My father, Mike Choman, sipped his gin-and-tonic and traded amazed head-shakes and superlatives with his friend and bandmate, Glenn Isaacson, during Earl Klugh's concert at Dimit-riou's Jazz Alley last Thursday night. I sat with these two men from Wenatchee whom I have often heard talk technically about music, as they took turns identifying jazz standards. When Klugh called out one they hadn't heard of, they agreed to play it at their next gig.
My dad drove over earlier in the afternoon simply to see this concert, to spend the evening with me and share his musical expertise. Our table was at most 6 feet from the stage; the intimate setting of this concert allowed the audience to connect with Klugh, to really appreciate his mastery of the guitar.
"To transcend to that level ... it must be like going to heaven where you can look down and say, 'Wow, I'm here,'" my dad said.
Klugh sat on a stool and cradled his unusually small, nylon-string guitar in his arms as his fingers traipsed effortlessly over the fret board. His lips moved, probably unconsciously, when he executed especially complex chord combinations. The bass player, Scott Glazer, allowed his entire body - led by his neck - to travel up and down in synchronization with the pitch of the notes he plucked on his mahogany-hued instrument. And drummer Justin Varnes never could seem to keep his tongue from creeping over his lips as he tapped on his grass-green drum set.
Zel Brook, a middle-aged woman from Corvallis, Ore., let her body sway as she sat. She chewed her spinach salad as if she were in a trance. She wasn't alone. From the moment Earl Klugh plucked the first note on his custom-made guitar, the crowd of about 60 people, from teenagers to senior citizens, was spellbound.
"This was beautiful - just pure joy," Brook said after the concert.
Without the fireworks, flashy props or special effects synonymous with most "great concerts" of the 21st century, Klugh delivered an experience no one in the audience will soon forget. Simple music like that is transcendent, and the intimacy of the venue magnified its power. Along with fans who have followed Klugh since the 1970s, a surprising number of young couples under 30 enthusiastically waited in line, CDs in hand, for autographs after the show.
Steffan Mirsky, a 20-year-old student at the University of Washington, sat at a two-person table that almost touched the stage. Klugh's concert made a huge impression on Mirsky, who started playing the guitar a couple of months ago.
"He definitely inspired me ... I like the smooth sound," Mirsky said.
Klugh believes that people like Mirsky attend his concerts and buy his CDs simply because they enjoy listening to guitar music.
"The guitar is a very popular instrument," said Klugh. "It's a common ground. [Young people] just come to check it out."
Glenn and my dad are both seasoned musicians who now play in a jazz trio called Fretworks with another guitar player, Bud Helner, 78. They primarily stick to evening and weekend gigs in their hometown after their day jobs.
Earl Klugh is a three-time Grammy-winning jazz guitarist who has been in the music scene since the late '70s and, at 52, is about the same age as my father. His fame mostly derives from his pop or soft-jazz songs, which often include a milieu of strings, synthesizers and the occasional soulful vocalist.
My father sat in while I interviewed Klugh after the show. Often he would interject with questions about guitar pickups and technique. Watching Klugh and my father interact was an unreal experience. When my dad attended music school in Hollywood, he played with Bob James, a musician who collaborated with Klugh on three albums. Instead of pursuing music, my dad got his MBA and raised a family. Instead of raising a family, Klugh pursued music. ("I was married once for six months," Klugh laughed.)
These men who have led two very different lives seemed to look at each other and wonder what could have been.
As we pulled away from Jazz Alley, my dad popped his newest, freshly autographed Earl Klugh album into the CD player. Strings, shakers and soulful vocals filled the air - a stark contrast to the simple guitar we had heard less than an hour before. My dad shook his head in disappointment.
"His stuff is such a mixed bag," Dad said. "He needs to stop playing that soft jazz, pop-music crap and do what he was born to do. Play the guitar like he did tonight."
Klugh is planning to focus more on the solo/small ensemble side of his music, but he said that he did enjoy playing the smooth jazz that dominated most of his career. Out of almost 30 CDs, only his solo album and his trio album contain the type of music that he played at the concert.
"This was my first live trio in 15 years," Klugh said. "I think it's important; it is the more neglected side of my recorded career."
My father is looking forward to the new solo CD that Klugh is releasing this summer.
"My main thing these days is stripped-down instrumentals," Dad said. "I am much more attracted to small group stuff [solos, duos, trios and quartets], with no vocals. I really think you get to hear the real spirit and voice of the artist in these more pared-back configurations.
"If Earl Klugh would put out solo, duo and trio albums, I would buy every one of them and urge my friends to do the same," he said.