Channeling Chet yet with his own smooth and sexy sound, LA-based guitarist/vocalist Dean Grech wants to bring jazz to people who have shied away from it. After all, the biggest cartoon of all time, Peanuts, was scored by the genius jazz artist Vince Guaraldi. Recently, Dean’s had some of his beloved guitars stolen, but proves that the beat, the spirit and the groove go on. He’s working with a new artist, Nikki Rose, and will introduce her to the jazz world shortly.
Why do you think jazz resonated so much for you when you first heard it?
I was about 17 playing in a rock band and a friend of my father’s dropped off some jazz albums.
In the collection was Boss Guitar – Wes Montgomery, and Kaleidoscope – Johnny Smith. When I heard the warm tones, melodies and the complexity of the improvisation I was floored. I had never heard sounds so complex but yet so smooth.
I had to know what they were doing to make that sound. That’s when the “jazz journey” began.
What did your voice training consist of?
Although I studied music theory and guitar extensively (and still do), I only took about four voice lessons.
It was something I started doing later in life out of necessity to get more gigs and it snowballed from there.
How has your classical training informed your style today?
I love classical music and I think it’s been a major influence on my playing and my writing.
I love classical guitar, it’s prevalent in a few tunes on my recordings. I always try to feature my classical style of playing when I can.
What was the most enjoyable performance you can recall?
Wow, that is a hard question. I have had so many. I would say, any of the performances that the band or myself as a soloist were “on point” – when the mood is right, the sound is right, the grooves are locked, the solos are great, and my voice is working.
It’s a feeling of ease like you are floating on the music. All the ideas are there and you can execute them effortlessly; it becomes very magical.
For me it’s never about the venue or how many people were in the audience, it’s always about the music.
Most of the time I like to play smaller places. I recently played a jazz club in northern California, the Main Street Bistro in Guerneville. Tiny town but a great sounding room.
I usually don’t like big stages. I love an intimate setting when the musicians are close, and the audience is close.
Place you have not yet played that you would like to?
The Hollywood Bowl and the Malta Jazz Festival. My parents were from Malta so it has been a dream of mine.
Explain the different feel in playing with a huge band/orchestra vs. solo or as a duet?
Big bands can be fun, especially with a full horn section. Tons of power, like driving a race car.
I also love a solo or duo situation when all the ears and eyes are on you. It’s way more pressure and every note counts.
“Take my Soul” is astounding and something a little different for you?
I wanted to write something that felt a little darker, smoky and inward. The feeling I get when I listen to guys like Chet Baker and Miles Davis. I put the chord changes and most of the melody together. I then came up with the lyric line “take my soul” so I knew that wasn’t going to change.
I then opened a bottle of wine and invited my girlfriend at the time, Jessica Nixon, to come into my studio.
We had never written together before or since, but I knew she had a dark side; she is super intelligent and has an extensive vocabulary.
I had a good hunch she could help me take this tune where it needed to go. I explained the concept to her and we started writing lyrics. Within three or four hours we had it. It came out the way I envisioned.
Although it may be a little heavy for most people, there have been a handful of people who grab a hold of it at first listen and others who don’t even acknowledge it. A song for the select few I guess…
Some favorite artists you have recorded and/or performed with?
Most everyone I have ever recorded with was great. It’s always fun when you get in the studio, ’cause you realize at that point we are artists first.
I’ve found most musicians, no matter how great, always want to do a good job or want another take to see if they can do better. Performance-wise, there have been so many, it’s hard to pinpoint an artist.
I think if the performance was good, I liked it no matter who the musicians were. I have done shows with great artists and not had such a great night. So, it’s more about the chemistry than the artist.
What question do you get most from your audience?
How long have you been playing?
How can we increase the interest in jazz for the younger demographic?
Exposure, and young people seeing other young people playing it.
Now with YouTube and groups and artists like “Modern Jukebox,” “Dirty Loops,” Aubrey Logan and Jacob Collier taking current music, re-harmonizing it and opening the tunes up for improvisation, it’s helping to draw a younger audience.
I feel a lot of young musicians are getting bored with pop music and moving on to the challenge of jazz. I always try to expose young players to jazz.
Why do you think jazz is ignored to a large extent in TV, advertising, movies, and even on radio?
Once again, in most cases people are not exposed to it or they want to stick to the norm. Although some people like it, they are afraid to take a chance.
I find this is across the board with restaurant owners and concert venues, even artists, producers and directors.
Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and a select few who love jazz use it in film.
And of course, the most famous cartoon series of all time, “Peanuts.” The entire soundtrack of every episode was jazz, with the exception of a few classical pieces. Jazz didn’t seem to hurt their ratings or stop moviegoers.
What is the jazz scene like where you live?
Jazz was thriving in LA from the 40s to early 80s then died. The past five years I have seen it sprouting and growing in a new life form with the increase in wineries, wine bars and speakeasies. More venues are creating an upscale environment which is always a great setting for jazz.
How many guitars do you own? Do you have a favorite?
I own about 30. And yes, I have a few favorites. Currently I am heartbroken because I recently had four guitars stolen in which three were my favorites (one of the four has been found). Two of them I’ve had for over 30 years and played most every day. Along with sounding great and playing great, they were my tools and kept dinner on the table my entire adult life.
Guitarists usually have guitars for recording and a select few that they play for everyday gigs, and those are the ones they don’t want to live without.
What was the most unusual ensemble you ever performed or recorded with?
Myself, an accordion player and a clown.
Do you prefer covers or original music?
I love to play any music that is good. Although I like playing my music, I am probably like most other artists from Miles Davis, The Beatles and Adele; we all do covers. There are so many well-written songs and pieces of music that move me, I can’t help but want to play or arrange them.
Where do you go in your head when you are performing?
It’s different all the time. Sometimes the energy in the room or venue is great and you can feed off it, other times I’ll have to disconnect and go to another place.
This may sound odd but I always like to think of the times when I was a kid, playing my guitar in my bedroom fantasizing about playing with a band or at a concert. Other times I will think about when I was young, laying on my bed with the lights out listening to every note Wes Montgomery, Stan Getz or even a great classical musician such as Rey Delatorre played. A lot of times if the energy is not right or there are lots of distractions on stage, this brings me back.
What is the biggest challenge in the industry today?
Making money off your music. With YouTube and all the streaming sites, it’s virtually impossible to monitor and get paid.
Apple, Spotify, Pandora and YouTube are getting rich off the artists. In addition to that, CD players are being discontinued all together, which eliminates selling a physical product.
Where are you touring for the rest of 2017?
I will be up in Napa Valley doing a few shows and a few shows in LA. I have had a busy summer so I am ready for a little time off.
I am working on another smooth jazz CD and also a more straight-ahead jazz CD.
Plus, I’m working with a new unknown vocalist Nikki Rose. I am writing and helping to produce her. She has a nice sound and a great jazz feel. I think she will be well-received.
My future plan is to concentrate on writing and playing more straight-ahead and Latin-flavored jazz. I would also like to help spread the music to people who aren’t familiar with jazz, even in other parts of the world.
Music is something everyone should have in their life and it would be nice to help educate people about higher musical art forms such as jazz. Hopefully something I mentioned in the interview will entice one person, if not more, to venture into “The World of Jazz.”
For more information visit www.deangrech.com.
Photo courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
(c) Debbie Burke 2017