|| "Two things really helped shape my personal life and professional career," says Jon Gagan. "One was when I met my wife Nancy while on a gig with Mose Allison, and the other was when I met Ottmar Liebert and he asked me to play bass on a recording session... which turned out to be Nouveau Flamenco."

Nouveau Flamenco. 1989. Recorded in a shack beside a gravel pit on an old analogue reeler, an indie CD that went platinum, became an international sensation and established the unique border style of Ottmar Liebert's New World flamenco.

"I had never done anything in that vein before -- my background was in jazz, R & B and funk -- but I liked where Ottmar was coming from so I gladly signed on! I was impressed that he was doing instrumental music but with some pop and soundtrack type elements."

15+ CDs [30 gold & platinum awards], three Grammy nominations, and tours through 15+ countries later, Jon Gagan has established himself not only as the "bass engine" for Luna Negra but also as a premier composer and arranger in his own right, recently reconvening the core of his old jazz group for the recording of two World/Jazz CDs, Transit I & II.

Jon Gagan

JG on recording Nouveau Flamenco

"Ottmar knew me primarily as an upright player but asked if I also played fretless electric. Well, I hadn't been playing much fretless around that time but I had a lot of experience with it, so I brought it along to the first session. He wanted a lot of melody doubling and solo playing, so the fretless was a perfect fit. I ended up playing it on most of the tracks, and in fact have played fretless on probably 80% of the tracks I've done with Ottmar over the years."

Although he started out in a Santa Fe junior high garage rock band with his brothers, and is deep into many forms of world music, JG is definitely a jazzer at heart. He has played with some of the best of the previous generation -- vibraphonist Milt "Bags" Jackson, cornetist Nat Adderley, tenor saxman Eddie Harris, pianist/singer Mose Allison, others -- and with many of the new stars of his own. An important association was gigging with the late jazz guitarist Emily Remler.

"Emily liked coming out west to play," says JG. "We played concerts, clubs and some festivals -- always trio. The music was pretty standard guitar trio fare -- be-bop, standards, and blues. Some of her tunes. She had a great, pastoral take on Claude Thornnhill's (Gil Evans' mentor) "Snowfall" which called for recurring melodic upright solos throughout the arrangement. I always loved playing that one."

standing in for Ray Brown

"I played a concert with Milt Jackson in Santa Fe in 1989. I was filling in for Ray Brown who was unable to make it. Milt heard about me through Emily Remler (who I had played with quite a bit the previous year) and called me up. Cedar Walton was the pianist and in true old-school fashion they hazed me pretty good. There was no rehearsal and they kicked off the set with "The Rev", which was one of Ray's signature pieces. It's a bass solo right out of the gate. I think they wanted to see what they were dealing with. They were cool with me after that so I guess I checked out ok... "

The early 1990s. Riding on the success of Nouveau Flamenco, Luna Negra was on the road headlining sold-out shows or opening for such artists as Miles Davis, Milton Nascimento, Basia and Natalie Cole.

Meanwhile the band continued recording, with Jon always playing bass, keyboards, synth, and often doing the arrangements. "Poets and Angels", "Borrasca" (Higher Octave), "Solo Para Ti", (featuring Carlos Santana) ,"The Hours Between Night and Day" and "!Viva!" (Epic), etc. These were great times, and the tunes were falling out of the sky. "One session that comes to mind right away," says JG, "is Ottmar and I sharing a bottle of wine and then going into the studio and tracking "Temple Dawn" (The Hours between Night and Day) We improvised it on the spot and did only one take. Ottmar on oud and myself on synth. That was a great experience. That would've been in '93."

the JG muso touch

"Great touch, feel and intonation - first rate all the way," says Chris Jisi, Bass Player Magazine

TRANSIT: "A musical and creative work that features Gagan's fluid style and distinctive bass sound," says Mark Egan, bassist with Pat Metheny and Joan Osborn

The later '90s. Luna Negra did a live concert television special "Ottmar Liebert- Wide Eyed and Dreaming" for PBS, and an album with full orchestra, "Leaning into the Night" (Sony Classical). Another highlight of this era was a 6 week US tour as opener for Santana. The Luna Negra XL tours of 1997,1999, and 2001 featured JG's arrangements for horn section, including an inspirational take on "America The Beautiful" which was performed as an encore for the fall 2001 U.S.dates.

For 2006's "Winter Rose" tour, Ottmar's ensemble consisted of guitar, bass, percussion and string quartet, with Jon scoring the strings and serving as musical director.

Recently (2005) JG sold his Fender/Warmoth hybrid bass, the one he used on the Santana tour. These days he plays a Lakland, the ideal instrument for the Luna Negra woman-tone sound. "Post-Jaco, short sweet sighs of ghost glissandi and funk fills, unison bridges and catchy, melodic leads," is how Culture Court described the Jon Gagan muso touch.

The Lakland fretless was his weapon of choice for his debut solo album Transit I (SSRI 2004). Here JG used the core of his 1989 jazz quartet [JG, bass | Lewis Winn, guitar | Kanoa Kaluhiwa, sax | Dave Bryant, percussion] supplemented with other stellar players such as Bert Dalton on Fender Rhodes, brother Tim Gagan on steel guitar, Chris Allen on vibes, and of course Ottmar Liebert on flamenco guitar.

Says Culture Court: "Transit blows comfortably through a lot of modalities and moods, as you would expect from a shifting landscape 'in transit'. This, folks, is the cultural interface of post-modern jazz."

Transit II (SSRI 2006) follows T I in the same hybrid modality, presenting a contemporary face sketched with techno layers, bop fills, and Latin rhythms. Not only does JG set a new level of creative playing by using his bass as a lead instrument, all compositions and arrangements are his and prove without doubt that he is a superb poet of the new jazz.

2007. These days? JG continues to tour and record intensively with Ottmar Liebert as well gig occasionally with his own unit, Transit. Just back from a Luna Negra tour of New Zealand and Australia, he is now in the studio laying down tracks for the latest Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra album.

Jon Gagan CDs & SSRI Listening Lounge tracks »»

ghost glissandi & petroglyphs

"We toured incessantly as a trio with Dave Bryant for two years in '90 and '91. Just the 3 of us with Stefan Liebert as tour manager and front-of-house sound man. We opened for Miles and did two tours opening for Basia. I loved that group because we had to bring some jazz and even power-trio elements to it in order to stir it up with 3 guys for these big shows. Lots of group improvising and throwing the ball around with the solos. Being that Ottmar was still building his name, we had a lot to prove, and it was a great challenge."

CC mp3 tracks by Jon Gagan:

Mali [3:57]

Chelsea Bridge [2:10]

Desert Return [4:37]

Mock Heist [6:17]

Travelogue [4:03]

Cabin Fever [3:43]

«« Culture Court Audio