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Jessica Lurie: In It For The Long Haul

Paul Rauch By

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Her time in Seattle in the '90s provided plenty of inspiration and diverse musical activity. Partnered with saxophonist Amy Denio, The Tiptons Saxophone Quartet took off into uncharted territory, inspired by the life and music of Billy Tipton. Tipton had spent his entire adult life living and performing as a male, but was assigned female at birth. The band's reverence for Tipton's work was a source of strength for an all female saxophone band, that even in the alleged progressive world of the 1990's was a constant challenge due to gender bias. The overwhelming dominance of male instrumentalists in jazz remains a major hurdle for the music to overcome, to truly be the indigenous expressive art form it claims to be. "If you go to a festival and see 100 instrumentalists, 96 of them are men. And I live in New York, where there are so many bad ass female players," she states emphatically.

Denio became a major influence on Lurie, in terms of exposing her to jazz music that was more out on the edge, and engaged in the avante-garde. At the same time, her time in Seattle reunited her with high school friend Arne Livingston, who had been studying in Boston.

"When I came back to Seattle, Arne moved back here, he had been in Boston doing freestyle, and Dale Fanning was here and this was '95 or so-he had been doing so much Afro Cuban stuff. That played into weird, angular, funk groove stuff," recalls Lurie.

"Playing with the Tiptons, Amy Denio really got me listening to a lot of outside music, avant-garde music," says Lurie. This would lead to the formation of Living Daylights with Livingston and Fanning, a powerful trio consisting of electric bass, drums, and the now strong voice Lurie had developed on saxophone.

Lurie's music undeniably takes on the many strong musical roots in her life, from her parents love of classical music and musicals, to the open minded jazz and improvisational music scene in Seattle. Though her early experiences in music were largely experienced on flute, her eyes were opened to the multiplicity of sounds she could express on the saxophone. She discovered the wide range of sounds, textures and colors available on the instrument, like so many in the jazz tradition had before her.

"I was listening to more and more jazz, early songs, early blues, and learning standards. My parents both loved musicals, Cole Porter, so my dad would play piano and we would sing these musical songs. They became part of the jazz canon. I was playing really well on flute, but really working hard on saxophone, and it being my main tool for learning that repertoire. I felt like it was a whole lot of things at once. Coming from classical, I knew I could learn the instrument, and I was feeling less inhibited to improvising on the saxophone. Even though I could improvise better on flute, I would find different sounds, and try to find extended sounds. I think I took a semi conventional approach, and then began to get into more experimental stuff. I really got into Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, I learned the language," says Lurie, thinking back to her earliest experimentations with the saxophone, and with the standard jazz repertoire.

Lurie considers herself a bi-coastal musician, spending time both at her residence in Brooklyn, and at home in Seattle. As a native New Yorker, and now a forty year resident of the Seattle area, it is easy for me to see and hear the influences of these two very vibrant, but very different musical cities in her music. When in New York, one feels the history and tradition that the city embodies. Since the 1920's, New York City has been the true cradle of jazz expressionism. Seattle, from its roots on Jackson St. during prohibition, to it's vibrant and eclectic jazz and improvised music scene of today, has had a collective open mind to extended forms of jazz, and progressive social awareness.

"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. So coming to New York playing free, we could put our egos somewhere else, and just listen, and have it take shape. There are so many amazing players there," says Lurie about her bi-coastal tendencies. "I like groove music too, or when it can go in and out of groove. Totally free, and then go back into that pocket. I guess what I bring is my love for all these different kinds of music, and not being afraid to put them into my tunes. I'm not a pop musician, but I can play pop, I don't have that standard bebop sound, but I love these elements."


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