Quick, music lovers. What do David Letterman musical director Paul Shaffer, New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams and trumpet legend Randy Brecker have in common? All are great pals of Gil Parris, one of the most acclaimed and versatile guitar masters of his generation who has won over audiences worldwide by never losing sight of his primary goal every time he hits the stage: entertaining his audience.
In January 2007, Parris invited these great musicians to jam with him in an extraordinary concert event at Irvington Town Hall Theater (just outside NYC) that celebrated the gifts of life, friendship and the joy of true honest-to-goodness live ensembling. Featuring crackling new renditions of many of the songs that have defined the guitarist’s rise in a multitude of genres (rock, pop, jazz, blues, etc.) over the past ten years, the show perfectly conveys the powerful emotional interaction between the super-charismatic Grammy Award nominee and his energized audience. It’s an experience too good not to share—as a gift to loyal fans and newcomers to the experience, he is giving away a DVD of this once in a lifetime concert, Gil Parris and Friends, with the purchase of any one of his five album releases.
As thrilling as that singular evening was for everyone involved—and as wonderful as it is to have preserved it for posterity— also, incredibly, just one of over 200 SRO dates Parris will perform in the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) this year. In an industry where artists are increasingly generic and pigeonholed, Parris, like his heroes David Sanborn, Bob James, and George Benson, stands out not only for his distinctive tone and passionate style but also in his effortless ability to let his fingers do the singing and adapt so well to so many musical settings.
Currently perched at 1 on Music Choice—America’s top cable radio channel—with "Duck Walk," a blues-funk duet with Randy Brecker from his new album Strength, Parris is equally at home jamming alongside Dr. John and Duke Robillard on a blues compilation; sharing bills with The Marshall Tucker Band, Tower of Power, Bob James, Joshua Redman, George Benson Spyro Gyra, Robben Ford and Chris Botti; and playing straight-ahead jazz in midtown Manhattan. When fans buy tickets for the latest Parris gig or catch his opening act, they love the fact that they never know which part of his repertoire they’re going to hear. Parris has a rich catalogue to choose from, starting with the funky urban tunes and soulful ballads from Strength and his critically acclaimed 1998 debut Gil Parris. In addition to the commercially released traditional-jazz date Blue Thumb (2002) and the blues roots project Live At The Next Door Café (2005), Parris also has a special unreleased jam band project called Jam This!
In defying and transcending all genres, Parris blazes the trail and creates one of his own. "I always think of the great instrumental artists I grew up listening to," he says, "like Sanborn and Michael Brecker and Bob James, and how they were able to fit their playing styles into so many settings yet always somehow have their own stamp that was identifiable in a few notes. That I worked my whole career for, finding a unique sound and tonal quality that rises above all types of music. For me, it all comes down to putting on a great show where I can expand upon the melodies I have written and recorded. My dad is a New York stage actor, and I grew up with the whole showbiz thing, as a child being around people like Danny Devito, Mickey Rooney and various character actors. So when I play live, that’s my chance to be the "actor with an instrument," totally committed to expressing myself through a wide variety of emotions as well as entertaining."
This kind of ambition started early, when Parris was in his first semester at Berklee School Of Music, attending on a prestigious Al Di Meola jazz master’s scholarship; he auditioned for a European tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, got the gig and never looked back. He officially launched his career after being discovered in 1990 by hard rock producer and impresario Mike Varney, who featured the young prodigy in his "Spotlight" column in Guitar Magazine. He immersed himself on the NYC session scene and began playing with the proverbial who’s who of contemporary pop and jazz: David Sanborn, Bob James, Will Lee, Eric Alexander, Bob Malach, David Clayton-Thomas, Toni Braxton, Chuck Rainey to name but a few.
Parris career was in burgeoning overdrive by 2001. He had released his solo debut to great acclaim and had recorded a follow-up; had been touring the U.S. with the legendary Rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears for over a year; and had just earned a Best Folk compilation CD Grammy nomination for his arrangement of "Pop Goes The Weasel" from the release "Public Domain." Then everything came crashing to a halt one fateful night while on the BS&T tour. Parris was relaxing out, having a drink in the hallway of a bar just outside of NYC when he was hit, without warning from behind and knocked unconscious. When he came to after this random violent act, his hand was broken in three places—a trauma that ground his burgeoning career to a temporary halt.
As Parris went through the process of rehabilitation leading up to re constructive surgery in 2005, he did a lot of soul searching and was inspired by another one of his guitar idols, Larry Carlton, who came back from an even more serious violent attack on his life in the late 80s. "Going through all of this has made my playing more succinct, and I always want to get to the meat and potatoes of the music more quickly," he says. "I was a practice fanatic growing up and always emphasized physical technique, so I had to relearn a lot of things since the motor skills are so finely tuned. But in the end, doing this increased my musicality. Writing and recording Strength was truly a cathartic and cleansing experience and I think I have come back stronger than ever."
That is an understatement, considering the whirlwind schedule he has been keeping these past few years. In addition to his recent recording and performing triumphs, he is a monster in the lucrative field of musical instruction books and DVDs, teaching his guitar technique to a new generation of players. His first artist-driven Hot Licks video "Modern Blues Guitar" has been a bestseller for several years and he performs on the Masters of the Statocaster project alongside superstars Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, Robin Trower, Mick Taylor, Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl. Parris also performs the Audio CD lessons that accompany Robert Garland’s instructional book Jazz for The Blues Guitarist: Incorporating Jazz Into Your Blues Solos.
In 2006, Parris released another solo instructional video project called "Inside Out," ( www.truefire.com
) a 4 CD-ROM course featuring private lessons guaranteed to seriously overhaul a budding guitarist’s technique and sound.
He is also the author of The Double Stop Guide: A Whole Music Approach For Guitar on Mel Bay(www.melbay.com
) in which he gives a thorough overview of double-stops on the guitar.
In addition, Reverend Guitars (www.reverendguitars.com
) also recently emerged with its first Gil Parris Signature guitar, a versatile model created from his own specifications that seamlessly takes the player’s tone from NYC to L.A. to Nashville. He has also scored TV commercials for La Spa, New Kitchen, Taibo and other companies, and recently began putting his boyish good looks to work by modeling for designer Arnold Brandt.
Gil Parris and Friends would be an exciting concert souvenir under any circumstances, but it’s even more compelling when seen in the light of the guitarist’s journey from the dark days of uncertainty to his current degree of success on so many levels. Putting viewers and listeners in the front row, it showcases Parris’ affinity for blues, jazz, rock and pop on twelve tracks; these include eight powerful Parris originals, two songs composed by saxman and frequent collaborator David Mann (who produced the Strength CD) and cool twists on the familiar pop classics "Make It With You" (featuring the soulful lead vocals of Vaneese Thomas) and a show stopping "Georgia" (sung by R&B singer and Blues Brothers member Tommy "Pipes" McDonnell). The host for the performance was Carolyn Kepcher, a prominent businesswoman and author who is best known for her longtime role on ABC-TV "The Apprentice." In line with the very intimate vibe of the show, Kepcher prefaces her introduction of Parris by explaining that the two met in the early 90s when she was a waitress at a New York club he was playing. "The show was really a party collaboration featuring fun snippets from various aspects of my career," he says. "It was a wild night and we had the hall rocking like it was a Metallica concert! One of the things I love most is having the chance to turn every gig into a party, with me as the host. the spirit behind the Gil Parris and Friends Live DVD and every show I perform." Look for Gil on the road and check out his web site at www.gilparris.com