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Lonnie Plaxico: Striving for Originality, Noteriety

R.J. DeLuke By

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AAJ: Was that a valuable experience with her? She’s gotten quite well known.

LP: Everybody I’ve worked with. I’m sure I haven’t even seen some of the benefits yet. I’m seeing them now. Realizing that I’ve been playing with her for the last seven years, my name is out there, so it’s easier to get an interview, for me, being on a major label and being a part of her band. It should really pay off, not that I was looking for any payoff, but when I think about it, it’s like: Wow, you really put in a lot of time with someone and you’re a part of her success also. So I think it helps out a lot.

AAJ: You guys are playing the festival thing, that’s got to be good. You’re playing George Wein’s festival, that’s got to be good exposure when you get on his circuit. Do you think it’s because you’ve got the new music coming out?

LP: Yeah, and also because we’ve been bugging him since last year. I’ve been trying to get people to hire my band since my last CD, so I follow up on it. They like the new CD. I’m sure being on Blue Note helps a whole lot. It’s all political, but also according to the work that you have done before. I mean, people do know who I am, but it’s still so political. You still gotta go through the back door until things really open up. And I’m willing to deal with whatever I have to deal with. I have the patience and I have nothing else to do.

AAJ: The list of people you’ve played with is certainly impressive.

LP: It’s like, after that, who DO you play with? I mean, if Herbie [Hancock] called me today, I still would rather do my own music.

AAJ: I see you’ve got a release party at the Green Mill [9/28 and 9/29] in Chicago. That’s a hot place. Do you have a history there?

LP: I played once there with my band. Chicago has been totally unfriendly to me. I try to get gigs there and sometimes when you come from a city, people don’t tend to have a certain amount of respect for you. I don’t know why. I was there with Art Blakey, and they be in the newspaper talking about Terrance [Blanchard] and Donald [Harrison] from New Orleans. I was like, “Wait a minute. I’m from this city.” They wouldn’t even mention my name. I’m scratchin’ my head. Especially cause I’m a black musician who got out of the Projects and the city and came to New York. I would think that would be of interest to people, to inspire other musicians.

AAJ: Music was really your ticket out.

LP: Yeah.

AAJ: And you’re all self-taught.

LP: Yeah. Chicago’s one of those cities where you have to leave in order to be successful, because there’s not a lot of opportunity there. It’s probably one of the best places for opportunity to learn. Because a lot of older musicians never leave there, so you can work with them. Whereas in New York, the older musicians are famous and they want people who already know what they’re doing on the bandstand. In Chicago, people are more patient with you, to teach you, because people aren’t going anywhere. They’re not going to call Ron Carter up on the weekend, or Hank Jones or whatever, on a gig. They’re going to call the local musicians.

AAJ: Now your focus is pretty much on your band and getting your name out there.

LP: Yeah and getting the gigs and continue to write and develop and doing what I was doing with everybody else, but being in control of the situation. Be the one who says we’re going to play this song, and get the money at the end of the night. Be the one to decide to do it my way. That’s what I want to do. If I could work my band, I’ll turn down any gig right now, I don’t care who it is. Even if it’s for a small fraction of the money I can make. I’m never going to be rich anyway, doing this, so I want to be happy and pay my bills. That’s enough for me.

AAJ: It’s a tough scene out there now. Do you see that changing in the future?

LP: I hope it changes. It’s hard to really say. I think a lot of it has to do with the musicians being closed-minded, trying to hold on to the traditional music and not explore other things and pull in a younger audience. I hope the musicians try to do something, musically, to make a change. A lot of it has to do with getting people to come into the club. For me, what I experienced as a musician in New York, there’s a lot of people who alienate a lot of people in the audience, the way they play and present themselves to an audience.

AAJ: You know Wynton, obviously, but there’s a controversy between people who think he’s too much in the tradition and too stuffy, versus, maybe somebody like you who’s willing to throw in funk and different elements.

LP: That might be the case, but he’s employing a lot of people. He’s doing a lot of other positive stuff. I don’t feel like he’s changing anything, musically, but what he did was bring more attention to the music. Overall, his positives, to me, outweigh the stuff. I wish he would be more open to let, maybe, Marcus Miller produce him and doing something more. I would think that would be something real special.

You’ve got to move ahead. I feel like jazz got killed. The musicians just try to hold on. And that’s not what the masters did. They continued to grow. But after the 50s, people were holding on. But James Brown came along. Prince. Little Richard. Everybody. The music — you can’t hold on to that. The music is alive.

Visit Lonnie Plaxico on the web at www.lonnieplaxico.com .

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