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
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” (Duke Ellington’s biographer, Dr. John Hasse), jazz vocalist and Washington, DC area-native Lena Seikaly is already making her mark in national and international jazz circles as a revivalist of traditional jazz vocals, as well as an innovator in contemporary vocal jazz styles. She was one of eleven semi-finalists for the prestigious 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocals Competition in L.A., and is an alum of the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program in DC, the Jazz Aspen Snowmass program directed by Christian McBride, and the Strathmore Artist-in-Residence program in Maryland. As the leader of her own trio, quartet and quintet, Lena has performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Blues Alley, the Hamilton, Strathmore Music Center and Mansion, Sidney Harman Hall, various Smithsonian venues and DC’s famed Westminster Church, and has
headlined the Elkhart Jazz Festival (Elkhart, IN), Mel Bay Jazz Festival (St. Louis, MO), Chestertown Jazz Festival (Chestertown, MD), DC Jazz Festival (Washington, DC), and Center City Jazz Festival (Philadelphia, PA). She has been a featured vocalist with Byron Stripling, Norman Simmons, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, U.S. Army Blues, Capitol Bones Big Band, Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, and at West Virginia Public Radio’s Mountain Stage. Lena has released three albums under her name, and a fourth
album — a duo project with guitarist Steve Herberman entitled “A Little Closer” — was released at Blues Alley in February of 2018. Her music is played regularly on DC’s jazz station WPFW 89.3, and “A Little Closer” was featured on Washington DC’s NPR station, WAMU 88.5 shortly after its release.
As an avid educator and workshop instructor, she has taught privately and led regular workshops on jazz vocals at the Strathmore Music Center, and teaches privately in Washington, DC. Lena is also a classically-trained operatic mezzo-soprano, having studied at the University of Maryland School of Music under the instruction of François Loup. She was the first-place winner of the National Society of Arts and Letters’ 2008 DC chapter opera competition, and continued to win fifth place at the national competition in Bloomington, IN. She performs as a soloist alongside the DC area's top orchestras and choirs, having been featured in works by Handel, Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Durufle, Vaughn Williams, Barber and Bernstein, as well as 20th century and early sacred music.