Mesa Blue formed 11 years ago when singer/guitarist Chris Del Priore and drummer Jeffrey Stasny decided to quit the rock band they were in to create a more acoustic jazz-styled trio. Jeffrey says, "Chris began writing songs, and I'd recorded with Omar [Ramirez], so he came in on bass. As soon as we had enough songs, we became kings of the coffeehouses, like Java Joe's and Mikey's in Poway. We'd play anywhere. We still do. We played an El Torito in Mission Valley where we set up in the mall itself, playing toward the patio of the restaurant but with our backs to the mall crowd. Borders is a weird place to play. It's quiet in the middle of a bookstore."
Chris recalls, "I played stranger places before Mesa Blue -- [like] this country bar about 20 years ago in central Florida. I think I had to play 'Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw' three different times." Bassist Omar Ramirez says his oddest gig was as a classical guitarist for an outdoor dinner party. "I was asked to stroll from table to table playing instrumental arrangements of songs from the musical South Pacific. With only two hands, I had to move a stool, footstool, and guitar to and from each table as well as playing these rather memorable melodies."
Mesa Blue has released three CDs. You can hear extra-jazzy versions of songs from the most recent, Looking Down the Road, when they play Caffe Italia in Little Italy on Saturday, April 2. Chris says, "We'll play the first five songs from the album in a row -- that's how they were written to be presented. For these acoustic shows, we do more jazz and Latin instrumentals. Omar plays more guitar [live]...we do a little guitar dueling." Says Jeffrey, "The room is so small, I don't even use sticks, just brushes, and just the soft ones."
WHAT'S IN YOUR CD PLAYER?
Chris "All CD compilations I burned myself."
1. Latin Jazz Guitarists (Marc Antoine, Juan Carlos Quintero, Bernie Williams, Jesse Cook, Willie and Lobo.)
2. Rockin' Guitarists (Robben Ford, Duane Allman, Johnny A, John Jorgensen, Stevie Ray Vaughan.)
3. Favorite Motown ("Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, the Temptations.)
4. Favorite Funk (Earth, Wind, and Fire; Sly and the Family Stone; Stevie Wonder; Al Green; James Brown.)
5. Favorite Country (Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt.)
1. Vieux Diop, Afrika Wassa ("This African CD has great percussion, and I love the groove.")
2. Essential Latin Jazz ("I got this local compilation disc from Jazz 88.3 for becoming a KSDS member.")
3. Dave Grusin Presents West Side Story ("Incredible players, some of the best arrangements, and the drummer just spanks it.")
4. Crowded House, Woodface ("I won the CD and a trip to attend their CD-release party at Capitol Records.")
5. Bonnie Raitt, Luck of the Draw ("This is my wife's CD, and it's tuning me in to the massive talent that is Bonnie.")
1. Bruce Hornsby, Halcyon Days ("In addition to his being an amazing pianist, Hornsby has included more elements of jazz -- also features a powerful cast of musicians including Eric Clapton, Elton John, and Sting.")
2. Acoustic Alchemy, Positive Thinking ("Most songs on it were conceived on a classical guitar, which I have a strong affinity for.")
3. Mark Knopfler, Shangri-la ("I love his sense of musical progression and his wonderful gravelly and sleepy voice.")
FAVORITE INSTRUMENTAL TO PERFORM LIVE?
Chris " 'Cadaques,' by Acoustic Alchemy. It always brings in the street traffic."
Omar " 'Positive Thinking,' by Acoustic Alchemy. It allows us to include classical elements in our repertoire -- the body of the piece is mostly in a classical setting but changes to a more renaissance-style setting in the contrasting section. To top it off, AA added a string quartet to provide a very smooth upper layer with a dominant melody in the cello."
STAR WARS OR STAR TREK?
Chris "Star Trek. The original is still the best."
Jeffrey "Star Trek, hands down. More variety with all of the different spin-offs."
Omar "I'm a fan of both. I have avidly watched all Star Trek variants as they chronologically unfolded on both TV and on film. Having free run of outer space in a flying machine really
inspires my sense of adventure. The Star Wars trilogy impacts me in the same way. My favorite scene is by far the barroom setting with the
interplanetary band playing swing music reminiscent of Benny Goodman and, of course, the creatures that frequent the celestial watering hole."
ANY STRANGE CELEBRITY ENCOUNTERS?
Chris "I said hello to Dan Hicks [Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks] at the bar, and he was pretty drunk. But he's still a celebrity to me."
Jeffrey "I haven't met any of the really strange celebrities, just the more normal ones."
Omar "My favorite celebrity is now long past. Sylvius Leopold Weiss [contemporary of J.S. Bach] was a baroque lutenist and composer who wrote so many pieces that inspired me as a classical guitarist. From studying his music, I grew to understand his approach to musical composition and felt I almost came to know him. He was quite a ladies' man and often got into trouble through his amorous pursuits. I would ask to be his student."
Chris "I just watched a couple that I really like: Ray, Open Water, and then I would say O Brother, Where Art Thou; Fargo; and Finding Nemo."
1. Lord of the Rings trilogy ("I've always been smitten by the books, and the movie adaptation is just brilliant.")
2. History of the World, Part 1 ("Mel Brooks movies are great for me because my mind seems to naturally twist that way.")
3. Powder ("Reminds me that there is something larger than mankind that dwells within each of us.")
4. Blazing Longboards ("I've been surfing for 31 years now, and this movie is simply visual candy for my surf-soaked fantasies.")
1. Robin Williams, Live on Broadway ("Williams's spontaneity and sense of sarcasm really makes this DVD. I have seen it countless times and still find new humor in it. He pokes fun at all the cultures in the world and always finds fertile ground for ridicule.")
2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding ("I love the cultural elements in this DVD. Although it's a love story that seems doomed from the start, two very different families are brought together. The Greeks are clannish, suspicious, and passionate, while the American family is reserved and uncomfortable.")
3. Fawlty Towers ("John Cleese plays an impatient and frustrated hotel owner that repeatedly loses his temper and loudly vents his anger.")
4. Dead Man Walking ("The gamut of songs include Johnny Cash on one extreme to Nusrat Ali Khan on the other. Combine this with a prison drama and you have a really great movie.")
5. Young Frankenstein ("I watch this one when I'm in a silly mood. Terri Garr's vocal renditions of 'Oh Sweet Mystery of Life' just kill me. 'Eye-gor' is a big hit too.")