May 8, 2006
The pedigree is impeccable and
the dedication to his craft remarkable. So, being deeply into a national
competition for guitar players seems to be just another milestone for George
"Geo" Conner of Fort Wayne. Conner is one-third of the Geo
Trio, a high-class jazz outfit that plays regularly at AJ's Bar and Grille and
Club Soda, with bassist Tim Beeler and drummer Kent Klee. The Geo Trio have
been together since 2004, although the players are long-time friends and
mainstays of the local music scene.
The trio has released a CD, Martini Moon, and Conner
has four CDs in his resume, all available online at www.outstandingmusic.com. Martini Moon features
seven original tracks - written by Conner and arranged by the group - and a
cover of "A Little Help From My Friends." It's available at B-Sharp Guitars,
2440 Getz Rd., where the trio also teaches music students.
In addition to playing with the
band and teaching guitar at B-Sharp, Conner at press time was in the midst of
Guitarmageddon, sponsored by the Guitar Center retail stores. Conner won the
district championship April 26 in Cleveland and is scheduled to participate in
this week's semi-final competition in Arlington Heights, Illinois. If he
wins there, he will be in the finals, scheduled for June 6 in Chicago at House
of Blues - in front of B.B. King, no less.
With apparent characteristic
aplomb, Conner seemed both excited and matter-of-fact in discussing the
competition in a recent interview.
"It's the largest guitar
competition of its kind, with people playing at 163 Guitar Center stores around
the country. That's a field of thousands," Conner said.
The musical genre in the
competition varies by year, and this year it's the blues. The winner would earn
the title King of the Blues for 2006. Conner probably wouldn't mind carrying
this mantle of royalty around for a while, but this competition is only one in
a long line of musical adventures for the North Side High School graduate.
"I can play any style on the guitar.
They give you backing tracks to select, and I chose the most up-tempo and
difficult because the blues can get boring. I created melodies and
improvisations over the tracks. I tried to be more creative than most guys, and
it seemed to help," Conner said.
By winning in Cleveland, Conner was
entered into the contest's top 60 performers, the cream of a crop that numbered
more like 60,000 at the beginning.
Playing for three judges,
Conner had only three minutes to make his musical point. "You improvise the
blues," he said. "I had a form to follow, but not note-by-note. Blues are like
a tree; you have to branch out."
He used his custom-made
Telecaster to blow away the competition, something Conner has been doing for a
long time. Although, goodness, he doesn't make a big deal out of it or
The son of accomplished
musicians, Conner attended Indiana University on a music scholarship, earned a
piano scholarship to Interlochen Arts Camp and had a nice summer at the
Julliard School. Hard to get him to even approach bragging, however.
"Interlochen was a place for
people with musical potential, some would say gifted. I might have gotten there
because of my dad's reputation. I played a recital on the guitar, but I
wouldn't say I was exceptionally gifted," he said.
His eight weeks at Julliard,
Conner claims, was more of an attempt by cousins with whom he was living in New
York at the time to "get me out of their hair for awhile." Nevertheless, the
teen-aged Conner roamed the grounds with Leonard Bernstein.
As for his time in Bloomington,
Conner said it was a treat to play with good musicians and study with good
teachers, but he soon became fed up with the academic life and decided to leave
school and head west to make his living as a musician.
He planned to play on one album
in Los Angeles and consider himself a success - but one thing led to another
and Conner worked consistently in the music business there from 1978 to 1983,
before he returned to Fort Wayne.
He worked with David Bowie,
Supertramp, Peter Noone, Barbara Streisand, Carl Wilson and guys from Weather
Report over that period, but played on only two jazz albums. The rest of his
studio work drove a lot of pop and rock n' roll albums. Back when there were
"I honestly only wanted to play
on one record, but I was lucky enough to work in thousands of sessions, for
every major label, on gold and platinum albums. I worked with a lot of good
people and learned a lot about the business," Conner said.
But family duties called, and
Conner found himself back in town playing in bands and teaching music.
The dad Conner referred to was
Carl Conner, a nationally renowned musician in his own right who also owned a
violin repair business in Fort Wayne from 1939 to 1989. Carl Conner played
string instruments and was a soloist with symphonies in Philadelphia and
Detroit. For years, his shop on West Berry Street was a Mecca for string
players, and his son called him "one of the top 10 violin repairmen in the
world." It wasn't uncommon to see the elder Conner working in his shop till
late at night.
Conner's mother, Dorothy, also
was an accomplished musician who sat her son in her lap and taught him harmony
while she played the pedal harp. Both of Conner's parents have passed away.
As he continued to play, Conner
gave himself the nickname Geo because he played in many bands that had more
than one George as a member - including George Ogg. The name stuck, and it
seemed a good moniker when Conner, Klee and Beeler decided to form the Geo
"I've known these guys a long
time, and they are great musicians," Conner said. "Kent is one of the best
drummers in the world. They are good buddies."
Currently, the Geo Trio
typically play Tuesday at AJ's Bar and Grille, which Conner said accommodates
the group by turning itself into a jazz club for the evening. "It's a cool gig,
with a nice listening audience. Playing there every week helps keep the chops
strong," he said.
The same could be said of the
Club Soda gig, where the band usually plays twice a month. They did take the
month of March off because, as Conner said, "jazz and March Madness don't mix
Meanwhile, Martini Moon earned an
enthusiastic review recently in Frost Illustrated by Michael Patterson, another
highly respected local musician.
In his review, Patterson called
the Geo Trio "a fiery jazz unit - a match made in heaven. The Geo Trio has its
own sound, but one that can't help but draw favorable comparison to Pat
Methany's last few trio albums - and that ain't bad company to be in!"
If you love good jazz, the Geo
Trio is more than worth your time. If you want to learn to play jazz and other
kinds of music, the Geo Trio will be happy to oblige in their roles as teacher
at B-Sharp. Either way, the group is making an invaluable contribution to music
in Fort Wayne.