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
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
"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
"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."
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
"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