Photo | slimgambill.com /Paul Natkin
Band: Slim Gambill LP Release Show
Date: Saturday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m.
Venue: The Listening Room of Mobile, 78 St. Francis St., thelisteningroommobile.com
Tickets: $25 available through Eventbrite
One of the music industry’s veteran hired guns is stepping to the front of the stage with his first solo album. Guitarist Jason “Slim” Gambill is best known for his work with the country group Lady Antebellum. However, Gambill’s debut album, “Fake Jazz & Theme Songs,” showcases this talented guitarist’s eclectic exploration of jazz. Gambill uses 10 tracks to trip across the jazz spectrum. From the modern jazz song of “54321” to the rhythm and blues-infused jazz goodness of “Over Getting Over You,” Gambill proves that he has a passion for this genre that cannot be denied by even the staunchest jazz purist. In between solo gigs and Lady Antebellum performances, Gambill took a break from traveling to talk jazz with music editor Steve Centanni.
Steve Centanni: What’s it like making the transition from hired gun extraordinaire to solo artist?
Slim Gambill: Well, let’s see. When the first thing happens, I’ll let you know [laughs]. It’s an interesting thing, because my approach to music has to be completely different. It goes from it being my job to service somebody else’s music to me sort of creating whatever I want to create. They both have their virtues. It was an interesting thing the first time that I got together with some musicians to play music that I had written that wasn’t country songs. Having to navigate what I had in my head and trying to reproduce it on the recording and live is a completely different mentality. It hasn’t been a complete transition.
I’m obviously still playing with Lady Antebellum and will be for the foreseeable future, so the interesting thing for me is going back and forth. I was literally doing a stripped-down livestream in Santa Monica on Friday evening with Lady A’. I got on a redeye, and then Saturday night in Atlanta I’m doing my own jazz show. Flipping the switch going from one musical personality to another is really trippy. I’m not gonna lie. It’s one of those things where I’m like, “Oh wow! I’ve got to go do this and use a different part of my brain now.” It’s fun though, man. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of just shaking things up. I’ve been wanting a musical outlet for a while. It’s cool and a lot of fun.
Centanni: After all these years, what was the catalyst to make you want to track your album?
Gambill: The first music that I ever recorded that I wrote was in this vein. It was informed by jazz and funk and R&B and Latin music. It was all instrumental and had a horn section. It’s kinda circling back around to it. What sparked an interest in me doing it again was a friend of mine who had a jazz festival in New Mexico. He wanted me to come and be a mentor. It was middle school, high school and college jazz big bands. Then, they have a couple of professional musicians to come and do a master class with each band, and there’s a performance at night. I was like, “Well, I haven’t done anything with a big band in years. What should I play?” He just said, “Well, do you have any of your own music?” I really didn’t, but there was some stuff that I had been messing with. So, it kind of led me to finishing some music and recording some music. That was the first gig. That was the thing that took it over the top. I had a deadline, and I had to come up with some music.
Centanni: Let’s talk about the title. As far as the “Fake Jazz” part of it, I read where you said that you didn’t have the experience to be considered a full-fledged jazz artist. Why do you think that your music is different from those who have dedicated their lives to jazz?
Gambill: Believe me, with the title, none of it is supposed to be self-deprecating. I know what I’m doing musically. What’s different about it is that I would consider myself a jack of all trades. There’s a couple of things that I think that I’m really amazing at. Then, there’s a whole lot of other types of music that I have dabbled in. Some have been heavier than others. Jazz is one of those things.
To go to the top of the heap with Wynton Marsalis, that man is an encyclopedia of jazz music, jazz licks, jazz solos and everything jazz. I never quite took it that far. I didn’t even take it close to that far. I’ve never learned a lot of standards or transcribed a lot of solos and all those things that people dig so deep into in the jazz world. I was always kinda too lazy to do it. I just explored it in my own way. I just don’t want to put myself on that level. As far as professional musicians go, I guess that I would be at that level. As far as full-fledged jazz artists go, those guys are in their own category. I don’t want to put myself in that category. I want to put myself in a different place.
Centanni: Now, let’s talk about the “Theme Song” aspect. You’ve said how the theme songs from ’80s police dramas were inspirational on that side of things. I’ve always noticed that there’s certain characteristics about old-school TV drama theme songs, especially with the police shows.
Centanni: What was it about those songs that resonated with you when you were a young guitarist?
Gambill: Man, that’s kinda hard to give a great answer to. What makes any music hit someone in a certain way? I don’t know. It kinda struck me. I think that the fact that since it was the background noise when I was learning to play guitar, it couldn’t help but rub off. Ninety-five percent of my guitar practice for my entire life has been watching TV while I practice. I guess that I have to multitask. Those shows were always on, and we always watched that stuff. Obviously, there’s a reason why those are legendary scores and soundtracks and theme songs. I guess that it couldn’t help but rub off, because that’s what I was listening to.
Centanni: With this being a different sound than you are used to playing, what do the folks in Lady Antebellum think about your music?
Gambill: They think it’s super cool! A couple of guys in the band actually played the first show with me. They aren’t so much into going out on the road with it, but everyone digs it. Several members of the band kinda explored the jazz thing at some point in their lives. So, they dig circling back around to it. My bosses get a kick out of it. They dig it. They’ve all listened to the record. It’s not their thing. They don’t really come from a jazz place. It is a very niche thing, but they enjoy it and support it. They don’t post on their Instagram about it, but they dig that I’m doing it. I think that they appreciate that I’m doing this side project and keeping things fresh. It’s made me into a better guitar player, and it rubs off on their show when I’m playing with them.
Centanni: When it comes to this album, what’s the thing that you’re most proud of?
Gambill: Honestly, I’m proud that it exists. It’s really one of those things that came about as me cutting some demos to send to a house band in New Mexico at that jazz festival. I just couldn’t do it halfway, so I kept going and going. It was a lot of work. It was a grind. I hadn’t played this stuff in 20 years. I love how it came together and how people have responded to it. People who I didn’t think would like something like this are digging it. My favorite songs are the ones that I wrote for my kids: “Lyla Marie” and “Silly Time.” I’m happy to be able to loosely include them on there. I’m just proud that it happened. I really love how it turned out.
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