Jay Soto is rapidly becoming one of the hottest smooth jazz guitarists in America. His sophomore album, Stay Awhile, fulfills all the promise of his debut CD Long Time Coming. The talented guitar maestro, who in 2004 was one of six finalists in a national guitar competition, is riding the recent success of his single "Slammin’," which during the first week of May, took the top spot on the smoothjazz.com most added list, and held the number two spot for most added on the prestigious R&R charts.
Soto describes "Slammin'" as "the most energetic tune on the album, which hits the store shelves on May 29th. It has a punch to it. It has an immediate appeal right from the get go." It didn’t take long for the label and Soto to come to an agreement that "Slammin'" was earmarked as the first single for release.
Salt Lake City’s radio station KBZN’s Dan Jessop says, "Soto slams the perfect summer jam," in describing the hit single.
Soto says of his earlier CD Long Time Coming, "It was more of a calling card as to what I am as a musician. It helped that it received a lot of notice from people within the industry, with whom I have had the privilege of working with. It was a learning experience for me because I got to know myself better as a musician. It was very exciting."
The guitar man must have learned an awful lot because if you are not hooked by the opening bars that comprise the upbeat groove for "Stay Awhile," you probably are not a true fan of smooth jazz. "Stay Awhile," is a phenomenal original tune that pushes Soto’s guitar work into the forefront and demonstrates not only has the licks, but he writes great songs. Soto refers to the title track and another song "Day Dreaming" as, "my babies."
"Most of the songs on both albums are representative of who I am as a person. I self-produced the first one and wrote all of the songs. I did the songs from the ground up, created the progression of the melody, and had a say in just about every aspect of the album," says Soto.
In talking about his CD Stay Awhile Soto says, "I had to learn how to let go. I have five producers on here including myself, Jeff Lorber, Darren Rahn (Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler), Paul Brown and Mario Mendivil (Nelson Rangell). I had to learn how to let go because each producer had their way of approaching a song. Some of the beds were laid out and done before I had a chance to work with the melodies. The end result was phenomenal and I was extremely happy to work with all of these people."
Working with so many talented producers, Soto says, "My absolute biggest challenge was attaining a common thread throughout the CD. I figured if I could pull this off, it would be quite a feat and something that I have never done before. A big part of getting everything to gel was the mastering. Stephen Marcussen, out in LA, did the mastering, and he did a wonderful job. Before the mastering, I was wondering how some of the tunes were going to fit on the same album. In the end, everything made sense and everything belonged on the CD."
One of the songs that listeners will be happy to find belongs on this record is "Love Has Found a Way," featuring one of my favorite all-time vocalists Jeffrey Osborne. The creamy smooth vocals of Osborne and the effortless playing of Soto create a duet to be cherished. Let’s hope this duo hook up again soon.
Another talent to appear on the CD Stay Awhile is the Danish saxophonist Michael Lington, who also appeared on Long Time Coming. Soto admits to at first feeling a little overwhelmed with the combination of production and instrumental talent that comprised the cast for Stay Awhile. However, he settled in and relaxed when he discovered they were just fellow musicians, who in his words "Were doing this for the love of music."
Soto says that having Jeffrey Osborne appears on the CD, "Was one of the highlights of my career. He was one of the singers that I grew up listening to as a kid. He is one of my favorite voices ever. Darren Rahn produced that particular track, "Love Has Found A Way." I had been considering singing it myself, but thought why not try to get a singer with a name, so I just threw it out there (to the others). I told Darren that it would be really cool to have someone like Jeffrey Osborne on the CD and Darren told me he had just done something (a recording) with him last year. Darren said he would see what he could do and left Jeffrey a message. I was jumping up and down within an inch of the ceiling!"
Even though Soto is an accomplished guitarist, his instrument of choice, in terms of creating and composing, remains the keyboard. "I get more inspiration in terms of my writing when I am on the keyboard. It is funny how I approach music between the keyboard and the guitar. The keyboard is my instrument of choice in terms of harmonic construction, progression and chord voicing. Guitar by far is my choice in terms of soloing and that sort of thing. Keyboard is a major source for my rhythm. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my keyboarding skills." So there you have it! Jay Soto is just your everyday brilliant songwriter and musician on not one, but two instruments.
Soto’s brilliance brings us back full circle to the beginning of this piece when I mentioned his appearance as a finalist in a national guitar competition. The guitar competition, which culminated in the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, officially anointed Soto as one of the premier six-string players on the planet.
"That (the competition) was the turning point of my life. I think all that I needed was motivation, drive and belief that I could do this," he says. "It started out at the local store level here in Phoenix, Arizona, and I got through the first round. When I won that round, that is all I was really hoping for, just to be king of my town. When I was told that I would be going to the district competition, I went, ‘Wow it’s going to continue.’ I went to the district (competition) and won that. From there I went to the regional competition in Chicago and won that. Each time it just snowballed. I thought, ‘I don’t know how I got this far, but I am just riding with it and having fun.’ It (the finals in Dallas) was an amazing event and for any guitarist that was like guitar heaven," says Soto.
He says of being in the presence of Eric Clapton, "I don’t get star struck, but when I saw Clapton, I just froze. Although the guitarists who played at the festival are too numerous to mention, they did include the likes of Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, BB King, John Mayer, Vince Gill, Larry Carlton and Pat Metheny.
"It was supposed to be, and I think he (Clapton) achieved it, the guitar concert of the decade. I don’t ever remember there being a guitar concert of that magnitude. This three day event was just slammed with icons and guitar idols," says Soto. We might add and perhaps a future guitar icon in the making (Soto).
Check out www.jaysoto.com and listen to three full cuts from his great album Stay Awhile.