Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Joyful Zach Gill

This past weekend I attended the world premiere of the new Jack Johnson film, and the familiar face took me back to my college days. I am not referring to Jack; although I did attend UC Santa Barbara at the same time he attended, I was not aware of him at the time. No, the friendly, familiar face that took me back was Zach Gill, the multi-instrumentalist with a soulful voice, featured prominently in the film.

The first time I saw Zach play, at a house party in my college town of Isla Vista, was the first time I recall witnessing sheer joy radiating from a live music performer. To this day, I don’t think I have seen another musician project such bliss on stage. It was a small party that his band, Django, played that night - maybe 20 or 30 people - and there are not specific details that I remember, except for an outstanding jam session of “Layla.” However, I do recall the gratitude I felt in that moment for being in the presence of people, whose love and celebration of music was wonderfully infectious. Zach and the other members of Django were different from the many bands in town. These were not Business-Econ majors getting drunk and slinging around the guitar; they were budding career musicians. You could tell that, whether they “made it” or not, they would be in it for the long haul.

Not long after that night, Django became Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO), relocated to San Francisco, and have spent the past ten+ years making music and touring. I have seen them play live a few times over the past decade, at festivals and small clubs, and each time they projected the same celebratory vibe that I first witnessed in college. Not only do they play music that makes people feel good, the music comes from a place of genuine happiness. You can see it on their grinning faces.

The new Jack Johnson film follows the songwriter through a European tour. But more importantly, the film highlights a group of friends (which includes G. Love, Ben Harper, Matt Costa, and Mason Jennings) that love playing music together. Zach’s stage presence in the film is highly entertaining – playing the piano and accordion with exaggerated movements, and performing the “old man” dance before the cheering masses. He and Jack have a great yin-yang going and Zach is, indeed, an integral part of Jack’s live show.

Since my alma mater has never been a first-class athletic powerhouse, I am filled with Gaucho pride (yes, the Gauchos) that it turned out some fantastic musicians, musicians that still find joy and inspiration in playing together. Below is a clip from the film, featuring some of Zach’s funky stage antics. I dare you not to smile while watching . . .

-AZ

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