Music: Jim Campilongo

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz



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Jim Campilongo's Music Evolution

When we spoke to Jim Campilongo for an article about production of his latest album, Orange, he shared much more from his perspective as a guitarist than we could include in print. So, for anyone who wants to know more about how Campilongo’s music has evolved, and how Orange came together, enjoy:

Your producer, Anton Fier, says that the two of you originally had two different ideas about the direction of this album, where you wanted to capture a “moment in time” of the Jim Campilongo Trio, but he wanted you to show a broader view of your playing and style. Could you talk about how this coalesced into Orange?
Anton wanted to demonstrate some of the extreme aspects of my writing style, so he pushed for a few things [to be included on this album]. One was track 2, which is called “Awful Pretty, Pretty Awful.” It’s kind of a Chet Atkins thing.

Anton came over to talk about material for the record. We had taped a number of live trio performances at The Living Room, and there was so much material because I write a lot of stuff, and it had been two years since I recorded an album. I don’t remember what I had—25 or 40 tunes, way too much—and I happened to be working on that tune, which originally I wrote for someone else.

I had been to see this country swing band at Barbes, which is a club in Brooklyn, and for some reason I came home, and I had internalized some of the music, and I thought, “I’m going to write them an instrumental.” Sometimes as a writer I give myself an exercise that transcends a deep need to express some innermost feeling. I’ll just say, "This is my task. I’m going to write a song for this individual.”

Or sometimes I write down titles before writing a song, and say, “Okay, what does ‘Awful Pretty, Pretty Awful’ sound like? What is that song?” That was my exercise, and I’d written it, and Anton came in, and he really liked it, and he said, “Why don’t you put that on the record?”

I said, “I don’t want to put that on the record; that’s kind of more what I used to do than what I do now.” But he said, “No, that’s your thing.” And I was very malleable in the making of this record. I produced the last two Jim Campilongo records and a Christmas record, and I just didn’t want to produce [Orange]. I wanted somebody to tell me what they wanted, and to some degree to do it. So we put it on the album.

What’s the second song you meant?
Originally, we were thinking about having the record open with that song, and then Anton had me come up with a solo piece, and I was apprehensive about that. That was “When You Wish Upon a Star.” I was self-conscious because sometimes people get too smart for their own good. I said, “Playing solo, that’s something I do, something I have done, but I don’t know if it’s worth putting on a record.” But due to Anton’s total influence—I never would have done this if I had been producing the record—I tried to play the tune like the guy didn’t get his wish. I wanted it to sound bittersweet, and because of that reading perhaps, it came out nice and I was happy with it.

It sounds like you were open to exploring Anton’s ideas, even when they didn’t fit with your original vision.
This is my ninth Jim Campilongo record, and the way I’ve learned to make records is I don’t assume anything. I remember my second record I made, which is called Loose. I had written a song and I was so happy with this song, and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever written, and I decided before recording that I would name the record this song’s name. I had gotten an artist to interpret this song title [for the cover art], and when we went to record, the song didn’t work. We had to fight it. There was a problem with the tempo, a problem with intonation. The day I was supposed to solo, I couldn’t really get it. Everything was hard. And it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and then I had to change the name of the record, get new artwork, all that stuff. So I learned you just don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

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