Jeff Linsky Still Going Strong

By Ross Boissoneau

It’s not that far from pop to jazz, or from guitar to ukulele – at least not for Jeff Linsky. The California-based musician has performed pop and rock, Latin, jazz, and more. He’s done so in various settings: solo, in duos, trios, full band and with an orchestra.

It all comes from his love of music. Yet he distances himself from the business side of things as much as he’s able to, while still maintaining a career. “I enjoy playing music and don’t enjoy the career part,” he says. “Playing with all the great players – that was fun. Performing is fun. The making compromises is what I didn’t enjoy.”

The 71-year-old took up guitar at age 10. He originally learned to play by ear. The owner of a local music store recognized his talent and introduced Linsky to many of the top studio guitarists in Los Angeles, including Laurindo Almeida, Tommy Tedesco, Vicente Gomez, and Joe Pass. As a result, he ended up studying with both Gomez and Pass.

Jeff Linsky

Jeff Linsky

He first started performing in the pop world before broadening his horizons. “I’ve worked with a lot of popular groups. I started at 17 with the Grass Roots, with the Standells in 1969,” Linsky says.

Growing up alongside the beaches in the warmth of the California sun, where he could swim and surf, was great – just not quite great enough. The guitarist relocated for a number of years to Hawaii. “The water was warmer, the beaches cooler. I bought a one-way ticket at 19 and stayed 20 years. I based myself there for most of the 70s and 80s,” he says.

While there he heard the sound of a ukulele, and eventually decided to take it up alongside his guitar. He became acquainted with the scene and the players, but really got into it after attending the National Association of Music Merchants trade show and chatting with multi-instrumentalist Abe Lagrimas Jr., who plays vibes, drums – and ukulele. “Abe is a jazz guy and a drummer. I was at a NAMM show and Abe was at a booth to sell a podcast. He said, ‘Hi Jeff. Wanna play?’ I played ukulele.” They hit it off musically and decided then and there to collaborate. “He doesn’t get to play much jazz. That day we booked a tour of China as a ukulele duo.”

Beside that tour with Lagrimas, his ukulele was also featured on jazz bassist Jennifer Leitham’s album Mood Swings. Linsky, Lagrimas and Leitham have teamed up to form the ukulele trio Left Coast Uke.

Despite the appeal of Hawaii’s weather, water and beaches, he eventually found it just too challenging to maintain and expand his career so far from the mainland. “It’s a wonderful place to live, (but) it’s five hours to the West Coast,” says Linsky. He eventually returned to California and has been based there ever since.

Linsky writes music as well as plays, and has written for solo guitar, Latin jazz bands and orchestras. An inveterate traveler, he says going abroad always finds him exploring the music of whatever area he’s in. “I was in Asia. Malaysia, Thailand – I’m always interested in the local music in different places,” he says.

Jeff Linsky Uke

Jeff Linsky

Now 60-plus years into a career marked by recordings on major labels and independents, concerts across the globe and playing for presidents and royalty, it always comes down to the love of music. “I play piano, guitar, ukulele every day. It’s always been my passion,” he says.

Linsky has long been a fan of La Bella strings. “I’ve endorsed La Bella for 30-plus years,” he says. He prefers thinner nylon strings for jazz, especially for his requinto. “It’s three-quarters the size of a Spanish guitar, up a fourth. It’s responsive and bright.”

It took some experimenting for him to find the string that was just right. For the trebles he started out with nylon lute strings, until he discovered La Bella poly strings “that don’t squeak.” For his classical guitar he uses La Bella 2001 for trebles. “My ukulele was made by Pepe Romero Jr., a famous luthier,” he says. Naturally enough, he uses La Bella’s Pepe Romero Jr. strings on it.

Ross Boissoneau is a regular contributor to Something Else! Reviews, Northern Express and Local Spins. He’s written for the All Music Guide, Jazziz and Progression Magazines, and is a member of the Downbeat Critics Poll.

Ross Boissoneau

4 thoughts on “Jeff Linsky Still Going Strong

  1. A most brilliant improviser and a lovely guy. Years ago, I asked him to play a Lauro waltz and after a momen’s reflection, he just flashed it, perfectly. A San Francisco hotel lobby gig!

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