Smooth JazzNotes
Chillin' with LA Chillharmonic

Richard Smith and Brian Bromberg


Richard Smith would be a household name if he had chosen a different path. He does play shows, but has a demanding day job shaping and guiding young musicians as a professor at The University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music. He has been an educator at USC since he was 23 years old, and he has recently stepped down from a two decade tenure as the chair of the Studio/Jazz Guitar Department. Richard also played in saxophonist Richard Elliot’s band for 10 years and recorded six CD’s with him. He has, as well, toured and recorded with many Smooth Jazz staples, including Peter White, Marc Antoine, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Warren Hill and Guitars and Saxes.

Bassist Brian Bromberg is well known as a producer as well as playing bass. He started out at the age of 19 touring with Stan Getz and stayed at that high caliber his entire career. In 1998, he released “You Know That Feeling" garnishing his first #1 CD. Three singles charted to #3 and it was the fifth most played CD of the year. Brian co-wrote and co-produced Jeff Kashiwa’s hit, Hyde Park, as well as many other Smooth Jazz songs.

LA Chillharmonic evolved because Richard Smith envisioned a band of LA musicians, inspired by Tom Scott’s LA Express, exemplifying the LA sound. He gathered a group of top notch players, Brian Bromberg on bass, Jeff Lorber on keyboards, Greg Adams on trumpet, pianist Patrice Rushen, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and percussionist Alex Acuna. The saxophone chair is shared by Eric Marienthal, Michael Paulo, and Greg Meeks. All accomplished musicians in their own right, together they represent the unique sound that is known as the “LA Beat.” The touring band is Brian Bromberg, Greg Adams, Gregg Karukas, Joel Taylor, and the sax seat varies. Michael Paulo was sitting in when we saw them.

Greg Adams got his start in Tower of Power with the release of their debut album, East Bay Grease (1970) and stayed for 20 years, producing the distinctive horn sound associated with the legendary Bay Area band. In 1995, Greg's Smooth Jazz debut Hidden Agenda went to #1 and he hasn't looked back since.

Keyboardist Gregg Karukas hit in 2005 with The Girl in the Red Dress, a song that has become a Smooth Jazz staple. A native of Maryland who came out to Southern California in search of a career in music, Gregg has consistently delivered quality compositions.

Drummer Joel Taylor, a well known session drummer who played on many of the Guitar Hero tracks, is a professor at Redlands University.

Saxophone player Michael Paulo played with Al Jarreau. A native of Hawaii, he is from a musical family graduating from the Berklee School of Music, moving to California in 1981. An in demand session player, he as produces his own solo CD's, as well.

SJN: Your self-titled new CD, LA Chillharmonic, was released last month. How did you decide on the players?

Richard: Brian and I worked together on the last album and it was a very successful record, so I deferred to Brian on a lot of issues like this. He is the conduit between me and the artists. The personality of the record really developed by choosing people like Michael Paulo, Greg Adams, and Greg Karukas to really have a great ensemble together. We just used LA local guys who sound great, that we work with all of the time, and who would be conducive to the project.

Brian: Richard came up with the name LA Chillharmonic because the musicians are from LA. It just grew from there.

SJN: It took 2 ½ years to make. Can you explain the process?

It was replicating what I had done before on a previous record, where I would take it over to Brian and say, what do you think, we could go in this direction, or we could go in this direction. What do you think? It was a process where we took an idea and worked together.

Brian: The reason it took two and a half years was because Richard is really busy at USC, touring and teaching. I’m doing the same thing. So, it wasn’t like it took two and a half years. It took two and a half years because of everybody’s schedules and trying to get everybody together at the same time was quite a challenge. The more well known people you get, everybody is all over the place at the same time. So, Richard and I would work with the music, but Richard has a whole other career outside of making records, being a professor at USC.

SJN: Did you all physically get together to record the CD?

I started out with a basic process at my house with drum machines. I’d add Brian and …

Brian: …It was a mixture of both. Richard would make demos in his studio, then he’d come over to my studio. It was like building blocks, when it was done we had this killer track. The technology of making a record today is pretty amazing. When you have talented people who also have a grasp of the technology, you can do a tremendous amount of really great musical work within your own space and time. It’s a balance of art and technology

SJN: There is a nine piece horn section. As a guitar player, why did you decide on a horn influenced CD?

Richard: I have had horns on all of my CD’s. This time I decided to hire somebody else to do the arranging because I’m not that good of an arranger. Greg Adams is the best, so we decided to use him.

Brian: Horns are awesome! There’s a huge human element to the music. Technology is awesome, but the musicians are what make the record.

SJN: What is your favorite song?

Richard: Mine is ‘Agrigento’.

Brian: I don’t have a favorite song because I’m the producer. It’s hard because I am intimately involved. It’s my job to make sure everything sounds as good as possible. They are all great!

SJN: How do you think the LA Sound developed?

Richard: The LA sound is very special. It started in the 60’s and 70’s.

Brian: It started way before either of us moved to LA.

Richard: It’s the reason I moved to LA! I was attracted by the mythical quality of the studio musicians.

SJN: Richard, At the age of 14, you attended a Chick Corea concert that changed your life. Did you play any instruments before that day?

Richard: Ya, I played guitar to get girls, but when I went to the Chick Corea concert, I saw Al Di Meola and Stanley Clarke play and that was pretty much it for me.

SJN: Early on, at the age of 23, you received a teaching fellowship to USC, in Los Angeles. How did that come about?

Richard: It was through miserable heartbreak actually. I was almost engaged to a girl and I had a full scholarship to North Texas State to be the guitar teacher there and this girl broke up with me. A friend told me about a TA position at USC, so I took it.

SJN: Why on the college level?

Richard: I come from a long line of professors. My cousin teaches Philosophy at Oxford. She’s my age and started teaching when she was 22. My uncle is head of Humanities at MIT. My mom has a PhD in history, my dad is a professor of architecture, and my sister is a professor of Urban Planning. My aunt is the head of the existentialist association. As you can see, I’m from a long line of professors so it was natural, like it was in my DNA!

Brian: He’s from a family of brains!

SJN: You also played as a sideman for Richard Elliot for 10 years. Why did you decide to do this with a full time teaching career?

Richard: I love doing it all. My musician friends want to teach too. It’s all natural. It gives me a chance to play.

Brian: You do academics during the day and you go out on the road and you get a chance to play.

Richard: Also, it is expected. At USC, I’m held to a high standard. At the end of the year, they want to see what I have done during the year. Making records is expected. We have a merit review committee. In my neighborhood, there were two Grammy winners, Vince Mendoza and Trudy Sutton, and a Presidential Medallion winner, of whom there have only been eight in history. So, it’s a tough neighborhood! I’m blessed. Every morning I wake up and I am thankful.

SJN: Brian, do you teach?

Brian: Yes, I do! I taught at USC for a while and I do a lot of workshops at universities. I love it, I just don’t do it as much as I’d like to. I’m fortunate because I get to play music, I get to produce it and I do a lot of sessions. I get to work with my friends, like Richard, and make great records. I’m very blessed. The fact that I can survive in the music industry is phenomenal.

Richard: Brian is a spectacular teacher!

SJN: On a personal note, how do you spend your time when you are not involved in music in some form or another?

Richard: I have a house up in the Northwest that I have been building for about eight years. I spend about three or four weeks a year on it just hanging nails, doing the electrical, and  I just did the plumbing last year. It’s in the San Juan Islands, about 60 miles north of Seattle.

Brian: He has a beautiful place!

Richard: Brian, what are your hobbies, I’m interested to know? You know, Brian has this incredible studio, it is amazing. That is clearly his hobby!

Brian: I’m very blessed that I have a beautiful recording studio and a partner in a new label and a new business and we just built another studio. For me, I have been so busy making music that I have not had a lot of time to delve into other aspects of my life because I have been so blessed and busy. I love nature and hiking. I love astronomy and science, and I also love drag racing. I respect the fact that I get to earn a living making music so much that when I have the opportunity to do it, I don’t put anything before making the music. Music is nurturing to the soul, but it is the kind of thing that you can never reach your potential. No matter how good you play, you can play better. No matter how good you can write, you can write better. No matter how good you can produce, you can produce better. No matter what you do, you can always grow. For me, that is the most important thing. It’s up to me to be the best I can be. That’s the thing that inspires me to keep going.

Richard: That’s what inspired me to hire him as a producer. Brian has perfect pitch. He is completely uncompromising and driven.

Brian: And for me as a producer, it’s great to work with someone like Richard because, first thing, I love him to death, and he’s a great musician and a great guitar player. For me, it’s helping someone achieve their goals and dreams and for me personally that is just as important as achieving mine.

Richard: I produced all of my albums up until now, but this time I needed this artistic collaboration.

SJN: What do you think of the current interest in Guitar Hero and Rock Band?

I understand their place in society. So many people in this world wish they could be a rock star, but they don’t learn guitar and do not want to practice. It’s all a façade, but on the flip side if they discover this is fun, they might actually pick up a guitar and learn to play it. If a million people are into this, 5000 learn to play the guitar, maybe 500 will actually be really good musicians and maybe 50 will be fantastic. If you think of it in the world of music, all it takes is you to completely change the world. Our drummer tonight is the drummer on most of the Guitar Hero songs. Joel Taylor did a bunch of those. The point is if that is the catalyst to actually get people interested in music, that is fantastic. It serves a purpose. It is not real, but if it makes you feel good and its fun, then you might actually be inspired to learn an instrument. You can’t get good at what you do until you dedicate yourself to it. If that is the catalyst to take you to that next place, hey, go for it!

SJN: When you discovered music at the age of 14, you dumped your girlfriend and immersed yourself in music. Did you ever date again?

Richard: Yes, I have been married for twenty years, no kids.

Brian: I have three cats, no kids.

SJN: What wise wisdom do you bestow on your students?

Richard: Everything your grandmother told you, bathe regularly, say please and thank you. Those are the most important professional tools. The most important professional relationships are personal and learning how to be a good person is the most important thing.

Brian: Business is personal because business is about people. 

Richard: In one word integrity!

SJN: What do you tell them about making it in the music industry specifically?

Brian: You can only get out of it what you put into it. Whenever you pick it up, your instrument is always the boss. It is always in control because your instrument can always be played better than you can play it. This is the most honest and humbling place you can be. You can’t fake it.

Richard: It’s mythological and metaphorical.

SJN: Thank you both for sharing with us.

LA Chillharmonic
Whitmore Mansion, Ceres, CA
September 13, 2008
Richard Smith
Brian Bromberg
Greg Adams
Greg Karukas
Michael Paulo
Joel Taylor
LA Chillharmonic
Richard Smith

August 26, 2008
Mack Avenue Records
Travis Vega
Rhythm Deluxe
The Whitmore Mansion

The Whitmore Mansion
2733 6th St.
Ceres, CA
(209) 537-5400
KRVR The River 105.5

Modesto, CA

Travis vega
The Whitmore Mansion is located in the San Joaquin Valley in the small farming community of Ceres. This Victorian Mansion was built in 1902 by Clinton Whitmore, son of the founder of the little farm town, south of Modesto in California.
Rick Serna
Hot Socket Event Audio Reinforcement
Find out more about LA Chillharmonic at Richard Smith's Myspace
Find out more about the Whitmore Mansion and their events at

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