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Jef Lee Johnson: It's Been So Long Since I've Seen with My Eyes

By Published: February 1, 2013
JLJ: Well, the technical is the basis. But its supposed to be emotional. We're in the emotion business. We're in the feel business. That's not negating anything else either. If you want to be a Diva or a primadonna fine. But I want to be a musician and I want people to be into the music just as much as I am and was when I was I said, 14 and 15 listening to the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Rufus! There was nobody around saying I couldn't listen to that, or Funkadelic or Bach in the same sitting. I wasn't thinking about whether loud guitars were supposed to be up front or how the violas and violins came together, I was thinking about how it was all affecting me, and it was affecting me in a good way. The musicians are responsible for putting it over so people will feel they'll laugh or cry. That's what it's supposed to be and on a level where you're not crying or laughing because you are sad or are just feeling, you know- maybe both at the same time.

AAJ: Amazing how you're saying this but you are working at the absolute highest levels technically. Reading charts with the George Dukes and James Carters of the world. But yet you're putting across an emotional thing.

JLJ: I don't know if they think the same. George is, as you say, at the ultimate level of technical musicianship but he's from a different school. But we can both speak in the same situation. Neither looks down on the other's approach. I look up to him and he tells me I've become his favorite guitarist. That's another "Put up or shut up," like McCoy. My reading over the years, for example, has been sloppy, but I'm going to make it music regardless. George knows that and he's counting on me to do that. James is from another school, but we have the same determination that we're going to make music out of the sum of our parts. I am going to come into these sessions and hit them as hard as humanly possible and they know that.

AAJ: Are you more focused on your own thing or the sideman thing?

JLJ: I have to work with other people to make a living, but if the day comes I can pay the cats and me money for doing my music, that's what I'd want to do.

AAJ: Anyone you'd love to work with you haven't yet?

JLJ: Y'know, someone brought over that Jan Hammer video, "In the Mind's Eye," so I got the cds and went out and got "Melodies" again. Then I realized all over again how great he is. I was trying to get a thing together with Anthony Jackson and Michael Bland. Now that sounds great conceptually, but you never really know how it would work until you got in there and did it.

AAJ: So what would I take for a small label to get you? I mean some of these small labels are merely paying for the artist's recording date and for distributing the record. The artist gets no "fee." Or if they do it's a token amount.

JLJ: That's what the deal was with DIW. In my case, any of that little bit would help. The records I'm doing with Dreambox, I have to pay to make and then Jim takes care of the rest.

AAJ: There are many small labels who might pay for guys to do recordings, but they won't pay on top of that.

JLJ: I don't know how they operate, but it seems to me they have the money, and I'm not quite sure how they go about using it. I'm just figuring out how to do what I'm going to do. Do I use plastic, do I take a gig? Or they raised my mortgage! Whatever. At this point it's all so meaningless. I am just concerned about putting the music out. That's what my wife would say. "Just do the music and shut up. It's what we do." She wouldn't put it necessarily in that crude way, but... or as George would say, "If it ain't right it's wrong." So by all means if its right, let's be about it.

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Download jazz mp3 “This is This” by Jef Lee Johnson