Interview with

Chris Ho 



  • Chris, how would you describe the styles of your three albums?


The first cd, LIFETIME, is loosely a fusion cd although there are some smooth jazz sounding tracks possibly--- Olivas Girls, Green Tea or Human Being and also more straight ahead or real jazz cuts like Unsolved Mystery or Lifetime.

At the time we were not signed to any deal and had no pressure to conform to what radio or various agents thought what was best to put out. The sense of freedom and a real adventure is strongly felt on this maiden voyage album of the Chris Ho Band!! This is a cd I will be proud to listen to 25 years from now because of the performances by all the band members and my own compositions!


The second cd, GROWING UP, received great reviews by the print media and brought us gigs like the Playboy Jazz Festival and the Blue Jay Jazz Series in Lake Arrowhead.


It was an attempt to focus material and production to the smooth jazz market as far as radio ( flagship smooth jazz radio station and huge consulting firm for radio or insulting firm?!). It was also beautifully guested by Smokey Robinson on a non lyric song and by Michael O'Neill on several tracks playing the amazing guitars that he always plays!!


This cd contains material that was already written and performed before I decided to go for the WAVE or try my hand at a commercial format. Therefore It is not a "sellout"cd. I know that many people think differently including our saxman, Wayne Wayne. Because the writing was more consonant and possibly Muzak like and I restricted the sax sound and performances to be more easy listening Wayne sees this cd as a lesser musical statement. I am not in the business to make any particular people happy. Each musical endeavor is hopefully a work of truth and beauty for the particular time and place we were at. At the very least, GROWING UP is a fine cd and probably the most cohesive of the three that are out!



Picasso Blue is a great cd album by the band and has lots of fun jazz and production ideas! The tunes were inspired by the Miles Davis John Coltrane sort of real jazz which I think is infinitely challenging, and a slick  analogdigital production masterfully produced by Rudy Guess, one of my favorite engineers and best friends as well.


Some interesting side notes are the guest drummers on this cd. Mostly unknown but wonderful local players here are Tony Lewis (Smokey Robinson Group), Ralph Penland (Joe Sample, Freddie Hubbard and many others), Gary Wing, Dan Potruch and our original band member, David "Red" Renick.
On violin we were graced with the high energy and fearless Karen Briggs who recently finished a tour with Stanley Clarke!


I painted the front cover with acrylics ( grand piano stand up bass) and had it color photographed during the time we recorded Picasso Blue.


Dr. Matt put a Christmas gift to good use as he is mastering the instrument with every performance and recording he does!! Amazing father and musician for a guy who spends most of his life working in cutting edge oriental medicine!!

This cd is probably my favorite now although it is a tough call. All the cds have personality and inspired performances and strong writing if I do say so myself!!  

  • Which is your favorite style and why?


It is hard to say what my favorite style really is and it may be different or vary as my role (composer, keyboardist or listener) in music often changes. I thought that smooth jazz would be a nice style to contrubute to because of the accessibility to a larger mass audience yet the opportunity to produce  at least some jazz in the solos or harmonic content in 5 part harmony, contrary motion in the polyphonic textures in composition or arrangements, sonic potentialities of new synthesizers and samplers or studio technologies emerging, and having a real band of friends instead of a bunch of yo cats just doing another double scale date!!


However the politics of smooth jazz which many many musicians, managers, promoters, composers and arrangers, publicists can and do talk about, makes this "style" problematic and in fact not so smooth.

Smooth jazz vocals as it seems to be called lately is not really a style at all. There is no objective criteria or reasonable definition of what makes a smooth jazz track. The only common feature of the smooth jazz vocal tracks that get airplay is that a consulting firm and a main market radio station decided that a particular track by a particular artist fits the demographic profile of the typical baby boomer working class or housewife in middle America who does not know anything about music nor even cares to All of this is programmed by radio  programmers and music directors who know much more about sports than art or music of any kind! 


Real jazz is very respected by real musicians and composers in the world. It is the most challenging and demanding from both the composer arranger and especially the jazz player!!! It is what will be many years from now because of the integrity and beauty, hard work and passion and historical significance to life in America and abroad.


It is probably my favorite style to create in because of the openess to new ideas and huge range of emotional expression possible (tragedy, isolation, loneliness and dispair are not common smooth jazz themes of emotion) of the human condition!!
But I must say that the the straightahead or real jazz style is also for me the most frustrating. I will continue to pursue the study. I will get back on the jazz horse after each fall!
Sorry if my take on smooth jazz seems harsh or non plussed. It is not the music that disturbs me. It is everything else about smooth jazz that is not good. 

As I wrote before, the politics of smooth jazz radio is very frustrating and discouraging to the creative forces on music (composers, players, producers, vocalists, etc.). You probably do not suffer the same sort of anti art kind of problems in Europe as we do here in America. So it may be difficult to understand what I am trying to communicate here!


Basically, what it comes down to is that here in America real art and culture doesn't matter to most Americans. It is common knowledge that Americans thrive in a fast food immediate gratification instant and easy material world. Things that require patience, hard work, intelligence, any sort of developed appreciation or sense of taste runs the high risk of not being accepted here in the U.S.!! Jazz musicians always talk about Europe and Japan as being more open to real music and art while in America art and great music in many styles seems to be vanishing!!


Even in smooth jazz which is inherently a more commercial style, many of the great playing or writing artists are bypassed because the image is not popular, not enough money is paid to the right promoter or possibly station, a large consulting firm doesn't think that a certain artist will appeal to the particular demographic profile of a flagship smooth jazz radio station listener, maybe the artist is too old or doesn't photograph well?? 

The point being that the quality of the music is a small deciding factor of who will succeed on smooth jazz radio. And the music business is still today very heavily radio driven!! Hopefully this will all change with the advent of internet music stations and the need for people to have real quality music....artists with integrity....the sound of truth as opposed to the sound of money!!

Thank you for listening and trying to understand one artists'
take on music today!


  • Looking back with which album you had the biggest economic success? Is economic success a decision-factor for you?
Economic success is a dream. And dreams keep us going!
I have been losing about  $10,000 dollars on each cd released so far. Not all of this is even my own money. I now have a family to support with 3 sons ( ages 5, 3 and 2 months at this writing). Fortunately, I do make a healthy income as a keyboard player and published composer. I love to work and plan to until I die. If I could work after my death it would be a good thing!!


It is difficult to say how many cds I have sold in the music retail business and on my own at concerts. I can guess that it is possibly about 8 to 10 thousand copies each of the first
2 cds LIFETIME and GROWING UP. It is too early to tell about Picasso Blue as yet......


Perhaps economic success will come on the next cd? I don't know. I work harder at the business and at producing the music than anybody I know. And I still write daily even though I have penned over 6000 pieces of music that I like!!


  • If you could turn back the wheel of time, would you anything do in another way?


Yes! I think I would have produced the cds earlier in my career. Not that much more success would have come but each cd teaches the artist a lot about everything in music and the business! Perhaps fear or apprehension has held me back all these years. It is hard to write lots of music and not have an outlet for them (instrumental originals).

I was lucky to have Muzak as an outlet for many of my melodic pieces!! It is actually more challenging to write a happy or pretty piece than a difficult complex one given a short time to write and produce a project quickly. I have written over 100 instrumentals for Muzak and am proud of each one of them! I actually could  write more but maybe this is not the time for that now?? I did gain  excellent production experience, that is for sure from the whole Muzak run that I did!! This I am sure prepared me for the jazz adventures that followed later!!  


  • Tell me more about your group-members. How did you come in contact with them? Which qualities of the individual group-members do you estimate particularly?
Thank you for asking about the band members!!
I am very fortunate to have my best friends who are also very talented in and out of music to work with in a band!! It is one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of the whole journey...making good music with people you love and respect!! I think it makes for a more unique and magical sound. And we all pull together and try harder to get things done!


The band as is now started with me in the garage rehearsing my tunes usually on a Tuesday night ... playing for free of course. We didn't know that a recording would emerge or that a deal of any kind would soon follow! We really just wanted to play and improve our  "chop's" ( ability to play and improvise) and hang out together. Often I would barbeque or make spaghetti for all. It was great fun and I do miss the loosness and male bonding  "hang out" aspect of those early years....

Dr Matt I have known since before high school. We became friends probably around the 11th grade in high school with music being one the exciting subjects to scream about
( besides sexual conquests and party animal logistics) while jogging during physical education!!! Matt Van Benschoten is a brilliant human being. Always has been, always will be! He was always light years ahead of his parents and every teacher in any school I can remember. I estimate his I.Q. to be unknowable.....well over 1000 anyway!  He has singlehandedly changed alternative medicine with one fell swoop of his 20 years in what was Chinese medicine.


Anyway, I remember going to his family's after school and forcing him to play the bass on jazz blues and easy instrumental pieces. So we would play piano and bass together like that for hours (what would be years then decades)!! It was great fun and we thought we sounded fantastic. A great friendship was forged and many original bands were born with us two as the nucleus!! When Dr Matt became a professional doctor of oriental medicine he actually saved his a spiritual way. Many pro musicians have to do things or play music they don't even like! Ask any wedding singer or musician! Ask any club musician who has to play other people's hit songs or take requests. On top of all the degradation, musicians make poverty level income and are considered a bad credit risk in many ways at many levels!! When one is young and idealistic, it is easy to be sort of ....dumb!! The  notion of a starving artist with long hair playing music all the time and partying has it's  romantic allure and is intoxicating to be sure! But the grim reality will be more than noticed by the tragically hip and eternally young over the years. Playing for little or nothing doesn't pay the bills, or make one famous!


Being ordered what to play and how to play is really no fun at all outside of a lesson that you are paying for... Schlepping (cartage and setup of) equipment to and from gigs or sessions is not fun or glamourous. Get the point? Most musicians do not end up like the Backstreet Boys or Kenny G on the success scale. More likely they will end up in an unemployment line on a B flat blues scale!!


Why all the background on the lifestyles of the broke and homeless? Just to point out that DrMatt was also smart enough to bypass the bullshit of being a professional musician and  now enjoys playing good music in the ideal situation-----with great friends and the freedom to be creative!


Creativity is probably most encouraged and nurtured in original music groups and or jazz ensembles. That is the hope anyway.


John Balbuena is my keyboardist. I am very lucky to have one of the nicest guys in the world who can also play a mean blues want to play with me in the Chris Ho Band!! John just became a full time music teacher for L.A. Unified School District here in L.A. and has also bypassed the embarrassment of being a full timer musician. He has grown remarkably in his own playing and writing and is a terrific father to his son Jonathan! I learn from my friends and John B has definitely taught me a lot!


John also has a very strong identifiable style in contrast to my own. I think that John has a great rootsy gutsy blues based kind of groove. His sound is very human and warm. He draws from the pop world, standard jazz, classical, classic rock, and Americana.


Wayne Wayne is my newest friend and a very powerful element of the band's sound. I have been accused of overusing the saxes in my arrangements.... probably because I am a big Wayne Wayne fan!!
I met Wayne at the old Cafe Lido in Newport Beach back in 1985 or so. He was leading the house band at the Lido in a quartet---piano, bass drums and sax.

The group was burning! I was extremely impressed with the sort of Phil Woodslike alto work and Coltrane-Brecker influences as well!! Wayne Wayne is probably the strongest jazz player

in the group and one of the finest musicians I have ever worked with in my life. I have used him on at least 140 recordings (140 songs) over the years. His sightreading is unusually proficient as he can transpose rapid fire jazz or fusion lines at tempo on first sight. For example, the linear section of Sauteed Happy Family which most musicians can't read in their own key, Wayne knocked out in 2 trys!!


Wayne's knowledge of jazz theory and improvisational technique is profound and has backed many arguments we have had about musical differences. Wayne thinks I ignore his opinions, but he is very wrong. I totally respect his knowledge about music...
I just respect mine more!


David "Red"Renick is our original drummer, for those of you who only know the PICASSO BLUE CD. I have known both David and John B for over 20 years already! They had a group with Russ Freeman of the famed Rippingtons called the Free Agents. I used to hang with Russ, Dave and John all the time from the mid 80's until Russ Freeman became too successful to be our friend anymore?! But that is another story and it is almost interesting....


David is a rockin powerhouse runaway train of a drummer. He is a big guy who works out and likes to play a big set of drums!! I have had some volume complaints about Red's playing....broken glass, ears bleeding, wind damage, temporary insanity and possible homicide by the saxman W.W.!! Therefore I benched Dave for a year during the GROWING UP tour. This gave me a chance to play the book with Dan Potruch, Gary Wing, Ralph Penland and Tony Lewis. All great drummers. All great people!

But Dave has a certain conviction and authority when he plays that was missed. As Dr Matt put it "it was best to have Red on the tv date ( KTLA morning news)" because of the unbelievable rock solid in your face kind of drumming you need on a tv show appearance! I had to agree. Since then Dave has been much more dynamic and sensitive. More of a team player, which is a good thing.

Another wonderful thing about having Dave in the band is humor. He is by far the funniest stand up or sit down drummer I know. More than the jokes are the facial expressions and impressions he might do on well known personalities, old jewish men, sportscasters, actors, animals or other band members (my favorite is Red doing Wayne)!! Forget about it?!


  • Michael O'Neill is a great guitarist, who has released last year his album Never Too Late, his first solo project. He is well-know as a sideman of George Benson too. Michael is playing on your albums Lifetime and GROWING UP. How did you become aquainted with Michael and describe your impressions about him?


YES! Michael and I met back in the 1970's...maybe 1973 - 74 and John Balbuena was a mutual friend although John did not introduce us...maybe it was Patrick Boone, a great sax player who introduced us...? It's a bit foggy but I do remember that Matt and I  played with O'Neill and a very advanced impressionaistic drummer named Doug Jones at a house with a grand piano . Michael was amazingly good then very sensitive, passionate, and high energy!!

 I think on that session we only played acoustic instruments although Matt may have played an electric bass. Anyway we played jazz tunes, originals and free improv as we do so often now. We formed several groups with O'Neill and various sax players and drummers but with Matt and I as the instigating nucleus as usual!

O'Neill had a similar background as myself in that pop music---top 40 radio, soul, classic rock (Hendrix, Beatles, Doors, Cream, Stones, Jeff Beck) and jazz music fell under our fingers and over our turntables as we grew up.

O'Neill had a strong hold on all the guitar heroes of the day who still considered to be world heavyweights today! So Michael's rock and jazz chops were remarkable. At the time I couldn't really play jazz as well as pop and rock. But slowly my jazz started to come. Anyway, Mike was a fantastic fusion guitarist which was perfect as I was writing hundreds of fusion pieces in that time. Even to this day we will try to get together to play for fun...for the real and best high or rush of music for music's sake.

On the LIFETIME cd there is a piece called IT HAPPENED IN THE FUTURE where Michael and I trade solos. I dare anyone in the business to trade with Michael on or off record!! As critical as I am about my own playing, I remember it being some world class synth soloing with hellatious foot stompingly hot and nasty guitar coming right back !?!


Michael is a great friend and I can always count on him for great work on the music side and an honest opinion about anything in life. He is also one of the brightest and funniest friends that the Chris Ho band has!!! We are very fortunate to even know O'Neill!


  • Tell me more about your personal and musical relationship to Smokey Robinson.
William Smokey Robinson I have known for about 18 years now. I have played keyboards for him on tour, TV and video and was featured keyboardist on the DOUBLE GOOD cd on SBK Records (mid 80's). I could write a book about my work with Smokey. We are good friends and have always had a great working relationship on or off stage. My first TV date was with his group in 1983 on the Tonite Show with Johnny Carson hosting!! I was v ery happy and  nervous....but it was wonderful! Smokey honored me by making a guest appearance on the GROWING UP cd on Don't Think Too Much.


He sang a wordless melody doubling the piano line and then traded solos with me at the end vamp out...very nice work.
It was a great learning experience to work with not only a star but real artist and visionary in music. He and Stevie Wonder and Berry Gordy personify MOTOWN the label and  era! Moreso Smokey though because of his consistent presence through over 5 decades of music, his vice presidency of the MOTOWN label, and his return to MOTOWN recently with a new cd release called INTIMATE.


Just recently I have returned to Smokey's tour as keyboardist  (Jan 2000) after a 7 year break. During my break, I recorded many new instrumentals including my 3 cds and started a family!! Now I have 3 sons as did my father. Francis is 5 years, Evan is 3 and Jamie is almost 3 months at this witing.


Smokey is an unusually gifted human being----musically prolific, handsome and charming, wealthy but humble, easy to work with, a real people person and consummate entertainer!! Very few can hold an audience like Smokey and he still delivers one of the greatest shows in the business!!


We recently performed at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. to a standing ovation continuously screaming sold out venue!! It reminded me of the BEATLES on TV or in concert!


Because of his keen interest in composing and success, I was compelled to work with him and his peers or friends. To learn and be inspired by the actual artist is far better than trying to learn from an academic or other second hand source. I still learn a great deal about music, the business and life from Smokey and his entourage of gifted musicians and friends!!!  


  • I strongly believe that you appreciate to have both artists as sidemen for your next album. Which further artist would you like to engage for a new project and why?
I am not sure what you mean by " both artists"?? I consider all the sidemen to be artists in their own way..especially ones like O'Neill who compose and produce prolifically.
The next cd will be a holiday or Christmas cd. Therefore it cannot be all original as far as the writing ( x mas cds have to have some familiar songs as tradition is so much a part of the whole season). I plan on having the original Chris Ho Band on many tracks although probably will not feature Wayne as much as before. I have been criticized of overusing sax on my cds and not featuring piano or keyboards enough...also in smooth and real jazz there is quite enough sax already---ask O'Neill!!?


Anyway, there will be two vocal tunes, one by John Balbuena sung by Tata Vega and one written by myself and Patricia Henley which will feature her (Patty) on lead vocals.
There will be original arrangements of traditional hymns which is always fun to play and hear each Christmas time, and finally there will totally new original Christmas jazz tracks that span smooth jazz to almost film scorelike mood music!! I will be recording it at Rudy Guess' in Studio City once again ( did  I ever mention Rudy is an honorary band member on guitar)...but this time the recording will be all digital using the Tascam multitrack digital audio tape.


I must finish recording the project by May or June, which is not easy considering how busy Smokey Robinson is getting.  Tonite I depart for Florida to play about 5 shows over 8 days. The important thing here is focus. You have to really work towards particular goals each day to get certain things done!! I wear many hats and tend to be a space cadet anyway!? ( easily distracted and prone to digress at random!).


  • Asked in another way: If you could choose between the greatest contemporary jazz artists, which one would you invite to your next project?
Well far as vocals, I have thought of Al Jarreau, Flora Purim, Bobby McFerrin, George Benson or Stevie Wonder?? Since I don't really know these artists personally, it could be challenging to record with them. Most big names are protected by a shell of management and security as you may have noticed. Instrumentally my list of guests is larger.


Pat Metheny does come to mind, although I would not want him to review my work especially in print!!?

 George Benson would be anotherfun guest to have. I actually hung out with George and Tony Lewis who used to play for him on tour. He, like Smokey, is very down to earth and comfortable with everyone around him.

Another guitarist I would like to work with is smooth jazzer Chuck Loeb. I enjoy his work and can hear a fiery straightahead side beneath the smooth exterior!!


Michael Brecker would be a historical and monumental guest as he has influenced every jazzman alive today. I also like Joshua Redman for the original and lyric beauty. And Wayne Shorter would be a very serious jam to be sure!!


Sometimes we have Chris Tedesco on the bandstand playing trumpet. I plan on recording a few tracks with Chris soon! He is a remarkable virtuoso and a hell of a nice guy.


One keyboard player I would love to record with is Jan Hammer! A player and composer of almost mystical certainly exotic sounds yet totally rockin' and kick ass! That reminds me of John McLaughlin, who is quite unbelievable as well. The fusion style is a direction I would like to explore and reinvent a bit myself. I have hundreds of strong fusion pieces many of which the Chris Ho Band has already performed in the world!


Now I know that most people think that fusion is hard to listen to and is probably the opposite of smooth jazz. Let us not forget that Russ Freeman was a terrific fusion composer and player for years before the Ripps came on the scene!


Fusion can be classical mixed with soft rock, or jazz mixed with new age. It doesn't have to be  all hard, abrasive and technical. I am not a fan of extremely technical or difficult music. Sometimes my own writing touches on the pyrotechnical but only if I really hear the music that way. Music is about feelings and ideas but the emotional part is what really connects to the listener. My favorite originals of mine are the simple ones.


Toots Thielman would be another great guest! I often use a reedy harmonica program to get that cool french cafe jazz kind of it.


  • After your event tell about your event-experiences please. I heard Bob James had problems with the tuning of his piano on the last concert in Japan. Did you have problems in the same way?


There have been a few problems on just about every gig I've played in my career. Usually they are just minor technical problems that are not noticed by the audience.

More interesting events on gigs have to do with the people I have met at a gig playing with my own band. Often another gig will come from a live date if someone is interested in the music. Also I have gotten students and many new friends by playing out in the world...One exciting moment was when we played the Playboy Jazz event in Pasadena in 1999. Dr.Matt and I attended a press conference at Hugh Hefner's estate just prior to the event. What a thrill to meet so many great jazz personalities and to be introduced to the press as some of the finest in jazz!!

Another fun experience was when I played the Grammy Award Show with Smokey Robinson and Herbie Hancock
walked by. I struck up a great conversation with Herb as we had a few  friends in common! One of them being jazz music! It was wonderful to meet such a humble down to earth person in one of my favorite jazz composers and pianists!


Now that reminds me of a show I played again with Smokey at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. about 11 years ago. My brother Ed Ho brought his then girlfirend Laura and one of her friends from nursing college, Regina Olivas, to that show. We met afterwards backstage and I met my future wife with a coctail in one hand, a cigarette in another wearing a tuxedo shirt over shorts and running shoes!? I also had purple hair at that was all bad!! Anyway, I gave Regina my number and asked her to call me if she was interested in getting some chinese food and a movie sometime. About 3 weeks later she did call and we went out for a killer chinese dinner followed by No Way Out, a Kevin Costner flick. Although Regina thought I was disgusting at the Smokey show, she was apparently more impressed with the date...we became best friends in about a week and I had to fire a harem of beautiful girlfriends I  managed over North America. In 1990, we were wed and now have 3 fantastic sons and 3 cds out in the world. Life is good, although Regina still thinks I'm disgusting. Her moral outrage is duly noted on a daily basis!! 


  • Returning to your albums I read in the liner notes of Lifetime
    "There are no computer driven sequences or drum machines on this album."
    Even on your Smooth Jazz album GROWING UP one only hears real drummers and percussion. What is your opinion about drum programming and computer recording technic?
With my own music I like as much human input as possible!!
The drum machine or computer driven drum and percussion parts robs the track of  a feeling, or " time feel" as some musicians call it. The drum machine tends to make music sound more mechanical or sterile whereas a real drummer or percussionist, although less perfect technically, can make a track more emotionally expressive and dynamic! Most musicians and composers and vocalists would probably agree...certainly most drummers would!! The drum machine or computer driven sequences offer a perfect and consistent show.

Also, there is a certain economic factor and one less complaining musician to deal with. I would rather put up with the real drummer still because of the more human touch and potentialities for interplay and new music that would most probably occur on the bandstand!

In an improvisational style such as jazz or fusion a real drummer is still the best call. The drum machines limit the band's performances to whatever was preprogrammed before the show....very boring and predictable. I do use a few drum machines to practice or write music to at home just to have a beat going....but that is different.

On computer recording technologies, I know that I am supposed to love it and all my friends and neighbors have a big Mac computer with Digital Performer or whatever! It is impressive what computers can do. I am impressed. But, I am not compelled to use computers to record all of my music if it going to be jazz or something particularly emotive and lyrically beautiful. I do like the editing capabilities that are available after a good recording is achieved. Rudy Guess often will equalize or cut and paste sections of a piece to create a new or better version...but the original versions of what I do are all keepers to begin with!!

  • Interesting for our experienced readers would be the story about your album Picasso Blue. In the beginning of our interview you gave a short description of your probably favorite album. Tell us more about the making of Picasso Blue.

Yes, PICASSO BLUE is quite a piece of work and contains some of my best writing to date...About 5 years ago, I started to write tunes that were easier to manage formwise. Instrumentals that could be read top to bottom without complicated roadmapping or detours. One of the problems of reading music is when to go where for example, AABAABCABCDAAAABBBBBBcue to C AABCD is a possible Chris Ho arrangement. I can' even remember the form and must spend years memorizing it or reading the tune on stage!! So, I decided to write a series of
tunes that you could read like AAB AAB AAB AAB AAB or something similar. The player could then concentrate on the music and improvisation and the form is a  "no brainer". This is especially good for my band as I pull brand new material out on stage for the first time and  "sightperform" new music!! Each concert is unique because of these new never played before and fearless performances!! After many successful gigs where the newer streamline forms (modeled after the "realbook" in a way) supplemented our cd recording
cuts, I had a few hundred compositions that could have ended up as the PICASSO BLUE cd!?


PICASSO himself was a prolific visual artist in many mediums and very cutting edge of course! HIs blue period was unique and preceded the cubism which was to follow.


Concurrently and or confluently I was thinking about Miles Davis and his Kind of Blue album which had a profound impact on popular and jazz music! So, the idea came to me to do a cd that would be a tribute to two great artists, Miles and Pablo!!

The PICASSO BLUE cd is jazzy but there are unusual non jazz elements as well...a crossfade from a fast jazz blues to a medium candid foolin' around between tracking one.

The use of a synthesizer lead on AFTERTHOUGHT with a  "Keith Emersonian program" ( a bell mixed with a modified pedal steel program featuring tweaked pitch oscillator envelopes by Chris Ho ).

More drum solos than most drummer led bands would have offered. Also an original arrangement of a Korean folk song, the Korean folk song, ARIRANG which we sometimes play at asian events. And, the absence of familiar known standards that normally appear on jazz recordings. I do enjoy playing standards but recording them seems redundant.

One great thing about smooth jazz is the emergence of more new material as opposed to "here's another version of A FOGGY DAY". I wanted to do a cd that would capture the qualities of both real and smooth jazz also. The wide open spaces of real jazz on the improvisational frontier with extended and nonrestricted soloing blended with the superior production and feel good quality of smooth jazz. I wanted the depth of passion ( NUANCE or PRIMAL CALL) yet the subtle romance and easy listening (BLISS and PICASSO BLUE) as well.

All the reviews of the cds have been very good to brilliant. I expect nothing less. Only the best compositions make the cut and all the players are hand picked. We will remix tracks 50 times if need be. Everyone in the group practices their instrument and even the Chris Ho material as they should. I even do!!! We strive not so much for perfection but in excellence in  a human endeavor that is art music.

Now some classical snobs would not consider our music real or art and some smooth jazzer might consider the music to be too  "artsy fartsy" or self indulgent. You can't make everyone happy and after hearing some of the winners of the GRAMMY AWARDS recently it doesn't matter, does it??

We do what we do . If you like it, fine!! If not, there are choices. There are definitely choices of what to listen to and how. It's not a problem.... 


I forgot to mention that Rhombus Records is our current distributer. They are a musician friendly label run by musicians and Thom Teresi is the president and owner. Thom himself is a pro keyboardist and I used to watch his band play L.A. local venues when I was a kid many years ago!! He is a super nice guy and married Dee Kayla who is a great vocalist and very strong funk drummer! I used to play soul and pop tunes with Dee and her brothers in high school doing Stevie Wonder, Chicago, Elton John, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin and many others....

Anyway, Thom at Rhombus Records offered me a deal only weeks after I told him about the problems I had with Ichiban Records in Atlanta. PICASSO BLUE was supposed to come out on Ichiban as did the LIFETIME and GROWING UP cds. I sent the materials in ( master cd, photo masters, label copy, etc.) and waited. After many unreturned phone calls and faxes, I finally learned that Ichiban was folding and in fact filed a bankruptcy with the Atlanta court!! 

All of this I had to learn from outside sources ( not Ichiban ). Once again the bullshit of the music industry threw me down. But, having a friend in Thom Teresi (and Dee) got me back up with a summer release of PICASSO BLUE in 2000!! The record is still getting great reviews ( most recently the March issue of KEYBOARD MAGAZINE 2001)!! I am now booking the band again in the L.A. Orange County areas and teaching between the Smokey gigs. It's a busy life! 


  • You family takes a great part in your life. In the liner notes of Lifetime you gave to expression: "Infinite love to my wife and my first son Francis Olivas Ho." The backside of the album shows a picture of your rejoicing son. On Growing Up we see a photo of your group with toy instruments. This album is dedicated to Evan Olivas Ho, your second son. Do you have sometimes problems to reconcile family and music?
The family is the most important part of my life right now. I  have a lot time for myself on the road traveling with the Smokey Robinson group. That is also the time that I practice and write music. I do write at home as well but it is the music business that keeps me from doing music more so than my family. The family helps to inspire my work as a musician, composer and businessman!! It is very easy to manage and balance the family with the music.
  • Recently I made a review about Roger Odell's album The Blue Window. Roger Odell is the drummer of Shakatak. Besides Roger and among other artists  are also playing on this album his son Jamie on keyboards, his wife Larraine and his daughter Maxine are singing. It's a Smooth Jazz highlight.Could you imagine to make a "family project" in future too?
This is an interesting question. I have never really thought about playing with my family musically. Perhaps it could happen someday and it would be great fun!! I don't push the music so much on the kids, and my wife is pretty sure she has no talent in music at all. But you never can tell what the future holds. I never imagined doing an interview with a German jazz enthusiast over the internet and enjoying it so much!!?

Especially as I am not into computers at all really....The people I repeatedly play music with in most situations become a kind of family to me. Dr. Matt is as close a brother to me as my biological ones. So are the many drummers, bass players, guitar heroes, singers, other keyboardists and horn players. I love the musicians that I play with and I believe that many of the great performances that have come from the bandstand were inspired by the camaraderie and brohamanship that brings us all together!!

A big part of the fun is to see how each of interacts with each other in playing the various tunes and how we grow into the music and away from our egos. It is really a very spiritual thing to make honest music and I value it more as I grow older or better, wiser!!   

  • Chris,
    I thank you for this interview and especially your comprehensive answers. I wish you a successful and prosperous musical future.


I think it is good for every artist to assess and review what they are doing. Having done this and other shorter radio interviews has been enlightening for myself and hopefully interesting to fans and friends of the band! Although I have answered as Chris Ho the artist I  am also Chris Ho the student. I think that a real teacher will admit that they are also very much pupils themselves and we are all on a continuum.


As a player I could easily spend 8 hours a day studying classical and jazz alone. Not including arranging and composing new music. I want to write new forms and create a sound that is original and unique. Have I done that already? Not really...but I 'm headed in the right (write) direction!! If  one's music is too original or unique, there probably will be little or no radio airplay. Promoters will be resistant to work the cd or live appearances. Retail buyers will hang up on you!! Some of the most interesting and deep music I have heard comes from Ralph Towner who used to play with Oregon ( actually he was Oregon )!! I saw him recently at the Jazz Bakery playing in quartet setting. Towner played both guitars and keyboards and composed a large part of the program. Incredible, haunting, playful, humorous, tragic, beautiful music just gushing from the bandstand!!

I want to have a powerful, open and edge cutting sound as well. I want to have very formal and very free improvisational sections in a show or cd album. And I will! I have  fortunately been touched or inspired by the great masters of classical and jazz music...artists like Towner or Keith Jarrett and many others who maintain integrity in the music keep me both humble and working hard to improve at everything really!! I always ask the question to myself " how can I make it better?".


Last night I had a rehearsal with John Balbuena, Dave "Red" Renick and Dr. Matt VanBenschoten.....great music!! Great hang! Not a bad barbecue if I do say so myself. We were rehearsing the  material for the Christmas cd. I don't know what else to call it now. But the group sounded wonderful! I think I enjoy rehearsing as much as gigging live and perhaps not as much as recording. Anyway, having thought about this part of doing music with my friends during the interview made me schedule the rehearsal.

 Coincidentally, Smokey Robinson called a few rehearsals this week as well!! I am not a rich man but I am a happy one! Thank you for the opportunity to express myself in this e mail interview and I look forward to more corresponding with you in the future, Hans!!!


Oh, by the way my recipe for rehearsal chicken is to marinade the leg and thighs in garlic first. I insert fresh slices of garlic into scored pieces of chiken parts and refrigerate for a day or so. Then I will make a modified "Yang nam chang" which is an old Korean marinade---soy sauce, sesame seed oil, a sweetener like honey, brown sugar, maple syrup or pineapple juice and fresh ginger crushed. The proportions are not strict but the soy sauce is usually about half the mixture or more ( low sodium of course ). I then liberally apply the marinade to the chicken with a brush  and then refrigerate until just before grilling.


Grill the chicken on med high heat for about 50 minutes or more covered or an hour uncovered. The parts should have a nice golden color with grill marks on both sides. Remove the chicken and sprinkle with finely chopped green onions and a little cayenne pepper. The top pieces will be spicy and the bottom ones will be simply delicious. There are hundreds of variations of this chicken which like jazz is what makes it so fun!! Serve with beans and rice, steamed asparagus, shrimp cocktail, salad and or kimchee ( spicy Korean cabbage ) and grilled eggplant brushed will a light olive oil. Fantastic!!