Chris Jasper is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted keyboard player. He has spent the majority of his career recording and performing with the Isley Brothers. The former Juliard student and C.W. Post graduate continues to write and perform excellent music today. Chris recently received a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys. Here's what Chris had to say.
R.V.B. - Hey Chris - how are you doing? Are you staying busy?
C.J. – Yeah, I'm always doing something.
R.V.B. - Cool. Alright - let's see - I guess we'll start from the beginning. When you were growing up what was the earliest music that you were exposed to?
C.J. - Growing up I was exposed to a lot of different things. My mother played piano. She played classical pieces a lot. My uncle was a concert violinist. He played with the Cincinnati Orchestra. He would play in church.
R.V.B. - That's where you are from, right? Cincinnati?
C.J. - Yes
R.V.B. - Are you a Cincinnati Reds fan?
C.J. – Ah… I used to be. hahaha. I have lived in New York for so long now, I'm a Yankee fan.
R.V.B. – Yeah, you're up by near there right?
C.J. - I'm up in Westchester... almost in Connecticut... near Richfield, South Salem.
R.V.B. – Oh, I got you. So you were basically exposed to classical music?
C.J. – Yeah, at first at a young age, but at the same time I was listening to Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke - you know - soul music at the same time.
R.V.B. – Yeah, boy - what a loss with Sam Cooke huh? He had the most incredible voice.
C.J. – Yeah, and what I used to do is… I used to play songs that I heard on the radio. I used to play them by ear.
R.V.B. - What instrument did you start off with?
C.J. – Piano - because my mother played piano. So we had a piano in the house. When I would hear songs on the radio, I would figure them out on the piano. I was about seven years old. My mother said... because she took lessons, "You ought to learn how to read music. You seem to be interested in playing the piano." I said, "Alright, I'll do it" and she arranged for me to take lessons from this professor she knew at the conservatory in Cincinnati... Professor Gibbs. I took lessons from him until I graduated high school.
C.J. - That's when I learned how to read music and analyzed music... Picked out the themes - how the composers actually composed the piece. He was able to help me with that. I had an interest in being a songwriter from the very beginning.
R.V.B. - When you were a teenager, did you have any bands? Did you play with anybody, or were you still on your own?
C.J - When I was a teenager, the older brothers had moved to New York. The Isley Brothers, Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly - they moved to New York.
R.V.B. – Now, you lived near them right? In the same building?
C.J. - The both families lived on the same block, a few doors from each other. The Isleys and Jaspers were close, but when they went to New York to try to make it, they had to move there. A few years had passed and they were living in New Jersey, and I would come up during the summers and visit, because my sister was married to Rudolph. I would come up and visit, and Ernie and I would jam together... because Ernie played drums. We would go to Miss Isley's house... Miss Isley had a piano and we would jam. After a certain amount of time, we said, "We need somebody to round out this trio". Marvin wasn't playing an instrument yet.
R.V.B. - You didn't have a bass player?
C.J. - No. Nobody was playing bass. We were just jamming piano and drums. We said, "Marvin, you gotta learn how to play bass to round out this trio here". So Kelly Isley bought him a bass and Marvin started to practice and practice, and over a year or two, he learned how to play basic and simple stuff at first. Then he got better and better - and after he got the feel for the instrument - we started to do little things around in New Jersey. We used to play school dances and we played at this church that Miss Isley went to. She played the organ for the First Baptist Church there in Englewood. We played there... We played anywhere we could. hahaha
R.V.B. - Just kinda like getting your chops up? Were you delving into the soul stuff at that time?
C.J. - We were playing whatever was popular. Motown stuff, even Ramsey Lewis stuff. Ramsey Lewis trio, Young-Holt Trio, that kind of stuff.
R.V.B. - A little jazz…
C.J. - Yeah a little jazz too. We called ourselves The Jazzman Trio. The older brothers saw what we were doing - and they liked what they were hearing - and they said, "Look, you guys should record some of this stuff that you are doing"... some of that original stuff that we had been working on.
R.V.B. - At this time they had hit songs already.
C.J. - I think they were with Motown at the time. They had done "This Old Heart Of Mine". That was the song they did at Motown that was big, and they liked what we were doing, so we went into a studio in Englewood New Jersey and recorded some stuff. Everybody really liked it and from that point on, we started to play on the records with the older brothers. The "Giving it Back" album had all the covers on it. "Ohio/Machine Gun" and all that . The Crosby Stills & Nash song - "Lay Lady Lay", "Spill the Wine"- we were playing on the records.
R.V.B. - You were doing all the recording in Jersey?
C.J. – No, during that period of time we were recording in New York at Media Sound. We did a lot of records there.
R.V.B. - Did you move to the New York area by that time?
C.J. - Let's see, by that time I was in college. I was one year Julliard and then I finished out at Long Island University at C.W. Post. So that was during the college years... the early part of my college years. In ‘73 though, that's when all of us appeared on the record together. That's when the Isley Brothers officially became a six member group. It was in ‘73 with, “ Who's That Lady?” was the first single from there.
R.V.B. - Oh ok... Great song.
C.J. - So we had been working together before that time that everybody saw all of us on an album cover.
R.V.B. – Now, did you have to go out to tour and support the album?
C.J. – Yeah, we did. As a matter of fact, we were touring before that time. How we used to schedule it is: We would go to school during the week, and then on a lot of weekends we would go out on tour, and then back to school ,and back on the road, haha.
R.V.B. - That sounds like a tough schedule.
C.J. - It wasn't every weekend but it was a lot of weekends that we would just have to hit the road.
R.V.B. - What were some of the places that you can remember that you went to?
C.J. – Oh, everywhere - Detroit, D.C., California, mostly major markets.
R.V.B. - Were you teamed up with other groups or were you headlining your own single shows?
C.J. – Well, we were headlining, but there would be other people on the show. Maybe one or two acts.
C.J. – Um… back then??? I remember doing a show with Curtis Mayfield one time. The Delphonics, the Dramatics, the Dells one time. Whoever had a hot record out, the promoter would try to put on the bill also. We played clubs though. Smaller places like The Bitter End and this place in Detroit we usually did by ourselves, but that was in the early stages.
R.V.B. - Right. When did you graduate college?
C.J - 1974
R.V.B. - So that was right in the heart of you getting your career going strong. So you hit the ground running right out of college?
C.J. - Yeah, hahaha- I was kinda running before I got out. I was kinda running going in. Hahaha
R.V.B. – Hahaha - When you would go into writing process... how would you come up with ideas? Did you do it at practices? Did you think of it at home and bring it to the guys? How did you work that?
C.J. - Most of the material was written either by me or Ernie. Marvin had a few ideas also, but the majority came from either me or Ernie. The way I usually wrote songs, most of the time an idea would come to me when I was practicing - rehearsing and going over chord progressions. Sometimes I would dream an idea. It would come to me in a dream - like the song, "The Pride"
R.V.B. – Yeah, I guess it comes in all different ways.
C.J. – Yeah, different ways. Sometimes a melody would come first, but the majority of the time it comes from practicing.
R.V.B. - Now I saw an early video of the Isley Brothers... I guess it was in the sixties. They had a lot of dance moves and choreography. One of the moves I saw almost looked identical to the Macarena.
C.J. - Hahaha
R.V.B. - You know they were doing the crossing of the arms and all that stuff and I was thinking, "Those guys ripped off the Isley Brothers". Did you have any training in choreography - or did you just have natural moves?
C.J. - You see, when the three of us got in the group, it was more about the music. We brought that element into the group. The three older guys didn't play instruments and we did. We brought that self contained part to the group. That's what was going on at the time. Like Earth, Wind and Fire, and other bands that performed their own music. That's what companies were looking for. I don't remember them doing any kind of moves, you know, when we were there - hahaha.
R.V.B. - It looked like back in the day they had it together.
R.V.B. - They had quite a famous guitar player in their band at one time.
C.J. – Yeah, they sure did.
R.V.B. - Even Jimi Hendrix had the moves at one time.
C.J. - He had to be careful, because he was so talented he would take over sometimes. He would start playing behind his back and doing all kinds of things up there and people would get into it.
R.V.B. - Were you ever on the same bill as James Brown?
C.J. – No, because James Brown usually did his own show. He carried The Flames with him and a couple of other groups that he may have been producing. The saxophone player Maceo would sometimes have a little segment in his show. He had his own self - contained thing when he went on tour.
R.V.B. - So what are you doing these days? Are you producing your own stuff? Are you working with anybody else?
C.J. - Yes, my son - as a matter of fact - is working on an album. I'm kinda helping him produce that.
R.V.B. - What does he play?
C.J. - He plays keyboards too. His music is a little different than mine. I'm basically R&B, and he has more of a dance element in his music. He had one out in 2010 and he's working on another one. I'm working on a new project for myself also.
C.J. Yes. I have a place here and then I'll use other studios to mix and master, but I do most of my tracks here.
R.V.B. - It's so much easier today to do that in the digital world.
C.J. - Yeah, no big reel to reels, and editing is a lot easier now.
R.V.B. – Yeah, it's just a push of a button.
C.J. - Yeah, I remember cutting those tapes and trying to match it up. Oh man, that was a trip.
R.V.B. – So, talk about an honor, you're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
C.J. – Yes, we were inducted there in ‘92.
R.V.B. - Very cool. Did you play at the ceremony?
C.J. - We didn't play, but at the end there was a jam session. Some of the people who had played all came out on stage and just kinda jammed.
R.V.B. - Who was inducted that year with you guys?
C.J. - I think Booker T. and the MG's, oh, I can't remember right now.
R.V.B. - Where do you keep your trophy?
R.V.B. - So obviously you went to Cleveland.
C.J. - Oh yeah, I donated some things to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of my outfits, and one of my keyboards that I used to play. The keyboard that I used to strap on and play.
R.V.B. - So how was your day that day? Did you celebrate all day?
C.L. - That day, the ceremony was more like a dinner. It was at the Waldorf in New York. It was a dinner first, and then the award ceremony after that. But before the dinner there was a big press conference. It was sort of like how they do with the red carpet... all the press are in the room and there was a podium there, and the artists would go up to the podium. They would ask questions and take pictures. That happened before the dinner. It was a whole afternoon into evening affair type thing. The press conference started around five and it ended around eleven.
R.V.B. - So they set up the jam in the Waldorf?
C.J. – Yes, the big room had a stage up there. They had built a stage and whoever had instruments (hahaha) came up and plugged in and just kinda jammed. They wanted everybody to come on stage after everything was over, and while they were up there everybody just started jamming. Who's the guy that plays for Letterman?
R.V.B. - Paul Schaffer?
C.J. - Yeah him. He was there and he was playing with the band.
R.V.B. - In every New York event, he's gotta be there.
C.J. - So it was just a jam session at the end and it wasn't a specific performance.
R.V.B. – So, are you playing anywhere these days? Are you writing?
C.J. - I'm still working on another album. I'm almost halfway through it. I'm gonna have a single coming out in April. I'm just working on music right now. I haven't been touring for a couple of years. I'm just trying to get material together.
R.V.B. - Do you still see the brothers?
C.J. - I saw them in January at the Grammy's, when we got the lifetime achievement award. It was on the 25th of January and that was the first day. The 26th was the telecast. They had the special awards on the 25th.
R.V.B. - They had the Beatles Anniversary thing going on right?
C.J. - Yeah, the Beatles. Ringo was there on the 25th at the same ceremony and Paul played on the telecast with Ringo the next day. The Beatles got a lifetime achievement award too. That was the same day. So did Kris Kristofferson.
R.V.B - Did everybody from the whole family go?
C.J. – No, it was just me, Ronald, and Ernie - and of course I brought my wife and my son Michael. They had some of their family members too.
R.V.B. - That must have been a nice day.
C.J. – Yeah, it was real nice the way they did the whole thing - I thought. It was done very well.
R.V.B. – Well, I appreciate you taking the time for talking with me. Congratulations on your career. A lifetime achievement and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the top of the plateau. That's what I call an honor.
C.J.- Yes, definitely. The current CD I have out now is called "Inspired" -which was released back in last spring and it's still out and it's still current.
R.V.B. - Ok Chris, thank you and have a great day.
C.J. – Ok, you too
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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