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A Fireside Chat With Lew Tabackin

By Published: April 4, 2003

LT: Well, it is not a real city. It is not an urban reality, at least most of it. The weather is nice and people are generally more relaxed. In New York, it is survival of the fittest. It creates a certain kind of urban intensity that doesn't exist in Los Angeles. There are extremes on both sides. There was a period where the music in New York was over-intense. In Los Angeles, there is a tendency to be more relaxed. I remember when I first moved to L.A., I brought in a trio to Dante's and it was crowded and we started playing and by the end of the first set, the place was almost empty. There were only a few musicians left and I thought I was playing what I thought was normal, straight-ahead.

I realized that the people were uncomfortable with what I was doing. People preferred a more relaxed approach to music, so my first experience was quite interesting. At times, I would get on the bandstand with other groups and I felt like when I played, the band became something different. I didn't feel quite comfortable and it took a while. I remember Billy Higgins came over to my house, Billy Higgins and John Heard and we played in studio and it felt so great. I realized that Billy Higgins got me on track in a sense. That is not a costal thing. Maybe I needed to play with a great drummer. There is an intensity gap between the West and the East, although things are changing. A lot of the younger musicians are now almost becoming more European in their approach. That is another development. I guess the dynamics are always changing. I felt at that time that there was quite a difference.

FJ: These are curious times, a time where an artists like yourself is in commercial limbo.

LT: Well, I recorded four albums for Concord and the last one was five or six years ago and the company just basically changed direction. The industry, it is really hard to describe, I can't worry about it. The only reason why I worry about it is because if I had some more product, then I could be working more. It is not an economic thing. My philosophy is basically the concept of in becoming. It is the process that is important, so I am in the process of being a jazz musician or saxophonist or flautist. I am in the process. The more I play, the better I get, the more I can express and the closer I can get to reaching my potential. I get frustrated because I would like to have some product out which would lead to more playing. I can't dwell on it. I try my best to create my own little world and I create my world on my own terms. I don't really allow myself to worry about what is fashionable or where the general direction is going. I have to develop my own little thing, my own little world. That is where all my energy is. I am a hundred percent involved in that. As I get older, I am not less involved in it. I am maybe more involved.

FJ: Is jazz a casualty of the times we live in?

LT: I think everything is a casualty of the times. I think that jazz, maybe twenty years ago, years go by so fast, I am not good with chronology, but there was a decision quite a few years ago to try and treat jazz like pop music and raise the expectations of the record companies. That is when music started to become watered down and terms like 'crossover' and 'fusion.' A little bit more recently, the powers that be, not being too successful, decided that the demographics, everybody is reaching for young audiences, which I think is a fallacy, but the idea would be to reach young audiences, you have to record young, attractive musicians. That was the beginning of the end because they were picking out all these talents before they were ripe and creating toy jazz, a regurgitation of what went down before and not nearly as good. It is still not commercial enough for the young people and the older people, they can buy reissues or listen to their old records. They tried to go after a young audience and it was a total failure.

It was a cynical approach when you try to think of 'art' music as something that is a candy bar or breakfast cereal. It doesn't make any sense. This is why jazz was better off with smaller labels. Large companies don't know what to do with it. They spend too much money. They try to approach it the same way they approach pop music and it doesn't work. I read an interesting thing the other day. This girl, Norah Jones, who I must confess, I have never heard, shows you how connected I am, but it said something like, 'she is very successful because older people seemed to relate to her and older people don't know how to download.' I've been thinking for a long time that it is a shame that record companies would think about creating product for mature people because it seems to me that people over forty, fifty, sixty, seventy have a lot more economic power, but I guess they are looking to develop new customers. It is silly thinking. That is my theory on one of the problems with jazz music and now that the whole scene is in trouble and the whole world is in trouble.

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