THE POWER OF THREE
The intent behind George Cotsirilos' new record was simple - capture the chemistry of a seasoned jazz band and mix it with the right bunch of original tunes and a few standards. The versatile guitarist, along with bassist Robb Fisher and drummer Ron Marabuto, refined the tunes during gigs. "The hope was we'd capture ensemble playing that was interactive and communicative," said Cotsirilos, whose listenable style developed in Chicago, where he grew learing to play violin and other instruments before he "landed seriously on the guitar" at 17.
Cotsirilos' interest in music was fueled by two family members - an aunt who got him into classical music and a jazzer uncle in Chicago who played drums with Woody Herman before entering the priesthood. "When I was about 12, he took me to see Louis Armstrong," he recalls. While in high school, he listened to blues and rock - Freddie King, B.B. King, Albert King, and Clapton, and Hendrix - and played in a few blues bands. But it was an instructor who turned him into a jazz guitarist after he moved to attend college. "For several years, I studied with Warren Nunes, who was terrific." His newfound ear then tuned to what he calls "the usual suspects" - Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Pat Martino, and George Benson - but advice from the late Nunes also moved him along. "Warren directed me to people on the other instruments, so I was very interested in folks like (pianist) Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Sonny Rollins." And one day, he got the thrilling (and a bit intimidating) opportunity to play with one of the masters of the guitar.
"Joe Pass used to coume out here and play at the Great American Music Hall" he said. "In the afternoon, he'd do clinics and invite students up to play along with him. I did, and it's something I'll always remember."
While it's easy for Cotsirilos to list guitarists and other players who have influenced his work, with composers it's not quite as simple. "There are a lot of people I look to for inspiration. But with composing, I don't think I could articulate a model. The tunes sort of come when they do. Frankly, it's a bit on the primitive side in that I wait for one to occur to me, then I'll start working with it." Laughing, he adds, "There's an attrition rate of probably 50 percent. I mean, for every tune I write that I like, there's a tune I don't like. It seems like a good idea when they first come up, but some of them just don't turn out so good."
As you might expect, a guitarist who sticks within tradition like Cotsirilos does play a pretty traditional guitar. "I play a 1970 Gibson L-5. I always come back to that one. I have a Heritage that's kind of a backup, but I haven't been able yet to get it to sound quite the way I want." Past Present
has a couple of acoustic tunes, too, including a lovely take on the classic "What Kind of Fool am I?," and Cotsirilos says the nylon-string on that one was the product of a hunt. "I played it on a guitar I chased down in Mexico made by a gentleman named Morales. He's been making guitars for many years. I played on of his and was enabored of that guitar I went and found him. I really like it." He also plays a steel-string '68 Guild F-50 on the title cut.
For a traditional guitarist, his choice of amp steps a bit out of the norm. "I use a Music Man RD-112, from 1975 or so. I used to play a Fender Twin, but I got tired of carrying one around. The Music Man is a tube amp, mostly, and I can get a pretty good sound of of it. I also have another Music Man that's bigger; I use it if I need a little more volume. I also have a Fender Vibrolux I use on occasion."
Given the genesis of Past Present
, it's not a surprise to hear Cotsirilos' plans for the future. "I want to continue to grow the music with this trio for awhile. I think we haven't finished what we're trying to do with this small ensemble idea."