bio by laura ferreiro
Carli Muñoz Biography (2018) While Carli Muñoz may not be a household name, chances are you’ve heard his exceptional playing when he was the long-time keyboardist for The Beach Boys, or on the tracks he laid down with the likes of George Benson, Peter Cetera, Rickie Lee Jones and Chico Hamilton.
Now a renowned solo artist in his own right, the virtuoso Puerto Rican pianist and composer has released his magnum opus, Follow Me – an ambitious mix of world music, blues, rock and pop, with jazz at its foundation, and a call to action inspired by the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai. Recalling sophisticated sounds that one might hear on a Steely Dan or a Sting album, Follow Me features Muñoz’s trademark virtuosic, exuberant piano playing and incorporates lush strings and woodwind arrangements as well as fine contributions from Muñoz’s Grammy-winning bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Billy Drummond.
Muñoz began playing at the age of 13, when he received a piano as a gift from his father. He quickly discovered that he had a knack for picking out melodies, and got his hands on as many piano recordings as he could from the likes of Andre Previn and Peter Nero. He taught himself how to play, and his big break came when he was asked to sit in with a jazz band at a club in San Juan that he’d been frequenting almost every night. Flash forward to the late ‘60s, and Muñoz relocated from San Juan to New York City with his popular Puerto Rican rock band The Living End (not to be confused with the Australian punk band of the same name). Although they parted ways, a fortuitous connection through the drummer’s girlfriend led him to The Beach Boys. On a weekend trip to Los Angeles, they ended up jamming together in Topanga Canyon and discovered they had great chemistry. The Beach Boys asked Carli to join them on tour, Muñoz relocated to LA, and the rest, as they say, is history. He started out playing percussion, but one fateful day when Carl Wilson heard Muñoz jamming jazz tunes on piano during a rehearsal break, Wilson was floored by his talent. He later asked Muñoz to play keyboards in the band when their keyboardist, Daryl Dragon, left to form Captain & Tennille. Muñoz ended up playing with The Beach Boys from 1969 to 1981.
With their best days behind them, Muñoz decided to leave The Beach Boys in 1981 and was soon getting calls to record and perform with renowned artists including George Benson, Les McCann and Chico Hamilton. Because he was in such demand as a session and touring player (and took time out to raise a family), Muñoz was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to recording his own music. After returning to San Juan to raise his family in the mid ‘80s, he resumed film and television production projects he had begun while in LA. But when Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989 and destroyed all of his belongings, he turned the tragedy into an opportunity to focus on what mattered to him most – his music. Muñoz formed a jazz trio that played around Puerto Rico, and eventually opened Carli’s Fine Bistro and Piano in 1998, a popular jazz club and restaurant in Old San Juan where he still performs several nights a week. It was then that he began recording albums under his own name, releasing his first solo album in 2000, Love Tales – a collection of his own material and jazz standards. Since then he has released five studio albums and three live albums, and now his 2018 magnum opus, Follow Me.
While Muñoz’s acclaimed 2005 album, Maverick, was more of a straight-ahead instrumental jazz album, Follow Me features a mix of instrumental tracks and tunes showcasing Muñoz’s charming, unvarnished vocals punctuated by soulful back-up singers and an occasional narrator. The album is ambitious in both scope and stature.
Lead single “Wangari Maathai” anchors the album, named for the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize for empowering women in her native Kenya to plant trees, bringing barren land back to life and ultimately achieving a sustainable local economy. She also created The Green Belt Movement, which has planted more than 51 million trees and advocates for gender equality. With a sense of near-reverence, Muñoz invokes Maathai to inspire action in a world that badly needs our care. Quoting Maathai’s prescient warning, “The generation that destroyed the environment is not the generation that pays the price,” the song ends on a hopeful note – “when we plant trees we plant seeds of hope.”
“I’m concerned with preserving the environment for future generations,” Muñoz explained. “Wangari Maathai’s work with women and young girls to create social equity with something as simple as planting trees – which helps restore the environment and counter the effects of deforestation – was so inspiring. She showed us that one person truly can make a difference.”
The track “Hummingbird” beautifully illustrates this point, with a fable beloved by Wangari about a hummingbird who valiantly takes on a big challenge against all odds, doing what he can do to save his environment. It also showcases Muñoz’s masterful piano work, embodying the tiny bird picking up a drop of water at a time to fight a vast forest fire. “It’s about the power of a hummingbird, showing that no matter how little you are, you can do so much if you believe in yourself,” Muñoz said.
Follow Me artfully blends myriad styles including the blues-influenced “Strangers in a Strange Land” and “Tujunga Waltz,” a melancholy but uplifting tale of losing love while learning to love yourself in the process. The album’s title track beckons the listener to share in the majesty of nature and bask in the peace of the evening and early morning. In addition to being an embodiment of Muñoz’s immense skill as an artist, Follow Me invites listeners to join him in creating a better world. “I’d like people who hear this music to follow their higher sense to make a better world,” Muñoz said. “We owe it to present and future generations of all species to rise up – like Wangari Maathai and the hummingbird – to do all we can and know that we can make a difference.”
“… Virtuosic without being superfluous, Muñoz’ playing style matches his writing–direct, unassuming, and to the point.”
-John Kelman, All That Jazz
“… You might not expect to hear much in the way of great jazz from a pianist who played keyboards behind the Beach Boys for more than a decade – and who spends much of his energy these days running a restaurant in Puerto Rico. But Carli Munoz is a revelation.”
-Paul Blair- Hot House NYC, HOT FLASHES
“… Muñoz’s piano sounding crisp and succinct, a mix of delicacy and deft percussive beauty. Insistent energy and momentum and marvelous group interplay. A truly fine outing. What can you say but… ‘Yeah!’”
-Dan McClenaghan. All That Jazz
“… Completely spontaneous, yet perfectly collective. Only kindred spirits can achieve this sort of communication.”
-David Miller. All That Jazz
“… Carli demonstrates a depth and diversity of musical understanding, and creativity, bolstered by his ample technique. Right away, we sense his solid sense of time, and well developed ability to swing and float above the rhythm section. Carli’s solos, indeed his music, breathe deeply and healthily. There is an indescribable balance – one that highly developed players express through music. His approach is steeped in the rich history of the grand tradition of this music, and augmented by the lessons of such masters as Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Jarrett and Hancock.”
-Winthrop Bedford, Reviews / Jazz Improv Magazine
“…The trio itself forms a happy marriage, in which there is an ongoing elegant conversation between the piano, bass and drums.”
-The New York Resident, by Barry Bassis – This week on the town
“Free association on this musical level, in any genre, is more than a rare charm.”
–Van Dyke Parks
” Wow… what a player, also a great composer and arranger….”
-Bob Parlocha, host of NPR syndicated mainstream jazz radio show “Jazz with Bob Parlocha” 2008