Craig Chaquico and Steve Oliver: Their great song-making remains the constant during a decade of revolution

By Brian Soergel

When Smooth Jazz News debuted 10 years ago this month, the cover showed a smiling Craig Chaquico at the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival. Inside, fellow guitarist Steve Oliver earned full-page coverage when Smooth Jazz News named him Debut Artist of 1999.

To say it was a different time in music is an understatement. Digital delivery via iTunes was two years away. Smooth jazz radio stations thrived, and it was a breeze to enter your neighborhood record store and buy Chaquico's Four Corners, released in June, or Oliver's First View, released in August. Time has changed, as it must, and much has been written about how smooth jazz and rest of the music industry has evolved, or failed to evolve, in the past decade.     

But for this special issue, we wanted to catch up with Chaquico and Oliver and get their thoughts on how their careers have grown over the past decade. One thing is for sure: No matter the changes in smooth jazz since December 1999, there has been no change in the enthusiasm and professionalism Chaquico and Oliver bring to their craft. Like the majority of smooth jazz musicians, they have been forced to make changes. But one constant has never changed––their great music.

CRAIG CHAQUICO

As 1999 drew to a close, Craig Chaquico was six years removed from his wildly successful smooth jazz debut, Acoustic Highway. His then latest CD, Four Corners, had been released that summer and followed Once in a Blue Universe, A Thousand Pictures, and the Grammy-nominated Acoustic Planet. Forty-five years old and living with his wife, Kimberly, and young son, Kyle, in Mill Valley, California, Chaquico was digging into his smooth jazz career after being a member of Jefferson Starship for 17 years.    

Today, Chaquico has also released Shadow and Light, Midnight Noon, Holiday and this year's Follow the Sun. He now lives in Ashland, Oregon, with Kimberly. Young Kyle is 18 years old, preparing to enter pre-med and teaching martial arts.     

“The biggest challenge for me is having less time now to play and write music,” Chaquico said. “E-mail is bad enough,  but with all the security lines at airports, traffic jams, cell phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo, LinkedIn, MySpace––blah blah blah––it all takes a huge amount of time out of the day when you just want to play and create music.”     

Chaquico's complaint is a common one these days, as networking and the simple business of promotion once handled by managers and record labels is now in part taken on––sometimes grudgingly––by artists themselves.     

“I hate the office work, but still love the music,” Chaquico said. Although smooth jazz radio stations have declined in the past decade, satellite and Internet radio have risen to fill the void. “At least now you can listen to your favorite music in your car and turn the traffic jam into different kind of 'traffic jam.' Having your favorite radio station's music delivered right to your computer during office work even if you aren't in the broadcast area is pretty cool, too.”     

To stay vital and competitive as a recording artist and touring performer is something that all musicians face, some better than others. Chaquico seems prepared as he looks to the future.     

“The music I like the most is the music that touches an emotion in some way,” he said. “If it touches an emotion we all have in common it reminds us that we are not alone and it never gets old. Recording and touring, we try to touch all those emotions too, like a favorite author or favorite books or favorite movies do. We try to do it in a unique way that might set us apart from anybody else. I really think that having your own unique style or voice or sound is what gives the story you tell in the language of music your name.”     

Chaquico points to other artists in the genre with their own sound.     

“I can always tell a Steve Oliver song from a Peter White song, or Jeff Golub, or Russ Freeman, or Joyce Cooling, or Paul Brown, or Jonathan Butler, and vice-versa. They all have their own unique voice and they all touch everybody's emotions.”     

As he moves forward, Chaquico is lucky enough to have built a large fan base and have a number of musical styles from which to choose.     

“I have songs at the top of many charts now for four consecutive decades to choose from,” he said. His latest is a version of Kenny G's “Songbird.” “So besides that making me feel old sometimes, lately I've been doing a set that includes my smooth jazz songs and also the ones I did with Jefferson Starship, with amazing singers then and now. Now with all that, I hope we can have a unique set that covers a lot of musical ground and touches a lot of emotions and memories.”     

For more information on Chaquico, visit www.craigchaquico.com.

 

STEVE OLIVER

In 1999, as Smooth Jazz News' debut artist of the year, guitarist Steve Oliver was only four months removed from the release of his debut CD, First View, and its compelling mix of songs featuring guitar and voice. Smooth jazz audiences immediately took to such catchy instrumental songs as “West End” and “Highway One,” as well as vocal tracks like “I Know.” That affection continued with 2002's Positive Energy and the radio hits “High Noon” and “Positive Energy.” Oliver gained even more exposure as the Weather Channel added that CD's “Right Direction” into heavy rotation during its local weather breaks. Oliver has now also released 3D, Radiant, Snowfall and One Night Live.     

So Oliver is celebrating 10 years of releasing music as Smooth Jazz News celebrates 10 years of publishing. And Oliver still remembers how excited he was when he found out he was to be in the magazine's first issue.    

“It was so cool to get that honor,” he recalled. “I was doing a performance at Borders in San Diego to promote First View and Melanie Maxwell (Smooth Jazz News founder and publisher) introduced herself after the show. She said she was starting a smooth jazz magazine and wanted to make me is debut artist of the year. I was tickled pink. It was an honor. I was just learning how to be a solo artist and to have people say they love what you do was really cool.”     

A decade later, the challenges Oliver faces as a musician with a changed landscape don't seem to bother him. He says 2009 has been his busiest touring year ever. He's toured the United States, Canada, Germany and Spain. In fact, Oliver doesn't like to use the word “challenge.”      

“I never look at what's happening as a challenge. It's more of a good thing. The way things have changed, we're in control of our own destiny more. Before, it was always labels telling artists what to play, what to do, which producer to use, and these are the songs you're going to play. I never went down that road. The good thing is now it's come full circle since there aren't that many record labels. Now is the time for artists to write the music they want to write and make the records they want to record. They can become artists again. It's very liberating from 10 years ago to now.”     

One way Oliver is growing is by trying to expose his music to diverse audiences. He recently performed on the famous Tiger Cruise aboard the USS Ronald Reagan Navy aircraft carrier. His four shows were heard by more than 7,000 people, including Navy officers, crew and their families.     

“All the shows went well, and we made more fans,” he said. “I like to find other avenues to show this music to people. There were a lot of young sailors on the cruise, and they absolutely loved this kind of music. They really responded to it.”      

The 45-year-old Oliver, who lives in Southern California with his wife and tour manager, Gisela, is now in the studio working on a new CD titled Global Kiss. It's scheduled to have nine instrumentals and four vocal tunes. Of course, even the instrumentals may have some vocals, as Oliver is known for his scatting and other varied sounds he can make with his voice. Oliver uses a Carvin guitar he developed five years ago that can sound like other instruments––the piano and strings, for example––simply by plucking the strings.     

“I'm more excited than ever, to tell the truth,” said Oliver, who adds that his love of touring has never waned. “It's about live performances to reach people now, to touch their lives. They feel the energy and power of the music. They then buy a CD and tell their friends, kind of like it used to be, more word of mouth.”    

Ten years on, Oliver says smooth jazz fans still want the same thing, either live or on CD.    

“They want to be inspired no matter how down the times are. And when they hear really good songs, they feel inspired.”
   

For more information on Oliver, visit www.steveolivermusic.com
 
**These stories, along with Christmas Concerts, New Year's Eve Celebrations, Top 10 CDs of 2009 and Debut Artist of the Year (among other valuable information) can be found in the December issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 11 editions of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today.

Please note that since we don't publish in January, the next issue of Smooth Jazz News will be available in February 2010.