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Baltimore guitarist makes natural progression from rock to jazz


DON'T CALL Carl Filipiak a rocker who plays jazz. And don't call him a jazz musician who plays rock.

"Really," he said, "I'd like to be known as a musician who plays guitar. I'm still trying to deal with naming this music. After a while, it gets down to, 'here it is, hope you like it. Call it what you want.' "

He's a native of Baltimore, a musician who sports a rocker's hairdo and a diamond stud earring, an artist who makes fantastic sounds with his Ibanez guitar (which he endorses for the company). His music incorporates funk, fusion, jazz, blues and rock, a combination of alto sax, bass, guitar and drums.

Filipiak will be performing at this weekend's Sunday in the Park Festival at Oregon Ridge Park with his band, which features Dave Fairall on sax, Jim Charlsen on bass and George Gray on drums. The festival includes entertainment on five stages, sky divers and a jousting tournament.

Frequently described as a jazz fusion guitarist, Filipiak, 40, is no stranger to local music lovers. He's been voted "Best Guitar Player" in Baltimore magazine and has been a four-year winner in the same category at Maryland Musician magazine.

"He's the finest guitarist to come out of this town," said Susie Mudd, publisher of Maryland Musician. "We've seen him grow from a baby jazz musician to a monster. Carl can go all the way if he finds the right people to back him."

He's opened for national acts such as jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, songstress Roberta Flack and rock guitarist Eric Johnson.

"If you had told me I was going to be playing with some of these people, I wouldn't have believed it," he said.

He's just released his second album, "Blue Entrance," which features Dennis Chambers, a Baltimore drummer who has played for jazz saxophonist David Sanborn and jazz guitarist John Scofield. Filipiak's album, distributed locally by his Geometric Records label, has to date sold 3,000 copies. The record includes a finger-tapping funk tune called "Fonk" as well as the slower-paced, bluesy "Say You Were." The "Blue Entrance" title is a clue to his musical direction, leaning toward more blues and jazz.

But don't be fooled. There's still some rock in the roll, a remnant from his early career as a rock guitarist. At 14, influenced by the Beatles, Filipiak joined a local rock band, the Chaumonts, and played pop tunes.

As much as he was performing rock music back then, he said, he was musically dead. His heart longed for jazz, an affinity he developed in his early years after studying with Walt Namuth, who played with drummer Buddy Rich and Larry Woolrich. And then there was guitarist George Benson.

"His music floored me," Filipiak said. "I always knew in the back of my mind that I would be playing that music. That's how my love affair with jazz music began."

In 1986, countless bands later, he quit the rock scene, blocked off some time in a recording studio and began to compose his own music.

"What got me into music was seeing performers and what they did to people and what they did to me. I don't know how to describe the feeling. I cannot describe it to you how it feels. Music just makes me feel great. Good music inspires me."

His first album, called "Electric Thoughts," contained seven scores of jazz, funk and rock. The record garnered praise from music writers at such trade publications as Guitar World, Maryland Musician and the Atlantic Music Journal.

His first gig as a jazz fusion guitarist was at the 20 Grande club on Bowley's Lane, after the release of his record in 1988. Now he plays eight to 12 dates a month.

Although he's wistful about the time he said he wasted playing rock 'n' roll music, he's happily looking to the future, one that involves another record release in the summer or fall of 1992.

"I was very lucky not to get myself into the what-ifs of music -- what if I don't succeed? What if I can't get money? If you let these things get into you, it could stop you."

The Carl Filipiak Group performs at 5 p.m. on the Main Stage at Sunday in the Park at Oregon Ridge, which runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free shuttle to the park from Hunt Valley Mall runs regularly from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Call (301) 887-2757. Free.

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