By Val Vaccaro [photos by Bazpix]
Right before the holiday season, there was a wonderful wine-tasting event sponsored by CD101.9FM (WQCD www.cd1019.com - the smooth jazz station for the New York City metropolitan area) at the upscale Hilton Short Hills hotel in New Jersey. Blake Lawrence, Programming Director for CD101.9 and Bill Zafiros the head of the festival, made the right choice when they selected Matt Marshak and his band to perform at the event. It was a perfect blend of music, atmosphere, wine and food in the beautifully decorated hotel ballroom. Part of the event’s proceeds were donated to a good cause, The Inter-Religious Fellowship for the Homeless (in New Jersey).
On Friday, November 9, 2007, guitarist Matt Marshak and his band played a fantastic show – which by audience demand, went for almost four hours (with some short breaks), from 7pm – about 11:30pm that night. Joining Marshak were two main band members, the very talented, versatile drummer Chris Marshak, the cool and funky keyboardist Tim Regusis (who has also worked with Patti Austin, Najee and Jonathan Butler) and special guest star bassist player Paul Ossola (who plays in the Saturday Night Live TV show band). Ossola played upright bass for this more formal, special occasion.
Like fine wine that gets better over time, guitarist Matt Marshak’s musical performances continue to venture into even more exciting and delightful territory. It’s great to see this special talented musician and composer evolve during the past four years since he first arrived on the smooth jazz scene in 2003 when he opened at Bryant Park in NYC for a Guitars & Saxes show as winner of a CD101.9 original music contest sponsored by Absolut Vodka. Since 2003, Marshak has opened for artists such as Bobby Caldwell, Peter White, Bob James, Wayman Tisdale, and Spyro-Gyra, and has shared the stages with artists such as Richard Bona, Kenny Garrett, Walter Beasley and many others.
As usual, Marshak was a gracious host, in good spirits, chatting with the audience between songs and he and the band did a wonderful show to a delighted audience. The recent Harvest Wine Festival show included lots of great original songs composed by Marshak, along with a bunch of fresh, fun and sometimes adventurous cover versions of many favorite smooth jazz and pop tune hits.
The band’s first set started off with two of Marshak’s catchy original tunes “Seduction” and “(I Will) Be With You” (from his CD This Time Around 2004). The band then glided into gear with a sweet-sounding, dreamy cover of “Sleepwalk,” with Marshak’s warm guitar tones filling the air of the elegant ballroom. (It was evident that Marshak has been inspired by one of his key guitar influences, Larry Carlton.)
They picked up the pace with a funky cover of “Coming Home Baby” (reminiscent of the late Zachary Breaux). From there, Marshak eased his way into “Quietly” a beautiful tune off his sophomore CD This Time Around (2004). Next up was a great cover of the uplifting “Breezin’” (George Benson’s tune), with an animated guitar solo by Marshak complemented by a bluesy, solo by Tim Regusis on piano.
From there, with a cool intro featuring funky bass lines by Paul Ossola with great drums and cymbals by Chris Marshak, the band went into a surprising, terrific cover of Maxwell’s “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” (a trademark song in shows for saxophonist Kirk Whalum). Whalum and Maxwell would both have appreciated Marshak’s wonderful take on the song, and Wes Montgomery would have enjoyed Matt’s flair with the double octave chords on guitar.
Marshak then transitioned into one of his memorable tunes that has garnered airplay on the radio, “Wind Chill Factor” a lush, warm melody on guitar, with Regusis, (who produced the tune on Marshak’s CD Groovosphere 2006) on spacey-sounding special keyboard effects. The song is somewhat reminiscent of Larry Carlton’s tune “Lazy Susan.” Marshak’s tune “Wind Chill Factor" was recently added into rotation in Cleveland at The Wave WNWV 107.3, and has gotten airplay at stations such as CD101.9FM in New York.
After a short break, the second set kicked off with a funky cover of Grover Washington Jr.’s “Mister Magic” – another great choice featuring Marshak on guitar. Next up, Marshak and band played his original tune “Sanibel” which was a crowd favorite, as could be seen by the many smiling faces in the crowd.
"Sanibel” is an enchanting composition with combination tropical island flair/South-African vibe (written by Marshak with Bakithi Kumalo – bass player with the Paul Simon band, who has also worked with Marshak). Although Marshak didn’t do his usual special percussive finger-tapping during the bridge, “Sanibel” still has that magical sound. Marshak’s been playing this special song live for the past few years, and Sanibel finally has been recorded on Marshak’s new CD On the Rocks (being released in February 2008). From there, the joyful mood continued on with Marshak’s elated version of the uplifting “Affirmation” (a hit tune by George Benson, which was actually written by Jose Feliciano). Regusis did a fine job with a tasteful bluesy solo on keyboards. There were also some great drum solos and percussion by Chris Marshak.
From there, Marshak played guitar and did some smooth scatting on his original tune “Tell Me Why” (from his second CD This Time Around 2004). He ventured into the audience, playing guitar to select members of the crowd.
Back on stage, Marshak delivered his moving, dramatic instrumental version of “Wonderful Tonight” (Eric Clapton’s tune), which is always a crowd-pleaser (and can also be found on Marshak’s CD This Time Around). After such focused intensity, it was time to get playful and pick up the tempo with a great version by Marshak of “Killer Joe” (Benny Golson's tune), supported by Ossola’s funky walking bass lines, Regusis’ extended organ solo, and Chris Marshak’s subtle, yet spectacular sounds on drums and percussion to perfect the upbeat, cool, jazzy mood. The audience was truly diggin’ it. The set ended with another fun Crusaders’ tune “Put It Where You Want It.” (which not by coincidence had Larry Carlton the original recording).
After another short break, the band was back to entertain the crowd some more. Just when the audience might have thought it couldn’t have gotten any better, the show just kept going right on into overdrive. One very pleasant surprise was Marshak’s super-funky (a la Jimmy Nolen, James Brown’s guitarist on “I Got You, I Feel Good”) crowd-pleasing version of Prince’s tune “Kiss.” By the way, the song “Kiss” is a special treat on Marshak’s new CD On the Rocks (2008), featuring special guest saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa.
For an encore, almost four hours after the original set, the crowd was still hanging around after the wine event was wrapping up. Marshak introduced the last song this way, “we’re just about out of time, so we’re going to play a tune called “Nuthin’ But Time” (from Marshak’s debut CD Preservation 2003). It was a bluesy and satisfying way to end the show.
Part of smooth jazz fans’ 2008 New Year’s resolutions should be to try to catch a Matt Marshak show and hear the new CD On the Rocks.
After the show, Marshak also gave out copies of CD’s of his latest single “Space Coastin’” from the new upcoming CD On the Rocks. Currently “Space Coastin'” is #1 at WGRV radio, and is #3 at Music Choice and is the first single from the upcoming CD On the Rocks. “Space Coastin’” includes special guest artists saxophonist David Mann and bassist Andre Berry.
Next up, Matt Marshak plans to debut to Triple A radio his vocal single "I'm On Fire," a cover of the Bruce Springsteen classic; Marshak’s CD also includes an instrumental cover of the same song. There are also a bunch of great new, original songs on the CD, including one called “Hangin’ at Humphrey’s” inspired by the San Diego club of the same name (on the Bay).
Another new original song on the upcoming CD On The Rocks is “Sierra Sunset”. “Sierra Sunset” is a beautiful tune Marshak was moved to write after he finished a show in Reno, Nevada last year, when as he says, “we drove through the incredible snowy Sierra peaks to California. This breathtaking, picturesque display of God's creations are ‘played about’ in this tune.” Currently, you can hear this song on http://www.myspace.com/matthewsblues. More information is at www.mattmarshak.com.
As an independent artist, Marshak’s CD’s are available for purchase: www.cdbaby.com/mattmarshak3 and for download at www.iTunes.com. There are links to hear some of Marshak’s tune from CDs and live performances at: http://www.myspace.com/matthewsblues.
Marshak’s songs have been played around the world on radio stations, and in the U.S., as well as on Rafe Gomez’ syndicated radio show The Groove Boutique (www.thegrooveboutique.com), and can be heard on the web at www.jazzlynx.com, and www.thegroove.org. (At Jazzlynx.com, Marshak’s upbeat, catchy original tune "Summerfunk" - produced by Billy Heller of the Rippingtons for Marshak - was the #6 Most Played Song of 2006, his CD Groovosphere was the #14 Album of 2006, and Marshak was the #11 Most Played Artist of 2006.)
In 2007, as an independent artist (on his own label), Marshak played about 50 shows across the U.S. in places like, New York, California, DC, North Carolina, Iowa, Florida, Nevada, as well as in music festivals in Europe (www.nuancegroup.com). In the past four years, he’s played at some of top smooth jazz festivals and venues in the U.S. (e.g., Capital Jazz Fest, Jazz Trax, Blues Alley, IMAC Theater, and more). Last fall, he opened for Joyce Cooling at Rancho Mirage, CA, and for the Sax Pack in Connecticut, and did a cruise ship gig in the Bahamas.
For 2008, so far tour dates include: February, 10, 2008, Corey Creek Vineyard/Winterfest, Southold, New York; March, 2, 2008, Bedell Cellars Vineyard, Cutchogue, New York; Feb. 23 2008, a benefit show in Winston Salem, NC; on June 13, 2008 a show for WDSJ Jazz on the Green in Carillion Park, Dayton OH, and August 15-17, 2008 at the Genuine Jazz Fest in Breckenridge, CO.