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Lonnie Plaxico

By Published: May 14, 2006
LP: A lot of it is who you know, luck and, in the end, you got to have some music. It takes everything. I've been working, on and off, with Cassandra Wilson for the last 15 years. Through her contacts, she was able to help me get a record deal over there. I did one CD for them and let's see what happens with that, as you never know. But they gave me the opportunity to present my music on the label, which really helps because it is like having a sponsor.

AAJ: It is, and it is a courageous effort because you decided to go ahead and do your thing and not worry too much about whether or not you were to get airplay in Smooth jazz stations. I hate to use the word commercial, but you did not have commercial considerations so heavily in mind when you were doing your compositions, this is accessible music, but it is not easy listening.

LP: I have received good reviews, but some critics can't hear it because they think it is commercial. Musically, the musician has to know a lot of music to play the music. It is not just one thing. It is not Be-bop, it is not R&B... The musician has to be seasoned to be able to play it, although I want it to have commercial appeal, but still I want the musician to have a sense of challenge also. A good musician likes to be challenged.

AAJ: Some of the musicians you included in the album are not necessarily veterans, but they were able to keep up with what you threw at them.

LP: The musicianship of Pelt and Strickland, for example, has as much to offer as any older musician in NY. This is also about getting exposure as I use them in the tour and in NY. In music, age might help, although experience helps more in the type of composition that you are going to write. As players, there are a lot of young musicians that can pick up on that real good. Also, in the long run, the style that you come up with, develops more as you get older. Most good musicians can really play by the time they are 20 years old.

AAJ: In terms of the sound that you are looking for, in this release you are relying on trumpets and saxophones, as well as the organ. Interestingly enough, you also incorporate quite a bit of a conga sound in the release. That's not common in contemporary mainstream jazz albums.

LP: To me such percussion is African and Latin and people identify with that sound. It is earthy and it goes back to some of my earliest experiences listening to music. The first 45 I bought was from Santana' Evil Ways and Black Magic Woman, so the organ and the percussion have always been part of what I hear in my head musically.

AAJ: I am rapidly becoming a fan of Pelt. I first noticed him in the Sharp Nine Class of 2001 CD, then in the recordings of Matt Ray, Rene Marie, and yours. He is getting around, rather fast' He is featured in the track Paella. When I first saw that title, I was expecting a stereotypical Latin Jazz tune, but to my surprise, the tinge is there but in quite a different way.

LP: Well, actually, in NY we have a lot of cultures. Lately I have been listening a lot to Spanish and Cuban music. You can't avoid it in NY because it is everywhere. This is the first song that I wrote that has a Latin flavor. I wanted to write something featuring the bass a little, that's why, in the introduction, I had the bass and the saxophone playing a line there together. Just trying to get that Spanish flavor there along with jazz, just trying to mix things up'

AAJ: You are planning on recording live shortly and that should prove to be a fantastic showcase for your music as live music takes on a life of its own. You also included in the album slower deep tunes such as Beloved. Although ballads often times are seen as fillers, this is not the case here.

LP: I wrote a song called Darkness. I played with Dexter Gordon. I was a big fan of his as a teenager and, luckily, I went to Morocco with him and we played in the Village Vanguard. His sound is in my head. When I started playing music, I wrote thinking of what he might play, and that's how I came up with that tune Darkness. As for the song Beloved, I write my music late at night that way I can channel other things in my mind. I was thinking of Coltrane. Some times when I write I think of a musician. It could be Wayne Shorter, or someone who has a really strong voice. As a musician, we study people with strong voices. When I write, I try to think of different people and try to draw from their energies.

AAJ: How often do you go back to Chicago?

LP: Maybe twice a year. We are going to do a concert there on May 3-4, 2002. Once you leave a place to come to NY, it becomes your home and it is hard to go back and forth.

AAJ: Yes, NY sticks with you forever. You have had the chance of traveling a bit, however, playing some festivals, as well as going twice to Europe. Your music, obviously, has been well received for you to be able to work with it. Finally, when you travel with your group how many musicians do you take with you?

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Download jazz mp3 “West Side Stories” by Lonnie Plaxico