Jeff Oster Live!
(Retso Records)


A master of both the trumpet and flugelhorn, Bay Area based musician / composer Jeff Oster made music fans quite happy with his recent albums, Next and Surrender and he will no doubt make those same fans happy again with his 2016 CD Live! The seven track Live! was recorded at The Fenix venue in San Rafael California in late 2015 and early 2016. The CD was superbly recorded with just the slightest audience noises and the recording sounds great. For his first ever live CD, Jeff is joined by excellent musicians including Michael Manring (bass), Todd Boston (guitar), Celso Alberti (drums) and Frank Martin (keys). Speaking to about the excellent band featured on his first ever live album, Jeff explains, "It was more of a process of looking back into my previous albums to find the songs I thought would translate best to a live show. As you know, many of my recorded songs tend to be big, in terms of the variety of sounds and colors, and the live show environment might not always be best to share the full nuance of some of the songs. It was clear to me after our very first rehearsal that this group of musicians is very special, and that only good things could come from capturing them in a live album recording." Playing before a hometown crowd, Oster proves to be a truly versatile musician. Drawing upon the best of his studio work, Live! (including tracks from next and Surrender) captures one of America’s best New Age / Ambient Jazz artists in rare form performing before a most appreciative audience. / presents an interview with
JEFF OSTER : The LIVE! interview

: After the superstar sessions on next, on the LIVE! CD did you want to release a live document of who you are as a concert artist and did you set out choose the best music from your past albums to feature on Live?

Jeff Oster: It was more of a process of looking back into my previous albums to find the songs I thought would translate best to a live show. As you know, many of my recorded songs tend to be big, in terms of the variety of sounds and colors, and the live show environment might not always be best to share the full nuance of some of the songs.

It was clear to me after our very first rehearsal that this group of musicians is very special, and that only good things could come from capturing them in a live album recording.

mwe3: Tell us about “Serengeti”, the first track on Live! When did you write that track? It sounds like a great opening number and did you make it extra long to showcase the chops of the musicians you feature throughout the album? I was thinking of Todd Boston’s great wah-wah guitar solo. How did you come up with the title “Serengeti”?

Jeff Oster: "Serengeti" was written back in 2007, as a part of the album TRUE. At the time, Will Ackerman, the producer of TRUE, was working with a Ugandan artist named Samite. As I wrote it, I left space in the middle of the song for Samite to speak in his language about Africa, and I immediately thought of the Serengeti. On the album track, he speaks of the circle of life there in the Serengeti in his language, and it sounds perfect. Here’s the original.

For the live version, the song grooves so naturally, and it’s been one of my favorite tracks to play live. On this record, everyone has a chance to stretch out. One of the best parts about working with this band is each artist’s stellar talent makes it so easy to just let them play freely, because I know that performances like the ones we captured just flow like fine wine.

mwe3: Live! was recorded during two dates, one from October 2015 and one from March 2016. Did both shows feature the same tracks and musicians and how would you compare both concerts? Tell us about the Fenix club in San Rafael. The recorded sound is great too, did you have some parameters as far as how the recording would sound? Also it’s amazing that Merl Saunders Jr. did some live engineering on Live! His dad is the Bay Area legend who worked with Jerry Garcia?

Jeff Oster: Both shows featured the same musicians, with the addition of vocalist Roberta Donnay on one of the tracks we recorded in March of 2016. Each show had two 1 hour long sets, and we played many of the same tracks in both shows. However, and this is a testament to the amazing musicianship of this band, two of the songs that made it on to the album – "Once In A Blue Moonlight" and "Voce Quer Dancar" – had never been performed live. They were included for the first time in the 2 hour rehearsal we’d done the day before the March 2016 show, and then live at the show. What these artists did with the tracks the first time out was nothing short of magic!

We’d played several shows as a group between October 2015 show and March 2016, and I think that on certain songs the band had more of a settled feel on the March show. The only track we used from October 2015 was “Half A Cookie”. There was the right amount of special sauce on that one to add it to the album.

Merl Saunders Jr. is the manager of the Fenix in San Rafael. Yes, he’s the son of that Bay Area legend, and has performed quite a bit in his own right over the years. This club is made for live music, and everything from the live stream video system, to the sound system in the club, and full ProTools audio recording capabilities is designed to present live music in a most professional way. Everything from the green room, to the club layout, is designed for a great artist and listener experience.

When you take Merl’s skill and eyes and ears, and the live engineering prowess of Martin V, I had everything I needed to make this album. Todd Boston not only played on the album, but he also mixed the live tracks. He is amazing! And when you finish it off with Tom Eaton mastering it at Imaginary Road Studios, you can certainly hear the results. For a live album, it sure sounds rich and full!

mwe3: Tell us about the band you assembled on Live! That’s the cream of the crop of Bay Area musicians. Frank Martin’s keyboards are quite impressive. Tell us how you met both Todd Boston and Frank and how about using Jeff Taboloff on sax? You usually play most of the horn parts yourself. Tell us about working with Jeff and the Bay Area Wrecking Crew.

Jeff Oster: I love it – “The Bay Area Wrecking Crew” indeed – I’ve met so many great musicians here in the Bay Area, and Todd’s introduction came from my good friend and stellar guitarist Shambhu Vineberg. We met at a jam session at my house years ago, and he and I have had the good fortune to work together, sharing in many really sweet musical moments. He’s one of my good friends as well as an artist I deeply enjoy working with.

I was introduced to Frank Martin by our drummer, the Man From Brazil, Celso Alberti. Celso and Frank have worked together for many years, on many wonderful projects. To have Frank add his amazing talent on keys to my band is a great gift. You can hear his skill in every note he plays. He is not only an amazing performer, but also is a fine teacher as well. He gives back to so many other musicians, helping them grow.

And last but not least, there’s Jeff Taboloff. This kid is destined to be one of the great smooth jazz saxophone artists of our time. I met him in a Motown band I play in from time to time, and he and I have this really great conversation that I wanted to bring to Jeff Oster LIVE! He adds so much, and his live performance especially adds an electricity to my show that I appreciate so much.
Here’s a taste.

mwe3: “Voce Quer Dancar” is track two on Live! That track is from Surrender, your 2011 CD. What inspired that track and what about the title? It sounds like the perfect segue from “Serengeti”. Is the title Brazilian? It even has a couple of those hard to pronounce accents in the title! I couldn’t even find the font! There’s another great Todd Boston guitar solo in that track.

Jeff Oster: That title means “Would you like to dance” in Portuguese. I remember creating the song on Surrender with Bryan Carrigan, and the feel of the song felt like a tango, with a slinky South American groove. Google translate helped with the rest! And yes, I think that this is one of Todd Boston’s best recorded electric guitar solos, at least of the ones I’ve heard. He KILLS it on this track!

mwe3: “Once In A Blue Moonlight” is another great Live! track. Tell us where that one came from and what was it like working with Roberta Donnay on that song. Her cameo vocals are great! Is Roberta another Bay Area star and could you see doing more work with her in the future?

Jeff Oster: “Once In A Blue Moonlight” was co-written with the great Jan Pulsford. She is a prolific songwriter and performer, having worked with Cyndi Lauper on many of her hits and way more. We collaborated on two songs from my album TRUE back in 2007, and this was one of the tracks that I felt might translate well in a live show environment. Boy was I right! Again, this song and "Voce Quer Dancar" had never been performed live by this band.

Adding Roberta Donnay’s live energy and powerful vocals to the song just took it to a whole new level. Roberta is one of the world’s greatest performers and, with her Prohibition Mob Band, she brings to life some of the greatest songs from the 1930’s 40’s 50”s and more…she is POWERFUL to see and hear live, and I most certainly hope to work more with her in the future.

mwe3: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was a highlight of next from 2015 and it really works well in a live setting too. Is that one of your great show pieces? I think you’ve done the only instrumental version of that song right?

Jeff Oster: This song is one of my favorites – ever. Although made famous by Bonnie Raitt, it’s been covered SO many times, I assume both instrumentally and of course with the deep lyrics written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. It most certainly is one that I FEEL as I play it live, and since it’s the only cover song I play, it’s familiar to audiences which always adds a bit to the performance.

mwe3: Track 5 “Half A Cookie” is one of your great tracks. It has that spacy sonic effect that sometimes puts you in the space jazz genre! The trumpet is a greatly overlooked instrument in space music, or are you playing Flugelhorn on that track? What’s the difference between the trumpet and the flugelhorn, for most of us non-horn players? I just interviewed Mike Metheny and his new 12 For The Road album. I think you and him are now the world’s greatest flugelhorn players. Would you consider doing an album with Mike, maybe Pat too? You can’t have too much flugelhorn right?

Jeff Oster: "Half A Cookie" is played on flugelhorn, as are most of my songs. Made popular by Chuck Mangione on his hit “Feels So Good”, the flugel is a darker warmer brass instrument, in the same key as the trumpet. I play it on almost all of my songs, recorded and live. It just FEELS SO GOOD to me as I play it – it’s the closest expression of my true musical self.

As you mention, trumpet or flugelhorn is not common in ambient space music. I describe my sound as “Miles Meets Pink Floyd”, just so people have some idea of what to expect. My instrument is most often associated with jazz standards, Latin and bebop, or classical. Most traditional horn players don’t quite know what to make of my style, washed in reverb and effects, it’s almost synthesized sounding sometimes, and there are purists who aren’t used to hearing the horn sound that way.

I play what I feel, and I’ve always loved progressive rock music from YES, Pink Floyd, the Orb and Tangerine Dream, and when you add in Will Ackerman, Steely Dan and most of Windham Hill, you end up with Jeff Oster. At least, the Jeff Oster so far. And for you to include me with Mike Metheny, and to say I’m one of the world’s great flugel players, well, thank you for thinking that. It’s most certainly my goal to play it as sweetly as possible, and if that leads to Mike and Pat and more, then it is a journey worth taking! It’s been a great one so far.

mwe3: Track six on Live!, “Night Train To Sofia” is a great follow up to “Half A Cookie”. Another evocative song with an equally evocative title. Bulgaria? Have you been there yet? When did you write that and what made you want to cover it on the Live! CD? Seems like the band is firing on all cylinders here! Can you compare this live version with the original studio version?

Jeff Oster: This was a track written for NEXT, my 2015 album. The recorded track features Chuck Rainey on bass and Bernard Purdie on drums, so the feel is just perfect, created by two of history’s greatest and most recorded rhythm players.

I certainly love Europe and hope to tour there someday. The song’s title was inspired by the vocals of Melissa R. Kaplan. Will Ackerman also co-produced NEXT, and on this track he felt that it needed something to contrast the groove, to have us taken to a different space. Melissa created these vocals, and I couldn’t help but think of Bulgaria, and that led us to the capitol city of Sofia. Bernard and Chuck’s groove provided the night train, right?

The live version is actually pretty close to the recorded one, except for the double time groove at the end. That’s the creativity of my band, and drummer Celso Alberti in particular. His rhythmic ideas are really the spark of much of the dynamics we create on stage.

mwe3: Tell us about “The Man From Brazil”. Seems like a peppy way to end the Live! concert. After the spacier tracks, did you want to get everyone back on their feet for the trip home? Seems like Brazil would be a great destination for your music.

Jeff Oster: This track is an improv created live by the band from a loop created by our drummer Celso Alberti. He’s from Brazil, and most certainly brings that Latin beat and groove to so much of our music. When I create a live set list, it is a journey of sorts, and I pay attention to where the audience might go as they come along for the ride. Since I do have a few songs that tend to be “close your eyes and dream” music, I always feel it’s important to add a bit of energy as we close out a set. This one most certainly adds that!

mwe3: Are you jazzed by the reaction to your music worldwide? Are fans here and abroad as accepting of American jazz as they were in the mid 1970s, which is commonly referred to as the golden age of jazz-rock.

Jeff Oster: I feel that many of the people around the world that are able to hear my music embrace it quite a bit. Not all of course, but those that “get it” really seem to enjoy it. My music is different, especially as a horn player. This presents some challenges, especially in terms of booking the band. It’s hard to put my music into a particular genre or box. It’s jazz, funk, space music, New Age, Electronic, a bit of Latin, classical, and I could go on. You can see how that might make it a bit challenging for a club owner or record store to put us in one of those more traditional places.

I’m kind of proud of that actually. I think that I make Jeff Oster music, and I am often told that when someone hears my horn, they know it’s me without even looking. THAT’s success as far as I’m concerned.

mwe3: I know you grew up in South Florida. Do you still have any roots in Florida? Been some killer humidity here this summer! Do you ever miss Florida?

Jeff Oster: I spent six years living in Florida, graduating from Coral Gables High. My parents lived there for the rest of their lives, and my brother Rick still lives in Jacksonville. I have old friends living in Islamorada and Key West, and many new friends in Tampa and Orlando.

I spent some incredible years there, those formative high school years. So many of my experiences were shaped by the unique environment that is South Florida – camping in the Everglades for weeks at a time with my friends, overnight fishing trips in the Keys, sailing and boating in Biscayne Bay. I used to spend time in South Beach, back when it was the place you’d go to get away from the crowds! And yes, I most certainly don’t miss the humidity, mosquitoes and 3 inch cockroaches.

mwe3: I remember speaking with Fiona Joy and she had mentioned that she was looking to form a band with you and Will Ackerman. What ever happened to that great idea and tell us about future plans you have for 2016 into 2017. Looks like it’s another transition year.

Jeff Oster: That project Fiona Joy was talking about is called FLOW. That name comes from the artists that are a part of this amazing project – Fiona, Lawrence Blatt, Oster and Will Ackerman. We have already spent a week tracking at Will’s Imaginary Road Studios, with Tom Eaton co-producing and engineering. We’ve all brought songs to the group and created new ones together, and as we’ve all added our touches, a very unique sound has emerged. We are going back in during November 2016 to add more to the tracks, and hope to finish and release the new FLOW album sometime in mid-2017.

And there’s another more “secret” project I am working on. It will present my horn playing in ways I never have before. MUCH different than FLOW, this music is something that pushes the boundaries far outside of
anything I’ve done. This one should also be released sometime in 2017, and it will be very interesting to watch what happens as this new music makes its way into the world. I’m a really lucky guy. I get to create with some of the finest artists in the world, and get to express my joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, and everything in between through music. I wouldn’t have it any other way...


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