JC Stylles has been exposed to “the best jazz” since the early days of his youth, which was spent in one of the most unlikely place to have nurtured a jazz musician: the rain forests of Kuranda, a small, predominantly Aboriginal town in the tropics of Far North Queensland, Australia. There he soaked up the masters such as Coltrane and Parker via his stepfather’s extensive jazz record collection, and there he also began playing guitar at the age of seven. He also studied clarinet and saxophone for a time, and went on to play in the local Aboriginal band ‘Mantaka,’ named for an historic Aboriginal settlement on the Barron River of Kuranda.
For a white ‘fella’ to grow up so close to his Aboriginal mates is very uncommon in Australia; Stylles (known then as Jason Campbell) likens the experience to growing up in the deep south in the US in the 1950s or ’60s and running with a multi-racial set. The pains and pleasures that he experienced in those formative years are in many ways key to Stylles’ deeply soulful approach to life and music.
Moving to Sydney when he was sixteen, Stylles had the life-altering experience of attending every night of a week-long engagement by George Benson, gazing in awe from front row seats at the guitar master, whose recordings had already made an indelible mark on the development of his own style. In the succeeding years Stylles went on to study with a wide array of jazz giants as they passed through Australia on tour – such as Johnny Griffin, Woody Shaw, Miroslav Vitous and John Scofield – while working with his own groups and sharing the stage with some of his county’s greatest jazzmen, including virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Errol Buddle and Jazz Messenger alumnus, saxophonist Dale Barlow. But a successful career “down under” was not enough to keep Stylles from hearing the siren song of New York City. In 1992 he migrated to the Jazz Capital of the World, where he continued his studies with guitarists Pat Martino, Tal Far low, John Abercrombie, Rodney Jones and bebop professor Barry Harris, further developing his skills working in the clubs around the city.
Returning to Australia for family reasons in 1995, Stylles spent the next decade enhancing his art and reputation by leading his own groups, settling on the guitar-organ-drum trio configuration as his primary means of expression. Performing with his country’s leading B3-ist, the veteran Col Nolan, he developed a hard-hitting style that has become the hallmark of all his units. With ten successful years as a bandleader under his belt he relocated permanently to New York in 2005, staking his claim as a leading organ trio guitarist, burning up stages from the Village to Harlem, releasing two fine CDs, Chillin’ At Home and Live and Unveiled. Stylles, who’s now shared the stage with some of the world’s greatest organ players, among them Jimmy McGriff (Stylles played the organist’s final gig), Dr. Lonnie Smith, Tony Monaco, Jimmy “Preacher” Robbins, Joey DeFrancesco, Melvin Davis, Mike LeDonne, and Brian Charette, has come to be known as one of the first call players when it comes to filling the guitar chair in a B-3 trio.
The group featured on Exhilaration & Other States is an outgrowth of Stylles’ work with the Harlem Groove band led by Seleno Clarke, the soulful organist who has worked with the likes of George Benson and Grant Green. It was during Stylles’ four-year tenure, from 2006-2010, with Clarke at the American Legion Post Harlem on 132nd Street that he met drummer Lawrence Leathers. “He immediately made an impression upon me as a drummer who had something special,” the guitarist notes. “He had a great sense of swing, combined with a touch that was hard to find in mature drummers, let alone drummers in their mid to late twenties. And above all, he had one thing that you couldn’t ignore — he listened and communicated.”
Stylles tapped Leathers when he began a new Thursday night residency at Perk’s Jazz Club in Harlem. On Sunday night around that same time, Stylles heard a whisper go through the Legion Post that Pat Bianchi was in the audience. Stylles remembers, “Sure enough when the quiet, almost subdued, Pat graced the stage, he awoke the B3 beast in a manner which was almost scary. He conjured all sorts of dynamic energy and ideas out of that animal that made you think twice about all its possibilities.” As fate would have it, Bianchi took over the organ chair at Perk’s for the next 18 months, giving birth to the trio that would eventually be captured on Exhilaration & Other States.
During his Perk’s residency, Stylles got serious about developing repertoire, engaging the audience by mixing a range of R&B and pop tunes with jazz standards. “We came up with jazz versions of Michael Jackson tunes and even versions of D’Angelo and R. Kelly tunes to keep the audience interested, and they would just go crazy. Over time, we could play any room anywhere and be able to adapt the repertoire to fit accordingly.” Towards the end of 2009, the level of communication within the trio reached a point that Stylles wanted to capture. “We went into Showplace Studios in New Jersey with Grammy® Award winning producer Jack Kreisberg, and recorded 18 tunes in one day. Nine of those are included on this CD and the remainder are on hold for a future project.”
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