Lauren Sevian: Big Voice on the Big Horn
Explains Sevian, "I was playing alto, and I knew I wanted to play saxophone. But I felt like something was missing. I wanted to continue searching. I felt like alto wasn't really my voice. I was talking to my teacher about it. He suggested baritone. I said, 'What do you mean? It's humongous. I can't imagine trying to play it.' But then when I played it, it just felt right to me. It's so natural. I was worried it was going to feel large and cumbersomeat times, yeahbut overall it felt so natural to me ... When I auditioned on baritone, that was definitely the deciding factor. I'm going to be a baritone player. I'm going to really try and study the baritone. I was still playing some alto, when I first came to New York, but I wasn't playing alto at school at all. I decided I wanted to establish my own voice on baritone. I wanted to be known as a baritone player. That was it."
"I still have my alto, but I don't play it at all. My husband is playing my alto now," she says with a sparkle.
In general, "Coltrane is the top influence," she says. "Pepper Adams, as far as baritone players go. He's a huge influence for me as far as sound and lines and phrasing. Hank Mobley; Dexter Gordon; Wayne Shorter. Lately I've been listening to a ton of Billy Harper. A lot. I love his sound. Several years ago, I had a chance to play with him a little bit. I really dig his playing a lot."
Manhattan School of Music was what she'd hoped. "Great teachers. Great private instructors. Great classroom instructors. I met a lot of people there. I had a chance to do a lot of playing and have a chance to grow musically. At that point, I hadn't been playing baritone for very long. It was a great chance for me to have that time and really study, as opposed to worrying about paying bills. That kind of thing ... I got to study with Mark Turner, Steve Slagle, Joe Temperley. He taught me a lot about the baritone itselfthe physicality of it, how to get a good sound. There are exercises that he showed me that I still practice to this day."
She was also playing small gigs in new York, like the former Augie's Jazz Bar. In those types of joints, she started meeting people like Colligan, her husband (though not yet romantically), Cecil Payne, and others. She was sitting in and playing gigs with bands at school, like Slagle's saxophone quartet at IAJE in New Orleans. Sevian's senior year, she took off the first semester to tour with Diva, "an amazing experience to have at such a young age. That really convinced me that I enjoy this kind of life. Traveling to all these different places, playing for peopleI got a nice taste of it. That motivated me even more."
She returned to graduate and has been a New York person ever since. In the course of a couple years, she earned the job with the Mingus organization. That prestigious place was a big career boost. "I was 23 or 24 when I started playing with them. That was a big gig for me, as far as getting my name out there, and also the learning experience of playing with all those incredible musicians. When I first started playing with the band, I was sitting next to John Stubblefield. He was like an older brother. He would guide me through the music. It was definitely an education having the chance to sit next to him. And all the incredible musicians that played in that bandit was a big deal. It's still a big deal for me to be part of that whole thing."
It has led to work with numerous big bands. "I like it," she says. "It's a different mindset, being a section player versus your own group. I feel like I've had a lot of experience and I know how to play in a section. I enjoy a lot of the big band gigs. Sometimes it can get a little bit ... if you wind up doing it a lot, it can get stale. Whenever I have that feeling, I try to think about what can I do as a musician to make it better. But having that experience to play in all those different big bands and all those different musical settings has been invaluable."
One of the more enjoyable ones, she says, is the opportunity, though not all that often, to play in the Björkestra, an aggregation in which Sullivan arranges the music of Bjork, an Icelandic pop star and actress whose music has intrigued many a young jazz musician these days. "That's a really fun group. In Milan, in December , we had Dave Douglas as our special guest. Unfortunately, we don't get a chance to play out that much. But when we do, it's really great. The music is so coolBjork music for big band. It's unbelievable. Travis Sullivan does a great job. Most of the arrangements are his. The musicians are all so incredible. We did a record a few years ago. [Enjoy! (Koch Records, 2007)] That came out really nice."