Chico-based guitarist Chris Wenger has gone through a steady transition from rock to classical, to jazz. He is frequently found performing in the Chico area with his own group, but also with singer Holly Taylor, saxophonist Mark Bloom and other bands. I spoke to Chris recently about his musical journey.
Chris, I first heard you play when you came to Old City Hall with the Dwayne Corbin Jazztet. It will be interesting to have you back here with your own group. Who will be in the group, and what type of jazz do you have in store for us?
For this show I have my trio, which features Shigemi Minetaka on piano and Christine Lapado on bass.
It is always interesting to have musicians play for us who have not performed in our series before. Can you tell me more about them?
Both musicians are really valuable assets to the Chico jazz scene. They play with many other groups and are extremely versatile talents. Every community has their top keyboard and bass players that everyone wants to play with and they are both represent the “Go To” people in Chico.
It sounds like Chico is similar to Redding in that there is a lot of mixing and matching of musicians. It is great that you have players who can step into practically any situation and excel. What style do you plan on playing in February?
I’m planning on two sets. One will be jazz standards that I will play on electric guitar and the other set will be Bossa Nova tunes, which I enjoy because I can get out the nylon string guitar too. I might even sing on one or two tunes.
You didn’t know it, but I am a big bossa nova fan, and so is our audience, so it will fit right in. Tell me more about yourself. How did you get started in music?
I was exposed to performance by listening to my father play folk and bluegrass music. I got into rock guitar playing at a young age and even worked as a semipro rock guitarist for a while. I became interested in music theory and studied classical guitar in college. I still play classical, rock, and even country music, but jazz became a huge interest — partly because there is such a fine jazz community in Chico. I studied with Charlie Robinson, who, as you probably know, is a legendary jazz guitarist in Chico. Now I teach music at Butte College, which is very supportive of music education and has a fine new facility, and I also teach local private students.
Charlie Robinson has been influential in Redding, too. I remember having him sit in with bands that I played in 20 or more years ago. Hey, you threw me a curve with that comment about singing. I really hope you will sing. I always like it when performers mix things up like that or show up with unusual instruments. I’ve tried my hand at many, but I always go back to my old standby.
What instrument do you like to play the most?
Why don’t you sit in with us on a bossa nova tune?
Yikes! I’m honored to be asked, but now the pressure is on. I’ll have to dig the horn out and actually practice!
See the Chris Wenger Trio on Sunday, Feb. 7, 7 p.m., Shasta County Arts Council, Old City Hall, 1313 Market Street, Redding. Tickets are available at Bernie’s Guitar and The Shasta County Arts Council. Student admission is free.
Dave Short, M.D., is a Redding family physician. He has been active in the jazz scene since moving back home to Redding in 1980. He loves to play the tenor sax, and has recorded three albums with the band Sax Therapy. His favorite project is “Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall,” a monthly concert series that features the finest north state jazz musicians. to learn more about Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall, visit daveshortjazz.com