Like so many other Los Angeles studio musicians, guitarist and composer Larry Carlton was faced with a choice a number of years back: whether to go solo and develop a name for himself under his own name or to continue the less risky, more lucrative existence as a session guitarist, making good money and recording with prominent musicians. Fortunately for fans of this eclectic guitarist, he chose the former, and has recorded under his own name for Warner Bros., MCA Records and GRP Records since 1978.
Carlton's studio credits from the 1970s and early '80s include musicians and groups like Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr., Herb Alpert, Quincy Jones, Bobby Bland, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and literally dozens of others. Among his more notable projects as a session guitarist were Joni Mitchell's critically acclaimed Court and Spark album and Donald Fagen's Nightfly album. For much of the 1970s, Carlton was active as a session guitarist, recording on up to 500 albums a year. Although he recorded a number of LPs under his own name as early as 1968′s With a Little Help from My Friends (Uni), and 1973′s Singing/Playing, he didn't land a major-label contract until 1978, when he signed with Warner Bros.
Carlton began taking guitar lessons when he was six. His first professional gig was at a supper club in 1962. After hearing Joe Pass on the radio, he was inspired to play jazz and blues. Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel became important influences soon after he discovered the jazz guitar stylings of Pass. B.B. King and other blues guitarists had an impact on Carlton's style as well. He honed his guitar-playing skills in the clubs and studios of greater Los Angeles. He attended a local junior college and Long Beach State College for a year until the Vietnam War ended. Carlton toured with the Fifth Dimension in 1968 and began doing studio sessions in 1970. His early session work included studio dates with pop musicians like Vicki Carr, Andy Williams and the Partridge Family. In 1971, he was asked to join the Crusaders shortly after they'd decided to drop the word "Jazz" from their name, and he remained with the group until 1976. In between tours with the Crusaders, he also did studio session work for hundreds of recordings in every genre. But it was while he with the Crusaders that he developed the highly rhythmic, often bluesy style he has now. His credits include performing on more than 100 gold albums. His theme music credits for TV and films include Against All Odds, Who's the Boss, and the theme for Hill Street Blues. The latter won a Grammy award in 1981 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
Carlton delivered his self-titled debut for Warner Bros. in 1978, shortly after he was recognized for his ground-breaking guitar playing on Steely Dan's Royal Scam album. (Carlton contributed the memorable guitar solo on "Kid Charlemagne.") He released four more albums for Warner Bros., Strikes Twice (1980), Sleepwalk (1981), Eight Times Up (1982), and the Grammy-nominated Friends (1983), before being dropped from the label.
He continued studio session work and touring in between, emerging again in 1986 on MCA Records with an all-acoustic album, Discovery, which contained an instrumental remake of Michael McDonald's hit, "Minute by Minute." The single won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1987. Carlton's live album, Last Nite, released in 1987, got him a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance.
While working on his next album for MCA, On Solid Ground, Carlton was the victim of random gun violence, and was shot in the throat by gun-wielding juveniles outside Room 335, his private studio near Burbank, California. The bullet shattered his vocal cord and caused significant nerve trauma, but through intensive therapy and a positive frame of mind, Carlton completed work on On Solid Ground in 1989. Carlton formed Helping Innnocent People (HIP), a non-profit group to aid victims of random gun violence.
Carlton's most recent albums include two releases in 1996 for GRP Records, Gift and With a Little Help from My Friends. His other recordings include 1990′s Collection and 1992′s Kid Gloves for the same label, Playing/Singing (1995, Edsel), and Renegade Gentleman, a 1993 release for GRP.
Despite the tragedy that was foisted on him in the late '80s after he was shot by gun-wielding infidels, dragging him through a long and dark period of hospitalization and rehabilitation, Carlton's output over the years has been steady through the 1980s and 1990s. Carlton seems to have slowed down his touring schedule a bit, but certainly not his recording schedule. Always happy to meet with the press, Carlton has a sweet, peaceful personality, and one can hear it in his unique, rhythmic, warm guitar chords and ringing guitar tones. — Richard Skelly, All-Music Guide
Lena Seikaly is a fresh voice on the national jazz scene from Washington, D.C. Named “one of Washington’s preeminent jazz singers” and “brightest voices in jazz” (The Washington Post), as well as a “major league young talent in jazz” by Duke Ellington’s biographer, Dr. John Hasse, Lena is already making her mark as both a revivalist of traditional jazz vocals, as well as an innovator in contemporary vocal jazz styles. Originally from Falls Church, Virginia, she began her training at age four with piano, continued with classical voice in her teens, and went on to complete a B.M. in classical vocal performance at the University of Maryland School of Music. While attaining regional and national recognition for her classical vocal abilities – including two prestigious prizes from the National Society of Arts and Letters – it was in college where Lena discovered a strong passion for jazz, and embarked on a fervent education of jazz history, styles, theory and composition before pursuing a jazz career in the Washington D.C. area. In 2009, Lena was a participant at the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., where she studied closely with jazz giants Curtis Fuller, George Cables and Dr. Nathan Davis. She was also selected as a Strathmore artist-in-residence for the 2009-2010 season at Bethesda, Maryland’s renowned Strathmore Music Center. As the leader of her own trio, quartet and quintet, Lena has sold out performances at legendary D.C. institutions such as Blues Alley, the Strathmore Mansion, the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, Twins Jazz and various Smithsonian venues, among others. As a vocalist with other ensembles, she has performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival (The Netherlands), the Jazz Ascona Festival (Switzerland), the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee (CA), and was a participant at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass program directed by Christian McBride.
Lena has self-produced three albums in the past four years – “Written In The Stars” (2009), “Lovely Changes” (2011) and “Looking Back” (2013) – the latter two of which were released to sold-out shows at Blues Alley. All three received critical acclaim from music critics in leading D.C. online and print publications, garnering full-page, in-depth feature articles in the Washington Post and the Washington City Paper. Dubbed “the work of a supremely confident master of her instrument” (Washington City Paper), “Looking Back” features all music from the 1920s and ‘30s, includes liner notes by Dr. John Hasse, and can be heard frequently on D.C.’s jazz radio station, WPFW 89.3.
Professionally, Lena is an established recording artist in the D.C. area, contributing vocals to recording projects of all genres, including musical scores to several National Geographic documentaries. As a commissioned composer and arranger, Lena has written classical, jazz and bossa nova arrangements for jazz ensembles, choirs and chamber orchestras. Also an avid educator, Lena has worked as a private teacher of jazz and classical voice, beginning piano and guitar in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia, and has and led various educational jazz vocal workshops at the Strathmore Music Center. During the 2008-09 academic year, she was the vocal jazz instructor at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
As a classical vocalist, Lena still performs regularly as a mezzo-soprano and alto soloist at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda, MD, both in services and as part of seasonal concerts with orchestras. She has been a featured soloist in Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s Magnificat, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Duruflé’s Requiem, Britten’s Canticles and Ceremony of Carols, and many others.