Skerik continues his collaborative adventures

I very much believe in a collaborative environment, and trying to get a real band where everyone has an equal say in writing the music, arranging the music and shaping the music. That’s always been a real priority for me.” – Skerik

I had the opportunity to speak to saxophonist Skerik by phone this afternoon, on the day of his new release Skerik’s Bandalabra: Live at the Royal Room (Royal Potato Family). In this interview, Skerik talks about his early influences, some common elements to the eclectic bands that he has formed and been a part of.  He also covers the importance of being a part of a band versus a leader and Kenny G.


Skerik attended Mercer Island High School and went to as many live jazz shows as he could at a young age. After being introduced to the likes of Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius, his eyes were opened to the possibilities of combining a range of elements in music.

I just didn’t have any idea that you could combine those elements to get those effects. Combining Jimi Hendrix with Duke Ellington … I just hadn’t conceived of it. It was a pretty mind-blowing time.”

Additionally, Skerik explained that he also spent a lot of time listening to symphonic and orchestral music, contributing to an early love of art.

Rhythm important to current work

Skerik has been a part of or formed many bands (Critter Buggin’, Garage A Trois, and Skerik’s Symcopated Septet, to name a few). More recent projects include The Dead Kenny G’s and Skerik’s Bandalabra.

He told me that one of the main elements in all of these bands was rhythm. He said that they have all spent time investigating rhythmic structures and studying rhythmic music from all over the world, including India, Africa and Eastern Europe.

While talking about this, Skerik used the word “we” and “my friends,” and it made me ask him about the importance of playing music with friends. He told me that because of what it takes to make this kind of music, it’s important to have a strong connection to the musicians.

I’ve always turned down the solo career. I’m always more interested in the power of ‘sum of the parts.’ I’m a socialist at heart.”

The Dead Kenny G’s

The name of the band suggests a lot, but I decided to ask Skerik where it came from anyway. He said a friend came up with it, and he immediately jumped on it, starting the band the very next day.

He also thought it was “such an important concept in the battle against smooth jazz.” I asked him if Kenny G was aware if the band existed yet or not:

I don’t know. I think what happens when you have that much money is that this natural form of insulation kind of happens around your senses. And I think you just kind of get numb to the outside world. You’re just so far from it, like Mitt Romney, who displays on a regular basis just how distant you are from the surface of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof as a terrestrial being. He (Kenny G) has either just laughed at it, or his lawyer has asked if he wants to do something about it and they decided that it would just help them (The Dead Kenny G’s) more than hurt them ... but we try not to think about him too much. It’s so painful. His music is very painful.”

He goes on to say that it ended up being a great band name because of his love for the band The Dead Kennedys, and the era of 80’s punk rock where music was very politically informed. He suggests that today, comedians are the ones carrying the torch of political social comment, and that it is one of his goals to bring that back into music.

The Dead Kenny G’s most recent album suggests that, titled Operation Long Leash, and Skerik told me that there is a great story behind that title about modern art being used by the CIA as a “weapon,” which can be read here.

Skerik’s Bandalabra

Skerik’s most recent project includes working with Seattle musicians Andy Coe (electric guitar), Evan Flory-Barnes (upright bass), and Donne Lewis (drums), making up the band Skerik’s Bandalabra. Skerik explains that it is a change of pace from the rock bands since a lot of the music is created in the moment.

I was trying to put together something that was more groove oriented and was something people could dance to, but interesting and not just a funk band. There is no shortage of average funk bands out there.

The live recording, Skerik’s Bandalabra: Live at the Royal Room was released this week and is available for digital download at Royal Potato Family. Listeners can also purchase a CD version of the album at their upcoming show on Friday, March 16th at the Olympia Ballroom in Olympia or the show on Saturday, March 17th at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle.

The Dead Kenny G’s

Skerik’s Bandalabra

Arturo Sandoval: Happy, with a heart full of music

Trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval performing live in the KPLU Seattle studios on January 13. Photo by Justin Steyer.

By Kevin Kniestedt & Justin Steyer


“If you’ve got music in your heart, you’re gonna be a happy person, no matter what.”

That’s what trumpeter Arturo Sandoval told me, as he recalls growing up in rural Cuba and having a trumpet teacher tell him (at age 10) that he had no talent and should not pursue music.

Obviously, Sandoval, who is now known as one of the world’s foremost jazz trumpeters, didn’t listen to the teacher and it’s a pure delight to hear him tell the story in this latest installment of KPLU’s Studio Sessions.

Along with his band (pianist, Mahesh Balasooyria, saxophonist, Zane Musa, bassist, John Belzaguy and drummer, Johnny Friday), Sandoval blew us away by performing two solo-heavy musical selections: There Will Never Be Another You and Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring.

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An Interview With Dr. John

‘A student kind of mind:’ One on one with Chick Corea at KPLU

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down in the KPLU performance studio last Friday with jazz legend Chick Corea for an interview and live performance.

Corea was in town with his trio at Seattle’s Jazz Alley, but took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his incredible career, his month-long birthday celebration at the Blue Note in New York, his work with musicians like Paul Motian and Miles Davis and more.

He also performed three beautiful solo piano pieces.

Listen to “Children’s Song #10”

After Corea opened the session with “Children’s Song #10,” I decided to ask him about what has made him so versatile over the years. Corea has played with many different musicians, crossed so many genres and styles, and I wanted to know how he avoided being typecast and limited to a particular sound.

He told me his attitude has always been to simply not think about it, or himself for that matter. The more he thought about defining himself for any other reason than self-improvement, the less productive he found it.

“I keep a student kind of mentality in my life, so that I am always learning something, and that keeps me fresh,” he said.

Continue reading “‘A student kind of mind:’ One on one with Chick Corea at KPLU”

Film project amplifies loss and hope in death of jazz great, husband Brecker


“To see Michael on the screen and hear his voice over and over again was an extremely painful task …”

The documentary More to Live For screens at the Gig Harbor Film Festival this Saturday. People from the Pacific Northwest will finally get an opportunity to view the story of three men affected by Leukemia seeking out a bone marrow transplant, including the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker.

In anticipation of the screening, I spoke with Susan Brecker, Michael Brecker’s widow and the producer of the film by phone. In this interview, Susan told me what the film was all about, how she decided to spread the word about the bone marrow registry through film and the response received from viewers so far.

About the film

listen to audio

More to Live For is a film about three men, all of whom have developed Leukemia. The film chronicles their lives, with the cure for each of them being a bone marrow transplant. It shares the story of each of them searching for a transplant, which would ultimately save their lives.

Using a film to spread the word

listen to audio

Following the death of her husband, Susan Brecker wanted to get the word out about how easy it was to donate stem cells to save a persons life.

Initially she thought that a benefit concert would be the way to go, but wanted to make it something continuous that could be easily spread around the country. After meeting James Chippendale (one of the other men in the film and someone who survived after receiving a successful bone marrow transplant), the two decided that the best way to get the word out was by making a film and bringing it around the country.

“It has been our mission every time the film has been screened to test people afterwords. We’ve found that the film and the story is so compelling that nearly 100 percent of the eligible audience members get tested.” – Susan Brecker

Choosing Noah Hutton as the director of the film

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During Michael Brecker’s illness, Noah Hutton, also a musician and neighbor to the Brecker’s, became Michael’s arms and legs in the studio when Michael was too sick to move around. Hutton would help with technical aspects, and when Michael passed away it was a huge loss for him. Susan had seen Hutton’s first film, Crude Independence, and was blown away by his ability to respect each person in the film.

A painful process creating the film

listen to audio

Making this documentary was not without heartache for Susan Brecker. Being married to a Grammy Award winning recording artist naturally resulted in having thousands of hours of archival video footage to sort through. To see Michael on the screen and hear his voice over and over again was an extremely painful task for Susan as she grieved for him. Even after watching the finished product hundreds of times, Susan still finds it just as painful.

“To balance this feeling however, I have this wondrous gift to test people and perhaps save lives with the film, so it becomes a little bit easier.” – Susan Brecker

Response from Michael’s fans

listen to audio

While Michael was sick and since the film has started screening, Susan has received an overwhelming amount of support and love from people who want to help in any capacity. During his illness along, tens of thousands of people, many of whom were fans, were tested in an attempt to try to save his life. She continues to receive constant support from fans worldwide.

Screenings continue around the world

listen to audio

In addition to the Gig Harbor Film Festival, More to Live For will be screened in the near future at the First Glance Film Festival in Philadelphia, the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, in Denver, and internationally at the London Jazz Festival.


Jacqui Naylor combines original compositions, acoustic smashing and fan choice on ‘Lucky Girl’

Jacqui Naylor's latest release, "Lucky Girl" hits stores September 27th. Her fans can purchase a copy ahead of time tonight at Jazz Alley.


Singer Jacqui Naylor releases her 8th album, Lucky Girl tomorrow. She is also performing tonight at Jazz Alley in Seattle as she kicks off her international tour. I spoke to Jacqui today about letting her fans choose the songs for her new album, her continued success with “acoustic smashing” and being the subject of a new documentary.

Producing a positive album

Feeling like she had recorded her finest album so far, Jacqui credits that to wanting to bring something positive to her listeners. The album consists of originals and covers, but the ongoing theme seems to be a feeling of inspiration and hope. Even with originals like It Was Supposed to Work Out, where there might be a suggestion of sadness, there is a feeling of a silver lining and optimism in each track.

Fans pick the songs for the album

Jacqui hosted a gathering of about ninety people where she performed twenty-five songs and let the listeners rate them on a scale of 1 to 5. Without exception, the top fifteen rated songs did become the cuts selected for the new album. Jacqui said that there was a little bit of nervousness in letting her fans choose the songs, but when it was all said and done, the fans made excellent choices.

“I think that a lot of the time fans are pretty much right on. At least mine. I feel like they know me. And in this particular case I wanted them to really know my heart in this album, and I think that comes through.”

“Acoustic smashing” continues

Jacqui Naylor made famous what she defined as “acoustic smashing,” or taking a jazz tune and a rock tune, and singing one while the band plays the other in a seamless fashion. On this album, Jacqui smashes Surrey with the Fringe on Top with George Benson’s Breezin.


Success with smashing

Naylor credits the success she has had with “acoustic smashing” by not only singing the song as it was written, but by also committing to the groove of the second song that the first is being smashed with.

“We are bringing ourselves to (the song), much more like an arrangement as opposed to a sample.”

Additionally, she credits her success with not making “acoustic smashing” her main element of recording or performing.

“We aren’t trying to make a schtick out of it but just do it just like any other arrangement. We ask ourselves what kind of cool thing can we do to this song, and say, ‘OK, this will work in this case.’ “

Lucky Girl Documentary

Jacqui Naylor will also be the focus of a documentary due out in the next couple of months. Directed by two women who are creating a series of documentaries following the process of artists, the documentary follows Jacqui around for a year and a half on location everywhere from Istanbul to Seattle. Initially told that it would be a twenty-minute short, the seventy-five minute film features everything from band performances to interviews with band members, family, friends and teachers.

I got to preview the film, and thought “Wow! That is my life. And I’m pretty happy with my life.”

More Links:

Jacqui Naylor Website