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New Release From Skip Grasso, “Becoming”



Joe Barth interviews Baltimore/Washington D.C. guitarist Skip Grasso about his new album, “Becoming”

Skip Grasso is a regular in the jazz guitar scene in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area.  Having earned his Master of Music from the University of North Texas has also studied privately with guitarist Paul Bollenback. Becoming is a follow-up to his first album Jagged Spaces.

JB:  How old were you when you started to play guitar and was it jazz or popular music that first captivated you?

SG:  I was eight years old when I picked up and started to play my older sister’s nylon-string Yamaha guitar. Shortly after, I was able to take lessons and was taught songs by rote which the teacher knew: Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Bruce Springsteen. I also had an older friend who played drums and had an extensive record collection that included jazz and fusion such as Wes Montgomery, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Al DiMeola. We often listened together and tried to jam. So, I quickly started getting into any music that had the guitar. Importantly, I was lucky to have a music theory class in middle school, so it was a natural progression to seek out a jazz guitarist with whom to study.

JB:  To you what are three of the most influential guitar albums and why? 

SG:  Pat Metheny (1978) Pat Metheny Group. ECM.  An album of original jazz music from young people with a rock ethos, but with firm roots in the jazz tradition, and yet forward thinking.  Metheny’s rhythmic feel, phrasing, and the use of digital delay still captivates me. I find the lyricism of the writing and playing and the Oberheim very moving. This album also was my introduction to the ECM label and led me to discover many albums that have influenced my playing and writing for example Kenny Wheeler’s Gnu High, Keith Jarrett’s My Song, and Eberhard Weber’s The Colours of Chloe.  

Pat Martino (1977) Joyous Lake. Warner Bros. When I was a teenager, I bought this album used, would often play it, and imitated Pat’s lines. It might be considered fusion, but Pat’s playing is the epitome of hard bebop guitar playing on original music: beautiful tone, incredible technique, and flowing long horn-like lines yet unabashedly guitar. 

George Benson (1967) Columbia. The George Benson Cookbook.. My uncle recommended I check out George Benson’s Breezin‘ which was doing well on the charts, but I found this recording at my local library instead. Benson’s technique astounded me but is deeply rooted in the blues that I was listening to at that time. In hindsight on Becoming, I hear the influence of Benson in my playing of “Harvie Livingston Seagull”, Breezin’ was the first album I bought, and I love this album too!

JB:  You are a wonderful guitarist and composer.  Tell us about your goals in making your new CD album, “Becoming”? 

SG:  First, thanks for the compliment, and also for mentioning the composing. In addition to playing standards, I need to be writing and playing original music. I believe composition is a pathway to finding your voice within the jazz tradition. I set out to record as a quartet of guitar, bass, drums, and piano. Since the music was original, I felt the piano would bring clarity to the harmony especially when I am soloing. I wanted to challenge myself to play all the rather demanding thematic material. At this point in my career, I also think releasing a recording is a good opportunity to reach a wider audience.

JB:  You have a great band on the album.  Do you work with Harvie S and Billy Drummond regularly?

SG:  I was very blessed to have Harvie, Billy, and Anthony Pocetti bring this music alive. When I initially sent out the music to everyone, I received such positive feedback. So, it was easy and inspiring to work with everyone involved. Although this is the first time I had the opportunity to work with Harvie S and Billy Drummond, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to play with them in the future and Anthony as well.

JB:  It is refreshing to hear Anthony Pocetti play the Hammond organ, and Fender Rhodes as well as the acoustic piano.  Did you write these songs with these particular instruments in mind?

SG:  I appreciate you mentioning Anthony’s versatility. When I knew Anthony was able to make the session, I sent him the list of instruments available at Trading 8s Recording Studio and asked what he would like set up for the date. We made decisions about instrumentation before recording each song. In the end, I think the spontaneity was effective.

JB:  Tell us about the guitar and what amp you use.

SG:  I am playing an American Archtop guitar custom built by the luthier Dale Unger. Dale is based in Nazareth, PA. I commissioned the guitar to be made in 2015. I currently play Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Bebop12 strings. On the recording, I am running in stereo through an Acoustic Image Clarus 2 S4plus and a Quilter Tone Block 202 into two Raezers Edge cabinets. 

JB:  Practice and listening aside, can you pinpoint one or two ‘things’ that really boosted your profile and career toward where it’s at today?

SG:  I recorded a project entitled Jagged Spaces that did quite well. With that project, I learned about the music business, and the recording created opportunities for relationships to move my career forward. It also allowed me to submit and to be awarded a 2022 Pathways to Jazz Grant which is a huge honor that helped partially fund my new recording.

Over the course of my career, I have had a couple of important interactions with the guitarist Mike Stern. In 1995, Mike encouraged me to study with Charlie Banacos, and later to continue with Garry Dial. When I was preparing to record Becoming, I had opportunities to play with Mike, and for him to hear some of the music now on the recording. He was very encouraging about my playing, and told me recording my music was something I needed to do.

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