As a long-time guitarist for The McLovins, Jeff Howard’s affinity for “jam band” music is well known.
But as he leaves that band, fans are likely to see more and more musical sides of the young Canton guitarist.
“As of now I plan to expand my horizons and play with as many musicians of different genres as I can,” Howard said.
The 17-year-old said rock, jazz and funk have been mainstays of his musical playing and listening, but he is also interested in exploring others such as country and even classical.
Recently Howard announced he was leaving The McLovins. Since launching in the summer of 2008, the band has quickly garnered national attention and, for the past few years, reviews in publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine have gone alongside appearances such as Gathering of the Vibes festival.
Howard, who started playing in third grade, knows it’s a success level many talented musicians never experience and made leaving a hard decision. He also said there is no animosity involved.
“It was definitely a hard decision to make,” he said. “I respect all of them so much and it’s been such a big part of my life.”
But Howard said other obligations made it hard to stay fully committed to a band at that level. A Canton High School junior, his responsibilities include schoolwork and teaching guitar lessons at Downright Music and Art in Collinsville.
“Playing at festivals has been one of my favorite experiences,” he said.
He also enjoyed meeting fans, especially the ones who were truly into music.
“My social skills have probably gotten better,” he said.
But he also admits a life of heavy touring may not be one he wants.
“The life of a working musician is very demanding and exhausting,” he said. “Playing and sleeping on tour buses may not be the life for me.”
And Howard said he is not sure if he will attend a music school during his college years or try and make it a career of some type but does plan to always keep it a big part of his life.
And for now, that will involve playing with more and more people and writing more music. One of Howard's current musical projects is Vortex, which includes Andrew Decker on guitar and Jeff Kozlowski on drums. Decker is co-owner of Downright and Kozlowski teaches there as well. Howard said there are many other talented teachers at Downright with whom he hopes to collaborate with and share his songs.
Decker has witnessed many sides of Howard’s music — as a teacher, bandmate and fan.
“Around here we’ve always been excited for his future in music,” Decker said. “Just seeing his career blossom has been so fascinating.”
And fans of Howard will have plenty of chances to see him play.
Tonight, Howard will play at the Iron Frog in Simsbury with Grant’s Tomb, a band that includes Simsbury natives Adrian Untermyer on keyboards and P.J. Duffy on bass. The show start at 9:30 p.m.
On Dec. 30, he plays his last show with The McLovins at Pearl Street in Northampton.
On Jan 2 will play with the Wrba/Weiss 4tet at the Mission Bar and Tapas in Pittsfield, Mass. That show will also include Canton drummer Andrew Magennis.
On Jan. 14, he will play with members of Stanley Maxwell and others for a fundraiser at the Franco American Club in Bristol. The band will pay Led Zeppelin IV in its entirely
In addition to jamming with other bands, Howard plans to write more music on his own.
“I’m coming up with more and more ideas,” he said.
Ideally Howard said he like to practice on to two hours a day although it isn’t always possible. In addition to guitar Howard has begun exploring other instruments such as piano and bass but said guitar will remain his No. 1 musical passion.
“I’ve had this strong attachment with guitar and it’s taken me to here.”
And Decker remembers a young teenager who came into Downright, plugged in and started effortlessly playing music by guitar greats Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
“We were just so, so amazed,” Decker said.
And wherever his music takes him or whatever level he keeps it at, his love for it is self-evident. Decker said he loves how Howard gets a thrill from each musical moment, whether it be teaching a beginner the simplest of songs or taking the stage at a major music festival.
“His passion and love for music is that of no one I’ve ever encountered in my life,” Decker said.