Issue 140, INTERVIEW with Kevin Coelho
I totally fell in love with Kevin’s grand Hammond B3 playing when I heard & reviewed his first release… when he popped his second CD on us for review, I knew I wanted to get him to do an interview with us! Very insightful & personable interview – thanks for taking the time, Kevin!
Zzaj: Your grasp of the B-3 masters, like Jimmy Smith, speaks volumes about your ability… give our readers a short bio sketch (fresh, off the cuff) that gives us “your own words” of where you’re from, how you got here & where you’re going, please.
Kevin: My start actually didn’t come from jazz, rather I started with classical piano at a young age, and then moved on to 60s and 70s records that my dad had in his collection. Before I started on jazz, I was listening to the Isley Brothers, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Lynard Skynard, Santana, and many more. The first time I heard and recognized the organ was when I heard Booker T. & The MG’s play “Green Onions”. As soon as I figured out that the organ was the sound I loved about that song, I knew I wanted to play organ. Since that discovery, I moved on to listening to many soul jazz records like Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott, Groove Holmes, and eventually I made my way to Don Patterson, Jimmy Smith, Bill Doggett, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and the next generation including Larry Young, Larry Goldings, Tony Monaco, Joey DeFrancesco. I got to where I am by listening and loving this music, and trying as best I could to play it.
More recently, I’ve been hugely expanding my musical palette, and I’ve been exploring many other genres including rock, R&B, hip-hop, rap, and fusion stuff. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the organ, it is almost universally playable in any genre, and you find it everywhere – even on Taylor Swift’s new album. I got involved with the St. Valentinez, a group I manage, about a year ago, and they’ve been very influential on my recent musical tastes. I think the next step for me is to push the organ beyond the soul jazz organ trio idiom. Especially with my newer compositions, I’ve been incorporating horn sections, different synth sounds, while still playing bass, just like organ. The organ will always be a part of my music, but I think now I’m at the stage where I’m changing the role it plays in my music. I’m definitely incorporating many more modern elements into my music, and my future projects I would like to include vocalists. I’m definitely heading down a fusion route, moving away from straight ahead jazz, though I will always continue to love bebop and swing.
Zzaj: I’ve read that you’re a vet of the “Stanford Jazz Workshop” – how did that happen (in the first place), and who are some of the players you’ve hooked up with through that workshop.
Kevin: The Stanford Jazz Workshop has been a huge part of my life since I started at age 11. It was a local program that was easy for me to get to since I live in Los Altos, and turned out to be much more than I had ever dreamed of. Much of what I’ve learned about jazz and playing jazz in groups has been through the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and if I had to list all the great players I’ve met through the program, well I probably wouldn’t be able to since the list is so long. But I will say that my CD Release Concert coming up features one of my close friends, Howard Dietz, who I met through the program. I met the St. Valentinez though Lyman Alexander, who I also met at Stanford Jazz.
Zzaj: Are your tastes in music “strictly jazz”? If not, what other music(s) do you enjoy (& why).
Kevin: I used to be very jazz oriented, and now that I look back, I’d say I was in some ways close minded about my music tastes. But now I listen to everything from 50s big band swing to rap and hip hop, there’s really nothing I won’t listen to and appreciate, short of possibly death metal. But really every music has its appeal and I will say jazz, R&B, funk, and some hip-hop are among my favorites.
Zzaj: It looks like you play a lot of live local gigs… do you have plans for touring anytime soon? Give us some idea of “how busy” your schedule is on any given day, please.
Kevin: I have plans to start touring as soon as I find the right musicians to put together my own touring group. So far it has been hard to find musicians who have the availability to do something like that, but eventually I’ll get there, hopefully within the next few years. My days are generally jam packed – I’m full time at Stanford University studying computer science, so I practice in addition to my classes and homework. I don’t have a whole lot of time to waste, my days are basically wake up, work, practice, sleep. Friday and Saturday nights I’ll take gigs when I can, and sometimes weekday gigs if I like them.
Zzaj: Were your parents supportive of your moving away from your classical training into R&B & jazz? Or was that a non-issue?
Kevin: It was kind of a non-issue. My father and grandmother are the music side of the family, and as musicians they both understood the need to pursue one’s passions, and they understood that I loved jazz and R&B more than I did classical, though classical is still important to me and I love listening to it. All of us were aware of the tradeoffs for my stopping my classical training, and I am aware of what I have lost by making that decision, but I think it was a decision that had to be made. I just don’t have enough time to do everything, and prioritizing my time meant I had to stop classical and save time for what mattered the most to me.
Zzaj: When it comes to your Hammond B-3 playing, who (besides players like Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff & others) has been the most influential on honing your talents on the organ? Why? In other words, what did they do to help you?
Kevin: Two of my mentors, Tony Monaco, and Wil Blades, have been particularly influential on both my style and technique on organ. Both forced me to practice heavily with a metronome, and really lock down my bass. In addition to practicing technique, they introduced me to many of the records I love today, and have both helped to expand my listening. Organ is an instrument in particular where anyone who learns it spends a lot of time alone figuring things out for themselves – its why organ players are very distinctive once they mature and find their own sound. Nonetheless, having Tony and Wil was very helpful in pushing me along my way to finding my own sound, and I definitely owe it to them for being where I am today. People have told me they can hear both Tony and Wil’s playing in mine, I hope that’s true because I’ve spent a whole boatload of time studying their records.
Zzaj: Besides your latest release (“Turn It Up”, which was just reviewed in my magazine, issue # 139), what other projects do you have in the works? What kind of releases should we expect in the next couple of years?
Kevin: Most recently, I recorded a whole album with the St. Valentinez. We just had a successful Kickstarter that’s going to fund mastering / manufacturing, and the release is going to happen later this year. It’s their debut album, “The Bullet with the Butterfly Wings”, and I’m playing organ and keys on the whole thing. It was a really fun project and I’m glad to be a part of the group. Currently, I’m working on my originals that I wrote over last summer and the last couple of months, they’re going to be played at my concert in a couple days (January 17), and then I’ll be in the studio on the 18th and 19th to track them with the group I’m playing with for the concert. These are a step in a new direction for me, and after that it’ll be something completely different.
Zzaj: Who is your favorite performer you’ve worked with to date? Who would you like to work with in the future?
Kevin: I can’t really say. Although there are certain players that I very much enjoy working with and call back regularly, I really like Reggie and Derek of course, but also in the Bay Area I enjoy playing with Brandon Etzler, Jeff Marrs, Greg Wyser-Pratte, Jack Tone, Jordan Samuels, Rick Rivera, Stephen Norfleet, Joe Cohen, Mike Olmos, Howard Dietz.. the list goes on. I can’t really say any single favorite, but I’ve got a list of people I love playing with. If you count organ players that I’ve been on the bandstand with, I love Larry Goldings and Chester Thompson. Those two are real legends for a reason – they’ll blow you away every time.
I can’t really say what the future holds either. I’ll know when I meet or hear them, but for now, I just know who I like to play with. At some point I’d love to play with Brian Blade. That’s a killer cat.
Zzaj: Do you get involved in the tech-end of your recordings (you know, gear, website promo, etc.), or do you just stick to playing the music? (Note from Dick: The reason for asking that is that so many of our readers do all their own tech-work – just wondering if your focus is primarily on playing or if you also get into the tech end)
Kevin: I do get into the tech end, pretty deeply sometimes. I haven’t quite gotten to mixing / mastering, but I’m planning on learning that at some point. I do all my own social media / website work, and I’m always looking out for new cool gear to pick up / add to the wish list. I’m kind of a techie, given my major at Stanford it kind of makes sense haha.
Zzaj: At your ripe young age, what advice do you have to offer up to readers of this ‘zine who are thinking about a career in music? Is it something worth pursuing? What kinds of sacrifices should folks be prepared to make to “get there” (whatever that means)?
Kevin: A career in music is definitely worth pursuing if you really love what you do. If you love music enough, it’ll get you through the hard times that will inevitably hit you. At any given point, you might have to reinvent yourself musically because certain gigs change or go away. You might have to live somewhere not so nice for a while, and sell your car, or work a part time or full time job besides music. There’s lots of things that musicians do to get by, and they do it because they love it. For me personally, I plan to pursue a music career, but I’m going to get a financial footing first. I’m hoping a major in computer science is going to help me with that. Music will always be there for me when I need it and want it, and weekend gigs are always an option. Being a musician takes organizational skills, business skills, preparation, and lots of dedication. To be the best, you really have to give it everything you have.