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Josh Workman

The one thing that seems to be the missing link between jazz and entertainment is the one thing Josh Workman uses as a tool to melt contemporary jazz, rockabilly, blues, rock and pop into something new-- something vital and vibrant: It’s fun.

"Jumpin’ at the Border," (Tetrachord Music) gives it all away and spits out a promise that guitar virtuoso Workman keeps gracefully. Although in the business for more than 25 years, "Jumpin’ at the Border" is Workman’s debut CD. The 16 tracks offer more than just good jazz, they roll proudly yet lightheartedly out of your speakers and make the album a movie-esque experience.

San Francisco Bay area-based Josh Workman gathered together a selection of contemporary jazz’s finest session musicians--Harold Jones and Omar Clay (Drums), Noel Jewkes (Sax), Nat Johnson (Bass) and all-rounder Larry Vuckovich, Workman’s mentor throughout the past years.

JazzReview stopped by Josh Workman’s home, not to interview him, just to have a chat exactly the way his music, especially on "Jumpin’ at the Border" suggests. Congrats to your debut album "Jumpin’ at the Border." I read a lot about it before I actually had the chance to listen to it, and I agree with everything I read: it’s fresh, it’s unique, and it’s different, yet entertaining. At the same time it is an amalgamation of a variety of styles. How about Soul?

Josh Workman: Thank you. I’d love to include Soul! It’s kind of how I got deeper into the traditional thing. My style really came from the Soul/Jazz-field! That’s originally where I come from. I guess now I have to see where this one goes. I’ve had to play a lot of different styles to make a living through the years. But now my music doesn’t really sound like I’m jumping from style-to-style. It’s like I feel comfortable in each song and that I made it my own. It is a risky thing to mix all these genres, but as a debut record, I feel I had to show what I could do. You’re right, I’ve had a lot of good response to my album so far. The unique sound of your album together with the looks of your tie on the cover gave me, I think, a pretty good idea what kind of individualist you are as a person.

Josh Workman: (Laughs) I guess so. I got that in Cleveland for five bucks. Are you in-between gigs?

Josh Workman: I just came back from Louisiana had to run a gig last night. I played with a band called "The Hot Club of San Francisco," Django Reinhardt style, that kind of thing. "The Hot Club of San Francisco" also appears on your debut-album "Jumpin’ at the Border."

Josh Workman: Yeah. Have you heard of the film "Latcho Drom" by Tony Gatlif? He followed gypsies all around the world, so I did a song from that with The Hot Club of San Francisco. That’s what I really love about your album - it goes unusual ways. Not exactly the type of thing that jazz focuses on these days. To me your music happens in the belly and not in the head, which is something that jazz often lacks.

Josh Workman: You know, it’s funny. That has always been my philosophy. I am not a philosopher, but I have to deal with my music with my belly. Sometimes I would play a gig and I’m just not feeling it. It really has to happen there. You have been around for over two decades now. How did you finally decide to do your first album as a leader?

Josh Workman: Of course I’ve been playing in different bands for years. Late last fall, while I was playing with the Hot Club of San Francisco, it all of a sudden just hit me. I went crazy. I realized I had to do my own record! It just hit me. Luckily, over the years I made a lot of friends. So I could pull some favors and get the ball rolling to do the CD. In order to get the record, the material together, I turned to Larry Vuckovich, who is a kind of a local hero here in the San Francisco area. He’s been my friend and mentor for years. I brought a bunch of material into the project, but since I did all these standards over all these years, there were also a bunch of nice old tunes that I wanted to check out--tunes that are less played and that Larry finally pointed out to me. And then there were the songs that I wrote. I guess I just got a bunch of inspirations all at once. Each tune took me only about 15 minutes to write, maximum half an hour. So I guess all the inspiration for the album really came to my head in late fall 2003. What was the next step?

Josh Workman: Basically it had to all really be planned because I was touring lots of small tours and gigs. In between I said, ‘look, I have a week in January. Let’s go in the studio and get our basic stuff together, so I can go back later and do the finishing touch, and the next thing and so forth.’ Actually Larry and I shared the arrangements and pretty much over the course of one single week, I got everything together. Impressive!

Josh Workman: Yeah. And the musicians are all real professionals, so I really only did one rehearsal and that was it. So the whole thing felt more like a live gig.

Josh Workman: We pretty much did it like that. Of course, there were several things that I wouldn’t have been able to do live. For example?

Josh Workman: There is a tune where I played rhythm guitar, accompanying myself, and a few little pieces here and there. But essentially, yeah, it felt pretty much like a live gig. Another thing I like about the album is the brief introduction to each and every song in the booklet. That’s a pretty neat idea. Did you come up with that?

Josh Workman: Again, that’s Larry. That’s the way he does things and like I said, he is my mentor for years now, so he models things together for me. Larry really had a lot to do with the overall programming and the shape of things. He is just a rare jam! Are you self-critical about your work?

Josh Workman: Of course I am. I would like to rewrite every second of it. But I think the best part of the criticism is that I can actually put it on, do things around the house and ignore it. (laughs) And that’s kind of a good sign for me. I can live with what I did. Have you got a favorite tune on the album?

Josh Workman: Well "Kali Sara," the gypsy song we talked about is coming to mind. I mean I didn’t write it. I wish I actually had. What’s your favorite? "Carinhoso." That’s one thing about Brazilian music, it’s soothing and relaxing.

Josh Workman: You know there’s nothing wrong with playing music that is just relaxing. That’s the problem with a lot of modern jazz players. They feel like they have to act up. My music has a groove factor, not groovy per se, but there is a certain flow to it that makes you feel good. I’ve heard that you are also a passionate music teacher?

Josh Workman: I absolutely love teaching. In terms of my touring schedules, I’d like to go somewhere where I can do a workshop, a thing of my own. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to teach right now, but I do have a couple of students that I teach guitar. I don’t even get upset if someone wants to learn a song by Black Sabbath (laughs).

© Michael Arens

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Josh Workman
  • Interview Date: 11/1/2004
  • Subtitle: Groovin' Between The Lines
Michael Arens

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