Putting his spin on music

The Baltimore Sun

Carl Filipiak isn't one to shy away from contradictions -- he revels in them.

When the Baltimore-born guitarist covers Jimi Hendrix tunes, he plays them note for note, unless it's "Voodoo Chile," which lends itself to a little more improvisation, but only the type of improvisation that coincides with the blues-rock period.

On the other hand, when it comes to covering the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," Filipiak takes a different approach that involves scaling down the original epic orchestral composition in favor of a more streamlined, pop-based composition better suited for a four-piece band.

It makes sense, right?

"Covers can go either way," says Filipiak, 57. "On our albums, we'll keep a Hendrix cover close to the original recording so that people know what to expect at our once-a-year tribute concerts, but at gigs, certain songs can be improvised on, just as Hendrix would at his own shows back in the day. With the Beatles, you just work with what you got."

Filipiak's knack for re-creating timeless tracks either note for note or with a creative spin represents only an inkling of his musical career.

Since 1987, he has released seven albums of his own work and recorded and performed with a cast of notable local and national musicians -- including Baltimore native drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Victor Wooten from the Flecktones -- all while teaching guitar lessons during whatever spare time he may have.

With most of his albums falling into the jazz and fusion genre, Filipiak has been hailed as Best Jazz Instrumentalist by the Washington Area Music Association, the Best Guitarist by Baltimore Magazine and Best Jazz Musician by City Paper.

But despite his critical acclaim as a renowned jazz and fusion artist, Filipiak isn't one to embrace the labels emblazoned upon him.

Appearing at the 8x10 with his Jimi Jazz Band on Saturday to celebrate his recent release of I Got Your Mantra, Filipiak may be reluctant to attach himself to a particular genre, but he has his reasons.

"To be considered a musician is certainly more complimentary than a label," says Filipiak. "You have to have a label cause people like to put things in boxes, but that can limit you. I like to have my foot in many musical worlds."

For Filipiak, spending his entire life in Baltimore has taught him a few things about the changing local music scene -- particularly that while the presence of indie rock bands has surged, the jazz and fusion scene and audience is slowly slipping away.

Because of this, building a reputation as a versatile musician, able to play numerous genres, is important for Filipiak because it has allowed him to continue making a living through music.

"If I tried to make money playing only jazz and fusion, I would be broke," he says. "Although the jazz and fusion scene was never really that huge awhile ago, you could still see great acts, such as Chick Corea playing at Max's on Broadway. Today, there's just not as many places to play."

But don't think that Filipiak is bitter about the Baltimore music scene.

"At a certain point, you just become content with what's out there," he says. "Getting anything more than what's out there right now would be great, but to expect anything more would be setting yourself up for disappointment."


Carl Filipiak and the Jimi Jazz Band will perform Saturday at the 8x10, 10 E. Cross St. The show starts at 8 p.m. with the Kelly Bell Band. Admission is $15. For tickets, go to the8x10.com.

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