Smooth Jazz and Southern California go together like soft breezes and incessant 72-degree days - the music breathes upon a benevolent richness that is easily absorbed and capable of lifting one's mood to upper levels of well-being that float with the clouds, effortlessly elevated about the discords of stress and atonality that populate everyday existence.
For jazz guitarist and composer Patrick Yandall, Smooth Jazz Therapy has followed his career since 2006 and the release of his excellent CD Samoa Soul. Indeed, since he began his solo career in 1994. Now 20 years down the road he is touring behind his 15th album, the decidedly tasty Soul Grind, which he will perform along with other tasty nuggets spanning the expanse of his career during An Evening of Jazz at Bay City's State Theatre on Saturday, November 23rd.
Success has populated Yandall's career through interesting avenues. His song Who's the Bossa Now from Samoa Soul was used in the political satire film, War, Inc. starring John Cusack and Marissa Tomei; and his music has also been featured on television and news broadcasts. His single Tower of Soul stayed for Number 1 for 5 weeks straight on Smooth Jazz Now Top3-Charts and hit No. 1 on Live 365 smooth jazz radio chart monitored by Radio Wave. Some of his work has been featured on The Weather Channel's Local on the 8's segments - fitting given its uplifting and airy qualities.
Yandall's music is typified by an easy grooving San Diego vibe that is consistent yet evolving. Songs such as It's Tie take on something of a Steely Dan attitude, which is fitting insofar as he also tackles a blistering version of that band's hit Josie. And while his music is often easily ebullient; his gift for intricacy shines on numbers such as the expansive More Than I Am, proving it's easy to understand why his creations have a tendency to find their way onto soundtracks.
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Yandall prior to his appearance at The State from his home base in San Diego; and we started by discussing his background in music and guitar and what it was that first sparked his interest and informed his creative pursuit.
“I started playing trumpet in the 5th grade and switched to guitar in the 6th grade at St. Mar's, where I attended grade school and church,” he explains. “I started playing guitar in the mass by the 7th and grade and by the 9th grade I was playing in a top 40 Rock Band with older guys that were playing in clubs around Michigan. I believe back then we were called 'Profile'. The Summers Brothers, Randy & Ron, were state wrestlers at Handy High School and had a great band and very good musicians.”
“Later I joined a band called Clockwork that played all over the Midwest and some southern states that consisted of other friends that attended Handy High: Loll Horneber, Paul Millitello, Chris Everson and Greg Schlutz at one time. We were into groups like Yes, Gentle Giant, and we got to like music by Weather Report, Jean Luc Ponty, and people like Jeff Lorber and The Brecker Brothers, both of whom I have worked with.”
“Besides sports, my love for music really took over and playing guitar and studying music became a huge part of my life. I attended Central Michigan University only to find myself interested in the music classes there. My aim was to do music professionally, so I moved out to San Diego and found work playing in some working bands. I met a keyboardist in that band who was doing music in Los Angeles with Capitol Records. He brought me into some sessions to be a co-writer with bands that he was producing and really helped me get my composing and recording skills started. Soon I was composing, recording and improving my own guitar skills and I produced my first CD in 1992, called That Feels Nice. Since then and after 15 CD's released, I've never looked back.”
Given that Smooth Jazz is an expanding genre of music within the idiom of Jazz, which in itself is often a difficult medium to break commercially, what does Pat feel it is about his sound that distinguishes it from other artists working within the genre?
“When I started out in the music industry, the genre was called 'Contemporary Jazz'. It was a mix of rock, blues, Latin, R&B, and country and it was amazing. Since the 'smooth' term came to be in the late 90s, the genre lost a lot of the edge that artists like Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, The Brecker Brothers and Weather Report had intended. The smooth jazz stations started playing only the 'lite' music of the artists. A lot of us contemporary jazz musicians tried to adjust, but it was inevitable what the genre had become. But things are now turning around where the internet stations for smooth jazz are playing a little bit of everything. This is a good thing! My music is different from most of these other smooth jazz artists in that I have tried to keep the jazz element of soloing and composition important in my music and a focus of my compositions. My music, to me, is a Rock/Blues based instrumental music with R&B, Pop, Latin and Soul elements in there, but still respectful to the jazz idiom.”
What are some of the musical goals and directions Pat is striving to achieve with his work?
“I love to see my music used in film, TV, videos and other media,” he relates. “When I compose I see a video image of the song as I compose it, along with the melodic part. I want to get more proficient at composing music for specific feelings and situations in film, TV, and commercials. In my music I compose targeted for just music released to the public. I am always trying to be better at my guitar work and making the music more appealing to a broader audience.”
As for the most challenging component involved with growing his career and drawing more attention to his work, Pat states that to his mind “Most instrumental music is not taken seriously by the majority of music consumers. I have been asked before, 'Why don't you put words to that?' I love the fact instrumental music makes the listener appreciate the 'sound' of the instruments and how they relate and form this mosaic of colors that you hear. No one likes every painting, and I understand that no everyone likes all types of music. But sometimes if you just put away your pre-conceived opinion and let the sound take over, you might be surprised what you end up enjoying.”
In terms of the tracks he tends to favor on his new CD and feels are representative about the type of sound he is striving to cultivate, Yandall points to the art of the live performance. “The track 'Say Ow', which I wrote for NFL legend Junior Seau here in San Diego for the Chargers, is a blast to perform live. It takes on a life of its own with my bandmates. A surf video was produced to my track It's Time and that is another one I like to do live. I have another song that I composed for the Bay City native Dave Shore who passed away that I am looking forward to perform for the State Theatre crowd. And last, my single My Lady which hit #1` on Smooth Jazz Now is both funky and a fun ride!”
As we conclude our conversation, I ask Pat if any career highlights stand out in his mind. “Being nominated Jazz Artist of the Year by one of the music associations in California was one,” he concludes. “My song 'Mr. Fattburger' used in the feature film Fruitvale Station and seeing my name in the credits was great. Headlining the Jazz Trails series with Ramsey Lewis was an honor. A PBS special on me and my music filed at Delta College with Scott Seeburger was also very special. And numerous songs in the top of smooth jazz charts worldwide along the way has been very appreciated.”
“I'd also like to thank The State Theatre and sponsors Dow Corning & Tri Star Trust Bank for bringing me back to perform. It is one of my favorite places to perform ever and the State holds a special place in my heart. The State is where I saw a movie on Jimi Hendrix when I was a kid and that reinforced to me what I wanted to do with my life and music.”
Admission to 'An Evening of Jazz with Patrick Yandall' at The State Theatre is only $17.00 for adults and $12.00 for students 18 and under. His performance takes place on Saturday, November 23rd at 7 PM. For tickets go tostatetheatrebaycity.com or call 989-892-2660.