Jam jazz

Chris Duarte at Gilly’s

By Katie Christoff

Photo: Chris Duarte will perform on Sept. 18 at Gilly’s

When asked to describe their sound, most musicians will name a genre. Chris Duarte, on the other hand, responds to the question immediately and decisively: “Oh, it’s crazy.”

To clarify, he adds, “It’s passionate, punk blues, punk jazz. It’s emotive and loud.”

There’s no question Duarte is passionate about what he does. The singer-songwriter, who will play at Gilly’s jazz club in Dayton on Thursday, Sept. 18, has been playing for over 20 years, and has released 13 full-length albums.

He is currently promoting his latest album, Lucky Thirteen, which will be released the first week of October. The title reflects the number of albums Duarte has released under major labels. It was recorded in Las Vegas, and he said that made the title even more fitting.

“It’s more flexing of my artistic muscles and delving into songwriting, but still unmistakable Chris Duarte,” he said.

Duarte said he’s put out an album a year since 2006, because he doesn’t want to pay the royalties on performing covers when he knows he can create his own music that’s just as good.

The inspiration that began his long career as a blues and jazz musician is unexpected: “Fiddler on the Roof.” Duarte said he remembers the network debut, and wanted to play violin after watching it. His mother immediately nixed the idea, so Duarte shifted his focus to the clarinet, which was also shot down.

“I didn’t take that as a sign of raining on my parade,” Duarte said. “I figured my mom just didn’t want to be annoyed by a screeching clarinet.”

After these few failed attempts at beginning his musical career, Duarte finally started playing music when he got an acoustic guitar at age 15. Shortly after, he dropped out of high school and moved from his hometown of San Antonio to Austin, Texas.

“I left my family and left high school, which I wouldn’t advise any student to do today, but I was determined to conquer the world,” Duarte remembered. “Austin was becoming a musical mecca at that time, and I knew what I wanted to be: a guitar player.”

And that’s what he became. His roommate in Austin, a friend from high school, was a bass player with a firm grasp of basic music theory, and together they networked with musicians and took guitar lessons.

“I wanted to learn jazz and all this hard stuff, rock music was cool but I felt I needed to advance and aim high musically,” Duarte said.

He got into his first jazz band at 17, but joined a blues band shortly after.

“My low opinion of blues for its simplicity and easiness quickly evaporated when I learned to play like the great blues players,” Duarte said. “I really knew I had to start studying up.”

Duarte believes all of his hard work during his teenage years in Austin has paid off. He now writes all of his own music, and calls recording his songs a gratifying and Zen-like experience.

“When you can make these musical ideas come to fruition, it’s incredibly gratifying because they become orally personified,” Duarte said. “The thoughts and voices you have been in your head for so long are finally put together and coming back at you.”

Twenty years and 13 albums later, Duarte said he’s still learning and improving every day. He looks at his performances as a way to practice his craft.

“There’s something to be said about the process of performing live. It can go either way. I try to improvise my shows – everything isn’t brand new every night, there’s a certain story I tell but I try different ways to tell it every night,” Duarte explained.

This won’t be Duarte’s first time performing at Gilly’s. He’s been playing shows there for close to 10 years now, and expressed his reverence for the club because of the jazz legends that have played there before him.

“I am so lucky to be paid to do this, to get up there and make art,” Duarte said. “I’m always excited to play shows, because I get paid to apply myself musically and creatively.

He said his proudest accomplishment as a musician so far is he’s still here and still relevant after 20 years. In fact, he celebrates the 20-year anniversary of the release of his first album, Texas Sugar, this September.

Duarte said he’s still riding the coattails from that first album, which is his best-selling album to date and continues to sell even when the others die down.

“I’m so proud I’ve been able to make a catalogue this big,” he said. “I’m still hungry to get out there and find new ways musically to travel and explore.”

Duarte will play music encompassing his entire catalogue at his Dayton show, and will also preview songs from his upcoming album, Lucky Thirteen.

Chris Duarte will perform on Thursday, Sept. 18 at Gilly’s, 132 S. Jefferson St. Doors at 8 p.m. Admission is $10. For more information, please visit thechrisduartegroup.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Christoff at KatieChristoff@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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