B. G. McPike
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B. G. McPike

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"Love for jazz links wide variety of city, Indiana musicians on Brent McPike’s new CD"

By Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE — Ernie Royer isn’t among the assortment of musicians who performed on Brent McPike’s album “Smooth Landing.”

But his sound permeates every song.

Royer could play almost any instrument by ear, and had entertained crowds at square dances around Terre Haute and Clay County as far back as the 1930s. Then in 1980, his 14-year-old grandson, Brent, took an interest in the music Royer could make with the 1955 cherry-red Fender Stratocaster sitting in his front room.

Royer broke in Brent on old standards like “Little Brown Jug” and “Tea for Two.” Once Brent’s cousins showed him how to play the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic “Freebird,” his grandfather knew the teen was ready for headier material. He introduced him to jazz and recordings by innovative gypsy-style guitarist Django Reinhardt. They’d play for hours in that front room, while Brent’s grandmother cooked supper. She’d clap from the kitchen after each song. Sometimes, Royer would take a break to work on a car in his garage, and then come back inside to rejoin Brent, who had never stopped playing that Fender Strat. An age divide of two generations melted in music.

“That was a beautiful time,” McPike recalled.

McPike used a similar bridge between the musicians to, at last, record his first album at age 41. He gathered a smorgasbord of players, ranging from college students such as percussionist Jason Hammond, trumpeter Peter Allison and bassist Eric Schatz to Indiana icons John Spicknall on piano and Carolyn Dutton on violin. Spicknall’s jazz career covers five decades, and Dutton recorded in the 1960s with rock legends The Band and Lovin’ Spoonful.

“That’s about a 45-year span, and you don’t even notice it,” McPike said, spinning a cup of coffee with his fingers. “When you’re playing with them, age means nothing. It’s the musical energy between you.”

The songs by this group, which is called “B.G. McPike and the Haute Club” on the CD’s jacket, have some age differences, too. McPike wrote one, “Darkness of the Night,” as long ago as 1991. In writing all 12 songs on “Smooth Landing,” McPike dug up old tunes, riffs and lyrics from as far back as his college days at Butler University.

“I’ve got Butler class notes and lyrics on one side of a page, and notes about czarist Russia on the other side,” he said, laughing. “It’s a hodgepodge. So I’ve got many unfinished songs.”

Unfinished, but not forgotten. His life added new chapters beyond those college notebook pages. McPike and his wife, Kristy, met at Butler in 1986, when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore. Both were music majors. He first spotted Kristy lugging an upright bass. (She played violin and viola, but future music teachers were required to learn other instruments, as well.)

“I saw this lovely, brown-eyed girl messing around with the elevator, and she said, ‘I think it’s broke.’ So I helped her out,” he recalled.

They married in 1990 and now have an 11-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. Kristy is the orchestra director at Terre Haute South High School, and Brent is a guitar instructor and guitar ensemble director at Indiana State University. In the meantime, their experiences added to the ideas that would eventually become “Smooth Landing.”

“Being a teacher and a family guy, I’d get away from [writing and recording] for a few years,” said McPike, who grew up in Indianapolis and moved to Terre Haute, his mother’s hometown, in 2001.

Last spring, he and the songs reconnected as McPike invited his Haute Club friends to record in producer Don Arney’s southern Vigo County studio. Arney served “as kind of a content adviser,” McPike said, helping him narrow the list of potential album tracks. “Don’s real clear-headed and focused, and gave me some advice.”

They settled on a dozen numbers tinged with local names and McPike’s reflections on an aural journey that rides jazz through blues, bossa nova, gypsy and contemporary waters. McPike’s navigation makes the album special, Arney said.

“Brent covers a lot of musical ground and does it very well,” Arney said.

Despite the guest performers’ disparate ages and backgrounds, the blend works for McPike. “The thing that links it all together is, every one of those musicians, regardless of where the bulk of their work has been, they all have a love for jazz,” he said.

The songs pay tribute to that bond. The opening track, “Flyin’ Down 41,” tips a hat to the album’s drummer, John DiCenso, whose rock group — the Mike Rolle Band — is a favorite of McPike’s. Track 2, “Blues 4 Doc,” not only features Spicknall’s piano work but also is named in his honor. “Into Your Company” illuminates a guitar idea by one of McPike’s former students. “Groovin’ in the Haute” recognizes Schatz and fellow ISU musician Malik Lahlou. Guitarist Dan Sumner, who accompanies McPike’s playing on four tracks, is highlighted on the album’s closer, “The Blue Hole.”

Dutton’s deft violin spices up five tracks. The Nashville, Ind., performer is “an Indiana treasure,” McPike said. The two performed a few of the album’s songs live at an ISU recital before recording “Smooth Landing.”

“When we got ready to do the CD, Brent said, ‘I want you to play it just like you did at the recital,’” Dutton remembered. “And I said, ‘Well I don’t know what I played.’” Live performances, she added, happen in bursts of inspiration. Re-creating that in a studio is tricky.

“But it’s a different kind of inspiration,” she added.

Most of the tracks are instrumentals, but McPike can be found singing on a handful, including his mother’s favorite “Whatever Happened?” With or without lyrics, the songs were built by McPike’s inspirations. “If We Could Only Have One Day,” his dad’s favorite, came to McPike while he drove to drop off his son at kindergarten. Its concept is “to sit, to talk, to really share what’s on our minds in an uninhibited, loving way — to take the time to attempt to find, however risky, the words that describe how we feel. Call me cheesy or sappy, but I can’t deny my love for good Chicago-style pizza and real maple syrup,” McPike explained.

His songs and genre blending impressed Spicknall.

“He’s just not a classical snob by any means,” Spicknall said. “He enjoys and plays a lot of different styles.”

McPike’s flexibility, Spicknall mentioned, can be traced back to those jam sessions with his grandfather.

Ironically, McPike’s life could’ve followed a different course. In that same year McPike learned guitar, he also traveled with his older brother — an all-state outfielder at Indianapolis Ben Davis High School — to a Florida baseball camp conducted by retired Boston Red Sox second baseman Denny Doyle. Two weeks after they’d returned from the camp at Winter Haven, McPike’s cousins taught him to play “Freebird.”

“Once I found out I could do that, I never played baseball again,” he said, chuckling.

That led McPike to his grandfather’s house and that ’55 Stratocaster. “I came from a family of jocks, but my grandpa was the musician,” McPike said, grinning.

His children enjoy music, too. The McPikes’ daughter plays piano. Their son is interested in the drums, though Brent suspects his guitars, sitting around the house, may lure the boy eventually.

“Someday, he’s going to pick up my guitar and play the ‘SpongeBob’ melody,” he said. “I’m waiting for that day.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at mark.bennett@tribstar.com or (812) 231-4377. - The Tribune-Star


"Local jazz talent produces exceptional new CD"

By Robert L. Flott
WVJB Editor

Anyone who denies the existence of solid entertainment and musical talent in Terre Haute need only pick up a copy of Smooth Landing, by B.G. McPike and the Haute Club.
This newly released CD is truly a Terre Haute effort, complete from composition to musicians, to recording, to graphics.
Jazz fans will want to buy copies for friends. Smooth Landing is definitely a bragging right for Terre Haute.
Brent Gordon McPike is well known around the world as a classical guitarist. He opened the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra Season in guest soloist for its 80th Anniversary Gala Celebration Concert in the fall of 2006.
McPike has written all the music on the CD, plays all but one of the guitars and even shares co-producer credits with Don Arney, professor of technology at Ivy Tech Community College.
In fact, one can almost consider this the first musical collaboration between Indiana State University where McPike teaches and Ivy Tech, where Arney teaches.
That is what truly makes this collection noteworthy; it is an all Terre Haute effort. The songs were written in the Haute, recorded in the Haute, produced in the Haute, and even about the Haute.
The cover, depicting a jet sitting at the corner of Seventh and Ohio, was designed in the Studio Royale, also here in Terre Haute. McPike can be seen on the wall of the Swope Museum.
As thought provoking as the cover is, the music--from compositions to performance--shine particularly bright. McPike appears everywhere. He plays lead guitar on every track, but also plays as many as three additional guitars on some of the tracks.
Drummer John DiCenso and bassist Eric Schatz provide powerful backgrounds, well worth the price of the album itself. Add other local musicians such as John "Doc" Spicknall, on keys, Jason Hammond on congas and auxiliary percussion, and Peter Allison on muted trumpet round out a solid musical group.
It is with the addition of award-winning jazz violinist Carolyn Dutton that Smooth Landings takes the music to a completely new level. McPike, as the composer and arranger, clearly knows and understands the phenomenal talent he has with Dutton, giving acres of room to soar and fly with her violin.
Dutton's contributions fly highest on the title track, "Smooth Landing," which she attacks with a frenzied energy as searing as McPike's guitar is calm. He may make the landing smooth, but she lets you know the ride will be wild.
As talented a guitar player as McPike is, it is in these arrangements that his talents truly shine.
On "Blues for Doc," he gives Spicknall a piano arrangement that evokes 1930s New York jazz clubs; you can picture yourself descending a staircase into a smoke-filled bar, the notes dancing off Spicknall's talented fingers.
Several songs evoke McPike's background and interest in Latin music and guitar. He also draws music from the Wabash Valley itself. The opening track "Flyin' Down 41," recreates a drive down Third Street during rush hour traffic. DiCenso's spectacular drum solo is the accent at the end. You can feel the energy and the emotions of the road.
McPike even tackles vocals on two tracks, "The Darkness of the Night" and "Whatever Happened?" Both will fill the dance floors wherever they are played. While McPike is not Nat King Cole, listeners will come away more than satisfied with his pipes.
The true joy of this CD is to put it on and drive around Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley. You will know exactly from where McPike draws his inspiration.
On Thursday, March 20, from 6 to 9 p.m., B.G. McPike & the Haute Club will unveil Smooth Landings to the crowds at The Verve, 677 Wabash Ave. Copies of the CD will be available for $15, with $5 from each going to benefit the programs at St. Anne's Medical Clinics.
Jazz lovers should buy copies for all their out-of-town friends. A ride this smooth must be shared.


Robert Flott can be reached at robertf@thjournal.com
- Terre Haute Jounal of Business


Discography

"Smooth Landing"

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Bio

Brent Gordon McPike got his first full-time performing experience in 1987 as a guitarist at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. He had been selected (one of about 6 guitarists from across the Eastern half of the U.S.) by Busch Entertainment Corporation's travelling audition tour the previous autumn at his alma mater, Butler University.

McPike spent most of the 1990's at Indiana University in Bloomington where he studied with Ernesto Bitetti, David Baker, Luis Zea, and was coached in chamber music by such notable musicians as Helga Winold, Franco Gulli, Eugene Rousseau, and Rastislav Dubinski.

In 2001 McPike began his association with award-winning violinist, Carolyn Dutton, a former regular on the NYC scene, and they continue to perform and record occasionally. That same year he moved to Terre Haute, Indiana where he serves as guitar instructor and guitar ensemble director at Indiana State University.

While B.G. McPike's music draws from many sources, some artists who have left an indelible imprint on many of his works are: Charlie Byrd; Django Rinehart; Marcos Cavalcante; Joao Gilberto; The Assad Brothers; B.B. King; Robert Cray ; Wes Montgomery; Kenny Burrell; Brent Mason; Carlos Santana; Pat Martino; Rogers & Hart; Duke Ellington;Steely Dan; George Benson; Jeff Baxter; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Dan Fogelberg; and even Frank Sinatra.