By Brian O'Shea   Published Jul 18, 2003 at 5:30 AM

Milwaukee jazz guitarist Jack Grassel does his own thing. And he's been doing it -- that is, performing his own unique style of music at clubs across the country -- for more than three decades.

"I try to avoid being influenced by anyone so that I've been able to create a guitar style that is mine alone, says Grassel. "I don't sound like anyone. I have especially avoided listening to guitarists because it is real easy to be influenced by someone playing the same instrument."

Grassel began playing music at the age of two, and his passion for music seems to be something he was born with. That, and a little push from his parents.

"I began playing the piano as soon as I learned to stand and reach the keys. My parents shoved me onstage at the age of four. I did what they told me to do and I've played constantly ever since, resulting in over 8,000 performances at last count," says Grassel.

Grassel has earned several awards and accolades over his career. In 1986, Guitar Player magazine said, "Jack may soon be recognized as one of the top guitar players in America," and in 2000, Guitar One Magazine awarded him a position as "one of the top 10 guitar players in the U.S."

Not only an entertainer, Grassel does his share to help other musicians get their careers off the ground. He has written several, advanced guitar instruction books and has developed a music degree program at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Says Grassel, "I have designed the Music Occupation Program offering an associate degree in music. I created the course content, designed the department and decided which courses to be offered to train professional musicians."

Grassel is one of those few musicians who has been able to early all his income from his music, but sometimes that can be a tough way to make a living, says the confident guitarist.

"(It's frustrating) not being treated as a professional by some people and being asked to play for no pay. Would someone call a plumber or a dentist, and ask them to perform for free so they get exposure? Or would you tell a doctor, 'I am on a budget and this is all I can pay you?' I am a master musician considered to be a world authority on the guitar. I guess I would like equal pay with that of a master plumber."

One would think that a musician with Grassel's talent and experience would find a more lucrative market in Los Angeles or New York. Yet he remains in Wisconsin. Why?


"Here in Milwaukee, I can practice four to six hours, drive to the gig, and then practice when I get home. New York gigs are always about four hours away. Bottom line is the music is what's important. I can be a better guitar player here. The music is what's important, not the money," says Grassel.

And the music has kept Grassel busy. Last year he released a "best of" album called "10," made up of 10 songs Grassel handpicked from his first 10 albums. He has shared the stage with greats like as Luciano Pavarotti and Cab Calloway. In his career, he's written more 60 songs and recorded 11 albums.

Upcoming projects include a collaboration with fellow guitarist, Guillermo Espinasse, which he is recording in Mexico. Grassel is also working on an album with his wife and colleague, Jill Jensen. Both records have yet to be named, and their release date is scheduled in the fall.

"It's a really ambitious project, songs will include some big band, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Quartet, Howard Levy on harmonica, and Jack doing all the arranging and producing," says Jensen.

Grassel can be seen regularly on Thursdays at Caroline's and Fridays at Blue. He also performs every third and fourth Sunday at the Uptowner. For a complete schedule, visit his Web site at