Tom Schuman has been the keyboardist for Spyro Gyra since the beginning. He’s been on every recording by the perennial contemporary jazz band and has penned at least 40 of the songs on those recordings. During the 40+ year career of the group, he’s had a handful of solo albums. Fifteen years ago this month, he released Schuman Nature, an acoustic, straight ahead effort. At the time, ContemporaryJazz.com interviewed Schuman. Here a couple of highlights from that 2003 interview:
Q: How did you meet Jay [Beckenstein, Spyro Gyra leader] in the first place.
A: I was this kid in Buffalo, this teenage prodigy that everybody was talking about. So I walk into the club where Jay and Jeremy Wall had their Tuesday night jams before there was a Spyro Gyra. He band was called Tuesday Night Jam at a place called Jack Daniels. I walk in and Jay had heard about me through the grapevine and said come on up and play. I didn’t know him, I didn’t know anybody. I just started playing. He said immediately that “Wow you are something else would you like to be on our first record. We have new material and we’d like to put this record together.” I’m like “sure.” This was like my first recording session. It was a pleasure to work with those guys. The music was diverse. It wasn’t just all jazz, but it wasn’t all Funk or all Latin music it was a mixture of stuff which I really enjoyed.
Q: Who is your favorite keyboardist?
A: Joe Zawinul is my favorite keyboard player on the planet. He doesn’t sound like keyboards. He sounds like some unearthly thing. He makes everything some completely unique to him and it’s an amazing feat. You buy a Korg Tritent for instance now and you have your stock sounds. I don’t know how much time he spends on this, but Zawinul goes in and just tweaks them out of shape completely into something different. I’m sure that he has a lot of programmers that work with him. His son is a brilliant engineer. Every time I go to hear him play I’m amazed by the sounds that are coming out of his setup. He has like 19 peddles on the bottom. He’s got everything wired together. All the midi and rack stuff is all wired together. He just brings them up with volume pedals. Nobody does that. I dig the way he goes about being spontaneous with the keyboard technology which is hard to do when you press one button and you got and you can sequence anything. He’s a great live player for that kind of stuff. That’s what I try to do and stay live with it instead of using sequencers and mini discs. If anything I’ll use samplers to recreate the original acoustic instruments.
Find out what legendary contemporary jazz bassist and composer John Patitucci has been up to! Jon Liebman recently posted an interview with the the busy bassist for his ForBassPlayersOnly.com site. Patitucci discusses his 2017 schedule, his current basses, the state of jazz, and possible upcoming projects!
This week, in 1990, the Blue Pacific recording by Michael Franks hit #1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart. It was really my first exposure to him. I recall that his voice surprised me. It wouldn’t be until later that I gained appreciation for the wittiness and uniqueness of his lyrics. I think I remember some excitement about Walter Becker producing some tracks. The late Steely Dan co-founder (Becker passed away Sept. 3, 2017) produced three of the ten tracks, with Jeff Lorber and Tommy LiPuma dividing up the remainder. It was the first track, “The Art of Love,” that grabbed my attention – a good catchy uptempo track. I’m pretty sure we put that into rotation on the radio station’s late night jazz show immediately.
Michael shared his memory, as well as a photo, of working with Walter Becker, saying “I’m so grateful I got to know and work with Walter- he was a gentleman, an incredibly talented musician and producer and a terrific storyteller.”
Contemporary jazz lost one of its great contributors on July 31, 2017 when Chuck Loeb passed away. Loeb had been on the scene for decades and was one of those guys who could compose and produce just as well as he could play guitar. Whenever I saw his name on the credits of a song, I knew it had a higher chance of being something I’d enjoy. It would be quality.
The number of contemporary jazz recordings he’s been a part of must be in the hundreds. I remember a time in the ’90s when every CD that came to the radio station was produced by either Loeb or Paul Brown. In addition to a longtime solo career and many collaborations, he worked with Stan Getz and played with bands like Steps Ahead, Metro and Fourplay. The latter posted: “We, The Fourplay family, salute our fallen hero Chuck Loeb … Our band member, our dear friend, our soulmate, our musical composer, an incredible human being, husband and father. Thank you for sharing your love, life and music with us.”
Chuck had battled cancer for several years. He is survived by his wife Carmen Cuesta Loeb and daughters Lizzy and Christina.
The following were the top-selling contemporary jazz recordings in early July of 1990:
- Stanley Jordan – Cornucopia
- Najee – Tokyo Blue
- Basia – London Warsaw New York
- Patti Austin – Love Is Gonna Getcha
- Alex Bugnon – Head Over Heels
- Spyro Gyra featuring Jay Beckenstein – Fast Forward
- Dianne Reeves – Never Too Far
- Jonathan Butler – Deliverance
- George Howard – Personal
- Lonnie Liston Smith – Love Goddess