Lonnie Plaxico: Striving for Originality, Noteriety
LP: Everybody. Edgar Winter. Rare Earth. Earth, Wind and Fire. Kool and the Gang. The O’Jays. I listened to everything. Santana. The first record I ever bought was “Black Magic Woman.” I must have been 10. Then a friend of mine turned me on to Sonny Stitt, John Coltrane and Charlie Mingus, and I started getting into jazz and learned the history. Return to Forever was one of my first big jazz influences. It was fusion, it was funk and everything. It was closely related to what the teenagers were doing, cause nobody was trying to play Coltrane when I was a teenager. Nobody was doing that at all. Like the teenagers are today, because they pretty much don’t have any music other than rap. So they’re going to be into jazz, traditional jazz, or something. They’re more prepared for knowing about Miles Davis than the high school kids when I grew up. We were playing Starsky & Hutch in high school. We were not exposed to it. The school system was much worse than it is now as far as learning jazz.
AAJ: Who did you look up to on the bass?
LP: Verdine White, he’s the bassist with Earth, Wind and Fire. Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius. Then when I started getting into jazz, Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Richard Davis. It didn’t even matter. If I saw a bass on the front cover of a record, I wanted to buy it. I’m just so amazed about the instrument. Leroy Vinegar. I was just trying to learn everything. Then, Steve Coleman told me one day, he said “Why are you listening to all these bass players. All they’re doing is playing what the saxophonist is doing. You should listen to what the horn players are doing.” So then I started listening to more of what the horns were doing. Because the bass players are only playing fragments of what the horn players are doing anyway, when they take solos, because of the nature of the instrument, the range, also, just the physics of the instrument. It’s harder to really play fast on the bass, like a horn player. I started listening more to what the horn players were doing, and the piano, and the guitar. Not much the bassist anymore. You end up sounding like one of those guys, without sounding like one. So I just stopped listening, other than maybe Paul Chambers. Because harmonically, what he did on the bass was so advanced and it’s still advanced today.
AAJ: What was your first fulltime jazz gig in New York after Wynton?
LP: In New York, Wynton. Then Dexter Gordon, Every gig led to another gig.
AAJ: Then you ran into Art Blakey. How was that experience?
LP: That was indescribable. He was real cool and relaxed and opened minded and patient. He treated me like, I guess, he would treat anybody else. I was 22 when I first joined. Immediately he had me on dates. He had me in Japan, in Europe, recording live. I was a part of the Art Blakey All-Stars at 22. I was in Japan recording with Benny Golson, Terrance Blanchard, Curtis Fuller and Wynton. I was part of an all-star band at 22. He could have easily said, like today most people would get political and say “We better get Buster Williams or Ron Carter,” because they have more experience. But he didn’t do that. I mean, he let me go out there and do my thing and learn.
AAJ: Anybody else, like DeJohnette?
LP: DeJohnette and those guys, they were the same breed. They encourage you to be you. It’s unbelievable. Dizzy. They were all fun to be around and be in the studio with. Dexter Gordon, I mean, it was easy. The music demanded the most. They knew if you were really paying attention. They didn’t have to say nothing. It’s a conversation going on through the music. It’s not about speaking to you, you know? They knew you knew, or you didn’t know, just from playing.
AAJ: How did you hook up with Cassandra Wilson?
LP: I met Cassandra at a jam session. My father’s from Mississippi. Immediately she connected. Her father’s from Chicago, but he moved to Mississippi, so we connected right away. Whenever she had small gigs a long time ago, she would call me and then when she did her first CD [Point of View], I was a part of that. We’ve been in and out of each other’s lives since I’ve known her, but always still connected musically.
AAJ: Are you still doing stuff with her?
LP: Not as much as last year, cause I’m doing my own thing now and that’s my priority. I hope that we can do something together, with my band and her band, cause we’re on the same label. We did something in Japan earlier this year, but I’m really focusing on getting work for my band. My music is the total opposite of hers. It’s all in your face. Hers is kind of more mellow. I’m just really focusing on what I’m doing right now. I’m still doing work as a sideman, cause having your own band, in the beginning, there’s not a lot going on. That’s why I’m talking to you right now, getting interviewed. So you can help me let people know. Cause this is my sixth CD and people haven’t really come to me for interviews. It’s a bassist thing, you know? I don’t play the trumpet, so people really don’t pay too much attention.