Jamie Cunningham was born and bred in Liverpool, but finds Los Angeles to be a more fitting home today. He picked up percussion in fourth grade, followed by guitar in high school.
“A lot of the guitar players I jammed with were older than me,” he recalls, “and when most of them moved onto college and away from Syracuse, I picked up the guitar. To me, the guitar seems more acceptable, pleasing to play by yourself, compared to the drums at least.”
Cunningham took to guitar quickly after hearing John Butler’s instrumental, “Ocean,” performed on an acoustic electric 12-string guitar. Naturally, Cunningham immediately spent his birthday money on his own 12-string ax. “I downloaded the guitar tablature and began learning how to play it with absolutely no guitar experience or knowledge whatsoever,” he says.
He received his associate’s degree in guitar performance last spring from Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, located on Hollywood Boulevard, two blocks from the Dolby Theater, home of the Academy Awards. There are pros and cons to the Left Coast environment, however.
“In some ways, it has been fantastic living in Hollywood,” Cunningham says. “You get exposed to so much of the world so quickly and it really makes you realize how big and wonderful of a place planet Earth is. However, it doesn’t feel very calming, balanced or peaceful and that makes it very difficult to feel any of those things while living here. It has taught me how to rely on myself and not my surroundings for peace.”
But the greatest benefit of the LA scene has been the opportunity for collaboration. The new band Cunningham has formed is all about doing things differently. The Fire and the Phoenix includes fellow Syracusan Evan Pitonzo on bass; Seattle’s Max Fiteslon on guitars; Memphis keyboardist Alec Ogg; and drummer K.C. Miller from Riverside, Calif.
Rather than getting their start with a polished studio album and playing open mikes and bars with a less-thanpresent audience, the band decided to create their own vibe. So during their performance on Saturday, Aug. 17, 11 p.m., at the Lillian Theater in Hollywood, a professional film crew and sound engineer will be on hand to record the event. Ignite: The Show will become a live album documenting the experience, rather than a smoke-and-mirrors studio production. (To grab a copy of the show, visit facebook.com/thefireandthephoenix.)
The band sports additional Salt City talent, including sound engineer Daniel Blanck and Cunningham’s brother, Travis, who is working to promote the show. Syracusan Navzad Dabu also traveled to Los Angeles this summer to shoot video footage for a short film on the making of the concert. The group has also been raising funds via Kickstarter.
“This show marks my most original idea that I have ever conceived set forth in music and all I want is for the show to be ‘perfect,’” he says. “By ‘perfect’, I mean that it’s a performance where everyone performs to the best of their ability. Noel Gallagher wrote, ‘True perfection has to be imperfect.’ That’s the kind of perfect that we are striving for.”
As for his future in the industry, Cunningham says, “I intend on being a worldwide success in the music industry. The desire for that is not because I want to be rich or famous, it’s because I want that many people to be listening.”