Keyboardist, composer, and arranger Jeff Babko shares stories from his life and career, including working in TV and playing live with Martin Short, James Taylor, and Toto. He also speaks about his education at the University of Miami.
Abbout Jeff Babko
Pianist/keyboardist Jeff Babko is a native of Southern California, and has remained on the west coast throughout his career. Babko constantly balances many musical and professional hats, as an in-demand recording musician and touring keyboardist.
After graduating from the University of Miami’s distinguished Frost School Of Music, Babko began working with international superstar Julio Iglesias on a series of worldwide tours. He also appeared in Iglesias’ “Tango” longform video.
After leaving Iglesias, Babko began regularly touring Asia and Europe super-drummer Simon Phillips. Soon after, he joined guitarist Robben Ford‘s band, and later extensively toured and recorded with Larry Carlton. With Carlton, Babko performed for the King and royal family of Thailand in Bangkok’s royal palace. Listeners can enjoy Babko’s recorded work with Ford and Carlton on their joint effort, Live In Tokyo, as well as on some of their individual recordings (see “other people’s rekkids” section). Babko also backed Carlton with Japanese B’z guitar superstar Tak Matsumoto on their Grammy award winning recording.
Other tours included Europe with the L.A. supergroup TOTO in 2000 (including the “Live In Sofia” television special), and also with Grammy award winner Shelby Lynne.
Television work began with Martin Short’s syndicated talk show in 1999/2000, and later on the Wayne Brady daytime show. For the past 15+ years, most significantly, Babko has been the musical arranger, a composer, and house band member on ABC TV’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”. He’s backed up countless rock, pop and jazz artists on the show, and has produced much of the music for its comedy segments (including co-writing “I’m F**king Ben Affleck”).
Always keeping one foot dipped in comedy territory, Babko has been the touring musical director and accompanist for Martin Short since 2002, and also performs with Mr. Short & Steve Martin, also joined by the Grammy award winning bluegrass group Steep Canyon Rangers. Look for their Netlfix special in 2018!
In 2010, Babko recorded (“100 Miles From Memphis”) and toured with Sheryl Crow. The “100 Miles” band, dubbed “The Thieves”, recorded a live set from the Pantages Theatre, which has been a televised mainstay since its release. Another ongoing touring and recording situation has been with James Taylor, and Babko can be heard on Taylor’s “Covers” record, including its single, “It’s Growing”. Babko joined Taylor on the 2017 stadium tour with Bonnie Raitt, performing at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, among other legendary ballparks.
Other recent recording highlights include Jason Mraz’ “Love Is A Four Letter Word” and Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange”, Nathan East’s 2 solo albums, as well as Smokey Robinson’s “Smokey & Friends” record of duets, produced by Randy Jackson for Verve Records. You also have heard Babko on recordings from Alanis Morrisette, Maná, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, Jennifer Nettles, The Madden Brothers, and others.
Babko has four solo albums out under his own name, including 2012’s critically acclaimed “Crux” for Tonequake Records, featuring Mark Isham, Tim Lefebvre and Matt Chamberlain. His 2007 release “Mondo Trio” w/ Jeff Coffin and Vinnie Colaiuta is considered a classic “drum fusion” record. The collective supergroup “Band Of Other Brothers” with Will Lee, Dave Matthews Band’s Jeff Coffin, Nir Felder and Steely Dan’s Keith Carlock was a critical favorite and the band headlined the Iridium in NYC in 2017.
Babko can be seen on Steve Martin & Martin Short’s Netflix special, released in May 2018. He also runs his own studio, TudorTones, with his wife, studio violinist Songa Lee. Also, Jeff hosted a podcast from TudorTones featuring fellow keyboard players called “The Caffeinated Keyboardist.” (http://caffeinatedkeyboardist.podomatic.com).