Jeff Lorber helped shape the sound of Smooth Jazz today. He recorded his first album ‘Jeff Lorber Fusion’ in 1976 when the structure of promoting and getting air-play for Jazz was very different than it is today. Having served as a producer for the likes of Dave Koz, Kenny G, Herb Alpert etc..Lorber again put his touch on the pulse of Smooth Jazz. He has just released (March 11, 2003) his new album ‘Philly Style’ on Narada Jazz and it’s as funky as it is cool.
John Beaudin – Lets start off by talking about your new album, I love this record!
Jeff Lorber – Thank you!
John – I mean you can’t go wrong with an album with some food on the cover! (Laughing) Whose idea was that?
Jeff – (laughing) That was my idea because I grew up in Philadelphia and pretzels are the national pastime in Philadelphia to eat soft pretzels with mustard actually.
John – And a damn good looking pretzel it is!
Jeff – (laughing)The art department at Narada bought a number of pretzels and photographed them on numerous different conditions to come up with just the right one. So, we wanted to make sure that this pretzel was just the most delicious, lovely pretzel we could find!
John – Those Narada guys in Milwaukee are all heart!
Jeff – (Laughing) yeah, that’s right.
John – Narada has now gone into it with Warren(Hill) and with Joyce Cooling. How long have you been with them, this is the first album, right?
Jeff – It is brand new and you are practically the first person I have talked to that has heard it so I’m glad you like it.
John – Well, I like the funkiness of it and I think that in Smooth Jazz sometimes in the genre some of the stuff can sound the same and I think that mixing things up a little bit making it funky will make your music accessible to a lot of different formats and I think the urban people who play Smooth Jazz will just love this album.
Jeff – We just go in and we try to make good music that we like and I think naturally this record is sort of about collaboration mostly between me and Steve Dubin who co-wrote and who co-produced the record.
Jeff – Exactly right and that is part of where the title comes from. The really ironic thing is that we went to the same high school and we grew up just a few miles from each other but we really didn’t get to know each other until recently, over the last few years. Our careers have followed very parallel paths in a lot of ways. I think our natural inclination tends to be somewhat commercial in some ways. We like live music we like funky music and we like to put that jazzy flavor in too and I definitely don’t go after trying to make every song sound like a hit single. There are a couple on there that I hope could be radio tracks but we want to create an entertaining experience to listen to the whole album kind of really take a trip and go different places and have a chance for me as an artist to really express myself in different settings.
John – When I was driving in today and yesterday, I am bobbing my head and I’m like groovin’ to this and I am thinking this has been a while since I have had an album consistently do that with every track for me.
Jeff – Wow.
John – To me you are one of those guys that really paved the way to this genre. You were doing it when it necessarily wasn’t hip. You were doing it in the 70’s.
Jeff – No, you got it all wrong I was doing it when it was hip. (laughing)
John – (laughing)Back then what was the terrain like releasing your first album in the 70’s?
Jeff – It is funny because my career as a recording artist to a small extent was a little bit of an accident. I was living in Portland teaching at a little college there and teaching some music classes at a pretty young age in fact and I had a chance to go into a recording studio and it was actually one of my students that were doing some kind of demo. When I got into the studio I had an immediate real knack for helping these people get organized who were having some trouble getting things off the ground. The engineer that was there noticed my knack for this and asked me to come and join him and we could record some of my songs. So I did a demo and ended up getting a record deal and I really wasn’t looking for it particularly. The second record that I made was by a small label called Inner City and it had ‘Chick Corea’ on it and a song called ‘Katherine’ which did very well nationally and back in those days the radio landscape was totally different. It was actually easier to get my stuff on the radio because there was so little oversight of these (radio) programmers so they could kind of play whatever the heck they wanted too. Things have changed a lot and all I can say is that I am really grateful I’ve had a chance to play music all these years and do what I love doing and that is really a blessing.
Jeff – Oh yeah!
John – You’re setting the pace from the background my friend! What is going on (laughing)?
Jeff – (laughing) Dave is actually a good buddy of mine and I have been working with him on almost all of his records including working a little bit recently on some new stuff. When I heard Dave he came over to audition for my band in 1985 or 1986 and he impressed me right away. I knew what was going to happen instantly and he thought I was out of my mind for telling him that I would help him get a record deal and that I was hiring him after only hearing him play for about a minute. Things worked out pretty well for him. Dave played with Bobby Caldwell and then toured with me for a few years and the same guy that was managing me also managed Richard Marx and so Dave toured with Richard Marx for a while. The after he made his own albums he did some touring with Phil Perry and he did some opening up for Michael Bolton.
John – I truly believe that you helped shape this genre of music!
Jeff – That is so kind of you to say that. When I think about it, when I was starting the people that I looked up to were Miles Davis, Herbie (Hancock), Chick (Corea) and Joe Henderson. I look up to those musicians tremendously and I listen to all kinds of stuff but I have to defer to that kind of Jazz myself a little bit and those were the guys that played so wonderfully. I am glad that people like what I am doing and I can contribute and help create a style that some people are having some success with now and I have made a little contribution there.
John – Well, you are very gracious. Let’s go back to the album and what was your mind set going into the studio with this one?
Jeff – The last album ‘Kicking it’ was quite successful and there were a couple of hits on that with ‘Ain’t Nobody’ and ‘Snake bite.’ So, basically why mess up a good thing and I decided to keep on that same track and I hired the same co-producer and co-writer, Steve Dubin and we know each other much better now so we didn’t have to go through that getting to know you stage. We were able to jump right in and we kind of knew what each had to contribute and what directions that we liked.
John – The opening track (Under Wraps) does what any opening track should do It brings you in. Is there anything that you can tell me about it?
Jeff – We do have some more energetic songs on the record than that one but we didn’t want to hit people over the head right away and sort of ease you into it and on the second track that is where it kind of hits you a little harder.
Jeff – Yes, it has some interesting sonic things and another thing that is quite interesting about it is as far as the idea of the title ‘Philly Style,’ there are some musical flourishes in that song that are very much like some Gamble and Huff tunes and one especially called ‘ Hurry up this Way Again’ by the Stylistics. If you ever hear that song at the end of it there is sort of a turn around that we use and under wraps so we tied that in a little bit.
John – Your music has been sampled by Lil’ Kim and Erika Badu! Thats pretty cool!
Jeff – Oh yeah! Thank goodness, it helps pay the rent! The thing that is funny about it is that I made those records back in the early 80’s and they were relatively successful back then. The ‘Water Sign’ album sold about maybe one hundred thousand units which for a jazz album is great. It is just amazing for a piece of music like that to have a new life and then all of a sudden become in the year 2000 become a hit again but this time with an audience of millions! It is totally unexpected and it is pretty cool I got to say.
John – So where did the long hair go?
Jeff – Well, when you get to be a certain age and you keep your hair long like that then you start to look like Ben Franklin.(laughing) You actually start looking younger when you have short hair I think.
John – (laughing)I did the same thing and I had long hair like that and it was half way down my back and at one point I looked in the mirror and I thought that it’s just not working for my anymore and you kind of move on. Enough about hair, How much time did you spend making Philly Style?
Jeff – We had a chance to spend a lot more time recording the basic tracks and less record we actually did. All the recording of the seven songs the band played were all done in one evening actually. This time we had 3 and a half days in the studio to really make sure we had great performances and we recorded to tape also which is sort of unusual in this day and age. We transferred it from tape into a digital medium afterwards.
John – Why did you do that? For Sound?
Jeff – It is suppose to sound a little bit better and there is something really warm and something very special about what happens when sound hits tape and it creates a type of compression which is very pleasant to listen to. The real reason that we did it is that I didn’t want to chance losing anything and the digital recording even though it is pretty reliable tape is a little more reliable and I just wanted to make sure that anything I recorded with that band wasn’t going anywhere. It is a little bit more expensive because you have to buy these reels of tape but I think it is worth it. Hey, you must know my friend Alexander Zonjic, a flute player who lives in Windsor.
John – No, I’ve never met him. (not at the time..but later did meet him)
Jeff – He is on the ‘Heads Up’ label. He is not one of the big stars of the format but in the Detroit area he is on the radio there and he also plays concerts in that area non-stop. He has toured with Bob James and has made a number of albums on his own on Warner Brothers. So, that is one Canadian artist that I have worked with.
John – I should look him up. I also want to talk to you about ‘Soul food,’ can you tell me about that song I just love that song.
Jeff – You know what I did was that I used the chorus from a rap record called ‘Soul Food’ by a group called the Goodie Mob, which is a group out of Atlanta that features a rapper called Cee-lo who’s had a little bit of success on his own also. I think it’s something that came out in 1995-96 and I just happened to have that MTV-2 channel on in the background and I heard the song and it really grabbed me. I’m a big blues fan and that had a blues element which really attracted me a lot. I recorded it right off the TV set and transferred it into my computer and started playing with it and built a whole song around this chorus. So, there you have it! (Laughing)
John – To me, that’s one of those songs that make you stare at the speakers!
Jeff – I love it when that happens.