Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Renowned guitarist Lee Ritenour coming to Chicago

To call Lee Ritenour a jazz guitarist is a misnomer.

The Grammy-award winner is constantly reinventing himself through incorporating funk, blues, rock, pop and other genres in his music.

Ritenour also wants to provide a voice to amateur musicians. His third annual Six String Theory Global Music Competition is now accepting entries in guitar, piano, bass or drums.

Winning musicians will record a track on his upcoming album, tentatively titled "Rhythm Sessions," an album which will feature an all-star lineup of musicians, including Dave Grusin, Nathan East, Will Kennedy, Dave Weckl, George Duke, John Beasley, Sonny Emory, Larry Goldings, John Beasley and Stanley Clarke. Applicants need to submit two YouTube vehicles at www.sixstringtheory.com by May 1.

Ritenour will perform April 4 at Mayne Stage, www.maynestage.com, 1328 W. Morse Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets range from $28 to $43, available at www.ticketweb.com

I had the chance to talk to "Captain Fingers" about a variety of topics.

Q - This is the third year of your Six String Theory Global Music Competition, and of course the three winning rhythm players from the competition will get to record a track on your new album. What made you want to start the competition, and has the competition lived up to your goals?
Ever since I conceptualized the "Six String Theory" album, I wanted it to have three distinct parts: one was the legendary, well known guitarists such as George Benson, BB King, Slash, Vince Gill, Jon Scofield, Steve Lukather and  legendary status players. 

The second part was to have some up and coming professional guitarists who were already making their mark but were primarily established through today’s generation and through YouTube. That was Joe Robinson, Guthrie Govan and Andy McKee, who all got their starts by having a lot of exposure on YouTube. 

The third part of conceptualizing the album was to have a completely brand new amateur talent on the record. That way I really felt like SST would come together from the legendary guitarists all the way to the brand new guitarists. 

In order to do this we had to have an international guitar competition, and Yamaha, Berklee College of Music, Monster Cable & a number of other companies help set this up. Because of the phenomena of YouTube, it was easy for guitarists to enter their videos through the SST site and enter in six different categories of music, which was also being covered on the album: jazz, rock, blues, acoustic, classical/flamenco and country. 

The winner of the first year, Shon Boublil from Montreal, Canada, won a four-year scholarship to Berklee College of Music. The second year, David Browne Murray, a young man from Ireland, won it. 

Now we’re in the third year and we have raised the stakes and widened the competition to include not only guitar but piano, bass and drums as well. As you know, the winner of the keyboard, bass and drums part will get to play a track on my 2012 Concord Records release. 

Berklee College of Music is offering 4 scholarships for the 4 instruments as well as Yamaha instruments, Monster, D’Addario and other prizes. For the guitar portion, we have incredible scholarships being given away from Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop & Festival and National Guitar Workshops.  So some pretty amazing prize packages totaling over $600,000 from our sponsors. 

All these things combine to make the 6 String Theory competition even bigger and better in its third year than I ever dreamed possible. I didn’t realize in the first year it would be something that I could continue but it has blossomed into something beautiful. 

It also gives me a chance to give back to the music world with all this great new talent and try to get some exposure for a lot of talented people. Through encouragement, through the competition, through mentoring, through participating on my record and getting these scholarships to these camps and Berklee College, it has just turned out to be a dream for me to do something like this.

Q - What advice would you give to a young musician who is hoping to forge a music career?

Well, it’s not easy. That’s my first comment. But everybody knows that so what’s the best way to try and help or assure a certain level of success? 

Determination and a willingness not to let it go or give up, and give it 100% of your time and attention. Music education is the only insurance policy we have. All music education is good, even if you’re a jazz or rock player or blues player and they ask you to study classical guitar in school, that’s good, that can help you on every level of your musicianship. 

Taking music business classes because being in the music business means you’re not only a musician but you’re a businessman and you have to learn to take care of business in the music business. Nobody is going to take care of everything. 

There’s no such thing as the dream manager where you can just do your music and somebody else will take care of everything else. Those days don’t really exist, if they ever did.

There are great managers out there but you still have to understand the music business in order to find one of those great managers.

So I think understanding the business helps make you a better musician too because it can also direct you musically what you should be doing to get ahead. But studying music & studying the music business are the best insurance policies I can recommend. 

If you think you are going to only do it part time, or study something else as a back up, then you probably won’t go all the way as you have to give it your whole heart and your undivided attention. Versatility is also key- you have to many things in the music world today. 

Being a one man band, being a producer, arranger, composer, player – they all help to make you a better musician. Learn about engineering, music software, technical skills beyond the rudiments of playing your instrument. Hope this is some sound advice.

Q - You team up with a number of all-star musicians on this new album, similar to when you played with a number of guitar greats on "6 String Theory." How do you go about choosing your collaborations?
My new upcoming album “Rhythm Sessions” features a ‘who’s who’ of rhythm players. In one aspect, I did a similar concept with my “6 String Theory” album where I team up with different collaborations. This album is centered around my guitar but I’m guesting with many different rhythm sections. 

How do I choose those players & different collaborations? Sometimes it’s based on friendship, most of the time it’s chosen on admiration and other players I respect; sometimes I choose situations or players that can push me to beyond my limits or unfamiliar areas out of my comfort zone. 

A lot of times I pick players because I think musically they’ll work great with me- or an interesting collaboration musically - the music always comes first, but if I can have a name player that also contributes something very interesting musically, then it’s a win/win situation.

Q - You started out at age 16 playing with the Mamas and the Papas. What did that experience teach you?

Guesting w/the Mamas & the Papas at that young age was incredibly exciting for me and it was the beginning of my studio career in Los Angeles. I’m not sure what that exact session taught me other than the fact that Jon Phillips had the coolest recording studio in his Bel Air home and I never forgot that. 

In 1984, I built my own home studio that I still have to this day, so ha ha, I guess that was a direct inspiration from the Mamas and the Papas.  But studio work in general was one of the things that most likely brought me my versatility and my love of all different types of music- something that has helped me span a long career by being so diverse musically and intertwining different elements of all different kinds of music into my personal style. 

Being a studio musician in the early days also taught me about production- I got to work with all the great producers back in those days- folks like Phil Ramone, Quincy Jones, Dave Grusin, Bob Ezrin. 

These producers taught me a lot about how to make records so that has helped me be a better artist and producer with my own projects.

Q - "Guitar Player" magazine gave you a Lifetime Achievement award for the year 2010. Do you see yourself as a pioneer? Are there any musicians who you regard as pioneers?

That was a terrific award from Guitar Player Magazine and I really appreciated that they recognized my long-time career. Do I think of myself of a pioneer? No, not really, but hopefully I’ve made a dent and influenced and inspired some other young musicians out there. 

It’s hard to look at the living guys today as pioneers but I do think Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and BB King were pioneers.

For me, a pioneer is someone whose really shifted the way that music is thought of or played. Certainly Segovia on the guitar- he might be the biggest guitar pioneer of all.
Q - Your music cannot be easily defined in one word. Has that been both a positive and negative for your career? Do you always find the need to challenge yourself musically?

Ha ha, yes it is hard to pin me down musically and I’m sure that has had an effect on fans following me sometimes. 

But after all these years, I do think my fans are somewhat used to me making left and right turns. It is the way that I challenge myself musically - when I do a classical album with Dave Grusin with orchestra or I turn to playing on a blues track with Joe Bonamassa or a rock track with Slash or Steve Lukather or a bebop track with Pat Martino - those are the ways I challenge myself. 

I think it’s fun, interesting and why not?  We’re only here on this planet once…or are we? Ha ha.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
Dream projects? I have so many of them. I never get bored or uninterested in making records. I love making records, I love playing concerts, I love making music - so the collaborations will keep coming. 

I mean the best thing in the world is to play with other great musicians - whether rock, classical, jazz, blues - whatever, it’s cool. 

Somebody once asked me, “Lee you keep so busy - isn’t it too much? When are you going to retire?”  My answer was, “I’m already retired. I’m doing what I love.”

Chicago band Furious Frank bringing new energy to scene


Whether you call their music klezmer punk or fractured folk, one thing is for sure - Chicago band Furious Frank, www.furiousfrank.net, is injecting a new sense of vibrancy into the music scene.

Furious Frank's sophomore album, "The Map & the Territory," was released this week, and the band will perform at a record release party March 31 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago.

Four Star Brass Band and Descarga also are on the bill. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Furious Frank frontman Mason Payne about the new album.

Q - What goals did you have for "The Map & the Territory?"

The main goal is always to allow everyone to quit their day jobs. So, no different here. 

But musically, the goal was to have a more collaborative album. To let the songs develop for a while and to get all of our ideas onto each track wherever possible. It helped that we were able to put together our own studio and take our time on each song. 

That hurt too, obviously. Any time you give a band that much time and access, the project gets long and the tracks many. Dustin Delage, who did the final mixes and mastering, did a good job easing back some of that overkill and getting the songs back to their natural roots. 

Q - Is the album's name a reference to the novel by Michel Houellebecq?

It is a reference to how music - lyrics, instrumentation, volume, tempo, orchestration - is perceived. How it is made personal. Whether music stands alone or whether it describes something. Or both.

That is not to say we are not readers of Mr. Houellebecq. But no reference should be inferred.

Q - Were you trying to build off your first album, "The Hobocamp Mud Show?"

We wanted to build off of certain aspects of it. As it was our first album, it represented the band at an early stage, trying different ideas, seeing how we fit together as nine musicians with nine different musical backgrounds. 

The new album is far more representative of a band that has been together for nearly five years. Though it certainly has a variety of styles, it’s far less schizophrenic than "Hobocamp" was. It really builds from certain songs on the first album I think, songs that we particularly enjoy playing.

Q - In creating Furious Frank, what did you set out to do?

To create something fun and new. To push us outside of our comfort zones stylistically and see if we can find a sound that we can identify with. 

In the end, I think the primary goal is to sound as little like anything else as possible, but to sound as precisely like ourselves. I also wanted to run a concertina through a Marshall.
Q - Do you think you've accomplished your goals?

It’s always a work in progress. We are very proud of this album, but we are already very excited about what we can do next. 

There is always a fear that we will begin to settle into a pattern, to start cranking out songs for the sake of volume. I am encouraged, sometimes, at the sheer number of songs we develop and then reject. 

It tells me that we have, collectively, developed an ear for what Furious Frank is, or at least what it isn’t.

Q - How did you go about assembling the band?

You know, I’m not entirely sure I understand how it came to be. It was an idea, an idea that really was a vague basis for a starting point for a band.

This idea of a “carny band,” which really means nothing when you think about it. To me, I think all it meant was an organized chaos. It meant collecting whoever you could get with the solitary idea of putting on a show. 

What that show would be, what instruments would be involved, what sound would be created, all of that would work itself out.
Q - I'm sure you've heard the band described in many different ways. How would you describe the band?

Yes. We’ve heard klezmer punk, Ameri-Mexicana, gypsy rock. The best one I’ve heard so far was fractured folk. 

I’ve given up on describing the music to some degree. The band itself was best described by Travis. Or maybe it was Jason. Anyway, some people like to fish, we like to do this.
Q - Who are your biggest musical influences?

There are seven of us now. Ten on the album. So that question is a bit of a beast. 

I don’t know that we can honestly coalesce around any in particular. But if I think about who we cover, the kind of lyrics we write and how we think about them, some musicians that come to mind are Steve Goodman, The Mountain Goats, Kris Kristofferson and Tom Waits

From a personal point of view, I think this band was formed in my mind after seeing Manu Chao at Lollapalooza in 2006. I think I lost my mind at that show. 

Q - It seems like the band really has fun on stage. Do you think the band is at its best on stage?

I think most every band would claim that. We love playing onstage and I think the closer our connection with the audience, the better we play. 

We’ve had what I felt were great onstage performances, but we’ve also had some of our best times just playing in a crowd of people, where someone might wander up with some instrument and join in for a while, or some kids are suddenly dancing around the drummer, where the lines of “stage” and “audience” get less defined. 

Those opportunities are few and far between, unfortunately.

Q - What do you think the band brings to the Chicago music scene?

We believe in the kind of show where you don’t always know what comes next. We really like the idea of playing with other bands, other musicians, other performers who might not seem to fit the bill. 

We have struggled with booking at times in some cities because clubs can’t figure out whom to pair us with. “Good bands” is the right answer. If we can get this scene to cross-pollinate a bit more, we will have brought something worthwhile.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Singer-songwriter Kat Parsons getting ready to release new EP, tour


    Los Angeles singer-songwriter Kat Parsons has plenty to say.

    Parsons, www.KatParsonsMusic.com, on April 3 will release "Talk To Me," the first of three EPs that she will release this year. Her Chicago fans no doubt are rejoicing over the news, and Parsons herself has deep connections to the Chicago area - she graduated from Northwestern University with a theater degree, and her debut album, "Framing Caroline," was released on Chicago-based Waterdog Music.

    Her fans continue to play a big part in the music she makes. In late 2010, she launched a Kickstarter campaign and her fans responded generously, giving more than $19,000.

    I had the chance to talk to Parsons about the new EP and her music career.

    Q - "Fall For It" seems like an extremely personal song. Do all your songs come from personal experience? How are your fans responding to the song?

    Most of them come from personal experience, though that can be a broad term. Some may be from observation or what I hear from others about their triumphs and struggles and I often find something in them to which I can relate.

    Well, only the Kickstarters have gotten to hear the song and I've gotten really fun feedback! People have been listening with their windows down on sunny days, even in Chicago I heard it was 70!!

    It is a really fun song to blast at the top of your lungs and that is what I am hearing from them.

    Q - Of course, Mike Flynn, head of A&R at Epic Records, co-produced the song. He had some kind words about you, saying that you had a unique voice. What did you learn from working with him?

    I had a really good time working with him. He has a really positive, encouraging vibe and was fully on board with the song and the form and sounds related to it.

    It was great to see him in action.

    Q - You are planning to release three EPs this year, starting with "Talk To Me." How did you decide to take such an approach?

    I've always been interested in experimenting with sounds, in dressing my songs up in different clothes. What would it sound like in a simple dress, or in a fluroescent outfit with crazy face paint, or dressed up as a lollipop or in a matching velour track suit?

    So I set out to make three different EPs with three different producers to try out three different sounds.

    It was quite an adventure and I think each EP has its own vibe. The second one is like eating a piece of cake, it's very sugary and fun and bouncy (and even has a reggae approach on one of the songs!) and the third is my most spare recording yet featuring my ballads, though there is an orchestra on one of the tracks, which is not spare at all.

    Q - Your fans have been very generous to you when you have turned to them for financing your records. Did that surprise you at all? Does that make you even more confident in your music, knowing that people want to help finance your records?

    You know, I feel so lucky and grateful.  Yes, I am always surprised and excited and encouraged.  

    It is easy to get lost in my own bubble when I am working at my music and to get to connect with people and know that my music means something to them is the best gift I could ever receive.

    Q -  "Talk To Me" was produced by Warren Huart, known for his work with Aerosmith and The Fray. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the table?

    Warren, with engineer, Robin Holden, have tons of experience and are really good at seeing what a person is best at and bringing that to the forefront. He has produced some amazing music and really knows how to cut through to the heart of a song.  

    He also really values live instruments, which I do also, so he gets the best musicians to come in to play and then he makes everything work together. Both he and Robin did some quite impressive playing as well!

    He also has a really great ear for harmony and we had a great time coming up with some cool vocal harmony in the songs. He came up with a syncopated line of harmony for "Talk to Me", which I adore.

    Q - The music business has vastly changed since you released your debut album, "Framing Caroline," on Chicago-based Waterdog Music in 1999. It seems like more and more musicians are now doing what you did and going the indie route. Do you think it is harder or easier being a musician these days?

    Hmm....I don't know!  I think there is much more opportunity for musicians these days and that is really empowering.  I think that it is easier/more possible to make a living as a musician now because it is easier to reach people and find the people who love your music and with whom you connect.

    You can find your community and then there are lots of ways to build that relationship through social media.  However, this requires that you wear more than your "artist" hat, which is easier for some than others.

    It seems like music fans look for and are hungry for new music, which is so cool.  There are now tons of avenues on the internet that support this. 

    It just requires that, as a musician, you be somewhat savvy about reaching people and managing to stand out among all of the music that is out there.  There are a TON of amazingly talented musicians and I think there is enough pie for everyone.

    It's just a matter of finding your tribe, which takes some work, well, actually takes a lot of hard work!  That is my experience, but I also think there are so many paths to "success" that someone else's experience could vary greatly.

    Q - What are your touring plans for this year? Will you be getting back to Chicago?

    I hope so!  Right now my plans are for the West Coast and East Coast but I hope to make it back to Chicago soon!

    Q - Do you have any dream collaborations or projects?

    Of course. I mean who wouldn't love to work with Thom Yorke and Radiohead?

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    Chicago band Welcome To Ashley to reunite for show this month

    Chicago band The Buddies is a family in every sense of the word.

    When Buddies drummer Kim Collins was diagnosed earlier this year with breast cancer, frontman Coley Kennedy didn't hesitate about stepping in to help. He started an online fundraiser for Collins to help with medical and living expenses, a fundraiser that has raised more than $10,000 to date.

    Now Kennedy's previous band, Welcome to Ashley, will reunite for a one-off show March 16 at Township (formerly Panchos), 2200 N. California Ave., Chicago. The show, which was originally offered to The Buddies, will feature the original WTA line up of Kennedy (vocals), Pete Javier (guitar), Jeremy Barrett (bass) and Sherrlia Bailey (drums).

    Pistols At Dawn and Fly Over State also are on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $5, available at www.ticketweb.com.

    I had the chance to talk to Kennedy about the upcoming show.  

    Q - How is Kim doing these days? It was great to hear that a song from her other project, The Smoking Flowers, was recently featured in the television show, "Revenge."

    A - Kim is doing very well. She's tough as nails. Her surgery was a success. 

    She'll be back to bangin' on the drums with The Buddies in no time. And, yeah, having a Smoking Flowers song featured on a hit television show was really cool. And it couldn't have happened at a better time.

    Q - Your online fundraiser for her has raised more than $10,000, surpassing your goal. You must be happy about that. Did you ever doubt that you would meet your goal?

    A - There are a lot of people who know and love Kim and [her husband] Scott. I knew a lot of people would contribute. Did I ever doubt that we'd reach our goal? I really wasn't sure. But, it doesn't surprise me that we did. 

    Q - How long have you been thinking about reuniting Welcome to Ashley? Should people expect any surprises at the show, such as new songs?

    A - I knew WTA would play again. I'm actually surprised it took us this long to reunite. 

    We never stopped playing because we were on bad terms, or because we didn't believe in our music. We simply took a break. 

    WTA is me, Pete (guitars), Jeremy (bass guitar), and Sherrlia (drums). Pete, Jeremy and I make up half of The Buddies. I've been making music with them since our first band, The Bennies. I'll never not make music with them.

    Q - Welcome to Ashley seemed to be getting some good buzz when Sherrlia had to leave the band to take care of a family matter. Do you think the band made the right decision in going on hiatus? Do you think this upcoming show will lead to other activities for the band?

    A - Yeah, it was the right decision. Sherrlia had to leave. She did what she needed to do. And we never doubted that for a minute. 

    We care a lot about each other, and that goes way beyond making music and playing shows. WTA rehearsed last week for the first time in over a year. I thought we'd be a little rusty. Nope. It was like we never took a break. 

    What was really great was how fresh all the songs sounded to me. I constantly caught myself thinking, "Wow, these are really great songs." 

    I hadn't forgotten any of them, but they sounded so new to me. Mighty fine tunes; I really missed playing them. 

    WTA will definitely be playing more than we have been. That is, until they sit me down and say, "Cole, we're sick of playing music with you."

    Q - What's the status of The Buddies these days? Is the band officially on hiatus?

    A - Kim will need a couple of months to heal. Aside from this, The Buddies are alive and well. WTA is alive and well. I'm alive and...well, I'm alive.