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Jeff Lorber: Chemistry in Fusion

Jim Worsley By

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Swing is one of those things you arrive at and can't be learned in a linear fashion. —Jeff Lorber
I don't know that anyone would confuse Jeff Lorber with a mad scientist, but you know, as they say, if the shoe fits. Lorber is far from mad, so okay, let's take that out of the equation. However, if the art of music can be further developed and shaped by scientific measures then Lorber resembles Albert Einstein. Perhaps more on his mother's side (that's a joke). Seriously now, the chemistry that the Grammy winning multi-talented keyboardist, composer, and producer captures with his bandmates brings another element to the table. It would be too obvious to make a periodic element table pun here, so, of course, I won't do that.

Fortunately for music listeners, Lorber's love of music, coupled with his innate musical skills, won out over his pre-med courses. Thus charting a course that has now spanned some forty years on the music scene. His band, Jeff Lorber Fusion, embraces an amalgamation of jazz and bebop genres that take the word fusion well beyond the standard perception of jazz/rock connectivity. In the following recent conversation, we talked about the variances and commonalties of his fusion endeavors, the ups and downs of his career, his fun and musical childhood, his life-threatening medical condition, his new and exciting project with Mike Stern, and much more. He even tells a great joke!

All About Jazz: Although we all know you as an instrumental artist, I was just thinking back this morning of you being on American Bandstand with Dick Clark many years ago with a vocalist.

Jeff Lorber: Well, I should give you a little background to that. That band started out playing in Portland, Oregon, which was great because there were a lot of really great places to play. As it turns out, it was a great place to start a band. The people there supported local music and local jazz. There were some good musicians there that I was able to avail myself of. So, for about three or four years, we played mostly the Pacific Northwest. Mostly around Portland, but also Spokane, Seattle, Olympia, Salem, and all these other little towns. Then I put out an independent record and that got the attention of some major labels. That led to me signing with Arista. I put out a number of records for Arista and it was going very well as an instrumental group. Then, at some point, Clive Davis decided that he wasn't interested in jazz. He basically got rid of the entire jazz department at a certain point. Before that happened, I was on maybe my sixth record for Arista, and he really wanted me to start using vocals. If I had the hindsight I do now, I would realize that it wasn't necessarily such a good idea because I was a jazz artist and doing the vocal thing might just lose all my fans. Which is kind of what happened. So, basically all the TV shows we did with the vocalists was at the behest of Clive Davis. It was interesting in that I sort of switched careers for a while, becoming a studio musician in Los Angeles. Between 1986 and 1994, I didn't really put out any records. I did learn a lot about producing records in working with many great record producers. It turned out to be very positive in that way. It was a great learning experience, but eventually I got sort of tired of not having creative control. So, I started back into my recording career, which I am very happily still doing.

AAJ: At the outset that seems strange that Clive Davis would axe jazz. But that had to be about record sales, yes?

JL: Yeah, I guess. He was focused on vocal artists on the label such as Whitney Houston and other big sellers they had. When the crash happened, it was the jazz and classical divisions that were the first thing to go with all the major record labels. That's the way it goes sometimes. It's a fashion industry. So, you have to be in fashion. Every musician learns from the school of hard knocks.

AAJ: So, going the vocalist route was something you didn't really want to do but more or less had to?

JL: If I wanted to have my records promoted or, frankly, even to be able to record them I had to do it the way Clive Davis wanted it. Clive was very hands on. That was his style. Before he would let me record, I would have to bring demos in, and he had to like what he heard. That's kind of good in a way. That shows that you are involved and a certain quality control to a degree. But then there are labels like Warner Brothers that sign all these fantastic acts and then leave them alone to be creative. That works out better I would say.

AAJ: One positive, it would seem, is that even though you lost your fan base at one time, you later found out just how much your instrumental music is really working when your fans came back and then some.

JL: Yes. Absolutely right. When we play our shows, there are always people coming up to me and talking about those early Arista records. Those people still support the music when we come to town.

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Upcoming Shows

Date Detail Price
Oct9Wed
Mike Stern Jeff Lorber Fusion
Bird's Basement Jazz Club
Melbourne, Australia
49 AUD
Oct10Thu
Mike Stern Jeff Lorber Fusion
Bird's Basement Jazz Club
Melbourne, Australia
49 AUD
Oct11Fri
Mike Stern Jeff Lorber Fusion
Bird's Basement Jazz Club
Melbourne, Australia
49 AUD
Oct12Sat
Mike Stern Jeff Lorber Fusion
Bird's Basement Jazz Club
Melbourne, Australia
49 AUD
Oct13Sun
Mike Stern Jeff Lorber Fusion
Bird's Basement Jazz Club
Melbourne, Australia
49 AUD
Nov8Fri
Jeff Lorber
American Theatre
Hampton, VA
$35 - 50
Nov8Fri
Jeff Lorber
The American Theatre
Hampton, VA

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