Guitarist and sound engineer Jesse DeCarlo, 46, has spent most of his life pursuing his passion, music. The Monterey native picked up the guitar when he was 13 and hasn’t let go since. Well not exactly. He majored in geology while in college and spent a few years as a math teacher at Carmel High School, among other “responsible” jobs. He’s a family man with a wife and two kids, but at the end of the day, he’s a musician at heart.
Despite the emphasis on rocks and algebra, he continued to play guitar, reaching an advanced level that saw him perform in several local bands. So when the time came to get started, he had the support of his family and he hasn’t looked back since.
“The way I get to make it a career in Monterey is I play a lot of different styles of music,” he says. “I play guitar and bass, and I also work as a sound engineer and producer. What’s cool about doing all these things is that I work with a lot of different people. When I play guitar, I play with a lot of great bassists, and when I play bass, I play with great guitarists. I learn on the job because you always learn something from the people you play with. And when I’m recording, I’m recording wonderful people that I might not get to play with because maybe it’s not a style that I’m very good at. But it never gets boring, I can do so many different things with really talented people.
Apparently this portends his move into instrumental jazz and why his band The Jesse DeCarlo Funk Quartet has some of the best players in the area and why he pursued a gig at Seaside’s Deja Blue and soul food restaurant . Formerly known as the Rough Jazz Quartet, they played mostly at Pearl Hour in Monterey and Folktale Winery & Vineyards in Carmel Valley on occasion, building a following along the way.
“Basically, I was fed up with that name and was looking for another name,” he explained of leaving Rough Jazz behind. “I haven’t found one that I like. I really want to have a band name, but I didn’t want to pick another one that I would get tired of, so I’m tentatively going with my name, the Jesse DeCarlo Funk Quartet. This lineup has people who have known each other for at least 17 or 18 years, going back to the Monterey Live years.
Before getting into improvisational music, he was the guitarist for the Dani Paige Band, a band that recorded a few albums and made a few moves to bigger stages in support of national tours. The band disbanded when singer/songwriter Paige decided life as a touring artist and musician wasn’t for her, so she trained as a nurse and is now married and moved to Portland , Oregon.
“She’s my musical best friend,” DeCarlo said. “We have been through so much together, both personally, musically and professionally. We grew together to become professionals and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. She’s still the person I most want to go to a concert with.
Other musicians he has had the good fortune to perform with include singer/songwriter Cindy Alexander and vocalist Malinda DeRouen. He still performs with The 5Star Band with Richard Bryant, Bill Spencer, Kyle Kovalik and Gary Machado. The musicians he plays with in the funk band are bassist Zach Westfall, saxophonist Ben Herod, and normally drummer Mike Shannon, but for this gig he called up his other Dani Paige Band pal, Jenn Schaaf to play bass. battery. He thought playing Deja Blue was a natural fit for this group since the club fills a niche here on the Monterey Peninsula that has been lacking for some time. His focus on jazz, blues, R&B, soul, and funk music, among other styles, inspired him to get in touch and arrange a gig.
“I contacted (singer) Al James,” he said. “We have been good friends for many years. I’ve been playing with Al for almost 10 years now and we’ve played together a few times at Deja Blue. I asked him when I was looking for another place to bring my funk band, who should I talk to. Al put me in touch with Leon (Joyce) and we sorted it out.
As a reference, DeCarlo says he is influenced by and plays music by artists like Herbie Hancock, The Meters, and other jazz/funk artists of that era like drummer Billy Cobham and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Also, he likes more modern acid jazz artists like guitarist Charlie Hunter and jam band Medeski Martin and Wood.
“We have original songs that I wrote,” he said. “I made the decision to put a little more energy into this project and I hope to find a lot more original songs. But in the meantime, we’re taking more established songs and definitely rearranging them in a way that I find very creative and fresh. So sometimes we take a song that wasn’t originally funky and make it a funk song.
“I want to point out that I feel really lucky to play with all these people, and I’m really impressed with their quality. It’s like one of the most fun things in the world for me to be with them. Because that we’re all listening carefully to each other and there’s this really amazing collective improvisation thing that happens. It’s just a joy.
The Jesse DeCarlo Funk Quartet plays Deja Blue Soul Food Restaurant & Club, 500 Broadway Ave., Seaside, 831-383-2553, Sundays, 3-6 p.m., no coverage. You can also catch them at Pearl Hour, 214 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey, on Friday for a late-night set, 10-midnight, $10 cover.
blues in the park
A great local tradition in the summer is the free Sunday Blues in the Park concert series presented by the Town of Seaside. This year marks 35 years of free blues concerts for everyone at Laguna Grande Park from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. This year, Celebrating Women In Blues is the theme, so we’ll be throwing the “wang dang doodle” all day . I’m sure I miss Koko Taylor!
From Sunday, two groups led by women appear; Boogie boogie pianist and saxophonist Deanna Bogart grabs the headlines and local blues singer Kaye Bohler opens. As always, the grassy expanse is lined with craft vendors and local nonprofits, food trucks, and other assorted merchandise. People are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs and blankets. Shorter chairs are allowed in the front, and anything that sits high must move backwards. A nice big dance area in front of the band is almost always filled with happy, swaying people, so it’s time to relax and hit the lakeside stage.
The following weeks feature: July 17, MZ Honey and the Jimi James Band, with Stu Heydon; July 24, guitarist Debbie Davis with supporting Red Beans & Rice; July 31, Nickie J. Crawford with Brad Wilson; and on August 7, Blues is a Woman starring Pamela Rose with Lauri Hofer Romero and Blueshift.
At SandBox, 440 Ortiz Ave., Sand City this Friday, 7 p.m., AZA Music appears, $35 ticket, if still available at www.sandboxsandcity.com.
AZA unites traditional Tamazight (Berber) music, originating in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, with the global influences of its diverse members. Evocative of Saharo-African blues, but with an original style that truly defies categorization, AZA’s soulful performances feature deep, danceable rhythms, intricate string melodies and soaring, soulful vocals. Visually dynamic and engaging performers, AZA has inspired international audiences for over 15 years.