Smitty: Well, I’m totally excited about my next guest here at JazzMonthly.com. He has been a mainstay in this format for many years, with an extraordinary vibe, and one of the great guys in this business. You know him from spectacular projects such as “Easy Street”, “Sweet Talk”, “Street Dance”, as well as some excellent collaborations with some of the great musicians around the world—Chick Corea, The Rippingtons, David Benoit, Patti Austin, Gregg Karukas—and now he’s created a great new solo album. It is called Just Around the Corner and you must pick up this record. Please welcome Peak recording artist, the remarkable Mr. Eric Marienthal. Hey Eric, how are ya, my friend?
Eric Marienthal (EM): Well, man, after that introduction I’m doing a lot better. (Both laugh.)
Smitty: Man, thank you. You know, this is a powerful album you’ve done. I mean, this is great stuff. And rightly so, with your experience and your career and the mean cats you have on this record with you too, as well.
EM: Well, thanks. Yeah, I was very lucky. Funny, you know, it wasn’t really planned as far as—I mean, I knew which direction I wanted to go with this record, but as far as who to be involved with in terms of producing or writing, I wasn’t quite sure. And I was on a plane with Brian Culbertson—I was playing with him and his band—and we were sitting next to each other and just kind of on a lark I looked over at him and said “Hey, man, would you consider producing my next record?” I just kind of threw it out there. And he said “Yeah, man, definitely. Well, tell you what, when we get back from this trip, why don’t you come over and let’s start writing and see what happens?” And we did and I presented it to Peak Records and they were thrilled about the idea, and working with Brian is always great and he was just so fantastic on this record and the record turned out exactly how I hoped and envisioned that it would, so I’m really excited about it.
Smitty: Wow, things like that seem to happen for you, because I remember back in, what, ’86, when there you were, having a good time in Orange County, and along comes Chick Corea and the next 10 years was just a mind-blowing experience for you.
EM: Well, yeah, and we’re actually playing still to this day. We’re actually playing quite a lot next month, with Chick Corea and the Electric Band, and yeah, that’s just, I mean, every time I’m on stage—this is like now we’re into our twenty-first year of that band—but every time we play together, I look across the stage and I still get giddy about the fact that there’s Chick Corea. He’s just such a hero of mine still. And yeah, so it’s been an ongoing great, great honor for me to be in that band.
Smitty: Yeah, man, and you’ve been in some other great bands. I mean, you spent some time with The Rippingtons and you’ve collaborated with so many great musicians, and I know, just listening to you over the years, man, that kind of career and experience day in and day out, year after year, has such a powerful effect on you.
EM: Well, no question about it. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to play with a lot of great musicians, no question, and you’re right, it’s a great learning experience. When you go out and play for people, it’s important to recognize the fact that you are performing, that people have paid money to come and see you. You have to acknowledge that people are there, but the bottom line is that the music has got to be right and you can’t get up there and just go through the motions. People are smart. They know the difference between a good musician and someone who’s just kind of going through the motions and kind of had maybe some luck and aren’t working as hard or whatever, but the great thing about having played with Chick or with The Yellowjackets or Lee Ritenour—a lot of the great musicians who I really respect—people really love it when you acknowledge them, but also it’s obvious that you’ve worked hard on your musical side and that you’re putting it across.
Smitty: Yes indeed, man, and in some ways you’ve been a quiet assassin. You know, 21 years, I had to sort of reflect on that for a couple of minutes because, wow, you’ve accomplished so much and in some ways it seems like it’s only been 10 years, you know?
EM: Yeah, it does. It feels shorter than 21 years, especially with Chick, you know? Hey, and it’s not always fun to get on and off an airplane, that’s for sure.
EM: But playing, you know, like Phil Woods always says, you know, he’s got me to play for free; it’s the traveling that they’ve gotta pay him for.
Smitty: (Laughs). Well, besides your incredible musicianship and being one of the great guys that everybody loves in this format and beyond, you’ve given back and I always say that that’s one of the most beautiful things that a musician can do because I know for the past ten years you’ve done some wonderful work with an annual fund raising concert in Orange County. Talk a little bit about that and what that’s meant for you.
EM: Yeah, the organization is called High Hopes and it’s a head injury recovery center, and I got involved—actually, next summer will be our tenth annual concert—and thank God I don’t have any friends or family members who are brain injured, but the director is a good friend of mine and so he asked me all those years ago if I would consider doing a benefit concert, and so over the years we’ve raised now just about a million dollars, and the concert takes place every summer, usually it’s at the end of July at the Hyatt Newporter in Newport Beach, California, and I always have my band but also a lot of guest artists. This year Peter White was there, we’ve had Lee Ritenour and Brian Culbertson and Patti Austin, Rick Braun, David Benoit a bunch of times, Jeff Lorber. I mean, you name ‘em, we’ve had a lot of people over the years. And it’s been an honor to be able to put together something that benefits such a worthy cause.
Smitty: Yeah, that’s a beautiful thing. When I think about what a rigorous job you have in terms of being on the road and then trying to deal with your family and then you make time for these kind of worthy causes, I think that’s a totally admirable thing, it really is.
EM: Well, thank you. I appreciate that, Smitty.
Smitty: Yes indeed, my friend. Now this record, man, I want to talk about this record Just Around the Corner. When I first got the record and I started to listen, first off I said, “Man, this is different.” It has such a flow and I tried to describe it in one word and I said “This record is exciting.” It has that exciting vibe to it and I just love the feel of this record, man, and what you did with it, along with those great guys that you mentioned earlier like Brian Culbertson and Jeff Lorber. Talk about what it was like when you started to write and what you were feeling.
EM: Yeah, well, first of all, thanks, man, I really appreciate that. This was the first record for me in a long time that I really thought about a particular direction and a particular focus for the whole record. My background is pretty jazzy, quite frankly, and so I like to play a lot of different kinds of music and for the last several records I think, to the records’ detriment, those records were a little eclectic. For instance, my last record, Got You Covered, was a collection of cover tunes, but there was some jazz, some straight ahead jazz and some contemporary stuff and a lot of stuff in between and, yeah, I think it’s important that when people listen to a record, there’s gotta be a clear focus, and on this record I wrote or at least co-wrote every song on it and we did all the writing at the same time, not the same week or anything, but we didn’t like write a tune in December and then write the next one in June and the next one in October.