Charlie Hunter

Charlie Hunter is a freak of nature. If you don’t know about him, here’s the deal. He plays a custom 7 string guitar. 3 bass strings and 4 guitar strings. If you hear him on cd, you might think you were listening to an incredible bass player and an insane guitar player. But it’s him playing both parts, simultaneously. To see it live is truly something to behold. When I saw he was playing “Jammin Java” in Vienna, Virginia I immediately bought tickets. I had heard of this place, but never had the chance to go. It is a long, dark rectangular room, located in kind of a Northern Virginia strip mall. It was intimate and sounded great. It looked like it could hold about 100 people. I was fortunate to be able to do a tour with Charlie about 10 years ago. I watched and studied him and his band every night quite intently. His band consisted of a drummer, percussionist, sax player, and a new comer to the bluenote label, Norah Jones. She had her first record that was coming out soon and Charlie was doing the label a favor by letting her come along and sit in on a half dozen tunes or so. She had sung a few songs on Charlie’s record called “Songs From the Analog Playground.” She played an old electric piano and the band truly sounded like some kind of heavenly band of angels during her songs. We did something like 12 shows in 14 days. We would rotate going first and I remember one night in a sparsely attended strip mall bar in Mankato, MN, I think. I had the dance floor to myself during their set. Norah usually went on stage after 4 or 5 songs. She took pity on me and came out and started dancing with me. We did the bump. That’s right. I did the bump with Norah Jones. Her record hadn’t come out yet so she wasn’t the household name she is now. I told her she was going to be famous. I was right. I’m sure I’ve written this story before. Maybe on the inside booklet of the Dream record, where Charlie so generously played 2 of my songs and made them his own. Which is exactly what I wanted to have happen. Speaking of dancing to Charlie Hunter, he probably was in total hell on that tour. He is a jazz traditionalist. Some may say a jazz snob. I wouldn’t say that of course. But some might.  He is used to seated, quiet, respectful audiences that sometimes applaud after solos. My crowd is not that. He’d say things like, “I’m getting really smoked out up here. If you are the type of person to smoke 5 cigarettes at one of these shows, please do us favor and maybe only smoke 2.” I think he is super cool. He has always been friendly to me. Even though I never really forgave him for leaving Garage A Trois, after talking to him recently, I have a better understanding.  The line up was epic with Skerik on sax, Mike Dillon on vibes and percussion, Stanton Moore on the drums, and of course Charlie on his custom guitar which had 8 strings at that time. There was nothing like it. I had read that he gave it up because he didn’t like the dancing, loud, obnoxious fans. Which, of course, I was definitely one. But after talking to him, I realized his point. He wants to use volume as an effect. With Garage A Trois, the crowd would always demand volume. Charlie really flourishes with a silent audience. You can hear his dynamic goodness as well as his spontaneous scat singing. He would talk to the audience in-between songs without a mic. He had the incredibly smooth Eric Kalb on drums playing the Charlie Hunter drum kit. What makes it a Charlie Hunter drum kit? The drums break down like one of those russian, wooden, oval doll family that goes inside one another. They actually have 2 pieces for each drum.  Eric, Charlie, drums, amps, and guitar fit into a vw gulf. That’s cool. If you are jazz fan go see Charlie. If your not a jazz fan, but a fan of incredible guitar ability, go see Charlie. Just don’t dance next to the stage or talk real loud. Unless, of course, he asks you a question. Check out these records. “Return of the Candy Man”, “Right Now Move”, “Songs From the Analog Playground”, and “Public Domain.”