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Gideon King: Street Jazz

Paul Naser By

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New York based guitarist/composer/ songwriter Gideon King is no stranger to the city. Growing up there, he is well positioned to tell a story or two about the place. This is just what he sets out to do with his forthcoming release with his band City Blog, entitled Upscale Madhouse. Far from a condemnation, the title is his King's way of hinting at the subject matter of the record, which deals with real stories as well as the general energy of the New York City and it's people.

I spoke to King via telephone and asked him about his influences, the incredible roster of players on the record and the ethos of the album, among other things.

All About Jazz: Where did you grow up and where did you start off your career?

Gideon King: I grew up in New York City, and I grew up hearing jazz because of my brother. My brother is a great jazz pianist and I was lucky enough to have him as an influence and was lucky enough to have someone introduce a 5 year old kid to jazz phrasing and thinking about music through the prism of jazz. My sisters were more into the Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison mode. I grew up with a pretty eclectic input into my musical veins.

Yeah, I grew up in New York City, started playing guitar when I was a little kid, probably 7 to 10 years old, then ultimately went to college out in Chicago at NorthWestern where I was an English major. My mother was nice enough to buy me a semi-hollow body guitar and an electric guitar so I could sit alone in my room and fiddle around playing over jazz tracks and blues tracks.

AAJ: That's interesting, that sheds some light on where some of your lyrical and musical influences come from. Your lyrics have some complexity and your tunes aren't jazz tunes as we have come to think of them, so it makes sense that you grew up listening to singer songwriters as well. I can hear that influence, would you say that's accurate?

GK: Yeah, I would say that my biggest influence was Steely Dan and Donald Fagen musically, but lyrically my biggest influences were anything from Steely Dan to Neil Young to Bob Dylan. I really like jazz or fusion harmony as a backdrop for pop singers singing pretty abstract lyrics. There's something about that mixture that's always turned me on.

Steely Dan kind of wrote the book on that in many ways. I'm not saying we're like Steely Dan, although many have compared us to Steely Dan, obviously in the press, but for me Steely Dan was the compromise between jazz and rock and funk and folk and avant grade lyrics that allowed you to make of the lyrics what you wished without being heavily guided into thinking about anything in particular.

AAJ: On the topic of Steely Dan, I was looking at the personnel on the record, and you've got some really heavy players on there. You've got James Genus, Donny McCaslin and Kevin Hays among others. Is this kind of a Steely Dan situation where these guys are like hired guns and you brought them in to fill out your vision or is this your core band?

GK: Yeah, there's a twofold answer to that. From a studio setting, the new album has John Scofield on it, it has Marc Broussard on it, Donny Mccaslin, Seamus Blake, Kevin Hays, Bryan Reeder, Luques Curtis, Nathan Peck, Nate Smith, great drummer of course, and more.

There's something really wonderful in a studio setting about writing chord changes that pique the interest of musicians that are capable of improvising over almost any harmonic progression and bringing them into the studio and just kind of saying, "Play." When they ask "Well, what would you want me to play?" I say "Just play anything. We'll do 10 takes of you playing anything." Basically good things happen when you tell a great musician to do 10 takes of playing anything. We spent a lot of time culling through those different takes and editing. Usually something pretty cool happened in that process.

On the vocalist side, we have some amazing vocalists: Marc Broussard, Elliot Skinner, Conrad Sewell, Grace Weber, all with really good careers, Carolyn Leonhart, who is a member of Steely Dan, is also on our CD. She's another great singer. Lots of fun to bring all of these pros into the studio setting, let them do their thing and then reign it in through an editing process. Someone as great as Seamus Blake or James Genus, both guys on the new CD as well, in my opinion you don't tell them what to play, you just give them a sense for the vibe and choose amongst the various things that they do.

Now, in terms of a live act, because we've gone live for the first time, for pure logistical purposes you need to have a core band. We put together a core band with an amazing pianist named Bryan Reeder and 2 or 3 bass players that are amazing, Nathan Peck and Leon Boykins. We have 3 vocalists, Carolyn Leonheart, again from Steely Dan and also a really good jazz singing career in her own right, Mike Stephenson who's a phenomenal vocalist with a Stevie Wonder kind of vibe and then Liam Budge who has a really unique voice and a unique approach. Cory Cox is on drums, he's a great jazz drummer. We have a pretty robust, pretty incredible live band.

Some of these other people I mentioned may join us in that live band in due course, but we just started playing live in the last couple months which has been a lot of fun and it has obviously been a challenge to try and reproduce what you can create in a studio in a live setting.

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