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Jason Lindner: Beyond the Solo

Franz A. Matzner By

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Maybe now it’s about the collective approach. Maybe it's about other things now...and it’s not about taking a solo. —Jason Lindner
Jason Linder has been at the center of modern jazz's evolution for nearly two decades. His distinctive and flexible piano and synthesizer sound have placed him in a bewildering array of musical contexts and whether it's accompanying Anat Cohen, collaborating with Dafnis Prieto, or challenging the very edges of contemporary jazz—edges he has helped carve—Lindner consistently presents incisive musical forays that manipulate rhythm and sonic texture as much as they do melody and harmony.

Equally articulate away from the piano, Lindner's position at the cross roads of creative jazz lends him a unique perspective and provocative insight into the music's recent history and its future trajectory, all of which is encapsulated on the Now Vs. Now release Earth Analog (Now Vs. Now Records, 2013), discussed below.

Early Years

All About Jazz: You grew up in Brooklyn and started playing piano at age two. How did you get such an early start?

Jason Lindner: My dad's a pianist and a vocalist so it was just a case of imitating him and having the genes for musical talent or whatever it is that allows you to play by ear before you have formal lessons.

AAJ: Is your father also a jazz musician?

JL: He plays different types of music. Jazz, theater music, classical music, different things.

AAJ: Is that also at least somewhat the origin of your eclectic style as well?

JL: It's the origin of my learning jazz because he had a large jazz record collection.

AAJ: You play a large diversity of styles now, did that start early or develop later?

JL: It did not start early. It definitely developed later.

AAJ: What is your earliest musical memory?

JL: Playing happy birthday. No, actually the Star Wars theme! That was my first two handed piece.

AAJ: Considering your early start and background, did you ever ponder a different career path?

JL: I didn't explore any career path. I just wanted to be a good musician. I didn't even explore the career path of a musician. (laughs)

AAJ: Let's go with that. How did you do that? What did it mean to pursue being a good musician.

JL: I think I realized what it took when I went to the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art. I could compare myself with musicians who were really out there and doing it. There were some older musicians who were out there playing gigs... We looked up to them... During high school we got a chance to really play... We got a chance to bring in compositions and experiment, try arrangements. That was a breeding ground for what came later. It was definitely a college level situation in high school.

AAJ: LaGuardia has such a great reputation. It sounds like that was a big turning point for you.

JL:: Absolutely. Before that I was never around other musicians who were peers. My dad would bring me to rehearsals or to gigs and I took piano lessons, but I was pretty much the only one other than another friend before high school who was actually good at playing an instrument. It was hard to see where I stood.

Smalls: Window to the '90s

AAJ: You've noted another turning point was playing at Smalls.

JL: When Smalls came around there were already young musicians like myself on the scene who were into bebop and hard bop and those types of styles. Bass players who had to play gut strings with high action. It was a very different time than now. That early '90s time in New York when Chris Potter arrived, Brad Mehldau, all these people who became such amazing musicians were just cutting their teeth at that time.

I knew all them. There were some jazz [venues] before Smalls where we all met—like this little bar in Alphabet City, the ST Bar. The Village Gate was a really big place for people to meet because they had a jam session.

When Smalls came around, the Village Gate had just closed or was on its way out, and Smalls became the place where all the musicians would go every night. And it still kind of is. It was the spot where you could go all night. Play. Network. Learn. Practice. And I ended up playing there for about a year, as a leader and a few gigs as a sideman.

Then in its second year I started a big band which was an ongoing residency on Mondays.

AAJ: So that was a creative and career launching pad.

JL: That put my name in the paper every week. I think I became sort of a name. On the local scene anyway. The band probably didn't sound all that great the first couple years, honestly. I was learning how to do it. I was learning about chemistry between players, what it took to put a large ensemble together. And also making good arrangements. Into the second and third year it really started to form a sound. And Mitch Borden, the creator and founder of Smalls, was amazing about sticking with us.

AAJ: Is it during this period that your eclectic approach began to develop?

JL: It developed in two ways. Maybe three. Before I created the big band I was doing some gigs playing Afro-Cuban music. I had a steady gig three days a week at Victor's Café—was it called Victor's Café? Victor's something. It was a Cuban restaurant at 52nd street. I don't know if it is still there. But I played with William Ash, who was playing bass then...he got this gig and asked me to play.

And I didn't know anything about Afro-Cuban music. Yet all of a sudden we had a steady gig at a Cuban restaurant. So we learned really fast. I found that I really liked playing that and explored it in depth in the coming years.

Second, pianistically, salsa piano relates to early piano, meaning ragtime and such, because that is when classical music and rhythms that were more African in nature were coming together all over North and South America during the late 19th and 20th century. That's the roots of jazz, but also the roots of salsa piano. For example, the early jazz musicians, like Jelly Roll Morton, referenced the Spanish tinge, right?

I started to realize all these connections. Going back to the scene in New York at that time, people were very focused on one era of the music. But I started to realize where everything was coming from. There was a lot of diverse history and universal linkages. Linkages? (laughs).


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