Peter Legat: The Mastermind Behind Count Basic Turns 60

In 1996, the “Smooth Jazz” radio station 105.8 FM in Northern Virginia played a tune called “M.L. in the Sunshine”, which stands for “Making Love in the Sunshine”. The composition was a Contemporary Jazz tune, mixed with Jazz-Funk, which contained a killer guitar.

Listeners were wondering who played that instrument so smoothly and affectionately, as if he was making love in the sunshine, and very convincing at the same time. Some thought George Benson or Norman Brown had recorded a new album.

That American Smooth Jazz audience, which tuned into that radio station while driving their Chevrolets on Interstate I-95, had no clue they were listening to Peter Legat, a genius guitarist from Austria. They did not know he had entered the Acid Jazz Revolution two years earlier, by releasing “Life Think It Over”, the debut album of his Jazz-Funk and Soul group Count Basic, which had been produced by Oisin Little.

Peter Legat, also known as “Count Peter” back in the days, moved to Vienna in 1977. His goal was to study Jazz Guitar at the Conservatory. He completed those studies with excellence in 1985.

Kelli Sae and Peter Legat are part of Count Basic. Photo by Count Basic.

Now it was time to hit the stages. So he founded a group called Incognito, which should not be mixed up with another band of that name. The original Incognito actually were Jazz-Rockers more than Jazz-Funkers, and they conquered Vienna. Peter Legat ran other projects as well.

It was in 1993, when he came up with a Jazz-Funk and Soul concept. For his new project, the guitar hero, composer, arranger and producer hired brilliant instrumentalists from Vienna. As his drummer, he picked Dirk Erchinger from Germany, who was already playing with the HipHop Jazz group Jazzkantine.

Erichinger is not just an excellent Funk drummer, but also a funny character and author. The motivational book he recently released is entitled “Fickt Euch, Ihr blöden Scheiß-Sorgen” (“Fuck You, You Stupid Fucking Worries”).

Also, Legat bumped into two excellent vocalists. Valerie Etienne, who became part of “Life, Think It Over”, had recorded albums with Galliano before, some sort of an ultra-cool Rap-Jazz-Funk group, which was part of the Acid Jazz Revolution too. The other singer Peter Legat got to know was the American Kelli Sae.

The fact that she clashed with the author of these lines 15 years ago, when she hit his festival stage in Sofia with the British version of Incognito, does not matter anymore. Kelli Sae killed it on stage back then, she nailed it every time she recorded or gigged live with Count Basic, and she is always on fire when she sings.

Kelli Sae will always rules any stage she stands on. Photo by Count Basic.

“Jazz in the House”, one of the first tunes she did with Peter Legat and the guys, was one of the most energetic tunes of the Acid Jazz Revolution, thanks to her. So are countless other pieces. They even covered “License to Kill”, that James Bond tune originally sung by Gladys Knight. “Love and Light” is another great example for the countless killer songs she sang with Count Basic.

When it comes to Kelli Sae, who always took the center of the stage, along with Peter, two words will explain what one of her main contributions was: stage presence. When Kelli Sae sings, she does not only do so like a goddess, but she rules the stage, and she rules the audience. She is a phenomenon.

So are the other members of Count Basic, including the flutist and saxophone hero Martin Fuss, their trumpet master Josef Burchartz, Martin Ptak always blew into the trombone, keyboards genius Dieter Kolbeck, Albin Janoska played that same instrument, Willi Langer on bass, Laurinho Bandeira was their percussionist, while Biti Strauchn and Zhana Saunders did backing vocals. Their former trumpetist Bumi Fian sadly died in 2006.

Peter Legat in action. Photo by Count Basic.

For Count Basic and Peter Legat, a big anniversary gig is coming up in Vienna. It is not really a band anniversary, but more of a personal one, since Peter Legat will turn 60. His birthday will be a huge Real Music party at Vienna’s “Porgy & Bess” on May 24th and 25th, 2018.

Not only will Peter hit the stage with Count Basic, including Kelli and all the others, but he is also scheduled to play with his former bands Incognito and Team Legat.

Imanuel Marcus spoke to Peter Legat, who just returned from an extended trip to Cuba.

Magazine79: When I lived in America in the 1990-s, I heard your piece “ML in the Sunshine” on a Smooth Jazz radio station in Virginia. Did you know you were so popular over there?

Peter Legat: Actually, yes. My record company Instinct Records in New York did send us weekly faxes with the chart position. The song hit the first place of the so-called NAC charts and stayed there for 11 weeks. So we were very much aware of what was going on there.

Magazine79: “Joy and Peace and Happiness”, “Jazz in the House” and other tunes sounded like hymns of a new Flower Power movement during the Acid Jazz revolution. What did those times feel like?

Peter Legat: Great for me. We decided to record the first CD in London and I hooked up with bunch of really nice guys and fab musicians. Ernie McKone, the bassplayer of Galliano, produced the CD and brought in the players of Incognito and Galliano. So we had the best time there.

Peter and Kelli in a “Love & Light” press photo. Photo by Count Basic.

Magazine79: So, Count Basic was definitely “Moving in the Right Direction”. How did you manage to find this perfect balance between vocal Funk and Soul tracks on the one, and those fascinating instrumentals, dominated by your guitar, on the other hand? Was this exactly what people wanted?

Peter Legat: I don’t know what people wanted, I always was able to record what I thought was cool. The Instrumentals like “M.L. in the Sunshine” were actually filler material for the record because I did not have enough vocal tracks. It came as a big surprise that they were played most, at least in the US.

Magazine79: Kelli, Dirk, Dieter, Laurinho, and all the others were part of this endeavor too, and they stuck with you all along. How did you guys get along in this big Funk family? And what was the best moment?

Peter Legat: We get along very well, played in different other Bands before Count Basic, so we knew each other and most of the guys are real friends to me. Best moments? Hard to pick, so many of them. But festivals are always a highlight, sharing the stage with George Clinton, Jamiroquai, Incognito and Chic was great too. It is always a pleasure.

Magazine79: For your 60th birthday, all your former bands, and Count Basic, will hit the stage in Vienna. What kind of sounds did you play with your group Incognito, Team Legat and Ruff’n’Ruff?

Peter Legat: My band Incognito was a Jazz-Rock project that lasted for 10 years. We did two records and a half. Weather Report and Miles Davis influenced us. There were great players and I learned a lot. Team Legat is kind of an electronic act without drums. The grooves come out of a computer. We dub a lot live with this Band, which is very exciting because we never know where we are going . Ruff’n’Tuff was a Prince.influenced Funk band, which was a lot of fun on stage.

Magazine79: How is Varadero Beach these days? What was more dangerous, the sharks or the bikinis?

Peter Legat: No sharks encountered, but many bikinis. The public beach is still great, we had a good time there. Especially at night, with all this great Salsa music everywhere.

Magazine79: How about the Salsa? What was your impression?

Peter Legat: In Trinidad, the music scene is very alive. All those players are excellent and there are literally dozens of bands playing every night. That was a lot of fun. Cuba has a superb music scene, all players are incredibly good and I came to the conclusion that I have to learn Salsa dancing.

Peter Legat, sitting on a 1983 Porsche 911 he drove on a race track. Photo by Peter Legat.

Magazine79: There is a lot beauty in sounds, including those you play and record. And there is beauty in 911s. What do you love about 911s?

Peter Legat: Everything. The design, the history, the drive. Just simple, but great cars. Period. Unfortunately I can not afford one. But sometimes I have the pleasure to drive 911s.

Magazine79: What kind of Austrian Jazz-Funk or Straight Ahead Jazz will we hear from you in future?

Peter Legat: I was very inspired by visiting the Egrem Studio in Havana and I am thinking of recording Count Basic material with a Cuban flavor. Straight Ahead Jazz? Not so much from me, since I always thought I could not do it justice. There are so many outstanding players out there, real monsters. I am not one of them.

Magazine79: You are definitely too modest, since you are a monster indeed. By the way: How does 59 feel?

Peter Legat: Great. No problems, so far.

Peter Legat’s upcoming 60th birthday gigs:

Incognito / Ruff´n´Tuff / Team Legat: May 24th, 2018, 8:30 p.m., Porgy & Bess, Vienna (Austria)

Rue de Legat / Count Basic feat. Kelli Sae: May 25th, 2018, 8:30 p.m., Porgy & Bess, Vienna (Austria)


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