11:54am | Dean Grech is a busy guy. When he's not playing with heavy hitters, he's performing at venues all over Southern California and, in between gigs, he's been producing a new CD of beautifully composed and arranged jazz, backed by an amazing array of talented musicians.
He'll be playing this Sunday at McKenna's on the Bay from 4 to 8 p.m.
I asked Dean about his writing process.
Dean: I usually start with tunes in mind that are some of my favorites, from Miles Davis to Bach to to Chet Baker to Beatles. Pretty random, I know. Then I find melodies and chord progressions, preferably ones I have never played or heard before. If there are lyrics involved, I then think of experiences or things that move me. I always try to keep my melodies very melodic and easy to sing or hear. I find, as a listener or a musician, I really like to hear very melodic sounds. Good melodies are what musicians and average listeners want to hear. That sounds simple but it isn't an easy task. It is like loosing weight, or getting rich! [laughs]
Sander: Do you write your own arrangements?
Dean: Yes, I arrange most everything, but I am always open to suggestions from the other musicians. That's due, in part, to that the musicians I have playing on my stuff are some of the best in the world.
This CD is still in the writing phase so I am not sure of all the musicians yet. I know I am using Greg Vail on Sax, Hal Ratliff and Hans Zermuehlen on Keys, Rick Shaw on upright bass, and Roger "KOKO" Powell on bass but, as for the rest, I am not sure. As the tunes evolve I will think of the best musicians I know that will fit the style of each song. It is like casting a part in a movie.
Sander: How long does it take for you to "get to know" a composition?
Dean: That's a tough one. Tunes are like people. They have a sound and a life of there own. Sometimes you can play a tune for years and discover something about it you never knew before, even if you wrote it yourself.
At some point, I hear a different chord change, melody or feel that may be better suited for the tune, or sometimes just a different emotional flavor that I feel as the tune evolves. That's the beauty of music: It always has many interpretations. I have had people listen to a tune and tell me what it meant to them and I just sat there in awe because I would have never thought that of the tune on my own.
Dean: I love standards , and anyone who listens to my stuff will get that right off. Standards are standards because they are such greatly written songs, and have stood the test of time. I think modern musicians, including jazz musicians have forgotten that. Many are trying to play chops and cool riffs but that means nothing if the tune you are playing is not good. All the old Jazz was based on playing over these great standards, not some funky hip hop grove with no melody. Just like Rap or Grunge, they just write lame tunes and put a different label on it. That's why most all that stuff will never be standards like [works by] Henry Mancini , Gershwin or even a Beatles tune. Well written tunes don't die.
Dean will be closing the weekend festivities at McKenna's on the Bay, where General Manager John Morris has sold out 75 VIP Grand Prix party packages, which included premium seating at the race, round trip transportation via the Aqualink, a Saturday night dinner, and a Sunday brunch.
Sander: There are lots of places to play in Southern California. Is there anything special about playing at McKenna's?
Dean: Yes! It's the best venue in Long Beach, I love having the Bay, and all the boats, right outside the windows. It is very inspirational. What I like most is that I can play at a low volume and the people can sit close to the musicians, listen, or sit back and enjoy a meal or drinks with friends. That really is the way jazz should be played and heard.