Monday, August 16, 2010

Last New York Gig Of The Summer and The Lauren Sevian Interview

The night before my flight back to Winnipeg, I had my last gig in New York of the summer at The Kitano, a comfortable jazz spot in a nice Japanese style hotel at 38th and Park Avenue. I was performing with a young baritone saxophonist named Lauren Sevian. (Sevian's debut CD as a leader is called "Blueprint" on Inner Circle Music, a label started by alto saxophone great Greg Osby, and I was lucky to have the opportunity to play on the CD with bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Johnathan Blake.) The gig was a lot of fun, with a talented young bassist named Marcos Valera on bass and my good friend E.J. Strickland on drums. They have a well maintained Steinway piano at the club, and it's as smooth as butter to play on it. We performed tunes from the CD mostly, and Lauren's alto saxophone playing husband Mike DiRubbo sat in on " Gesture of No Fear". (I laugh because , according to Sevian,  "gesture of no fear" is a restorative yoga pose, however, the harmonic obstacle course of this up-tempo workout makes me think of Coltrane's Giant Steps on steriods!)

Sevian has an approach that is un-baritone saxophonish, if that makes any sense. She goes for some tense note choices, and will lay on them, which comes across as more daring due to the edge and power of the baritone. And her writing is unique. She doesn't make melodies which typify the bari sax. Sevian is new to band-leading, but she leads with a quiet confidence which makes a relaxed, creative atmosphere in which to make music.

It was a great night, the audience was intimate but wildly enthusiastic. I felt like it was a satisfying way to end my summer vacation in NYC. After the performance, Sevian and I talked about doing an interview for my newborn blog...

GC: Do you think of yourself, if at all, as a baritone saxophone player, or a musician, or maybe both?
 LS: I think of myself but mostly as a baritone saxophonist. Particularly because I don't really play any other instruments. I mean, I do a little bit but not like the bari. 
GC:  You started on alto? 
LS:  I did...but I don't even touch it anymore. I leave that to my husband.  
GC:  Ha! What made you want to switch? 
LS:  I felt like something was missing. I knew that I wanted to play saxophone but I wanted to try something different. My teacher at the time suggested that i try bari and I loved it! I knew right away that's what I wanted to play. That was around my sophomore year of high school. 
GC:  But I remember years ago at Augie's you would sit in on alto, while you were a student at Manhattan School of Music.
LS:  Aah... I did ONE time...I think my bari was in the shop. I still played a little alto at that point but I was starting to phase it out.
GC:  I see...Do you think you have gotten more opportunities because of making that change? 
LS:  Probably.  I mean, obviously there are many more alto and tenor players out there. 
There are fewer bari players...but there are also fewer gigs for a baritone players. It wasn't a calculated decision which is kind of funny. I just wanted to play bari. I wanted to be known exclusively as a baritone player. 
GC:  Yes, but I think one always has to figure out a way to stand out from the crowd, but it's always a risk. For example, Don Byron is a clarinet player first (although he actually played bari and other things) and there is not a lot of call for jazz clarinetists these days. But it makes him unique. Do you agree? Do you think as a bandleader you might have a niche as a bari player? 
Lauren:  I see your point. It does make him unique. I know him as a clarinetist. I didn't know that he played other instruments. I guess I can see myself as having a niche as a bari player bandleader. Most of the time the baritone is considered a big band instrument, or large ensemble instrument. I've tried to approach the baritone more like a tenor. 
GC:  Do you have musical heroes on Baritone Sax?
Ronnie Cuber
 LS:  Oh yeah...Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber, Nick Brignola, Cecil Payne...
GC:  Do you have influences that are not bari players? 
LS:  Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, McCoy Tyner....I could go on... 

GC:  Who did you study with at Manhattan School? What was your experience like there? 
LS:  My first year I studied with Joe Temperley and Steve Slagle, then 2nd and 3rd year I studied with Mark Turner, then my last semester I studied composition/arranging with Mike Abene. I had a pretty positive experience there. I met so many great people. Oh, I also was studying with Donny McCaslin the same years i was studying with Mark... 
Mark Turner
GC:  I've always wanted to study with Mark Turner. I had to settle for hiring him for some recordings and tours. I also admire McCaslin a great deal.
LS:  Ha ! You had to settle for hiring him...that's funny. The amazing thing about Mark is how HUMBLE he is 
he has complete control over the instrument.he really inspired me to get better 
GC:  The thing I admire most about Mark is that he seems really dedicated to the horn and to music as a pursuit in itself. I think his career or commercial success is not even of interest. I don't think he even has a website! 
LS:  No, he doesn't!  Because he is ALL about the music. He's constantly practicing from what I've heard 
GC:  He's pretty methodical about it 
LS:  I remember him telling me about his practice routine, and it hit me that, here is this total bad-ass, and he still practices hours a day! Really inspiring
 GC:  Do you have a routine? 
LS:  I do. I need to do some sort of practice everyday. Although I admit I took yesterday off...I was pretty sore after the Kitano gig! I'm at the point where I've changed my routine due to my lifestyle. In other  words, I've been in too many situations where I've had to jump on the bandstand and start playing after traveling all day and not at least getting to do my long tones. So now I usually start off with a tune, then switch to long tones, then another tune, then pattern or scale practice, etc...Now I'm mostly practicing tunes.
 GC:  Do you ever use Aebersold play -along records? I mean CDs......or do you just hear everything in your head? 
LS:  I usually like to practice along with recordings when I'm learning a new I get the correct phrasing. I used to use Aebersolds but not so much anymore. If I know a tune pretty well, and I know the changes, then I can practice it without the record.  
GC:  Describe your approach to composition. Do you use a piano? or just write at the horn? or both? And how did the tunes for the CD come about? 
LS:  I used to compose initially on the piano. but then most of what I wrote wasn't appropriate range-wise for the bari. So I started composing on the baritone. Then once I got the melody I would work out the changes on the piano. Or sometimes I heard the changes in my head. Most of the tunes from the CD were composed on the bari, with the exception of three..."Elusive Illusion", "Gesture of No Fear", and "Intrepid Traveler.   "  So it really depends. With "Gesture of No Fear", the chord changes came first...while I was sitting in that yoga meditation pose! 
GC:  Wow! 
LS:  As you know, the beginning part has that little rhythmic thing, which I started hearing in my head, then the changes came to me. Yeah it was pretty nutty...It's funny, one of the tunes I did on the record, Intrepid Traveler, I have a taped lesson of him and me working on that tune. At the time it was in 3/4, but later on I changed it to 4/4. 
GC:  Describe your experience with the Mingus Band
LS:  I have had an incredible experience with the Mingus band.The first gig I ever did with them I was 23. I was petrified! But everyone was so nice to me...especially John Stubblefield when he was around. Playing with that band has been such a huge part of my musical development.And the baritone chair is so much fun! 
GC:  I remember doing some gig with the band and you got up and did Moanin'. ( Not the Bobby Timmons tune, the Mingus tune, for you readers.) And I was used to Ronnie Cuber, but I remember when you played, I said " Whoa, this is a different kind of approach!" I was impressed. 
LS:   Thanks! It definitely felt a bit surreal at first. I had listened to Ronnie's version so many times...and then the first time I played it I needed to figure out how to play it like myself. If that makes any sense 
GC:  I hear you. 
LS:  Incorporating your own language into someone else's music can be much more challenging than playing your own. You know? I mean, we all have influences that we draw upon, but ultimately we all have our own unique voice which will inevitably come out. 
GC:   Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you want to be a bandleader? Is there any artist out there you are dying to share the stage with as a side-person? 
LS:  In 5 or 10 years, I hope to have another record out, I also hope to be doing more gigs like I got to do the other night!  I'm happy to continue being a sideman but I want more...I want to be a bandleader, I want to push the baritone further as a solo instrument. Lets see...a dream gig for me would be to play with Steely Dan. And Cedar Walton. Maybe at the same time? That would be pretty cool... 
GC:  I'd like to work with Cedar Walton...Maybe I'll turn pages! 
LS:  ( Laughing) 
How about a piano duo? 
GC:  Well, I do know a lot of his tunes... 
LS:  Yeah... 
GC:  Last question: I really hate to talk about gender, but given the history of jazz, do you think that men should really be trying to play jazz?( Laughing)
Lauren:  I think with more time and acceptance there will be more men in the jazz field. (Laughter)


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