Jazz master El Buho recruits local help for Colorado tour
Embraced by both the jam band world and the Latin jazz community, trumpeter Gary Gazaway has come a long way from his upbringing in northeast Arkansas.
Gazaway, dubbed El Buho (“the owl”) by friends in the Cuban expatriate music world, has worked with figures ranging from Joe Cocker and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Phish and Aquarium Rescue Unit.
In his newest musical incarnation, Gazaway has teamed with a diverse group of players – including Sucker vocalist Scott Stoughton and his Solution associate, DJ Peter Blick, plus Leo Kottke and Steve Miller Band veteran Billy Peterson on bass – for a mini-tour of Colorado that begins tonight at the Bridge in Vail Village and will culminate at next Saturday’s Soulshine show in Vail, where the group will share the stage with Widespread Panic’s John Bell, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Radiators. Gazaway and his friends also have a few chances to try out their music on a strangely un-jam-bandish setting, playing free concerts in the Village at 2 p.m. today, Saturday and Sunday.
“Last year, we played up in State Bridge with Scotty and Jeff Sipe of Aquarium Rescue and we decided to do some gigs this summer – Scott did such a great job,” Gazaway says. “I’m really improvisational and into music of the moment. We’re basically all jazz people who just don’t play jazz all the time.”
Gazaway’s no stranger to sometimes unusual collaborations, as he’s spent his entire musical career blending genres and working with an amazing variety of players, living in virtually every musical community in the country. And with a jam-friendly style heavy on the psychedelic elements, Gazaway’s become especially friendly with those traveling in the Phish circles.
Growing up in an area rich in blues, soul, gospel and even rockabilly – Memphis was just a short drive away – Gazaway was fortunate to have a father who loved music himself and took the youngster to see shows by Booker T. and the MGs and Otis Redding. Gazaway began playing trumpet professionally while attending college and studying communications – the following years, which have seen him work with some of the world’s finest musicians in spots from Miami and Puerto Rico to Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
Gazaway moved to New York City and began playing with the Machito Salsa Orchestra, eventually settling in Miami and working with Latin and American musicians including Celia Cruz – and even being invited to Bob Marley’s house in Miami.
“I’d always been interested in Latin music and when I moved to Miami, your choices were either playing the beach circuit or playing in Latin bands. And back in 1977, there weren’t a lot of Americans who were interested in Latin music, so I ended up getting a lot of work.”
Relocating to Los Angeles, where he worked with Brazillian jazz stars Airto Moreira and Flora Purim and Weather Report’s noted bassist Jaco Pastorius, Gazaway’s travels in the 1980s then took him to Atlanta (where he played with Col. Bruce Hampton and the Late Bronze Age), plus tours of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
“When I was on the road, I often didn’t know what was going on – I somehow managed to end up in Argentina during the Falklands War, and I really didn’t think that I was going to make it back home. I don’t even know how I got back to Nashville.”
An early incarnation of the El Buho project developed while Gazaway worked as a session artist in the country music capital, where he collaborated with Joel Sonnier, Steve Winwood, Delbert McClinton and spent 300 nights on the road backing early ’80s country star Razzy Bailey.
“I got to Nashville at a true crossroads in the music scene, but I was lucky enough to play with a lot of other people who’d just moved to town, like Victor Wooten and Jeff Coffin. We played every Monday night at the Ace of Clubs, which was kind of a center for experimental culture – although I wasn’t able to use my real name, as Nashville frowned upon non-country kind of experiments.”
A few years later, Gazaway took part in two of Joe Cocker’s American tours and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final concert series, the “Power and Passion Tour,” as well as performing 51 dates in 60 days as part of the live tour of the Commitments, the band featured in the popular 1995 movie. Gazaway’s Halloween 1996 appearance in Atlanta with Phish became one of the band’s most important concerts.
“Phish was the first band who urged me to take the El Buho thing on the road, and I’ve been doing that in different variations ever since.”
After a spree of session work with performers including George Jones and Derek Trucks, Gazaway began recording his first solo album, featuring friends such as Hampton, Wooten, Oteil Burbridge, Mike Gordon and more; live incarnations of the El Buho project have also included Cody Dickinson and T Lavitz.
“It’s always amazing how these things happen, but I just always seem to find a certain magic between certain people.”
The Colorado incarnation of El Buho, circa 2003, also features bassist Billy Peterson, whose most notable credits include work on Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Leo Kottke’s Ice Water, Dreams and All that Stuff and Chewing Pine. Peterson joined the Steve Miller Band in 1986.
The El Buho Project will perform a free show this afternoon in Vail Village, followed by an evening set at the Bridge. The group will also open for the Dark Star Orchestra’s Sunday performance at State Bridge Lodge.