Name: Greg Chambers
Location: San Francisco, CA
Profession: Saxophonist and Music Teacher
Years Playing: 20
School/Major/Degree: UCLA, Master of Music in Saxophone
When did you first begin seriously studying your instrument?
I began really listening to jazz, practicing regularly, and taking lessons when I was 14 years old. In middle school, I rotated between first and second chair in the band depending on the results of each seating test, but I didn’t practice regularly or often (I still don’t even know how I ended up sitting in those chairs!). It wasn’t really until high school and getting the rejection letter from the honor band I tried out for during my freshman year that I really decided to dedicate myself and put an honest effort into practicing and studying.
Who are your greatest influences? Who did you study with?
I like to say I “studied” with Charlie Parker, Grover Washington, Gerald Albright and Warren Hill. I used to put on CDs of theirs and play alongside them for hours during my teenage years. I’d learn tunes out of the Omnibook and work them up to full speed with the recordings and, for the other saxophonists, would find transcriptions (or try to create them myself) for the tunes I wanted to learn. I grew up in Gilroy, which is a really small town in northern CA. I would drive to Santa Cruz to take actual lessons with Bill Trimble, who was one of the most respected classical saxophonists in the Bay Area and certainly the reason I developed a love for classical saxophone. I did take a couple jazz lessons with a local pro names Les Pierce as well (who was the saxophonist for just about every rock, blues, country, oldies, or Top 40 band in the South Bay), although it wasn’t until college and the experience of being in Los Angeles that I really had the chance to explore the jazz scene and also take some lessons with one of my idols Eric Marienthal.
Who or what gave you the confidence to pursue music as a career?
I believe that my parents, as well as my college saxophone teacher (Doug Masek), were certainly the most supportive and important people in terms of this decision. My parents were both part-time musicians and understood the struggles of being a performer the hours and lifestyle, amount of dedication and personal entrepreneurial skills needed, etc. They had always encouraged me to make a living by combining performing and teaching (which they had done for many years out of college and most of the professional musicians they associated with had also done). I do believe it was my college teacher and the environment at UCLA that encouraged me to take lots of risks in my classical career I was lucky enough to audition and win orchestral stints with the Aspen Music Festival, New World Symphony in Miami, and Spoleto Festival in South Carolina. I definitely believe that the confidence I gained participating in these ensembles enabled me to apply that same risky spirit to my jazz career.
What are your thoughts on what it takes to be successful as a performer?Do you think any other skills are needed aside from the ability to play your instrument well?
Absolutely! There are a thousands of great saxophonists out there I do freelance in the Bay Area and work with some amazing players all the time. Also, being that you and I just returned from NAMM, we’re very aware of how many incredible and proficient sax players attend the convention to try out instruments and be heard many of whom don’t have household names. I believe that a lot of things contribute to becoming a successful performer branding, image, marketing/promotion, the ability to connect with an audience, and the ability to have your own “voice” (on your instrument, in your songwriting, and as a person).
What are some of the things you did before your career as a performer became as successful as it is today?
I’ve done everything from being a busboy at a Sushi restaurant to working at a theme park to working for a Police Station in their records department. In college, I worked for UCLA Live ushering and assistant house managing at the concert hall the great thing was I was actually getting paid to see all the shows! I lived in London for half a year as well and worked on a student visa. I ended up working for a catering company at the Natural History Museum and played saxophone at a nightclub with a DJ on weekends (usually from midnight until 3am). After grad school, I took a job working for Mission Bell Manufacturing, which built specialty cabinets and did custom projects for companies all over the Bay Area had it not been for the economic crash in 2008 which prompted layoffs, I might not have been forced back into music full-time.
What are some of your goals musically for the future?
I am very pleased and grateful for how everything is unfolding with this latest album. As far as the immediate future, I certainly want to tour, entertain and connect with new audiences, and promote this music as much as possible over the next year or two! At some point, I do look forward to getting to work on another album and certainly want to collaborate with some new friends/artists as well as continue working with many of the people I have thus far. I do love the creative process of writing, recording, building and layering parts, and exchanging ideas with other creative instrumentalists.
What inspires you to continue to pursue music? Have you ever come close to giving up and if you did, how did you overcome it?
Absolutely there are so many times where you feel like you just keep hitting the same roadblocks or just feel like can’t get ahead or that things are stagnant! For me, playing shows and hearing from fans about how much they love my music or how they discovered my music on Pandora or Music Choice or radio always reminds me of the fact that my reason for making music isn’t about personal success it’s about creating music that others enjoy and about putting the creative ideas I have to disc. I’ve taken time off from writing/recording every now and again, and always find that I’m drawn to starting another project at some point. It must be encoded in my DNA or something!
What are some of the things you enjoy most about your career as a performer/recording artist?
As a performer, I enjoy seeing people get up to dance, or smile and do the side-to-side neck bob, or put their head down and clap along, or just close their eyes and listen. For me, it’s about connecting with people and bringing them into the experience. I absolutely love chatting with people after the show. As a recording artist, I most enjoy the creative process of building drum patterns with sampled sounds and scratch tracks for other parts, writing and recording sax lines, and working with other instrumentalists it’s always exciting to see what other people come up with. Sometimes it’s exactly what you were thinking and other times it’s something better than you could have ever thought of!
Do you write music? Where do you get your inspiration?
I do it always varies. Sometimes I just get an idea for a tune in my head. On the title track of this CD, “Can’t Help Myself”, the keyboard figure and melody lines for basically the whole song came to me on a drive home from a day of teaching sax lessons. I got home and, within 30 or 45 min, had most of the tune committed to recording. Other times, I’ll build a tune up from a drum pattern I create. On “Come A Little Closer”, I started with the kick, snare, and thought up a sandpaper part (in place of a shaker or cabasa), and then sketched out some Fender Rhodes parts before passing it off to Matt Godina to get some input. On “Wait Awhile”, the bass line (played on an EWI) came first and was the grounding for everything else in the song. I listen to everything from smooth jazz to classical music (my wife is an orchestral clarinetist) to R&B so it seems like ideas come from anywhere and everywhere.
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What was your lamest gig and how did you learn from it? What was the best?
I’ve played on some pretty bad gigs in my time from sketchy bars to nightclubs to jazz quartet gigs where you are more or less expected to be “musical wallpaper” (although I still do weddings and corporate events from time to time, since the pay is usually hard to pass up). I will say that I’ve learned that my true passion isn’t playing background music for events or restaurants. I have definitely also learned not to play in places where the environment or ambiance isn’t appropriate for jazz. I don’t know if I could pinpoint a single best gig. I feel immense satisfaction every time I get the chance to perform my own music and feel the same excitement, enthusiasm, and connection with the audience at every show.
Where can we find more information?
My website is gregchambersmusic.com and I try to keep it as updated as possible for all the info on new releases and concert schedule, I’d suggest joining the mailing list on the homepage (I try to send 45 emails per year to keep people in the know). I am on Facebook as well with both a personal and an artist page.
New releases and projects coming up
Nothing yet since “Can’t Help Myself” just came out. I do have some ideas on paper (and some scratch recordings in Logic) already for the next project, but it’ll definitely be a while.