Jeff Lofton: Jazz to the People
AAJ: Do you have any particular influence on trumpet?
JL: I'm influenced by Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy [Gillespie], Miles, Howard McGhee, Blue Mitchell, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham... But probably obviously most is Miles and probably secondly Freddie Hubbard and Gillespie boy. Louis Armstrong is another great influence. It took me a while to get back but I studied his music and his style and he influences me as well. There're tunes that he did that I do now, like "Mack the Knife." Even people like Harry James. I'm influenced by some of the stuff he did. Harry "Sweets" Edison, I love all the stuff he did with Billie Holiday, Clark Terry... Cootie Williams is one of my favorites and greatest influence. That sound and all of the Ellington stuff.
I think that Duke Ellington has influenced me as much as anybody. I think if you're gonna be a jazz musician you almost have to spend a lot of time listening to Duke Ellington. Otherwise you're not really gonna understand anything. You're not gonna really get to understand Bud Powell or Red Garland or Wynton Kelly. As a pianist, not only as a composer, he is a really big influence on the bop players and the modern players probably more so than Fats Waller or Jelly Roll Morton or any of those cats. Duke Ellington is kind of where you can trace back Monk and Bud Powell, and even somebody like Art Tatum. That's saying something.
AAJ: Do you identify yourself with any particular style?
JL: I'm a bop player. I play in the bop style and the hard bop style but I also like avant-garde music and fusion, and I play some Dixieland... I would say bebop, straight-ahead jazz. as they call it. is kind of where my head is most of the times.
AAJ: Historically different jazz styles have been associated with different decades. How do you see jazz today?
JL: I think music in general has developed so much over the last hundred years that categorization is almost impossible. What you got now is jazz music recreating other music. You got that album by Cyrus Chestnut of Elvis tunes. So jazz is still doing the same thing it's been doing, taking these musical ideas, other musical forms, pop tunes or whatever and recreating them in a jazz way. I think the big difference right now is that you have a lot more independent artists creating independent sounds just because the technology.
AAJ: What role has hip-hop played in the development of black music?
JL: Well it is black music right now, it is pop music... If you look at what you have most of all with hip-hop is poetry over drumming. If you take scat and you take a drummer and mix them together it is one step away from hip-hop. You're talking about someone creating lyrics but it's not just lyrics. It's about the pace, style, flow... about the rhythmic connection, the call-and-response. Those things are improvisational elements. We have a lot of MCs that just go freestyle. Well, what is freestyle but improvisation? It's improvisation over a beat. It's the same musical concept.
Hip-hop is growing and changing, you got more groups interested in that and of course fusion is the connection. The group we had, Deja Voodoo, worked because we had consciousness. We were aware enough of the music to realize how to fit their lyrics and their pace and their flow to what we were doing. So we had like a fusion band where we would do some intricate stuff, play some stuff that was very Milesy, but we had hip-hop artists too because they fit. You know, it's not swinging, it's a funk beat basically, it's more James Brown-oriented but it's the same concept.
AAJ: How has the musical scene changed since you started playing?
JL: I think the main change is technology. When I was growing up if I wanted to hear jazz in Columbia, South Carolina I either had to be lucky and had parents that were hip or I had to be old enough to go into a club that had jazz, or be fortunate enough to have a public radio. I had a really top-notch public radio system that played lots and lots of jazz so I had access to it. Now, all I got to do is type in a name and I got access to everything. I mean, the Internet has created access for a young jazz musician in Istanbul to have the same chance than a cat in New York to play. That is unprecedented, that's the biggest change.
AAJ: It seems like jazz today has a lot of perfectly trained musicians but not many big names coming out so much. Of course, there has been quite a bit of controversy around the Marsalis circle.
JL: When Wynton Marsalis came out a lot of people were saying jazz was dead. It was a very rough time for jazz. He inspired so many players, brought so much light into it and you may never have another situation quite like Wynton because of the time. But there's a lot of young cats coming out. In fact, I think there's probably more young jazz players now than there were at that time. A lot of these guys you don't hear as much. You got guys like Jeremy Pelt, young trumpet player out in New York doing a lot of things. Eric Alexander, saxophonist around my age. He's just kind of more recently get notoriety. Cats like Brian Blade drummerSean Jones, Maurice Brown, Christian Scott...
I think because the music is more independent you're not seeing as much of it being presented in the old style of "Go to the record store, here it is." Record stores are almost dead now. There's not many independent record stores. I think people are learning more from these artists from the Internet from Facebook and MySpace, rather than going to see them or seeing the record somewhere or having somebody telling them about them.
AAJ: Do you have any lifetime record or artist?
JL: If I could only listen to one artist I'd probably be Sun Ra, because it contains the most music. You can hear the avant-garde, the Ellington tune, John Cage... so much music, so prolific that you got everything and you got him. You have early piano playing, the most modern, late piano playing, you got big band, you got small ensembles... you got everything.
The Jeff Lofton Electric Thang, Chasing the Voodoo Down (Self Produced, 2011)
Jeff Lofton Quartet, Jazz to the People (Self Produced, 2009)
Jeff Lofton Quartet, Jazz Therapy (Self Produced, 2005)