Ever since the City Blog album by Gideon King was released last month, there has been an increasing curiosity among the audience to know more about the person behind this melodious album. Since the music promotion for the album was going on full swing, we really had a tough time catching up with Gideon King but we are glad and grateful that we finally got an audience with this wonderful personality. We talked to him about his journey so far, his instant hit album City Blog, his future plans and so many other things. Here is an exclusive interview with none other than Gideon King himself.
Why did you name your studio band Gideon Kind & City Blog? I mean what does the part ‘City Blog’ refer to?
Well, a blog is at once an ever-changing sort of thing and anchored to a subject. I feel that way about this project. It is ever-changing because there will be a growing community of great musicians invited to play, bringing all types of musical textures to the project. Yet there will be constants as well. There will be this effort to produce crossover music, a mixture of jazz and rock and funk and pop. I will be for the most part writing the music, lyrics, and arrangements, and playing lead guitar. So, to be more pointed, the subject is crossover music with a focus on New York City and others like it and the shifting context is the eclectic array of killer musicians and vocalists that will be invited to be a part of the music.
Your recent release, City Blog has been receiving rave reviews. How do you feel about it? Are things moving as expected?
I could not be happier with the reviews. Anyone that is not made of granite cares what people say about their music. Either that or I am too sensitive and a giant wimp. I am particularly appreciative of the reviews that mention the details in the music. I was not sure what to expect so things could never have moved as expected. But I did expect that at least some would key into all of the different genres embedded in the music and the funny electricity that New York puts out. I am psyched that people got that part of the project. If they didn’t I suppose that would be my fault.
Which is your favorite track in the City Blog album and why?
That’s like asking a parent which of their kids they most prefer. As the parent I would have to say I like them all. As a cousin I would admit I like City Blog and New York Is the best. The title cut, City Blog, wins because I don’t really want the tune to end. I mean the piano solo that Kevin Hays plays on the tune is just perfect and the groove and interaction between the drummer and the bass are really cool. So basically the things I love the most about that tune have nothing to do with my work at all! The lyrics really came from my heart, as they are sort of about this pretentious New York poser who can never really keep a woman interested. He is a pretty annoying character. You would hate him trust me.
I am a sucker for duets like Guilty, the 1980’s Streisand/Gibb tune, so I am proud of the song New York Is, which portrays a man and a woman seeing New York City as a home in different ways and with different levels of acceptance. The vocals from Marc Broussard and Grace Weber are beautiful and Donny McCaslin’s sax solo nails it if you ask me. You have to give me some credit for admitting in public I listen to 1980’s duets that most 2015 hipsters would laugh at. C’mon…..give me a little credit…that wasn’t easy.
You started playing guitar at a tender age of 10. Do you remember how it all began? What was the first tune you learned?
I certainly remember how it all began. My brother was and is a tremendous jazz pianist and composer. So jazz lines were baked into my head at a young age. I think the first tune I learned was a Neil Young tune on the acoustic album Rust Never Sleeps but I don’t remember which it was. Those were such great tunes with such sad and creepy lyrics. The first Jazz tune was the Miles tune So What. I butchered that thing to death and suspect I would do the same today.
There surely must have been several hurdles and challenges on the way to this complex new project. How difficult has the journey so far been? Any specific instances you’d like to share with the audience?
Music is always the hurdle. Properly learning harmony and playing things correctly is hard enough but then you have to play with feel. A drummer buddy of mine says, “Sometimes things are correct but not right.” Since I always choose these great jazz musicians to record with I am constantly reminded of the skills I don’t yet have. That is a bit depressing on a chronic basis. But what the hell ……coaches in sports always say to play with better people in order to improve. Music is a sport I guess. Honestly the number of instances in which I am reminded that I am not as good as others is too high to mention. It’s like a rainstorm where every drop is a better musician. That being said it is super fun and there are always people that look up to your playing the way you look up to the playing of others. That’s a nice affirmation. The food chain exists which is cold comfort but comfort nevertheless.
Every composition has an arc. The spark of the idea is always exciting. In other words you have a cool harmonic idea or some words that paint an interesting picture. But then you have to turn it into a holistic expression that isn’t tiresome, doesn’t suffer boring repetition, doesn’t go off on some self-satisfying tangent the way certain endless jazz solos do, and has some sort of engaging hook. The middle of the arc is a kind of drudgery, or logistical process of putting the tune together. The end of the arc has some excitement to it mixed with relief that it actually worked. Sometimes of course the end of the arc is the realization that the tune stinks. That’s what garbage cans and delete buttons are for.
If not a musician what else would you have been?
Well I was a businessperson in another life and I still do lots of business stuff. I would have liked to be a short story author. Maybe a teacher….summers off rudely interrupted by actually helping others during the winter.
Many critics have noted positively your guitar solos. Which guitarists do you admire and take influence from?
My favorite living guitarists outside of the classical world are Kurt Rosenwinkel, John Scofield, Ralph Towner, Van Halen, Mike Moreno, Pat Metheny, and Roger Waters. Sadly guys like Wes and Stevie Ray and Hendrix are gone, but that does not mean one can’t admire and learn from their work. For me people excuse lack of technical skill too often in favor of feel. I would hope to imitate a guy like Pat Metheny at some level, as his creative and exotic side is always underpinned by skill…..just plain excellence. Sure, certain blues and rock guys play with feel but they don’t seem to know enough to stretch out and hit the creative cover off the ball. That’s not true of all of them of course—there are some great players in these genres—but for me it is pretty cool when a guy can play interesting melodic stuff with soul while drawing on some virtuosity here and there. If it is only feel it gets kinda boring, but if there is feel and skill then it is noteworthy. Just sounds to me like they can go anywhere. Kind of like wanting your painters to actually be able to paint before they slide off into the avante-garde. I mean listen to George Benson or Kurt Rosenwinkel and you know you got the whole package… feel… virtuosity….. and so on. They don’t repeat the same stuff again and again.
What’s the best thing you like about being in the music industry?
The best of the best are not above marveling at the work of another musician on a real-time basis. I don’t know if athletes or businesspeople or writers and artists appreciate others of their ilk in quite the same way. I mean when a pianist does something special almost everybody in the band nods their head in appreciation of the clever or beautiful expression. It’s real-time admiration from great artists. Just go out one day and watch John Scofield as he appreciates what his bassist and drummer are doing in real time. Even the very best stand in awe of Herbie Hancock’s insane skill level. Musicians are so distinct in their attack that greatness A comes in stark contradistinction to greatness B. It’s pretty cool.
Do you think music requires practice? How often and how long do you practice?
If you don’t practice you suck. I play every day. I listen every day. It is probably bad marketing to admit this, but I still take lessons with those that are far better than I am. I take lessons from jazz guys and classical guys. Honestly I think everyone should take lessons no matter what level they are at unless they are Herbie Hancock or John Coltrane. My older brother encouraged me to understand harmony better years ago and till this day I am constantly noting all of the little harmonic quirks in the music of everyone from John Scofield to Wayne Shorter to Bill Evans to Kurt Rosenwinkel to Steely Dan to tons of others not as famous but incredibly virtuosic. Sometimes I just play for an hour or two but sometimes I am with the guitar for 7 hours straight. Fingers start to hurt and then I know the compulsion has gone too far.
How do you get inspiration for new composition?
I wait on inspiration from a few channels. First I look through music and take note of certain chordal patterns. I might notice that a G Major 7 is followed by a B Flat Dominant 13 in a tune. That sort of reminds me of what is possible and works for all kinds of reasons. Or I might notice in a Charlie Parker tune that he is playing a Maj 7 over a dominant chord and I am reminded that with the right rhythm in hand you can play any note over anything. I might note the awesome guitar tone in a Pink Floyd tune or Steely Dan tune. On another day I might get taken by how Stevie Wonder changes the quality of a tune suddenly by simply moving up a half step. Maybe my brother gives me a bit of teaching on how to handle a certain standard chord progression and I take that little diamond and run like a thief in the night right into the thicket of a new tune. Maybe I simply copy some Pat Metheny lines and then change them a little to feign originality. Every solo is a series of tiny little thefts.
Or, and this happens a lot, I simply sit and play till something interesting happens serendipitously. Then I tack onto that genuine moment other tried and true forms with certain alterations. So what I am saying is that when it comes to the music I draw inspiration from a ton of different places.
When it comes to lyrics it is totally different. I might hear a certain set of words strung together that sound angular or sharp. Those words then somehow leach to the surface a theme and then the rest of the lyrics follow. There is so much funny and tragic stuff out there that there is no shortage of things to write about. All you gotta do is walk outside in NYC and you got plenty to write about. Also, I have always resented the passage of time so that gives me stuff to write about.
Do you get nervous when you play?
Yup. The good news is you calm down and start to enjoy most of the time. Playing in front of a mic is hard as well. It’s just weird when the audience is a little metal thing.
So, what’s next in the offing for Gideon King & City Blog?
Make more music. Get super famous. Get Rich and then crash an exotic car into a tree so that people can say a great genius has left the world. Then get even richer while dead. Just kidding. What’s next is that we will continue to strive to make really great studio recordings that people can relate to. That sounded like a politician answer…so what I am going with it. I also want to co-write elements of the music with other musicians. That will be fun and fruitful I think. I am bringing in a sax guy to write a horn section for me on one tune for the next cd. Very cool to see how others interpret the music I write.
We have started tracking the tunes for the next Gideon King & City Blog album and so far I am happy with what is happening. So I guess what is next is we will make more music purely for the sake of music.
Thank you so much Gideon, for the time you took out for this lovely interview. I, on behalf of Jazzu Team and our audience, wish you all the very best!