“Kitty Hawk, as in the Wright brothers? What does this have to do with jazz?” I can hear and see some of the readers expressing skepticism about the title of this article. Allow me to solve the mystery.
Kittyhawk was a band formed during the late 1970’s that fused classical, jazz and rock to create a very unique sound. This mixture was not groundbreaking. In fact, the majority of fusion groups during this time used the same recipe. The key ingredient that separated Kittyhawk from most, if not all fusioneers, was the instrumentation employed. Founders Daniel Bortz and Paul Edwards were wielders of a radical new string instrument known as the Chapman Stick. “Wait a minute! First you expect us to believe that this Kittyhawk group is somehow related to jazz. Now, you’re trying to sell us on the idea that the main instruments are these Chapman… what-Chapman Sticks? Please!” Very briefly, the Chapman Stick is a 10 string electric instrument that is played more like a keyboard.
Here’s the inventor, Emmett Chapman, with the lowdown on his creation:
“Hmmmm…..that’s a pretty interesting and radical instrument, but it seems difficult to play.” I concur. That’s probably why there aren’t very many Stick players on the planet.
In 1977, Bortz and Edwards (who also contributes vocals) wrote a spirited up tempo jazz-rock song called “Islands” which, three years later, would become the opening track on Kittyhawk’s debut LP, Kittyhawk. The pair began appearing as a duet in clubs in and around Southern California, displaying the melodic potential of Mr. Chapman’s revolutionary instrument.
As Daniel and Paul’s reputation grew, so did their desire to enhance their jazz-rock compositions with different harmonic textures. Michael Jochum was recruited to play drums and percussion and the amazing reed man, Richard Elliot (I can’t tell you how many people that I know had no clue that Richard Elliot played with Kittyhawk!), added saxophone and Lyricon (a wind synthesizer). Kittyhawk’s crew was now ready to make its solo flight into the musical stratosphere.
Ever evolving, the group refined its music and flying mates: Bortz added fretless guitar and a Roland guitar synthesizer to their arsenal. “Don’t you mean fretless bass? I never heard of a fretless guitar!” No, it’s a guitar. In addition, Randy Strom played the Stick, Steve Reed percussion and Dan DeSousa keyboards. What did not change was the focus of the band-composition. The diverse talents of each player and their instrument contributed to the truly unique sound of Kittyhawk.
Enough chatter-let’s get to the music!
(Richard Elliot is featured on the Lyricon and the very first curved soprano saxophone that I ever saw when I had the pleasure of attending their concert at the Roxy Theater in Hollywood in the early 1980’s).
(My favorite Kittyhawk tune!)
(Daniel Bortz is playing the fretless guitar on this piece.)
(My second favorite Kittyhawk song, with Daniel, a very talented fellow, on cello.)
It’s really a shame that so few people that I’ve come into contact with even know who Kittyhawk is. Now, you can count yourselves among the select number that does know. I feel very blessed that I saw them live in concert and it is an experience that I will never forget! Any more questions, Mr. Skeptic? “Just one-where can I buy their CD’s?” Great question! You can visit their website, which will then take you to CD Baby’s site to make your purchase.
“Thank you for flying Kittyhawk Airlines. We hope you enjoy your flight!”
Kittyhawk website (http://kittyhawkgroup.com/products-page/kittyhawk-music/)