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Jam Man 

Fareed Haque can jam, rock, groove — whatever you need him to do, really

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Fareed Haque learned to play guitar like many kids before him. His mother signed him up for piano lessons at age 8, when his father suggested he learn the bass. So naturally, Haque chose neither — opting for guitar. That instrument was a social tool, Haque says. “Suddenly I’m in a band playing Foghat and Led Zeppelin and I’m cool.”

These days, Haque is more known for his jazzy, world-fusion groups like Garaj Mahal and the Flat Earth Ensemble. His countless albums continue to dominate Jazz Week Charts, and in 2009 he was named best world guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine.

“The guitar offers a unique palette,” he says. “You can play chords and percussion — it’s a mini orchestra if you will — and in many ways that’s where my love for the instrument has been focused.”

Haque focuses on classical and jazz guitar, but his music blurs compositional boundaries. Garaj Mahal is hyper-talented — a group of musicians who play intelligent, dance-heavy tunes inspired by jazz, funk and rock. The jam band caters to the most elite beatniks as well as the dancing hippies.

And with the Flat Earth Ensemble, Haque makes hypnotic world music that’s jazzy at its very core. It’s a unique combination of Hindustani folk rhythms and groove jazz. Punjabi folk music is to India what gospel is to America, Haque says: funky, fun, danceable and spiritual.

“The guitar has become more of a vehicle for music rather than an end of a means for itself,” he says. Haque has kept his music fresh and humble over the past 22 years by teaching at Northern Illinois University. The associate professor in jazz and classical guitar not only transcribes baroque and South American music, but composes concertos and performs with symphony orchestras across the United States. 

“It’s easy to isolate yourself in a your own little world or niche,” Haque says. “Teaching and playing keeps me constantly challenged.” A jack-of-all-trades, he composes, tours and teaches simultaneously throughout the school year and summer.

On any given night, Haque might play a jazz club, a university event or with the Chicago Sinfonietta. He say’s he able to transition from one genre and venue to the next because he’s the one usually composing most of the music.

“What inspires me to write is the need to create music that I want to play, with the groups I play with,” he says. “I don’t really walk around thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to write a piece about a pretty tree, or a lovely flower.’ I write music that’s about music.”

Fareed Haque plays with director Kathleen Hollingsworth, the WSU VoJazz, Dave Snider and the WSU big band at WSU’s Kimbrough Music Hall on Tuesday, April 13, at 8 pm. Free. Call 332-2470.

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