What's Hot With Jazz Guitar: Robert Conti

by Doc Dosco

This week we feature guitarist Robert Conti. I saw him play several years ago at the LA NAMM show. Very Impressive. Robert has a number of recordings and teaching DVDs available.

Online Bio

Robert Conti was born in South Philadelphia, an area that has produced a respectable number of great musicians including many legendary string players. His interest in jazz guitar began in 1958 at the age of twelve. With the exception of a brief period of lessons from Philly guitar virtuoso, Joe Sgro, Conti is a self taught musician. However, he is quick to credit Sgro as pointing him in the right direction. In his early teen years, he began playing six-night engagements in a variety of show groups in the Philadelphia/New Jersey area, and spending his summers on the road. After graduating high school, Conti spent the next three years performing throughout the United States and Canada with a variety of show groups out of the Philly area.

While traveling to Philly after a Miami Beach engagement in 1965, Conti made an impromptu visit to a relative in Jacksonville, Florida. After three years of constant traveling, he was enticed by the beaches and Florida's relaxed lifestyle. That intended brief visit was the beginning of Conti's twenty-two-year residency in North Florida. During the next four years, he maintained a full teaching schedule and seized every opportunity to play jazz in North Florida.

In 1970, a series of extremely unusual circumstances thrust Conti into the securities business. During the following six years, Conti's talents as an account executive flourished, as he amassed a host of coveted financial industry awards for unparalleled business achievements. In fact, Conti is credited as the mastermind of a highly sophisticated business strategy that produced over five hundred million dollars of windfall profits to a publicly held Florida company. Additionally, he advanced the concept of the financial supermarket as early as 1974. Needless to say, lofty achievements that are inconsistent with the typical personality profile of an artist/jazz musician.

By late 1975, the time demands of the high tension business of stock trading had created a major void in his life. That void was the absence of his music. Having attained all of his personal goals in the corporate arena, and no longer enamored by corporate financial trappings, he decided to trade his three piece suits and return to music. In early 1976, he resumed teaching students, and focused his effort on regaining his previous technical facility. In May of 1979, he recorded two albums for the L.A. based Discovery record label. The results of those first recordings were a clear indication that Conti had indeed regained his technical facility.Several albums followed on the Discovery/Trend labels through the 1980s, including a 1981 guest appearance as a featured artist on the extraordinary arranger/conductor Gerald Wilson's "Orchestra Of The Eighties" - an album that featured an all-star roster of L.A.'s finest jazz musicians. He was also featured on one side of "The Living Legends" - an album with the late Joe Pass.

In the early part of 1982, a business associate persuaded Conti to participate in a short-term business venture. However, being cautious not to abandon music because of the extreme time demands of the business world, he managed to maintain a minimal performing schedule. As 1985 drew to a close, he chose to focus all of his time to performing and writing music. In 1986, Conti began performing in the Southeast, including a performance as a headliner at the prestigious Florida National Jazz Festival, where his sidemen included jazz giants, Jimmy McGriff on organ, and Nick Brignola on baritone sax. In the latter part of that year, he was invited to perform at a jazz festival in Southern California, where he made an acquaintance with a music fan who was an executive with Beverly Hills film producer, Dino De Laurentiis. Two years later, that casual acquaintance resulted in Conti accepting a position with the De Laurentiis organization. In the summer of 1988, Conti relocated to Irvine, California, a pristine and affluent community just south of Los Angeles. Shortly after his relocation, he had the misfortune of a serious injury from an office accident that required months of extensive medical treatment.

Upon partial recovery from the injury, Conti decided to resume his musical activity instead of returning to the De Laurentiis organization. In early 1989, Conti met Steve Glen, an extremely alert Marriott Hotel executive who quickly recognized that Conti was a major league musician far and above the typically boring hotel pianist. As a result of Steve Glen's sharp business acumen, Conti accepted a position as a house musician performing nightly in the lobby of an airport hotel. That engagement continued for nearly ten years.

I first became aware of Robert Conti in early 1990, as the Southern California grapevine was continuously buzzing about a "monstrous guitarist" when Conti began that hotel gig. In fact, I heard so much talk that I decided to drive up to Irvine from San Diego to hear and draw my own conclusions. Upon entering the hotel, I immediately heard loud applause from a lobby audience that included business executives and the usual cadre of guitarists absorbing every note. Within the first five minutes of my arrival, it was apparent that everything I had heard about this musician was true. In the midst of this bustling business hotel, here was a solo guitarist whose technical prowess had an audience spellbound! When questioned later that evening, as to his early influences, he quickly cited Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery and Howard Roberts as his heroes. Those influences were readily apparent, as his playing tastefully merges the stylistic trademarks of those super players into another fresh voice.

Conti at the Marriot At the end of his performance, I introduced myself and asked if would be interested in doing an album for my newly formed Time Is record label. Conti responded, "Yes, only if I don't have to travel. This gig is tantamount to my being on the road continuously, as the hotel is host to numerous guests from all over the world. In effect, they are on the road."

In the years that passed since my first meeting with Robert Conti in 1990, I learned much more about the man other than the musician. He epitomizes a complete paradox of disciplines. Most musicians are generally in a tense state of mind in the recording studio. However, I observed this man nonchalantly walk into a Hollywood recording studio and front an all-star rhythm section to the absolute height of cooking straight-ahead jazz.

In bold contrast to Conti's musical proficiency, his business/legal intellect grants him the ability to function with razor-sharp efficiency in the corporate environment, as he is just as comfortable in the midst of a dozen lawyers and accountants. In fact, on first meeting, his demeanor would cause one to readily assume that he is a corporate executive or an attorney, as he is a cordial gentleman most untypical of the usual artistic temperament of a musician of this caliber.

During the planning stage of "Comin' On Strong!", I suggested a blend of mainstream jazz standards and original compositions that would showcase his playing and writing abilities. The album contains five Conti originals and four standards as follows: "The Rookie Bookie", "Wave", "Westbound", "I'll Remember April", "Two Shpeens", "Bluesette", "The Shylock", "Carnival", "Death By Chops- Dis'll Do It".

As a point of interest, each selection was a first and only take, and the album was completed in three hours, and as one might imagine from the titles of the Conti originals, the man has a sense of humor. When the tape stopped rolling after the last selection, there was an eerie silence in the recording studio. All eyes were wide open and jaws were on the floor, following Conti's unbelievable display of his musical polish combined with an awesome technical command that will defy belief. The exciting musical events that took place in Hollywood on the afternoon of June 20, 1990, were permanently preserved for the jazz archives! As the executive producer of "Comin' On Strong!", I was extremely proud to produce a CD that bristles with the fire and authority that is singularly Robert Conti!

In addition to the ongoing praise by fans who have heard him in live performance or recording, voluminous rave reviews and accolades of high praise have been written by highly respected jazz critics about this super musician's unbelievable musicality and technical facility. As evident in the Reviews section of this website, Conti received sporadic national attention through articles in media such as: Guitar World Magazine (See Reprint In The Reviews Section); Regional Record Chart Activity; A Billboard Magazine "Album Pick Of The Week"

In April 1992, after hearing "Comin' On Strong!", Duncan Blaine of MNH/CD Review stated: "Conti could be the greatest guitarist alive!" In a September 1992 rave review, L.A. Times music columnist Bill Kohlhaase, described Conti as "A world-class musician." A Billboard Magazine "Album Pick Of The Week" article in May 1980 stated, "Conti is a superior guitarist... A refreshing musical purity." In 1986, Conti was featured as a headliner artist in the internationally televised Florida National Jazz Festival, along with Miles Davis, Branford Marsalis, and Gerry Mulligan, Spyro Gyra and others. That event was filmed live before an audience of over One Hundred Thousand people. Conti's sidemen on that date included Jimmy McGriff and Nick Brignola.

Unfortunately, Conti's business ventures in the 70's and 80's, and that ten year hotel engagement took a toll on his music career, as jazz guitar aficionados outside of Southern California were deprived of hearing Conti on any new recordings after the release of "Comin' On Strong!" in 1990.

Fortunately, as a result of this website and the internet, the world will now be able to marvel at the prodigious talent of this phenomenal musician. His recently published "Source Code" books have been anxiously awaited by every guitarist who has heard his work. As indicated in the Discography section of this website, Pinnacle Records has reissued two of his prior recordings. In addition, four new albums have been recorded and are tentatively scheduled for release in late 1999. All of these events promise an exciting new chapter in the career of this jazz giant!

Robert Conti's website:
http://www.robertconti.com/

Doc Dosco is a jazz guitarist, composer and audio consultant living in Los Angeles, CA. His website is located at http://www.docdosco.com, where you can find more information on the 'What's Hot with Jazz Guitar' columns, audio clips of Doc's playing, and many additional features. Doc now endorses Peerless Guitars and has the website Jazz Guitar Zone to help promote Peerless jazz guitars in the US. He also endorses the new Pignose Valve Tube Amps -- great for jazz (and anything else!)

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Robert Conti

Only one word is needed for this super jazz guitarist . " Incredible" !! There's non other that I have ever seen or heard,that can play jazz,and standards like him,period !
Now I'm just gonna' sit back,and enjoy his great guitar playing !

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