves so it’s a little bit of what you’re talking about…
maybe not my own thing but I’m getting a chance to really be a part of it.
Chuck’s schedule for April/May 2009 includes the Berks Jazz festival – I
asked him about that.
CL – Yes, I’m doing three shows. I’m doing a collaborative thing –
a jam session that I’ve been doing for a few years now. I co-lead it with
Rick Braun. Then on Saturday, we’re doing ‘Metro Special Edition’. It’s
Metro, which means it’s Mitch (Forman) and I and instead of Wolfgang and
Will, we have Will Lee, Gerald Veasley and Dave Weckl and also we have
Randy Brecker and Bobby Franceschini so it’s a real expanded version of
The atmosphere at a really big festival like that must be great – I asked
Chuck how he enjoyed it.
CL – Well it’s almost like a homecoming for me. It has a really
comfortable atmosphere. I’ve been there every year for the last eight
years or so. The people who put it on are really special people too. John
Ernesto, the promoter and the people who put on the production side are
And of course the audience – you know it’s kind of in the middle of
nowhere. It’s near Philadelphia but it’s in the middle of the countryside
there, an out-of-the-way place and it’s packed with people. They’re an
avid crowd – they love the music, they’re there every year and it’s
amazing! I just came back from the Java Jazz Festival – it’s bigger but
it’s similar in a way. Just the love of the music, you know – it’s
I mentioned to Chuck how much I’d enjoyed the Capital Jazz Fest when I was
there a few years ago.
CL – The other one you should go to is the North Sea, in Holland.
Chuck’s website mentions his role of ‘educator’ so I asked if he could
tell me some more about that.
CL – Well, over the years I’ve definitely made an effort to do
clinics, and classes and teaching. And I consider it a really important
thing because not only is it great as musicians to interact with audiences
and play and produce your CD‘s and everything but to be able to share some
of what you learned along the way, whether it’s with young players coming
up or players my age and still trying to figure things out on the guitar.
And it’s an enriching thing and also an opportunity, when I’m doing that,
to relearn a lot of the stuff myself.
I should say also that I’m working with Lizzy, teaching her guitar. She’s
a pretty accomplished guitar player; if you go on You Tube you can check
her stuff out. I spend time with her, trying to teach things and Carmen is
also a guitarist so it’s part of my life.
The list of artists that Chuck has produced is long and varied and I asked
him the basic question: on a CD for band like Spyro Gyra what is a
producer expected to do?
CL - For one thing I think, I’ve had success as a radio artist in
America. I’ve had a lot of number one’s and top ten hits on the format,
for many years. So there’s an element of ‘if you can do that for yourself,
can you do it for me?’ That’s part of the impetus. The other thing is when
you give over the responsibility of producing, it opens room for you to
relax a little bit. And for example when Jay Beckenstein asks me to do
some producing, it gives him a chance to take the producer hat off and
just be a player, a band leader, a member of Spyro.
And I think you get a different perspective to have somebody else say
‘this is the way you normally do things but let’s try a different route’.
A producer in music is like a director in the movies and I think for
someone like Jay, or Gato Barbieri or Bob James, who’s a great producer
himself, it’s an opportunity to have another set of ears, another set of
eyes looking at the same thing.
With such a long list of producer credits, I asked Chuck if there’s anyone
he’s not produced yet but would like to…
CL – James Taylor!
I told Chuck that my first ever interview was with Maceo Parker in 2008
and he named James Taylor as the person he most wanted to work with.
CL – He’s got a little bit of everything. He’s got a universal
appeal – at least from my point of view.
While I was preparing for the interview, I found that Chuck had written a
novel ‘Double Read’ and it was available for download.
CL – I self-published it, it’s available on my website. My idol as
a writer – I’m nowhere even close to him – is John le Carré. It’s a little
bit in the style of a spy/crime thriller but it’s also based loosely on my
two daughters because one of the protagonists is a bassoonist like my
oldest daughter Christina and the other one is a singer/songwriter like
Lizzy. And the name ‘Double Read’ is a play on words; the bassoon is a
double-reed instrument. So it’s kind of a double-entendre.
It’s a really great hobby for me. I do it for fun. It’s a release.
Although I love music and being involved with music, it’s good to get away
from it sometimes and actually it was Carmen’s suggestion that I look for
a hobby. And I spend a lot of time in airplanes and airports and decided
to use some that time over a few years and I’m surprised I got it
Recently I’d read a quote from Chuck that I really liked, to the effect
that music is recession-proof and the arts are more in demand when times
CL – I think there’s a truth in that. I think there are times when
people need comfort and joy and something that can make them feel good.
And music is a cheap high: you can buy a song from iTunes for 99 cents and
it can really make your life better. I also think that this economic
‘crisis’ or whatever you want to call it has brought people back to a
sense of what’s really important and I think that music helps people to
find their basic priorities, you know, what’s really important.
Chuck used a webcam for our interview and I had not only seen him and his
beautiful home but also seen and spoken with Carmen and felt connected to
an artist whose music has given me pleasure for a long time. So my thanks
were very heartfelt…
CL – Thank you very much Chris, it’s great talking to you and I
hope we do get to meet at a jazz festival one of these years.