East Harlem Skyline


Named after the uptown Manhattan neighborhood where he lives, Greg Skaff’s East Harlem Skyline takes the best of ‘60s instrumental guitar jazz and brings it up to date with style. Skaff sounds clearly influenced by the best guitarists in jazz, namely cats like Wes Montgomery and George Benson and on East Harlem Skyline he’s got the guitars, the sound and the band to help him realize his modern jazz vision. Skaff made a lot of guitar fans happy with his 2004 Zoho CD, Ellington Boulevard, and on his 2009 album East Harlem Skyline he brings it up a notch. Featured along with the six Skaff originals are fresh takes on classic originals by jazz giants Wayne Shorter and Billy Strayhorn. And although his background is guitar jazz, Skaff’s not afraid to add in a left field cover, like the set closing “Fast As You Can,” written by pop chanteuse Fiona Apple. Full liner notes, great cover art (complete with 3-D insert) and track by track notes by the guitarist add much to the great studio sound of the CD. Take the A train uptown and be prepared to groove along with Greg Skaff’s East Harlem Skyline. /

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Musical Background

I’ve been playing about 35 years. I started in high school when I was fascinated with the British rock groups, i.e., Led Zeppelin, and also with blues and soul music. I liked what the guitar was doing in those contexts and that was the kind of music my first band played. I didn’t know anything about jazz at the time. I first heard jazz because the keyboard player’s father had a record collection and we would listen to some of his records. I remember hearing Charlie Parker’s “She Rote” and thinking it must be Dixieland music because it sounded so happy. That’s how little I knew about jazz. A little while later I was turned on to the George Benson recording “It’s Uptown” by organist Mike Finnigan, who was somewhat of a mentor to my first band. Mike had been to New York and had recorded Electric Ladyland with Jimi Hendrix. When I first heard George Benson I didn’t know you could do anything like that with a guitar. About this time I heard Lou Donaldson’s group with Lonnie Smith, and Jack McDuff’s group. There was a club in town that used to bring in those groups and others like the Three Sounds w/ Gene Harris. This was happening in Wichita, Kansas. I also used to go hang out with a girlfriend at a little roadside cocktail bar where a guy named Jay McShann played and sang. We had no idea of his historical significance at the time. We were simply fascinated by his playing and singing. Sometimes he would sing country songs. That’s what it was like when I started playing guitar. I started learning jazz by dropping the needle over and over again on records, (yes, records).

New CD

My new CD is titled East Harlem Skyline. That’s the neighborhood where I live and the cover photo was taken on the roof of my apartment building. I recorded it in November 2007 and March 2008 at Avatar Studios and One East Recording here in New York. Nine out of the ten songs were done the first day. Most of it is an organ trio, one of my favorite instrumental configurations, with George Colligan playing B3 and E.J. Strickland playing drums. There’s one cut featuring a different group made up of George Laks on organ, Darryl Jones on bass, and Charley Drayton on drums. There is also a solo guitar version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom.” I think this recording shows different sides of my playing without being incongruous. Besides the solo guitar piece, there are six songs of my own, one by George Colligan, one by Wayne Shorter, and a Fiona Apple song. I play straight into the amp for most of the recording, but on a couple of tracks there’s a more overdriven sound.

Favorite Guitars

I don’t really have a favorite guitar. If my house, or rather apartment, was burning down and I had to grab one guitar I would probably wind up getting barbecued. Because first I would grab my Byrdland, and then I would remember my Sergio Abreu nylon string, then I would remember that I have a 1962 Fender Stratocaster in the closet, and by then it probably wouldn’t matter anyway. Anyway, I played mostly my Byrdland on the recording. It’s only about six years old but it’s pretty much my “go to” guitar. It has an L5 neck so the neck is 24 3/4 scale instead of the shorter scale that a Byrdland usually has. On a couple of cuts I played a recently made D’Angelico guitar called a Limited Edition DC. That’s one of the Japanese D’Angelico’s that were made by Vestax in recent years. It’s kind of like a 335 except that the fingerboard is ebony and the top is spruce. For amps I used a 1963 Fender Deluxe reverb and a Divided by 13 combo amp called a 13/29. I set my guitars up with .12 gauge Thomastik-Infeld strings, flat-wound on the Byrdland and round-wound on the D’Angelico. I have a Gibson ES-355 also that I use a lot. I like comfortable action but not too low. That way when you get warmed up and you start playing a little harder the strings don’t fret out. I also feel that with a little higher action you can get more nuance and dynamics. There are a couple of pedals I use when I want some dirt. One is an Xotic Effects AC Plus. The other is called a Power Screamer, which is made by a company called Home Brew Electronics.

Musical Influences
There are so many people that have picked up a guitar and done something phenomenal with it that I could never pick a favorite. That being said, my biggest influence on guitar is without a doubt Wes Montgomery. His playing is like a suit that never goes out of style (even though I only own one suit) and it’s hard for me to single out one recording of his. Right now on my night stand there’s an Art Blakey recording called Free For All, which has been one of my favorites for years. There’s also Alice Coltrane’s Translinear Light, Fiona Apple’s When The Pawn…, and a recording of the guitar works of Heitor Villa-Lobos by a guitarist named Turibio Santos. I’m really into the guitar etudes of Villa-Lobos right now.

Web Site
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