Greg Abate: Traveling the world, playing jazz with friends



As a professional jazz musician, Greg Abate has made a lot of friends working with local rhythm sections in the United States and abroad. When the alto saxophonist performs at Hidden Gem Music Club in Centerville on Sunday, March 3, he’ll be joined by Miami Valley players Lee McKinney (drums) and Chris Berg (bass) and Oregon-based Matt Cooper (piano).

“It’s always good to play with those guys,” Abate said, speaking by telephone from his home in Rhode Island. “I’ve known Lee probably 20 years. Lee was playing drums with me at the bookstore coffeeshop in Beavercreek. I guess I didn’t have a place to stay for some reason and he said, ‘You can come to my house. Do you like dogs?’ ‘Do I like dogs? No problem.’

“So, I stayed there, and I became friends with the family over the years,” Abate continued. “I’ve seen his kids grow up. Time just flew by. It’s sort of a special thing. He’s a nice man, a good guy.”



Friendly collaborators

Abate, a Massachusetts native, graduated from Berklee College of Music in the early 1970s. He was in his late 20s and playing in a rhythm & blues cover band when a got a chance to join Ray Charles’ band.

“I was like 27 when I went in there and auditioned,” Abate said. “I was not very mature, but I had a lot of moxie. I got the gig and we left on tour about a week later. I was with him about a year-and-a-half and went to every country in Western Europe except Portugal. We toured different cities in Japan for a month. It was a great experience.”

After his stint with Charles, Abate played with Artie Shaw before launching his career as a bandleader in the early 1980s. Since then, he has recorded two dozen albums as a leader playing saxophone and flute, often in collaboration with big hitters like Phil Woods, Kenny Barron or Claudio Roditi. Abate will next be featured on “Reflection in Two Shades,” McKinney’s new album with Berg and Cooper.

“Lee wrote a bunch of original music for this new record,” Abate said. “He’s on the drums and I’m playing alto and flute. Matt and Chris also play on it. They’re Lee’s compositions and I helped him get on a label. It’s coming out in March on Summit Records. The record company agreed to do his record if he put ‘Featuring Greg Abate’ on there.

“It’s nice to help a friend,” Abate continued. “Lee’s not a go-getter. He writes some nice tunes, but he’s never had the exposure. Every artist should have some sort of national exposure if they’re writing music. You don’t always get that. I was able to help him, so I feel really good about that.”

Future plans

Abate’s latest album as bandleader, “Reunion,” was released in 2023. A new full-length will be out in January 2025.

“I have another recording coming out with the New Mexico Contingent,” he said. “These are musicians I play with in Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque. I recorded with them a year-and-a-half ago and it’s coming out early next year on Summit Records. I’ve been writing new music too. I’ve done really well with all the recordings so I’m not complaining. That last recording stayed on the jazz chart for over two months.”

With two albums in the release queue, Abate is primarily focused on performing live.

“It’s always a trek to get gigs but things are good,” Abate said. “I find myself with booking problems sometimes because things have closed up. I don’t do general business gigs because I don’t have to do that but it’s a hard life. It’s very competitive even though I see the accolades in ‘Down Beat’ and the readers’ poll and all that. I work in New York. I do Smalls, which is about it right now. I’ve got a lot of gigs around here.

“I’m going to Tucson and Phoenix in May,” he continued. “In June, I’ve got a concert at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, Ky. I get to bring my whole band from New York. They’re flying us out there but there aren’t a lot of those types of gigs. I’m trying to get more gigs in June, so I need to focus on that.”

For nearly 20 years, Abate has been making regular trips to the United Kingdom.

“I travel to England twice a year,” he said. “I’ve got the whole month of July booked and the full month of November. I’m going to England from July 7 until the 28. I have about 24 gigs and I have different rhythm sections in every city I play. I’m going back to England from Oct. 28 to Nov. 24. That’s completely filled up with gigs.

“I’ve been going to England for 19 years,” Abate continued. “It’s been nice. I’ve got a lot of friends there and I play with a lot of great musicians. It’s like I’m a citizen over there. They’re really nice people but it took me a while to get used to the demeanor of the Brits. They have a different way of thinking and different values. They’re not as patient with me so I try to be more straight ahead without joking around too much.”



Music education

Abate has an adjunct teaching position at Rhode Island College but doesn’t currently have any classes. He gives private lessons and also conducts workshops for school children and college master classes. While in the area, Abate has workshops in Cincinnati on Feb. 29 and March 4.

“I don’t have anything going on at Rhode Island College right now,” he said. “I had a few classes where students graduated or just dropped out of it once COVID started. I have one private student and that’s it right now. When I was out in California for some gigs recently, I did a few workshops. I have some sponsorship from the Selmer Instrument Company, so I also do workshops like that.

“I really enjoy the workshops,” Abate said. “The ones in Cincinnati are with Donald Cline, who is a great guy. He’s a nice player and great educator. He has this trio, and we play in all the different grade schools. We have the kids in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grade come in and we talk about Duke Ellington and all the greats. Learning about music at that age can help you do things better and that’s something I’m proud to help them with.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or

How to go

Who: Greg Abate Jazz Quartet featuring Matt Cooper, Chris Berg and Lee McKinney

Where: Hidden Gem Music Club, 507 Miamisburg Centerville Road, Centerville

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 3; doors open at 6 p.m.

Cost: $15 in advance, $20 day of show

More info: 937-829-4874 or

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