A Lot of Space to Jam

There's an old saying in jazz communities: Play a wrong note once, it's a mistake. Play a wrong note twice, it's jazz.

Contemporary jazz is no exception to this adage.

High-energy, contemporary-jazz group Turning Point—along with Grammy-nominated artist and ex-Jefferson Starship lead guitarist Craig Chaquico—are teaming up for a special "one night only" show Saturday evening in Tucson.

Mixing jazz with elements of rock, funk, blues, Latin jazz and Greek folk, the musicians plan to take listeners on a improvised journey through their past musical exploits—and possible future beginnings.

"Since we're not (Chaquico's) usual touring band, we get a different vibe when we play together," said Turning Point bandleader Thano Sahnas. "It's a free-flowing experience."

During the early- and mid-1990s, Turning Point, based in Phoenix, paid their dues by playing numerous shows each year at clubs around the West Coast. In a short amount of time, the group forged a reputation as one of the most progressive and exciting contemporary-jazz bands coming out of the Valley of the Sun.

Turning Point has a two-part philosophy to playing shows.

"First, we play music that we like personally; nothing is contrived." said Sahnas. "Second, we have as much fun performing with less regard for accuracy. The more accurate we try to be, the less interesting we are to watch."

While playing a jazz festival in Phoenix in the 1990s, the group met Chaquico. A chemistry between the musicians developed into a decade-long jam session, and they now meet up about twice a year to share their love of music.

"Chaquico was one of the few artists in the contemporary-jazz world who opened up the door for us," said Sahnas.

As a teenager, Chaquico made a name for himself as a session guitarist for Jefferson Starship. In 1974, Jefferson Starship members Grace Slick and Paul Kantner asked Chaquico to join the group full-time as the lead guitarist. Chaquico eagerly accepted and stayed on with the group through the '80s, when they changed the name to Starship.

It's Chaquico's guitar work that is featured on Starship's "We Built This City," which climbed to the top spot on the Billboard charts in 1985.

By the 1990s, Starship had disbanded, and Chaquico found himself spending more time at home with his wife.

"I played the acoustic guitar much more than the electric during that time, because it was quieter," said Chaquico. "Soon, I began crafting acoustic songs with a jazz feel due to that."

The artist released his first solo contemporary-jazz CD, Acoustic Highway, in 1993, receiving great reviews from the jazz and mainstream communities alike. But it was Chaquico's 1994 sophomore solo release, Acoustic Planet, that caught the public's attention. It garnered Chaquico a Grammy nomination for Best New Age Album.

Since then, Chaquico has released eight additional CDs, and he is gearing up to release another, Follow the Sun, on May 19. He said the title of the new CD is inspired by his many trips to Arizona.

"I've always loved playing in Southern Arizona since my Jefferson Starship days," said Chaquico. "The title of the new CD is influenced by the region, where the people literally follow the sun."

Their audience can expect perfected improvisation from veteran musicians who know how to get into the pocket, work the crowd into a frenzy and then put a song to bed, only to start the whole process over again.

"We rehearse the beginnings and the endings to many songs we plan on playing, which leaves a lot of space to jam," said Sahnas. "Every time we play together, it's always a successful show."

Adds Chaquico: "We're all great friends and have been for many years. When we get on stage together, we're like brothers from different mothers."