Sometimes it takes a potentially life altering event to make you stop and re-evaluate what is truly important to you. In March 2021, guitarist, composer, and arranger CHRIS STANDRING found himself in the emergency room after experiencing chest pains. Although there was some history of heart disease in his immediate family, he never dreamed that he was himself a candidate for a heart attack. He was just 60 years old, kept trim, ate well, exercised, and never smoked. But he was lucky. He come through it with flying colors and a new appreciation for the simple things that make life worth living.
On his newest release, SIMPLE THINGS, Standring reflects on his recent experience and his new and intimate awareness of the fragility of life. Standring relates, “We have all heard cliches like ‘who knows what tomorrow may bring’ and ‘don't forget to stop and smell the roses,’ but we usually don’t take those old aphorisms to heart. To suddenly come face to face with my own mortality made me think about what is really important to me and how I want to live out my third act. Ultimately the answer came down to a just few basic things - spending time with loved ones, being present in the moment, and doing things with joy. Indeed, the theme of this album is joy, positivity, hope, and, because I'm a sucker for a beautiful melody, a little sadness as well.”
Standring is one of the most prolific and successful artists on the contemporary urban jazz scene. SIMPLE THINGS is his 14th CD as a leader and follows his 2021 release Wonderful World, of which critic Travis Rogers said, “Wonderful World propels Chris Standring’s reputation—indeed, fame—as masterful guitar artist and savvy arranger. Standring’s ability to pare down standards and classics, while never losing the lush quality of the orchestra, is brilliant. Whether it is his composing, his arranging, or his performing, Chris Standring is deserving of careful attention.”
Standring, a native of England, has had 13 Billboard Top 10 singles and 6 singles that reached number one on the chart. Although he spent his childhood on a farm, driving tractors and feeding sheep, he began studying classical guitar when he was just six years old. He listened to a lot of West Coast American jazz growing up and became a serious jazz musician when he attended the London College of Music. Many of his fellow students were aspiring jazz musicians and hard-core, straight-ahead aficionados, and Standring soon found himself listening to the great bebop players and learning new approaches to harmony and rhythm.
Standring had visited the United States several times in the 1980s and loved the West Coast vibe. He moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and quickly became part of the local jazz scene, playing the top L.A. venues with A-list musicians. He soon caught the attention of many top music acts, and his contemporary guitar sound can be heard on recordings by Bebe and Cece Winans, Jody Watley and Rick Braun. He has also performed with Marc Antoine, Bob James, Richard Elliott, Peter White, Kirk Whalum, and Al Stewart.
Standring released his first album, Velvet, in 1998 on Instinct Records, a label out of New York City. A prolific composer, he has written or co-written over 100 compositions and produced a new album for a variety of labels every year or two. Standring is focused and intense about his work. He writes nearly every day and never married because he did not want any distractions. He says that “just 1% of my output is from inspiration and 99% is from dedication to my craft.”
Covid has not lightened Standring’s output or schedule. Besides working on SIMPLE THINGS, he has been producing music for other artists and will soon present additional artists on his label, Ultimate Vibe Recordings. Besides playing guitar and composing all the tunes on SIMPLE THINGS, Standring also plays keyboards and programmed various synth sounds and drum loops. He is joined by some of the top names in jazz, smooth jazz, funk, and R&B who live in Southern California, including his regular bandmates ANDRE BERRY on bass and CHRIS COLEMAN on drums. Also performing on the album are RODNEY LEE on keyboards, GARY MEEK on sax, and KEVIN AXT on bass.
Standring is no stranger to funk, and several compositions on the album were heavily influenced by Prince and Bootsy Collins. Standring explains, “I’m a big fan of Prince, who learned about funk studying the music of people like Bootsy Collins. I wrote the opening track, “Shadow of Doubt,” after hearing a particular bass line by Prince that I really liked and wondered what I could do with something similar. I also saw a YouTube video of Bootsy explaining his basic funk formula. The bass line he demonstrated is so funky that it inspired me to write something of my own. Of course, I had to thank him, which I did on “Thank You Bootsy.” “Face to Face” is another song that was influenced by Prince and Bootsy.”
Standring originally wrote “Change the World” for another artist, but he decided to keep the song for himself because it fit his style so well. He released this tune as a single, which reached #1 on Billboard. “A Thousand Words” is a darker tune that Standring wrote for an old friend who suffered from mental illness and recently ended her own life. Standring composed “Ain't Nothin' But A Thing” specifically to play in live shows. It features Rodney Lee on organ.
“The Gist of You” has a romantic yet funky, half-time feel. Standring built “No Two Ways About It” on a two-chord groove that he imbues with an infectious, toe-tapping feel. “Too Close for Comfort” refers to his health scare last year. Standring often uses the phrase “Don't Get Me Started,” so he wrote a song with that title. The track features Gary Meek on tenor sax. Standring closes the album with “And the Show Goes On,” a mellow track with a lovely melody. As Standring says, “With all the world has been through the last couple of years – me included - the title says it all.”
Standring is a superb guitarist and composer with an innate feel for funky, bluesy jazz. For him, music should be emotionally authentic rather than an intellectual exercise or a demonstration of a musician’s proficiency. As Standring says, he is a sucker for a beautiful melody, which is quite apparent on SIMPLE THINGS, an album with a lot of heart.
- Holly Cooper/Mouthpiece Music.
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