Jimmy, Inge, Jeff, Eric, Marijn
Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal, Jimmy Haslip and Tony Moore - December 5th 2009, Minden (D)

On the last night of their tour in Europe, in Jazz Club Minden, we spoke with Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal and Jimmy Haslip. While sitting in the small dressing room we talked with these legends about their collaborations, musical conversations on stage, and apfelstrudel and schnitzels!

Tune 88 | Oasis | Pacific Coast Highway

SJEU: As a start, Jeff and Eric, we have seen you playing together a lot of times. How did it start, the two of you together?
Eric: When I was ready to make my fourth record I was here in Europe in 1992 with Chick Corea's band and I was having a conversation with John Pattitucci. We were talking about what to do with my next record, and I wanted to do more that would appeal to a wider audience. John said, "You should call Jeff Lorber!" And I said, "No! I would love to call him but he would never answer my phone!" But I called him from Europe and Jeff said, "Shure, when you are back just come over!" And we are working together ever since!
Jeff: It was good timing for me because I did a lot of sessions arranging pop and R&B mixes and I was really getting tired of all that. I was always working for other producers and I wasn't in creative control. So when Eric called I was interested in doing something where I had some more input rather than being the person that was being told how to play all the time. And that led to producing more jazz artists and also more reigniting my own career, because I hadn't recorded something myself between '86 and '94.

SJEU: When we hear you both play these songs, very melodic but also complex, I wonder how do you learn these songs? Do you just "play" or what else? Because it seems chemistry between you two!
Eric: Instrumental jazz music is a combination of composition, structure and improvisation. So there usually is a structure that is followed, but because of the improvisational nature of the music the form can be loosened and the direction of a particular soloist or the one who is leading the musical conversation determines the outcome of the song. So on any given night the song can be different from any other night.
SJEU: Tonight was your last performance of this European tour, do you think these performances where different?
Jeff: They are always different to some degree. Because of the acoustics of the environment you hear each other differently. Like tonight it was a pretty good acoustic environment, especially compared to some other places we played. Nice and clear, the equipment was good. And a lot people in the audience absorp sound and cut down reflections. But also because this was the last show we've had a chance to explore this music, both individually and as a group. What Eric said about jazz being a combination of structure and improvisation, the improvisational aspects allow that sort of serendipity to occur. For shure every night is gonna be different. And you hope that you'll have those special moments where you reach, it's hard to explain, some kind of almost exstatic state I guess! Some "oneness" with the band or with yourself.
SJEU: So you have to feel it, to experience it?
Eric: A band is like a group of friends having a conversation about something. You might be talking each night about apfelstrudel. Even though that's the subject each night, the conversation about the apfelstrudel will be different. The subject is still the same but what happens differs. And the next conversation is about schnitzels!
SJEU: Schnitzels! Haha, you know your way around here in Europe!

SJEU: Talking about ensemble, Eric and Jeff have played a lot together, but there are always other musicians in the line up. Do you think it is good to change the line up? How do you feel about that?
Jeff: It is a chemistry thing. If you work with people you have a long history with, it doesn't necessarily mean it's gonna be fantastic. But it can be great because you know the inside-out and upside-down, and what each of you is capable of. So there is a comfort zone which is really great. Jimmy and I for example have worked before just briefly, when I hired him to play on Kenny G's first record, around 1980 I guess.
Jimmy: Yes, something in the early 80s.
Jeff: We met then briefly and we didn't really work again together until Eric invited the both of us to tour in Russia, maybe two years ago. And then we hit it off and started working together. But the thing is, even though we didn't play with each other for that long...
Jimmy: We did one funny session!
Jeff: Oh yeah! With the "John Candy" on the vibes!
Jimmy: That was really different! And that was with Will Kennedy!
Jeff: Yeah, Will on drums. That record was re-released, and what was that guys name again?
Jimmy: Eh…Dirk Richter, and the name of the record was Vibes Alive.
Jeff: And he looks like John Candy!
Eric: And Jimmy plays with more people than anybody! And he is a founding member of one of the most famous jazz groups of all time, The Yellowjackets! And he has been around for more than 25 years. So to be in a band that's been around that long together you have to, like Chick Corea's band, develop some sort of a family with the musicians in the band.
Jeff: The other thing I was gonna say was, that even though we haven't played together for the last 20 years, our musical tastes are very similar. We had the chance to work together in the studio, productionwise, and so. And when you meet people like that, even though you haven't played with them before in your life, but you are kinda coming from the same place and have been influenced by the same people, like we both produced a couple of Michael Franks records, that makes it easier to play! We also love Miles Davis, John Coltrane, CTI, Jimi Hendrix. There is some sort of universality of people that love good music. I am sure, Jimmy, that you do more sessions than anybody, you plug in and have that rapport even if it is someone you have never played with before!
Jimmy: Yeah it helps when you listen to all kinds of music, and that is all influencing us. We have an open mind about things and I think that is very important in working with other people
SJEU: So learning and enjoying all the time?
Jimmy: Yeah, enjoying the music but also be able to inject a lot of these influences into the music and talking about it when we are producing stuff. When Jeff and I were producing a singer and she said "I love Little Feet", I go "Wow, I love Little Feet!". So right away we started talking about this singer and Little Feet. And she was going in a different direction but we got her into another thing than she actually liked about Little Feet, So that helped. And that is just one example.

SJEU: We see and feel that you have played together a lot and that you have experienced a lot travelling around the world. Do you think, because of that experience, that there is a difference between these audiences or playing in these different places?
Eric: Yes and no! This year I played in 6 different continents! And I play a lot with musicians from those other places. So not only do I get to play in front of audiences from these different countries but also have the experience to play with these other musicians. And it's always quite different and the same at the same time. From the musician's standpoint you may not be able to communicate more than three words with them, yet you can play with them and make great music! So music is the international language!
SJEU: The one and only!
Eric: It is beautiful what a great thing that is! And playing for audiences, they like to hear communicative music, no matter what the style is. The musicians are creating something together and there is a really unique energy from that particular performance. And then the audience will be active and enjoy it.
SJEU: But maybe there is a difference between playing in a big large hall or a jazz club like tonight? Because here we are so close to you on the stage, there is some communication between you and us!
Jeff: Let me ask you something. One thing that I have heard is that disco and even instrumental disco music is so big in Europe because of all these different languages. So when you hear those disco songs, you can all relate to that. And I think there is more of an appreciation of instrumental music in Europe because people have not to worry about the lyrics in different languages.
SJEU: Maybe there is, but there are also a lot of local, within a country, cultures of music. We are from The Netherlands and we live a two hour drive from this venue. And there is already a difference in musical culture and what kind of music people like. On one side, there is a difference in languages, so instrumental music would sound more logical, but on the other side local music is very popular as well. We have songs in our Dutch language, and over here there are songs in German. But the modern generations all learned to speak English, so when it comes to language, everybody speaks English. In the Netherlands, the most popluar songs are sung in English! And as it comes to instrumental music, it is mostly straight ahead jazz. But Smooth Jazz and modern contemporary jazz is hard to promote, so that is one of the reasons we started SmoothJazz Europe. Unfortunately, we don't have instrumental radio broadcasting.
Jeff: We don't have that a lot anymore in the US either!

SJEU: To wrap up this interview, one last question. Do you have any suggestions how to promote this music in Europe? You guys are already known over here, but a lot others, US and European, are not that famous but can be great musicians.
Jeff: I think there is an easy answer. You have to try to get over here anyway, and try to get something going, just like you do at home. Not that it's any easier at home, but you have to be creative and entrepeneural and hope you will find something. We are lucky we have Lucia, our tour manager, who is helping us out. People like her is our best shot.
SJEU: Well thanks again, it was a honour for us to talk to you guys!

all pictures by Marijn Eland