Jef Lee Johnson: It's Been So Long Since I've Seen with My Eyes
AAJ: Who's on News From the Jungle?
JLJ: That's with Michael Bland and Sonny Thompson who used to play in New Power Generation.
AAJ: Did you play with Prince as well?
AAJ: So what's the approach on News?
JLJ: Initially, I don't know who was supposed to play on it. It was supposed to be a trio record centered around the Duke Ellington's jungle series of compositions, like "Black and Tan Fantasy." I don 't know who was supposed to be the better party to do it but eventually it ended up being me and they're happy about it. I'm happy they're happy.
AAJ: It was supposed to be another guitarist?
JLJ: Well, I came in last. I don't know who the other guitarist, or whoever, was supposed to be.
AAJ: Well, they got more than they bargained for with you.
JLJ: Pardon? Oh, thank you.
AAJ: You are killing it man, and you probably know that music better than whoever else they had in mind.
JLJ: Record labels want to sell records- I don't sell records. I can play guitar a little bit but I'm not a star or a millionaire or anything. I'm just a decent guitarist.
AAJ: You're a little more than decent there. I have talked to some heavy cats, guys like David Fiuczynski and David Gilmore, who think you are one of the heaviest cats out there.
JLJ: But those are musicians. They're not the people who buy records. This French label, EmArcy/ Universal Jazz-they might be different-they seem to be different in that they are more into the music.
AAJ: Was that a short session?
JLJ: It was three or four days in Minneapolis, actually. I just remember playing what I felt like playing. I wasn't in the greatest of moods. In an eerie way, I think my playing has gotten a little more focused in. Maybe because I just don't care, I'm just getting rid of any kind of inhibitions. It was very laser- like playing on my part. And it's unusual for me to comment on anyone's playing, least of all my own, but I feel like...
AAJ: You honed right in on it!
JLJ: I mean it's been like that all the way around recently. All the sessions- even like Common's session or whoever I've been cuttin' with- things have been like really crystal clear. And that was no exception. There are a lot of great tracks laid down and I think it's a great record!
AAJ: And it's interpretations of Duke tunes?
JLJ: Yeah it all just worked out really fantastic. There's some original stuff and it's not one of those like, "Oh, aren't we groovy? Listen to all the notes we play," kinds of records. It's like-music-which is what they all should be anyway.
AAJ: I was assuming it was like a jazz project with jungle beats underneath or something?.
JLJ: Oh, no no. Funny, though the Minneapolis people thought it was going to be a drum'n'bass type of thing too and that's not what the intent was. No. They wanted me to play- and they wanted me to play what I play.
AAJ: Hopefully they will do something with it here. Funny that it's cut in the US and all the marketing is through France.
JLJ: Well, the US isn't the world. Less and less anymore. A lot of those labels don't care what's going on in the US. Artists, too. I just read a quote from the singer of Simply Red, the British group, who out and out said he didn't care at all what's going on in the states. I don't have an opinion about it one way or another. I'd just like people to be able to hear the music whenever, wherever. Whether its an old fashioned word of mouth buzz thing...
AAJ: Well, you've got the European distribution knocked off right off the bat, eh?
JLJ: Yes. But I don't care if it's an internet thing or whatever. There are a bunch of things that they're threatening to do over there. There was a Miles tribute we did last year in Montreux that was kind of weird like that also. George Duke, Herbie, Terri Lyne Carrington, Marcus Miller, Richard Bona, Christian McBride, Chester Thompson, Wallace Roney and me. The only reason I played on it is because they didn't have a guitarist and they were going to do Tutu and Jean-Pierre. I played with George earlier and he was like, "Would you mind?" and I was like, "Heck yeah I'll play on it!." Then it was getting later and later and they were like, "You don't have to play." Then it was me saying, "I'm playing on it!"