The music press at large may define him as one of the founders of the hybridized genre that would eventually come to be known as pop (or smooth) jazz, but Grammy-award-winning guitarist Earl Klugh doesn’t care to be defined as a jazz player. “I don’t really try to classify [my] music,” he says from his home in Atlanta. “Instrumental music is a hard enough trail to blaze without subdividing it into smaller categories,” he laughs.
For one thing, Klugh is a finger-picker. He brought the nylon-strung classical-style guitar to pop jazz. Why? It was the instrument he learned to play on — a wide-necked uphill battle for the kind of fretwork most jazz demands. The plucky resonance of classical guitar became integral to Klugh’s sound. “Outside of Chet Atkins [a Tennessee picker], who was, like, my biggest influence as a guitar player, I don’t use guitar as an influence at all. I’m just influenced by music in general.” He laughs again. “I don’t wish to sound like anybody else.”
Earl Klugh was something of a child prodigy. At 15 he was discovered by Yusef Lateef (of Cannonball Adderley fame), and by 17 he was a member of George Benson’s touring band. That was the gig, he says, that launched his own career. “A lot of the time we’d be sitting around talking, and I’d be trying to [play] this or that, and George was, like, ‘Man, you’re on the right track. One of your ideas is worth ten of somebody else’s.’ Him saying that was a pivotal thing for me. You start out with that as an advantage if you have that in your playing — if you’re unique.”
For his first appearance here in a decade, Klugh says the show will be a blend of past hits and new material. “It’s gonna be a quartet,” he says. “Piano, bass, drums, and myself.”
EARL KLUGH: Anthology, Friday, July 17, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, July 18, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. 619-595-0300. $26 and $32.