Charter Tech students do some ‘Sol Searching’ with Scott Kirby

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Students Johnny Zappas, left, and Bob Kessler, right, work with Scott Kirby on his “Sol Searching” CD Tuesday, Dec. 11 at Charter Tech High School. Students Johnny Zappas, left, and Bob Kessler, right, work with Scott Kirby on his “Sol Searching” CD Tuesday, Dec. 11 at Charter Tech High School.
SOMERS POINT – Scott Kirby’s new CD, “Sol Searching,” will no doubt capture the folksy charm of his native New England, along with the sunny laid-back ambience of his Key West home.
But it also just might contain a touch of that unique New Jersey attitude – thanks to some talented students and faculty at Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts.

Kirby, an internationally renowned singer and songwriter, is recording his new album in Charter Tech’s professional recording studio. His longtime friend and producer, Lew London, a multidimensional musician and studio wiz, also happens to be the artistic coordinator at Charter Tech.

Several students have been asked to sit in on the sessions and even lay down a few tracks for the album.

“As a professional songwriter, my first priority was, is it a professional studio and are we going to get a great sound?” Kirby said. “Just the fact that we could get students to come in and participate – and we’re going to have some students play on it, actually – it was just a total win-win.”

Among the students who will record tracks for the album are cellist Hayne Kim of Somers Point and guitarist Johnny Zappas of Brigantine.

“It’s like a very folksy sound,” Zappas said of Kirby’s music, “but also has that blues shuffle, and there are more country-ish tunes. It’s just a mix of different styles. Whatever they want me to play, it’s going to be a thrill.”

The genesis of the collaboration was a conversation between Kirby and London a year ago, when London said he would like to take a crack at producing Kirby’s seventh CD and suggested using the school studio as a working classroom.

The two musicians enlisted the help of their favorite session players, including elite Nashville guitarist Mike McAdam and harmonica player Gary Green from Virginia. Kirby checked out the studio in September when he appeared at the school for a master’s workshop with fellow Key West-based musician Peter Mayer of Jimmy Buffet’s Coral Reefer Band.

Kirby was more than happy to tap into the school’s youthful energy.

“It’s a great resource,” he said. “When (Mayer) and I spoke to the students here in September, we gave them a very realistic view of what it’s like to be in the music business. Not everybody is Bruce Springsteen. Even Pete, who has played with Jimmy Buffet for 24 years, he’s out on his own tour most of the time, traveling in his van.”

Charter Tech student Robert Kessler of Brigantine, who hopes to study music engineering in college, is getting his first serious taste of the music business.

“I wanted to be here to check out the production techniques they’re using,” Kessler said. “It’s really a great experience. There are some really talented musicians here.”

Since signing with European-based Hemifran Music in 2009, Kirby has become popular in Europe, and his songs are often played on Sirius XM Radio’s Margaritaville station.

While the comparisons to Jimmy Buffett are natural, his storytelling style and humorous live performances are also reminiscent of Harry Chapin, Jerry Jeff Walker and Steve Goodman, with a dash of James Taylor’s finger-picking guitar thrown in.

Kirby said he grew up around working musicians. A high school buddy’s father played in a rock and blues band (“They had great equipment; they let us use their PA system”), and he sees the value in breaking down generational barriers through music.

“I’m 58,” he said, “and when you’re dealing with kids who play music, there’s very little age thing.”
“They’re really digging it,” London said of the student involvement in the project. “We record all the time here at the school, but now they have an opportunity to hear a real seasoned bass player, a real seasoned drummer, guys who are real comfortable in the studio, and I think it’s just opening up a whole new world to them, which is really very cool.

“They’re asking questions. There’s a kinship among musicians. It’s not like they’re talking to professors.”

Kirby will be in town for another week, cutting his vocal parts. After that, other musicians including the students will add their tracks. London will play some fiddle parts and mix it down, after which Mayer will add background vocals. The whole project should be finished and ready for distribution in April or May.

London’s wife, Phyllis, Charter Tech’s office manager, painted the CD cover art and is contributing to the jacket design.

Through the years, Lew London has used his connections to expose Charter Tech students to such musical luminaries as Mavis Staples, Levon Helm and legendary engineer Shelly Yakus.

“We’ve had all kinds of cool people come in over the years, but this is more of a hands-on thing we’re doing now,” London said. “To be involved with something that’s more on a larger, more national scale, and will probably get some radio airplay … It’s a win-win all around.”

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