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TSJR’s Featured Smooth Jazz Artist

A profile of our selected smooth jazz artist of the month

Because we appreciate the talents and hard work of all of the many artists in our beloved smooth jazz genre, TSJR has made it a standard practice to highlight and honor one artist each month who has established himself or herself as an integral part of the smooth/contemporary jazz “engine.”

Beginning this month, we are featuring a six-month “Where Are They Now?” series in which we are honoring artists who have impacted the smooth jazz community over the years but have been absent from the music scene for an extended period of time. This month, we honor:

Fattburger – The Cool Jewel of San Diego Jazz

After 32 years of presenting first-rate, quality music together, it’s clear that San Diego, California-based contemporary jazz supergroup Fattburger has known the recipe for musical success: strong, memorable melodies, first-rate musicianship, and well-earned longevity.

The band with the recipe for success started gathering their key ingredients in 1986 with the late saxophonist and co-founder Hollis Gentry; the late co-founder and keyboardist Carl Evans Jr.; bassist Mark Hunter; guitarist Steve Laury; percussionist Tom Aros; and drummer Kevin Koch. Fattburger recorded more than a dozen well-received albums that highlighted their distinctive flair for catchy hooks and crowd-pleasing grooves — and those crowd-pleasing grooves featured a plethora of timeless and treasured tracks.

Their debut album, One of a Kind, (for Golden Boy Jazz label) showcased the lush title-track ballad, which was penned and sung by Evans; the breezy, laid-back “59th Street,” co-written by Hunter and Laury; and the jubilant and buoyant “Park Lane,” scribed by Gentry—just to name a few.

While One of a Kind introduced the smooth/contemporary jazz-listening public to Fattburger’s flair for solid tunes with mellifluous grooves, their 1987 sophomore project Good News, (their debut for the Intima label) cemented their effortless ability to draw in listeners and make them crave more. The title track was undoubtedly their first popular tune. It became a radio favorite craze and kick-started their sustaining popularity that still exists to this day.

Co-written by Evans and the late, renowned drummer and former Yellowjackets member Ricky Lawson, “Good News,” possessed a celebratory aura. It was also danceable and effervescent. The album further produced such radio favorites as the wistful ballads, “The Doctor” and “Eva;” and the funky “The Whole Truth.” All of the band members shared the compositional duties, which enhanced their cohesiveness.

Their cohesiveness was put to the test for the first time in 1987. As Good News was released, the tightly-knit band experienced a distinctive shift when Gentry, who would be regarded among the list of talented, unheralded saxophonists of the genre, left the group to pursue a solo career with his band Neon. He continued to contribute saxophone tracks to his Fattburger albums, even while focusing on his own solo career.

Fattburger soldiered on for their third release, Living in Paradise (also on Intima). The title served as tribute to their enjoyment of living in the coastal haven of San Diego. The album yielded such hits as the midtempo, chillout tunes “One More Time” and “Daydreaming,” and the samba-soaked soulfulness of “Imagine That.”

Their fourth release, and last one on Intima, Time Will Tell, was highlighted by Laury’s composition “Monica.” The tune was punctuated by his heartfelt acoustic guitar work, Hunter’s plucky bass stabs; and the overall group’s propensity for their trademark optimistic, fun-loving sound that enables any one of them to take a solo, before jumping back into their infectious ensemble work.

In 1990, after the release of their successful Come and Get It (Capitol Records), the ensemble found themselves readjusting to yet another major shift when Laury left to pursue a successful solo career. Heretofore, he has done eight, well-received solo CDs.

After Laury’s departure from the band, guitarist Evan Marks joined Fattburger in 1995. Marks also had done an impressive solo debut for Verve Records that same year with Long Way Home (on Verve Records), which featured the late saxophone great Art Porter Jr. on a few selections.

The hits just kept rolling onto the airwaves for Fattburger. They had great success with a few cover tunes on which they put their indelible stamp of funkiness and mellowness: “Same Ole Love;” “One Hundred Ways;” “Feel Like Making Love;” and The Isley Brothers’ groove-friendly staple, “Work to Do.” An original Fattburger favorite is also the easy-going, ethereal “Love Is Like a River” from their album Living Large. Marks and Koch co-wrote the sunny and positive-titled “Anything’s Possible” for Living Large.

Unfortunately, Fattburger was dealt a number of profound personal blows in the years to follow.

Tragedy first struck the band in September 2004. Gentry was seriously injured in a car accident that fractured his jaw and caused severe facial damage. After being hospitalized for several months, he was unable to play his instrument and never fully recovered. If that weren’t devastating enough, two years later in 2006, he was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away in September 2006, just two months after his diagnosis. He was 51 years old.
Two years later in April 2008, Evans passed away at a hospital in San Diego from complications of diabetes. He was 53 years old.

According to an interview on NC Times.com (North County News-San Diego Union-Tribune) by Jim Trageser, drummer Koch gave a somber and realistic take on the state of Fattburger. The band definitely needed healing time from the losses of Gentry and Evans.

Koch said it hit the band really hard: “I don’t know about breaking up, but it took the wind out of our sails (regarding the band’s reaction). I wasn’t sure if I was ready to get back into it, because I’m pretty much responsible for all the management aspects of the band. It took me a while to get the inspiration back.”

He added, “Eventually time cures everything, and it felt like a natural progression to get going again. “People were constantly asking us, ‘When’s the next CD coming out?’ ‘When are you playing again?’ Their most recent CD (Work to Do!) was released in 2004 on Shanachie. Since then, however, the band has been without a label.

In the same aforementioned interview from the San Diego Union-Tribune, Koch said that the band is back together and is working on new material. They also have keyboardist Allan Phillips on board now. They’re just currently seeking a record contract. He added, “We’re not with a label right now—which is kind of nice; we don’t have any deadlines, so we can take our time, zero in on our stuff, and make sure we’re totally happy with it without having to rush. We’re working on that right now, then once we get a few things squared away, we’ll probably start shopping it or maybe even do it on our own, which seems to be really popular right now.”

True to their group’s longevity, and staunch resilience amid the face of tremendous adversity, Fattburger undoubtedly will deliver that heavily-anticipated new CD to their loyal, loving fan base.

To coin the title of one of their catalog’s earlier popular albums: now that’s “Good News!” – Liz Goodwin