"There's a lot to like here... There is the DNA of Glenn Frey, Nick Lowe and Marshall Crenshaw on this recording, but mainly it's just a bunch of well-written songs sung and played from the heart. It's the kind of music that makes you want to listen closely."
-- Michael Kinsman, San Diego Blues Festival founder/producer
"From the opener to the last, I loved the many tips of the hat, the homage to the Kinks, the gorgeous samba-esque tune. There are a few I would have loved to play on myself. Well done, sir, well done."
-- Robert Cowan, harmonica player who has performed with Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, Antonio Carlos Jabim, and many other great artists.
Géza Keller’s debut album, Got Nothing to Lose, is the product of his 66-year evolution as a musical artist.
Although he started out as a precocious troubadour at the age of eight, and had learned to play the drums, tenor sax, and guitar two years later, this album was a long time coming.
Géza (pronounced Gay-za) had been playing in bands since college, but he always had other more pressing commitments, such as raising two sons and the time-consuming task of running his own business.
Tired of being told that he should be satisfied with being the lead singer and letting others should play his original songs behind him, he realized that he had to really take his guitar skills to another level.
So he spent two years of practicing solos at home and pushing himself to perform them at jams around town—without the safety and security of the bandmates he’d known for the years.
Still not satisfied, he decided to up his game even more by taking lessons, accepting that he needed to invest time and money in his art if he wanted to release a quality studio album.
After years of struggling to find the right mix of producers and accompanying musicians, he finally found the chemistry he’d been searching for. And when COVID hit, this recording project not only turned out to be the best antidote to social and musical isolation that he could imagine, but it also resulted in an unprecedented explosion of creative energy.
Géza may come off as a friendly, outgoing fun-loving guy, but underneath, he is quite a deep thinker—a physicist, who runs his own business, Infinite Optics, with $3.6 million in annual sales.
Starting his day at four or five in the morning, he sips his coffee, watches the news, and plays the guitar until he has to begin designing formulas for thin-metal coatings at his company in Santa Ana. The songs he has been writing for four decades draw from his colorful family history and an eclectic set of global musical, political, and philosophical influences.
"Great dance music with a full sound and rock-jazz fusion with a touch of big band horns, clicking to syncopated rhythms. Geza Keller's new CD, Got Nothing to Lose, is a great blend of beats, rock, and soul."
-- Randy Hanson, co-founder of MohaviSoul bluegrass band
Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1954, he was just three years old when he and his Canadian-born Hungarian mother Maggie fled the Russian Communist regime as political refugees, and moved to Wallaceburg, Canada, in February 1957. Maggie had come to Hungary to attend college, later working at a radio station and becoming a Hungarian-English translator. She met Géza’s father, Géza Ferenc (aka Francis or Frank) Keller, at the community pool, where he was swimming and playing water polo.
Growing up in a family of professional tailors, Géza Sr. was one of Hungary’s junior diving champions, but his true aspirations were to be an artist or a circus acrobat with his uncles’ world famous group, The Three Ajax. After a stint in a Russian prison after trying to flee from a refugee camp, he escaped by swimming down the Danube to safety in Austria. With his great uncle’s help, he was able to reunite with his wife and son in Wallaceburg six months later, where he carried on the family tradition of tailoring.
The Keller family then moved to Toronto for six years, where Maggie picked up odd jobs until she finally landed one she actually wanted at the Toronto Star. She later returned to newspapers as administrative assistant to the editor-in-chief of The Sacramento Bee, which Géza attributes, in part, to his long-standing obsession with watching the news and staying on top of current events.
With a great ear, Géza Sr. could pick out songs on the piano as he sang bossa nova along with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, and Sergio Mendez & Brasil ’66. He also drew bawdy cartoons. While little Géza was growing up, he was steeped in jazz: the Mills Brothers, Ella Fitzgerald and the Four Freshmen, and the sounds of big band musicians Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, and Xavier Cugat.
When little Géza was eight, he saw the Disney movie “Almost Angels,” about the Vienna Boys Choir. Realizing that young boys like him could perform, he immediately joined his elementary school choir as a soprano. He continued to sing in ensembles until the family moved to San Francisco two years later, in 1963.
Within six months, the family moved again, this time to Sacramento, when Géza was ten. And because he was academically gifted, he was accelerated through several grades in elementary school, which made him smaller and two years younger than all of his classmates.
Hoping to expand his musical repertoire, Géza decided to become a drummer. His father rented him a snare drum for three months, which was as long as that could last while living in an apartment complex. Switching to the tenor sax, he played in his school band for two years. Sadly, the sax went the way of the drums, still too loud to practice at home. So Géza’s father bought him his first guitar, a Stella.
Géza started taking guitar lessons from Danny Schmidt, the father of The Eagles’ bass player and singer Timothy B. Schmidt. However, he dropped the lessons a year later because they felt too much like punishment. By junior high, he was playing guitar and singing in the school choir and ensemble. But when his family moved him yet another new district for high school, his youth and small stature made him feel too intimidated to play publicly.
Graduating from high school a year early, he was recruited to attend the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, now known as New Mexico Tech.
He was only sixteen when he left for college, thrilled to flee his provincial “white bread” life in Sacramento. Heading for the new desert frontier, he landed in the tiny rural town of Socorro with fervor. There, he started writing songs while he earned a mathematics degree, played soccer, and pursued the Yaqui way of knowledge.
It wasn’t until his junior year that he got hooked on guitar once again, improving his skills by playing along with Steely Dan, the Grateful Dead, Traffic, and singer-songwriters such as Jackson Brown and John Prine. For at least six hours a day, he wrote songs, practiced guitar, and sang like a fiend.
Soon he and some classmates formed a band called Creamy Goodness and the Creamettes. The group later changed its name to Island, after a book by Aldous Huxley about a utopian place where everyone is happy.
During that period, Géza wrote a number of complicated songs with challenging time signatures, inspired by jazz musicians including John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter, and the Don Ellis Orchestra.
Intrigued by the works of mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, Géza discovered others such as Rene Descartes (“I think therefore I am”) and Maurice Nicoll, who talked about achieving true self consciousness by integrating one’s physical, intellectual and emotional centers. “It is like a guitar with many strings. To pluck one all the time is not to reach a harmony,” Nicoll said.
As such, Géza strived to integrate harmonies into his musical compositions as well, hoping that listeners would also experience joy from them.
“I want them to feel the loooooove,” he said.
Drawing from jazz, folk and jam rock influences, he was inspired by the hallucinogenic Peace Movement of the ‘70s, the desolate high-desert beauty of the chollas and striated rock, and the refuge they offered from the pressures of family and the modern urban world.
After graduation in 1975, Géza worked on the first airborne laser at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, rode many hilly miles on his bicycle through the Land of Enchantment, and formed The Jazz Sparks with some other Techies, who played covers and also some of Géza’s original songs. He eventually ended up at the Los Alamos national lab, working in the Laser Fusion Program and forming another band there.
Even then, the young lad became known for bringing musicians together to jam. He also took it on himself to encourage burgeoning talent, a community-building skill for which he has long exercised at his college’s annual “49ers” reunion and the annual SPIE optics trade shows he attends in the Bay Area every year.
Realizing that many people didn’t have the attention span for his longer, complicated jam songs, he set out to write his first commercial song, titled, “Let Me In,” in 1985. The song was inspired by the struggle that many young people experience, trying to find their own identities, their purposes in life, their search for love and their attempts to overcome their limitations amid the general chaos of life.
“People seek love and yet are troubled by love,” he says. “It’s both the answer and the problem.”
Géza’s hope always was and still is that this song, which will be released as a single in August 2021, would expand his audience beyond the musicians and artists who like music just for music’s sake. He wants his songs to appeal to listeners who enjoy being more actively engaged in music, and even want to get up and dance to it.
"Girl, let me inside your dream
Make me believe that it's real
I've got to know
How you're feeling"
Tired of the rural mountain life, Géza decided to go full tilt in the other direction, taking a new job in Manhattan in 1987. In his off time, Géza wrote a slew of songs about a range of topics, but focused primarily on the search for the meaning of real love. During his 18 months in New York, he wrote “Big City Lights,” inspired by his romance with the city that never sleeps. It will be on his debut album, Got Nothing To Lose, which will be released on September 6, 2021.
Géza moved to San Diego in 1988, where he worked at two optics companies before starting several of his own. His first venture was QSP Optical Technology Inc., of which he was vice president. His next venture was to buy Infinite Optics in Santa Ana in 2003.
For the past 18 years, he has been the resident and co-owner of Infinite, which develops and manufactures thin film coatings for telescope parts, medical instruments, and defense systems. On the same site, he started Cibola Glass, a boutique glass tile company that dovetails with Infinite, using similar technologies to create beautiful home furnishings. For a time he also ran Optics Masters, a sister company, in Poway. This, of course, is his day job, though his passion has always been music.
Over the years, Géza has enjoyed playing live in many bands, including his more recent FakeBook and breakingthecode (BTC). Though he aspired to record his original songs someday, his many attempts always seemed destined to fail due to circumstances out of his control.
Starting his own label, he launched a recording studio at 2656 State Street in Carlsbad, then moving it to Poway, where he had industrial space for his company, Optics Masters. It became Studio 2656.
Géza Keller formed the original breakingthecode (BTC) in 1997 with his former college roommate Randy Hanson (now of Mohavi Soul) and his coworker and close friend Paul Trygar. This motley lineup rose from the ashes of several other bands that had played Géza’s original songs and blues covers, but had dissolved for obscure reasons that only musicians can appreciate.
The band’s name was inspired by the Broadway play, “Breaking The Code,” the story of how Alan Turing, the inventor of the original computer, broke the secret code, or cryptography, produced by the German machine known as “the Enigma,” which laid out the positions and strategies of battleships and bombings during World War Two. (The movie “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, tells this same story.) Géza saw the play with his mother in New York City, when he lived there in 1987.
In BTC’s first iteration, Géza sung lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Randy played the mandolin, Paul the drums, and Tom Borg the bass. With the passion and energy of youth, they performed at showcases of original singer-songwriters throughout Southern California.
After opening for national acts such as NRBQ and John Mayall, BTC caught the eye of two management companies and soon became a headliner in its own right. BTC was signed by Angelic Records in 1999, which re-released an album BTC made of them playing live at the Belly Up. While some BTC members wanted to tour nationally, Géza had to decline. He had a nine-year-old son and a newborn to raise, and a new optics company to run, so he did not have the time or freedom necessary to do that. The record label folded shortly thereafter, without releasing another BTC album.
The next year was a period of rethinking. Original music was a tough sell in San Diego County, so Géza decided to redirect the energy of the remaining band members toward developing a strong list of crowd-pleasing dance covers that would draw a bigger audience, but closer to home.
That led to the new “Summer of Love” retro band known as FakeBook, named after the generic book of skeletal songs—chords and lyrics—musicians use to pick up and play together at a moment’s notice. Once Facebook came along, most fans thought the band name was a play on the social media site, which provided an unexpected and convenient double entendre.
In 2004, Tony de Paolo, who played guitar and sang harmonies, joined the band. (Géza met Tony through their sons, who were close friends, and also played music together. Tony’s wife brought her friend Caitlin Rother to support Tony at his first band gig at a public venue. Although they didn’t meet that night, Géza and Caitlin started dating eight years later.) But just three gigs into the band’s new chapter, Paul died of a massive heart attack at 53.
For the next decade or so, FakeBook continued to evolve, adding a new drummer, lead guitar player and saxophone player, while BTC went into hibernation. FakeBook worked a few of Géza’s original songs into the mix as it performed at venues throughout San Diego and Orange Counties, but mostly played covers.
When the band played at the Belly Up, a popular intimate concert venue, Géza arranged to have their performance professionally recorded, but he only made enough CDs to use as a promotional tool to get gigs, with a few more for family and friends. Wide distribution and marketing the band just wasn’t on his radar at that point.
As FakeBook went through its own growing pains, Tony brought up an idea that resonated with Géza in 2015. “Why don’t we start playing more of your originals?” he said to Géza after a gig at the Del Mar fair, where FakeBook and BTC have played live for many years.
Caitlin independently had been urging Géza to perform and record his original songs as a solo act, with or without other musicians. In turn, Géza had been urging Caitlin to sing with him. A classically trained pianist and a closet singer, Caitlin already knew all the FakeBook covers, and by now some of Géza’s originals as well.
Géza took all of this as a sign that he should resurrect BTC to play acoustic versions of his originals. Tony said he was in, and Tom too. Géza invited Caitlin, now a New York Times bestselling author and TV crime commentator, to join as well.
While FakeBook continued to play, albeit on a less frequent basis, BTC began to rehearse in force, with a woman sharing some of the lead vocals for the first time in the band’s history.
This latest iteration of BTC began quietly at first, making an annual trip to perform at Géza’s “49ers” college reunion each year in Socorro, New Mexico and at a fundraiser for an endowment in the memory of his college roommate, Victor Saracini, the pilot of the plane that ran into the second tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Géza and Caitlin also sung together at parties and at open mics around the Sonoma area as well as on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada.
Retooled as an acoustic group with layered vocal harmonies, breakingthecode offered a full-bodied blend of classics and originals, with notes of jazz, folk, rock and blues. In addition to Géza’s original songs, BTC also played a carefully selected variety of catchy favorites.
Nonetheless, it was difficult to find a place to book gigs with acoustic music and original songs in San Diego County, and Géza was itching to play. He learned, however, that he had to improve his solo guitar skills to bring that long-brewing debut album of his to fruition.
That’s how he hooked up with guitar teacher and performer Jerry McCann and Sven-Erik Seaholm, an award-winning producer and singer-songwriter he had long admired. Each was well known in the San Diego area, had played on many other artists’ records, and had released several albums of his own.
With Jerry as producer and Sven as co-producer and engineer, the three of them achieved a COVID collaboration like none other. With a second album already underway, he wants to share as much good music with as many people as possible.
Géza dedicates this album to his good friend, the late Victor Saracini, and to one of his best friends who also passed away, Paul Trygar, a member of the original BTC who sadly never got to see these songs to their fruition.
Géza also wants to thank his partner Caitlin Rother, and also his drummer friend Jack Nathan, both of whom have supported and cheered him on through all the iterations, trials, and tribulations of this project.