Reviews

Times Union Prevue Section Sept. 14 2000 by Greg Haymes

CD celebrations: Professor James G. Looby isn’t just a
stage name for the jazzman who’ll be celebrating the
release of his new CD, “Live Notes (From the
Algonquin),” on Friday night at Jake’s Roundup in South
Glens Falls. When he’s not doing his one-man jazz
performances around the Capital Region, Looby is hard
at work at his day job: He’s a computer science
professor at Merrimack College in North Andover,
Mass.

Recorded live at the Algonquin in Bolton Landing back
in August, the album is mellow, while still showcasing
Looby’s considerable talents. Looby describes the music
on the CD as “dinner jazz.”

“If you listen closely, you may hear trays, dishes and
glasses in the background,” he says with a chuckle.
Looby performed everything you hear on the album by
himself using a keyboard and an EWI (Electronic Wind
Instrument).

In addition to his solo shows, Looby also performs with
Rich Oritz, the Crispy Critters and the Albany-based
jam-band Slipknot, and he says that his upcoming CD —
which he hopes to release next year — will showcase
more of a Latin jazz-funk sound. But for now, “Live
Notes” does the job just fine.

Modern day Renaissance man adding musical chapters to his life
MICHAEL KORB, The Saratogian September 15, 2000
SOUTH GLENS FALLS — James Looby’s bio reads like one of a fictional character. Straight out of high school he entered the Navy and became a trained medical diver, recording 53 saves. While serving, he also was a part of the Navy’s volleyball team. He went on to graduate cum laude with a degree in physics and computer science from the University at Albany. While pursuing his degree at Albany, he was a ski instructor at Gore Mountain. Hate him yet? Wait, it gets better.
Looby moved to Florida to work on his master’s degree in ocean engineering. In Florida he received a research fellowship sponsored by the Navy Underwater Systems Group and played NCAA Division I Volleyball.

He then took a year off from studying (and everything else) and headed to Key West to play saxophone with the Crispy Critters. In Key West he became engrossed in Latin and Caribbean jazz. Did I mention he started playing semi-pro beach volleyball while there?

Then he went to Wyoming to get his Ph.D., where he was promptly awarded a NASA fellowship and worked on the spatial components for the Cassini Project, which is now on its way to Saturn.

Make you feel like you haven’t done enough with your life? (And we left stuff out!) Looby now teaches computer science at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

What’s this got to do with anything? Prof. Looby is releasing his latest CD, ”Live Notes,” at a party from 5 to 9 tonight at Jake’s Round-up, 23 Main St., South Glens Falls.

Everything you hear on the CD was performed, arranged and recorded by Looby, including bass, drums, pianos, strings, vibes and organ. It all was done using either a keyboard or an EWI (Electric Wind Instrument, essentially an electronic saxophone capable of anything).

The CD is filled with mellow Latin jazz. Looby also released a live CD two years ago of big band swing standards from Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington.

Call 761-0015 or try his Web site at www.drlooby.com

©The Saratogian 2001
Fri. Sept. 15 2000

Musician celebrating CD’s release

By Stacey Morris Staff Writer

BOX THIS: James Looby CD release party. Celebrating his new CD, “Professor James Gray Looby: Live Notes from The Algonquin.” 7 p.m. today. Jake’s Round-up, Main Street, South Glens Falls. For more information on Looby’s music, visit his Web site at drlooby.com

For a saxophone player to possess the smooth, mellow tonality that makes music sound effortlessly perfect would probably be considered an obvious advantage, particularly when playing live.
Or is it?
“I get accused of faking it on a nightly basis,” said Dr. James Looby, “because the sound is so smooth. I’ve worked on my tone forever. if your tone isn’t pretty, it doesn’t matter how accomplished you are.”

His name may already be familiar for its ubiquitous presence during summer months, when Looby headlines at clubs throughout the Lake George area. And even though sounding so good can elicit skeptical criticism from some audience members, Looby hasn’t let the accusations stop him. Not only does he keep playing, Looby composes and arranges as well.

“I have over 100 songs so far,” he said.

Recently, he pared 12 of them down to be included in his new album, a collection of dinner jazz recorded in August at The Algonquin restaurant in Bolton Landing.

As the invitation inside the CD suggests, you’re in for a smooth ride: “…
Sit back with the one you love … Pour yourself a buttery chardonnay … and enjoy some live dinner jazz.”

An early start

Despite the new album’s languid tunes, “Harbor Nights (of Key West) and “Still in Love,” Looby wasn’t always a purveyor of dinner jazz. He grew up in Albany and began his musical odyssey studying classical clarinet. Looby started young (third grade) but made it clear that he wasn’t coerced by over-eager adults.

“I was willing,” he said. “And I was very lucky to come up through the Albany school system, where there were incredible instructors.”

Fate dictated that nearly every one of his childhood instructors played both the clarinet and saxophone. Practicality, however, dictated that he play the clarinet —- at least in the Empire State Youth Orchestra, where he was a member for two years.

“I was always first clarinet,” he recalled. “They never let me play sax because I was too valuable on clarinet.”

Following graduation, Looby’s musical pursuits took a temporary back seat to his budding interest in technology.

Striving for dreams

Looby first entered the U.S. Navy, where he became a medical diver and flew Sea Air Rescue. He was also an instructor at the Navy’s Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md., and Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va.

Following his naval stint, Looby graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in physics/computer science from the State University of New York at Albany. From there, he earned a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Vermont, where he held a teaching fellowship and served as an adjunct professor, his specialty and thesis being fiber optic computer networks. In his spare time, Looby became a registered ski instructor at Gore Mountain in North Creek.

“I admit, I’m a type A (personality),” he laughed. “I have so many interests.. You have to dream and strive for your dreams.”

Looby’s continuing interest in diving and technology led him to Florida State University, where he earned a master’s degree in ocean engineering during which time he researched navigation systems and spatial knowledge.

“I also designed a navigational path planner for underwater autonomous vehicles,” he said. “Like the one in the movie ‘The Abyss.'”

This time, Looby couldn’t indulge in skiing during his off hours so he took up volleyball, playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 Volleyball league.

Next on his academic “to do” list was earning his doctorate, but first Looby decided some time off was in order.

Playing the Keys

Heading to Key West, Fla., was Looby’s chance not only to take a break but to reconnect with his musical roots and finally take his shot at playing the saxophone.

It was in Key West that Looby hooked up with the Lake George-based band Crispy Critters (whom he’d met when they played a gig at Gore Mountain’s ski lodge). Looby and the band played professionally around the Florida Keys for about a year.

As he looked back on that time so full of exploration and creativity, Looby remembered how he also had his first lessons in playing Latin music.

“Cubans would have block parties with full 15-piece conga bands,” he said. “They asked me to sit in because I could play lead.

“I’d be one of the few Caucasians in the midst of 1,000 dancing Cubans,” he laughed. “I loved their music; I loved it.”

Writing his own

When academia inevitably called, Looby was ready to earn his doctorate, but he was equally prepared to keep his hand in his ever-expanding repertoire of music.

While earning his doctorate in computer science at the University of Wyoming, Looby devoted every Friday and Saturday night to writing music.

“Wyoming was a very strange state,” he said. “There was virtually no jazz, and I could barely find rock; it was all country and western.”

Ironically, it was the absence of his most favored genres that spurred him on to compose.

“I started writing and incorporating elements of what I’d learned in Key West —- the Latin and Caribbean with rock and other genres.”

He also discovered music composition software, which allowed him to record and compose his music instrument by instrument. When he plays live, preprogrammed piano, drums and bass can be heard accompanying him as if there’s a band backing up his sax.

Though he became proficient in writing and composing the quicker-paced styles of Latin music such as salsa and merengue, Looby said that for his “Professor James Gray Looby” album, he chose music with a soft, slower feel.

“The whole CD is suffused with a Latin influence, but it’s more Brazilian,” he said. “You can’t really play salsa during dinner.”

Subhead

Though he currently is a professor of computer science at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., where he teaches upper-level systems courses, Looby said he is firmly committed to returning to Lake George each summer —- and not just to perform.

“I’ve been everywhere,” he said, “and I’ve never found anything like Lake George. I consider it my home.”

During summer months, Looby often performs with singer and guitarist
Richie Ortiz.

“I prefer playing with others, and Richie is one of the nicest and most phenomenal musicians I’ve ever played with despite the fact he’s only 22,” Looby said. “We hope to release an album together in May.” And even though he’s in for another nine months of lecturing, advising a fraternity and grading papers, Looby said he will always have time for his music.

“I hear melodies in my head all the time, and I can jot things down fairly quickly,” he said.

But Looby drew a blank when asked where his inspiration comes from. And where does he get his inspiration for the prolific number of songs he has written so far?

“Music is emotion; it comes from moments in your life,” he said. “I’ve
never tried to quantify it.”

Staff writer Stacey Morris can be reached at
morris@poststar.com

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