Earl Klugh, Kenny Barron Classic Trio
January 1, 1970A quick turnaround this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday, and only the two usual pieces. This week's column was about Earl Klugh, who has a very nice solo guitar album out, his first release since his mother's death six years ago. The Calendar pick was Kenny Barron's Classic Trio with Ray Drummond on bass and Ben Riley on drums. Turns out, however, that Riley isn't making the engagement for some reason; replacing him will be Francisco Mela, a very fine younger drummer I caught with Esperanza Spalding a few weeks ago.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Cheers.
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After hiatus, guitarist finds less is more
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | November 25, 2005
Earl Klugh has been stripping his music down to its acoustic essentials lately. The guitarist is bringing his new trio to Scullers tonight and tomorrow rather than his customary electric group, and it's just Klugh and his nylon strings on his lovely new CD, "Naked Guitar," his first release in six years.
The death of his mother, Elizabeth Klugh, in 1999 was the main reason for the recording hiatus. But after cranking out 30-plus albums over the previous quarter-century, he was also feeling a little burned out.
"Just in the sense that I had been making so many records for so long, and it had gotten to the point that I just didn't know what I wanted to do," says Klugh, 52. "That's kind of what brought about this solo record, and this other [trio] stuff now. I guess it's all part of that turning 50 thing, too."
Klugh was about 13 when he had a musical epiphany. He had been studying acoustic guitar for three years, inspired by the flamenco-like theme music from the television series "Bonanza." This was in the early '60s, when groups like Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio were peaking, so Klugh's early guitar lessons were in the folk vein. Then he and his mother sat down to watch Perry Como on TV one evening, and guitar great Chet Atkins came on as Como's guest. Young Klugh was blown away.
"The whole idea of someone playing the chords and the melody all together was like a total revelation to me," he says from the road in Santa Monica, Calif. "I had no idea that you could actually play the melody on the guitar."
Klugh began rounding up every Atkins album he could lay his hands on, then began doing the same with a series of master jazz guitarists including Kenny Burrell, Charlie Byrd, Al Viola, Herb Ellis, and Joe Pass.
"I'd sit in front of my Silvertone record player and I'd move the needle back and forth until I learned the parts," Klugh remembers. "I even did that with Julian Bream and [Andrés] Segovia, learning parts of tunes. But Chet was really the pinnacle of what I was trying for, because he played so many different styles and he played them so well."
Klugh also began hanging out regularly at the Detroit jazz club Baker's Keyboard Lounge. That's where he met his other main guitar influence, George Benson, with whom Klugh began touring while in his late teens. Klugh came away from the experience impressed by Benson's consistently high level of musicianship and his fierce work ethic. Klugh recalls typically playing three- or four-hour sets per night when they toured together.
"I would be totally worn out, and I was 19 at the time," says Klugh. "He would go back to the room and play for another four or five hours."
Klugh recorded his debut album for Blue Note soon afterward and went on to become one of the most popular figures in what would eventually be labeled smooth jazz. "George Benson was one of the big ones ushered in, along with Grover Washington, Bob James, and David Sanborn," Klugh notes. "But when I look back at those records that they're calling that ... on the songs that weren't ballads, we blew on the songs."
Such chops-heavy musicianship is largely absent from what passes for smooth jazz today, he says.
"I just don't relate myself to what I hear now," he says. "It's morphed into something else. And I hate that name. I just absolutely hate the whole thing, 'smooth jazz.' Sometimes you have to come up with names to describe certain periods of classical music or jazz or whatever, and that's fine. But this is just a moniker. This is like Bud Light or something. It has nothing to do with music."
Music matters to Klugh, who over the past several months has begun performing monthly gigs with Scott Glazer on upright bass and Justin Varnes on drums, in addition to maintaining his electric group.
"It's kind of like a jazz piano trio minus the piano," explains Klugh with a laugh. "I'd like to spend more time just actually playing guitar."
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Kenny Barron Classic Trio
Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. $25. Repeats Sat.
A lot of great music happened at the tiny downtown New York jazz club Bradley's before it bit the dust in 1996. Some of it endures on a pair of recently released CDs recorded that same year by what's now being billed as the Kenny Barron Classic Trio. The first of them was released in 2002 and titled simply "Live at Bradley's." But the trio's weeklong engagement that spring yielded sufficient material for a follow-up disc, and late this September Sunnyside Records put out the midnight set of April 6, 1996, as "The Perfect Set: Live at Bradley's II." On it, pianist Barron (pictured) leads fellow veterans Ray Drummond on bass and Ben Riley on drums through the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is," a pair of his own compositions, and two more by Thelonious Monk — the relatively obscure "Shuffle Boil" and the widely covered "Well You Needn't." It's a good guess that a similar mix of standards and originals will be on tap at the Regattabar this weekend, and that these longtime collaborators will play them their customary mix of swing, subtle dynamics, and sharply honed interplay. Literal perfection may be impossible, but this trio routinely comes pretty close.