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Jeff Lorber: Chemistry in Fusion

Jim Worsley By

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AAJ: Congratulations on winning a Grammy for Prototype. How did it feel to hear your name called out?

JL: Thank you. Well, I had been nominated a few times, so I didn't expect to win. But by the same token, I felt like I had as good a chance as I ever had. Sometimes there would be one guy on the list that was just the favorite, or two smooth jazz albums would cancel each other out or whatever like that. But anyways, yeah, it was great. The Grammys were in New York that year. They are usually in Los Angeles, so it had a whole different feel to it. It was at Madison Square Garden. We had a good time.

AAJ: Do you feel sometimes like it is a bit random? I mean, you had done other albums previously that had the goods and indeed were nominated. Then your follow up to Prototype, Impact, in my estimation, is at least as good as Prototype.

JL: I agree with you there. I think that is a solid record. You're right that sometimes it can be right place at the right time.

AAJ: Most fusion artists, or really any artists, have a signature recognizable sound. There is a sound that comes into your head immediately if someone says David Sanborn, or Led Zeppelin, or Pink Floyd, or John Coltrane. Not so much the case with JLF. There's significant variance from Impact to Jazz, Funk, Soul to He Had A Hat, or all the way back to "Funky Gospel." So, having prefaced it, my question is, have you always had a multi-directional plan or approach, or have you more or less just followed your muse, done your own thing, and it has just kind of worked out that way?

JL: I would say it is more of the latter. It kind of worked out that way. All those things that you mentioned are all my point of view. Melodies are important. Cool changes are important. Funky grooves are important. Those are some of the things you are always going to hear in my music. I always try to listen to what is going on now and try to find things that are new and interesting. Stuff that I can kind of play with and put into my laboratory. Then put my approach to it and see what comes out. I think that is something that helps keep me inspired and hopefully keeps my music fresh. One thing I do is to listen to the new music Friday on Spotify. I listen to it every week. Usually like maybe two hundred songs. If I am lucky, I hear three to six or seven songs that for some reason or another inspire me. Whether it's a cool groove or some cool changes. I just listen and I think eventually some of those ideas sort of filter though. I'm also a fan of old music. I have a very large collection of R&B, jazz, and fusion artists that I listen to on a regular basis. I get as much inspiration from listening to that as I do from the new stuff.

AAJ: Which artists are among those favorites from the past?

JL: Well, certainly Herbie. Starting, in particular, with the Headhunters and through the eighties. Chick, of course, as well. Also, a big fan of Keith Jarrett. His music is not quite as relevant to what I am doing, but I just love what he plays. I have a jazz sort of chill out thing that has a lot of Miles Davis on it. The earlier stuff in particular with Wynton Kelly or with Red Garland. I'm a big Joe Henderson fan. His Pursuit of Darkness album and some of the other stuff on Milestone Records. I like Weather Report and The Crusaders. All the Return to Forever stuff, like Spanish Heart. I also like a lot of classic rock. I listen to Led Zeppelin. It's funny how some music holds up better than others. Zeppelin sounds as good today, or better, than it did when it was recorded. So much other great music that I can't really think of it all right now when I am on the spot. But I take in a lot. I am all over the place and appreciate a lot of different music.

AAJ: That includes the multi rooted Jazz, Funk, Soul trilogy (to date) records with Everette Harp and, originally Chuck Loeb. How was the feel of the first record without Loeb, replaced by Paul Jackson Jr after Loeb passed away?

JL: Paul and i have worked since the early '80s as rhythmic section mates on R&B and pop records. So we have a great chemistry playing together in that way. We lock into some great rhythms together. Paul is one if the most recorded guitarits in studio work history and has a very recognizable sound.

AAJ: Chuck's loss is of course a sad one for the jazz world. Tell us about him in relationship to playing and working together.

JL: What Chuck and I mostly had in common is that we both focused a lot on writing and producing other artists. Chuck loved bebop and was incredibly proficient at playing standards, His writing showed a fantastic freedom with jazzy chromatic harmonies. He had a jazzier approach to rhythm where as he would lay out if I was playing rhythm. So both incredible guitarists, but very different in approach.

AAJ: I mentioned He Had A Hat. That's a strong transitional record.

JL: I made that record with my buddy Bobby Colomby. He had a lot to do with the writing and the direction. He pushed it into a jazzier feel. His main focus was that every song had to have some hip changes. We still play a bunch of songs from that album when we play live. We were fortunate to have a lot of great talent on that record. Hubert Laws, Gerald Albright, Abe Laboriel, Jr., Brian Bromberg, and Vinnie Colaiuta. More effort went into making that record than probably any other record I have made. It was a real concentrated time where both of us worked really hard to come up with some really cool stuff.

AAJ: So where did the name He Had A Hat come from?

JL: That's from the old joke. Are you familiar with that?

AAJ: No, I don't believe so.

JL: Well, the joke is that a Jewish grandmother goes to the beach with her daughter's son to take care of him and make sure nothing happens to him. A huge wave comes up and grabs Mikey and he disappears. Of course, the grandmother is distraught and looks at the sky and says. "Please God I will do anything, I will dedicate my life to being a better person, I will feed the poor, I will do anything just please, please, bring him back to me." All of a sudden there is another wave and Mikey is deposited back on the beach. She looks up at the sky and says, (Lorber now laughing) "He had a hat!"

AAJ: (Laughing out loud) Oh, that's very funny. Comes under the heading that some people are never satisfied. That's great. So changing gears, at one time you were pre-med at Boston University. So, in an alternate universe perhaps I would be speaking with Dr. Jeff Lorber?

JL: Well, maybe. I had talent for music. Chemistry was a lot harder. I had to stay up all night. I got through it, but not easily. Eventually when I moved to the Portland area the music scene was just so strong that I just sort of ditched the whole chemistry thing. In the big picture I think it helped me out because now in being a musician there is so much technology involved. Especially on the recording side. Figuring out the software and grasping it all, I believe, is easier with that training I had. It gave me a scientific approach to things. I think that indirectly that training has helped me out on the technology side.

AAJ: On the medical forefront, a few years back you suffered a life-threatening situation. I think it is very important that people know about PKD. If you don't mind sharing and talking about that and helping to create more awareness about it.

JL: Yeah, although a lot of people have PKD, which is polycystic kidney disease, it doesn't receive the publicity that it should. Especially when you consider that there are two hundred thousand people that have this disease, many of whom are on dialysis. It's one of those things where people look okay, so you think that maybe they aren't sick. But their kidneys are failing, and they are on dialysis. I was very fortunate to get a kidney transplant from my wife. That was nearly fifteen years ago, so I have been very lucky. I have been pretty much trouble free and been able to live a normal life. That's been a huge blessing and I am very grateful.

AAJ: PKD is a genetic condition?

JL: Yeah, my mom had it, and both of my daughters have it. The thing is that it doesn't necessarily affect you until you get to a certain age. My grandmother was lucky. My mom's mom lived into her eighties with her kidneys still working. With my mom, it affected her in her mid-forties. It's kind of a genetic programming mistake and what happens is that it starts to make cysts. Eventually those cysts grow, and they inhibit your kidney from functioning properly. So that's the deal. I was very lucky to get a transplant.

AAJ: What is being done to eradicate or better treat this condition?

JL: There is a PKD Foundation that has many people working on experiments and research. I very much support that organization. Unfortunately, there hasn't been any huge breakthroughs yet, but there are many things that are in the offering for the future. So, of course, we have a positive outlook and are very hopeful for that.

AAJ: Well, let's hope so. To be honest, I only recently became aware of PKD. I felt like it was important to get that message and information out there, so I very much appreciate you talking about it.

JL: Well, I appreciate that you are doing that. That's really great. Thank you for that.

AAJ: Getting back to your music. As if you don't have enough going on, I do believe you have a project with Mike Stern in the works. What can you tell us about that?

JL: As a matter of fact, we just wrapped up the last song today. We were supposed to hand it in today, but that's not going to happen. But most certainly by next week. It's really been fun. It's really been different to work with Mike. Mike has much more of a rock and bebop edge than I normally do. I mean Mike is really a badass player. He is kind of on the left and the right of what I normally do, so, yeah, it's been a whole lot of fun working with him. We have a whole bunch of dates coming up and I am really looking forward to playing with him.
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