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Shambhu: Soothing Guitar for Stressful Times

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Jazz is improvisation. Jazz is freedom. Jazz is a rainbow. Jazz is intuitive. Jazz is Nature. Jazz is how life should be. Improvisation is at the core of my music from inception to album. So is my own meditation experience. As John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, and others showed me, jazz is a way to express something deeper, and I have aimed my musical offering in that direction. —Shambhu Neil Vineberg
The times we live in call for reflection and one of the ways of providing it is through music. Music can slow our lives down and make us live in the moment, but it can also connect people. Since he discovered music, guitarist and composer Shambhu Neil Vineberg has been on a journey that has seen him connecting with many different people and sounds, and he is still finding new ways to express the music he hears while staying to true to his lyrical aesthetic.

His music is sometimes conveniently categorized as New Age, but Shambhu also calls himself a jazz guitarist. Is this a contradiction? In fact, Shambhu sees the connection between New Age and jazz music and he is able to combine both worlds. The variety of his music challenges the listeners who think they have both genres pinned down, but Shambhu's music isn't about fitting into a particular genre. It's about creating music that is able to connect with people on a spiritual and emotional level. His latest album, Lilac Skies (Acoustic Shine, 2019), has the subtitle: soothing guitar for a peaceful world. It's a bold title, but it may also just refer to the fact that listening to music makes life better.

All About Jazz: Could you tell about your background and how you discovered music?

Shambhu Vineberg: I was born in Queens, New York, into a musical family. My mom was a singer and my 3 siblings studied, respectively, piano, bass and drums. I was in a band virtually my entire youth with my brother Barry playing bass. At home I was exposed to rock, classical, Broadway and jazz through my Mom. We had a piano in the living room, and jammed in the basement.

On the radio I heard rock and roll from before I could remember, and supported by my dad, I studied piano at 5 and guitar at 7. Turned out I had perfect pitch and as a pre-teen I was playing songs that I heard on the radio in real time. I played guitar in a jazz band in middle school, and clarinet in wind ensemble in high school. From 10 years on I was working in local cover bands. I joined Local 802 in NYC and I spent my teens playing rock guitar and singing pop tunes with top society bands in NYC—Lester Lanin, Peter Duchin, Roger Stanley, Steven Scott, Charlotte Russe, and others (this early work can be found on SoundCloud). I also attended Hewlett High School in Hewlett, NY two years ahead of Indo-jazz saxophonist George Brooks, who is featured on my first three albums.

AAJ: What kind of music did you listen to in the beginning and how has your musical taste evolved through the years?

SV: I loved harmony and melody but rarely heard the words to a song. I was lost in music almost all of the time, listening deeply, dissecting sounds, and transcribing songs for my bands. And I was learning from every track: writing and arranging from the Beatles, harmony from the Beach Boys, groove from Motown, soft mood from Antonio Carlos Jobim, big brassy bands from Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson, classical brilliance from Leonard Bernstein and Broadway from Stephen Sondheim. There were also many guitarists influencing my rock and roll approach -George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, the Allmans, Carlos Santana, and others. I fell in love with laid back California Sound and harmonies—Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and others. On my own I started arranging for horns once I heard Chicago and transcribed their music for my own Chicago cover band in high school. I'd played clarinet in wind ensemble in high school, performed Percy Grainger's Lincolnshire Posey, which led to my love for Ralph Vaughn Williams' music. I was so awed by all this amazing music that I felt my own guitar playing was small and meaningless in a cosmic sense, before such genius. That's how I left high school.

That summer I played in a Sly and the Family Stone cover band in Verona, Jersey (I was one of 2 white guys). I was diving into the fusion work of Larry Coryell, Brecker Brothers, Blood Sweat and Tears, and the jazz brilliance of Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor and Bill Evans. I was exploring all styles and loving it all. Everything shifted when I heard John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and then met up with drummer Narada Michael Walden and saxophonist Premik Russell Tubbs at a jam session on Long Island. They were students of guru Sri Chinmoy along with McLaughlin and Carlos Santana.

AAJ: Did you take music lessons early on? Who would you say helped shape and aspire you as musician?

SV: I studied jazz guitar with Dave Sarett from my elementary through high school years. He was a Queens-based guitarist in the style of Tal Farlow. Dave transcribed scales, modes, chords, and lessons in real time. He taught me the fundamentals: picking, scales, modes, 4-note and 3 note chords with melody on the first or second strings, and then full chord-melody arrangements. He made the music of Jim Hall, Farlow and Johnny Smith part of my listening. Honestly, a 14-year old hearing Johnny Smith play soft and sweet was kind of much for me at the time versus Eric Clapton and George Harrison. I was kind of absorbing so much at once. Dave transcribed gorgeous chord/melody charts for Autumn Leaves, Moonlight in Vermont, and Autumn in New York ...that I have today.

After high school, I studied composition and piano at the Manhattan School of Music (NYC) for 18 months. I was a jazz player; the Conservatory was a great choice for learning classical music, but a lousy choice for a jazz guitarist like myself. So I departed but not before picking up Nicholas Slonimsky's: Thesaurus of Scales and Musical Patterns in the music store. Slonimsky is still a mind-expanding experience for me and he led to a whole new way of looking at scales and progressions.

After I left the Conservatory, I found a new teacher in Dr. Maury Deutsch who taught me arranging, musical psychology and tonal acoustics in his cozy, Manhattan apartment office. Dr. Deutsch had also worked with Charlie Parker and he's renowned as one of America's most prolific musical arrangers. He taught me the harmonic series and how it's the basis of western music. It was a revelation and his teachings forever changed how I viewed tonality. It was a profound moment—kind of the equivalent of self-realization in a spiritual sense. And from there he taught me musical psychology, the theory of film composing. I was gaining core musical knowhow but it would take years before I really felt music as an inner, personal expression.

I also took a few lessons with drummer Andrew Cyrille who had blown my mind playing with Cecil Taylor and John McLaughlin's music blew me away and I felt like I was hearing something spiritual for the first time. I ended up following his teacher.
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