Multi-instrumentalist Greg Chambers is a classical woodwind performer and instructor who is also highly versed in contemporary jazz. San Francisco Bay based Chambers plays various saxophones, flute, and keyboards. He also composes, and even does some backing vocals on his projects. Chambers’ albums have charted on the Smoothjazz.com Top 50 Chart, the Jazzweek Top 50 Smooth Singles Chart, and have made the Most Added/Increased Airplay lists for Billboard Magazine, RadioWave, and Smoothjazz.com.
Greg has a “Master of Music” degree in saxophone from UCLA. As a classical saxophonist, he has worked with a variety of celebrated symphonies and solo artists. Greg Chambers was the saxophone fellowship recipient for two seasons of the Aspen Music Festival. In the jazz arena, Chambers backed up Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. He has also opened for R&B and Disco stylist Evelyn “Champagne” King. From classical to modern jazz and more… Greg Chambers is making his mark in music, and JazzMonthly.com is pleased to talk with Greg about his latest CD “Can’t Help Myself.”
JazzMonthly: “Can’t Help Myself” is your third album, how is this one similar, and how is it different from your previous two?
GC: I think each of my albums has it’s own personality, reflects where I was at the time of creating it, and is the manifestation of the goals or decisions I had in mind. My self-titled CD was an exploration of different soundscapes, ranging from jazztrance, techno, acoustic singer songwriter,and there’s even a song called “Street Noise” which is a tribute to David Sanborn and the smooth jazz sound of the ‘80s. At the time, I was trying to do some adventurous things while learning to produce and mix, as well as explore new ideas and sounds. The next CD, “After Hours”, was kind of my first foray into collaborating with other artists like Jonathan Fritzen, Paul Brown, and Darren Rahn and using some “in demand” session musicians like Ross Bolton and Roberto Vally. It was through “After Hours” that I really learned how to construct music that would fit the mold for smooth jazz radio format and take my music to the next level.
I was also listening heavily to the local R&B station KBLX and rediscovering albums like Boney James’ “Ride”, Paul Taylor’s “Pleasure Seeker” and Steve Cole’s “Stay Awhile”, so I’d say the general vibe of the album seemed much more rooted in R&B. With “Can’t Help Myself”, I wanted to create an album that was a combination of catchy, upbeat tunes (first half) and sexy slow jams (second half). I was also curious to see what a few seasoned producers could do with me and my material as well, as I knew some amazing ideas would be brought to the table. I think, “Can’t Help Myself” is probably the best representation of who I am at this moment: I took as much care and time as I possibly could into crafting each song, welcomed collaboration and input, and tried to ensure that my personality emanated from not only my playing, but this record as a whole.
JazzMonthly: You graduated with a classical music degree, and are a highly acclaimed woodwind instructor, yet you are an all-around jazz performer and composer too. Were you always interested in jazz, even when you were studying classical music?
GC: I have always loved jazz my dad passed on his love of big band and WWII era jazz to me early on. He ran a 20 piece swing band and had me join when I was in middle school. Later on, I discovered and started studying the music of jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Coltrane. I’d learn tunes and solos and play to recordings for hours and hours. But I also loved the classical side too. Something about the refinement, precision, and aesthetic beauty of the saxophone tone and overall approach has always captivated me. I enjoy continuing to study and perform in a classical setting I find myself pulling out the Dahl Concerto, Albright Sonata, and Ibert Concertino quite a bit still. And I continue to play with orchestras every now and then too (I recently played Milhaud’s “La Création du Monde” with a chamber orchestra here in the Bay Area), although much less frequently than when I was in college!
JazzMonthly: You have some highly esteemed producers partnering with you on your latest record. Tell us about them... and how this latest project came to be.
GC: Darren Rahn had mixed a handful of the tunes from my “After Hours” CD and he is good friends with Nate Harasim and Paul Brown. He and Nate work with a lot of the same musicians, sometimes sharing mixing and production duties and, after hearing Phil Denny’s “Crossover” and some other Trippin ‘N’ Rhythm CDs Nate had produced, I knew I wanted to enlist him to produce at least some of this album, if not all of it. In the beginning, I’d get the melody sketched out and recorded, would lay down some supporting ideas (sample drums and keys) and send everything over to him in Detroit. It kind of gave him an idea of which direction I’d like to go with each track, but in the end, I’m not sure he needed it. Nate has a gift for knowing how to make a recording develop it’s own personality and identity. It was through Nate that I was introduced to Matt Godina too. I initially reached out to Matt just to track some guitar work for “It’s On”, although he quickly showed me what he was capable of as a producer and co-writer, and the rest is history.
JazzMonthly: I noticed how musically generous you are as a leader. You really let your fellow musicians branch out and radiate on your record with their solos. Was that a conscious goal of yours?
GC: Absolutely. I think a recording is only as good as the sum of it’s parts and players. I thought it was really important to collaborate with guest artists, allow others to step out into the spotlight, and to highlight other musical personalities on this record. I’ve always found myself going back to albums by Brian Culbertson and Dave Koz largely because of the variety from track to track, the magic that happens during musical interaction between them and their guests, and the creative energy they bring to an album as a whole.
JazzMonthly: Tell us a little bit about “All My Life” which is such an intense and sensual performance by you and your crew.
GC: I’ve always loved this song. It came out when I was in 8th grade and I remember hearing it while slow dancing at awkward middle school dances. But it’s also one of the quintessential wedding/love songs of my generation and one that everybody knows, so Nate Harasim and I knew that we couldn’t stray too far from the original. Jalen did an amazing job covering the rich “churchy” harmonies in the chorus and I tried to make sure that there was a nice balance between solo saxophone and harmonized or doubled sax parts throughout. I think the magic that happened on this tune started from Nate’s programming too. When things are right at the start, it’s so easy to lose yourself in the performance.