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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" Shilts

shiltsSmitty: Well, if you like head boppin’ groovin’ melodies and a seriously funky vibe, then you will love my next guest.  He’s about to release a great new CD.  It’s called HeadBoppin.  He’s just signed a new record deal and he’s half man, half funky grooves.  Please welcome ARTizen recording artist Mr. Shilts.  How ya doin’?

Shilts (S):  Hey, Smitty.  Good, thank you.

Smitty:  Very cool. You’ve got a lot of great things happening now. You’ve signed a new record deal, you’ve got this great new record, and it’s just a great funky vibe.

S:  Oh, thanks. Yeah, I’m experiencing very exciting times. I mean, I’m looking forward to this year, I must say.

Smitty:  Yeah. You’re doing double duty: you’re with Down To The Bone and now you’re doing this solo project. You’re going to be a busy man in 2006.

S:  Well, I’m hoping to be, and I’m also going to be joining Rick Braun in his band as well, so I shall be doing hopefully, triple exposure. I’m happy to do anything I can lay my hands on.  (Both laughing.)

Smitty:  I think you will have a lot to lay your hands on, that’s for sure.

S:  Well, hopefully.

Smitty:  You’ve been involved with music for most of your life, really, when you think about it.

S:  Yes, I started playing the saxophone when I was 10, so I’ve been playing it for quite a long time now, and I went professional on the day I left high school, which was when I was 16.

Smitty:  Wow.

S:  So I think I should sort of know what I’m doing by now, but you still keep learning every day.

Smitty:  That’s a cool thing because we can never stop learning musically.

S:  Absolutely, nope, there’s new places and new places to visit musically.  All the time I’m discovering new sounds and new stuff that inspires me.

Smitty:  Yeah. Speaking of discovering new sounds, the saxophone was not your first instrument, was it?

S:  No. I started to indulge in the drums when I was a little bit younger than I was on the saxophone, but it just obviously wasn’t a natural instrument for me to play.  I can sit down now and program drum patterns and that sort of thing and I have a good sense of rhythm which is probably a good basis for that, but the saxophone was really my first love. I just took to it straight away and enjoy every time I play.

Smitty:  How were you introduced to the saxophone?

S:  My parents were huge jazz fans. They lived, breathed jazz music all the time.  There was always music playing, they were always going to concerts and clubs where there was jazz played in the local pubs and things like that. I’d sit behind the curtain sometimes and just listen to the musician. It was amazing training and just to be involved in the live side of it at an early age was just fantastic.

Smitty: When you first got the saxophone…. Did you always play with such high energy as you do now?

S:  Jazz has always been my first love and I think growing up with that sort of background. I did a lot of big band work when I was a teen. I was fortunate enough to play for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain, which was probably the best musical training I could have gotten as being self-taught, but that’s where I also really picked up my reading and we were backing people like Rosemary Clooney, Buddy Greco, Mel Torme, and people like that. So the experience was invaluable at such an early age, and we made lots of recordings. But then when I got into small band stuff, someone introduced me to David Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers, Grover Washington, more of the solo artist stuff and the more funky side of things. That’s when I really sort of took off in the direction I decided I wanted to go.

Smitty: That’s a lot of great musicians that you just mentioned, and there’s a lot of diversity there. How were you able to really hone your craft to the point of being able to dance with these great musicians with your instrument?

S:  I just think I was fortunate that I got started at an early age. As I said, the day I left school is when I turned professional as a musician and I started that evening playing in a local night club. I was in the house band and we would back artists that would be touring from all over the world. The first job I had was two weeks with the Temptations. I was always involved in the live side and I was fortunate I was out earning a living.  I never got the opportunity to go to music school or music college, but I did my training and learned my craft by being just thrown into the deep end and just going out and doing it.

Smitty:  And sometimes that’s a very cool way to do it.

S:  Well, it is.  Plus you’re getting a few quid put in your pocket, you travel the world and you get paid to do this wonderful job. You couldn’t ask for better, really.

Smitty: Yes exactly. You live in the U.S. now right?

S:  I do, with my wife and my two children. We’ve been living here for two years the end of this summer.

Smitty:  Nice. What was the transition like coming from England to here?

S:  I made a huge gamble. It was a life changing move. We’re both from England. I visited here a lot as a child because of having family in New York. Also professionally as a touring musician I’d spent a lot of time in the United States. So I had a little idea of what to expect. My wife probably had been here maybe once or twice on vacation many years ago, but the kids obviously being so young, they have no experience with it at all. So we really just took a huge gamble, we sold our house, we sold everything we owned, and that was it. We just got on a plane and we came out here. We didn’t know what to expect or whether it would work out, but we gave ourselves a year to see if things would be okay and we’ve done it. Within a year I’ve managed to get myself a record deal and get my own product out and start bringing the name Shilts to the foreground.
 

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