Chuck Loeb, a versatile guitarist, composer and producer best known for his associations with Stan Getz and Steps Ahead, and a musician whose compositions have been recorded by a variety of smooth-jazz and pop acts, died at 9 p.m. on July 31, according to his family. Loeb was 61. He had suffered with cancer for several years. Loeb recorded more than 20 albums as a solo artist, composed commercial jingles, TV theme songs and music for films, and had an extensive career as a studio musician, his rhythm and lead work found on a variety of pop, jazz and Brazilian recordings.
“The music scene has suffered a devastating blow,” said bassist and longtime associate Will Lee in an email to JT. “Master guitarist and composer Chuck Loeb was so musical, he was one of those big-eared geniuses that heard the music in everyone and everything around him. Playing with Chuck on so many occasions, I can tell you that he had a way of utilizing my talents to get just what he needed out of me. He was so prolific—writing, producing and arranging for not only his own projects, but those of Carmen Cuesta, his multi-talented wife, daughters Lizzy Loeb and Christina Cuesta Loeb, as well as so many artists to whom he has contributed those talents. May Chuck’s incredible spirit be remembered in his music for all time.”
Born Dec. 7, 1955, in Nyack, N.Y., Loeb began playing guitar at 11, and by 13 he was gigging in local bands and had decided that music was all he wanted to do. He became interested in jazz while still in his teens, ultimately studying with Jim Hall on the recommendation of his prior teacher, Philadelphia guitarist and guru of sorts Dennis Sandole. After he graduated from high school, he enrolled at Berklee, where he studied for a couple of years before dropping out in 1976.
Shortly thereafter Loeb moved to NYC and began working as a sideman with various jazz players, including Chico Hamilton, Ray Barretto, Hubert Laws and Freddie Hubbard. Around 1979, Stan Getz asked Loeb to join his band and he worked with Getz for about five years, eventually becoming the musical director of the group. While with Getz he met and married the Spanish singer Carmen Cuesta with whom he had two children, Lizzy and Christina. Getz was the best man at their wedding.
Playing with Getz was also a seminal experience for Loeb because he met and played with keyboardist Mitchel Forman in that group, and the two later reunited to form the band Metro, which released several albums in the ‘90s. In 1984 he joined Michael Brecker in the band Steps Ahead, with whom he toured and recorded for several years. Loeb would always cite Brecker as an important musical influence. In 2010, Loeb replaced Larry Carlton in the smooth-jazz super-group Fourplay, with whom he toured and recorded for many years.
Loeb had a very successful solo career, releasing nearly two dozen albums as a leader, for the DMP, Shanachie and Heads Up labels. “Chuck Loeb’s music seamlessly bounced between straight-ahead jazz, contemporary jazz and Brazilian music,” said former Heads Up label exec Dave Love, for whom Loeb recorded the Presence and Between Two Worlds albums. “[He was] a highly reliable musician that could add the right notes on all of the projects he was involved with. A loving husband and father who was very proud of his family’s accomplishments, Chuck will be sorely missed by many, but especially from his musical family for which he loved dearly and who respected him to no end on and off the bandstand.”
He toured regularly with his own group, as well as with Fourplay and other bands. He also occasionally collaborated with presenters. John Ernesto, the general manager of the Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pa., worked closely with Loeb to create unique shows. “We were always brainstorming new opportunities,” Ernesto said. “Chuck came up with the idea to present a special tribute concert to Wes Montgomery. That idea blossomed into one of the fest’s most memorable concerts that featured seven guitarists—Chuck, Larry Carlton, Russell Malone, Pat Martino, Paul Jackson Jr., Earl Klugh and Jimmy Bruno. The Berks Jazz Fest lost a great friend. We will miss him so much, but his amazing musical spirit will be with us forever.”
Loeb was a prolific composer, not just of jazz tunes but also of compositions for film and television. His credits include theme music for ABC’s Nightline, One Life to Live, the Montel Williams Show, the Atlanta Braves, the New York Yankees and Knicks, and ESPN NCAA College Basketball. He was in fact a big baseball fan, often listening to his Yankees on the radio. However, his most high-profile theme was for CNN Headline News. “You know the one—it ends with the three eighth-note triplets on the tonic,” said Lee. “He may possibly go down in history as one of the world’s most-heard composers, since this piece is heard around-the-clock in countries all over the world.” Loeb played on numerous film scores including The Untouchables, You’ve Got Mail and Hitch.
In an At Home piece David R. Adler did on Loeb for JT in 2005, the guitarist recounted being star-struck during a guest appearance with Bob Dylan at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Loeb sat in on “All Along the Watchtower,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” and two lesser-known songs. “The first song I ever learned on guitar was ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’” Loeb said. “Dylan turned to me after one solo and said, ‘Yeah, Chuck,’ and I thought, ‘OK, I can die now!’”
Indeed, despite all his high-profile gigs, sessions and recordings, Loeb was a very unassuming and even self-deprecating man. One New York Times piece dubbed him “the Clark Kent of jazz guitar,” in an attempt to capture that unique combination of humility and talent. A bit of a homebody who lived most of his life in the Nyack, N.Y. area, Loeb was dedicated to his family. That devotion was well captured in Adler’s At Home piece on Loeb, who confessed that the family’s vacations revolved around his daughters’ passion for tennis.
Loeb is survived by his wife Carmen Cuesta Loeb and daughters Lizzy and Christina.