Guitarist Bobby Koelble explores music at Winter Park’s Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts

The jazz guitar teacher and former guitarist for the metal band Death is still on a quest for musical enlightenment.

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  • | 12:46 p.m. April 6, 2018
Guitarist Bobby Koelble has made a name for himself as a jazz and heavy metal guitarist, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to explore even more genres of music.
Guitarist Bobby Koelble has made a name for himself as a jazz and heavy metal guitarist, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to explore even more genres of music.
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It seems like Orlando guitarist Bobby Koelble is rarely not on stage navigating his fretboard and plucking melodies. But depending on which concert you see, you might be banging your head or nodding it to a swinging jazz beat. Koelble — a guitarist on a perennial quest to explore all music — will give guitar lovers a treat Wednesday, April 11, when his band performs at the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts in Winter Park. 

Koelble will perform a collection of Jimi Hendrix songs with a jazz flair and will be accompanied by Matt Lapham on bass, Walt Hubbard on drums, Greg Little on trumpet and Keegan Mathews on keys.

The group will play through two sets: one that interprets several classic Hendrix songs from a jazz perspective and a second that explores what it might have been like had Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis collaborated like they had planned.

“What if Hendrix was a little more of a jazz guitar player?” Koelbe said. “It’s kind of absurd in a respect, but at the same time, I just thought it would be fun. I don’t think in reality that’s something he probably ever would have done, but from this perspective, I just thought it might be kind of cool and fun for us to do that kind of thing.”


The radical blend of styles fits perfectly with Koelble’s diverse musical background. The guitarist honed his craft in two genres that are practically polar opposites: jazz and heavy metal.

“We draw from the same European tradition of harmony and melody, but the similarities pretty much end there,” Koelble said, lauging.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Koelble moved to the Central Florida area at age 3 and began his musical journey with the organ at age 7. At 13, Koelble became interested in guitar after listening to hard rock bands such as Van Halen and AC/DC. Metal music came shortly after, with Koelble influenced by bands such as Judas Priest, Motörhead and Iron Maiden.

In high school, he began listening to jazz rock fusion, which combines jazz harmonies with a rock guitar sound.

It wasn’t until he attended Berklee College of Music that he finally fell in love with traditional jazz, and he’s been playing it ever since.


Koelble currently teaches jazz guitar at Rollins College and the University of Central Florida. He has numerous musical projects and regular performances throughout Orlando — from his work with The Absinthe Trio, which blends bossa/samba, funk and jazz, all the way to The Jazz Professors, a hit jazz group who have released two Top-20 Billboard Jazz albums.

He has performed with jazz legends such as Sam Rivers, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Lou Donaldson, along with the finest jazz musicians in Central Florida.

But perhaps one of the biggest highlights of Koelble’s musical career is at the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum – his tenure from 1994 to 1996 in the legendary metal band Death. The four-piece extreme music outfit from Orlando is known for pioneering the musical style of death metal, characterized by guttural vocals, heavily distorted guitars and machine gun-tempo drums. 

Koelble recorded tracks such as “Empty Words,” “Crystal Mountain” and “Perennial Quest” on Death’s “Symbolic” album, and had the chance to tour throughout the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan.

After returning home, frontman Chuck Schuldiner — revered by many as “The Father of Death Metal” — disbanded Death to work with his other band, Control Denied.

Although Koelble’s time with Death was short, he said he’s forever grateful for the opportunity.

“It was amazing, probably the professional highlight of my life being able to play in that band and play that music,” Koelble said. “It was something that really helped to put me on the map as far as that type of music is concerned.”


Although he still spends time teaching and playing jazz, Koelble has been writing and recording for a metal project over the past three to four years, and hopes to release an album later this year.

Koelble said he hopes that people enjoy the music on April 11 and that he’s thankful for venues such as Blue Bamboo, where music is explored and appreciated.

Although the styles of metal and jazz have little in common aside from the concepts of some melody, harmony and a bit of improvisation, there is one thing they both have in common — they speak to Koelble on an emotional level.

“At the end of the day, that’s all that matters,” Koelble said. “Heavy metal touches me in a way that’s certainly different than the way jazz does. 

“Even in the music of Bach, the music of that era is what’s referred to as ‘absolute music,’ which is music for the sake of itself, which is supposed to be played devoid of emotion,” he said. “But you still get some type of emotional reaction from it. Even something that seems as just bludgeoning and relentless as certain metal music, there’s still a definite emotional reaction that comes from it. Duke Ellington said ‘There’s two kinds of music: good and bad. As a musician, you’re always interested in what makes this music tick. … I always have that curiosity about what’s going on with music.”


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