French Guitarist and Chart Topping Soul-Jazz Artist U-Nam Records the First Ever George Benson Tribute Album with Seymour Duncan
Born and raised in Paris, France, U-Nam began playing the guitar at age 12, and studied for three years at the Paris-based CIM – the ﬁrst European school for jazz – between 1986 and 1989. At age 19, he turned professional, becoming a ﬁxture at Paris studio sessions. Since his move to the US from Paris in 2007, U-Nam has three album releases as a solo artist. The Past Builds the Future (2005) was #2 on SolarRadio UK (the largest soul radio station in the UK.) The album had significant radio airplay in Europe and made it into the Top 47 on the US charts. Back from the 80s (2007) was the number one album of the year on Jazz FM, Steve Quirk’s Fusion Flavours, as well as a #1 on the US Billboard Charts. His latest release Unanimity (2009) has reached the Top 30 on the US Billboard charts with his hit single “Shine On”.
U-Nam has written, produced for, worked and played with such artists as Barry White, Billy Paul, Kool & The Gang, Luis Fonsi, Alsou, Rahsaan Patterson,Maysa Leak, Phil Perry, MC Solaar, Myron, Marva King, Cindy Daniel, Jeff Lorber, The Last Poets, Najee, Paul Jackson, George Duke, Patrice Rushen, Stokley ( Mint Condition ), Eric Benet, Dave Koz, Euge Groove, Jonathan Butler, Paul Jackson JR, Ronnie Foster.
Why did you change out your stock pickups?
“I had heard of Seymour Duncan and had owned a few Seymour Duncan pickups in the past, but I wasn’t using them in my jazz guitars. A close friend of mine, Vernon Neilly, told me a lot of great things about them and I decided to make the switch. My decision was set in stone when I started my current project (the first ever George Benson Tribute Album) and I found out that George Benson used Seymour Duncan pickups. When I started recording with my new pickups, it was a revelation. I’m very happy with my new pickups and I plan on recording my entire album with them (as well as any future albums.)”
Which pickups do you use and for which guitars?
“I’m using the Johnny Smith Pickguard Mount. I use them on all of my Ibanez hollow bodies (the GB10, GB15 and GB100.) I definitely plan on switching my other guitars over to Seymour Duncan soon. I am really impressed by the clarity and definition of the sound. As an audio and mix engineer, I find sound to be super important. I could immediately hear a huge difference in my sound. Each note I played was clearer and more defined; the high-ends on these pickups really sound amazing – I think it’s great. I’m really happy with the response and clarity.”
“With my Seymour Duncan pickups I have clarity, definition and fast response both in the studio and on stage. I think those things are really important. The Seymour Duncan pickups’ tone is beautiful and they produce a really warm sound. I feel like my playing can really “shine” now. Seymour Duncan pickups combine warmth and precision with a soulful sound that you can’t get anywhere else.”
How would you describe your playing?
“My playing is emotional, energetic, soulful and acrobatic.”
How would you describe your music?
“That’s a great question and one that I think everyone is still trying to figure out. I love so many things and different types of music and I always try to bring each of those influences into my music. I love music from the 80’s (which is why one of my albums is titled ‘Back From the 80s’), heavy metal, electro-dance, neo-soul, jazz and everything in between – even mainstream pop. My music is really a reflection of all these different tastes – a little bit funk, soul, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, pop, gospel, and electro.”
“My goal is to mix the groove of funk with jazz harmonies and improvisation, R&B,/pop songs/melodies/vocals with rock energy and electro-dance sound production.”
Tell us about your George Benson tribute album?
“George Benson is my hero and one of my favorite artists of all time; he is also a good friend. I have always loved his guitar playing, but I also really appreciate his music and his musicality. Since the success of my version of “Street Life” in 2007, I’ve often been compared to George Benson (a great compliment by the way) and many music reviews have dubbed me the “new George Benson.” Ironically, at that point in my career, I had yet to do any George Benson covers (with the exception of “Turn Your Love Around” as an instrumental.) At some point, the connection seemed unavoidable due to my admiration and appreciation for George. I felt like it was the time for me to pay a tribute to my hero. My first thought was that before I even started to record any music on this project, I needed to call George, to let him know about the project and ask for his blessing. I got more than I expected when he told me this, ‘Man, for sure you have my blessing and anyway whatever you’re gonna do it’s gonna sounds fantastic.’ After that I felt relieved and incredibly motivated to do a great homage to GB!”
How did you get all those artist guest appearances?
“When I released my second album “Back From The 80’s” with Trippin’n’Rhythm / Sony in the US in 2007, the single “Street Life” went to the top of the charts (it reached Top 3 on the US Billboard Charts in the Contemporary Jazz genre and remained in the Top 10 for a whole year). Because of that hit, I started to perform in a lot of Jazz festivals all throughout the country (and the world) as a solo artist. I met so many artists and musicians at those festivals and once they saw me play live, I feel as though I gained respect right away from everyone. It was through these festivals that I had the opportunity to build relationships with people like George Duke, Stokley (lead singer of R&B band Mint Condition), Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson Jr., Phil Perry, et al.”
What bands or artists influenced you and your career?
“My greatest influence is the great “George Benson” (that’s why I’m doing that tribute album.) George Benson has greatly influenced my guitar playing and career for many reasons; I have enjoyed learning his musical repertoire and adapting it to fit my style, listening to his music and the way he sings and plays, etc. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet him and he is a really sincere guy – he was always willing to offer career advice. There are many other artists that I’ve been influenced by – mostly R&B/Soul artists like Stevie Wonder, EWF, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and many of the ’70s motown and all the ’80s funk. Additionally, Herbie Hancock, George Duke and some younger artists like Musiq Soulchild and Mint Condition (Stockley from Mint Condition is one of my favorite singers). As a guitar player I’ve always been a huge fan of Nile Rodgers, Grant Green and WhaWha Watson, as well as one less known but fabulous guitar player named David Williams. I also occasionally listen to Gypsy Jazz Guitarists; Bireli Lagrene is a great Gypsy Jazz guitarist.”
About the album: Week End In L.A (A Tribute To George Benson) will be released in March 2012. It features George Duke, Phil Perry, Paul Jackson Jr., Patrice Rushen, Ronnie Foster, Mike White, Tim “Tio” Owens, Stokley Williams, Andreas Oberg among many others. You can pre-order the album as well as get exclusive incentives on the pledge music website :
The single “Give Me The Night” featuring Tim “TiO” Owens is available everywhere.
Tour dates with”Grafitti” featuring U-Nam, Dennis Chambers (drums), Gary Grainger (bass), and Haakon Graf (keys):
01/09/2012 : Jazz Alley, Seattle WA
01/10/2012 : Jazz Alley, Seattle WA
Jan. 13: Baked Potato, Los Angeles, CA
Jan 14: Nokia Theater ,Los Angeles, CA
Jan. 15: Yoshis, Oakland, CA
Jan. 17: Marquee 15, Corona, CA
Jan. 19: Cohibas, Long Beach, CA