Pianist/keyboardist T Lavitz's School of the Arts (Magnatude, 2007) brings together guitarists Steve Morse and Frank Gambale, drummer Dave Weckl, bassist John Patitucci and violinist Jerry Goodman. It's a mouth-watering line-up which produces some real sparks, with its exhilarating unison playing and virtuoso performances.
Where School of the Arts marks a departure from Lavitz's recorded output so far is that this is an all-acoustic affair. Imagine a hybrid of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Chick Corea Electric Band and the Dixie Dregs, unplugged, and you may get an idea of the music on offer.
T Lavitz talks about this album with AAJ's Ian Patterson, and recalls close encounters with the Grateful Dead, mega-bands in the school cafeteria and more.
All About Jazz: This album, School of the Arts is a little different to stuff you've done before; how did it come about?
T Lavitz: I had an idea to do a session like [pianist] Chick Corea, Weather Report, Dixie Dregs, but acoustic. The guys at the label thought it was a good idea and we began kicking around ideas about which musicians might be good for the project.
AAJ: It's a really great group of musicians; did you know who you wanted from the outset?
TL: I knew [guitarist] Frank Gambale when he first came from Australia twenty years ago, and I did a little playing with him in Los Angeles when I lived there. And of course Steve Morse and Jerry Goodman and I played together in the Dixie Dregs. Maybe the label suggested Dave Weckl, or maybe Frank recommended him, I don't even remember. I've been very lucky to play with some of the greatest drummers. Someone said, "How about John Patitucci? and of course I said yes.
AAJ: It was an acoustic project from the beginning, so why does John Patitucci play electric bass on a couple of tracks?
TL: At the very beginning I said "all-acoustic, and then while I was writing the music I thought some of this might be difficult, and I love electric bass. The acoustic bass is so cumbersome; it's sort of hard to execute sometimes, unison lines and things like that. So I thought if it was all acoustic but there is an electric sound, it's not too heavy sounding. So it was sort of a natural progression at that point. John Patitucci suggested he play electric on this song and that song and I said OK.
AAJ: Your own playing on School of the Arts is very much in the high register of the piano and it reminds me in spirit of the style of [pianist] Bruce Hornsby; I wanted to ask you who has most influenced your playing, your approach to playing the piano?
TL: Oh boy! It's funny that you would mention Bruce Hornsby, because we actually studied together in school. I knew him since we were teenagers. I think it's coincidental but we both liked the same guys like [pianist] Keith Jarrett, and everyone loved Chick Corea. One of my all-time keyboard players for sure is Herbie Hancock and one of the coolest players is [keyboardist] Joe Zawinul, who unfortunately just passed away. But I don't know that it sounds like any of those guys. In a way, not that it sounds like him, but in a way it reminds me of Chick Corea. It's a different style for me to play all acoustic.
AAJ: On "Maybe Next Time I am reminded of the lyricism of Keith Jarrett, whom you've already mentioned, but also the more bluesy style of [pianist] Dr. John, at least that's the way I hear it. Would Dr, John have been an influence, for example?
TL: Definitely; although I didn't intentionally think of him, I used to play in a band with Paul Barrére, guitarist and singer of Little Feat, and I got very much into that New Orleans vibe. You know, there's a few licks, funky, bluesy, but also jazzy in a way; I didn't think of him but if I stop and think about it then yeah, he's in there for sure.
AAJ: One of the best things about School of the Arts is the playing of Jerry Goodman, who is really on fire on this album.
TL: You're not going to believe this but he doesn't even have a copy of it yet. I've even stayed at his house but I don't have the address to send him the CD. I think he'll be very pleased because many people have commented on his playing. But I don't even think he's heard it. I sent the CD to everyone involved because I want them to hear it because I'm very proud of the final result.
AAJ: For me the only downside is that he didn't play on more tracks.
TL: To tell you the truth, originally I thought it was going to be me and the Chick Corea electric band with Frank Gambale on the whole album, and maybe there would be a duet with me and Frank, or a solo piece on piano. But then it got behind schedule, and by April Frank said: "I've done five songs; I can't do any more until June or July. We were hoping to have it finished by then. I thought of Steve Morse for guitar and I was talking about it with the label: "What shall we do? Saxophone? What about Jerry Goodman? and so we asked him to do it. I hate to say he was an afterthought but...