Interview: Chris Standring
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Interview: Chris Standring

After a long yet patient wait, I finally landed an interview with one of my favorite jazz musicians. As a lifelong jazz enthusiast, I have always admired the men and woman who perfect the craft. Thanks to my father, jazz and blues has been a prevalent genre in the Hunt household. Filled with that enjoyment, I decided to reach out to Chris Standring, one of the best jazz guitar players in the field to learn about his musical experience.

I asked what made him pursue this career in music as a starter. “Had I known what I know now, I may not have [chosen it]! I think when you start playing music as young as I did; the idea of doing anything ambitious is not in the forefront of one’s mind… Of course even as teenage upstarts, we usually think we have the world in the palm of our hands. We are fearless. It’s only when we become far more aware as grown ups, that any kind of insecurities creep in… That fearlessness in kids is a good thing too, perhaps even Darwinian. I do remember that back in the eighties when I was starting out, many of my freelance musician friends were getting huge gigs playing in pop bands such as Tears For Fears, George Michael, Wet Wet Wet, Haircut One Hundred and so on. I naturally assumed I would be next up to bat… It didn’t happen for me back then. Only when I moved to Los Angeles did the idea of attempting something huge enter into the equation… By that time it was too late and I was on my way.” Luckily, his career has been quite successful. With over 12 solo, 11 guest and 20 compilation albums to his credit, Chris remains a staple in the jazz medium.

With such a large body of work, Chris shared his favorite piece to date. “I am particularly proud of my 2010 album “Blue Bolero”. I think because it was a musical turning point for me. I had [gotten] a bit fed up with my own music, and much of what I was hearing from everyone else too. So I decided to dig as deep as I could and attempt something I hadn’t really done before, and that was the start of some string orchestration. I also included a lot of classical influences on that album (the title track for instance) but with more crossover appeal… As I get better as a producer it’s tough for me to listen back to my early albums without wanting to have done things a little differently. Mostly sonically, but it’s all good. That was where I was at the time and documenting where we are in our lives is what making records is all about as far as I’m concerned.” That is a great album that has one of my favorite songs included, Bossa Blue. I will talk more about that later on.

Along with his musical ambitions, Chris has ideal performances he would love to attempt. “Well, who wouldn’t want to play a concert at the Hollywood Bowl or Carnegie Hall? Maybe one day, but I’m starting to get a little long in the tooth, so unless this music business turns around I may not get to do that. Something I always wanted to do and never did while I was living in London was play at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Since I moved away I always return and play at a competing venue, the Pizza Express Jazz Club. I’m sure that playing Ronnie’s is a little more realistic however. Although Hollywood Bowl, who knows. I’m happy to keep dreaming. It got me this far after all.” Keep that dream alive Chris, I am sure it is on its way!

Performing can be difficult sometimes. I asked Chris to share some of his most difficult performances to date. “Nothing specific comes to mind but there have been many times where certain things were not all they could be. I have played shows were the rental equipment was horrendous. For a long time I would go to the UK and promoters would provide gear that was nothing short of broken. The amount of amps I’ve returned to rental companies [is] insane. Somehow you have to get through playing a show with a smile on your face, and not only that, put a damn good show on. Somehow you do, but it can be so frustrating. Other times we have played outdoor concerts in the freezing cold. This is the worst. I remember playing at the Pasadena Jazz Festival a few years ago, which would always take place in July. Every year artists would play in 112 degree heat. It was almost impossible. But the show must go on, right?” You are correct! Chris, and his fellow musicians, are a band of musical soldiers who brave the ceaseless and often intolerable venues across the globe. However, the more venues that a musician can play at, the more listeners will be captivated by their work. I admire Chris’ perseverance here.

As the music industry is exploding, Chris had a lot of thoughts about the drastic changes occurring. “I have strong feelings about the music world today. First, unlike many of my contemporaries, I don’t subscribe to the idea that music was better back in the day. I think there is some amazing stuff out there right now; you just have to dig through the clutter. The business is changing, of course, and it seems every record I make I am presented with new challenges to get it in front of the people. I like the idea that the playing field has been leveled, even though only a tiny percent of independent artists have had the savvy and talent to break through on their own. There is so much clutter. Everyone has an album. Everyone’s a producer. It means nothing unless you can get it to the people, and the people react. So for all intents and purposes, we are still very much living in a major label world because they have the money to spend and they have relationships with radio, promoters and so on. Of course, the idea of people not buying music anymore, that’s a tough one to take. That is a generational thing. I love the record world, but I’m OK with it all changing provided enough folks stream the music. We are not even talking about downloads anymore. I wonder how long iTunes will even exist now that everyone has turned to streaming? Time will tell.” I remain hopeful in that regard. As I have said many times before, there is an endless amount of great music out there for billions to enjoy. Streaming is popular but I am still one of those strange people that download songs and save them on my computer. An outlandish goal of mine, similar to people who collect records, is to have the best collection of digital music when I am an old man. Happily, Chris’ work will be on that list.

As an artist, Chris mentioned his exploration into other mediums. “… I can’t imagine ever leaving music behind but I am open to other mediums in order to help get the music out there. For instance, I have recently written a memoir, “Something In The Stars” [which is] in … bookstores everywhere. I really loved writing that book and if I thought I had any kind of career as an author, I would write another. Perhaps I will, who knows? The other thing I am having fun with is a TV show I am hosting called ‘The Inside Track‘ where I feature a special jazz artist as my guest and we record and film them live in the studio, then we go head to head in a very Charlie Rose style interview, over a glass of wine. Great fun, but a lot of work, and I am directing, producing, recording, editing and not to mention financing… We are living in a video world and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.” Chris is wise to branch out, especially as he recognizes the various avenues available to him. I am glad to hear his depth of passion for this art has been a worthwhile addition to the entertainment space.

I have been a fan for quite some time with a love of Chris’ songs such as: Bossa Blue, Sneakin’ Out the Front Door, Love & Paragraphs and I Can’t Help Myself. Bossa Blue is the epitome of cool with a great plucking of the guitar that immediately puts me in a groove. The beat is perfect and you cannot escape it. Sneakin’ Out the Front Door is even cooler. Chris’ guitar licks linger and are powerfully elaborated to make for some addictive tunes. Again, listening to this song, you cannot help but be in the mood. A similar artist, Chris Hunt, has a shared vibe in this song. Love & Paragraphs has a more rock and roll feel tied in with Chris’ jazz roots. For some reason, I feel like this song would be perfect in a movie when the main character becomes suddenly inspired to do some good in his/her life. Lastly, I Can’t Help Myself is perfect love making music. There can be no doubt in that. With Chris’ soft guitar playing, lovers will be sure light their bedroom candles and get it on with a passion that absolutely pleasing.

Chris has many influences currently of which he shared a few. “…I am quite inspired right now actually. I am half way through recording a new album (which will be released March of 2016) and every record I make I set about listening to a lot of what is going on musically, in all genres. I have been listening to a 24 year old kid called Zedd who is having huge success in the electronic dance world and he is quite the genius. There are some great artists. Taylor Swift is a huge talent. I love Ellie Goulding and the producers behind her records. This of course is the pop world, but I love that world. In the jazz world, Snarky Puppy is clearly at the top of the tree. I am always attracted to real artistry, to those who don’t necessarily rely on producers and writers to make them look good. They are the real deal. So, the Pat Methenys and Snarky Puppys of the world have massive respect from me. They are driven to do what they do because the drive is bigger than them. They are unstoppable. That is so attractive in my book.” What a great list of musicians! I particularly liked Chris’ stance on his respect for his colleagues and even the pop stars of the world. Musicians, as all artists, can take a gander of each other’s work and learn how to assimilate or even explore beyond their craft. There is so much to discover!

Chris is a busy man and he shared his current doings with me. “I’m trying to step up my game in every corner. I am learning new jazz guitar things, really trying to better my playing. Learning to program new synths, which in turn will affect the writing on this new album, hopefully in a good way. I have some live shows coming up. All this sounds like a lot I know, and it is. I guess having a healthy balance in life has never really been my thing.” His next big project is his new album, of which I remain excited for. “… I haven’t got a solid title for it yet but I can tell you that it is heavy on the jazz guitar side of things, but the beats are infectious. Somehow I have managed to keep things funky, whilst giving myself a vehicle to play over some fun and challenging chord changes. It will be my best record yet… I say that every time I make one, so I wouldn’t take that too seriously.” Jazz fans worldwide will be anxiously awaiting his new music. I have a feeling it will be another great one. Until that time, take a listen to Chris’ work and be sure to catch him the next time he is in town. He will not be a man to miss!

 

Jam On.

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Written by Myles Hunt

Music fan, simple and sweet.

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