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Guitarist Gregory Plays 1st-String Jazz

The recipient of the '89 Shelly Manne award continues his winning ways, with a fluid, smooth style that draws in listeners.


"I really love this album," said Steve Gregory, picking up a copy of fellow jazz guitarist Pat Metheny's "80/81" album on ECM Records. "Pat's the most lyrical guitarist I've ever heard. He plays deep music yet it's accessible."

Gregory, the recipient of the 1989 Shelly Manne Memorial New Talent Award from the Los Angeles Jazz Society, could be talking about his own very attractive stuff. Like Metheny, Gregory, who appears tonight at Jax in Glendale, has a round, ringing tone and plays long, fluid sounds that draw listeners in and have plenty of musical content.

"I try to play smoothly and melodically, creating music and not just showing off my technique," said Gregory during an interview at his Westside home. "I'm always striving to play something melodic and then build upon it. The point is to try and create something beautiful. And I can feel it in my body when it's happening. I'm not sure how to describe it except that it gives me a feeling of satisfaction."

Gregory also composes, and at Jax--where he works with bassist Trey Henry and drummer Dick Weller--he'll offer jazz and pop standards along with several of his originals. He says he might play a tuneful number like "April Showers," which has a lilting, floating groove and seems open and full of possibilities rather than restricted and predetermined.


Such songs allow the guitarist to be in control and deliver relaxed improvisations that often contain a favored form of expression: chordal melodies, where one or more notes are heard simultaneously with the primary melody note.

"With chordal melody, you can have dense voicings, or sometimes just two or three notes," said Gregory. "And if you use only two notes, it opens up the whole sound of the ensemble, gives it a freer-sounding quality with more space, fewer notes, so it's more interesting."

Known mainly as an up-and-coming jazzman who has worked rooms like Jax, the Atlas Bar & Grill and Jazz 'n' Jazz (in Redlands), Gregory also works his share of rock gigs. He's currently appearing with singer-songwriter Maia Sharp, whom he describes as a " '90s folk-rock" artist. "I like her mainly because she's original," he said.

Gregory, a native of Des Moines, first played piano, then trumpet and took up the guitar after his family moved to Kennewick in southeastern Washington state. He became intrigued with jazz after hearing some records by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. His interest increased when he attended Cal State Northridge, where in 1990 he received a bachelor's degree in music.


The guitarist credits his Manne award with kick-starting his career. "I began to go out and book gigs for myself," he said. He calls a 14-month stint with Ray Charles--from May 1994 to August 1995--a formative experience.

"Seeing other peoples, cultures, lifestyles opened me up, made me think that you can do whatever you imagine," he said. "And I was very impressed and inspired by the fact that Ray can continue to do what he's done for so many years and still like it. He often moved me to tears."

Gregory said he is looking forward to a tour this summer with percussionist Kalani, which will feature ace guitarist Steve Cardenas. And, at 31, he still has a lot of dreams to fulfill. "I want to record, play more dates on my own," he said simply.

* Steve Gregory plays 9 to 1:30 tonight at Jax, 339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. No cover, no minimum. Call (818) 500-1604.

Short Takes: For fans of jazz/fusion guitar, one of the best is Scott Henderson, who plays at 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. Wednesday at La Ve Lee (12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; $5, two-drink minimum; [818] 980-8158). . . . Don Randi, still delivering his reliable brand of jazz-to-pop piano, works from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday through Sunday at the Baked Potato (3787 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood; $10 cover, two-drink minimum; [818] 980-1615). . . . Pianist-singer Betty Bryant, whose wares have a dandy Kansas City flair, brings to Chadney's a quartet featuring bluesy sax man Robert Lyle. The show is from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday. (Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank; no cover, one-drink minimum per show; [818] 843-5333). On Tuesday, drummer Earl Palmer celebrates his third anniversary of hosting the very popular jam sessions at Chadney's. Expect plenty of guest talent.

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