Frank Gambale is a strange mix of star and fan, Über-confidence and wide-eyed wonder. In his 26-some-odd years as a legendary guitarist and role model, he’s done a lot to advance the progress of play with his Sweep Picking Technique and Tuning System. He’s played with only the best there is, touring the world several times over, hitting the finest jazz festivals, nightclubs and concert halls, and helping to put out albums that would mark historical territory, as well as shape young minds who would then grow up to become stars themselves.
He’s done all this as a member of an elite jazz-fusion club,and as a diehard fan of that club. In most circles, that’s called living your dream. Single-handedly, the Australian wonder changed the entire landscape for rising guitarists in 1975 with his Sweep Picking Technique. The technique enabled guitarists the world over – once they painstakingly mastered it through tons of practice – to play faster, better, but with more ease and freedom of expression. Many before him had tried, but could only pull off one or two licks before giving up.
A Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) “Student of the Year” back in the day, Gambale used what he knew to help others through instructional books and DVDs, teaching gigs, and a line of his own guitars. To this day, he’s still revolutionizing the industry, with his Gambale Tuning System, which allows guitarists to achieve chordal capabilities of the piano on their fret board.
Besides developing techniques and gear, Gambale always turned heads wherever he jammed and whomever he jammed with. He’s collaborated with the Chick Corea Elektric Band, winning a Grammy and two Grammy noms in the process, Vital Information, Stu Hamm and Steve Smith, Billy Cobham, the Mark Varney Project, Maurizio Colonna, and GRP—not to mention his own critically acclaimed albums, about 20 of ‘em. And he’s not done yet. By Valentine’s Day next year, he and his wife BOCA will release “Soulmine,” featuring sexy vocals, positive lyrics, R&B jazz-funk stylings, and his signature racy guitar.
Currently, the man is on a world tour with Chick Corea’sReturn To Forever IV Band (Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Jean-Luc Ponty). The world tour kicked off last February, and reunited him with many of his colleagues from past adventures – Gambale was on Corea’s Elektric Band for a significant period in the ‘80s, and has played with Ponty. The band will conclude their world tour back in New York City, at the Blue Note, for a month-long birthday jamfest for Corea’s 70th, which will give Gambale even more to do – playing RTF and Elektric Band material.
Chick Corea’s Return to Forever IV kicked off in February of this year, with their world tour starting in Australia. How did you end up on this band and in this tour? I got a call from Chick inviting me to play. I have a long history with Chick from the Elektric Band and I have been a huge fan of RTF for as long as I can remember. So it was a welcome call.
You’ve worked with Chick Corea in his Elektric Band. What’s it like coming back to that environment, Chick’s world?
In this group, I am seeing Chick in a different light. RTF is clearly a collaborative band with Lenny and Stanley and Chick all having written music for RTF and each of them giving input on the arrangements. In the Elektric Band, all the music was Chick’s and so he was the clear band leader and roughly 15-20 years older than all of us. It’s great viewing him in this light and getting to see him amongst his peers.
Playing with Chick Corea isn’t a walk in the park. Describe his collaborative style—I imagine he has high expectations, is he a perfectionist? As with any great, serious musician, the expectation is high. I am the same way with my bands. Music at this level is serious. It’s the musical equivalent of the speed and precision of Formula 1 car racing, or skydiving, or intellectual conversation in the sense that, no one is fooling around. We love what we do and it’s exhilarating at this level. Of course it’s fun, too. We’re all perfectionists and the performances reflect that.
Back in … the ‘80s? Chick asked you to join his Elektric Band – after Return to Forever kind of folded – a jazz-rock fusion band. At the time, you were teaching and had several instructional books and DVDs out there. What in particular led to his picking you out of the crowd, was it the techniques you developed in those instructional books/DVDs, or did you do any shows where he caught your performance?
I already had two solo albums out when I auditioned for Chick — “Brave New Guitar” and “A Present For The Future,” which were gathering momentum, and being recognized by great musicians such as Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, amongst others. I had also just gotten off tour with Jean-Luc Ponty. I think one of the things that attracted Chick to my playing was that he thought I was unique. I originated a way to play the guitar that has become standard in the guitar lexicon of techniques. But technique is one thing, and musicality is quite another. When I tell people that I never practiced technique, they scratch their heads. I only practiced musical concepts. These musical concepts may have been extremely difficult to play on the guitar, so they required enormous technique, but MUSICAL CONCEPT was the driving force! ... the huge desire to play a musical idea on the guitar that was in uncharted territory. So when Chick heard me play, he understood immediately what he was hearing, he really got it. It has resulted in a very long and rewarding musical journey for both of us.