Smooth side of Earl Klugh: Jazz guitarist to play weekend at Kiawah
If you like your jazz smooth, your accommodations luxurious and your weekends a multifaceted combination of sport, romance, music, fine dining, film and nature, then Earl Klugh’s Weekend of Jazz at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort might just fit the bill.
The Grammy Award-winning guitarist first organized the high-end weekend getaway in 2004, when he introduced the concept to the five-star Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.
In 2010, he came to Kiawah, lured by its setting, clientele and the convincing arguments of Tom Bewley, sales and marketing director.
Think of it as a musical retreat. Most patrons buy a full weekend package, but it’s also possible to attend individual performances. Tickets are still available for Wednesday’s movie night, co-produced by the Charleston International Film Festival and featuring the 2008 film “Crazy,” a biopic about Nashville guitarist Hank Garland. Director Rick Bieber will introduce the movie, and a mini-rodeo of food trucks will be on hand.
Saturday’s main event concert featuring Klugh and trumpeter Chris Botti is sold out, organizers said, but there’s still some space available Friday night, when saxophonist Kirk Wha-lum and his vocalist brother, Kevin Whalum, are slated to perform, followed by singer Peabo Bryson.
Mike Vegis, public relations director of Kiawah Island Golf Resort, said the jazz weekend is one of only a couple of really big, regular resort events. It tends to please patrons while at the same time fill the hotel during an otherwise slower time of the year.
It pleases Klugh, too. He gets one big mountain gig and one big oceanside gig, satisfying both cravings, Vegis said.
First, the piano
Klugh grew up in Detroit and started studying piano at age 6, he said. “I was trying to get my mom to get me a guitar,” even during those early years, and eventually obtained the object of his desire when he was 10. But learning how to play the piano was invaluable.
“I’m really glad I took lessons on the piano,” Klugh said. “That opens up a whole world. You’ve got the whole orchestra in front of you.”
To this day, he tends to do a lot of composing on the piano.
When he picked up the guitar, “There was a familiarity there.” This was another instrument that, like piano, could produce both melody and harmony.
His musical sensibility started to be formed during those childhood years. When he was 13, he descended the stairs at home one day to the sound of a live jazz concert broadcast on television. His mother had the volume turned up, and Klugh was mesmerized by the sounds of a piano.
“Man, who is this?” he remembered thinking at the time. It was the great Bill Evans.
“Bill Evans was for me an unbelievable moment,” Klugh said. “It was a turning point for me.”
You know, he thought, the guitar can sort of do that: triads in the bass with a melody on top, some graceful melodic flourishes, a light touch, sophistication disguised as elegant simplicity.
George Benson was another big influence.
“He was definitely the greatest straight-ahead player I’ve ever heard. Once I heard George, I was like, oh, boy.”
Benson often played at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, and Klugh would stop by in the afternoon when the band was setting up and chat with the guitarist, who soon became a friend, mentor and colleague.
Benson mostly played an electric instrument, but Klugh insisted on playing his acoustic guitar, even in the face of occasional pressure to switch.
“Don’t let people discourage you,” Benson told him.
Years later, they would perform and record together.
Another musician has had a monumental influence on Klugh’s songwriting, he said. “Burt Bacharach is my hero of all time.” His songs are complex yet very melodic, graceful yet muscular, catchy yet innovative.
“I got a chance to meet him several years ago. He was doing a concert in Atlanta.” Klugh took him out after the show. “It was like meeting the pope.”
Klugh has a reputation as a collaborator. Some of his best-known records were made with Benson, flute and sax player Hubert Laws and especially keyboardist Bob James.
“As you travel around, doing shows in various places, you begin to make friends,” Klugh explained. “I remember early on in my career, with my band, we were doing a show out in California, and Bob James happened to be the headliner. I was the opening act; we were doing a tour together. I got to know Bob pretty well. ... We started to perform together. It grew out of that.”
Their recordings together are some of the most popular Klugh has done.
“That was something that happened early in my career, and I always thought it was magical,” he said.
His love for melody eventually led him to work with a large orchestra for a new album. He was ambivalent about the project, he said, but the record sold well. In the years since, he’s worked increasingly with players of electric instruments. Lately, he’s returned to an acoustic sound, and small-ensemble configuration, he said.
These experiences, he said, taught him a valuable lesson: “Don’t be afraid of trying something new or different.”
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook.com/aparker writer.