Blues Keyboardist Bruce Katz Talks New Music, Butch Trucks, and the Journey That Shaped His Eclectic Sound
May 24 / Friday
Bruce Katz is a five-time Blues Music Award nominee for "Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year" selected by the Blues Foundation of Memphis, TN. He's worked with Ronnie Earl, Delbert McClinton Band, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, John Hammond, and was a member of the Gregg Allman Band from 2007-2013. In anticipation of his show at Garcia's, we sat down with Bruce and learned about his musical history and influences. Check out our interview and get tickets to see him Thursday, June 13!
1. You have a song entitled “Freight Train” off of your new album Get Your Groove! dedicated to Butch Trucks. His passing in 2017 was hard for everyone in the music community. As a friend of Butch and fellow musicians, what did you learn from his legendary career and what characteristics of Butch do you take on your musical journey?
Butch was without a doubt one of the greatest drummers I've ever played with or ever heard. When I would play with the Allman Brothers, I always had him loudest in my monitor because his sense of rhythm and complex polyrhythms were perfectly in sync with my ideas. I always felt like we were thinking together while playing. So when I got the opportunity to be in both of Butch's bands, it was musically perfect. I learned about taking my time crafting a solo and improvising in general. Butch LOVED to jam! But his jams were always meaningful and I learned a lot from him about creating jams that flowed and had direction. Butch was also very stubborn and spoke his mind, regardless of the situation, and, while I'm not as fearless as Butch, I think I've taken some of those personal qualities as well!
2. You studied Composition and Performance at Berklee College of Music and Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where you studied with Geri Allen, Paul Bley, Cecil McBee, and George Russell. How has traditional learning differed from what you have learned while touring? Do you find that one had a greater or smaller part in shaping you as an artist?
"Traditional" music education is definitely different than the "real" world education you get from playing and touring! But it is so valuable to learn and think about broad musical concepts and ideas. The same ideas about what makes a great piano sonata or atonal jazz piece are the same ideas that make a great pop song or funk jam. Studying composition has really helped and influenced my writing and studying jazz has influenced my playing. My music is definitely not "jazz"...but it's always there in the background of what I play and write and comes out in subtle ways, which is the way I prefer it. If I had to pick, however, which had a greater part in shaping me, I'd have to say all these years of playing and touring. There is nothing like playing music night after night and feeling what works and feels right and what doesn't.
3. We're excited to have you at Garcia’s at The Capitol Theatre on June 13. As you’ve been supporting your new album Get Your Groove! can we expect to hear new tunes that haven’t been heard live yet?
Absolutely! We have a new member of the band - Aaron Lieberman, one of the founding members of the band God Street Wine, and he is bringing new energy and music to the band. And I've written some new tunes since "Get Your Groove"!
4. You have appeared on over 70 albums with artists such as Ronnie Earl, John Hammond, Delbert McClinton, Gregg Allman, Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Little Milton, Maria Muldaur, and more. When writing your own music, do you take inspiration from the other projects that you’ve worked on and from the artists that you’ve worked with? Who was the most fun to work with in the studio?
It's a little hard to compare such great artists, but I might have to say Delbert was the most fun to work with in the studio. Spending time playing music with Delbert McClinton is like being at a party....a party with some of the best music you're ever going to hear or play!
5. Bill Milkowski from Jazz Times has credited you with saying, “Katz cooks up a brilliant marriage of blues, jazz, gospel, and soul.” When writing, do you consciously pull these genres together or does it happen naturally?
The blending of those different styles really happens naturally with me. I hear them as all parts of the same American music of the past 100 years and I love them all. So a little "jazz" twist to a tune with a gospel chord progression inside of a blues feeling tune is no surprise or stretch to me.
6. Throughout your discography, and especially in Get Your Groove! there are select songs that have lyrics while others do not. Does this occur naturally or intentionally? Is there a different writing process for songs with lyrics than for those without? Do you prefer writing music with or without lyrics?
I've always had singers I've worked with write lyrics. I like to write instrumental tunes. And yes, it's a very different thing. You have to create images, emotions and ideas without the benefit of words to explain them. So I really think about the melodies I'm writing - they have to stand out and create moods and feelings. When I write and play my own music, I always feel that it is all about the actual tunes...the improv and solos are nice, but it's all about the tunes themselves.
7. You’ve had the opportunity to work with so many notable musicians, is there an artist that you find has helped shape you into the musician that you are today?
I think they all have, really. And many I never played with, like Ray Charles, Jerry Garcia, Thelonius Monk.....