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Jessica Lurie: In It For The Long Haul

Paul Rauch By

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“I’ve found in Seattle, more so than any other place, the ability to have spontaneous improvisation that can sound like a song, where people are improvising, but there’s a thought about an art, and a narrative within the music." —Jessica Lurie
Jazz music, in all its forms, spread throughout world culture, is deeply embedded in the American experience. It is a culture based phenomena uniquely reflecting that experience in such a personal and expressive way as to embrace the myriad of crosscurrents that express new interpretations of the form.

It is deep as the physicality of its beings, from the heart that pumps life into its veins, to the soul and conscious understanding of the constant, forever assimilation of new streams of world civilization. We are born into familiar backgrounds rooted in the traditions of Africa, Europe, Asia, from social communal variances within our own massive continent. This primordial American concept continues to grow, to spread, to diversify in terms of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic context.

The music of Jessica Lurie therefore is not hanging on the periphery of what we call jazz music, as some may believe, or perceive. This art form is uniquely, forever expressing the spirit of humanity, in such a way as to constantly rewrite the cultural DNA of the American experience, and that of other peoples in sisterhood, and brotherhood throughout the world. In this sense, Lurie's creative output, rooted in the eclectic jazz and improvised music community in Seattle, and propagated on the New York scene can be seen as a 21st century expression of her own familiar roots. Its inspiration is in a far reaching way, tied to the deep taproot that is the blues based music we have come to refer to as jazz.

Lurie grew up around the music of her parents, playing classical flute at an early age, and ultimately would become influenced musically by her father's Jewish heritage, as well as other varying streams of influence present in the eclectic music scene in Seattle. Though Seattle is known commonly for rock, she would inevitably be drawn in by the jazz scene there that had been making its mark on this indigenous American art form from its beginnings.

"I'm relentlessly eclectic! I grew up playing classical music. I started getting into jazz in high school, but I was also playing baroque music. I think playing saxophone really opened up my ears to a lot more music, in terms of what I was pursuing. Then at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, I was in the ethnomusicology department, studying South Indian music with T Vishwanathan. I studied composition with Bill Barron, and with Hafez Modir for saxophone and theory. As an undergrad, you can sit in on all these graduate classes. I audited classes by Anthony Braxton though he wasn't a direct mentor. I Also did a ton of West African stuff. I really got into Ornette Coleman, and saxophonists like Cannonball," she recalls.

Saxophone was not her original instrument of choice, first excelling on the flute and accordion." I started playing saxophone in college because it was louder. Arne Livingston from the Daylights, we went to high school together," she says, alluding to her friend that she would eventually partner with in the power jazz/jam band trio, Living Daylights. While the alto became her instrument of choice as her career advanced forward, it certainly wasn't just a foray into the sounds of Ornette Coleman, or for that matter, Cannonball Adderly. Inevitably she began to explore tenor players of note.

"I also transcribed Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane. These were the days when we had cassettes, so you could adjust the speed, and I mistakenly learned the "Giant Steps" solo on alto, but a half step off! I listened to just about everyone, and the teachers that we had at Wesleyan were really great. It exposed me to a lot of different kinds of music. The music I write, and the music I love to listen to is folk music in some kind of way. What I love about jazz is when it harkens back to the blues, not that it's all blues, but that it has this element of folk music. So stuff that I write I think it's almost like fucked up folk tunes. I don't know what to call it, they don't have a record bin for it," she says.

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