by Ludwig van Trikt
Cadence: I am interviewing you during a time when you have had a fair amount of jazz media coverage.
But you have conveyed to me that does not always translate into more gigs or higher wages. Please detail some recent examples of this?
BL: I really think it's a long journey and we learn how to keep things moving and progressing artistically. It takes many years of continual strong music to carve out a space for ourselves in the evolving scene. I feel fortunate that I dedicated myself to some rarer instruments at a relatively early time in my career. I fell in love with alto flute, bass clarinet, bass saxophone, bass flute, and of course baritone saxophone as soon as I played them. I would buy a new instrument just to be able to try it and then usually end up finding the best horn made on the given voice. This was an important part of finding my voice and creating a unique arsenal of sounds. Some of the instruments like bass flute have such an open imagination about how they're supposed to sound and there aren't any expectations as to what the sound will be like. This has enabled me to work on a sound that is new to my ear. We all know how a great tenor sax sounds but as to how a bass flute is supposed to sound our minds are free of preconceptions. I view this as part of my journey. The reason I went into that is because it's a major part if my career in terms of what kinds of gigs I get. Last week I did a recording session on flute for a holiday Jewish CD and it was some challenging stuff! Reading down and recording 9 tracks that I gotta say we're pretty challenging. This week I'll be playing soprano for a well known producer. It's just all over the place. A difficult part is that when I've been on the road so much people assume you're always gone and the teaching gigs get lean because they need someone that's consistent.
The international coverage has certainly helped, and many more options are available to me know. I remember when I was 21 and recorded my first album. The day I finished it a dark and overwhelming force fell on me when I realized that I'd have to do it again :) My career has been a culmination of my whole life and it's been on a strong rise for the past five-ten years. I'm very lucky to be playing with such a diverse crowd of geniuses. Its an honor and keeps me practicing every day to try and keep up!
It's our job as artists to find ways to make money with what we do and this is extremely challenging, but I've been able to pay for 5 albums in seven years and that has been my focus entirely. I bought and sold many instruments to find the ones that fit best with me. I'd buy a rare instrument and if I didn't love it I'd sell it for a profit by fixing it up. I've done this for the past 10 years and it still helps supplementing my income but I do it much less. I still teach a couple days a week and travel quite a bit for gigs, and concerts / clinics at universities.
Media coverage is important, but it's only one aspect. The music community is who's hiring, not the magazines....
It definitely helps getting ones name out with continued press, but that alone won't do it. Word of mouth is how I've gotten most my gigs and that's how I started working with Esperanza. She called me one day out of the blue and told me that she'd been asking lots of people who to get for baritone and she kept hearing my name.
Cadence: Please talk in depth about all the factors that went into this recording (Mirage –BlueLand Records BLR-2013) from:
*How you came to write for such an extended ensemble?
*The sheer logistics of working with so many artist?
*The funds involved in doing this project.
BL: I started composing when I was 16 and it became an important aspect of my musical life from then on. With this record it was more of a compositional portrait than anything about me playing my horn. The horn came in later and was just an ingredient added at the end. I love the thickness and innumerable possibilities with large ensembles. The sonic possibilities are wide open and pretty much anything I can imagine is possible. I wanted to compose a large ensemble that was playing the music I was hearing. My first record as a leader called Forward, on Cadence Jazz Records, had some large ensemble tracks but the majority dropped to quintet. I went through many different instrumentation possibilities and spoke to several mentors about it. Some of the advice I got was to avoid strings because of they' worried that the music would turn out weak. I'd written for strings before and I heard it in my mind from the inception so I decided that regardless of all the risk I had to follow through. I didn't start writing until I had the session booked so it really put the heat on. Once I got deep into composing I knew that it'd be beautiful.
The musicians of the nonet are as professional as it gets so working with them was a piece of cake. The scary part was to see if the music worked, and that was all on me. We had one rehearsal, the day before the session, and two days in the studio. It was a lot to get done in a short amount of time, but it really felt peaceful. I've never before been on a session where everyone seemed so happy. My buddy Ryan Truesdell was there to co-produce the session and conduct, so the only pressure I had was to play my horns and check the takes in the room. We actually got done early on the second day. All the players had the charts a couple weeks before the session and everyone worked really hard to perfect their lines. Its such an honor to hear your music come to life by the highest level players in the world, it felt important at the time and still does.
Four years ago I started my own record label BLR because the music world is changing so fast and I wanted to have maneuverability with the masters years down the road. I feel very lucky to have options to release my music on other labels, but its been nice to be able to focus on exactly what I hear. But this freedom means that I pay for everything related to a release. Its a long term investment to build a catalog and I truly love it. I've played and taught music for the past six years and pretty much every dime has gone to this pursuit. This recording has cost much more than any other, but I think its the closest to what I originally imagined.
Cadence: In spite of your rough and tumble youth you have made a consistent message in your music about the environment and being a vegetarian.
What elements in your past shaped this message in your music?
BL: I've always loved animals. I stopped eating pigs when I was 4 because they were my favorite animal and I realized that it was unnecessary. My mom stopped eating read meat when I was 11 and when I was 12 I read some materials she had around the house from PETA. I was reading some info on it when I was at school lunch (coincidentally the same year I started sax) and when I looked at the hamburger I knew I never wanted to eat meat again. Once I put the connection of how unnecessary it is to eat meat, its been easy to stop. I love the taste of it! Its never been about not liking it, its just part of a whole industry that I want nothing to do with. Its been challenging to find food on the road, but absolutely possible and usually fairly easy. I grew to be 6’7” and 240lbs. If I lived in a time when it was necessary to eat meat to survive I would, but that isn’t how it is today. It’s a choice to participate in an extremely cruel industry with a vast amount of pollution because they are tasty and convenient. The health benefits of a vegetarian life has been clearly established in dietary/nutritional science. Okay sorry, you asked…. I’m passionate about trying to help people become aware of the true situation. Its more important to me than music. I wasn’t sure if I’d pursue a career in the environmental world, or music. Animal welfare will always be a focal point in my life.
Cadence: You are part of the generation which as come of age during a time when there have been revolutionary changes in the way that jazz/music is recorded and sold. Please talk in depth about how that effects your artistic decisions? How does an artist make a profit on I-Tunes for instance?
BL: Everyone's still trying to figure out what the new way is. Many positives have come out of this transformation, but many negatives as well. On the recording side: I've recently spoken to a friend who runs a recording studio and he said that most studios in the industry are struggling because of the drastic increase of home studios and the availability of quality sound at a much lower cost than in the past. He said the studios that are doing well are the ones that have big rooms and can record more people live than we can at our homes I have a very small pro-quality studio at my house. Great mic, great mic pre, and pro tools. That's all you need to be able to record and transport music. I record for people from around the world by adding to the files they made in protools, and then send it digitally back to them where they can edit. That's pretty amazing, would've been impossible even five years ago. Things are changing quick. Because of this I've been able to collaborate with some people far away that don't want to pay to send me into a real studio or to their location. I'm working on a multi-track album right now featuring all the low woodwinds-all at my house. Once I'm done recording I'll have it mixed and mastered by pros.
The people that handle my digital distribution have told me that every week there are several new websites giving my music away for free. Just click and download numerous albums of mine. That's bullshit, and people need to act ethically for this industry to survive. We get them taken down, but another just pops up. Mostly all overseas. Many of them charge a subscription to be able to log into their system and steal whatever you'd like. Now that one really makes me upset...they're making money off of our work!? Well, laws need to be changed and the public needs to think it's appropriate to buy music. I can't tell you how many times I ask a student to buy a recording and they download it somewhere, they just think it's totally acceptable. That needs to change.
Bob Rusch told me years ago the only way to make money (directly) from our music is from selling at the gig. That's the truth! Although I'm doing okay on iTunes and other digital sources, I make the most when people buy them at my concerts. Indirectly is another story. If you gain fans by them hearing your music (however they get it) that translates to more growth. I know that it's taken five records to start to get known, but now I'm able to travel worldwide and play many more concerts. Without the investment of my recordings that would've never happened. So, if I hadn't spent every dollar I had on my albums, I wouldn't have been able to build a name to get the gigs I now have. The process of writing and producing an album makes me a much better musician, every time. I always encourage musicians to record because the process alone makes us evaluate what needs to be improved upon. I'd never suggest to record a jazz album to make bread.
A major drawback of digital music (iTunes) for the listener is lack of liner notes. I learn so much about the players and composers from liner notes! That's where I got some insight into the big picture. That's a drag and I don't know why iTunes hasn't figured out how to at least include a PDF of the liner notes. I've seen some that do, but it's scarce.
As for the business changes and recording on labels: I'm always going to have the most success when I trust myself as an artist. Push out everything else, don't think about any other factor than what feels right. It was a challenging & unhappy environment when I didn't understand that. I was extremely competitive and wanted to be the best at everything. I didn't get that the only goal should be the best at what I do. Now that's what I focus on, what can I do to be the best player possible that my potential holds. We all have different natural attributes, and have to be aware of this. I know that the changing marketplace has some role in this, but it feels good to record with who I want, when I want. The industry is tough, and I could've been very comfortable (financially) with playing my whole life on Broadway. But damn, that's really boring!! Playing the same mediocre music every night off life, hell no...I much prefer other ways of making a living in the music world than becoming a robot. I know that seems mean, and I don't intend to be, it's a personal thing. I don't have the personality for that. I rather die in an adventure. Same goes for recording "traditional" jazz albums. I've had many offers in recent years to record for more traditional labels, but I only go with what feels honest to me. That's why I record under my own label.
Cadence: You mentioned that you love to be in an environment where you take artistic risk; but in your own playing there does not seem to be an exploration of the extreme edges of the baritone? Please comment?
BL: That's a great question. For many years I've worked on multiphonics, and other advanced techniques, but I don't usually hear them in my improvisation. More than ever now, I try to play exactly what I hear. If I don't hear a multiphonic in the line I'm playing, I won't force it in. It all really depends on the situation. A major aspect of my baritone playing that has helped develop my own sound is the range I've developed. For a long time I've focused on developing an additional octave above the standard baritone range. I can comfortably play into the alto sax range. I use this in my writing and often have melodies that are way into the altissimo range and unplayable by most baritonists. This is the most extreme aspect of my playing on the horn, and by far the most usable. For example In the song Mirage, the chorus melody is a third above the standard baritone range. Beauty is everything to me, and I've been saying for a long time that I have no desire to be the guy who plays the weirdest shit. Now, if that's what I was hearing, I'd play it everyday. I hear a lot of musicians who force in strange and abrasive sounds, just because they can. That's the direction I've gone in, although I must say that I've been trying to add more sounds into my playing recently. This an endless journey, and I've only scratched the surface of my sonic possibilities. I'm working hard right now to improve and incorporate new harmonies and rhythms.
Cadence: I saw a print ad somewhere listing you as a curator for a Jazz & Soul concert.
How did that come about ? Does this reflect a larger interest in your music going in a more commercial direction?
BL: Your talking about the 92Y Soul Jazz Festival March 14 & 15 in NYC. I'm honored to be artistic advisor for this event. This came together because I've taught the jazz ensembles at the 92Y for the past 6 years. They've been very supportive to me and what I've been doing. The 92Y has been around for over 100 yrs in NYC and has been a jazz supporter since the 1950s. They've had concerts with Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Coltrane, and many others. They've had a traditional jazz series running for many years called "Jazz In July". They approached me about starting a new annual event featuring music that I feel is relevant and needs more attention. When I spoke to them about the world of soul jazz, groove jazz, acid jazz, world jazz, etc... they were very excited. I've always had a deep love for music with a foundation in groove, and this is an amazing opportunity for me to put together musicians who live in that world. I enjoy playing many types of jazz, but my heart is in melody and groove. This happens to be more commercial, but that's no business choice, that's my heart. This music attracts a large audience because people with no formal jazz education can relate to the melodies and grooves. On March 14th we have DJ Logic and Friends, & The Joey DeFrancesco Allstars with George Garzone, Brian Lynch, Nir Felder, and Billy Hart. On March 15th it's my nine piece Landrus Kaleidoscope playing music from Mirage, and Esperanza Spalding's band.
Cadence: Many jazz artist as a rite of artistic passage record/play in the following context: strings,big band and a standards recording; are any of these settings in your future (of course with the exception of strings)?
BL: Yes, I'll be recording a big band album at some point in the next couple years..maybe sooner. I'm trying to follow exactly what I'm hearing. But right nows an interesting time because I have so much rolling around that I want to bring out. I really love writing for big band, when things hit right, man, nothing's stronger. I'm planning on trying out some new sounds for me, lots of doubling. I really have a pull towards that right now. But, the first thing I'm going to do is a bass sax, bass, and drums record.
I've recoded a few standards, and certainly grew up playing them everyday, and still do. There are a couple composers who I'd like to record a full album of their material. That can bring a beautiful cohesiveness. So many different ways to go....gotta go with what I'm hearing at the moment.
Right now I'm getting to play/record a lot of Gil Evans music that's never been heard or recorded with the Gil Evans Project lead by Ryan Truesdell. His music has such depth and precision, it's astounding. I love playing in large ensembles.
from Volume 41, No. 2: April, May, June
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