• Peter KavanaughPeter Kavanaugh, Pasadena-based Jazz/Swing/Americana guitarist, talks about his commitment to jazz standards and his favorite Pasadena venues.

      We caught up with him after his moving and lyrical performance with the Simpatico Guitar Duo at Red, White and Bluezz last month.

      Tell me a little about who you are as a musician.

      I am a jazz/swing/Americana guitarist who had a day job for many years and then quit to play music full time. I live in Pasadena and serve a four-county radius around SoCal. I specialize in music from the 1910 through the 50’s. I have a repertoire of a couple hundred songs that I do in many many different settings, including the the Simpatico Guitar Duo, which you heard the other night at Peter KavanaughRed, White and Bluezz, and also a five-piece band with 2 guitars, accordion, bass and drums, The Hot Club of LA. So, the repertoire is executable in many ensemble sizes and formats.

      Why do you focus on that rep?

      Most of the music that I like happened before 1959… The thing that attracts me to older music—teens through early 20th Century—is that the average person back then could understand and interpret music with rich harmonic content—deep chord changes. Most popular music today is chordally static. It’s either vamping on an inferred tonic center with maybe someone singing over it in an extremely ornate way… The big thing I appreciate about the older stuff is that there is so much more harmonic stuff going on. It makes them more timeless. The presentation of the songs can be varied and it doesn’t depend on a specific arrangement. If you take a standard, you can do it as a cappella vocal, two instruments, or full orchestra… If you take Fats Waller, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart, any of the great American Songbook composers, their songs are kind of perfect the way they are. They are in this perfect 32-bar package that really stands alone. Anyone can approach that song in a unique way. For instance, if you’ve been exposed to ‘Misty’ and you hear it from a football field away, it’s going to be recognizable. The chord changes are going to be the sonic signature of the song. That’s what attracts me to this music.

      How do you keep this music current and relevant? And, what does it do for you personally?

      I certainly cannot say that I keep it current or relevant… I am playing stuff that I relate to and have luckily have found a small audience that remunerates slightly. It’s a sub-, sub- genre. Even in jazz there are sub-genres that could get me played more… But, I like this music enough that I will risk being ignored the entire time I am playing. Peter-KavanaughAt a well-known, upscale hotel, I will play for four hours and sometimes never be acknowledged the whole time. And, other times people sit there in rapt attention and keep throwing money in the tip jar and keep saying ‘More of that. More of what you did.’ I can’t go into any gig situation and expect anything. I wouldn’t be able to do that without this love of the repertoire. For me, if I can physically cause an instrument to make that sound, I am happy. It’s very satisfying to me. It really fixes the disharmonious things in my personal state. They do a synaptical repair on me. Like, ‘My Foolish Heart,’ has chord changes twice a bar and key changes frequently. Playing it is like repairing damaged synapses for me.

      I know that you play a lot of tunes by Django Reinhardt. Tell me what is unique about his music?

      Django was a Belgian-born Romani Gypsy, and he really did live in a caravan….He grew up in this clannish rural migrant agrarian wold, and was exposed to American swing music. Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, and he combined the repertoire of European music—some it based in classics, some of it based in Cabaret or in folk tunes—but they also responded to American swing music and did their version of, let’s say, a Benny Goodman song. Then, as a composer, Django brought a lot of his European sensibilities into it. His song ‘Douce Ambience’ has a dark minor association with it. Django’s music represents the integration of many elements, including not only the ones I’ve mentioned but also ethno-centric influences, like Klezmer, and then improvised on it with wicked jazz and Flamenco chops. This all developed into a hybrid style that they call Jazz Manouche, or Gypsy jazz… And some people really relate to this music, even if they don’t know the actual songs. For instance, if I am playing a wedding, and I find out that their family is say, from Romania, or Croatia, they love it. They say, ‘Honey, honey come here! Come sit and listen to this!’

      What are some of your favorite venues in Pasadena and why?

      Peter Kavanaugh and band.I definitely like Red, White and Bluezz because the music really is presented like a jazz supper club. The bar and the other stuff is in one room, and the dinner and the music is in the other room. And people are really encouraged to sit and listen to you. The Pasadena Ballroom dance is really fun. It’s very down to earth. And, one of the good things about doing what I do is that I get to be in really cool architectural spaces. Sometimes they will be in an amazing, private residence, but also in some of the grand old public spaces like the ballroom at the Hotel Green. I just played with the Hot Club of Los Angeles at the Mausoleum in Pasadena. It’s an amazing architectural space. It’s like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gold leaf. Coffered ceilings. Amazing acoustics. The evening was couched as an architectural tour and we provided the music. One of the many off-the-beaten-path experiences I get to have playing this music.

      Thanks for talking with me, Peter. Looking forward to hearing you again soon!

      Come out to hear Peter in his Simpatico Guitar Duo this Wednesday, August 13 from 6:30-9:30 at Red, White and Bluezz in Pasadena. No cover charge. You can also catch Peter with the Hot Club of LA at Red, White and Bluezz on Saturday 8/30 from 7-11:45pm and with the Simpatico Guitar Duo at Pasadena Farmer’s Market on Sunday 9/28 from 11:30am-1:30pm.


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