SOUTH BEND — Guitarist and composer Charlie Ballantine returns to Merriman’s Playhouse in South Bend on Thursday, March 2nd. Though the musician and the venue are both known for jazz, music fans of all types will find a connection to the collection of elements that make up his sound. Along with his bassist and drummer, Ballantine will be highlighting his most recent album and original music, along with playing a number of jazz standards and covers of popular music.
“There will be something for everyone,” Ballantine said.
Charlie and his trio are currently starting a tour that he described as “almost a farewell tour for the Midwest”. After nearly a decade living in Indianapolis, he will be moving to Washington DC along with his wife, who recently placed as a saxophonist in one of the nation’s top military bands. Though the tour ends in his soon-to-be former home city, the upcoming South Bend stop is a highlight for him.
“Merriman’s is really an incredible room,” he said. “We always love playing there so much.”
Ballantine is touring with the album, Falling Grace, which was released in late 2022. The album collects original songs, standards of the jazz genre, and a few interpretations of pop songs, all carefully selected to reflect and meditate on heavy topics and struggles from his life. He set out with the goal to see how deeply and emotionally he could communicate through the language of music. That sense of vulnerability was woven in through a recording process that prevented the band from altering mistakes and in the album art, featuring a shirtless and barefoot Ballantine wedged into a corner, his eyes to the ground before him. The result is a record that requires multiple listens to absorb each feeling and to sense the full evolution of the music.
The recording was a therapeutic release, giving him a sense of talking through the problems and growing in the process. He noted that he was ready to move on quickly after the process. He’s already looking forward to his next recording in the summer in New York.
“Let’s move on and make some fun music now,” Ballantine said.
Jazz is a melting pot of music and culture, the perfect canvas for Charlie Ballantine to experiment with different influences while honoring the traditional language that is always within. He enjoys exploring and incorporating elements of multiple genres. Listeners will encounter his solid body guitar, altered by distortion, effects, and delay, and possibly wonder what genre they’re hearing. The experimentation and unification, though, is the heart of jazz.
“It’s such reactionary music,” he described. “It can be anything. Anything is possible. It’s like you open the closet door into Narnia.”
The genre is one that evolves in real time, founded on a deep connection between the musicians playing. Jazz musicians are bonded in a way not found in any other music, making decisions in the moment, in reaction to what someone else has just done. The constant improvised nature of the music keeps it alive for Ballantine.
“You kind of look at everybody before you start playing,” he described. “We’re about to go into the unknown. Good luck.”
Charlie Ballantine has long gravitated toward guitar players on the fringes of jazz or other genres. He started playing guitar as a teenager. Though he tried other instruments, guitar was what stuck with him.
“I can’t pull away from those six strings,” he said. “There’s so much to accomplish on guitar. It still feels infinite to me.”
He was heavily influenced by his mother and father. His mother sang and was often playing pop music with great melodies and hooks like The Beach Boys and The Beatles. His dad was a blues, rockabilly, and country guitarist who was always sharing his eclectic musical taste with Charlie.
“When I’d visit him, he’d have a stack of CDs ready for me,” he said. “My taste was much closer to my dad’s taste than my friends.”
The full collection of sound will be on full display as Charlie Ballantine sets out for tour on March 1st. His stop at Merriman’s Playhouse is Thursday, March 2nd.
“We hope to see a lot of South Bend people in the audience,” he noted.
Information on the tour can be found at charlieballantine.com. More events at Merriman’s Playhouse are listed at merrimansplayhouse.org.
Justin Flagel is the founder of Red Chuck Productions, where he writes, tells stories, and creates new media. Follow his work at redchuckproductions.com. Feedback can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.