San Pedro-born alto saxophonist NICK GOMEZ is making waves in the smooth jazz world. With two independently-released albums to his name – ‘Red Vinyl’ and ‘The Third Date’ – plus a single called ‘Happy Hour’ (which achieved heavy rotation on smooth jazz radio stations in the USA) he’s back in the studio putting the finishing touches to an as yet untitled third album. SJF’s Stateside contributor John Wisniewski recently caught up with Nick to find out more about the man and his music…
Could you tell us when your Interest in music began? When did you begin to play jazz?
I am actually not sure when my first interest in music began because I was exposed to my parents’ love for music since I was born. They always had amazing records to play for us growing up and there was simply a lot of singing and dancing happening in the house. When I went into the 6th grade I had to pick between band and chorus. Being the youngest of four kids, my older sister who was playing percussion in the 8th grade band showed me what a clarinet looked like in an encyclopedia and I was immediately hooked. So band it was. In the 8th grade that clarinet turned into an alto sax at Christmas time and then I believe I was hooked for life.
Could you name some of your favourite albums and some of your musical influences?
Herbie Hancock – ‘Head Hunters.’ I transferred this one to a cassette tape so I could hear it in my car driving to high school. I let the tape loop and I listened to this record almost exclusively for a year. I’ve never gotten sick of it and if I put it on right now I’ll hear things I missed before.
Tower of Power’s ‘Live And In Living Color’ – this was a live record of them doing a show in Sacramento, CA. It’s got a bitchin’ five minute sax solo in ‘Knock Yourself Out’ by Lennie Pickett. I believe the first words to come out of my mouth were: “Holy shit. Is Lennie Pickett circular breathing?” He was and it’s sick. This one also was on a cassette tape back in the day and was frequently listened to.
Grover Washington Jr’s ‘Live At The Bijou’ was another live record and I could look up exactly where this show went down but it really doesn’t matter because Grover could have recorded this anywhere and still influenced me enough to want to play in the same style as him. This record defined who I wanted to be as a sax player and solidified my commitment to go to Berklee (the famous school of music in Boston) and pursue music as career. It also allowed me to find my sax hero – Grover Washington Jr.
Why would you say the type of jazz that you play is so popular – is it because it’s “smooth jazz”?
I think in a lot of ways the moniker “smooth jazz” is slowly changing for the style of music. It has come a long way from starting out as cool jazz or more of an instrumental R&B. Later on muzak started happening and that along with all of the great contemporary jazz tracks kind of all got lumped together in this genre of smooth jazz. Nowadays it seems like the smooth jazz radio format is beginning to merge with adult contemporary and any mellow pop song will end up on a smooth jazz radio playlist. Because of all these changes and the constant release of smooth jazz cover songs of pop music, smooth jazz can’t help but to remain popular because whether people notice it or not, they are hearing something familiar to them and can whistle along. Isn’t that how popular music works?
As a smooth jazz artist, I simply want to make music that is along the lines of my heroes and what I’ve always loved listening to. I felt that If I can concentrate on writing in that sense, I can’t go wrong because it’s going to be good music. If it gets lumped into categories or becomes “radio friendly” somehow and makes the listener or a programmer feel better, I’m totally cool with that because it’s all jazz to me. If I can put my own twist on it and make my fans happy about what I’m giving them, it’s a huge win and makes me want to give them another record.