Connecticut guitarist George Lesiw has wielded his ax onstage both as a bandleader and sideman for quite some time now – and has gotten pretty darned good at it over the years. In his music, he combines the improvisational essence, language and dexterity of jazz, the daring electricity and spark of rock-fusion and the gritty, emotional fire of the blues -- with some funk, soul and R&B influences deep in the mix.
Whether playing a straight-ahead jazz gig with his quartet at Bar 140 in Shelton, CT, wailing the blues with his new blues project, Black Snake Boots, at Connecticut’s premier blues club, Black-Eyed Sally’s in Hartford, CT or playing original jazz fusion music on the main stage of the Long Beach Jazz Festival in California, one thing is always true: Whatever the genre or the venue, when Lesiw plugs in he brings the same passion, virtuosity, versatility and fire to his music.
“What I really love about playing live music is just connecting with the audience, seeing people smile," Lesiw says. "One of my favorite things to do when I’m playing my original music is to push the boundaries of what the audience might listen to live – to take them someplace that perhaps they may not have expected the music to go. But last week I played a four-hour gig of Christmas songs and I stayed right in the pocket the entire time."
One of the more prolific and versatile performers on the Connecticut music scene, Lesiw plays a four-times-a-month duo residency with Lee-Ann Lovelace at Crave, a Latin fusion restaurant and night club in Ansonia, CT. Once a month, he leads the popular blues jam at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT. Twice a month, he leads the jazz jam at Bar 140 in Shelton, Ct.
Among Lesiw's current projects are his own George Lesiw Band -- sometimes playing jazz-rock-funk fusion, sometimes the blues -- plus performances with A Nordic Sound Jazz Orchestra, 2017 Connecticut Blues Challenge finalist Black Snake Boots, the Luke Rodney Caribbean Project, Brazilian music with Isabella Mendes, rock, blues and jazz with Lee-Ann Lovelace and straight-ahead rock with Wendy May -- in addition to the jams he leads.
“It’s exciting to harness the energy and the soulfulness of the blues and rock but also zone-in on the subtleties and colors of jazz, which is a more complex language," Lesiw says. "Yet, the three are connected.”
He says of his copious work with other musicians, "I just meet these people” such as Luke Rodney, who plays Caribbean music, and Wendy May, who fronts her own rock-and-roll band, and once they get to know each other, they ask him if he wants to collaborate and create something with them. “In Luke’s case, I arranged, orchestrated and produced an amazing album, ‘Ta, Te, Ta, Ta,’” Lesiw says.
When not playing out live or working to polish the music of his friends and colleagues, Lesiw has three albums of his own out: “Clarity,” “Aurora Nights” and “Anuta Was Here.” He is a Berklee College of Music and SUNY Purchase graduate who has been a staple on the New Haven music scene for more than 20 years.
Lesiw studied with the great John Ambercrombie for a year, soaking up Abercrombie’s influences in his composition and improvisation skills. He has opened over the years for a host of name acts, including the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Roomful of Blues and Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson. Among his influences are Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, John Scofield, Abercrombie, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
In 2007, the George Lesiw Band was named Jazz Search Winners of the 20th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival in Long Beach, Calif. On the West Coast, Lesiw also has played California's Temecula Valley International Jazz Festival, the Spaghettini Grill & Jazz Club and The Baked Potato, along with the Jackie Slater & Friends Celebrity Golf Tournament. Venues on the East Coast have included Toad’s Place and an every-Wednesday residency at The Owl Shop in New Haven; New York City's The Knitting Factory, Greenwich Village Bistro, The C Note and Acme Underground; the Stony Creek Puppet House Theater; Underground Parade and the Clean Energy Expo at Lorenzo Studios; Gathering of the Elements, and the Collinsville, CT Arts and Music Festival.