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Interviews

Julian Lage: Stepping Into the Limelight

By Published: March 23, 2009
"What's heard on the record, and hopefully in the music to come, comes from a lot of areas. I wouldn't say that there shouldn't be genres, because I think that's healthy. But my typical musical day is a lot of classical music, a lot of acoustic music, some jazz—less so lately—experimental electronic music. I'm trying to receive as much as possible, so that I feel when I write it is kind of natural—whatever comes out is what feels natural. In retrospect, you can say I took from an impressionistic-style harmony, or I took from a Tony Rice-style rhythm guitar thing. But in the moment it's not as deliberate. It's not like: Tony Rice + Ravel = me.



"It feels really natural. I like it. There are so many players that embody that. Even Herbie [Hancock] or Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
, or my contemporaries like Taylor or Aaron Parks
Aaron Parks
Aaron Parks
b.1983
piano
. The lines are blurring. We all know that. So I feel happy to be a part of that movement where everything works together."

Gary Burton / Julian Lage Among his influences besides jazz musicians are French and Russian composers. People like Debussy and Ravel. "A lot of Stravinsky and Shostakovich. Really passionate stuff. Astor Piazzolla. A lot of Björk. That's more modern. A big part is film scores. If I saw a movie and I thought the score was interesting, I'd study it. Those old Hitchcock movies with Bernard Herrmann scores were really big influences."



The youngest of five children, Lage was four when his father bought a guitar for himself and began to tinker with it. Lage liked the look of it and asked for one. He was told he could get one in a year if he was still interested. Meanwhile, one of his brothers got a guitar, but hated it. "I think in many ways that was even more reason for me to start, because there was one in the house now. He wasn't using it. I couldn't wait to use it." He began at age five and by the time he was seven, he was playing out in public and getting paid.



"I had really great guitar teachers in the Bay area. If they had a gig locally at a club or café or performance facility, they'd invite me to play. It wasn't my own music, at that point, but it was a lot of variety. Blues musicians, jazz musicians. Just kind of being part of the Bay area scene, I guess. That's when I started playing in different configurations."



Lage was born in Santa Rosa, California, and says the Bay Area is still a good area for young musicians to develop. "From my view, it was a great place to grow up.



"It takes getting turned on by different music teachers," he says. "My parents were listening to everything from [Antonio Carlos] Jobim to John Martyn, Boz Scaggs. It was never pushed on me. There was always music in the household. I never got that into rock and roll. I never was that into pop music. I don't know why. I certainly have nothing against it. I was lucky. I was into jazz. My parents took it seriously. They didn't assume that I should be doing something else. They said, 'OK. We trust you.' They made it happen. They fueled that excitement and that curiosity through my whole childhood."



Still a youngster, he studied Western classical music at the San Francisco Conservatory and pursued jazz studies at Sonoma State University. He also attended Ali Akbar College of Music, where he studied Indian music and later studied advanced classical composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston.



As far as getting acclimated to jazz, Lage says there was no one singular moment, such as an important album, or artist. "There's nothing that was: 'Oh, that's what I want to do when I grow up.' It was like: This is what I do. I play guitar and I love it."



He adds, "There are always people [as influences], from Miles to Jim Hall to Bill Evans

Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
to Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
. Django. Movies scores. There's all this happening and it's all great. There really wasn't one thing where I would say, 'This is why I got into it.' Recently that's happened more. Seeing the Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
Quartet several times in the last few years. That's when I go, 'Wow, that's what I want to do when I grow up.' Or seeing Björk live. Wow, that's a turning point. So, it happened a little bit later for me. I was just so receptive to everything, it was like: If it's music, I'm there. I'm into it. It was music and school and family. Hopefully I had a healthy balance of all of them."

Taylor Eigsti / Julian Lage At 11, he played the duet "Old Souls" for Grisman's Dawg Duos (Acoustic Disc, 1999). "That was my first recording. That opened up a lot of connections, musically and otherwise," Lage notes. The album included Grisman in duets with Fleck, violin masters Mark O'Connor and Vassar Clements

and more. "It was only a year later that I started playing with Gary [Burton]."



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