Ever since the release of his debut album ‘Solar System’, Chris Standring has differentiated himself with a sound that marks him out as one of the most soulful smooth jazz guitarists around. Much of the excitement to surround his brand new release ‘Blue Bolero’ has been about how the compositions, arrangements and choice of instruments have shown off a different side to his musical persona yet just as interesting is how, in pursuit of his musical dream, he originally relocated to the USA.
Indeed, given his residency in Los Angeles, CA, Standring is very much the Englishman abroad. When recently I talked with him, I wanted to know what had taken him there in the first place.
“I first came to the USA in 1980 when I spent a year travelling around. I became hooked on the country and even after I returned to the United Kingdom to attend college and advance my music career I remained connected with what was going on there. I went back in 1991 and have been here ever since. In those early days I played with a close group of musicians. Freddie Ravel was one of them. We got the chance to play some gigs and created quite a buzz. It was all like ‘who is this new English guy’ but, as is often the case, that early success faded and for a spell I was playing classical guitar in restaurants just to get by. Then in 1996 I got lucky when I was introduced to Marc Antoine. His career was just taking off and I got the chance to go on the road with him. It was the very early days of the ‘guitars and saxes’ format which at the time included players such as Antoine, Peter White and Kirk Whalum. Marc campaigned for me to get the gig and things started to happen for me. For a time I played with Rick Braun’s band and I also worked with Richard Elliot. I even wrote music with those guys and parallel to all that my solo career was getting into gear.”
That career continued to grow and with ‘Blue Bolero’ has attained new heights. The project is very different from Standring’s previous projects and I was eager to know the rationale behind it.
“With ‘Blue Bolero’ things have kind of come full circle” he told me. “The way it developed was mainly a result of how I was feeling at the time about the contemporary jazz genre. I was becoming a little disillusioned with the lack of variety and wanted to dig a little deeper, to take the music in new and challenging directions.”
The way in which he has done this has been nothing short of a revelation yet I wondered if he had considered the risk that might be involved in moving his music beyond what might be considered as the recognised mainstream. “It was a huge risk” Chris immediately confirmed “but it was something I really needed to do. I thought about it and concluded hey, what’s the worst that can happen?”
I asked Chris what to him had been the most important. Was it the way he wanted to blend contemporary jazz with classical influences or was it more about creating what, in part, is clearly an autobiographical commentary on his formative years in the United Kingdom? “Yes” Chris told me “many of the song titles are very autobiographical but, in terms of the creative process, that came later. Basically, on the album, I decided to sequence the tracks according to the order in which they were conceived. For example the first two tracks (‘Overture’ and the title cut ‘Blue Bolero’) were all about me experimenting with the sound that I wanted to create. It was only after that, when the album began to take on a flow, that the autobiographical elements began to emerge. The one exception to the way in which the album came together was the tune ‘Lost In Angels’. I thought the CD was totally done then I got this idea for a song. We recorded it as a very late addition and I am very pleased we did.”
Going back to the orchestral element of ‘Blue Bolero’, one of its most powerful facets is the playing of Barbra Porter on violin. I asked Chris how he had become acquainted with her. “Barbra has played with the likes of Streisand and Michael Jackson but she also happens to be my sister’s next door neighbour in LA. I talked to my sister about her but as she is not really musical wasn’t really able to give me an informed opinion. I went with it anyway and I think what you can hear on the album speaks for itself. Not only that, she was also able to introduce me to a whole network of string players. I used some of them on ‘Blue Bolero’ and others I am able to call upon whenever I perform live.”
‘Blue Bolero’ has clearly moved Standring to another musical level and I was curious to discover what was coming next. “I am currently working on a new ‘festive’ album” he confided. “I intend it to be very different from the routine reworking of traditional tunes that often categorizes projects of this kind. It should be ready for Christmas 2011. As for ‘Blue Bolero’, although the 2010 touring season is pretty much at an end, we will be going back on the road with it in 2011. Because I will be making use of the same string quartet format, the choice of venue is quite important. The show isn’t really geared to big open-air festival settings. We get our best results when playing indoor concerts so that’s where I will be positioning it.”
If my own experience of Standring’s live performances is anything to go by then these will be shows that must not be missed.