Archive for the ‘Music Industry News’ Category

Drago Gajo: Jazz Internationalist

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

By Fred W. Gretsch

It’s said that music is the universal language. And even though it’s considered an American creation, jazz music in particular is performed and enjoyed all over the world—including in the central European nation of Slovenia.

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with Slovenia, it’s one of the countries formed after the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Located at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia is bordered on the west by Italy, on the north by Austria, on the east by Hungary, and on the south by Croatia. In the center of the country lies its capital: Ljubljana. And in the heart of Ljubljana lies Jazz Club Gajo, which is owned and operated by drummer Drago Gajo.

Drago is a true jazz internationalist, having begun his career in Slovenia and then taken it from there to destinations around the globe. He’s performed and recorded with such European and US jazz stars as Woody Shaw, Clark Terry, Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, Arturo Sandoval, Duško Gojkovic, Gianni Basso, George Cables, Barry Harris, Dave Samuels, Peter Mihelic, Renato Chicco, Steve Gut, Petar Ugrin, Ewald Oberleitner, Tone Janša, Peter Herbert, Primož Grašic, Miroslav Sedak-Bencic, Adelhard Roidinger, Lee Harper, Roberto Magris, Ondrej Kabrna, Fritz Pauer, Pat O’Leary, the DOM Big Band, and the RTV Slovenija Big Band under the direction of Jože Privšek.

Jazz Club Gajo is currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary. In light of that anniversary I recently had the opportunity to speak with Drago Gajo about his personal history, his unique jazz club—and, I’m proud to say, his love for Gretsch drums.

Early Days For Drago

Drago was born in Ljubljana in 1950. When he was ten years old his father—who was an officer in the then Yugoslav People’s Army—led part of the security detail for a concert at which the legendary Louis Armstrong was to perform. “Louis almost didn’t show up due to snow conditions,” Drago recalls. “We waited for four hours. But it was worth the wait, because it changed my life. I will never forget the sight of a black man, elegantly dressed, constantly wiping the sweat from his face with a handkerchief. And I’ll never forget the sound of that trumpet, and especially his vocal interpretations. I can still see and hear him, like it happened yesterday.”

Eleven years later, when Drago was a young man playing drums in various garage bands, he went to see an American movie called Zachariah. “It was a very strange ‘western,’” says Drago, “in which Elvin Jones played a gunfighter who was also a drummer. He played a drum solo in the movie, and after that, everything was clear to me. What I wanted was Elvin! Not long after, I was astounded by the great Tony Williams, especially on the fantastic Miles Davis album Four And More. What a band! And that incredible drum sound…unforgettable! I consider that album deeply meaningful and inspirational to this day.”

Drumming Behind The Iron Curtain

When Drago decided to pursue drumming in the 1970s, Yugoslavia was still in existence as a communist country. Pursuing a drumming career was difficult enough, but pursuing a jazz career was even more so. “Jazz was not considered ‘desirable’ in Yugoslavia then,” says Drago, “simply because it was an American style of music. Yugoslavian political views did not favor foreign ideas. There was a fear of new ideologies—especially imports of American ideology.”

Ideologies aside, Drago found ways to pursue his interest. One of those was to visit the library of the American Cultural Center in Ljubljana. “I couldn’t wait for the newest American jazz magazines,” he says. “I was madly obsessed with anything I could find about Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Gretsch drums. I have to confess now that when I returned those magazines, a few pages were often missing.”

Back in the 1970s instruments made in America or western Europe could not be imported into Yugoslavia, so musicians had difficulties buying instruments. Some help was provided by neighbors in Italy and Austria. But eventually Drago realized that he simply couldn’t get the instruction and experience that he wanted at home. So he decided to continue his musical journey in the United States. “I came to Los Angeles in 1978,” he says. “My first friend and mentor there was Billy Moore, who played with Ray Charles among many other artists. I studied at Billy’s Studio of Percussion from 1979 through 1982, and I have remained inextricably connected to the Los Angeles jazz scene ever since.”

Pursuing His Career

Drago got his professional start with Slovenian jazz sax legend Tone Janša. “Tone is a dear friend,” says Drago, “with whom I have repeatedly toured the world and performed at most of the major jazz festivals. For this I am immensely grateful to him. In my career I’ve recorded and performed with various artists in Slovenia, as well as artists from the ex-Yugoslavia and other parts of Europe. I’m extremely proud to have played with Woody Shaw and Renato Chicco, among so many others. All these records sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In addition, I’ve led my own jazz quartet and big band for quite a while.”

Musicians often don’t get to choose where and when to play; they usually have to do whatever they can to survive. Drago’s career has been different. “Fortunately,” he says, “I’ve always had the chance to choose my projects. My main focus has always been on my own enjoyment. That is to say, on enjoying the music with musicians who know that time and sound are the two most important things in any kind of music.

“Jazz improvisation is spontaneous, hard to repeat, and unique,” Drago continues. “That makes it a source of inspiration that you subconsciously carry with you into various other musical situations. I strongly believe that jazz improvisation is the driving force for the development of new musical styles.”

Jazz Club Gajo

Drago posing with a vintage-style jazz setup at the Gretsch Drums exhibit at the 2014 NAMM musical-instrument trade show in Anaheim, California.

When I ask him what led him to establish Jazz Club Gajo twenty years ago, Drago replies, “Slovenia has a 95-year-old jazz tradition. But it was nevertheless the only country in the European Union without a jazz club. If we had counted on the government to open a jazz club we would have had to wait at least another twenty years. My desire to educate, uplift, and motivate the jazz scene in Slovenia was too strong for me to miss my chance. My family consciously decided to take everything we had and invest in the first—and still the only—jazz club in Slovenia. Neither the government nor anyone responsible for cultural progress in this area did anything.

“We’re not sorry for investing money and effort into the club,” Drago continues. “The need was great. Since we opened, more and more young players have had opportunities to perform. Today I can proudly say that Club Gajo has produced and supported hundreds of successful musicians—and has put Slovenia back on the jazz map. As we celebrate our twentieth anniversary, we have become a very famous jazz club in this part of the EU.”

Gretsch Connections

Drago Gajo and Fred Gretsch at the 2014 NAMM Show.

It’s gratifying to me personally that Drago has been a Gretsch player for many years. Even more gratifying are his reasons for that long association. “I’ve had the opportunity to hear and play many different brands of drums over the past forty-four years,” he says. “Out of all of those, Gretsch drums are and have always been my favorites. My musical preference is jazz, my two heroes are Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, and my drum sound is Gretsch. There’s a lot of history behind those names, and I’m deeply proud to continue with this amazing American jazz heritage.”

My wife Dinah and I recall fondly when we first met Drago, in July of 1989. He was traveling through the USA with his wife Petra and his daughters Nina and Anna, and they came to visit the Gretsch drum factory in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Drago told us that it was “a unique and memorable experience.” Since then we’ve remained in close contact with Drago and his family, and we always try to connect with Drago when he comes to the US to perform. We’re pleased to have such a talented international jazz figure as part of the Gretsch family.

Gajo’s Gear

STUDIO SET: 1969 Gretsch satin lacquer black

14×18 or 14×16 bass drum, 14×14 floor tom, 8×12 tom, 51/2×14 Custom Solid Maple Snare or 61/2×14 130th Anniversary Maple Snare

TOURING SET: Vin Yard Gretsch antique maple lacquer bebop set

14×18 or 14×16 bass drum, 14×14 floor tom, 8×12 tom, 51/2×14 Custom Solid Maple Snare or 61/2×14 130th Anniversary Maple Snare

.

.

Brooklyn Walking Tour: Traveling Through Gretsch History Today

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

By Fred Gretsch

On July 30, 2014 I had a unique opportunity to take a step back into Gretsch Company history. As a matter of fact, I actually took several hundred steps, as I walked the streets of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where the company got its start. Along the way I visited several sites that mark the evolution of the company from its inception in 1883 through 1969, some seven decades later.

Gretsch drummers and history buffs joined the walking tour of historic Gretsch locations in Brooklyn.

Best of all, I had the pleasure of being joined by more than twenty drummers who are fans of Gretsch drums and their fascinating history. Since these drummers were all from the New York area, the information offered in our “Brooklyn Walking Tour” was all the more personal for them.

We started the day by meeting at Main Drag Music, which is located in the heart of the Williamsburg district—and thus in the heart of historic Gretsch territory. John Fell of Main Drag helped to coordinate the list of attendees, and he provided us all with a great base of operations. Before leaving for our walk, I spent a little time sharing specific facts and anecdotes about the Gretsch Family itself.

A History Synopsis
I began with how my great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, founded the company in 1883 when he opened a little shop at 128 Middleton Street in Brooklyn. There he and a few workmen made drums, banjos, tambourines, and other musical items.

Fred Gretsch, Sr.

When Friedrich Gretsch died suddenly in 1895, his eldest son (and my grandfather) Fred Gretsch Sr. took over the company—at the tender age of fifteen. Initially he was aided by his mother, Rosa, who was by all accounts a remarkable woman. But he showed considerable business acumen on his own, and by the turn of the century five years later he’d expanded the business significantly. By the time the 1912 catalog was published, Gretsch could justifiably claim to have “the largest musical instrument factory in the U.S.”

My grandfather ran the business with his two younger brothers—Walter and Louis—for several years. They later left to pursue other interests, while he

Fred Gretsch Jr.

continued to direct company operations. Eventually, his two sons—my uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr., and my father, William W.

William Walter "Bill" Gretsch

Gretsch—joined the business. My uncle took over when my grandfather retired in 1942, but he took a hiatus to serve in World War II. My father then ran the company from 1942 until his own untimely death in 1948. My uncle returned to lead the company until its sale to the Baldwin Company in 1967—which marked the close of the Gretsch Brooklyn era.

Stepping Out In Brooklyn
Through the good graces of KMC Music—the company that exclusively distributes Gretsch Drums throughout the USA & worldwide—I was fitted with a wireless headset microphone system so that I could narrate the walking tour to all of the attendees, who were themselves fitted with earphones. It was a pretty modern way to delve back into more than 130 years of history.

Gretsch Building #2 at 104 to 114 South Fourth Street. Built around 1895.

Once we all had our audio connection set, it was time to head out for our first destination:  104-114 South 4th Street, which was home to Gretsch Building #2, built circa 1895. The original Gretsch building #1, built in 1883, had been at 128 Middleton Street, about a mile away off Broadway. But regrettably, it no longer stands.

As we made our way south on Wythe Street, I pointed out how the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn was a great industrial area in the years that Gretsch operated there. In fact, the area and the company share some significant dates. My great-grandfather opened his shop in 1883, the same year that the Brooklyn Bridge opened. In 1903 the Gretsch Company was incorporated, with Fred Sr. and his brother Walter as directors. In that same year the Williamsburg Bridge opened.

Today, Williamsburg has become pretty gentrified. Only a few remnants from Brooklyn’s industrial heyday remain among its trendy restaurants and residential lofts. Fortunately, some of those are the very buildings we were to visit.

Our next stop was right around the same block, facing the Williamsburg Bridge. It was Gretsch Building #3, at 109 South 5th Street. Located directly behind the South 4th Street building, Building #3 was owned by a Gretsch cousin.

By 1916 the company had to expand again, so the ten-story Gretsch Building #4 was erected at 60 Broadway.

Continuing under the Williamsburg Bridge via Berry Street, we emerged into the shadow of Gretsch Building #4 at 60 Broadway. This iconic ten-story structure was erected in 1916. It’s the classic edifice that graced the pages of Gretsch catalogs, flyers, and advertisements—and gave birth to Gretsch’s most famous instruments—for more than sixty years. The basement was used for storing parts, most notably die-cast hoops by the thousands. I vividly remember visiting that building as a youngster.

Speaking of youngsters, one tour attendee who had a special interest in Gretsch history was my young cousin, Garrett Gretsch. Representing the fifth generation of the Gretsch Family in America, Garrett is the grandson of my uncle Richard “Dick” Gretsch—a unique family figure who passed away in 2010 at the age of one hundred and one. Although he didn’t work for the Gretsch

From left, John Palmer (of KMC Music), Fred Gretsch, and drummer/author John Sheridan (in foreground) standing at the corner of Broadway and Wythe street in Brooklyn and looking up at the top of the iconic Gretsch Building #4 at 60 Broadway. (Photo by Vincent Tese.)

Company as an adult, Uncle Dick certainly would have been employed in Building #4 as a teenager. His father (and my grandfather) Fred Gretsch Sr. would likely have had him (and his two brothers) packing phonograph needles, which were hot items in the early years of the 20th century.

Although drum and guitar production originally took place at 60 Broadway, by the mid-’60s drum production had to be relocated to 109 South 5th Street in order to expand guitar production in the wake of Beatlemania. Drums came into similar demand. Those were heady days for the Gretsch Company.

Sadly, those heady days didn’t last long. As I explained in my narrative, in 1967 my uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr., sold the Gretsch Company to the Baldwin Piano company. That company moved instrument production from Brooklyn to Arkansas in mid-1969. However, in 1985 my wife Dinah and I were successful at returning Gretsch to family ownership. At that time we relocated drum production from DeQueen, Arkansas to Ridgeland, South Carolina, where the Gretsch USA drum factory is still located today.

As we all stood and viewed the building at 60 Broadway—which still bears the Gretsch name—I told my tourmates that in 1999 my cousins, my sisters, and I sold the building to a developer, who renovated it into luxury condos, adding two more stories for additional penthouses. (By 2004, a one-bedroom studio apartment at “The Gretsch” sold for $650K!)

On the way back to Main Drag Music from 60 Broadway, we stopped at an old building on Dunham Place. It featured ancient wooden double-doors that arched at the top and came to a point, looking very much like the entrance to a carriage house. I pointed out that this was yet another location that Gretsch used for the purpose of warehousing product. Standing there, you could just imagine a 19th-century horse-drawn wagon emerging from those peaked double-doors, on its way to deliver Gretsch instruments to local customers. I thought that was a pretty charming image with which to close what I hoped was an informative and enjoyable tour.

Post-Tour Gatherings
When we returned to Main Drag Music I had a great time answering questions, signing autographs, and taking photos with the drummers who had come on the tour (as well as many who hadn’t). John Palmer of KMC music acted as host, answering questions about current Gretsch products. And to top things off, a beautiful Gretsch snare drum was raffled off to a lucky attendee. (I’ll let him tell you about it in his comments below.)

Following the event at Main Drag Music, John Palmer and I moved into mid-town Manhattan, where we visited with a whole new batch of Gretsch drum enthusiasts at a reception sponsored by Steve Maxwell’s Drum Shop at 7th Avenue and 48th Street. Steve’s shop is the de facto headquarters for Gretsch drums in New York City, specializing in Gretsch USA products.

Attendee Comments
I was thrilled to be able to share such a great day with so many drummers. And I’m even more thrilled to share some of the wonderful things that they had to say about the Brooklyn Walking Tour, about Gretsch history in general, and about Gretsch drums in particular.

To begin with, Mark Giuliana, who is a Gretsch drum endorsing artist with two outstanding CDs to his credit, said: “I found Fred Gretsch’s encyclopedic knowledge very impressive and inspiring. I guess by most accounts I’m a jazz drummer, so my heroes are Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Art Blakey—a long list of guys who made their names on Gretsch drums. It was cool to tie the research that I’ve done on those drummers to the history that Fred was providing—oftentimes from his own first-person experience. Specifically I remember Fred talking about one of the first buildings we saw—on South Fifth Street. He pointed to a window on the second floor and said that it was where they did some of the drum wraps back in the early 1960s. It was nice to imagine how, as he described, great drummers would come in all the time—some to get new drums, some to just bounce ideas off each other. That was really cool. To be honest I learned nearly as much about the history of Brooklyn and New York City as I did about Gretsch drums. It was beautiful how Fred tied in a focus on the company with a history of the city and how the company grew and shifted with all its changes.”

Here’s what Brooklyn-based drummer Tony Leone thought of the day: “I found the Brooklyn Walking Tour to be interesting, informative, and above all inspiring. Having played Gretsch drums for over twenty-five years and having owned several ‘Round Badge’ kits and snare drums, it was great to visit the buildings where, ‘that great Gretsch sound!’ was born. Hearing Fred himself speak about his family lineage and about his time working in the factory as a kid added an air of pure authenticity. It felt like the spirits of the great Gretsch legends, like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams were walking along with us!

“When we returned to Main Drag Music after the tour I expected there would be giveaways of T-shirts, stickers, and the like. I did not expect to walk out as the winner of a new Gretsch Brooklyn Series chrome over steel snare drum. And besides being a wonderful surprise, that drum has proved to be exactly the drum I needed to add to my arsenal! It has a crack that cuts right through the volume of any mix, but it also has warmth, depth, and an extremely musical tone, with far more dynamic range than any other snare drum in my collection. I’ve taken that drum on every gig I’ve had since winning it!”

Mishka Shubaly is a modern-day renaissance man, with a new album coming out on CD and vinyl, as well as five bestselling Kindle Single stories to his credit. He comments, “I’m a huge fan of Gretsch—the story, the people, and the products. One of the things that impressed me about the Brooklyn Walking Tour was how the Gretsch story is such a deeply American story, as well as a deeply New York story: A talented, hard-working immigrant comes here and builds something that goes on to touch the entire world.

“What I found particularly interesting is how significant milestones in Gretsch history line up with events in New York City’s history. And the story’s ending is so fantastic, with Fred reclaiming the company from an investor that devalued it, and returning it to the Gretsch family. It’s like a Hollywood movie! I’d love to see the Brooklyn Walking Tour become not just a yearly thing for drum insiders but a cultural event for folks interested in New York/ Brooklyn/manufacturing history in general. It really is an amazing story, and Fred’s genuine enthusiasm is as rare as it is touching.”

John Sheridan, who, in addition to describing himself as “a player/collector/aficionado of Gretsch instruments for more than forty years,” is also the co-author (with Rob Cook) of the recently published Gretsch Drum Book, offers these kind remarks: “Along the entire tour Fred revealed interesting historical facts as well as answering a steady flow of questions from tour members, myself included. Of particular interest to me was the South 4th Street building (I lived in nearby Greenpoint for ten years and never saw that building’s exact location), as well as the Dunham Place warehouse, which I never knew existed. Fred kept us all moving and well-informed. He also carried a binder filled with archival Gretsch photographs and documents, which he freely shared with us onlookers. Bottom line:  A splendid time was had by all, with Fred W. Gretsch at the heart of it!”

Steve Maxwell is an old and dear friend as well as a great Gretsch supporter, and I’m flattered by his comments: “We had a nice reception at my shop for anyone who wanted to meet Fred, say hello, take a photo, get an autograph, and talk about Gretsch drums with the family member who’s helped to keep the business alive. He is hugely important. Though the reception was scheduled from 4:30 to 6:30, we didn’t leave until about 7:45. We had a lot of people, and it was a fun time.

“Later, Fred was kind enough to express his appreciation for what we do to support the Gretsch brand. I, in turn, am very appreciative of how the quality of the product has been so superb for so many years, and how the dedication to the brand is there because Fred’s kept it a family-owned business. It’s a great product with historical significance.”

.

.

Gretsch Walking Tour Scheduled For July 30 in Brooklyn

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

—————–

POST-EVENT RELEASE . . .

—————–

From GretschDrums.com:

Come out to the Gretsch Walking Tour on July 30th in New York City! Meet Fred Gretsch and take a walk through time in American music history. The Gretsch music instrument brand is woven into fabric of American history. The company was founded in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1883 and has been crafting world-class drum and Guitar instruments since then. Current President (and 4th generation family member) Fred Gretsch will lead an intimate walking tour through Brooklyn to tell personal stories about the family and the building sites where the instruments were made. For the tour, meet at Main Drag Music at 11:30 a.m. and the tour will begin at Noon.  Gretsch Day at Main Drag will follow the tour from 1:30-3:30 and Gretsch Day at Steve Maxwell Drums will be from 4:30-6:30. This is a free event.

Contact Main Drag Music and Steve Maxwell Drums for more details.

.

.

Gretsch Centennial Series

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Not So Modern Drummer Feature Article by Keith Fisher

Reposted with Permission

There have been some musical instruments produced over the years that could lay claim to being “a work of art”, but I suspect the eye of the beholder invariably belonged to the musician – the beauty largely unrecognised by the general public… not so this Gretsch Centennial.  Never had I heard comments from women in the audience about ‘that beautiful drum-kit’ or praise from guitarists and pianists about how incredible it sounded until I took the ridiculous decision to gig this rarest of rare and finest of fine gold and Elm-Burr masterpiece in the pubs and clubs of my home town.  For the first fifteen years it never left my house – except to make its perilous journey from Los Angeles to England – and sat in glorious silence, hidden from the world, untouched by stick in anger.  Now, because real glory belongs to the people who crafted this instrument to such a monumental standard and to the man who conceived of such a fitting testament to a company that led the world of drums for so many decades, I decided that by far the greatest tribute I could pay to those people was to play the kit.  I am further obliged however, to explain how such a rare and valuable instrument came to exist, and furthermore, came into my possession.  So, let me start at the beginning and explain briefly why these drums were made and why there is so much mystery concerning them.

In 1967 Fred Gretsch Junior was sixty years old and without an heir.  The company his grandfather had started – family run for eighty-four successful years – was about to be sold!  The ‘Sixties music scene was happening and the Baldwin Piano Company was knocking at his door: they needed drums and guitars to expand their market.  Twelve years later they bought Kustom Amplifiers and with that company came Mr. Charlie Roy, who set about reviving a drum company that had not even produced a new catalogue in seven years.  So profound was his involvement in revitalising the company that in 1982, Baldwin, who were obviously totally out of their depth, offered to sell it to him.  The story up to this point is well documented history, now we enter the twilight zone.

In 1983, on their stand at the Frankfurt Trade Fair, in stark contrast to the majority of drum manufacturers – who in Tama’s case had three floors of displays – Gretsch had one drum kit!  A jazz kit, finished in Bird’s Eye Maple with gold plated fittings.  A numbered, limited edition with a special new badge and every drum personally signed by Charlie Roy as part of a series of one hundred kits to celebrate the hundredth birthday of the company.  According to the Gretsch staff, this was not a production run: every kit would be ‘made to order’ to the specifications of the customer.  No brochure was produced, all that was shown to the dealers of the world were photographs of the three wood veneers available and after that it was up to the customer to say what sizes were required.  The other two woods were Burl Walnut and Elm Burr.  The drums were fitted with specially commissioned heads from Evans in a mirror gold finish.  Even the snare wires and the drum key were gold plated.  Any of the three finishes were available with chrome-plated hardware if desired.  Each of the drums was given a special silver badge inside the shell that identified it with the set: in the case of my seven-piece kit (set #19) the bass drum was 1 of 7, while the snare drum was 7 of 7.  The new outer badge featured the set number and also Charlie Roy’s signature in gold on bronze.  Alongside all of this a customised satin tour-jacket was included, and it featured your name under the Gretsch logo on the front, and on the back was “THE CENTENNIAL” and an embroidered depiction of the kit.  This meant you could flaunt ownership while the kit stayed safely in the house.    Truly a collectors dream!

The entire article and more photos can be found on Not So Modern Drummer under Featured Articles.

.

.

Chet Atkins Convention & 60th Anniversary Celebration

Monday, June 9th, 2014

In the city that “music calls home”, Nashville, Tennessee, the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) held its annual Convention from July 9 through 12. At the Sheraton Music City hotel, this year’s convention was an extra special affair for two very notable reasons.  First, this was the 30th anniversary of the CAAS Convention, and second, Gretsch celebrated the 60th anniversary of Chet Atkins and Gretsch endorsement agreement signed by Chet and past Gretsch company president, Fred Gretsch Jr., in July of 1954.

To celebrate this important milestone in Gretsch history, Gretsch Guitars premiered a Chet tribute video hosted by Steve Wariner, C.G.P., recently filmed in historic RCA Studio B at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.  Several of Chet’s close friends and colleagues got together to share their memories of Chet as well as how this musician, producer, and executive influenced not only music in general but also country, rock, and jazz guitarists with his unique playing style.  And during his long association with Gretsch, Chet was instrumental in the creation of the popular Nashville, Country Gentleman, and Tennessean signature guitars.

The Chet Atkins Appreciation Society is a group of people who have a sincere interest in the music and career of Chet Atkins.  Learn more about them and become a member.  And make sure you attend the CAAS Convention in 2016.  Hope to see you in Nashville!

.

.

Canadian Music Week A “Must Attend” Event

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

By Fred Gretsch

After attending our first Canadian Music Week (CMW) festival last month, it was made real clear to Dinah and me why so many great musicians and artists come from Canada.

For five days and nights in the first week of May, the city of Toronto was transformed into an energetic music, media, and entertainment mecca. More than 850 Canadian and international artists performed in 58 live venues throughout the city–ranging from small nightclubs to Massey Hall to the Air Canada Centre. That’s not a typo. Over 850 bands from 33 countries performed during the course of five days! Some of the must-see shows included Brody Dalle, Neko Case, City and Colour, Television, The 1975, and Ellie Goulding.

In addition to all that great live music, the CMW also included a film festival, comedy festival, four award programs (including best indie band awards), music summits, and conferences where legendary producer Quincy Jones, Chic guitarist and Daft Punk collaborator Nile Rodgers, and Joel Zimmerman of Deadmau5 fame spoke and were interviewed.

This year CMW featured a “Spotlight on Germany” and Gretsch was proud to be a major sponsor of this event. In addition to being the birthplace of my great-grandfather and company founder, Friedrich Gretsch, Germany has always been an important market for the Gretsch Company. In fact, Germany is Europe’s #1 music market and ranks #4 worldwide for recorded music just behind the United States.

Dinah and I were invited to be guests of honor at a special May 7th “Spotlight on Germany” reception at the Marriott Eaton Centre and had a delightful time meeting various artists and industry representatives from many countries. All of the attendees were also treated to a special live performance by “The Booze Bombs,” Germany’s hottest rockabilly band. They were invited to perform at CMW by Joe Carducci, Senior Product Manager for Gretsch Guitars, who spotted them at a rockabilly festival in Arizona and made them a Gretsch-endorsed band. Guitarist Lucky Steve McBread was ripping it up on his Duo Jet and Rockin’ Bende kept a steady backbeat on his Gretsch drum set. It was a fun, high-energy show from this rockabilly band from the Black Forest of Germany and definitely an evening to remember.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch posing with “The Booze Bombs,” a German rockabilly band after they performed at the May 7th Gretsch-sponsored CMW “Spotlight on Germany” event in Toronto. From left to right: Frank Martinez, Rockin’ Bende, Fred Gretsch, Dinah Gretsch, Annie Leopardo, Lucky Steve McBread.

The rest of the week was spent seeing as many bands as possible, talking with Gretsch fans and dealers, spotting Gretsch guitars and drums being played onstage (like the left-handed green Anniversary guitar played by Joel Gibb of “The Hidden Cameras”), and soaking up the diversity and beauty of a world-class city like Toronto. It is really a cool (and clean) city.

Dinah and I have attended hundreds of music festivals, but nothing quite compares to the depth and diversity of the Canadian Music Week. This was the 32nd year of the festival and I can’t believe it wasn’t on our radar screen before now. Gretsch was proud to sponsor and participate in this year’s festival and Dinah and I plan to be back. I also encourage you to add it to your “must attend” list. The 33rd CMW festival will return to Toronto next year for another week of music, film, comedy, awards, and conferences from May 5 to 9, 2015. Try to be there if you can. It’s quite an experience.

To learn more about the Booze Bombs, visit their Facebook page.

.

.

Honoring Excellence In Music Education

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

by Fred Gretsch

Savannah Arts Academy music instructor Vann Thornton (left) with Fred and Dinah Gretsch and student bandmembers holding the Grammy Signature School award.

On May 16 my wife Dinah and I had the singular privilege of presenting the GRAMMY® Foundation’s Signature Schools Enterprise Award to the Savannah Arts Academy.

Just as the GRAMMY Award recognizes excellence in recording, the GRAMMY Foundation Signature Schools program honors public high schools for outstanding commitment to their music education programs. As members of the Savannah community we were particularly pleased to present this award to the Savannah Arts Academy.

More than 20,000 public high schools nationwide have the opportunity each year to apply for consideration as a GRAMMY Signature School. Each school submits an online application and recorded performances as supplemental materials. These materials are screened and evaluated. They are then adjudicated anonymously by the GRAMMY Foundation’s blue ribbon committee of music educators and industry professionals.

Out of all the schools that applied this year, only twelve were selected as GRAMMY Signature Schools, with only seven of those additionally named as Enterprise award recipients. That category recognizes efforts made by schools that are economically underserved, and the award comes with a $5,500 grant.

Dinah and I were thrilled when we learned that Savannah Arts Academy was one of those seven, because music education is a cause that’s incredibly important to us. We’ve both campaigned for many years to effect progress in this area. Dinah in particular has worked tirelessly as an advocate for change, including establishing the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation in 2010 to support music programs in rural schools.

The Savannah Arts Academy has put tremendous effort into a visionary new Music Industry/Pop Music Ensemble class that they’ve dubbed the “American Music Project.” This class fills a niche in the popular music idiom, and is designed to train the next members of the music industry establishment in sound design, lighting, management, performance, and dance. In fact, the program utilizes all of the school’s arts offerings in one class.

The class is student-led under the guidance of a gifted instructor/mentor. The American Music Project has twenty-one members who choreograph dances, learn and write music, arrange horns and strings for that music, lead the musical rehearsals, rehearse singers, and run sound. But in setting up this unique program they faced a serious challenge: very little equipment, and no funds with which to add any.

The GRAMMY Foundation’s Blue Ribbon Committee thought that Savannah Arts Academy had very progressive ideas for expanding extracurricular offerings. They recognized a forward-looking school that was handicapped by a lack of resources. Fortunately, they were in a position to help. They named the school as one of the Enterprise Award winners, thus supplying them with the funds necessary to purchase new sound equipment for the American Music Project.

Appreciative Crowd

The award presentation on May 16 was quite an impressive and enjoyable event. It was held on the front lawn of the Savannah Arts Academy, at 500 Washington Avenue. It proved to be a beautiful spring day, and the setting was classic all-American: a big family crowd gathered in front of an old-style red brick high-school building. More than 100 musicians performed in symphonic, jazz, and even blues bands. And I’m proud to say that several Gretsch drumkits were included in the ensemble of gear.

Savannah Arts Academy music instructor Vann Thornton displays the $5,500 check representing the Enterprise Award that recognized the school's innovative music program.

Finally it was time for the presentation ceremony itself. This was a chance for Dinah and me to speak to our Savannah community about the commitment of the GRAMMY Foundation—and the Gretsch family—to quality high-school music programs. It was my personal honor to represent the GRAMMY Foundation as a member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy. The Foundation is the charitable arm of the Recording Academy, with a mission of cultivating awareness, appreciation, and advancement of the contribution of recorded music on American culture. One of the ways they do that is to support music education through programs such as GRAMMY Signature Schools.

On behalf of the Foundation and the Recording Academy I offered congratulations to the school, to the music-program instructors, to the parents of the music students, and, of course, to those students themselves. The faculty and the students were overjoyed to receive the GRAMMY award—and the cash award too, which came in the form of a giant check.

I want to encourage everyone who’s reading this to visit GRAMMYinTheSchools.com to learn how the GRAMMY Foundation supports and advocates for the inclusion of quality music education in all schools, from elementary through high school. And for those who might be interested, applications for 2015 Signature Schools award consideration are available online at that same web site. The deadline to apply is Oct 22 of this year.

A happy Savannah Arts Academy student holds the Grammy award aloft for all to see.

.

.

.

Fred & Dinah Gretsch to Present Savannah Arts Academy with GRAMMY® Signature Schools Enterprise Award

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Fred & Dinah Gretsch. Photo by Jonathan Hobson.

Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch and CFO Dinah Gretsch will appear at the Savannah Arts Academy this coming Friday, May 16 to present the school with a GRAMMY® Signature Schools Enterprise Award. The presentation will take place during the Savannah Arts Academy Outdoor Concert.

Just as the GRAMMY Award recognizes excellence in recording, the GRAMMY Foundation Signature Schools program recognizes top public high schools across the country for outstanding commitment to their music education programs. And Fred and Dinah Gretsch are uniquely suited to act as presenters of this important award.

In addition to being key members of the music industry for more than thirty years, Fred and Dinah Gretsch have been—and continue to be—tireless advocates of music education and outreach programs. Fred Gretsch is a voting member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy® and both Fred and Dinah Gretsch are 2003 Heroes Award recipients from that organization. The Heroes Award (now called Recording Academy Honors) is the highest honor bestowed by a Recording Academy chapter, and is given to honor outstanding individuals and institutions in their region who have improved the environment for the creative community. In 2008 Fred and Dinah’s ongoing accomplishments earned them induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. And in 2010 Dinah Gretsch established the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation to support music programs in rural schools. (For more information on Fred and Dinah Gretsch, visit gretsch.com.)

The GRAMMY Foundation was established in 1988 to cultivate the understanding, appreciation and advancement of the contribution of recorded music to American culture. The Foundation accomplishes this mission through programs and activities that engage the music industry and cultural community as well as the general public. (For more information on these efforts please visit grammyintheschools.com .)

A total of twelve schools have been named GRAMMY Signature Schools for 2014, with seven receiving an Enterprise Award. This category recognizes efforts made by schools that are economically underserved. The May 16 presentation will honor Savannah Arts Academy for being one of those seven outstanding schools, and will include a grant of $5,500.

The presentation will take place at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 16 on the Savannah Arts Academy front lawn, 500 Washington Ave, Savannah, GA 31405 following a concert beginning at 5:30 p.m.

.

.