Artists - Jeff Lorber
"Jazz has always been evolutionary, and critics have always resisted change."
Jeff Lorber the keyboard wizard, whose music played such a significant role in the creation of the UK Fusion Dance Movement with tracks such as, "The Samba", "Chinese Medicinal Herbs", and "Proteus", talks
to Seymour Nurse at The Bottom End about his career, and the legendary "Jeff Lorber Fusion."
Seymour Nurse: What music were you first listening to, and who were the main influences that inspired you to start playing the piano?
Jeff Lorber: Chick, Herbie, Bill Evans, McCoy, Horace Silver, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, also stuff I listened to on 1950's and 60's R+B and pop radio, The Beatles, Zappa, Motown, among others.
S.N: You are very versatile on keyboard instruments (Acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes piano, Mini Moog, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, and various analog synthesizers etc). What was that period like for you in the 1970s when you were first experimenting with these instruments, and creating your own sound?
J.L: Really fun, the development of those instruments was very exciting and the challenge to be creative and incorporate hip new sounds in your music was something a lot of jazz musicians were enjoying at that time. I still love my minimoogs, Moog 15, etc.
S.N: Some 'purists' rejected Fusion, refusing to acknowledge it as an evolutionary and important transition period in Jazz history. Obviously this did not deter you from developing such great music.
J.L: Jazz has always been evolutionary and critics have always resisted change.
S.N: Your first jazz band was called, "The Jeff Lorber Fusion", and you released the debut self-titled album in 1977 with Lester McFarland, Dennis Bradford, and Terry Lane. How did the idea to form this group come about?
J.L: I had a top 40 band in the Portland OR area. I was experiencing some racial discrimination from some of the clubs in the suburbs about having a racially integrated band. I decided to just play jazz music and focus on that instead of the top 40 thing.
Tom Grant, (who I took piano lessons from) among others were having some success in the local scene doing original music. He was kind of my "model". It took a while to get established but I had a lot more fun and had more passion about playing fusion music.
After a while we became very popular in Portland and were able to play other cities around the Pacific Northwest also. The support we got from the people there was invaluable to getting my thing off the ground.
S.N: One of my all-time musicians is the late, great Jaco Pastorious. His first album "Jaco", is a phenomenal acheivement for a debut recording. This record inspired you in a very special way.
J.L: That album is amazing, and I feel very lucky to work with Bobby Colomby, who produced that, on my last record. In a way on the "He had a Hat" album we were trying to emulate the versatility and musicality of the Jaco album. Bobby told me he encouraged Jaco not to have any boundaries and to make his favorite music on his debut album. We tried to take the same approach.
S.N: When you came to London a few years back, we spoke about the English Jazz-Fusion Dance Movement from the late 1970s, and how your music played a very important part in its early development. You gave us many good tracks to dance to, that are still being played in the clubs. Did you ever see your work as dance music?
J.L: I always like tracks that were funky and would make you move. It's ironic that after I stopped recording Jeff Lorber records.. between '85 and 95, I did a great deal of dance remixes working mostly out of Larrabee studios in L.A. We remixed a lot of the stuff that came out on MCA records and did a lot of Jam and Lewis remixes among other things.
S.N: Your album, "Soft Space" produced probably your most famous club tune, "The Samba". This was a very popular track, featuring the great Chick Corea on minimoog. You had previously recorded "Deva Samba" on your first album. Were you listening to Brazilian music, or inspired by any of their artists?
J.L: I've always loved latin grooves and Brazilian music in particular is so rich harmonically and melodically. There's a song on the "Worth Waiting For" record called "The Underground" that has kind of a house beat, but I've been performing live over the last number of years with a latin/ Songo beat.
Obviously the Chick Corea influence drew me to latin rhythms. I was lucky to have Bruce Smith in the early days to play some cool percussion on those early tracks that gave it a lot of flavour.
S.N: Other tunes of yours featuring Chick Corea that were very big amongst the dancers in London jazz rooms such as the legendary "Horseshoe" and "Electric Ballroom", were "Proteus", and "Rooftops." How was it working with Chick on these compositions?
J.L: Pretty amazing to get to play with one of your idols. But that just shows you what a sweet and generous guy Chick was to offer to collaborate on my early records. That actually helped tremendously to get my early work played on a national basis. It was kind of a seal of approval. It was amazing to work with him, his level of creativity is incredible.
S.N: The extremely talented Joe Farrell was also featured on your early recordings. Your collaborations with him gave us other gems to dance to such as the exquiste "Sparkle", and "Black Ice", as well as the funkier "Right Here". His contribution to your music added such a special flavour.
J.L: Once again, Joe was fabulous both technically and improvizationally. I was so fortunate to get him to play on the record. It's a shame he's not with us anymore.
S.N: One track in particular that is very dear to me and probably my favourite tune of yours, is the "Chinese Medicinal Herbs" off your first album. It has a melancholic feel to it, with such a beautiful melody. The solos from Tod Carver on guitar, and yourself are very passionate.This track is very special indeed.
J.L: That song is in 7/4 time (mostly). We had a lot of fun back in those days playing with time signatures. I think that song in particular was influenced by Joe Henderson's "Gazelle". That kind of reminds me that there wasn't lines between what was consider commercial and jazzy back in those days.
Seymour Nurse: "River Winds", and "Curtains" are also great fusion "foot shufflers" that have graced our dance floors. Your funkier numbers such as "Fusion Juice" and "Lava Lands" were, and still are extremely popular in the clubs, as they have very strong dance grooves. The funk has always been a main ingredient within your music.
Jeff Lorber: My last record was much more jazzy and I'm very proud of it, I've been having fun playing that music. But my next record will be VERY funky so watch out! LOL
S.N: You have a tendency of producing the sweetest melodies in your compositions, "Pacific Coast Highway" being just one example. This is evident within the funkier tracks too such as "Sweet", "City" (Wizard Island), and the delightful "Lights Out" (Water Sign) featuring Freddie Hubbard on Flugelhorn. For me, these melodies give your music its unique sound.
J.L: Thank you, I've always tried to combine the funk, jazz chord changes and melodies that are fun to listen to and easy to follow... I guess that's what I like to listen to also.
S.N: Your fifth and final album with the Jeff Lorber Fusion was "Galaxian", which was also adopted by the Jazz-Fusion dancers. You then decided to go solo with the album, "It's A Fact" in 1982. This featured some great artists such as Nathan East, Tom Browne, and Paulinho Da Costa.
You recorded a few albums in the 1980s such as, "In The Heat Of The Night", "Lift Off", "Private Passion", and "Step By Step". Your collaboration with R&B producers Mic Murphy and David Frank aka "The System" on "Step By Step" proved to be a great one, as this became a very successful album. What made you change your musical direction during this period?
J.L: In retrospect I think in some ways it was a mistake, but I was following the direction (R&B, vocals) that Clive Davis wanted me to take. Clive in the 70's was so supportive of jazz music.. after a while I guess his interest waned. Perhaps it didn't "do the numbers" he needed.
But it was a learning experience and I do like R&B and vocal music. I also enjoyed all the studio work I did as an arranger back in those days.
S.N: In the 90s you were still busy in the studio recording the albums "Worth Waiting For", "West Side Stories", "Midnight" and "State Of Grace" (which features a beautiful version of "Pacific Coast Highway").
You also established yourself as a highly respected producer and session musician, working with artists such as Herb Alpert, and Laura Branigan. You have even recorded a track for the highly popular Playstation game "Castlevania". Obviously you like a challenge?
J.L: It's all music and it's all fun if the music is good. Generally speaking I'm a gun for hire and I usually enjoy what I'm called to play on. But the most fun is to be in creative control and create new music that's yours and watch people respond to it and enjoy it.
S.N: In recent times you made the albums "Kickin It", "Philly Style", and "Flipside", which was nominated for a Grammy Award. There has always been a sincerity within your music, regardless of what style you are playing, and this is evident within these last recordings.
You still produce those special melodies in tracks such as, "What It Is" (Kickin It), "Serpentine Line" (Philly Style), and "Enchanted Way" (Flipside), maintaining the Lorber magic.
J.L: In recent years I like to collaborate.. I enjoy being inspired and challenged (and also learning) from my songwriting/ producing partners. Working with Steve Dubin resulted in some cool directions.. and the same goes for my last record that I recorded and wrote with Bobby Colomby.
I think that's the biggest difference between what I did earlier and now. I feel like I need the energy and feedback of collaboration, it's not as much fun doing everything youself.
S.N: Your new album, "He Had A Hat" (Blue Note) is a very special recording. This features Brian Bromberg, Abraham Laboriel, Hubert Laws, Randy Brecker, Dave Weckl, Tom Scott, and other great musicians.
This album covers so much ground musically, from the straight-ahead "BC Bop" and "All Most Blues" to the soulful "Grandma's Hands" and "The Other Side Of The Heart". It delivers in every genre.
"Eye Tunes" has a melodic Tom Jobim feel to it, with a funky background. The "Hudson" is reminiscent of the "Wizard Island" album, yet it sounds so fresh. The "Surreptitious" and "Burn Brightly" are two stunning tracks, which is the reason why I first got into your music at the age of 12.
J.L: As I mentioned earlier, working with Bobby, we tried to pull out all the stops and make a very musical, creative and ambitious record. We were lucky to get a lot of wonderful musicians to contribute.. I kind of looked at it as my version of the Beatles' "White Album" or Stevie's "Songs in the Key of Life". We wrote and recorded 20 songs to end up with 13.
S.N: You DJ too, and have a radio programme called, "Lorber's Place" on Sirius Satellite Radio Jazz Cafe.
J.L: Once again, it's a challenge, and it's fun. I get to play music I like for the station and it's another way to communicate with my fans.
S.N: You have been touring recently with a very strong band consisting of Randy Brecker, Dave Weckl, Brian Bromberg, and Eric Marienthal. What are your future plans, and can we look forward to seeing you in London soon?
J.L: I REAAALLY hope so!! However those guys are very busy so it all depends on everybody's schedule. Please invite me!
S.N: Jeff, thank you so much. Your music played such a special part in my youth, and the early development of Jazz-Fusion being played to dance floors. This has been a real honour.
J.L: Thanks Seymour, I appreciate that you're listening and enjoying what I'm doing. I'll look forward to seeing you soon I hope.
Photograph by Vincent van de Wijngaard
Listen to Jeff Lorber's Radio Show: "Lorber's Place" on Sundays (7:00-10:00pm est) at: Sirius.com
Copyright 2007 © Seymour Nurse