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Interviews

Jeff Lorber: He Had a Hat

By Published: May 17, 2007

We were able to get really great performances out of everyone. I think everyone enjoyed the music and was challenged by it, and I think that all helped the record to have the vibe that it has.

Jeff LorberJeff Lorber never ceases to amaze. He Had a Hat (Blue Note, 2007) is Lorber at his pure and unadulterated best. The keyboardist teamed up with an all-star team of musicians including Bobby Colomby, the visionary producer behind many successful albums including trumpeter Chris Botti's When I Fall in Love (Columbia, 2004), To Love Again: The Duets (Columbia, 2005), as well as the 1976 Epic debut of the late bassist Jaco Pastorius. Lorber, known for his smooth, synth-heavy sound, has created something inimitable and is certain to surprise and appeal to his long-standing fans and some new-found ones, too.

All About Jazz: W is the story behind the title of your album He Had a Hat?

Jeff Lorber: It is based on an old joke. We were all hanging around the studio working on the record, and Bobby [Colomby] who is my co-producer, told the joke. Would you like me to tell you the joke?

AAJ: Absolutely!

JL: There is a grandma and her grandson on a beach. A big wave comes in and sweeps the child into the sea. "Please, God," she says, looking up at the sky. "Bring back little Mikey. I'll do anything—feed the hungry, heal the sick—anything." Another big wave washes in, depositing the boy on the sand. "He had a hat!" she says.

AAJ: It is a unique title, for sure.

JL: Yeah, it is just a funny joke. We were just having so much fun in the studio making the music. It just kind of hit us in the right way when we thinking of titles for the album. There was just a lot of joy about making the music, and so the title captures that fun. The title is memorable, somehow.

AAJ: It definitely translates to the music. Did you have a set concept when going through the recording process on this album? Did you want to try new things—give the audience something different?

JL: Bobby Colomby and I co-produced and co-wrote the music. I have been a big fan of his. He was the founder of Blood, Sweat & Tears, which was obviously a very successful group, and it was also very innovative—stylistically all over the place. The debut CD of Jaco Pastorius was produced by Bobby. It varied stylistically and, in a way, that Jaco album was sort of a model for what I was hoping to come out with on this record—being at a very high level musically and having some great guests to collaborate with on the record.

I just wanted great songs, great music and great production; that was basically the goal. We didn't really limit ourselves to a style. I think my last few records were more focused in terms of trying to create a specific sound for the record. On He Had a Hat it was much more eclectic and kind of all over the place. We have some straight-ahead jazz, funky grooves, Latin and vocal tunes. I think the thing that makes it cohesive is the fact that, you can hear my musical personality come through on most of the material. Harmonically, the material is interesting all the way through, no matter the style of each song.

AAJ: One of the many things I love about the album is the humanity behind each song. Especially when considering the titles such as "Grandma's Hands and "The Other Side of the Heart. Every song is such a joy to listen to and there is something to appeal to everyone on this album.

JL: We definitely didn't hold back. On a lot of different records you try to come up with the ten songs that you record. We actually recorded about twenty songs for this one and we cut that down eventually to the thirteen that are on the record. There is actually a bonus track that I think will end up being used for something, I'm not sure what. We just really wanted to give it a real full effort and not hold back at all. We wanted to put as much into the record as possible and exhaust ourselves in terms of any musical possibility that might be interesting to explore.

AAJ: The musicianship on this album is outstanding. Did you know from the onset that you wanted to work with each musician employed on this project?

JL: Living in Los Angeles makes it possible to have the cream of the crop of world musicians, many of them live here, which is terrific. There are a lot of bad things to Los Angeles too, but I think the talent that lives here is one of the best things about it. We also made use of some people that live elsewhere—[trumpeter] Randy Brecker and [guitarist] Russell Malone, who are from New York. We actually used an e-mail kind of recording, where Randy did his stuff on his own in his studio. Bobby happened to be in New York so he was able to record Russell.

I just think that in terms of the people that are on this project and how they matched up with the songs, it was just basically both Bobby and I calling in a lot of favors, including and involving a lot of our favorite musicians. It was almost like a little bit of a competition—both of us produce a lot of music. He has his circle of musicians, which is a little different than mine. We were kind of like trying to outdo each other. Like Bobby would say, "I've got this arranger, a friend of mine, [keyboardist/arranger] Jeremy Lubbock. He is incredible. And of course, I had heard of Jeremy Lubbock but I never had the chance to work with him, and I was really honored to have him participate.

I would say, "You've got to check out these guys that I work with that are fantastic, like [saxophonists] Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum. We were kind of introducing each other to some great musicians that we knew and work with. Bobby definitely brought a lot of people from his posse; Randy Brecker, who I have been a big fan of for years and this was my first time working with him on a record. I don't know if either of us had worked with Russell Malone but I was a fan of his. I had been trying to get [drummer/bassist/keyboardist] Abraham Laboriel, Jr. to play on my last record but he was busy, he plays with Paul McCartney and Sting. So, we were really happy to get him involved.

There is a really nice group of people that we were able to get to contribute, and I think that overall the general vibe of what was happening while we were working was that we were just having so much fun. We were able to get really great performances out of everyone. I think everyone enjoyed the music and was challenged by it, and I think that all helped the record to have the vibe that it has.

AAJ: I agree. The camaraderie is audibly infused on every track. The album has a progressive and introspective vibe and, in that way, is distinctive from other albums. When the listener plays the album a milieu of experiences is created by the music.

JL: I think a lot of musicians—and I am certainly guilty of it—when they think about writing and recording, the idea of airplay becomes very important. With this record we really didn't think about that at all, we just tried to make music that would challenge us and the people that listened to it. I am really looking forward to playing gigs and performing this material. I am more excited about it than normal because this music definitely lends itself toward live performance.

AAJ: I'm sure your fans will be excited to hear these songs live.

Jeff LorberJL: Well they really all are favorites, but I have maybe four favorite tracks. It really depends. I mean the song "Surreptitious is definitely one that, just from a player's perspective, is really challenging and it forces you to practice and really work hard on it to get the most out of it. The same thing goes for "He Had a Hat. "Anthem for a New America is definitely another one of my favorites, and "Hudson —those are probably my four favorites, depending on my mood; I might get into one of the ballads like "Orchid or "Requiem for Gandalf. It is kind of a "best of in terms of material I have been working on.

AAJ: One of my favorite tracks is "Requiem for Gandalf.

JL: That was actually the first song that I wrote for the album. I had this wonderful cat for twenty years, and he finally passed away about a year ago, and it was very emotional. You get very attached to your pet. I just sat down and poured my heart into that song and I think you can really hear that in the melody.

AAJ: It is a beautiful song.

JL: We were very lucky to get [saxophonist] Tom Scott to do the arranging on that, he contributed so much, the brass ensemble that he put together, and the way that he arranged it, gives it real flavor; and also on "Almost Blues, that is definitely one of my favorites. The horn arrangements on those two songs are very special.

AAJ: Absolutely. Wasn't it Bobby Colomby's idea to give "Almost Blues a [Miles Davis'] Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1959) vibe?

JL: Right, that was Bobby's contribution he came up with that idea. If he just thinks about something, he already knows how it is going to come out. I wasn't quite as confidant as he was, but after we finished the arrangement I was really pleased with it.

AAJ: I think that this album really is a testament to the wonderful career that you have as an artist, and really showcases the evolution in terms of creating something new and interesting.

JL: I just kind of look at this record as being the direction I would like to continue to go in. To make music that is harmonically adventurous and challenging. I am very lucky to have a collaborator like Bobby and great musicians like this to work with. I certainly hope to pursue that path of writing and recording.


Selected Discography

Jeff Lorber, He Had a Hat (Blue Note, 2007)

Jeff Lorber, Flipside (Narada Jazz, 2005)

Jeff Lorber, Philly Style (Narada Jazz, 2003)

Jeff Lorber, The Very Best of Jeff Lorber(Grp/Verve, 2002)

Jeff Lorber, Kickin' It (Samson, 2001)

Jeff Lorber, The Definitive Collection (Arista, 2000)

Jeff Lorber, Midnight (Zebra, 1998)

Jeff Lorber, State of Grace (Verve Forecast, 1994)

Jeff Lorber, West Side Stories (Verve Forecast, 1994)

Jeff Lorber, Worth Waiting For (Verve Forecast, 1991)

Jeff Lorber, Private Passion (Warner Bros., 1990)

Jeff Lorber, Step by Step (Arista, 1984)

Jeff Lorber, Lift Off (Arista, 1984)

Jeff Lorber, In the Heat of the Night (Arista, 1984)

Jeff Lorber, It's a Fact (Arista, 1982)

Jeff Lorber, Galaxian (Arista, 1981)

Jeff Lorber, Wizard Island (Arista, 1980)

Jeff Lorber, Water Sign (Arista, 1979)

Jeff Lorber, Soft Space (Inner City, 1978)

Jeff Lorber, The Jeff Lorber Fusion (Inner City, 1977)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Nicolas Zucker
Bottom Photo: Vincent van de Wijngaard/unit C.M.A.



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