Take Five With Dan Lehner
Dan Lehner is a freelance trombonist, composer and educator in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Born in Hamilton, New Jersey, Lehner briefly attended University of the Arts in Philadelphia before finishing his undergraduate degree in Jazz Studies at William Paterson University, studying under New York trombonists John Mosca and Tim Newman, as well as studying composition with Elliot Carter scholar John Link.
Lehner has performed with a wide array of groups including Asiko (Afro-Beat) and Nick Cooper of Houston's Free Radicals (improvised music), as well as King Holiday. Dan is also a member of Avenida B (salsa dura), Morricone Youth (film music) and Tri-State Conspiracy (punk swing), in addition to making guest appearances with bands such as All Boy/All Girl and The Reigning Monarchs (with guest Norah Jones). He's also performed 16 shows of an off-off-Broadway run of Leonard Bernstein's Wonderful Town with Brooklyn's Gallery Players and contributed to the soundtrack of 2013 Canadian independent film An Enemy . He is resident composer for Odd Act Theater Company and premiered an original stage score to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan , using traditional, invented and toy instrumentation. He presently acts as composer and bandleader in his own group, Dan Lehner's Memory Field, whose debut EP Spoken Migration, was released on March 22nd, 2013.
Teachers and/or influences?
I studied with Philadelphia trombonists Fred Scott and Randy Kapralick while I went to University of the Arts and then with New York City trombonists John Mosca and Tim Newman when I went to William Paterson, as well as composition with John Link.
Trombone-wise, I'm influenced by classic trombonists like J.J. Johnson and Jimmy Knepper, as well as contemporary bone players like Jacob Garchik, Ryan Keberle, Michael Dease, Curtis Hasselbring, Samuel Blaser, David Gibson, Josh Roseman, Steve Davis and many others.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I knew that it was possible to play jazz trombone when my middle school band director played us John Coltrane's "Blue Train" and I first heard Curtis Fuller. I decided I wanted to be a performer when I found that studying to be a band director wasn't for me at the time (though I still do teaching in a private studio setting).
Your sound and approach to music:
I try to approach playing the trombone by looking in all directions: forward by playing things I haven't heard people do before, sideways by checking out what others are doing now and backwards by listening to recordings of the past. I try to be as non-discriminatory as possible.
With my compositions, I like color. I like extracting different sounds out of limited ranges (my present quartet has no chordal instruments and another book of music is just trombone/piano/drums, no bass) so that I can put a binder on myself to be more focused. The unifying thing in my writing is that it's for improvisers, but stylistically, it can go anywhere.
Your dream band:
There are certain musicians in New York City that I admire for their incredible versatility, like Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver, Tyshawn Sorey and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Anybody who has both an "uptown" sense and a "downtown" senseor, more accurately, doesn't view jazz necessarily on those terms, would be great to play with.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
I played a gig with an infamous Philadelphia funk musician (name withheld) who rostered out horn players from University of the Arts (where I used to attend) and played the weirdest gigs in the greater Philly area. Myself and another trumpet player were on the gig for what we discovered was a Catholic anti-porn benefit luncheon. The pay for that was $20, which I never received. It made for a good story though.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
One life-affecting record for me was Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth Deluxe, in 2010. It's got some truly beautiful and exciting writing and was a huge influence on how I wanted a small group to sound. There's a lot of a great soloing from Craig Taborn, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, who switch seamlessly from intensity to melodicism and most importantly, the record has a trove of group interplay, which I find extremely important in a jazz recording.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I hope to be adding to the growing list of new avenues for the trombone in creative music, as well as another page to the already sufficiently large book of chordless groups (for this past record, at least). I also hope to be able to add my voice to the pantheon of people mostly recording original music.
Did you know...
I identify politically as an anarchist. I don't have a driver's license. I flirt back and forth with the Paleo Diet and have gone on foraging/wild food tours in the greater New York City area. I can play every one of J.J. Johnsons's solos on J.J. Inc. by memory.
CDs you are listening to now:
D'Angelo, Voodoo (Virgin);
David Binney, Graylen Epicenter (Mythology);
J.J. Johnson, J.J. Inc (Sony);
Jeremy Pelt, Water and Earth (High Note);
Steve Reich, Drumming/Six Pianos/Music for Mallet Instruments, Voice and Percussion (Deutsche Grammaphone).
Desert Island picks:
Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, Deluxe (Clean Feed);
Andrew Hill , Black Fire (Blue Note);
J Dilla, Donuts (Stones Throw);
Jacob Garchik, The Heavens (Yestereve);
Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um (Columbia).
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Artistically, the state of the music that gets called jazz is great. There's plenty of music that represents great reiterations and innovations on the tradition, as well as completely new and exciting ventures into improvised music. Practically and financially, well, that's a whole different story. I think initiatives like Search and Restore in New York City are great for keeping the spirit alive.
What is in the near future?
I hope to be playing dates in New York City to showcase the music from the record. After that, I have another few compositions for a different format (trombone, piano and drums) that I would like to explore as well.
Courtesy of Dan Lehner