John Creech and Cobey Gatos: Fully in tune with one another

Cobey Gatos and John Creech met while playing basketball at Charlotte Central School. The two musicians hit it off and in 2009 they performed as a duo at the Charlotte Library. Almost 15 years later, their musical and personal connection remains strong as they record and perform as Greenbush, named for the road where they both live.

Creech grew up in North Carolina and his earliest musical memories are of sitting on the floor and feeling the vibrations from his mother’s piano playing. As a teenager, he picked up the guitar and formed a band with his older brother and he’s been part of musical collaborations ever since.

Photo by Oliver CreechCobey Gatos (left) and John Creech have been making music together since 2009.
Photo by Oliver Creech Cobey Gatos (left) and John Creech have been making music together since 2009.

Gatos spent his childhood in Massachusetts. His father was an amateur musician, so he was expected to take piano lessons starting at age six. He also picked up the French horn in elementary school. Gatos quit lessons as soon as he was allowed to, but he continued to play, starting a rock band in fifth grade. Ironically, two of his childhood bandmates — Peter Moses and Ken French — are also now living in Charlotte. Recently, Gatos sat in with French’s band, the Doughboys, 53 years after the first time the two men played together.

By 2010, Creech and Gatos were performing regularly either as a duo or as a trio with a drummer. Lucas Adler was their first percussionist, but for the last five years they have worked with Dov Schiller. Greenbush has played at venues throughout Chittenden, Addison, Lamoille and Washington counties with some upcoming gigs scheduled for June.

Creech said Greenbush’s music is roughly 40 percent original pieces and 60 percent cover tunes. Even though most of their music comes from other sources, the men try to create a personal connection to each piece.

“We have a strong commitment to playing music by both known and lesser-known jazz masters,” Gatos said. “We make an effort to play them in a way that is accessible.”

Gatos and Creech describe themselves as an improvisational group. “It’s about composing music on the spot, in the moment,” Creech said, noting that the improvisation can be based on a chord, a rhythm or even just a feeling.

Gatos said that despite the improvisation, the cover tunes they play are always recognizable. “There are parts we play in a similar fashion, but we never play them the exact same way.”

Creech used to own Burlington Guitar and Amp, but since the store closed, he has been focusing on tai chi and cooking, as well as music. He teaches private guitar lessons and has also taught the instrument at the Waldorf School, adult living communities, the Charlotte Senior Center and through the CVU ACCESS program. He teaches tai chi at many of the same locations and has done some private catering and cooking for the Waldorf School, as well as providing music therapy.

After college Gatos made part of his living as a musician, playing weddings and other events, but even when that wasn’t the case, music has always been a major part of his life. He works remotely from his backyard office as a computer programmer for a company that makes music hardware.

After so many years together, it’s not surprising that the two men feel a strong connection to one another. Creech describes their music as finding a middle ground between his guitar background and Gatos’s keyboard roots. Despite growing up in different parts of the country, they both gravitated to the same music in their youth, listening to jazz composers who Creech described as being unheralded in their time but who may now be enjoying more acclaim. “There is a little bit of a mission to pay homage to our heroes who may not have gotten the recognition they deserved,” he said.

“We’re extremely comfortable with each other but there is always a different approach to the music,” Creech said. “Often, I can hear what Cobey’s doing but there will be a startling surprise which can be incredibly energizing.” Gatos noted that one important aspect to their music is their willingness to take risks.

Gatos moved to Vermont in 1989 and Creech arrived four years later. Although much of their music was written outside the state, they both feel that there is something local about what they play.

Every Thursday, the two men head to Gatos’ backyard for a jam session. “We play for a couple of hours and have a beer or two,” Gatos said. “We play old songs and new material, and it’s always the highlight of the week.”