Issue 121, Interview with CHARLIE APICELLA & Iron City

I’m extremely pleased to offer an INTERVIEW with Charlie Apicella, one of the hottest young jazz guitarists on the scene today!  His taking the time to do this is very much appreciated, & I’ve no doubt may folks will enjoy this one!


Zzaj:  You’ve provided me with a little private bio stuff, but I couldn’t find much in the way of bio for Charlie Apicella & Iron City… please give us brief history… where you guys came from, what led you to each other, where you live & interact now

Charlie/IC:  I now live in Brooklyn, and came recently from western Massachusetts.  The commute to NYC was getting to me, so I decided it was time to move!

Our organist, Dave Mattock, lives in Philadelphia where he gigs extensively and teaches.  Drummer Alan Korzin is in central NJ teaching and playing.  This arrangement works well by allowing us to be established from Philadelphia all the way up to New England.  Our new CD “The Business” has been so well received that it has earned us a wider range of areas to perform in.

Alan and I have been friends for five years now, and have logged almost 600 gigs together with a range of groups.  I met Dave Mattock at the Village Vanguard about three years ago.  We were both taking lessons with Dr. Lonnie Smith at the time, and had both shown up to see Lonnie with Lou Donaldson.

Zzaj:  One of the features I love most about your group is that ORGAN work (I’m a keyboard player, of sorts, myself); what about your jazz makes it so organ-ized?

Charlie/IC:  To my ear there is nothing better matched with guitar than organ.  Both instruments can play rhythmically and percussively while offering lush voicings.  Though they are similar in these ways, their different timbres allow them to blend.  It’s like two things that go well together by nature; like tomatoes and basil on a pizza.

Zzaj:  Who are your jazz guitar heroes?  Why?  Have you had the chance to play with any of them?  If so, how was it?  If not, why not?

Charlie/IC:  Dave Stryker is my teacher, mentor, and friend.  I discovered his work around 1999 and am fortunate to have been working with him for this long.  He produces my records, so I have been able to use Iron City as a way to take our work together out of the lesson context and into a higher level.

I love blues, so Dave is the man.  I feel blessed  to just be in the same room as him sometimes, not always when he is on stage.  His creativity and commitment to music inspires me.

Living in New York allows me to take lessons with other greats like Peter Bernstein and Bob DeVos.  I have the additional fortune of working with Bob’s organist Dan Kostelnik a couple times a month, who plays with a real commitment to blues.

In my experience, my love of music fuels my curiosity about certain sounds, which causes me to seek out certain teachers.  Another guitarist who I have been working with is Rick Stone.

Zzaj:  Your jazz is (in my estimation, anyway) the kind that makes folks wanna’ get up & MOVE, much like some of the ’60’s & ’70’s stuff I grew up on… is that truly your orientation, or is just a natural outflow of what/how you learned when you were growing up?  On that note (for each player, or just for Charlie), which artist (if any) has most influenced your own playing?

Charlie/IC:  The guitarists I mentioned are the most exciting to me because they are contemporary and I spend as much time with them as I can.  I go to their gigs and schedule private lessons whenever I have a break in my gig and practice schedule.

Second to Strike for me is Grant Green.  I devote a lot of attention and energy to his work andI just get so caught up in enjoying his sound and feel!  Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, Yusef Lateef and Charlie Parker are all huge for me; again, it is their blues playing that hits me hardest.  That is a language that you can’t fake, and it really separates the men from the boys.

Don Patterson, Jack McDuff, Mike LeDonne, Jared Gold, and John Patton are organist I listen to.  Lester Young and Chet Baker, along with Sinatra and Billie Holiday are my influences that illustrate a lyrical approach.

I love Count Basie and I study Freddie Green’s approach.  I see a comparison in his and Grant Green’s chord style.  Both contribute an essential element to the feel of a tune by playing percussively and using the minimum of notes, locking in with the drummer in a way many guitarists don’t when comping.  I was recruited by a big band in New Jersery so I have a great opportunity to learn Basie-era music and focus on my two-note voicings.

I love any guitarist who plays the vocabulary of jazz; Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel and Barry Galbraith.

Zzaj:  I notice a lot of gigs for your group… are those mostly “home-gigs”, or are you touring also? 

Charlie/IC:  I don’t like to think of the word “touring” because a tour has a start and an end.  I never stop.  Like I said before, our home turf is from MA to DE, and I hope to expand to Detroit, Chicago, and the South.

Zzaj:  What’s the musical education background for the players in the group?  Do any of you play (strictly) by ear, self-taught, or is your music based more on formal education?  How important is the educational part of playing? 

Charlie/IC:  I am self-directed, if not self-taught.  I enjoy transcribing tunes and solos, and working out difficult things.  I went for a short while to music school but I didn’t really like it.  I feel my curiosity about music drives my desire to learn a given tune, or write out a given solo.

I have a lot of gigs, so I am learning on the band stand.  I record everything; gigs, lessons, rehearsals, and I listen back and critique my playing and the group dynamic.  I am fortunate to have the opportunity to study music, and I take seriously the responsibility to perform for other peoples’ enjoyment as well.
Zzaj:  Where’s the grooviest venue you’ve ever played?  Why is that so?

Charlie/IC:  Our New York City debut was at the Iridium a couple of years ago.  That was quite a way to break into the scene.  I love all my gigs and always use gigs as a chance to practice and improve myself.  Any venue where the audience gives energy back is my favorite.  I have a good relationship with all of my regular venues, and I take the job seriously.  It is another skill all together in getting and keeping gigs.

Zzaj:  The readers of my magazine are always interested in hearing about projects you may have coming up (especially if there are song/sample(s) available to preview the project(s)… do you have any project information you can share with us? If not right now, give us an idea of where you think you & the group will be 3-5 years from now (or where you WANT to be, anyway)

Charlie/IC:  Our next horizon is jazz festivals.  We have been getting solid airplay all over the world, so I would like to perform in Italy, Israel, and Japan.  Music is a wonderful opportunity to travel and to contribute to the culture of the people that you are visiting.  Back in the day, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gilespie were seen as American ambassadors.  I feel I can make a small contribution to the world outside of New York.

Zzaj:  We have a lot of players in our magazine, some of them just starting out… give us your “words of wisdom” about whether a musical career is something worth pursuing… is it all “hard work & no play”?  Pure joy with no hassles?  Or somewhere in between those extremes?  All the detail you can fit in, please.
Charlie/IC:  All work is hard.  I am lucky that I find practicing entertaining.  I play a gig and I go home and practice.  The reward is in becoming a better guitarist.  I try to expand my ears through practice and to be true to the language of jazz.  There is a responsibility to play beautifully and to entertain people.  There is no room for compromise when it comes to learning this music; I try to be true to what has come before me and to present it to my audience in a way they can appreciate and enjoy.

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