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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" Gregg Karukas

Gregg Karukas Jazz MusicianSmitty: I finally have with me, one of my most favorite keyboard players in the business.  He’s got a great new record out called Looking Up.  Here to talk about this great new record, the one and only, Trippin’ N’ Rhythm recording artist, Gregg Karukas.  How are you?
 
Gregg Karukas (GK): Thank you, Smitty.  How are you?
 
Smitty: Great!  So you’ve had a nice summer and fall with this new record release, and your first single.  It’s got to be nice to enjoy some fruits of the hard work.
 
GK: It’s nice to be back in the mix, so to speak.  It’s ironic that it’s averaging two and a half years between CDs, but there are no guarantees in life.  I just keep making the music and hope that it gets out in a reasonable amount of time.
 
Smitty: Well sometimes when you take your time and do it right, and really take the time to express how you feel in your music, it comes over a lot better.
 
GK: Yes, and I’ve never been in a position where I had a label saying that I must have a record out within 12 months or anything like that.  It’s worked out where I’ve been with labels that have gone under, so there was a period of “lag” time, so I never tried to rush things and let the songs flow.  When I get enough songs, then I get motivated to put them together into a project.  Then it really starts coming together.  I pick the best ones and then really finish it all up.  I write songs and demo them to a point and don’t worry so much about the fine details until I’m sure it’s going on the record.  Then I really get into the refinement of the process.
 
Smitty: This CD has some nice songs.
 
GK: Thanks.  There’s definitely much more piano and it’s something that I’ve subconsciously been working toward.  In writing melodies for my other CDs, I heard another voice complimenting the piano or taking this section or that section, and I’ve had a lot of saxophone on those CDs and now, I’m almost laughing about it, but there’s almost no saxophone on this record.  There’s one song and it’s just a background section on one part. Andy Suzuki stacked three or four saxophones, so on this one song we kind of made up for a couple of songs worth.
 
Smitty: Well you were brilliant on the Fender Rhodes.  It’s one of my favorite instruments and I love the way you blended it into this CD.
 
GK: Thanks.  There are a couple of songs that have electric piano on them and those are usually the ones that tend to be more spontaneous.  I tend to leave the first track and I also stretch out a little more…more extended solos on the Rhodes…and when it happens it’s just great, so I just let it go and leave it there.
 
Smitty: Let’s talk about one of the songs that I think is really cool…London Underground.  I know there’s a story attached to this one.
 
GK:  It’s pretty ironic.  The title line was mostly just sort of a tribute to my label because they’re based in London.  We actually released it as a single in July around the same time as the London bombings.  So you have terrorist bombings in London, in the underground.  It was pretty strange to have that happen, but everybody dug it for the vibe and up-tempo that it has.
 
Smitty:  So this is the first single?
 
GK: Well it was released as the first single, but it didn’t catch on in the few big stations where they wanted it to catch on.  It’s sort of tough these days with the play lists being so small…well this is what they tell me, and I try to keep myself a little separate from the whole promotion business and radio situation because it seems to change so quickly and people say they love one thing and the bottom line is that there are a lot of stations that are just playing a 10 or 12 song rotation of radio songs and then the rest of the play list is 20-30 year old classic R&B pop vocals or older classics.  It’s just what radio has become and it’s not necessarily boring because new music is being added every week, but you just sort of have to wait in line and see how long it takes for a particular track to be added once you release it.  Evidently it didn’t get added quickly enough after several weeks and the promotions folks at the label felt that it wasn’t getting the response they wanted, so they switched gears and put another track.  We had about four or five good “radio” songs and it was “Show Me the Way.”  It’s been out for a couple of weeks and I haven’t really heard what’s going on with it, but I think it’s doing ok.
 
Smitty:  Well that’s a good selection.  So let’s go back to some of the players.  I was excited to see Thom Rotella on this project.  He’s been one of my favorites for many years…just a great player.  Tell me how you two hooked up for this record.
 
GK:  We’ve had a mutual admiration going on for a couple of years, but never worked together.  He had some gigs out of town and asked if I was interested, so I did some and we did some of his stuff and some of my songs.  It was a blast and we ended up doing a tour in Japan together.  He was always on my mind to use on a song or two for the great Jazz, Wes Montgomery kind of sound, so the title cut Looking Up features Thom all over it on guitar.  And we always have a blast playing live together.  He’s a really fantastic jazz player and completely versatile.  Chuck Loeb and Thom Rotella are a couple of my favorite guitar players…I haven’t worked with Chuck, so hopefully that’ll be down the line.
 
Smitty:  All right, Chuck…if you see this…
 
GK:  And I can’t forget to mention all the other guitar players.  Ricardo Silveira and Michael O’Neill are at the top of the list, too.
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