by Genea L. Webb
For New Pittsburgh Courier
After a five-year recording hiatus, jazz guitarist Earl Klugh takes his listeners on a journey through some of his favorite classic songs with “Handpicked.”
“The whole thing about ‘Handpicked’ is that I wanted to write original songs and record ones that meant things to me over my career that I didn’t get the chance to record,” explained Klugh who resides in Atlanta.
“I chose ‘Alfie’ because Bert Bacharach is a hero of mine and it kicks off the record. My mother loved his music and I thought it’d be a great opener. ‘Alfie” is a standard.”
Other gems on the album include “Lullaby of Birdland”, “Hotel California featuring Jake Shimabukuro, “‘Round Midnight,” “All I Have To Do is Dream,” featuring Vince Gill and “Love is A Many Splendored Thing.”
“Handpicked” is set for release by the Concord Music Group on July 30.
“This whole album was something that takes me back to sitting in the living room or on the back porch playing my guitar. It was really a lot of fun and I was able to do duets with old friends and make some new friends. It keeps me excited about touring and making music,” Klugh said.
Klugh got captivated with music’s magic as a child after Chet Atkins appeared on the “Perry Como Show.”
“I wanted a guitar from the beginning,” recalled the Detroit native.
“My parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I said I wanted a guitar they got me a Mickey Mouse plastic guitar with no strings and I wanted a real one. Soon after I got one.
I really wanted to be a guitar player and a songwriter. When I was in school I would take my guitar to school and play with my brother. But what I always remember and what I’m thankful about is that I had a mother who got it.
The first time I went on the road I was 17 years old. My mom was afraid for me but she let me go and I am so blessed to be where I am today.”
Klugh made his first recording on Yusef Lateef’s “Suite 16.” He caught the attention of George Benson and played on the fellow guitarist’s “White Rabbit” album before joining Benson’s touring band in 1973.
Benson was born and raised in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and is a Schenley High School graduate.
Klugh has fond memories of performing in Pittsburgh.
“I was in Pittsburgh two years ago at the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild. We enjoy playing there and we hope to come back next year.” he said.
Since his years of working with Benson, Klugh has since recorded more than 34 albums in less than 25 years, 23 of those records have made the Top 10 charts with five of them taking the premier spot on Billboard’s Jazz Album chart. 2008’s “The Spice of Life” gave Klugh his 12th Grammy nomination.
Despite all the accolades, Klugh takes his success all in stride.
“When I get together with George Benson and play with him, I know that I am not that great at this guitar thing yet. When I talk to students I try to make an effort to get kids interested in music or any instrument. I try to explain that besides the finished project, you’ve got to be serious about the music and if this is going to be your calling in life, you need to treat it like that,” Klugh said.
“You have to go to school and practice. That’s what it takes to achieve success on a world-class level in today’s world. I continually try to wave the banner.
“I started out playing the piano and I largely learned how to play by ear, but the piano gave me the wide range of notes,” Klugh continued.
“I always encourage kids to take piano lessons because it’s one of the only instruments that gives you a basis for everything.”
When he isn’t creating mood-altering music, Klugh enjoys watching action movies, traveling and listening to younger guitar players.
For about 10 years, Klugh has been putting together A Special Weekend of Jazz featuring his contemporaries and other great musicians for a weekend of music and camaraderie in Colorado Springs. Past participants have included Roberta Flack, Ramsey Lewis, Patti Austin and Chris Botti. He has expanded the concept to Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina.
“I really enjoy getting together with people I know and I wanted to put together three-days of concerts where we have a great time,” Klugh said.
“We have people coming from all over to hear the music.”
Right now he is focused on touring across the country to promote “Handpicked.”
Although he will not be stopping in Pittsburgh, Klugh will be performing at New York City’s Blue Note to kick off the July 30 release of “Handpicked.”
He will then head to various parts of Africa–Botswana, Mozambique and Malawi–to continue promotions.
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