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Vernon Neilly & G-Fire

Vernon Neilly & G-Fire

Vernon Neilly & G-Fire

G-Fire's self-titled debut album has been very well-received, and the new project, G-Fire II sounds like it'll be a very strong follow-up, especially with the inclusion of such a strong jazz Guitarist, Mark Whitfield in the mix. How did your association with Mark come about?

I actually wanted to have Mark on the first project, but the timing was just off. He was busy I was going to Brazil to tour, so for the "G-Fire" project the timing was just off. He loved the "G-Fire" project though and did not want to miss the opportunity to be on "G-Fire II". I became aware of Mark initially through my graphic artist Terrence Bunn, who is also a close friend, we listen to music all the time when we are working on ads, covers, posters. He asked me if I had heard of Mark, and at that time I had only heard a few cuts on the radio, so I told him not really. He let me borrow a DVD and CD of Mark, and of course I was blown away with his musicality, playing, and Mark is a great guy to be around. I got in touch with him through e-mail, we talked, he respected what I was doing, my playing and what I am trying to achieve, so as they say the rest is history.

What were the main differences in your musical agendas between the first album and this new one, which seems much more Smooth Jazz oriented?

With the "G-Fire" CD I was giving some great players who have been friends of mine for years an opportunity to be heard as artist as opposed to sidemen for the first time in their great careers. Collectively we have played with lots of the top, and legendary artist in jazz, R&B, and blues music, so it was good to be able to let them express themselves musically in their own way with "G-Fire" for a change, let them do their own thing. It was not intended to be a commercial radio project, although we ended up getting quite a bit of play here in the US and abroad. With "G-Fire II" the situation is different, in that everyone wanted to write compositions, and songs that were more commercial and radio friendly. Kevin Chokan, and I have jazz backgrounds and have played lots jazz oriented music in the past, so it was a very natural thing for us to write things in this style, and with the addition of Mark, that just solidified the "G-Fire II" project in taking it musically where we envisioned it going.

You have quite a diverse background in music. How did you originally decide to get involved with Smooth Jazz?

To be perfectly honest with you my Uncle Denis is a jazz musician, and I have always loved jazz music, going back to the big band arrangements of the 30's and 40's, the bebop of Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Charlie Christian, Miles, Wes Montgomery, and the modern jazz of George Benson, Bobbi Humphrey, Herbie Hancock, Donald Byrd, Ahmad Jamal, Grover Washington. So in today's music business, this where I felt that I would fit in most comfortably as an artist, because I love the music.

You are not only a sideman and headliner, but also a writer, producer and owner of your own record label, Boosweet Records. Of those roles, which do you find to be the most rewarding?

I find them all to be very rewarding as each one is a different role, and requires a different attribute. I love creating music because it is an extension of who I am as a person, so writing music gives me the opportunity to express myself, my feelings in my own way. I love producing as well, as it gives me the opportunity to conceive an idea, nurture it, until it blossoms into a song or musical composition, a finished product. Being the head of my own company is probably the biggest challenge of all though, as I am responsible for the entire operation of the company, and I understand that success or failure depends on the decisions that I make for the company. Just as I love picking up my guitar to play or create, I love picking up the phone or sending e-mail correspondences to negotiate deals, and handle the everyday operational aspects of my company, it's all very exciting to me, there is never a dull moment in my life with all of these things going on.

Which of those roles...musician, producer, label owner...do you find to be the most challenging?

I guess I already answered this question in the previous reply, but my musical talent although I have studied a lot, and still do is God given, so it is something that comes natural to me. I come from a musical family, so it is something that has been a part of my life, all of my life. On the other hand being a good businessman is much more challenging because of the greater responsibility. I have employees that depend on me to keep the company afloat regardless of what is happening in my personal music career..

Is there one thing...philosophy, belief system, personal style...that, more than anything else, has been the driving force behind the success you've created for yourself in the music business?

I am a very spiritual person, I do believe in God! Beyond that I believe that if you can conceive, you can achieve. I was raised with the concept of working hard and being the best that I can be at whatever I endeavored to do, to not be afraid to dream, and follow that dream if you realistically believe that you can make it happen. I am living my dream! I don't believe in problems only solutions, rehashing problems is a waste of time, much more productive and positive to find answers/solutions to problems. I am not one to waste time talking about something, I would rather be getting it done. I love the motto "Just Do It".

Your credentials as a sideman are impressive, to say the least. Of all the work you've done with well-known headliners over the years, is there a standout experience that you'd like to relate?

I have had the honor and opportunity to work with some great people in my career, for which I am truly thankful. But if I had to relate to one, it would be the many late nights, and early mornings that I sat next to legendary Motown producer Norman Whitfield at the recording console, learning the art of producing records at 21-22 years old. Thank you Whit!

Is there a guitarist (or other musician or singer) who you would credit as having been the most influential for you in your evolution as a musician?

Yes and he had nothing to do with jazz, Jimi Hendrix. It was Jimi's persona, showmanship, style, uniqueness that captivated me, and totally blew me away.

All of the songs on both the G-Fire albums are originals. Is there a personal philosophy about recording covers in the Smooth Jazz idiom that's behind this?

Actually there was a cover on the "G-Fire" CD called "Little Sunflower" by jazz great Freddie Hubbard, and on the new project there is a cover called "Sweat" that was written by Ian Lewis, and in recent years performed by reggae group "Big Mountain". It has great reggae one drop beat, and is a great song to groove to. My personal thing with covers is that so many artists do the same ones over and over, I like finding covers that few artists or nobody has done yet in the smooth jazz flavor.

What are some of the most important goals you have for yourself in, say, the next five to ten years?

Retire : ^ ) , no only joking ! Continue to grow as a musician, producer, writer, engineer, and businessman. To follow the example of Herb Alpert, Don Grusin, and grow my label into the most successful entity it can be. First and foremost though to grow into the most complete person, and best individual, I can become as a human on the face of the earth.?

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