From the first time they played together, CSUDH Music Department Chair Scott Morris and Associate Professor of Music Chika Inoue knew they had found something special. Morris, who plays classical guitar, and Inoue, who plays classical saxophone, discovered that their two instruments created a unique blend that audiences responded to.
The pair continued to play together over the next few years, developing their sound and expanding their repertoire. They soon decided they wanted to record the music they were creating, and their efforts have paid off with the release of their first collaborative CD under the name Chika & Scott. Their debut album “Unfettered” will be released on October 16.
Their first performance as a duo was in 2017, when they were asked to perform at a composition recital at CSUDH. They learned a set of pieces from a faculty composer, and liked what they heard. “We enjoyed playing with each other, so we started arranging our own music,” says Morris. “We started playing concerts on campus and the next thing you know, we’re making records and playing internationally!”
Inoue thinks that part of the duo’s appeal stems from their unusual combination of instruments. Although not usually thought of as classical music instruments, the guitar and saxophone work together beautifully in Chika & Scott’s arrangements. “The combination is very unique,” says Inoue. “The classical saxophone and guitar have such a unique blend of sound. When we started playing together we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this sounds awesome!’”
“It wasn’t contrived at all,” adds Morris. “Our partnership happened very organically, and we really enjoy how it’s all turned out.”
The first piece they worked on together for the album was Mozart’s variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” They were pleased with the way it worked out, so set themselves the task of finding more works they could adapt to their instruments. “There aren’t that many pieces written for this combination, so we have to do our own arrangements,” says Inoue. “We just kept looking for pieces we like to play.”
They settled on a set by Mozart and Schubert, including Schubert’s epic “Sonata for Arpeggione in A Minor, D. 821.” One of Chika & Scott’s most popular pieces is their take on Mozart’s Ave Maria, which is also featured on the new album. “We wanted something everybody knows and everybody recognizes,” says Inoue. “We also wanted something that was really beautiful, and eventually decided on ‘Ave Maria.’ Scott was very hesitant.”
“I’ve always been naturally suspicious of things that are really popular,” laughs Morris. “But when people hear the version of ‘Ave Maria’ that we did, it usually gets the biggest reaction. There’s just something magical about that piece and that recording.”
The new album was recorded at Capitol Studios famous Studio A in Hollywood, which has hosted recording sessions for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Imagine Dragons. The pieces were recorded live in the studio, which created the need for some imaginative studio set-ups so that Inoue’s loud saxophone didn’t bleed into Morris’ guitar microphone. They ended up creating a barrier inside the studio so that the two could play simultaneously.
“There’s no overdubbing at all,” Morris says. “There’s no double tracking. It’s just us playing live in the studio.” The recording was produced by Niko Bolas, a legendary producer and recording engineer who has worked with superstars like Neil Young, Santana, Barbra Streisand, and KISS. The result is an album that Morris thinks will resonate with all kinds of music fans, not just classical junkies.
“This isn’t a record made for classical elitists,” says Morris. “This is music. When we were recording, we had a lot of people coming into the control room at Capitol who know nothing about classical music, and they were really engaged with what we were doing.”
The COVID-19 pandemic put their performance plans on hold, as travel bans and shuttered concert venues stacked up. Chika & Scott are hopeful that they will be able to start performing again next summer. “We’re hoping to get back to Europe next summer, and we’re already scheduling it,” says Morris, who acknowledges that may be wishful thinking. “The CSU system has a travel ban on employees until June 30. The plan is to get to Europe right after that, because one of the things we’re involved with in Europe is the CSU Summer Arts course.”
The duo is already hard at work on their next recording, a collection of Spanish pieces that they recorded last year. Before the pandemic hit, they traveled to Spain and shot a handful of videos featuring some of those recordings, which are available on Chika & Scott’s official YouTube channel.
For now, though, their focus is on “Unfettered,” which will be released on Oct. 16 by the London-based Samek Music label. They are eager to get the word out about their music so that it can be enjoyed by the broadest possible audience.
“We think the album is very accessible,” says Morris. “We would invite anybody, no matter what style of music you prefer, to come listen to it. My favorite quote about musical preferences is from Stevie Wonder, who said, ‘People say they know what they like, but what they mean is they like what they know.’ So listen to what we did and don’t worry about what style of music it is, and see if it touches you.”
“Unfettered” by Chika & Scott is available on CD from Naxos Direct at https://naxosdirect.com/items/unfettered-545756.
Digital downloads are available at https://samekmusic.com/shop/unfettered.