Tom Lawton: Co-Creating the Music
THE MUSICIANS ON THE CD
Tell us a bit about the musicians on the album. About their background. And why did you choose each to be on this particular CD?
TL: Well, let's see, I chose these guys because, first of all, each of them has a particular "vibe" that I wanted. I wanted their sound, combined with the fact that I knew they would have the ability to interpret my compositions and personalize them for themselves, while still being true to the spirit of each piece. `
AAJ: Yes, I do think you all succeeded admirably in combining personal styles and ideas with the whole.
TL: The one I've been with the longest is Jim Miller. At this point, I think that we have a thirty-year history of playing together. By the way, he's one of the few drummers that the late, great Al Stauffer liked to work with. We did trio work for a while. Jim has a good way of maintaining the groove, but still being adventurous polyrhythmically. He pushes and pulls time in interesting ways that I like, and I hook up with him really well. I have a shorter history with Lee Smith, maybe the last ten years. He'd been on the circuit much longer than that. We've really enjoyed playing together and want to as often as we can.
AAJ: What is it about Lee's playing that to you is different and special?
TL: Well, he has a really deep, big sound that personifies the bass, a deep, resonant sound that's rare. And he's also adventurous while at the same time he's cognizant as to how to underline the music. He really knows how to propel a group. The rhythmic responsibility of the bass can be as important as, if not more important than the drums, because the bass is harmonic and rhythmic at the same time. Lee has a way of delineating things that just brings the group together.
AAJ: Gerry Mulligan said that he listened to the bass for cues more than the drums.
TL: I think the best thing for me, however, is to listen to the whole sound and not tune into one person. I listen to the totality of the sound.
AAJ: How about John Swana ?
TL: John is an amazing player. He has an incredible linear concept. He comes out of be-bop, but has many personal ways of dealing with that language and expanding upon it. Of course he has a great sound and great timing.
AAJ: Ben Schachter (left).
TL: I'm trying to think of when I met him- it was somewhere around 1990. I was introduced to him by Al Stauffer. He's an incredible musician, one of the few who prefers to do things in an uncompromising manner. Most often, you won't see him on the regular gig circuit. He chooses to do as little of that as possible, so that he has time for his own writing and woodshedding. I'm honored that he wanted to appear on my recording, because he's definitely the type who leads a group, but when he likes the concept, he's very good at interpreting others' music. I'm honored, because he won't do that for everyone.
AAJ: What about Norman David? He's only on one track, "The Norman D. Invasion," which I take it is named after him.
TL: Norman is the leader of Group Four. I played with him for twelve years or so, with him leading a quartet, but we've done some projects with an "eleven-tet." He's a full-time composer. Very prolific: he can crank out ten compositions to my one! He's also a multi-reed teacher and player. He has two books published, one textbook on big band arranging, and he just published a new book on Ella Fitzgerald.
AAJ: Do you know what it's about? Is it a biography?
TL: It has some biographical information, but it concentrates more on her musicality. He transcribed a lot of her phrasing...
AAJ: Her "scat" singing.
TL: Some of that, and even just her phrasing on melodies- how she re-interpreted melodies, changed the rhythms, etc. It's not overly scholarly but it's very thorough. Again, Norman has a unique vision. I like all the musicians on my CD because they're very eclectic in their taste and their abilities.
AAJ: Now, I take it that Jim Miller is also the CEO of Dreambox Media?
TL: He owns it. But that's not why he's on the recording. In fact, when we recorded, I hadn't even decided yet who the label would be. I didn't decide that until a few months after the recording was done.
AAJ: Has Schachter recorded before?
TL: He has four CD's of his own, and he's working on a fifth.
AAJ: And we know that John Swana...
TL: Has a million records on Criss Cross.
AAJ: What about Norman David's recording history?
TL: We have a CD out with his group, Group Four. It's called Norman David's Group Four: There's Room for All.
AAJ: I think we should tell our readers that the stereotype of jazz composition is writing melodies for tunes. You don't just write tunes, from what I can gather. You tend to structure, or create a lack of structure, throughout the performance, so it's not just the melody. Is that correct?
TL: Well, not really. I mean it evolves that way through playing, and you try to create a framework... On the CD, there are only three tunes that are "free," and even they are partially composed. The rest of the tunes are in fact regular tunes, only longer. The forms are longer, and a little "quirkier."