Jeff Lofton: Jazz to the People
AAJ: I've noticed that musicians in Austin work a lot on a live basis, but it's not so much about recording.
JL: Well, the recording costs money, that's really what it is, unless you got your own studio. You got to get funds together and it's just much easier to get them when you're getting paid. If I'm recording then basically I got to pay out of my pocket as opposed to the venue. It's really an economic thing. You find out that the most prolific recorders are solo singers/songwriters because they don't have to rely on a band. They come up and record, it's all them and it didn't take all that extra cash.
AAJ: Why did you call your CD Jazz to the People (Self Produced, 2009)? Do the people need some jazz?
JL: The people definitely need some jazz. The people need jazz badly. One of the things is it allows you to hear music that is not been played before. I know that doesn't sound like a huge concept but when you think of a song you say, "Oh I love that song by Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna..." That song is exactly the same way you heard it on the radio. The song you're thinking of is that way they didn't on that album on the radio. When you say, "Oh I wanna hear 'Well You Needn't,' by Monk," you don't have that same concept. The concept that I will hear that recording, that performance of that song, it's not what you get. Immediately you get I wonder how it's gonna sound like, and who's playing, and how are they gonna do it this time. Those elements of music that are taken out of pop music deliberately are what expand our consciousness. Those elements of surprise and of rhythmic and melodic invention are the things that enlighten us, that take us out of the space here and put us into a higher conscience. That's why people need jazz, because you can't get that from any other form. All the other forms are designed to sound the same every time. Jazz is designed to be different every time you hear it.
So Jazz to the People is music for the people, of the people, by the people. Classical music is called classical because it was the music of the aristocracy. It was the music of the kings, and the queens. Originally it was called court music as well. The music of the peasants, that was called folk music, not classical music. Jazz is of the people in the same way that folk music is of the people. The play on jazz to the people is a play on the Black Panthers' "power to the people." Just like you say all power to all the people, I say all jazz to all the people. Because that is, to me, power. Jazz is power. It is the music that can change and transform.
AAJ: One of your most successful shows was playing the music of Miles Davis. You have even played different periods of his music. What was your relationship with his music, you both being trumpet players?
JL: When I originally did that, it was an attempt to do the early '50s Prestige sound. You know, the quartet with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, to try to emulate the sound of that time. Miles has a very distinct sound in the early '50s, mid-'50s and late '50s. That first show was the early '50s tunes, the mid-'50s, the late Prestige stuff like Steaming (1961), Cooking (1957), Relaxing (1957) and then, of course, going to Columbia [Records].
The first show was my attempt to recreate musically the first quintet, and also musically the three distinct '50s Miles Davis styles. I chose Miles in that era because quite frankly it wasn't done before. That's not an era where people really deal with these days. Mostly Miles' tributes are fusion, generally speaking. Or it's the Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter... which I love of course. Not enough attention is given to that '50s Prestige sound and this set the standard for so much. There's so much jazz out there that's based on that I felt like it needed more recognition. If you bring that kind of music out, if you don't try to recreate, if you don't play it, it dies. It becomes museum music.
AAJ: Tell me about your other recording, Jazz Therapy (Self Produced, 2005).
JL: Jazz Therapy was my first album. It was recorded in South Carolina at South Carolina State University. It's really an interesting attempt; I still kind of feel like it's an attempt because it was my first recording. It's really my take on to standards. I wanted to create a sense, a feeling from that album. When I played "What is This Thing Called Love," I wanted that to be a version of that that people would look back to and say: "Oh yeah, I like that version." With "Georgia on My Mind," I wanted that to be a definitive version as a ballad, so that, as years go by, people could say: "Oh, I love Ray Charles' version, here's another version of it."
AAJ: You also included another version of "Georgia on My Mind" in Jazz to the People.
JL: I kind of wanted some continuity to tie those both albums together and to show the progression, but also jazz is always recreating so I wanted another version of that too. I felt like that song is a song that eventually would be associated with me. I probably put another version of it when I do another straight-ahead album. Like it's associated with Ray Charles, I want that song to be associated with me.
AAJ: Why did you choose that song in particular?
JL: Well, it's kind of a musical sacred cow. Once Ray Charles does something like that it's like no one can really touch it, and no one really tries to touch it. So I wanted to do that attempt partly because nobody else has got really to this. The other reason is that it's just such a great tune, one of my favorite. It's a Hoagy Carmichael tune, and I love this writer. He's one of the most incredible songwriters. My dad was always a big Ray Charles fan, so it kind of reminded me I had him here. He died in 2002, and when I made the recording that was kind of in my mind as well, kind of a tribute.
AAJ: Before you recorded with a band named Deja Voodoo, tell me about that.
JL: It was a rock-fusion hip-hop version. It was a group of players from South Carolina; two guitar players, bass, drums and we had two MCs as well. So it was hip-hop meets rock meets funks with some jazz influences. It was a real tight band and a real good group. Unfortunately, like so many musical endeavors...
AAJ: For a time you also worked as a hip-hop producer. What did you look for in the artists?
JL: Well, at that time I was working with a record company. I was really working as a musical director and making sure the artists had tracks to work with and get in the studio and get the best performance and recordings, then the mastering and all that kind of stuff. What we looked for in the artists was an incredibly strong lyrical ability. That was the basic line. The person had to really have some serious lyrics, poetic stuff. Second was timing, the flow basically. We had artists that we would give them a track, tell them to go to the next room, and we'd do the recording in three hours, they had a song.