Chuck Loeb does it all - guitarist, performer, arranger, composer, producer, teacher, and novelist. To highlight just a few of his accomplishments, he has written themes for CNN, The New York Yankees, the Knicks, has played on Number 1 hit recordings and movie soundtracks, taught at Berklee College of Music, University of Southern California, and the University of Tenerife, Spain, produced recordings by Spyro Gyra, and Bob James, and composed and recorded a number of his own CDs.
As Chuck’s website states, "Whatever your personal tastes in music, media, entertainment or popular culture, chances are good that you’ve had at least a passing acquaintance with the work of Chuck Loeb." Chuck grew up in a Nyack, NY, a suburb of New York City and at the age eleven, decided music was what he wanted to do with his life. After teaching himself guitar and playing in local bands for several years, his talent was so evident that before he had even graduated from high school he was studying with jazz guitar legend Jim Hall.
He attended Berklee College of Music for two years, then headed to New York City to work as a sideman for a number of jazz artists. In 1979 Chuck joined the Stan Getz band, where he was able to hone his skill as a musician, performer, composer, and musical director. During this time period, Chuck met and married Carmen Cuesta, a singer-songwriter from Madrid, Spain. After leaving Stan Getz, Chuck worked in New York City as a studio musician, recording, composing, and producing albums, movie soundtracks, and themes for TV shows.
After nearly ten years in the studio, Chuck returned to performing live and pursing his own music. He recorded seven solo albums with the Shanachie music label and now records for Heads Up International. JazzReview talked to Chuck shortly before the release of his latest recording, Between 2 Worlds, which was released on March 24.
JazzReview: Congratulations on the new CD Between 2 Worlds. You recorded several tracks in New York and the rest in Berlin. Did you see any differences in the way recordings are produced in Berlin as compared with New York?
Chuck Loeb: Well, I think that to a certain degree yes, because I was working at a friend’s studio. One of the musicians on the CD is Till Brönner a really great trumpet player, he plays on a song called "Mittens." I was using his studio there, and it’s his own personal studio. The one in New York was a big Manhattan professional studio so this was the difference. But that could easily have happen in America too, there’s a lot of home studios like my home where people record. But, I think the real difference between the two worlds, you know the European half of the record and the American half of the record is more musical than technical.
JazzReview: Being that there are different musicians on them?
Chuck Loeb: Yes, in other words, the idea for doing this album sort of came out of a series of performances I was doing in Europe for the last three or four years. I’ve been doing these trio dates in Berlin at a place called the A-Trane Club, like Coltrane, so we were doing these trio dates there. Normally when I play with my own band, it has keyboards and saxophone, it’s a larger unit, but for a guitarist it’s kind of a challenge to be playing trio because you’ve got to do everything. You’ve got to provide the harmony, the rhythm and the melody, everything. So these trio gigs I was doing for the last three years made me want to document that on a CD.
JazzReview: Was the recording equipment digital or analog?
Chuck Loeb: It was all-digital. JazzReview: Was the same software used in Europe as in New York?
Chuck Loeb: A different version. I think they had an even older version of my system. They had Pro Tools, but of course, the Pro Tools they had (I use version HD 8) they had something before that. I forget the name of it. Anyway, they had an older version of Pro Tools. They’re always upwardly compatible. Since mine was newer, I can take their files back with me and boot them up on my system to edit and record in my system.
JazzReview: You said it was the experience of playing gigs as a trio that sparked the idea to make the CD. When you were composing the songs did you think about leaving space for the horns?
Chuck Loeb: You know, in this day and age anything is possible. I wasn’t sure. I always knew the CD would be a little bit more than a trio because I wanted to do stuff with my wife singing on it. She’s on all my CDs. And my daughter also is a singer so I wanted to do that, but I wasn’t sure about the horns. As the music progressed, I saw the way it was coming out differently in what I recorded in the States as compared to what I recorded in Europe. I realized I wanted to dress it up a little bit more and add horns, and things like that. I live in South Carolina, in the middle of nowhere, so I can’t call a crack horn section and say, "Hey, come on over and record today." I do a lot of stuff long distance and this album is an example of that. I had people in LA working on it. I had people in Germany and in Spain and different places working on it and sending me tracks over the Internet. Everybody does either Pro Tools or Logic recording where you end up with a WAV file, and these are pretty easily transferable at this point. You know, if you have a good Internet connection, you can get things within an hour.
JazzReview: So you guys weren’t all just sitting around a studio playing together.
Chuck Loeb: The basic tracks were all done that way. The basic performances of the trio, half of them were done in a studio in Germany and half of them were done in, do you know the studio Avatar?
JazzReview: No, I’m not familiar with it.
Chuck Loeb: It’s a great studio; it used to be called Powerstation. To me, it’s still one of my favorite studios in the world. We did the American tracks there. So that stuff was people sitting around playing together, and talking about it and re-cutting and doing all that, the old way. But all the fixes and overdubs and editing, mixing, everything else was done in different sites. People ask me if I collect guitars, but I seem to spend any extra money I have on recording gear or computer products because I need it so much to stay current. Almost all my stuff is produced on my own home studio. For this album, I recently got this and a couple of other things I’m producing that are more vocal intensive-- a beautiful new microphone called a Lawson microphone. Really cool, I’m pretty jazzed about that.
JazzReview: Now how do you handle a situation where the trios in the studio playing a song and you do not like what the drummer is doing?
Chuck Loeb: In the studio you mean? As the producer and also as an artist and composer, I think when a drummer is doing his part; he’s looking to you for advice. Because there’s so many different ways they can play their part. And so, I had the great luxury of playing with Wolfgang Haffner and Dave Weckl, two of the really best drummers on the planet so there’s a lot of confidence already and I feel like their doing the right thing. However, I would say there’s one thing where Dave was approaching the song "Mittens," by using the snare the whole time and I said I would like to make part of it cross stick and change when we get the chorus etc. etc. Guys like that are confident enough in their own ability and stature to be able to take suggestions and criticisms, as well.
JazzReview: Several of the songs on Between Two Worlds are dedicated to other musicians. When you were composing these songs were you thinking of the person as you were composing or did you finish the song and you think "Hey, this sounds like something I’d like to dedicate to Jim Hall?"
Chuck Loeb: There are two different versions of that. The song, "Let’s Play," which was written for Mike Stern, that was very much written from the beginning with him in mind. I heard a recording that he did that a friend of mine was working on, and we’re friends and have known each other for years, and he played it for me, his work in progress, and it just blew me away. I’ve always loved Mike and so that one I really wrote thinking about him. The "Great Hall" kind of came to me first and then when I was thinking of doing something for Jim I thought, well, this kind of sounds like something he would do to an intro for that song where it’s like an open string ringing kind of thing and it goes into this kind of standard set of changes. I thought this would be a good thing to dedicate to him. I kind of tweaked it in his direction if you know what I mean. The song "Hiram," which is for my friend Hiram Bullock who passed away last year, was definitely written with him in mind. Not necessarily musically because it’s not in the style of what he played, but just in terms of the feelings that we had, my wife and I, when we wrote that song about him.
JazzReview: The song, "Early Turns to Late" was dedicated to your parents. Did either of them get to hear it before they passed away?
Chuck Loeb: They did. They did, which was so great. And that was one of the things I though when I wrote the song for Hiram was that I wanted to write something and dedicate it to them and also to these other guitar players while they’re still here so they can appreciate it, and they did. There’s something really poignant about that.
JazzReview: Do you listen to music at home or while driving?
Chuck Loeb: Yes, I do. JazzReview: Who are you currently listening too? Chuck Loeb: Two things, it’s a good thing when a new album comes out. You do a lot of interviews so a lot of these questions that people ask are similar. The first time somebody asked, I had to think about it for a while, but now I know. I’m working on a project with my wife Carmen, Brazilian songs and Brazilian music, and so over the last year or so, we’ve spent a lot of time listening to that music not only on CDs, but on YouTube and the Internet and discovering great artists. We’ve been listening to some classics like Tom Jobim or Elis Regina and some newer people like Ana Carolina and Seu Jorge and all different kinds of Brazilian music.
JazzReview: Do you find that inspirational when composing your own songs?
Chuck Loeb: Very much, and it’s in evidence on the CD because the title track, for example, is very much a Brazilian kind of a groove. Of course, we did a Jobim song from one of the classic albums, "Sò Tinha De Que Ser Com Vocè," the one that Carmen sings. And even the song for Hiram has a bit of that in the verse and melody. The other thing I’ve been listening to is a guitar player and I like to say this because he’s not well-known as his own artist. He’s a sideman, but I’ve been listening to some CD’s by a guy named Michael Landau. You know him? He’s well-known as an LA studio musician, but the guy has a few live CDs of his trio and quartet where he sings and plays guitar. I just think he’s an absolute, I would even say, genius on the guitar. He’s kind of coming out of the pure Jimi Hendrix rock and roll school,l but he’s mixed it with his influences in jazz and new music. I’m just addicted to that live CD he did, Michael Landau Live 2006. It’s hard to find. You have to find it on the Internet.
JazzReview: Any problems keeping your passion or intensity for music alive? Do you get writer’s block?
Chuck Loeb: I do. Sometimes it’s difficult you know. You hit a wall and are not sure where to go next or what to do next, and also inertia sets in. One thing that I’ve found is all it takes is to start again, to start playing again, and also for example, if I hear some music either by accident on the radio or in the car or it can even be I’m listening to National Public Radio and all of a sudden, there’s a snippet of music and I think "Wow that sounds really great." It makes me want to go and do it again. The other thing I find is that just recently, I started working on writing words, like I wrote a book, a spy novel and stuff like that. When I do something like that, it kind of gets me away from music, and when I come back to music, it’s fresher. Any other kind of hobby I think is good. JazzReview: When you’re playing the guitar is it sometimes a struggle and other times you’re in a zone and can do no wrong?
Chuck Loeb: The answer is yes.
JazzReview: To both of those?
Chuck Loeb: Exactly. Without a doubt there are times where it is really a struggle, it’s really hard. Your chops don’t feel good, the ideas aren’t flowing and you don’t feel connected. I always relate everything to baseball because I’m a baseball fan. It’s like when a .300 hitter hits a slump and all of a sudden he can’t hit a ball out of the infield. You know, basically that’s going to happen it’s going to happen. I remember someone once saying to me it’s all improvisation, but you do rely sometimes on licks and things that you know work, and tricks that you know. Sometimes you have to rely on those just to get through a period where you’re not feeling as fertile as others. And, it’s okay. You can’t always be pure inspirational unless you’re Mozart or Beethoven. I bet they even had their in-fertile periods.
JazzReview: When you play in front of a live audience, does the crowd’s enthusiasm or lack of it affect how well you play?
Chuck Loeb: Absolutely, 100% yes. It’s a huge plus when you’re playing for people that are really into it and you feel that vibe and energy. An exchange of energy I should say, because you’re playing, their hearing you, they respond, you respond. I don’t think there’s anything in the world like that.
JazzReview: At daytime festivals where people are just sitting on the grass or in lawn chairs, it just seems so tame. I just wonder how the musicians get themselves up for that.
Chuck Loeb: Well, I have a pet peeve about that actually. Some of the festivals now have VIP areas, which are right in front of the stage and they&&&re usually cordoned off somehow. Then there are people that are sitting beyond that haven’t paid the extra price or whatever. And, a lot of times, some of the folks in there maybe aren’t the most avid fans. Their there and they’re grooving, and they come and go get a glass of wine, whereas the real avid fans are sitting out there in the distance and that drives me crazy. I just feel like saying, "Tear down this wall and those of you that are really into it come right up next to the stage." So yeah, it does bug me sometimes. You have to use a lot of self-control because sometimes you feel like saying something. It’s disrespectful to me if somebody is sitting in a club listening to you and they’re yapping and they don’t really care about the music. There has to be a polite way to say, "Other people are here to enjoy the music and that’s the point of this, so can you please keep it down?"
JazzReview: What’s the most stressful part of being a successful musician?
Chuck Loeb: I think travel is the hardest. I mean I enjoy it, I like traveling and I love going and meeting people in the different far flung places that I’ve been able to go. Recently, I just came back from Spain, India, Indonesia, Europe and Africa. So I love that, but it is very stressful. It’s hard because you’re away from your family. It’s hard because you’re on an airplane and in hotels and all that. My daughter is a musician now and I tell her when you get on a stage and play, that part is free. You get paid for all the other stuff.
JazzReview: What do you like the best about touring?
Chuck Loeb: I love the moment when you’ve gone through everything you’ve gone through to get there and you play for and ultimately meet and get to know the people and the cultures where you’ve arrived. That exchange that I was talking about before is not just musical. It’s when I go out to sign CDs or I go and say hello to some people and you see the love that people have for music. I’ve also thought a lot about this, that many, many people have to travel for their work, business people and a lot of people who have to travel, but for musicians, when you finally arrive to where you’re going, it’s a joyous experience, hopefully. You’re sharing something that’s really fun and enlightening. That moment when you’re finally in contact with the audience and the people that are there because they love music, it makes it worthwhile.
JazzReview: How about lyrics? You’re writing a book, do you write lyrics to songs?
Chuck Loeb: I do occasionally write lyrics. I tend to be kind of corny and predictable as a lyricist, but sometimes, something okay pops up.
JazzReview: I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about your book, Double Read. What inspired you to write a book?
Chuck Loeb: I’m an avid reader. I have to always be reading a book. I always have been that way since I was a teenager. One of my favorites is a guy named John leCarré and another one is James Patterson. He’s sort of like thriller, crime, spy novels writer, although that’s not the only genre I like, it’s one of them. I’d always thought about writing something and a few years ago, Carmen suggested she’d been reading a philosophy book; a guy who said it’s important for people who do one thing very intensely, to do something else, to find something else to direct their energy into, whether it be gardening or sports or whatever, to clear their mind completely. I spend an inordinate amount of time on airplanes and in airports sitting around and so I decided about three of four years ago that I would utilize that time. I just started writing this book, what’s amazing is that I had one idea what the book was going to be about, but the thing, it starts writing itself, it’s unbelievable. You hear people say that, but it really is true. It takes on a life of its own. And then all of a sudden you find yourself, "Whoa I wrote this thing!" One thing led to another and before I knew it, I had 350 pages!
JazzReview: Is the character Christie based on one of your daughters?
Chuck Loeb: Yes, they’re both based on my daughters, Christie and there’s another girl in the book, Liz. And my daughters are Christine and Lizzy. My daughter does play bassoon and she did go to Tufts. My other daughter is a singer-songwriter, so it’s loosely based on their existence and then it goes way beyond, it goes into other things that aren’t.
JazzReview: Do you find writing pleasurable or has it become a chore and you’re like, "Oh man I wish I’d never started this?"
Chuck Loeb: I’m writing my second book now; it’s a totally different theme kind of a little moral fable. You know here’s the thing, I feel like with guitar I know I have to practice and keep my chops up and stuff like that, and I don’t want writing to feel like that, I want it to just be fun and have it be a hobby when I feel like doing it, so I’m trying to keep it light to keep it fun and interesting for myself.
JazzReview: In closing, as a high school student you studied with Jim Hall, who obviously recognized your talent. Are there any young players that have caught your ear that we should check out?
Chuck Loeb: There’s a guitar player I ran into recently named Ricardo Vogt, and I met him at a clinic I was giving some lessons to him, and he’s a terrific talent. He’s out there, he’s playing with Esperanza Spalding and also with Eliane Elias, but he’s a true talent and a great guy.