Ghost Jazz Trio
The Ghost Jazz Trio is based in San Diego, CA and are 2021, 2022 and 2023 nominees for Best Jazz Album of the Year. All four of their albums have debuted in the top 100 smooth jazz charts four years in a row.
The new 2023 ten song album release Groovin Smooth is the fourth album release in four years for the Ghost Jazz Trio and features Ghost Jazz Trio founder/guitarist/composer and producer James Morgan. On this new release James is joined by guitarist, producer and educator Dean Brown, who co-wrote many of the songs and plays guitar, keys, synth and percussion on the album. All the songs on the album are produced and arranged by Dean Brown. Joining James and Dean on the album are renowned bassist and recording artist Nathan Brown. Nathan has performed and recorded with such notables as Bob James, Earl Klugh, Coco Montoya, Eric Marienthal and many others. Other personnel on the album are piano prodigy Chase Pado, drummer Tres Hodgens.
The album was recorded by Grammy winner engineer Alan Sanderson Pacific Beat Recording Studio in San Diego, CA Alan has worked on recordings for the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Michael Jackson and many others.
James Morgan grew up in northern California, and as a teen started listening to Return to Forever, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Miles Davis, inspiring him to take up the guitar. In the late seventies James was fortunate enough to take guitar lessons from Bill Connors of Return to Forever fame. He lived in Santa Cruz, CA and drove to Half Moon Bay weekly to take lessons whereby he formed a close friendship with Bill. James went on to become a bandleader throughout the following decades, writing his own compositions whilst forming various jazz Fusion bands along the way, including his band Absolute Black, which was the opening act for singer Mickey Thomas of the band Starship. His jazz fusion band Dialog Project achieved quick acclaim in 2013 being nominated for best jazz album ‘Artistry of Jazz Fusion’ and opening for such acts as Allan Holdsworth, Dokken, bassist Stu Hamm and others.
More recently he created his own genre of jazz music he calls “West Coast Laid Back Jazz” that is both relaxing and interesting. James formed the dynamic, and mysteriously named Ghost Jazz Trio, in 2017. Their 2020 debut album ‘Invisible Time’ was a complex and synergetic production that achieved critical acclaim and outstanding success in a short period of time, culminating in being nominated for ‘Best Jazz Album of The Year’ by the 2021 San Diego Music Awards and was featured on more than 150 radio station playlists worldwide, debuting in the Top 100 on the smooth jazz charts.
The second album “On the Level” released in 2021 is an eclectic and spirited journey including elements of vibrant R&B, Smooth Jazz, Funk and Jazz Swing with some complex and intricate jazz arrangements which will demand attention, peak your imagination and raise the awareness of this talented and innovative Southern Californian trio. The 2022 album ‘Dreams Above’ is an album that James Morgan had envisioned for many years as a concept to combine Jazz and classical symphonic strings in a smooth jazz groove format. This album is an ensemble driven album.
The 2023 album release ‘Groovin Smooth’ album concept, is to feature the natural wood sound of James’s hollowbody Pat Metheny PM2 signature guitar. Little or no effects were used recording the guitar, to showcase the natural sound and beauty of the wood. James uses Thomastik flat wound strings and plays his guitar through a Roland Artist Blues Cube combo amp with 1 x12 speaker and his old Zoom G3X effects unit, using a slight reverb for the album and adding a bit of delay for live performances. All of the songs were recorded by the full band live in the studio, adding some overdubs of solos, and additional ear candy by James, Dean Brown and Chase Pado to enhance the listening experience. All four albums are in the Ghost Store at theghostjazztrioband.com
Tell us the brief history of your band or musical career.
I grew up in northern California and as a teen in the 1970's and started listening to Return to Forever, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, inspiring me to take up the guitar. In the late seventies I was fortunate enough to take guitar lessons from Bill Connors of Return to Forever fame, studying technique and how to let the instrument and music lead the way for your musical journey. I lived in Santa Cruz, CA and drove to Half Moon Bay weekly to take lessons whereby I formed a close friendship with Bill. I went on to become a bandleader throughout the following decades, writing my own compositions whilst forming various jazz Fusion bands along the way, including my band Absolute Black which was the opening act for singer Mickey Thomas's band Starship. My jazz fusion band Dialog Project, achieved quick acclaim in 2013 being nominated for best jazz album 'Artistry of Jazz Fusion' and opened for such acts as Allan Holdsworth, Dokken, bassist Stu Hamm and others. My current band, Ghost Jazz Trio was formed in 2017 with 4 total albums in four years including my forthcoming album Groovin Smooth to release in March 2023. My 2020/2021/2022 albums were nominated for best jazz album of the year. I am excited to have had legendary guitarist Dean Brown produce and arrange all the songs on my forthcoming album, as well as play on the album and co-write many of the songs. My accolades are listed below.
James Morgan, Guitarist, Bandleader, Founder, Composer, Producer and Recording Artist with
7 albums released in total and three 'Best Jazz Album of the Year" 2013, 2021, 2022 and 2023 nominations with
40+ years performing.
Who are your musical and non-musical influences?
My main influences were the jazz fusion bands of the 1970's including Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and of course the album Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. The guitarists that I listened to as a teen were John McLauglin, Bill Connors, Larry Coryell, Icarus Johnson, Al Di Meola, Allan Holdsworth and John Abercrombie.
What album has had the greatest impact on your life as a musician?
Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, Inner Mounting Flame by Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hymn to the 7th Galaxy by Return to Forever. These albums helped to form my approach to playing and composing. Just like the movie Cool Hand Luke, those bands taught me there are rules and then how to break those rules in regards to playing and composing music.
Is there a particular song that has resonated with you for a long time?
There are a couple songs that I still enjoy listening to this day; Black Queen by Stephen Stills and Captain Senor Mouse on Hymn to the 7th Galaxy by RTF to name two.
What’s your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far?
That would be discovering my own sound and voice in a sea of many voices in the music and guitar world. Finding your own voice, sound, tone, style and ability to tell a story with your instrument, to me is what being an artist is all about. If you lack any one of those, you are not there yet.
Tell me about your favorite performance in your career.
I would have to say it was opening for the great and late Allan Holdsworth at Brick by Brick in San Diego, CA back in 2012 on January Friday the 13th. It was amazing to open for an artist I admired since I was a teen.
What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you?
Take your time when playing a solo, starting slow and build to a definite point of repose, and tell the best story you can with your instrument.
What's new in the recording of your music?
I would have to say the concept of new album Groovin Smooth is about playing a box of wood with strings, stripped of most artificial effects to allow the listener to hear the wood of the instrument. To me, this is new, because so many guitarists use effects that overpower the organic sound of their instrument to where the instrument itself becomes secondary to the effects. On this album, the guitar wood sound comes first and is very much present in the recordings. Dean Brown, my producer on the album was adamant about capturing the natural sound and clean tone of the guitar, with string inflections and all, and I think we accomplished that.
How has your music changed over the years?
My composing has simplified in form, to allow the instruments to be the focus rather than the intricate changes and dynamics being the focus. To me, this makes listening to the song more relaxing. My style has also changed, in that I am playing more melodic and compositional when soloing.
What inspires you to write the music you write?
Rhythm inspires me. I tend to work off rhythm when writing a song. I find some harmony in the chords I come up with based on a rhythm I like. I then playback the song and jam with it until I find a phrase or phrases I like, that then become the melody. I always allow the solo part of a song to be different than the song form, if that makes sense.
What made you want to play the instrument you play?
At first playing guitar was a refuge for me to step outside the turbulent childhood I found myself in. Later it became and still is a tool I can use to create my own reality based and filled full of joy, and happiness. It is also a language I can master and use to commune with other artists when improvising and playing songs.
How does your latest album differ from any of your others in the past?
This latest album allows my guitar playing to be more showcased than the ensemble formats of my past albums. Thanks to Dean's genius when it comes to arranging compositions, this album delivers the perfect accompaniment by the supporting musicians to showcase my playing style and tone of the guitar. It is my best work yet.
How are you continuing to grow musically?
Playing music, like being human, is a lifelong journey of growth, development and mastering the art of living music. I allow the music to lead the way. It creates the path for me to follow and explore. Being a musician is not just about playing an instrument, it is about living the life of music. Dedicating yourself to that life like a monk dedicates his life to spirituality.
If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be?
The way music artists that are not part of the corporate run part of the industry are compensated for recordings and performances, and how royalties are paid out by the streaming platforms. The digital approach to recordings that take away 99% of the organic sounds of the instruments and lack of real instruments in today's music recordings.
What are your biggest obstacles as a musician?
It used to be finding other musicians that can tell a story with their instruments. I have been fortunate to have overcome that obstacle.
What do you think the best aspects of the music business are?
The ability to create a brand and market that brand as a band or solo artist. An artist can build a fan base, record and market and sell their music without giving up all control to a third party entity. You do need to partner with other online music entities to build your brand, but it's in a fair and complimentary way that benefits both parties.
If you had to choose one... live performance or studio work, which do you prefer and why?
Live performance is the best, because you are present in the moment with other musicians when playing jazz. You are having a spontaneous dialogue within the framework of an ongoing music piece designed to that end. It's exciting and comforting at the same time. It allows you to create in the moment from the energy and stories the other musicians are telling. It allows you to explore new ideas that come to you in that moment with the full support of the other musicians.
What is your favorite piece of gear and why?
My current combination of gear gives me the tools I need to communicate my story as a guitarist. I play an Ibanez PM2 Pat Metheny Signature Hollowbody Electric Guitar that is no longer in production. This, combined with my Roland Blues Cube Artist Series Combo Amp and my Zoom G3X effects unit, give me the tone I look for to allow me to express myself musically.
What does your practice routine consist of?
I practice according to the Kobe Bryant approach. Get up at 5am, practice two hours, break for life stuff and come back to practice from 10am to noon, break for life's obligations then come back 3pm to 6pm and break for rest and food, then practice 8pm to 10pm, then sleep. I do that 4 days a week now, but I used to do it 7 days a week.
What do you like most about your new album?
The raw unadulterated natural sound of the guitar and the amazing song arrangements by Dean Brown. His ability to hear so much more in the basic recordings I sent him, and see him bring them to their full potential musically on this album is amazing. I am fortunate to have him part of this album. Each song tells its own unique story in a short time. Also having Dean play on the album is amazing.
What artists do you enjoy listening to nowadays?
I listen to a few really good guitarists on Youtube; Guitarists; Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tom Guarna, Ricardo Grilli, Matteo Mancuso, Tom Ollendorff and a couple others.
How do you promote your band and shows?
I use all the free platforms to add content; Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and am always soliciting for performance work, mostly corporate as venues don't as well. I also partner with smoothjazz.com global radio and of course my new album on Guitar One Records.
Anything you would like to share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums?
The Ghost Jazz Trio may open for Spyra Gyro later this year
Anything Else You Would Like to Include?
I am in the planning stages to record a solo album of unreleased and some released songs from previous albums. It would feature me on guitar, acoustic piano, bass and drums. It would release under my name and be recorded live in studio. Stay tuned.