Chris Geith (pronounced "guy-t") is one of the lucky few who actually knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life from the moment he was able to climb up on a piano stool and sit beside his father. He would watch his father move his nimble fingers across the black and white keys of the piano with agility and total awareness of where those fingers needed to be to make beautiful sounds. Knowing how to make beautiful sounds with the piano gave meaning to life in young Geith‘s eyes.
"My father was always playing the piano and the organ when I was a little kid, and I wanted to be able to play like him. He would let me experiment on his piano, and by the time I turned 8, he gave it to me, so I could start studying music. He would later take me to all kinds of jazz clubs in Italy where I would see great musicians and get even more inspired."
Though Geith’s father passed away seven years ago, Chris never imagined of burying the talent that his father nurtured in him. It would be the impetus which gave Chris something to say as a solo artist. "For many years I've backed up all kinds of singers and horn players and it's all been great experiences, but when you realize you have something to say yourself, it's time to move to the front of the stage."
Prior to becoming a solo artist, Chris Geith was a star pupil in school and excelled in music classes. "I went through a lot of music training over the years, first, the Conservatory of Music in Milan, and later, The Manhattan School of Music, but I'm self-taught on some things like, in example, orchestration and arranging. The most helpful thing in the beginning for me was to listen to a lot of music and analyze all the different parts."
His education exposed him to everything from classical to modern piano and from jazz to experimental music, but learning good technique was imperative. "If you've learned the right technique playing the piano, you can play to 8 hours without ever getting stiff or tired. The best playing always comes from staying relaxed."
He cites a turning point in his life when, "My father gave me the opportunity to study at The Manhattan School of Music, so I got my masters degree there. It was a great experience. I was coming up with some unusual arrangements for popular standard tunes. Some of the teachers loved what I was doing and some, I guess, kind of didn't - the more conservative ones," he mutters, "but in the end, I graduated one semester earlier with ‘advanced standing.’ I went into contemporary jazz because there are a lot more possibilities, musically speaking. The pop/rock [style]," he purports, "this can be fun but there is only so much you can do harmonically."
He reveals, "I've been playing jazz since I was 14. My father was a jazz fanatic and really got me into it. There really hasn't been a specific ‘big break,’" in Geith’s opinion, "it's just been an ongoing journey."
He recalls, "My early musical experiences were playing with a lot of different bands in all kinds of clubs and collaborating with many music production companies’recording studios in New York City and in Milan, Italy." Some artists whom he backed up include Julie Andrews and Paul Anka.
His first taste as a solo artist happened in 1995 when Keyboard Magazine awarded him the top spot for his composition "Sunrise Hunter" at their 20th Anniversary Keyboard Competition. He describes, "Like all the rest of my tunes, the writing was a very spontaneous process, I just felt like writing something up tempo with a cool groove and horns. The title was just a coincidence, it just felt right for the track."
The single would be on his debut album, Forever Again released by the European label Arta Records. He shares, "Forever Again was a collaboration with trumpet player Laco Deczi. He's a famous musician over in Europe and hooked us up with Arta Records in Prague. The music would probably have been in tune in the USA also, but the labels we had shopped it to, had turned it down."
He attests about Arta, "Our label never asked anything from us. It was nice to have some distribution over there, but the marketing has been fairly limited."
Geith provides, "I produced the album over a long period of time - about two years. As I mentioned, it was a collaboration with trumpet player, Laco Deczi and his son drummer, Vaico Deczi. I'm very proud of this album, there is a tremendous amount of chemistry going on in the music. It's a very ‘orchestral’ project, but with a lot of interesting grooves going on at the same time." He synapses, "Very upbeat but also mellow."
In 2001, Geith released his second solo album, Prime Time under the moniker The Chris Geith Group. He explains, "It's always an experimentation to some degree. To me music is all about the ‘feel.’ I write what I feel. Melody is very important to me, but so are interesting chord progressions. When I write music, and I find myself with a smile on the face, I know I've got something going. I like to create moods and have variety from song to song. There will be upbeat, happy sounding tunes and then there will be some other songs that might make people cry, and if they do, I know I've touched somebody's heart."
He examines, "Making albums is a very complex thing for me. I question every note and every sound a million times, but when the process is completed, I generally have something good in my hands, or at least I hope so!"
For his latest album, Timeless World, he reflects how he really wanted to make a piano-central album with a modern flare as he handled all piano, keyboard, and program parts. "Timeless World took over two years to complete. I wanted to make a piano album with a lot of orchestration around it. I like the combination of acoustic piano and lush string sounds and then put a cool groove underneath it. The tune ‘So Many Nights’ is a good example of that. In the ‘tradition’ of the previous album, I wanted to have an extensive variety of moods."
He discusses how the music pollinates during the songwriting process, "Timeless World includes tunes I've written over several years. I tend to work on my music just like a full time job. I don't just wait for inspiration to fall from the sky, although sometimes it does," he beams. "I'll try different things for hours until I start to feel some chemistry. I will come up with a ton of ideas and use only a small percentage of it."
The musicians who played on Timeless World were friends of his. He expresses, "My friend, guitarist Matt Marshak, founder of Nuance Music Group, did some awesome guitar work, and my friend Fred Scerbo did all the saxophone tracks which all added a lot to the project."
Other musicians who played on Timeless World include Mark Mullers (bass), Donny D (drums, percussion), Dean Kosh (drums on Restless Heart), and Al Davis (trumpet, trombone). Geith tells, "I like playing with good musicians and make the music sound tight and fun, it does motivate me to write. Matt Marshak, Fred Scerbo and Dean Kosh are for sure musicians I enjoy playing with. Of course, there are a lot more people I enjoy working with, but it’s hard to make a list with so many great musicians."
One noticeable aspect about Geith’s arrangements is that while he is composing them, he thinks about how they would sound performed live in front of an audience. "I always imagine ‘playing live’ when I write. I like to picture the reaction of the audience when the music becomes more and more intense." When asked whether the songs on Timeless World were inspired from playing live, he admits, "Yes, it has. I would say most of it."
Now that Timeless World is out, Geith says that plans for a tour are underway. "There are plans in the works for touring. In my case, taking the music on the road is a complex operation as it requires a lot of technical support." He reminisces, "Some of the most incredible moments have been playing in Italy underneath old castles and in big parks in front of huge audiences."
Since Geith not only handles the piano and keyboard parts, but also the program arrangements on the recordings and live on stage, I had to ask if he ever worries about programs taking the place of his piano playing. He responded, "That will never happen. No technology will ever be able to ‘replace’ Chris Geith," he smiles.
Some aspects about Chris Geith’s contemporary jazz album Timeless World are old-fashioned, just like his father would have done it, and others are quite innovating and able to keep up with a modern age. The melodies are tuneful and atmospheric as they represent the moods of the world. It seems that making music for people to carry in their bosoms is Chris Geith‘s forte.