Steve Homan has taken jazz around the world.
From 1998-2000, he served as a U.S. Jazz Ambassador, a State Department distinction that enabled the trio the guitarist formed with pianist Joe Gilman and vocalist Joyce Diamond to take the music to hundreds of scattered cities, towns and villages across Zambia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Mozambique, Swaziland, Kenya and South Africa. The group’s audiences, Homan recounted to me in an interview a few years back, arrived bearing native drums and flutes.
“We shared our indigenous music with them and they shared their music with us,'' he said. “'We shared the complexity of jazz. We were able to share the form of the blues.”
Some of the African musicians were knowledgeable about jazz. For others, it was a mystery to be solved. The Africans shared more than just music with the visitors.
''It was the idea of the freedom that Africans play within their forms, the spirituality that's connected with the music,'' Homan said. ''It was just the feeling of freedom that's expressed within their music. Their music is so deeply rooted within everyday life and we've lost that in America.''
Echoes of that experience continue to resonate in Homan’s music. For evidence, catch his sets today and Saturday in Old Sacramento. Performing with wife Francesca as the Jazz N Samba Duo, there are just two among the hundreds of performers descending on California’s capital city for this weekend’s Sacramento Music Fest. The lineup also includes Delta Wires, Zydeco Flames, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, Mumbo Gumbo, Johnny “Guitar” Knox and many others.
It’s always one giant party in Old Sac and surrounding hotel ballrooms pulsing with the rhythms of jazz, swing, blues, zydeco, rockabilly, bluegrass, Latin music and more. There will be dancing in the streets and music will be running morning, noon and midnight. We’ll offer specialty concerts and events, evening lineups of dance and party bands, and a Memorial Day Salute to Service. We’ll also have world class music groups that you don’t want to miss. Bring the kids as admission is free for those 12 and younger.
For Homan, jazz guitar is his calling but piano was his first instrument.
“But it was just too confining an instrument for a very hyper kid,'' Homan told me. ''I discovered the guitar at a friend's house and through that discovery I realized that I could take the instrument with me.''
Homan soon discovered a natural ability on guitar. Without the benefit of even basic lessons, he found he could decipher the chord patterns in Beatles songs.
As the '60s progressed, Homan was influenced by Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. It was through brass-driven bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears that Homan discovered jazz. The music quickly became his passion.
It was years before Homan earned his keep playing jazz. After graduating high school in 1972, he spent the rest of decade on the road, touring the West and Midwest with top-40 bands.
Homan returned to jazz in the '80s, performing in Sacramento ensembles with saxophonist Mike Butera, pianist Jessica Williams and drummer Jimmy Robinson. the '90s, Homan was touring with Joe Williams, Anita O'Day and Jimmy Smith. In 1996, he recorded an album (''In a Sentimental Mood'') with vibraphonist Gene Estes.
In recent years, he's divided his time between teaching and touring.
''It's just a journey, man, music is a journey,'' Homan said. ''To face the challenge, you go places. That's what I'm trying to do.''
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