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Take Five With...

Take Five With Greg Chako

By Published: February 7, 2007
Meet Greg Chako: USA born, Greg distinguished himself early on as an exceptional guitarist by placing second in the American Guild of Music Competition at age 11. After receiving formal education at Berklee Collage of Music in Boston, he began performing and promoting jazz, including appearances with leading artists.

He has overcome many obstacles in life, like a physical disability of the wrist called carpal-tunnel syndrome, divorce, and the sudden death of his second wife due to breast cancer. He now resides in Yokohama, Japan. He has lived in four Asian countries, and has made a professional living as a chef, a salesman, businessman and musician, and these varied life experiences have enriched and deepened his music.

In Singapore, Greg has led the house jazz band at the world-famous Raffles Hotel for six years. Hes recorded seven CDs, four videos, been the subject of a documentary movie, appeared on television, and at jazz festivals with his Latin-Jazz-World fusion groups.

Reaching new heights as a composer, Gregs fourth, fifth and sixth CDs feature 30 original compositions, taking the listener on a cross-cultural jazz journey encompassing a unique mix of Latin rhythms, hard-swinging jazz, and the exotic sounds of Indian tabla, Australian didgeridoo, and Brazilian surdo drum.

Playing with only his thumb, Greg creates a warm, percussive tone. His CDs are described as, "Pure Magic," "Impeccable," "Swinging and Melodic"; his lines, "Clear and Uncluttered," "Incisive and Inventive". With his original music, he creates a new style, and makes, music that transcends geographic boundaries and communicates the happiness and friendship that all music should provide!

Instrument: guitar.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... Before I even realized I wanted to be.... As a baby I used to bang out rhythms hearing the music my parents played on the stereo at home. In Middle School I played drums on my text books. In High School I copied music from records and played in amateur rock bands. The first jazz album I heard was Oscar Peterson with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis. I loved that, but didnt realize that was jazz! Dont recall any specific defining moment - I guess I can say...as early as I can remember!

Your sound and approach to music: The liner notes of my newest CD release, Paint a Picture, Tell a Story, may best sum this question up:

The title of this CD is inspired by my approach to the guitar and music, and it echoes the kinds of comments I have gotten from other musicians about my playing. I have been told over the years, on more than one occasion, you paint a picture, or, your solo tells a story, and each time I hear that about a solo, I know its a good one, and I take heart that my musical goal may have been achieved. I contrast that kind of comment with, nice lick! or, you have amazing technique! For while most players are pleased to know their technique is admired, the more important aspect of ones playing is, do you say anything! Do you have a style that is significant and your own? This is what I aspire to.

Each time I put together a CD, I think long and hard about making a unique statement, which tunes to include, in what order to present them, who the members are to be, etc. I have always done this, but I hope this CD in particular exemplifies that ideal, and satisfactorily displays the culmination of my recording, composing and playing experience.

I hope for you, the listener, it paints a picture, or tells a story...

Your teaching approach: Give them everything! Tell them everything (at the right time). Your passion for the music is infectious.

Your dream band: That's a little hard to say, but I think a dream band must like a dream family - people who know what to expect of one another, love each other despite their differences, and manage to make the most of their time together, communicating effectively with a common goal. There are so many talented musicians! So, sometimes the personal relationship can make a difference, because, if the band is really digging each other and feeling good, then its more likely that positive feeling will come out in the music. One thing I can say is this - I love drummers and rhythm, so my dream band will have many drummers and percussionists.

Anecdote from the road: There are so many, but let me use a "safe" one, from the song description of one of the original tunes (called "Hurry Up and Wait") from my newest CD:

"This is a song dedicated to the type of jobs we can play in Japan as working musicians. I wrote this in a humorous attempt to musically capture the nature of being told by the agent to hurry, then wait, then hurry, then wait. Though I have experienced my own fair share of such gigs, an extreme example was told to me by my saxophonist in Japan, who was flown to a far away province only to be sent home the next day (paid amply of course) without actually ever playing a note, despite being asked to go onstage with instruments, standing there for awhile, on three separate occasions, before being sent back to the hotel!"

Favorite venue: There are so many, but let me use a "safe" one, from the song description of one of the original tunes (called "Hurry Up and Wait") from my newest CD: "This is a song dedicated to the type of jobs we can play in Japan as working musicians. I wrote this in a humorous attempt to musically capture the nature of being told by the agent to hurry, then wait, then hurry, then wait. Though I have experienced my own fair share of such gigs, an extreme example was told to me by my saxophonist in Japan, who was flown to a far away province only to be sent home the next day (paid amply of course) without actually ever playing a note, despite being asked to go onstage with instruments, standing there for awhile, on three separate occasions, before being sent back to the hotel!"

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? My stock answer to that question is: "...the next one!"; but I suppose, if I am forced to pick one, it would be the Integration releases, an intended double CD set released separately as Integration, and Integration II. The reason is it represented a sort of culmination of my work during one particularly important period of my life which was happy and fruitful both professionally and personally.

What's the most important thing I contribute musically: I want to say honesty, a voice, a style, a passion, a love... But perhaps that is not unique... I can say, I have not heard Jazz that is at the same time, true to the roots and traditions of the Music, yet simultaneously incorporating instruments like Didjeridu, Tabla, Surdo, etc... and front-line combinations of guitar/trombone/tenor, or, soprano/ trombone/bass clarinet, etc... One tune I wrote called The Sweet One, has guitar melody with no drums, only acoustic bass, tabla and conga. My songs are at once, complicated and simple, with depth yet easy to hum, traditional and yet contemporary.

Did you know... I love cooking and was once offered a career via a "keyhole" job at the Four Seasons restaurant in NYC and an "in" to study at the famed Culinary Institute of NY.

I was a real estate salesman who "talked his way" into a job with one of the biggest industrial/commercial firms in NYC, to set a company sales record in my first year.

I am quite the organized homebody and to some extent, enjoy housekeeping.

I sleep in the nude.

How you use the internet to help your career? I have invested a lot in my website, which is one of the more comprehensive and informative on the web I believe. I have had a bulk mail list for years. Before the internet, I used paste-on mailing labels, now I have one on my server. The site and the list have been recently updated and re-designed, so hopefully, both have never been more user-friendly. Generally, I never liked computers, and was late to get into using one. But once I overcame my childish resistance to them, I quickly became addicted (in a way) to email. I think the computers advantages have made it invaluable to my staying in touch with people, particularly since I have moved around a lot in countries where the phone lines can sometimes be unreliable. I am fairly sure that there are yet untapped benefits of the internet I have not had the time or inclination to utilize fully. I am not a techy-person, and dont like spending hours in front of the computer screen.

CDs you are listening to now: The only CD I am listening to now is my own - the rough unedited, unmixed music of my newest release due in a couple more months. To tell the truth, I rarely listen anymore due to a grueling time schedule with both work and home life. Normally, on my way to gigs, I would listen to the radio, but in Japan, theres no radio worth listening to (for me). And at home, Im usually cooking, eating, cleaning, doing emails and marketing work like this, or watching TV. In truth, at my age, I prefer silence, or natures natural sounds (birds singing, ocean waves lapping the shore).

Desert Island picks: This is a silly question. Theres a list of my favorite (jazz) albums on my website.

If I really were stranded on a desert island, CDs would be the last thing Id think about. Give me my Golden Retriever and a good knife! OK, well... maybe Coltranes Afro Blue or Transition, Art Farmer/Pepper Adams with Herbie Hancock, Out of This World, Gnu High - Kenny Wheeler with Keith Jarrett, Art Blakey's Live at Birdland 1963, The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery. Alternatively, some James Brown, Graham Central Station, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dinah Washington and some Jimi Hendrix! Geez what a question!

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Wow! From a question about (only five) desert island picks to something as serious as this...

Thats a tough one. Let me say this: Jazz is alive and well. With the exception of some great pop/rock/folk/blues music (in the minority for sure), and some classical-romantic music from the late 1800s, jazz is the most expressive and evocative music on earth. Its evolving and changing like everything else, so perhaps, some older traditional definitions may become obsolete as more and more unifying and mixing of styles/cultures occur. There are a multitude of negative things to observe, if one chooses to focus on the negative.

However, jazz can best be served by focusing on the positive - so I say, keep swinging and grooving and listening to the masters to learn from.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Its like the joke about Real Estate - whats important? 1. Location 2. Location 3. Location.

For jazz I suppose its 1. Listen. 2. Listen 3. Listen. For musicians, respect the traditions, the masters, study and learn how to play, but most of all - think about developing your own voice/style, even if it may not seem profitable at first. For the general public - be more open minded! Go out to more live jazz shows. Find out what local and independent musicians are doing and support them however you can. Dont accept the brainwashing music some major media outlets are pushing - tell yourself you want to look for music that moves you and makes you think, that stimulates the brain and body, not numbs it. Go your own way, seek alternatives to the numbing, mindless, music by formula trash that pervades much of todays scene.

What is in the near future? I am focused on finishing my eighth CD. I just returned from Singapore where I began recording my eighth CD, titled Paint a Picture, Tell a Story.

It will contain six Chako original compositions, and feature Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone and Don Byron on sax and bass clarinet, with a rhythm section of Christy Smith on bass, Greg Lyons on sax, and Mark DeRose on drums. Besides the six Chako originals, there will be two trio tracks and two quartet tracks (four non-originals). I am very excited about this - look for more news as and when things develop further.

Once that is done, I will look forward to another recording project in the States, either in LA or NYC. That ninth CD project will be mostly trio music, including both standards and originals, and involving all major "name" players. In the meantime, I am busy trying to make a living to afford the recording Im doing, teaching and playing, trying to boost my reputation both internationally and in Japan locally. Then, theres housecleaning...

By Day: I am teaching English in Japan for Berlitz, the worlds leading language school. At first I took the job out of (financial) desperation, not expecting to really enjoy it. But, in fact, I do. I enjoy the students I teach, and end up learning quite a bit from them in the process of helping them with their English. Also, they are quite interested in my music and tend to come to the clubs where I play here, which is an added bonus. However, as my music career here has grown significantly in the past year or so, I have, as of July 2006, changed my teaching job to a part time one, so that now I can be more flexible with my schedule for gigs and recordings.

Now, every day, I am either playing a music job, or teaching - no day off!



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