Simultaneous guitarist/bassist Charlie Hunter on music, politics, life

click to enlarge Charlie Hunter with his eight-string Novax guitar. Hunter - plays 32 Bleu this Friday, Sept. 11.
  • Charlie Hunter with his eight-string Novax guitar. Hunter plays 32 Bleu this Friday, Sept. 11.

Charlie Hunter sets himself apart from your average guitarist in the music world. From his early roots in the San Francisco Bay area, where he studied under Joe Satriani and then helped pioneer the new jazz movement in the club scene, Hunter has launched heart-first into jazz history via his skill on his custom-made eight-string guitar.

Hunter's Novax guitar (named after designer Ralph Novak) allows him to blend bass tones into standard guitar melodies, effectively accomplishing the sound of two musicians at once.

Hunter has released 12 albums over the past decade, sweeping the honors in the contemporary jazz category with his trios, quartets and quintets. Now back to the trio form with drummer Derrek Phillips and tenor saxophonist John Ellis, Hunter is touring with his new album Friends Seen and Unseen. Expect a great deal of improvisation with the new Charlie Hunter Trio and make a quick journey to the front of the crowd to check out Charlie's gift up close.

The Independent recently spoke with Hunter from his home on the East Coast.

Indy: I'm curious about the creation of your Novax eight-string.

Hunter: I was a guitar and bass player before, and I spent some time on drums. I guess I had a predilection and ability to put them all together. It just evolved. It's been an interesting journey -- it sure takes a hell of a lot of practice; it puts me in different space in the music. It's a burden because of all the information, but also the burden's lifted because I'm not fronting the weight of one full section, like drums or sax.

Indy: Are you happiest playing with the trio versus your previous quartet and quintet?

Hunter: The trio is my home; it's the best bang for the buck. I enjoyed the quintet for the writing, but it was unaffordable in the end. I lost my shirt paying two extra guys. I didn't make money for a year.

Indy: Even Charlie Hunter has to worry about money these days?

Hunter: (Laughs) Hey, I'm happy just to make a living; I'm lucky to be in the U.S., though we're the poorest country in the world in terms of community and cultural wealth in many respects. We neglect music and the arts -- creative things end up suffering.

Indy: You've had a lot to say regarding the spiritual core of music that's being eaten by the corporate monster. Care to elaborate?

Hunter: I'm not entirely anti-corporate; the idea of an efficiently run company is great. But I'm against the American corporate mentality, which happens to be run by the wrong people from the wrong part of the culture. It's class war from the top down. Music and culture will always exist on the grass-roots level, but it hasn't been as bad as this since the Pat Boone era.

You have to go left of 90 on the radio to hear anything not canned or corporate sponsored. It's bad for our mass culture; it makes us more ignorant. To me, it's a quality-of-life issue. I could've taken sponsorship offers from cigarette companies, but what's the point? Economically, I'm a lot poorer for choices I've made, but it's a matter of balance. I'm really happy in what I'm doing. At the end of day the only positive thing about being a big star is making money, but then you're beholden to too many people.

Indy: I read somewhere that you jokingly said things have sunk so low that you'll be voting Democrat this year.

Hunter: Right, yeah. I believe in a lot of our system, but I don't believe in how hostile it has become. We have an auction, not a democracy. Reverence for humanity is not represented in this government. I think this is a really great country with an awful ruling class that is far removed from the population. The only time it's interactive is through manipulation of religion, race, etcetera -- it's a really low moment right now. If you read American history and study the revolutionary period, there were a lot of forward-thinking people, but their checks and balances have eroded. I never feel like getting on a soapbox, but I have kids and I travel the world; this affects me -- there needs to be an honest discourse talking place.

-- Matthew Schniper


The Charlie Hunter Trio

32 Bleu, 32 S. Tejon St.

Friday, Sept. 11, 9 p.m.

$16.25, $25 for reserved seating

Call 955-5664 for more information.


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