Groove, Funk and New Orleans Spunk
Andy Mowatt boarded a ship with no intent of returning.
“I left to go to the Caribbean and never come back,” says the local guitar virtuoso, who, after graduating college, spent four months at sea with the Princess Cruises orchestra.
Tempting as it was to stay, something beckoned Mowatt back to Pennsylvania in 2010. Perhaps landing a coveted guitar gig at the American Music Theatre had something to do with it.
Lancaster – the city he now calls home – has been more than hospitable. In fact, the 27-year old talent has become the glue binding local acts like herbie (which plays its annual Christmas show tomorrow night at Tellus360 in Lancaster), UZO, Steely Jam (Mowatt’s Steely Dan-inspired jam band), 8-String 4-tet and his own Andy Mowatt Trio. Since returning to the States, Mowatt has been a regular fixture at AMT and is currently in the throes of rehearsing for the venue’s annual Christmas Show.
The guitarist’s solo skills come to light in his newly released album, An End to the Means – a colorful palette of arrangements composed by Mowatt. October 24 marked the album’s release party, held at Tellus360.
Soft-spoken with friendly blue eyes and signature blond ponytail, Mowatt is quick to divert credit to musicians he teamed up with to make the album, including Gabe Staznik, Mike Wittrien, Andy Alonso, Andy Roberts, Aaron Trasatt, Dave Yinger, Mike Yinger, Max Swan, Michael Druck and John Stoudt.
Mowatt’s reserved demeanor, however, is earning him praise from local venues.
“Andy may be unique in that he might be egoless – zero, none, nada,” says Joe Devoy, owner of Tellus360. “He can sit at the back of the stage and play this incredible music and be perfectly happy. Ask him to come to the front, and he gets nervous. It was so nice to see him on Friday at the front and grow more and more comfortable with the role. Truly one of the good guys and an absolute musical genius.”
A true jack-of-all-trades, Mowatt’s latest album is a tasteful collection of ambient jazz, New Orleans funk and unexpected takes on modern hits. And yet, through many influences, each tune retains a sound that is distinctly Mowatt’s.
Each song tells a different story, often written by Mowatt while on the road.
There’s the lighthearted “Highlands,” inspired by the rolling green hills of a recent trip to Scotland, and the dance-worthy “Gloria,” a Latin groove composed in Miami.
There’s “Gypsyland,” an old-timey, speakeasy style riff Mowatt penned in a hotel room after a night spent listening to a gypsy jazz band at a New Orleans absinthe bar.
There’s no denying the French Quarter influence in Mowatt’s latest record, from the slinky “Jooth Smazz” to the trumpet-heavy “Bodhisattva” – Mowatt’s New Orleans-inspired arrangement of the Steely Dan classic.
It doesn’t hurt that Mowatt takes lessons from Charlie Hunter, an esteemed 8-string guitarist and regular fixture of the New Orleans jazz circuit.
A 2012 trip to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was the first time Mowatt met Hunter, the first time he had gone to the famous festival and it turned into a life changing experience from a musical standpoint. “Late night is the best time, where all the guys sit in with each other on this one street – Frenchmen Street – and [Hunter] was playing with this group. And it blew my mind,” Mowatt says.
Different from a standard 6-string guitar, the 8-string is a bass and guitar combined into one, Mowatt explains. The two musicians now connect via Skype for lessons.
It wasn’t the first time Mowatt crossed paths with one of his musical influences.
“Most recently, before Charlie Hunter, it was Jimmy Herring [who has played with acclaimed acts such as The Allman Brothers Band]. When he came in town maybe three or four years ago, one of my groups got to open for him when he was at the Chameleon, and it was like the greatest day of my life,” Mowatt recalled of the November 2011 show.
As luck would have it, Mowatt happened to be available to fill in with the opening band UZO that night.
“They say don’t meet your idols, but [Herring] was the nicest guy ever,” says Mowatt.
Some might call it a case of right place, right time. But in truth, Mowatt’s approach to his craft is what has led to many different musical opportunities.
“What makes Andy so special is just how easy he makes it look. Never an effort; the guitar is part of him, an extension of his hands. The music is in him – his soul not his head. He just feels the music, as opposed to playing it,” Devoy says.
It’s that effortless appeal that brings crowds to both the bar scene and big stage. In between practicing for numerous local acts, Mowatt has played in AMT shows such as California Soul (his AMT debut), Abbey Road, Broadway: Now and Forever, and Music of the Night: The Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber, to name a few.
“Luckily, [AMT] keeps a guitarist all year,” he says with a grin.
Serving as an unofficial adjunct at Lancaster Bible College, Mowatt – who picked up his first guitar at age 7 – is now learning the teaching side of the instrument.
He’s also landed himself an enviable space to teach at Lancaster’s Triforce Studios, located right above Thistle Finch Distillery.
“On the third floor is Square One coffee’s storage, so in the summer it smells like whiskey downstairs, and then you get the coffee from upstairs. It’s a great place to be,” he says.
In between AMT rehearsals and a full slate of gigs in Central PA, Mowatt continues his pursuit to master the 8-string under the instruction of Hunter.
“When I first met Charlie Hunter, I was like, ‘Hey, this blows my mind. I don’t understand how you’re playing, and it sounds totally different – like two separate people in one,’” Mowatt says.
Hunter’s response? “I’ve got 20 years on you. You practice three hours a day, come back in 20 years and you’ll be just as good,” Mowatt recalled.
But at the rate Mowatt is going, he won’t be just as good. He’ll be better.
Catch herbie at Tellus360 (24 E. King St., Lancaster) on Saturday, December 13. 8:30pm. $5. 21+. Click here for more info.