Feelin’ Fusion From Day One – a Chat with Jeff Lorber

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Although he’s not the father of jazz fusion, he’s very possibly the earliest and longest torchbearer of it – adding smooth, funk and trad jazz elements. Jeff Lorber’s performances for decades show the man remains full of energy and engages audiences wherever he goes.

The pianist/producer/composer and front man grew up a stone’s throw from the Philly music scene. His passion deepened while getting an education at Berklee College of Music, and he has intensely studied the masters from Miles to Horace Silver to Bud Powell. His 1980 album “Wizard Island” introduced the unknown (at the time) Kenny G.

Today, Lorber continues his global touring, hitting Australia, China, Japan, Taiwan and Italy for the remainder of 2017.

What inspired “Prototype” and what is your favorite track?

Generally, each record sort of grows out of the last one and we try to top the last one we’ve done.

The previous record “Step it Up” was a pretty powerful funky record in general. One of the things we were going after there was the vibe of 70’s modal jazz. We were inspired by records by CTI, Herbie, Roy Ayres and Weather Report. Soul Party was one of the more successful songs on the record and we still play that now. I think with the Prototype record we wanted to up the energy even more and go for some very punchy tracks but still with some variety, like the song “Vienna” which is very jazzy and in 3/4 time. The songs we are playing live at the moment are “Hyperdrive” (which was a successful radio single), “Test Drive” and “What’s the Deal,” which has sort of a “Tower of Power” feel.

What inspired you to venture into fusion?

I started my band in the 70’s and jazz fusion music was on fire. The nature of radio then was totally different and these jazzy records got airplay on FM AOR (album-oriented radio) just like bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Some of the jazz records then sold a lot too, even gold or platinum.  

My whole trajectory into being a band leader and doing demos and then records was really a slow evolution that involved a lot of chance events. I was very excited and inspired about all the great music that was being made at the time (which includes pop and R&R, as well as jazz) and the music that I began making then reflected what I was listening to at the time. 

How would you say your music has evolved through the decades?

I think when I started recording I had a lot of ideas that came pretty easily and I had about four or five records right off the bat that I wrote on my own, where the material was very strong. Later, I realized that co-writing with other people can help expand your universe of ideas and really improve the material. Also, after moving to L.A., I’ve been collaborating with some great players and I think that’s really helped the sound of the records.

The development of technology has also affected the sound. In general, each record is a snapshot of the time when it was made and reflects what was going on musically.  

How have your health challenges (recipient of a donor kidney from your wife) informed your music today?

I’m very fortunate that I received a kidney transplant and so far, so good…it’s still working after almost eleven years. So I’m very grateful. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about it too much except to take my medicine every day.  

After having to watch my good friend Chuck Loeb’s struggle with cancer over the last few years I’m even more grateful to be here making music and doing what I love. Right now, I’m out on the road with Everette Harp and we talk about Chuck often. He was a great talent and great guy.  We miss him a lot. 

What is your favorite venue worldwide?

I haven’t played there in a while but Red Rocks in Colorado is pretty amazing. The Hollywood Bowl is always fun. Ronnie Scott’s in London is a terrific venue and we enjoy playing there very much. I’ll be there soon.  

What is your favorite CD cover among all your albums?

“Kickin’ It.” It’s a great cover that reminds me of old Blue Note album covers.  Also “Water Sign” and “Wizard Island” are two of my favorite older records and album covers.  

What is the jazz scene like where you live?

Los Angeles is sort of a factory town where a lot of music is mostly made in the studios. The live scene tends to be less lively than places like New York.

For more information, visit www.lorber.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Jeff Lorber.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017


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