We rehearsed weekly, even without gigs. We did a concert and made our first record, Kogun (RCA Victor, 1974), in a small studio in Japan. John Lewis was the music director for the Monterey Jazz Festival at the time; he heard the album and booked us. In those days, it provided important exposure, as many critics and European bookers attended. Most of the time we lost money on gigs. We didn't know how to deal with hotels. My work ended up subsidizing the band. We finally moved back to New York.
Toshiko utilized her heritage in her writing, a lot of it narrative music that told a story. Kogun had a melody that required a certain slide technique on flute, so I had to figure out how to do it. As years progressed, she wrote more of that stuff and it wasn't as hard for me. I had to try to understand and assimilate the Japanese aesthetic, so it became part of my flute playing.
AAJ: How have your musical lives intertwined since Toshiko disbanded the orchestra?
LT: We both have our own concepts, so we have to compromise when playing together. We did a duo tour of Japan in 2008 and recorded two CDs for a small Japanese label [T-Toc]; sometimes we play in a quartet. We're each working on our own music, so we try to balance it out. I practice in the basement, she has a piano upstairs, there's a floor of separation between us. We also have a house in Westchester that has a piano but no phone or TV.
AAJ: Do you have a preference for playing in a small group setting?
LT: I prefer playing with just bass and drums, though I wasn't able to do it too often in the past. I began working on the trio concept in 1967 and it's been my main focus all these years. There is a certain transparency in my trio that you can't get with the presence of a chordal instrument, while omitting piano also makes intimate communication possible. I spend a lot of time with my trio [bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Mark Taylor] in Japan. We try to get yearly tours by booking well in advance, since both of them have other commitments.
AAJ: Do you have a new CD planned or one ready for release?
LT: I put out a trio CD [Live in Paris (Self Produced, 2008)] by myself last year that was recorded for broadcast, just so this band was documented. At this point, I've lost interest in aggressively recording and promoting. Today, young people have all the energy to work their asses off. I'm from the old school, where it was the record company's job to promote. I prefer to spend time working on my music; I'd rather work to get my low B-flat to be better.
Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band, Mosaic Select 33 (Mosaic, 2009)
Lew Tabackin Trio, Tanuki's Night Out (Tokuma, 2002)
Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Desert Lady/Fantasy (Sony, 1993)
Lew Tabackin Quartet, Desert Lady (Concord, 1989)
Lew Tabackin, Black and Tan Fantasy (Ascent-Discomate, 1979)
Lew Tabackin, Dual Nature (Inner City, 1976)
[Tabackin was honored for "His Matchless Musical Achievements" by Highlight in Jazz Mar. 11th at a concert in his honor.]
Courtesy of AAJ Photo Gallery