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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" Chieli Minucci
interview by Jonathan Widran

Chieli MinucciLaunched by young New York guitarist Chieli Minucci and veteran Hungarian born drummer/percussionist George Jinda in the early 80s, Special EFX’s dynamic blend of contemporary jazz, funky grooves, fusion and world rhythms have been a mainstay of pop instrumental music for over three decades. Special EFX had 13 albums for GRP and JVC under its belt when creative differences led to the amicable parting of Minucci and Jinda in the mid-90s. Minucci launched a successful solo career and Jinda recorded a 14th Special EFX album, 1996’s Here To Stay. Jinda then suffered a devastating asthma/diabetic attack that left him with a neurological condition called myoclonic disorder; he died in 2001.
With the blessing of Jinda and his wife, Minucci kept the Special EFX vision alive with the help of saxophonist David Mann. Signed with Shanachie Records since the late 90s, Minucci has kept the eclectic Special EFX vibe thriving with a core unit and numerous special guests over the past decade. In 2010, Minucci marked his 25th year of touring and recording with Special EFX with the release of Without You on his independent label Chieli Music, and returns to Shanachie for their latest release Genesis
              Also in demand as a session guitarist and TV and music library composer, Minucci has lent his multitude of talents over the years to everyone from Celine Dion and Jennifer Lopez to Jewel, Lionel Richie Mark Anthony and Bobby Caldwell. He has earned 10 Emmy nominations for his music on the long running NBC daytime drama “Guiding Light” (winning three) and has been the main producer for Universal Music’s Gotham Music Library, writing and recording over 100 CDs geared towards various genres and niches.

JazzMonthly: This year marks 30 years since you and George Jinda started Special EFX and next year is the anniversary of the group’s self-titled debut recording. What’s been the most interesting part about the musical journey? The most surprising?

CM: The most surprising thing is all the success and the longevity of Special EFX. When I made Without You, I tried to write an essay to go along with it but I couldn’t get the pen to flow as well as the music. I was trying to write a story about how a musician like myself that’s under the radar compared to pop stars can create such a lengthy career making the same kind of instrumental music. Another wonderful element is more personal. I traveled a lot as a kid and would get homesick, but as an artist I have come to love traveling. I’ve been to Asia five times over the past few years and am enjoying success overseas that I never expected. The thing with music is that you never know where it’s going to take you. There are always new people to meet, new musicians to play with and new audiences which help me keep the compositions and performances fresh. I always say I’m the luckiest guy in Forest Hills, New York as a result. 


JM: When you and George got together, how did you develop the signature SFX sound? How did that evolve over the years that you two worked together? What made the chemistry work?

CM: We didn’t have much of a concept at first. I just went with the flow. George was into groups like Weather Report, Miles Davis, stuff like that, more jazz fusion…and I liked more guitar heavy groups like Return to Forever. I liked a lot of Peter Gabriel and Genesis. George wasn’t a prog rock guy at all. We did a lot of experimenting on our first recordings and we actually had no official equipment. We did everything acoustically on a friend’s tape machine! We connected well on a vibe coming out of Africa called juju music, typified by King Sunny Ade. It was Nigerian dance groove music. George was a drummer and untrained as a percussionist, but when you give a creative person inspiration, you never know what will happen. I went along with him, and he went along with what I was writing. Our only ‘concept’ for our first studio recording in 1982 was no sax. It was very arrangement centered. I knew how he played and arranged the songs accordingly. I wasn’t into being a guitar maniac. We agreed it wasn’t going to be his band or mine, but a group concept and sound. We were like the yin and yang. We liked each other despite our 14 year age difference. We understood each other and had a great rapport right away.

JM: It was a few years before there was the New Adult Contemporary format which evolved into smooth jazz. Where did you get radio play and how did GRP promote the early albums?

CM: In the beginning, there were no radio outlets at all for our music, so the key was a great booking agent and doing memorable performances to help spread the word. A lot of artists don’t realize that when you make music that’s not super commercial, the most important thing is to play live shows. A great booking agent was more important at first than a label, but then we signed with GRP and more opportunities came our way. That booking agent put us as the opening act on a tour with Spyro Gyra and that was a huge break. A New York DJ named Les Davis had a jazz show and liked our song “Buttermilk Falls” from Modern Manners, which had McCoy Tyner on it. When CD 101 launched, they liked us and “Uptown East” became one of our first hits.

JM: Starting with 1994’s Jewels, you launched a successful solo career and since then have pretty much balanced solo releases with Special EFX releases. What was the difference between a group recording and a solo recording before George got sick and what has been the difference since he passed away?

CM: Even before he took ill, we had the idea that we might release a Special EFX album and also solo albums each year. He started The Fantasy Band with Chuck Loeb and also had a group called World News. Then when he was sick, I put out Masterpiece (1999) completely without his involvement. A few years earlier, George had done Here To Stay without me. So it got a little confusing. When I released Jewels under my own name, it was centered around songs I had written that George didn’t want to put on a Special EFX album. My pieces were more eclectic and fusion oriented. I think the thing that ties the Special EFX recordings and the ones under my own name is that each has an eclectic batch of songs. My own albums are always about reflecting what I am into at any given time via vocals and instrumentals.

 


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