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Lonnie Plaxico

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To play my compositions is rewarding enough for me as there is nothing to prove. I want the whole ensemble to be heard.
Lonnie Plaxico's first recording on Blue Note is a treat for a musician who, in his early 40s, already has an exciting veteran career in jazz circles, although he played mostly R&B in Chicago. He left his native Windy City to come play for Wynton Marsalis. The famed trumpet player heard a demo tape from Plaxico and asked him, during Christmas, to come immediately to New York. Such a move, 20 years ago, led to gigs with Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Steve Coleman, a stint with Art Blakely, an even longer stay with Cassandra Wilson, as well as a host of other musical experiences.

AAJ: Lonnie, this is quite an interesting step for you recording for Blue Note as a leader. Tell me a bit about what is going on in this album.



LP: In this album I am trying to play music from the 70s and just my musical experiences, putting everything together in the format of original music and not just recording standards. Although I did Squibcakes, for example, a song from the Tower of Power, which was one of my favorite bands when I was a teenager. The thing was to keep the music upbeat and happy.

AAJ: In recording as a leader, it might have been expected that you, for example, would be mixed further upfront, had more soloing space and that your presence would have been more prominent in rather obvious ways, although I would be the first to admit that there are other ways of being prominent rather than being upfront...

LP: Right...

AAJ: You decided not to be such a central figure whereupon everything revolved just around you. This date is a collective effort, clearly led by you. Excellent musicians such as Jeremy Pelt, who just released a solo album, Marcus Strickland, Lew Soloff, as well as others, accompanied you. Aside from the Tower of Power tune, everything else is yours. It is important to note that this is not a just show up and play the chord changes album. The music recorded in Melange was written out. Tell me about that decision making process.



LP: Well, if I played saxophone, I might be more upfront. As I hear bass players do CD's, they put the bass upfront and play the melodies on the bass. To me that's kind of boring because of the nature of the instrument. If I have a trumpet player there, or a saxophonist, I want to take advantage of what they have to offer. To play my compositions is rewarding enough for me as there is nothing to prove. I want the whole ensemble to be heard. The bassist is like the center of a basketball team. You do not want to see, like in the case of the Miami Heat, Alonzo Mourning running up the court when you have Strickland in the team, if you know what I mean. It is the same thing with this recording. You can do it if you want to, because it is your CD or because it is your team. But you do have to make the right choices for the group too. Although, like I said, just writing the compositions is rewarding enough...

AAJ: Talking about the process of composing, you mentioned in another interview that you take a visual approach to composing music. You imagine yourself as a member of the audience looking at the band performing. That's an interesting perspective as many composers are caught in their own little worlds without considering the audience. Is there any particular reason why this is so, or this just comes naturally to you?

LP: When I started playing professionally in Chicago, I was 14 and playing with a lot of older musicians. They used to tell me that as much as you want to play for yourself, you still have to make the people happy. Therefore, a big part of my happiness is to know that, when I am playing for people, they enjoy what I am doing. Even more so than me! I mean, they are the ones that come to support me. I like music and it has nothing to do with any particular style. Overall, my musical experiences include rock, blues, country, and jazz' and, as long as the audience feels what I am doing, that's rewarding for me. I played in a lot of situations in NY where the musicians where pretty much playing for themselves and the people were not buying into that. I also try to be conscious and be attuned with the audience.

AAJ: It is not very good for business anyway...

LP: Yes, it is business before music...

AAJ: Since we are talking about business, how did you come about to do this recording with Blue Note. You are joining a giant here. Was there any particular pressure added to the date?


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