Not only has Shilts been playing sax with Down to the Bone for nine years, he has been playing sax since he was ten years old. He says, When I grew up, my parents were very much into their jazz, so there was always jazz played in the house. Everything from the old big band sound up to the modern jazz and even some soul. Even my little baby sister, she was the one that got me into bands like Earth, Wind and Fire because she was a little bit younger than me and was into the pop scene. I was sitting listening to bands like Stan Kenton and then she was listening to Earth, Wind and Fire--and then it all crossed over with her really.
Shilts has steadily worked since he was a teen. He says, I was very fortunate that when I was 14 or 15. I was asked to join the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain, which is a full, 24-piece big band. We were lucky enough to record and perform with Buddy Greco, Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Wilson, Brook Benton, Mel Torme and George Shearing. It was an incredible experience. The average age of the band members was about 17 or 18 years old and it was a really good band--still is a very good band. It's still going now and I think it just had its 40th anniversary.
With all the influences and experience at a young age, Shilts' style came very naturally. He says, I've been very fortunate. I worked in the rock genre and the pop field and a lot of very soulful stuff, also small group ensembles up to big band stuff. I have done some classical orchestral things on radio in England. All those sort of things that you do throughout your career, and everything combined, comes to form your personality as a musician. I've just been lucky to play in such a cross section of the industry that everything just developed into my style of playing. [It's] quite eclectic, but also still fits well into the jazz field.
The music heard in HeadBoppin' is altogether different than what Shilts plays in Down to the Bone. He says, The thing with Down to the Bone is that's a production project, and I'm not the signed artist. Producer Stewart Wade is the signed artist. This is my own thing now so it's completely separate from anything with Down to the Bone.
Shilts says HeadBoppin' shows he still has everything in him to be in the forefront. He says, The title really speaks for itself. It's an uptempo, funky, sort of very groovy album. I always want the music to be fun and to give it a party atmosphere. It's definitely got that with it. I've written nine of the ten tunes--two of them have been co-written and produced with Rick Braun.
Rick Braun let Shilts be Shilts on HeadBoppin'. Shilts says, Rick's been paramount in the way that this album's turned out. I really can't given him enough praise really. They didn't want to recreate anything from me. They didn't want to change my sound or my style. Basically, it was a package that came all in and they went with it. Rick was fantastic. He just brought my demos to life, which is something I don't think I could have done it on my own.
The first single from HeadBoppin' is called "Look What's Happened." Shilts says, The title is a little play on my first album, which was out in 2000. It was called 'See What Happens' and it was a little joke on that title. I wrote that song with a friend of mine in England called Jeff Leach, who's a keyboard player. We toured with many different artists together before. It was one of those little things that one day we had some spare time and Jeff came over and just messed around with some ideas in the studio. He gave me a chord sequence of different things. After he went, I messed around with it for a couple of days and I finished up with the tune. Got together with Rick and Rick just loved the song as it was, so we really didn't do much to it. Obviously, we got the real musicians in to give it a finishing touch.
So far, "Look What's Happened" has had great response from smooth jazz radio stations. Shilts says, None of the radio stations said no to it. They all liked it and I think you just have to wait your turn to be added to the playlist. From the few people I have spoken in the radio places I've been in, they absolutely love the record. There's been an outstanding response in New York.
To help support HeadBoppin', Shilts is helping out his producer. He says, I've joined Rick Braun's band for this summer's touring schedule. We've been playing "Look What's Happened" live and it's been going down really, really well. People get up on their feet and they're boppin' their heads, which is what we want. So it's working out nicely. It's been a good reception so far.
Later on this year, Shilts will be part of a group that will perform the songs of Paul Hardcastle and the Jazzmasters live on stage. It will take place during the Catalina Island Jazz Festival, produced by "Jazz Trax" radio host Art Good. Shilts says, It's been exactly what I have been doing with Down to the Bone for nine years. Paul never performs on stage and has never been seen live. This is exactly what we do with Down to the Bone. We perform the music Stewart's way. Stewart's not a musician, he's never been on stage. In fact, it's what I'm used to doing more than doing my own stuff. The actual solo thing for me is something different and a new venture.
Shilts says the group that will be performing the music of Paul Hardcastle and the Jazzmasters will be very unique. He says, I just heard the material that we will be playing. Keyboardist Greg Karukas is in the band and also my good friend guitarist Chris Standring. I believe that for the first half of the show, the three of us will play our own solo songs. And then in the second half, that's when we will do the Jazzmasters stuff. I think the three of us really still yet need to sit down and just go through it and discuss how we are going to do it.
Performing the music of Paul Hardcastle and the Jazzmasters will be old hat for Shilts. He says, It's something that I had a lot of experience of doing with Down to the Bone. The live side of Down to the Bone is very different from the album side. I type the arrangements and I completely change them around, added solos, added different sections, different breakdowns and obviously, we have to have endings. I'm looking forward to it. It's just a new project to see what we can come up with. Hopefully, Paul will favor what we've done. It's a nice thing to get an endorsement from another artist when you play their music. It's a nice feeling that you did it justice and take this stuff to a new level that sometimes you can't achieve in the studio. That's the beauty of live music. You never know what's going to happen, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but at least it's different.
Paul Hardcastle just might be impressed with what goes on because he could listen to the concert on his computer. As usual, all of the performance of the Catalina Island Jazz Festival will be broadcast on the Jazz Trax online Internet radio stream. Not only will Hardcastle hear his music performed in a new light, but he can hear just how good Shilts really is.