Working jazz keyboardist (and occasional tweaker of the theremin) Geoff Cleveland leads an unlikely double life: He’s also a cheerleader, accompanist and sketch artist for the local comedy community, playing behind such comics as Chuck Roy and Josh Blue at the Comedy Works and Greg Baumhauer’s lounge-singing alter-ego, Bobby Valentino. With his band the Hate Camels, he paid tribute to dead comedians, and when he’s not on stage with Denver’s masters of hilarity, he’s in the audience, making drawings documenting the scene. What can this guy be thinking? Here’s Cleveland’s take on the 100CC questionnaire. Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Geoff Cleveland: Saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter, because I would imagine the collaboration to be a perfect blend of fun and challenge, on a subconscious level — similar to what happened when I was fortunate enough to play a B-flat blues with Yusef Lateef at a workshop in Massachusetts twenty years ago. Also, most of my idols are/were narcissistic control freaks (like me), and you can only work “for” people like that. I’d rather hang out with them, and that list is infinite.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
I’m a child of the ’70s but was a pre-teen hipster at the time, too locked in to Zappa, King Crimson AND others. As a vinyl addict, I’m able to re-discover Nilsson, Kate Bush and other artists I got “too cool for,” as well as embrace the nostalgia of bands like Heart and Redbone (yes, the “Come and Get Your Love” guys). And, with a lot of help from a dollar bin I refuse to give the location of, I’ve discovered for the first time stuff I should have been listening to all along, from cerebral material like Gentle Giant, Van Der Graaf Generator and early Genesis to the more guttural rock of Thin Lizzy, Queen, etc. So that’s the main thing that interests me; the ’70s, aka the Golden Age of Recorded Music. As for what’s going on now, my knowledge is limited, but I like the unique sounds of Flying Lotus, Deerhoof, Hiatus Kaiyote and most of what I hear on my friend Venus Cruz’s Wednesday night Jazz Odyssey show on KUVO. What’s one art trend you’d like to see die this year?
Mediocrity. It’s a business trend, actually, and as old as the arts themselves. But jazz music, which I grew up thinking was a forward-thinking genre, has embraced mediocrity as much as any. The idea is that jazz is sophisticated and therefore should give the audience the effect of a sponge bath, whereas I’d rather take them on an amusement-park ride.
What’s your day job?
Technically I don’t have one, but my weekly gig at El Chapultepec has many of the aspects, good and bad, associated with day jobs. A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
After a quarter-century of struggling to make a living playing and writing music, I can mostly think of what I’d stop doing, such as hustling for gigs and playing a long list of standards I’m tired of. As for what I’d do, a house in the mountains with an amazing recording studio is involved.
What’s the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Nothing short of a complete de-rigging of the system, where performers and creators not only get paid but control the scene, instead of the venues. Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
This needs to be a tie between multi-instrumentalist beatsmaster Felix Fast4Ward and comedian/drummer Sam Tallent. Both have hearts as big as their talent. I’m looking forward to collaborating with Felix, who will join my organ trio at Herb’s on December 13, hopefully just the start of more collaborations. I could name any of about fifty comedian friends, but Sam stands out now for me, having just spent most of my Sunday watching him do his thing, first making a pre-game announcement at Touchdowns Forever, the flag football memorial for beloved comedian Michael Carter, then bringing the entire Vine St. Pub to tears of laughter, many having no idea why, as he spouted off something about monkeys (I think) instead of debating the merits of NCAA vs. NFL. I’ve accompanied Sam twice, first with the Fine Gentlemen’s Club as they gave Valentine’s tips, and later on theremin as he played a vampire character at Deer Pile.
What’s on your agenda in the coming year?
Some archiving for sure, mostly from a giant box of DAT tapes and mostly from the ’90s and such projects as the Emergency Broadcast Players and bassist Kaveh Rastegar’s band Cornbread. This has already started with a Halloween single by the EBP just released on iTunes and elsewhere called “Haunted,” recorded in 1996 and featuring lots of theremin. I also have a lot of material that needs to be recorded in a real studio setting, and will continually be seeking to acquire “clutch cargo” and other gigs. The organ trio (organ/guitar/drums) thing is my main project and includes the aforementioned Herb’s gig that Felix Fast4Ward will be in on. And, of course, I will continue to make drawings of nearly every comedy and music performance I attend. Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Keyboardist and beatsmaster AJ Salas definitely should. He’s got a knack for what some call Nu-Jazz that is on a level with Flylo and others. His band SMRT has as one of its members our old friend (by now) Felix Fast4Ward. Also, the Nostradamus in me must mention the band Big City Drugs. The punk band consisting entirely of comedians (Bobby Crane, vocals; Kevin O’Brien, guitar; Cory Helie, bass; and Sam Tallent, drums) is bound to make a splash in this town. And, having heard Sam and Kevin play in different projects, I expect it to be good music.
See Geoff Cleveland perform at Herb’s at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, December 13.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.