After 35-plus years in the spotlight, it’s safe to say Earl Klugh needs no introduction.
One of smooth jazz’s signature artists, the Detroit-born, Atlanta-based guitarist long ago secured a prominent place in American music with an instrumental sound that blends the lyricism of jazz influences Wes Montgomery and Bob James with touches of pop, R&B and sweet soul music.
They are all present – along with Latin and Caribbean flavors – on Klugh’s latest studio effort, 2008’s Grammy-nominated “The Spice of Life.” The disc expands the guitarist’s musical palette considerably and emphasizes Klugh the composer (he wrote eight of the 13 tracks, including the standouts “Sleepyhead,” “Driftin’,” “Lucy’s World” and “The Toy Guitar”).
Klugh performs Friday and Saturday night at Yoshi’s in San Francisco.
Question: Like your friend Peter White, you are closely identified with the nylon-string classical guitar. What emotions and nuances do you feel you can express on that instrument as opposed to a standard electric guitar?
Klugh: I don’t play the electric guitar very much. I started on the classical guitar because I loved the sound. The technique is very different and any prolonged playing would destroy the fingernails needed for nylon-string playing. Having said that, some of my favorite players play electric guitar – George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Johnny Smith, Russell Malone, Bill Frisell (and), of course, Chet Akins, who played both. I could go on and on.
Question: I’m very much struck by the material you choose to cover – I adore your “Moon River” on “Naked Guitar,” for example. What are you looking for in a composition when it comes to adapting it? Perhaps “Canadian Sunset” on “Spice” offers a case in point.
Klugh: I enjoy interpreting other writers’ songs. In the end, I just pick songs that move me emotionally.
“Moon River” has always been a favorite; it’s one of the greatest melodies ever. I had the great fortune of meeting Mr. Mancini some years ago at a concert he was playing with my friend Johnny Mathis. His songs were in a class by themselves and his film scores were groundbreaking. It takes a mountain of talent to write something so simple in one way and also so beautiful.
“Canadian Sunset” is also a very special song. It defies categories; it becomes its own thing depending on who plays it. Burt Bacharach’s music is like that in a different way; you instantly know a Bacharach song. I’ve always been able to tell his music in just a few bars.
Question: Break down for me, if you will, the pleasures of the studio vs. live performance?
Klugh: For me now, they are very similar. I used to replay guitar parts over and over in the studio but in the end I found that in most cases there is no improvement in my performances when I re-record them.
I really enjoy doing live performances but a show is temporary. I only hope it sounds as good live as I intend it to be. My band is phenomenal, so I always feel confident we put on a great show.
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