Over the course of two decades now, jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, who originally played in the seminal San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop group the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcrisy, has employed a number of different musicians in different contexts as he's toured and recorded as a solo artist.
And while the music he plays gets categorized as jazz, it's hardly an easy fit, as it has elements of rock and R&B tossed in.
His latest effort, last year’s Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth
, exemplifies his eclectic approach. Though Hunter describes it as a blues record, it features jazzy horns in tunes such as “(Looks Like) Somebody Got Ahead of Schedule” and “We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent.”
With “Big Bill’s Blues,” he pays tribute to country blues icon Big Bill Broonzy. He refers to the funky “No Money, No Honey” as a "basher" that he wrote in a matter of minutes and explains that he penned “(Wish I Was) Already Paid and On My Way Home” as a tribute to blues great Otis Rush. The song’s title actually refers to something Rush once said at the start of a gig.
“I wanted to make a blues record,” Hunter explains in a phone interview from his New Jersey home. He performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 6, at Nighttown
. “Everything I play is more or less from the blues, but this is a blues record if that makes sense or really means anything.”
Hunter, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, where he lived until moving to the East Coast several years ago, started playing guitar when he was 12 and experimented with a variety of styles with different bands before gravitating toward jazz. He never received formal training in jazz, but studied basic music theory when he was in community college. Hunter says he learned to play jazz by "listening to records and playing with people who went to music school." His education involved learning to emphasize technique over volume.
For the upcoming show at Nighttown, Hunter will perform with a trio featuring tenor saxophonist Michael Blake and drummer George Sluppick. While he says he doesn’t necessarily play jazz venues these days, he’s happy to play Nighttown, a venue traditionally associated with jazz.
“I just play wherever they’ll have me,” he says. “Nighttown is a great gig, but that might be the jazziest gig we have on the tour. Other gigs are ones we play that are just places where you’d have folk music or blues or performing arts stuff. I don’t know how many real jazz buffs are around in the States anymore to be honest. My approach is outside that way of thinking about things. I just do a weird thing, and I’m thankful that enough people generally want to come out and see it, and I can sort of make a living doing it.”