Gregg Karukas – Blue Touch
Gregg Karukas is one of those rare smooth jazz artists whose unique sound and natural approach to both composing and performing encapsulate all the charms, appeal and excitement of his genre. On his i.e Music debut Blue Touch, he not only plays more acoustic piano than ever before, he also enhances his memorable melodies with retro keyboard flavors, a horn section, and guest appearances by longtime friends and fellow smooth jazz stars, saxman Boney James and guitarist Peter White.
“Blue Touch is essentially a continuation of my usual trademarks, melodic, sophisticated, romantic tunes which are often funky at the same time,” says Karukas. “As the album title implies, my playing is more bluesy than technical, funky and greasy and emotional. My chord structures have always tended to run more into blues than most other smooth jazz keyboardists. I’m always playing it from the gut, as part of my philosophy of creating music that’s about honest communication.”
While keeping his keyboards front and center-he plays synthesizers, grand piano, and, on the title track and the Latin-flavored “Club Havana,” Fender Rhodes-Karukas also creates great ensemble action with Boney James, Peter White, Ricardo Silveira, Yellowjackets drummer Will Kennedy, guitarists Allen Hinds and Michael O’Neill and percussionist Luis Conte. “Club Havana” and the traditional jazz flavored “Snakey Shoes” also feature the bright, brassy textures of a horn section featuring saxman Brandon Fields, trumpeter Walt Fowler and trombonist Nick Lane. Karukas’ other stylistic swings touch on everything from Crusaders style fusion (“Blue Touch”) and out-and-out blues/funk (“Cruisin’ Your House at Midnight”) to samba (“Conversation”) and straightforward soulful romance (“Fly Away”). One of the genre’s most self-reliant artists behind the boards, Karukas produced Blue Touch at his Nightowl studios with special mixing assistance from veteran Don Murray and Ron Boustead, who also sings the album’s one vocal ballad “Road Back To Love”.
A native of Washington D.C., Karukas first set fingers on a piano around age six, but didn’t become serious about music until his mid-teens, when the lure of favorite bands and artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, The Crusaders, and Herbie Hancock proved irresistible. As a teenager, he mostly played organ in R&B bands, but he fostered a great love for jazz by seeking out recordings by everyone from Miles Davis and Chick Corea to the great Bill Evans.
At 17, he began a five year stint with DC’s top jazz group, East Coast Offering, and then later became one of the top fusion and studio players in the city. Karukas moved to L.A. in 1983, hoping to expand his multi-keyboard style by playing with other West Coast artists. Long before computers took over the studio mindset, Karukas became a first-call accompanist and synthesizer whiz who even hired himself out to restore classic instruments like the Fender Rhodes. In the mid-’80s, he found himself a key part of the local contemporary jazz scene, cultivating long term friendships and professional associations with, among others, Shelby Flint, Richard Elliot, Grant Geissman, Ronnie Laws, Brenda Russell, and David Benoit. He had just completed a year-and-a-half stint backing Melissa Manchester when he formed his own band, which became a regular attraction at several of the city’s most notable jazz hot spots. Karukas was also an original member of The Rippingtons, contributing to 1986’s Moonlighting, an album Jazziz magazine called the most influential in smooth jazz history.
Just as he was launching his solo career with the independent release of The Nightowl, Karukas began cultivating another dimension of his artistry based on his love for Brazilian music, playing behind artists like guitarist Ricardo Silveira, Sergio Mendes and Dori Caymmi. In 1992, he played at the Hollywood Bowl with Toots Thielemanns and Brazilian legends Ivan Lins and the late Antonio Carlos Jobim.
In addition to his career as a performing musician, another vital facet of Karukas’ artistic talent is his work as a producer and songwriter for other artists. Launching his own studio several years ago, Karukas has produced albums for guitarist Phil Sheeran, saxophonist Mike Gealer, the Pointer Sisters, and bassist Brian Bromberg. He also recently played on albums by Peter White and Craig Chaquico. As a songwriter, his tunes have been recorded by George Benson, Deniece Williams, Kenia, Pauline Wilson and many others. A popular gun for hire by movie studios, Karukas has also played and programmed synthesizers for Stand and Deliver, Money For Nothing, Mr. Wrong, Major Payne, Disney Cartoon themes, and TV shows like Cheers, Santa Barbara, Life Goes On, and Hope and Gloria.
As smooth jazz attained extraordinary popularity in the nineties, Karukas’ solo career followed a parallel path, resulting in four best-selling albums released on Positive Music which have all become staples of the format. His albums Key Witness, featuring Richard Elliot and Dave Koz;. Sound of Emotion, with Koz, Ricardo Silveira, and Eric Marienthal;. Summerhouse, featuring Koz, Boney James, Everette Harp, and Dori Caymmi; and You’ll Know It’s Me, which featured popular guitarist Doc Powell, have all hit the top of the radio charts.
“There is always variety in both my music and my life,” he says. “My songs are an extension of my personality, and I put everything I am into them.” The heart, soul and extraordinary effort pays exciting rewards on Blue Touch, Gregg Karukas’ most dynamic collection to date and is sure to, once again, perch the keyboardist at the top of the smooth jazz charts as 1998 begins.
For More Information Visit The Greg Karukas Web Site.