“I’ve always loved Joe Belmont’s guitar playing: polished, eclectic, crystalline–and how he always surprises you, whether he’s in Brazil, or the Renaissance, in the Great American Songbook, or rock n’ roll. His playing is pure art, pure creation, a sheer delight for the listener.”
-William Cumpiano, Master guitar builder
Joe Belmont has been a professional guitarist for over thirty years, and has extensive performance and recording experience in a wide variety of styles with many musical ensembles. His discography from intimate solo work to session musician to film scores. He is a Performance Faculty member of the music department at Amherst College and is the Director of Jazz Studies at the Northampton Community Music Center.
Joe was born in New York City. After dabbling with other less worthy instruments, he found his passion in the guitar. He taught himself to play and began writing songs almost immediately. Soon after, he formed long-standing and popular NYC band, Charlie Quasar, with his bro Dave Belmont, bassist Jerry McCord and drummer Ritchie Epstein. Toward the end of the band’s tenure, Joe began music school, studying at the City University of New York, and receiving a BA in 1977.
After graduating, Mr. Belmont disappeared into the hinterlands of Western Massachusetts, having fallen off the edge of the flat earth, as defined by The Map in New Yorker magazine. Actually he settled in Northampton, MA.
Joe immersed himself in the music scene there, playing a dizzying variety of styles, with numerous bands. Memorable were stints in the rhythm and blues band “The Hamptones”, singer-songwriters John Coster and Joel Zoss, and jazz-fusion bands Urban Renewal and Fresh Squeeze. In 1986 he released a cassette(!) of his acoustic guitar compositions entitled “First Edition”, which became a local best-seller.
Since 1990 he has taught Jazz guitar as a performance instructor at Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts. Joe played guitar, arranged and wrote music for the band Quetzal (Viva Quetzal.com) from 1991 thru 2003, recording three CD’s and traveled to numerous shows at festivals, Fine Arts Centers, and other venues all over the USA.
In 2003 Joe began his solo career, first releasing the CD “Sketches from the Journey Home.” “Sketches” is a collection of intimate guitar pieces, each depicting an aspect of Joe’s life. (Read a review here. Listen to MP3s here.) Following this CD, Joe recorded another entitled “Live at Leeds (Northampton),” released in June of 2005. Joe then embarked on a two year project transcribing and learning the music of Wes Montgomery, and teamed with some wonderful musicians (Paul Arslanian on piano, Dave Shapiro on bass, Claire Arenius on drums, Bruce Diehl on saxophone) to produce the CD “Joe Belmont and the Fellowship of Wes,” released in 2007. In 2010 he released (along with flutist Sarah Swersey) the self-titled “Duo Fusion” CD (www.duo-fusion.com).
In 2013 he served as Music Director for the world premier of Grammy and Tony winners Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s play “Arms on Fire.” He is currently writing music and getting ready for The Joe Belmont Experience.
The Joe Belmont Experience
Joe Belmont Experience is comprised of accomplished veterans of the Northeast music scene playing a cohesive blend of divergent elements of jazz, original compositions, funk, classic songs, Chicago blues, and jamming.
Joe Belmont has been a professional guitarist for over forty years, and has extensive performance and recording experience in a wide variety of styles with many musical ensembles. At 65 years old, Joe Belmont’s new solo project began two years ago after he made the decision to make uncompromisingly creative music exactly as he envisioned it.
“I’ve done this my whole life and I’ve made my living as a musician, but this is the first time I’ve been a band leader,” Belmont said. “I was at the point where I was in a number of bands and I figured what I wanted to do was eliminate everything else and concentrate on this one project, and become a specialist.”
Now that their debut album is out, the band is focusing on playing shows consistently, building their fan base and perfecting their style. The Joe Belmont Experience released their debut album The Essential Experience, Vol. 1 last July.
“Hawks and Reed was really big for us because they really gave us the opportunity to play often and rehearse,” Belmont said. “For a while we were playing there the first Sunday of every month. I really credit them for having helped us out a lot.”
Joe Belmont has released two CDs of his own music, and produced and performed on numerous other recordings. He played with world beat band Viva Quetzal for over 20 years where he connected with bandmates Rudi Weeks (bass) and Eliezar Martinez (drums). Since 1990, Joe has taught on the Performance Faculty at Amherst College, and currently serves as Director of Jazz at the Northampton Community Music Center.
“A lot of people say we’re a jazz group. I don’t hear it,” Belmont said. He categorizes the band as jazz and jam, but draws influence from all the musical styles he’s encountered in his long career as a guitarist.
Belmont started making music as a teenager in NYC writing songs for his band, Charlie Quasar, that he started with his brother. Toward the end of the band’s tenure, Joe began music school, studying at the City University of New York, and receiving a BA in 1977.
After graduating, Belmont moved to Northampton and became immersed in the music scene, playing a dizzying variety of styles, with numerous bands like the Hamptones, Urban Renewal and Fresh Squeeze. In 1986 he released a cassette of his acoustic guitar compositions entitled “First Edition”, which became a local best-seller.
“I have begun writing songs for the band, along with the instrumental compositions I’ve contributed. Songwriting is interesting because you have to be coming from somewhere, you have to be coming from a place,” Belmonst said. “I think the inspiration for the songs I’m writing is I’m trying to say something.”
Over the last decade, Belmont has been reading more about history and metaphysics and applying some of these ideas to his songwriting style. Lyrically, Belmont draws inspiration from Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles: Volume One, and the music of Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits.
Joe played guitar, arranged and wrote music for the band Quetzal from 1991 thru 2003, recording three CD’s and traveled to numerous shows and festivals across the country. In 2003 Joe began his solo career, first releasing the CD “Sketches from the Journey Home.” “Sketches” is a collection of intimate guitar pieces, each depicting an aspect of Joe’s life. Joe then embarked on a two year project transcribing and learning the music of Wes Montgomery, and teamed with a team of talented musicians to produce the CD “Joe Belmont and the Fellowship of Wes,” released in 2007. In 2010 he released the self-titled “Duo Fusion” CD along with flutist Sarah Swersey. In 2013 he served as Music Director for the world premier of Grammy and Tony winners Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s play “Arms on Fire.”
The Joe Belmont Experience has played local festivals and music venues like Hawks and Reed, the Iron Horse, Gateway City Arts and others. The band’s drummer, Eliezer Martinez has played tours with the television show The Voice’s Road Show. Rudi Weeks has toured with Ronnie Spector, The Contours, & The Crests. He has also performed shows with bluegrass, and folk legends Tom Paxton, Kenny Kosek, and Tony Trischka.
Joe Belmont: Guitars
Rudi Weeks: Bass
Eliezer Martinez: Drums
Wanda Houston, Vocals
Jason Robinson, Tenor sax
Recorded and mastered in 2019 by Warren Amerman at Rotary Records, West Springfield. Produced by Joe Belmont and mixed by Warren Amerman. CD Design by Jim Sadler.
1-Evening’s Empire (Joe Belmont)
2-Unity Village (Pat Metheny)
3-Mujeres de la Puna (Joe Belmont) For Sarita
4-(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding/Steve Cropper)
5-Softly as a Morning Sunrise (Romberg/Hammerstein)
6-Footprints (Wayne Shorter)
7-Waves #3 (Joe Belmont) For Steve Farenga
8-In My Life (Lennon/McCartney) For Ami and Ben
9-Sea Journey (Chick Corea)
10-Come Together (Lennon/McCartney)
11-Mixin’Up Some Mojo (Joe Belmont)
from Firing on all cylinders: The Joe Belmont Experience offers jazz, blues, R&B and more Steve Pfarrer, Daily Hampshire Gazette
As he was recording his newest album earlier this year, Joe Belmont says he was mulling over some possible titles, and he was leaning to calling the new disc “Americana.”
“I was going to use that because of the mix of music [on the album],” the Northampton guitarist said in a recent interview. “To me, it’s what American music is made up of, and I’m trying to take, for me, what I love from it. I floated the idea by a few people and they said, ‘Americana is considered a genre.’ ”
It’s true that Americana, as a musical term, is generally defined as an amalgam of roots-based, primarily acoustic music styles including folk, country, bluegrass, blues and a few other American sounds. But Belmont’s new album — a mix of primarily instrumental jazz, blues, and some creative interpretations of rock and pop songs — also taps into some rich U.S. music traditions.
But to avoid any confusion, the disc is called “The Essential Experience, Vol. 1,” and it’s the work of The Joe Belmont Experience, a trio that Belmont put together a few years ago with two musical friends, drummer Eliezer Martinez and bassist Rudi Weeks, and which has become his main musical calling card after years of playing in a number of different genres and groups.
“I set this up so I have plenty of time to do all this,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is say ‘This is what I do, this is all I do.’ ”
Belmont is well known in Valley music circles through his work with a number of groups, such as Viva Quetzal, the Andean fusion/world beat band that was especially active in the 1990s and early 2000s. As well, he and flutist Sarah Swersey play in Duo Fusion, in which the two perform arrangements of music ranging from classical to jazz. Belmont is also a longtime performance faculty member at the Amherst College Music Department, and he directs jazz studies at the Northampton Community Music Center.
But a few years ago, Belmont formed his new trio to give voice to the full range of music he likes to play on guitar: jazz, blues, rock and some classical. Weeks was an old friend he’d gigged with since the 1980s (including with Viva Quetzal), and he met Martinez when the drummer joined Quetzel about six years ago.
“Eliezer is just a phenomenal drummer — anything I play, he finds something to go with it,” Belmont said. “And Rudi is incredibly versatile. Initially I was looking at them as more of a jazz rhythm section — I was kind of searching for something, what the group could be, and then I said ‘C’mon, Joe! We can do all of this!’ ”
He notes that Martinez comes to the trio with a background in gospel and hip hop, while Weeks, like him, has played a variety of music. The guest musicians who have gigged with The Joe Belmont Experience also bring various vibes to the music. Saxophonist Jason Robinson, for instance, “is going to push us more in a jazz direction,” said Belmont.
“The idea that holds the selections together is that we love all of this,” he added.
Into the studio
That love comes through on the new album, recorded in late winter and spring by Warren Amerman of Rotary Records in West Springfield (Belmont says the studio is located in a former church that dates to the 1820s). For one thing, the sound is incredibly crisp and crystaline, with Belmont’s mostly fingerpicked guitar lines almost snapping out of the speakers.
Belmont says Amerman told him the sound quality of CDs has improved in recent years. But beyond that, he credits Amerman’s engineering and the band’s overall musicianship for the good sound; his guitar work, in addition, benefited from new pickups and a new amp he’d bought, a handmade copy of a Fender Tweedy Deluxe from 1954. He says his son, Jules, a guitarist in Nashville, Tennessee, also gave him some pointers on using the new amp.
“I spent a lot of time at my home [studio] experimenting with it,” Belmont said “I stuck my microphone right in front of it, I did a little of this, a little of that. By the time I went to do the recording, I had all these notes on how I might use it for each different song.”
The 11 cuts on the album include four Belmont compositions and arrangements of songs by Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, The Beatles and others. Wanda Houston, the singer, lends her voice to an R&B-type version of “Come Together” by Lennon/McCartney and to a cover of Otis Reading’s famous “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.”
The Joe Belmont Experience had a longtime, regular monthly gig at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield, Belmont notes, so “we got a chance to practice for over a year and a half, and we would have a special guest each month, and that’s how we first met Wanda. What she does and what we do just goes together really well.”
Those two vocal cuts and most of the other songs on the album were recorded live, Belmont notes, generally in a few takes; he only overdubbed guitar parts, or recorded them separately, on a few songs, including a very melodic and somewhat jazzy take on another Lennon/McCartney title, “In My Life.”
On “Softly as a Morning Sunrise” by Romberg/Hammerstein, Jason Robinson adds two long sax solos, while Chris Haynes layers a shimmering Fender Rhodes piano over Chick Corea’s rich and melodic “Sea Journey.” Other guest musicians add organ, trumpet and percussion to selected tracks.
Belmont, meantime, adds some tart guitar lines and chords to his original bluesy composition “Evening’s Empire,” which dances in some places along that indefinite line where jazz and blues meet. And throughout the album, Martinez and Weeks get their chances to solo, always in a crisp and non-indulgent way.
And the “Vol. 1” subtitle to the new album is deliberate, he says: “We definitely want to do some more recording.”
Viva Quezal is back! Joe is happy to rejoin this innovative world beat band… George W. Bush is long gone and Viva Quetzal is back. To learn more about our upcoming gigs, visit www.vivaquetzal.com.
Joe is proud to collaborate with acclaimed flutist Sarah Swersey. Together they explore music from classical to jazz, Bach to Ibert, Fauré to Celtic Improv. For their recent CD, visit their CD Baby page. For more about Duo Fusion, visit http://www.duo-fusion.com.
Greetings from Guitarland! Sometimes I think that’s the name of this fictional country I inhabit. It’s really a nice place. It’s kind of great being here. Am I right? Being here, I’ve decided to use the opportunity of having a web-site to create a blog” about all things guitar. Playing guitar, jamming on guitar, learning …
As you know from earlier blogs, I believe that the best way to development facility playing guitar is to REALLY learn how to play blues guitar. That being said these are good! Today I recorded and uploaded the 2nd of two videos I’ve done showing the “La Grange” lick. I think they are really good…really …
My band has this brand-new video: It’s our version of the Beatles song “And I Love Her.” I’m getting so much positive feedback on the video that I’d like to share my thoughts about the arrangement that we did. What’s great is that there is so much you can with the tune “And I Love …
Who makes up the Blues “Licks”: It’s a curious thought. Blues licks are a shared vocabulary for most (electric) guitarists. But where are they from? Who made them up? In my opinion for a student of guitar that can play a blues progression, and knows the pentatonic scale, the next step is learning the licks. …
Featuring a bunch of new songs, JBE music, and an acoustic set. Rudi, Joe and Eliezer.
The Buttonwood Tree Performing Arts Center
605 Main Street
Middletown, CT 06457
Guitar Lessons in Northampton Massachusetts
Joe Belmont has been identified as a master teacher. For more than twenty years he has taught jazz guitar on the Performance Faculty at Amherst College in Amherst Massachusetts. Joe is also currently Director of Jazz Studies at the Northampton Community Music Center in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Joe’s comprehensive background and his experience teaching talented guitarists of all ages enables him not only to guide his students towards a mastery of technique, but to find the style most appropriate to them. Joe not only knows how to play but how to listen.
For information about lessons, fill out Joe’s contact form below.
Here’s what a few of Joe’s students have said about him. Where applicable, feel free to follow the provided links to see their work or to contact them yourself.
Boston, MA http://www.myspace.com/fulltangband http://www.myspace.com/thesuperpowers
“Joe Belmont is a great teacher. There aren’t many guitar styles that he hasn’t mastered. My experience with him was inspiring and encouraging. He would get just as excited as me about something I wanted to learn, and would take the time to explain the various techniques that go into it. He played a large role in preparing me for life as a professional musician.”
“I’d highly recommend Joe Belmont to anyone interested in seriously studying jazz guitar. Joe is the complete package, a real teacher — supportive, thoughtful, and into it. I learned a lot about jazz and musicianship from Joe, but most importantly he taught me how to really practice and study jazz on my own. Joe is also a lot of fun to hang out with and is one of the truly nice people in this world.”
“I am 18 years old and have been studying guitar with Joe for about 4 years. I originally came to Joe because I wanted to learn the blues, however I quickly realized that what was really right for me was the study of Classical guitar and later a new found love for Flamenco. I have learned everything from music theory, to Bach Sonatas, to Flamenco technique from Joe. It was amazing to me how seamlessly I was able to transition between these seemingly opposite genres with one teacher. The passion, knowledge, and experience that he brings to each and every aspect of the music has helped me to appreciate the art and grow as a musician and as a creative individual. I am now going on to major in Classical guitar with a firm, well rounded musical knowledge to support me which is greatly due to my time studying with Joe.”
Singer-Songwriter/ Guitarist/ Producer
Los Angeles, CA
Band: The Northstar Session www.myspace.com/thenorthstarsession.com www.youtube.com/mattynorthstar
“I started taking lessons with Joe when I was about 13. I pretty much had a lesson with him every week for my 4 years in high school and would take lessons with him whenever I was home on break from college. So collectively I took lessons with him for about 8 years. The lessons I had with Joe are some of the fondest musical memories I have. Throughout all the lessons we covered genres of Rock, Blues, Jazz, Funk, Folk, Country and Finger Picking styles. These days I make my living as a full-time musician in Los Angeles and I can definitely say that Joe’s teaching helped give me the proper tools I need for my profession. I fully recommend taking lessons with Joe, he’s a wonderful guitarist and teacher but more importantly, he’s a wonderful person and friend.”
Written by Janna Ugone, mother of my guitar student, 11 year old Trace
“This week when I walked in during my son’s guitar lesson with Joe, they were discussing Spanish rhythm. This used to surprise me, now I’m used to the range. Joe played guitar and showed him by example this type of strumming, while my son was asked to tap his own guitar with a base rhythm. Then Joe and he swapped roles and Joe said, “give it a try”. The first time he did this, I watched with anticipation to see if my then 10 year old was up to the task. He did it, chord for chord. This back and forth is a blast for my son. Joe has not only broadened his appreciation for music, but has instilled a confidence in him as they play this game. As Joe weaves in many points of view with melody, music theory and rhythm, I get to watch my son blossom with inspiration. He has learned a bit of jazz, blues, classic rock and now classical Spanish in this manner. They listen deeply and discuss music or Joe hands him a disc to take home at times. Sometimes I arrive and they are just laughing together and playing – it’s natural, it varies, and that’s the magic of it”.