Colorful chords and rhythms paint the walls in the shades of retro Brazil as you listen to guitarist Nate Najar's latest album.
Aquarela do Brazil, which is Portuguese for "watercolor of Brazil," made its European debut on March 24, and is slated to debut in the United States on June 17. Najar, who grew up in St. Pete, has made a name for himself on a local level and across the pond in the United Kingdom, where he frequently performs.
It all started on a family trip to Walt Disney World, where Najar fell in love with the guitar. He recalls watching one of the shows that featured a live band and being drawn to the guitar player. "Back then, every show had a band, and I used to always like the guy with the guitar, and I said that I wanted to be the guy with the guitar," Najar said.
Najar, who graduated from St. Petersburg High School in 1999, began studying guitar with the late Frank Mullen at the age of 17. Mullen helped Najar to develop a deep love and respect for the art.
Since his high school days, and especially since his first official album (2006's I'm All Smiles), Najar has produced multiple albums and has become a well-known name on local, national, and international stages. From his regular gigs at the Palladium in St. Petersburg to his overseas gigs in the United Kingdom, Najar has developed a loyal fan base. In 2011, Najar's song Groove Me, featuring Tony-winning vocalist Melba Moore, hit the Top 10 on Billboard's smooth jazz chart.
Najar's performances reflect his desire to create a connection between himself and his audience. He likens his performance to a conversation that is uncontrived and full of expression.
"The most important thing to me is to be good at what I do. The most important thing is to have a good experience toward the audience and having a good experience presenting what it is that I present," Najar said.
Najar says that he is not in it to seek stardom. He feels that it is important to continue doing what he does at the highest level possible. He admires musicians like Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and Stevie Wonder for their natural ability make a song their own while connecting to their audience.
"I always try to play a tune my own way," said Najar. "It's not for esoteric reasons. I always try to put a personal statement on a tune. The most important thing I do is to make sure that I convey the character of the tune."
Colleagues and local bandmates John Lamb and Stephen Bucholtz also understand the importance of putting a special touch on the music they perform. Najar speaks of a unique chemistry that the three of them have when they are playing together.
"It's been great working with him," Bucholtz said. "We always have a great time playing together. It's always fun to play with such an accomplished musician. He has some interesting ideas on the arrangements. A lot of the tunes are standard tunes but we will do different arrangements that he comes up with."
That same chemistry is felt with other local musicians that Najar has worked with.
In 2011, Najar worked with local vocalist Lisa Casalino. The two connected on Facebook and later collaborated on her 2011 debut album, Introducing Lisa Casalino. Najar is currently working with Casalino on her upcoming album.
"It was an amazing experience from start to finish," Casalino said. "I told him that I wanted to put a record together. We realized that we co-wrote songs pretty well together. He arranged the songs and basically organized everything as a musical director."
For Najar, humility, respect, and the pursuit to perfect his craft are important to him when he thinks about his success. "I am just trying to play the instrument and using the proper technique gets me the best sound out of the instrument," he said. "I am always working on my sound and refining my sound and improving it. I am trying to get the most out of the instrument."