Music: Always on the Run

Jazz/Classical guitarist Fareed Haque works and plays with eclectic style

This was almost a story with no quotes. No, this was almost the story that wasn't. To say that virtuoso Classical and Jazz guitarist, composer, teacher and band leader Fareed Haque is a busy man is a pronouncement as understated as saying the man can play.

Indeed, Haque plays the Classical, electric and acoustic guitars and sitar much like a dervish whirls. He is a high-wire acrobat, constantly teetering on this side of losing his ever-loving, be-bopping mind on the ax.

Haque, 36, is preparing to mount a tour where he will be playing both genres in quartet and solo contexts. Though appearing mostly in and around his native Chicago, Haque will journey to Missouri, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, New York and Germany along with a Saturday stint here at The Greenwich.

There are toiletries to buy, bills to pay in advance and reservations to be made.

Though prearranged, Haque is unaware he is supposed to call me. His sweet, new wife answers the phone in their new Chicago digs. Fareed is in the car, she tells me. She doesn't know the number, but she can retrieve it with caller identification, because he's just called her. She calls me back with the number.

Minutes later Fareed and I are screaming at each other as his cell phone goes haywire. Somehow, through glips of silence and deafening static, we settle on a time to talk.

That Haque is busy is no big deal. Any professional musician worth his weight in gigs should be. Ironically, what makes Haque unique is his similarity to Jazz and Classical trumpeter/composer Wynton Marsalis' boundary-bouncing come-on to music. Haque has played with Joe Zawinul, Sting, Bob James, Arturo Sandoval, Nigel Kennedy, Robert Conant, Edgar Meyer and members of the Vermeer Quartet.

"I pretty much always feel like I'm straddling some boundary I'm not supposed to cross, and that was pretty confusing to me," Haque says from his home. "I used to say, 'What am I doing here?' Playing Jazz is this thing, playing Classical is this thing and writing is another thing. I've since made peace with these three things."

Before he did, Haque switched up like any good musical schizoid. In 1981 he received a Jazz guitar scholarship from North Texas State University. However, his infatuation with the Classical playing led him to transfer to Northwestern University, where he finished studies in Classical guitar. He also cemented his reputation among local clubs and musicians as the homeboy with the goods.

"The things I was doing in Texas weren't conducive to being a Jazz musician, so I decided to come home," Haque says. "I was sort of a hard practicer as a kid, and I had gone through a lot of things that had been offered in the guitar class. And then I thought, 'Now what?' "

In other words, he was a young virtuoso who flew through the pages of his practice books and outgrew the classroom.

"I spent a year touring with a Funk band. It was the Blues Brothers, for real."

This type of unorthodox training mixed with Haque's more traditional studies began years before he knew he would play for a living. He became accustomed to disparate social settings as the only child of a Pakistani microbiologist father and a Chilean mother. Literally, Haque's relatives live all over the world.

"We basically went abroad pretty much every summer, and some of those trips got into the school year six to eight months."

From those trips, Haque says he learned "different ways to socialize." Hence, his mastery of different ways to play.

"The guitarist has a personality. I can do all sorts of things as a guitarist," Haque says. "Fareed Haque, the composer, might do some things that might not fit into a nice little niche."

Haque has kicked ax with Rock/Funk guitarist and former Living Colour frontman Vernon Reid on saxophonist Javon Jackson's Good People. Haque also played on Jackson's For One Who Knows and From Within. As a leader, Haque started out on Sting's Pangaea label with Voices Rising and Manresa. He followed with three Blue Note releases, Sacred Addiction, Opaque and Déjà Vu.

After the tour, Haque says he will return to the studio to finish the mix on Welcome To My Small Pleasant World, a release he says will be a mix of Acid Jazz with Arabic and Indian influences on which he plays an electric guitar/sitar contraption. He hopes Blue Note picks it up. If not, he's confident there is a market for this hybrid known as Bhangra.

"It's kind of the young generation's version of Pakistani Folk music. It's this kind of whole groove that has this swing to it the same way that a Jazz eighth-note swings," he says. "It's funny, after never having played with Pakistani musicians and (after playing with them) they said, 'That's exactly what we're doing.' The only difference is I'm doing it with a Be-Bop reference to it."

So as the director of Jazz and Classical Guitar Studies at Northern Illinois University, it is this strange brew that Haque imparts to his students when he isn't on the road demonstrating the real thing.

"I tell them to keep an open mind, but acknowledge what you dig and what you don't dig," Haque says. "I think it's important to accept those differences and celebrate them. When we don't, and say it's no different being black or being white or a man or a woman, then we're fooling ourselves."

And with that, Haque is off the phone and on the road.

THE FAREED HAQUE QUARTET plays at The Greenwich on Saturday.

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