Whistler Jazz Fest Lesson – Lorne Lofsky on the Power of Fourths

Of all the great instructors at the festival known as Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler (or JOMAW, to those in the know), one of the nicest tones and most delicate touches came courtesy of Lorne Lofsky. The Oscar Peterson sideman held a riveting master class where he covered a variety of topics, including an introduction to quartal harmony, or diatonic harmony based on fourths.

Anyone familiar with the piano work of jazz greats like Bill Evans or the guitar playing of Pat Martino or Joe Diorio will recognize the sound of quartal harmony. For the uninitiated, quartal harmony has an open, modern sound that is somewhat ambiguous in terms of major or minor tonality. Lofsky effortlessly created huge, pianistic voicings and vamps with these shapes.

“I’m going to play diatonic fourths in D major,” he explained, “but I’m going to play them over E, so it’s E Dorian.” The notes of the E Dorian mode are shown in Ex. 1, and Lofsky’s series of fourth shapes is shown in Ex. 2.

These forms are easy to grab and simple to move around. Pay attention to the G-C#-F# grouping on the and of one and the D-G-C# on the and of two. The augmented fourths in those chords add additional color and tension. Also, resist the temptation to move these voicings off the A, D, and G strings until absolutely necessary, as Lofsky explains, referencing one of the all-time greats, Lenny Breau.

“What Lenny would do,” says Lofsky, “is voice those fourth shapes on the higher frets on the A, D, and G strings. That makes it possible to add a diatonic fifth to each chord.” He then barred across the seventh fret to play the E-A-D-B voicing shown on the downbeat of Ex. 3 before hammering a high D above it. Cruise up through the other shapes in a similar fashion. (Because we’re avoiding the B string, you can’t just strum through these voicings. You’ll need to carefully grab them with all your picking-hand fingers or employ a thumbpick and fingers like Lofsky.) Against the low-E pedal tone, these chords make for a super-hip approach. “They sound much bigger than standard guitar shapes,” he says.

Ex. 4 takes the same idea but plays it in a descending fashion. This is where the jazz truly meets the rock, because these sounds add up to a Michael Schenker via Alex Skolnick take on Schenker’s classic “Rock Bottom” solo. The first beat of bar 2 is a little tricky to fret but worth the effort.

Ex. 5 actually simplifies things a bit in order to make these shapes more mobile. Although the voicings created can be called a variety of names, such as Em11, Bsus2/E, etc, don’t worry about that right now. Just look at the collection of chords as an intriguing way to create drama over an E pedal tone. Fair warning: Once you start down this road, these rich sounds can be highly addictive.

by Matt Blackett

View Original Article Here

,

Putting Out a Jazz Record No Easy Feat in Canada

By Mark Miller – The Globe and Mail, Monday, April 20, 1981

On the night of October 18, 1952, Wray Downes of Toronto was playing piano at the Saile Playei in Paris as a member of trumpater Bill Coleman’s Swing Stars, alongside the likes of trombonist Dickie Wells and drummer Zutty Singleton. The concert was taped, and the resulting re;lease stands as Downes’ first appearance on record. He was 21.

It would be 25 years before Downes would make his second appearance on a jazz recording, having returned to Canada in 1956 and to Toronto in 1958. That record was drummer Pete Magadini’s Bones Blues from 1977. Now, and finally, Wray Downes, at 50 one of Canada’s premiere jazz musicians, has the first record he can call his own: Au Privave, a joint effort with bassist Dave Young, released recently by the local label, Sackville. It’s a collection of solos, duets and, with guitarist Ed Bickert as a guest, trios. Its elegant, full of heart and depth. It’s also about time.

Wray Downes’ experience makes the story behind the first record of Toronto guitarist Lorne Lofsky, It Could Happen to You, for the important California label Pablo, all the more remarkable. What happened to Lofsky rarely happens to Canadian jazz musicians.

In 1979, Lofsky was making good impression on his elders, including Ed Bickert (in whose place he played on occasion with the same Wray Downes and Dave Young; it’s a small world). On Bickert’s recommendation, he got a week’s worth of work with alto saxophonist Jerry Toth at George’s Spaghetti House.

Enter trombonist Butch Watanabe. Lofsky picks up the story: “Butch heard me a play a set or two with Jerry, and I guess he liked it. He said ‘I’m playing here in a couple of weeks; can you make it?’ Just like that.”

Enter Oscar Peterson, a close friend of Watanabe from the days of Montreal’s Cafe St-Michel in the forties and now the central musician of Pablo Records. “Butch had a couple of tunes on the gig that Oscar wrote. So Oscar came down, I got to meet him – it was just to meet him; I shook his paw…And I thought he was just being polite – he’s a real gentleman – when he said, ‘Hey man, you really sounded good.’

“So that was that; but a couple of months later, out of the blue, he called me up. ‘I don’t want to alarm you or anything, but are you signed with any record company? Do you want to make a record for Pablo? We’ll take it from there and see what happens.'”

Sometime later, a year ago last Wednesday to be exact, Peterson himself to Lofsky, bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Joe Bendzsa into a Toronto studio and, in five hours, cut the guitarist’s first record. Lofsky was 25.

Like Downes’ LP, Lofsky’s appeared in Toronto stores late last month (following its release in the United States earlier this year). At that rate – two albums a month – there would be an unlikely 24 new records by Canadian jazz musicians by year’s end. In truth, half that many would signal a good year in a country where “best-selling” figures for a record by a domestic jazz musician are in the neighborhood of 5,000, and an average seller might reach 2,000 after a few years on the market.

The ledger for 1981 looks like this: on the debit side, sets from last December by the Boss Brass (recorded at The El Mocambo) and by the Ed Bickert/Don Thompson duo have hit snags, and the planned second album by the Michael Stuart/Keith Blackley band was shelved in January and the band itself folded soon after.

On the credit side, Montreal’s Bug Alley is doing reasonably well in the United States; Toronto’s Shox Johnson and the Jive Bombers are due any day with their first (the only project from last December to be realized); and a new Toronto label, Innovation, affiliated with the McClear Place Studios, has records by tenorman Eugene Amaro and singer Ivy Steele almost in place. Guitarist Rob Carroll recorded for New York’s Inner City recently, and another local guitarist Ken Ramm, has had an album awaiting U.S. release for quite some time.

Meanwhile pianists Eric Harry and Richard Whitehouse have tapes all ready to go, and saxophonist Ron Allen took the situation a step further to produce his own album, Leftovers, for his own Black Silk label. It’s doing well in Vancouver, he reports, but already it is out of date; the band that he leads with bassist David Piltch, currently called I.D. is already on to something else. It is one of the prices a creative jazz musician pays in Canada: to move at all is to move faster than the recording industry.

Downes is as usual incommunicado – this is an intensely private man – but a year ago he offered a philosophical explanation of his career. The explanation, together with the nature of the jazz recording industry in Canada, puts AU Privave into perspective. “I’ve always thought of myself as a late bloomer, and I’ve never been one to get out there and do something before I’m ready to do it.” At this point, the cast of his art has set and hardened, and for once it is on display, but probably too late to alter the direction of his career, whether he’s ready or not.

A year ago, Lofsky was also philosophical about the way things were going. “I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity. Whether the record’s well received – I hope it is, but if it isn’t, it won’t bother me – the point is, somebody thought I played well enough to record me for a label like that.”

A year later, and Lofsky is back at George’s, where it all started. His trio closed there Saturday night, and he stays on to play for Jerry Toth this week. The release of It Could Happen to You hasn’t yet brought him anything new, locally, save some airplay and one negative review (hwich is balanced by generally positive reaction south of the border).

“It’s not really representative of my playing anymore,” he noted last week, and his work at George’s backs up his words without diminishing the music  on the record. “I’ve got a feeling,” he adds, “that something good might come of it in the near future.”

It’s a start, and the timing is right. He is already half a life ahead of Wray Downes.

Down Beat – Lorne Lofsky

By Mark Miller, Down Beat Magazine, 1980

He’s just 26; his hair is a little longer than the fashion of the day; his guitar is a Gibson Les Paul. Ah yes, another hot-wired guitar player on his way somewhere in a hurry.

But no. When Lorne Lofsky sits down to play, he sets the Les Paul’s tone between burnished and glowing, and he might call Nancy with the Laughing Face or It Could Happen to You. In conversation, by way of explaining his direction in jazz, he’ll say, “You’ve got to bow to the cats that came before you, and realize that we wouldn’t be playing the way we’re playing if it weren’t for them, wherever we’re at individually. Whether you want to pursue that direction, or any other direction, having a good grounding in the tradition is good to help your playing in the long run, because if you can’t play in the tradition, I don’t think you can play.”

Of course Lofsky who who began his career in Toronto rock bands during his teens, can play as hot wired a guitar as anyone: at the moment he can be heard in a hot wired style with the bands of flutist/singer Kathryn Moses and fusion keyboardist/composer Ted Moses, as well as in the heavier, freer context of the Michael Stuart-Keith Blackley Quintet.

On the other hand, it was his work in turn with two of Toronto’s veteran beboppers, alto saxist Jerry Toth and trombonist Butch Watanabe, that brought him face to face with Oscar Peterson. And it was Peterson who arranged for and eventually produced the guitarist’s first record, a trio date due out soon from Pablo. Among the eight tunes recorded by Lofsky, bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Joe Bendzsa were Nancy with the Laughing Face and It Could Happen to You, as well as Body and Soul (a guitar duet) and Giant Steps. That’s a bit of tradition, especially from a musician who moved into jazz from rock only seven years ago.

He says of his rock days, “I was getting tired of playing on 12 bar blues, of playing four or five conventional blues licks, of playing really loud. Even then I knew I wanted to be a professional musician, but I knew I didn’t want to make it on the rock circuit. For one thing, I don’t have the personality for it: I’m not very outgoing. For another, I didn’t enjoy it.”

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue turned Lofsky’s ear to jazz. “I didn’t have the slightest idea what they were doing, but I knew I liked it – I got a good feeling from it.” Lofsky summarizes his subsequent development quite simply, “I lifted a few things off records, did a lot of sessions, and basically taught myself how to play. I have a certain aptitude for being able to imitate. That can be hazardous, but for starting out. I think it’s very positive. I figured a good way to start would be to look at a couple of people whose playing styles I really like , take something from them, and try to develop it.”

The guitarist acknowledges as his influences Jim Hall, and from Toronto, Ed Bickert, Lenny Breau and Sonny Greenwich. Bickert’s style is now central to the playing of many younger guitarists in Toronto, and Lofsky was one of the first to realize the value and then assimilate the intracasies of the veteran’s technique and harmonic concept.The revelation came in the form of another record, Pure Desmond, made by the late Paul Desmond with Bickert and others in 1974.

“I’d been hip to Ed before,” Lofsky says, “but on the album you can actually hear his style of playing, not in a noisy club, but isolated for the first time.” Lofsky then made a study of Bickert’s work on Pure Desmond, “just to get the feeling, to get that sound in my head, that approach to attacking the strings in a relaxed manner and trying to get a full sound out of every note.”

“I’m fascinated by what you can do harmonically on the guitar and at how many different sounds you can get – not just in terms of tone settings but also with different string formations, using certain open strings, unison notes, clusters. You can get so many nice textures and colors, and I’m just starting to realize that now.”

“I really love the sound of chords and I try to approach the guitar from that viewpoint. I’ve never played piano, and I never will, but I’m a frustrated paino player, I would love to do things on the guitar that are more pianistic.”

It’s not surprising that Bill Evans is a personal favorite as well as another significant influence, ” I like listening to things of a romantic nature, like Bill Evans. I love listening to Ed and singers like Johnny Hartman and Sarah Vaughan, people who really bring things out in a tune and make it not sound like any other. So many have the same chord changes and melody sequences. What you play on a tune brings out its certain mood that makes it stand by itself.”

“One thing I’ve noticed”, Lofsky adds, speaking critically of his own playing, “I’ve got to start editing out more things again – without becoming too safe. When you’re playing, you have to have some kind of thought process going on. Somewhere there’s got to be some compositional sense. You’ve got to be aware of what you just played and where you’re going next. Not that it’s premeditated, but that kind of sophisticated process has to happen if you want to make a logical, musical solo.”

Such philosophies of music make Lofsky seem an uncommonly thoughtful young musician – and indeed he is – but they are in no way preparation fore the aggressive performer who blazes through Giant Steps or Oleo. That’s the other and more immediately impressive aspect of his playing.

And yet, he is talking now of the possibility of working with just a bass player. “I really like playing quietly; I  like the sound that I get and the subtler things that can happen.”

Lofsky Jazz Date Leads to LP Produced by Oscar Peterson

By Ken Waxman

Practicing essential when self-taught

Practice may help make almost perfect for guitarist Lorne Lofsky, but he’s proof that musical proficiency doesn’t always come with schooling.

As a matter of fact the 26-year-old guitarist, who has recently made quite a name for himself within Toronto’s jazz community, dropped out of York University’s music programme after only one year. And, except for some formal lessons with a guitar teacher a few years ago, has never studied theory.

Instead Lofsky prefers to spend many hours a day practicing his instrument and describes himself as a “self-taught guitarist”.

“I find it’s better if I work things out on my own.” He told me one day last summer when we met in a downtown Toronto bar. Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a sweat-shirt, Lofsky still looked very much like a student. It was no surprise to learn that he still works three hours a week at York during the school year, supervising a workshop for aspiring musicians and explaining how they can improve their playing.

At the same time, he has built up a reputation for his work as a sideman with some of the city’s best-known jazz performers, including flautist Kathryn Moses, alto saxophonist Jerry Toth, pianist ted Moses, and trombonist Butch Watanabe, as well as by playing clubs and in concert with his own trio consisting of bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Joe Bendzsa. Although he has worked his share of weddings and bar mitzvahs in the past, he says “in the last six months my main source of income has come strictly from jazz gigs.”

No wonder, Lofsky’s guitar-playing is so impressive that when Oscar Peterson heard play with the Watanabe band one night a few months ago, he was so impressed that he immediately asked Lofsky if he wanted him to produce the guitarist’s first record. Lofsky did, and at the beginning of summer Peterson produced a trio session at Toronto’s Manta Sound featuring Lofsky interpretations of such classics as “Body and Soul” and “Giant Steps”, as well as Lofsky’s own “Riff-ic Blues”. The yet untitled album should be released on Pablo sometime this year, and will make him that label’s only Canadian performer besides Peterson.

Ironically, Lofsky didn’t initially plan on becoming a jazzman. Like most members of his generation, he was attracted to rock music at first.

Born in Toronto, he got his first guitar when he was 13, emulating his best friend who had just been given one (his friend later gave up playing). After taking some simple instruction, Lofsky began playing with a band at local teen clubs and at 15, after getting a better electric instrument, started playing heavier rock under the influence of guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter.

At 16 he decided he was going to become a full-time musician, and during the year after graduating high school played Rolling Stones and James Gang material with a series of bands, and took his only formal, intensive instruction. Soon, dissatisfied with the direction in which rock seemed to be going, and finding too much of it starting to sound the same, he looked around for a new challenge.

He found it at York when he began hanging around with musicians who were interested in jazz. He had initially rejected the sound a few years earlier, but after hearing Miles Davis’ :Kind of Blue” LP he was hooked. Soon he was buying transcriptions of famous jazz solos and trying to play them.

“I got lost most of the time,” he reports ruefully.

Although he dropped out of university the next year, he still commuted to York to play with other musicians and that experience, coupled with his new regimen of practicing, soon got him some work. After he played a few impressive after-hour gigs at small clubs around the city, the ripple effect began, and very quickly one job led to another, “Word travels fast in jazz circles,: he says.

“You have to be emotionally ready to play jazz,” he affirmed that day, as he sipped his beer, “and you have to be serious about it because it’s your life’s work.” Now that he feels himself motivated enough to be a jazzman, he’s exploring other musical avenues, such as composing.

He sees a large chasm between full-time composers and musicians. Some musicians are writers and others are players, he says, and right now his biggest kick comes from subtly changing an already exoisting composition so that his improvisation adds something to it. “I like to put my personal mark on someone else’s tune, and play a solo that can stand on its own two musical feet,” he says.

The other thing he’s aiming for now is to learn to play with more economy and edit extraneous matter from his solos so that only the best will be left. He wants to be able to produce work like master editors, such as Ed Bickert and Count Basie.

Lofsky seems well on his way to achieving that mastery. After all, he’s already come so far in a short time – and he’s come there on his own.

,

Lorne Lofsky Takes Giant Steps

By Mark Miller – The Globe and Mail, Saturday, January 26, 1980

And Lets His Fingers Do the Walking

The tune Giant Steps was written around 1959 by the late tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. It is a classic of modern jazz, 16 bars – once repeated – of harmonic treachery that can’t be taken at any tempo slower than impossible; Coltrane ensured that in 1959 with hois own definitive recording.

A musician does not lightly choose to play Giant Steps. Call it on the bandstand and the other players tend to balk a little.

Lorne Lofsky  likes Giant Steps. The young Toronto guitarist called it twice a few Sundays ago at the Cafe May; he’ll probably call it again this coming Monday at the Ontario Science Centre, where his trio gives the latest concert in the Sound of Toronto Jazz series.

At Cafe May his first request for Giant Steps brought the response “maybe next set” from his bass player, Kieran Overs. In its place the trio played Sonny Rollins’ Oleo, still paced at impossible but harmonically a little more manageable. Lofsky, Gibson Les Paul guitar in hands, tore a strip off the tune, as is his wont at such tempos. And well into one of his characteristically convoluted improvisations he dallied for just a moment, long enough to slip in the first four notes of the immediately recognizable theme from Giant Steps before moving on his way somewhere else.

Lofsky likes Giant Steps.

In between tune discussions with his sidemen, while he lights up yet another cigarette, he refers to it as “our perennial favorite”. Later, in calling it for the second time, he remarks “I think we’re ready for our big number”, to which Overs ruefully adds the qualification “you mean you’re ready for your big number”. It has become something of a running joke between the musicians. But this time they agree to play it.

For the first 32 bars Lofsky has the easy part, marking the chord changes as they pass with every second beat. Overs is playing the rquired four-to-the-bar bass line with an inpressive display of mental and physical dexterity, and drummer Joe Bendza is maintaining the momentum behind. No wonder they’re not too keen on this thing.

After 32 bars the guitarist takes over and immediately pushes the music to the limit: he’s out there walking a tightrope, losing his balance now and then and falling occasionally, but dusting himself off with a grimace, a muttered oath or shake of the head, and climbing right back on. Lofsky likes to take chances. “As long as I’ve played,” he admits, “I’ve played that way.” And that daring, among one or two other qualities – like extreme technical proficiency – makes Lofsky one of the  most exciting jazzmen in the country.

He has been taking chances for about nine years now, beginning at 16 as a rock guitarist under the influence of Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix, and playing in neighborhood bands in and around the north end of Toronto, Even then, he says, he “never played any solo the same way twice.” After high school he was a member of Arctic Fox, one of Toronto’s many now forgotten rock bands, making “$60 a week, $100 at most.” He admits that there have been weeks since when he has done “much worse” as a jazz musician.

“While what was going on,” he explains, “I was trying to figure out how to make the transition to jazz. I’d heard a couple of Miles Davis records I really dug – Kind of Blue in particular.” Kind of Blue is another 1959 recording, and another modern classic among trumpeter Davis’ many modern classics. Coltrane’s on that one too. “I listened to it all the time and I really liked what they were doing. But I had no handled on it; I understood it only as far as I liked it…”

The tune Just Squeeze Me was written in 1946 by Duke Ellington and Lee Gaines. It is a classic among pop songs, ands a favorite with musicians who have an ear for pure, singing melody.

Lofsky has such an ear and he called Just Squeeze Me that same Sunday night, at the Cafe May. There were no objections. The tempo was easy, the attitude appropriately respectful. Lofsky played around with chords this time – he moved them masterfully, clearly delineating all the melodic contours with sequences of smooth, intriguing combinations of notes. The closing pasage of his improvisation was a brilliant exercise in the manipulation of tension, a puzzle created on the spot and its solution provided with just a slight – delicious – hesitation. Lofsky will take chances at any tempo.

He learned Just Squeeze Me from a 1974  record, Pure Desmond, – yet another modern classic – by the late alto saxophonist Paul Desmond with the Toronto guitarist Ed Bickert in his rhythm section. And if two years in the jazz program at York University ahdn’t provided Lofsky with a handle on jazz, Pure Desmond, and more specifically, Bickert’s playing on it, did – “I’ve been pretty good at lifting things,” he explains, not meaning to sound criminal about it, “And that’s what I did – I lifted some of Ed’s solos. He was, and is, my favorite guitarist and I figured he’d be a good foundation. Then I listened to all kinds of people, like John Coltrane and Bill Evans – I really like Bill Evans – and took a little from each of them. There are obvious inferences in my palying as to who my influences are; I’m no different than any other musician.”

Like Bickert, Lofsky is a superior ballad player. And the character revealed in those ballads seem a much more accurate reflection of Lofsky’s off-stage personality than the aggression of the fellow who charges boldly through Oleo and Giant Steps. In conversation he is easy-going and articulate, with an irrepressible sense of humor that works on various levels according to company and context, and naturally finds its way into his music.

He admits he’s not in any great hurry to make a name for himself. He’s letting things happen. To that extant, the similarities to Ed Bickert extend beyond music. “When I play, I like to take chances, but when it comes down to hustling the music, I’m not that aggressive. It’s almost degrading.” Nevertheless, he says, “sometimes I get my publicity chops together and make a few phone calls.”

His career, then, has developed gradually, starting four or five summers ago with the occasional evening at this same Cafe May, to which he has returned for one more night after almost a year’s absence. And what a difference a year has made. as 1979 began he was an important voice in Shelly Berger’s big band at Cafe Soho – a rewarding but hardly high=profile gig. As it ended he was seeing Canada as a member of Kathryn Moses’ popular quartet. In  between there were weeks at one Toronto club or another with the veterans Ted Moses, Jerry Toth and Butch Watanabe, a special appearance as a “new face” at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s summer concert series, and even the odd spot here and there with his own trio. There’s one such coming up in February at the Cookery in London.

Although he thinks “this town needs one more club – one where Ron (Allen), Alex (Dean) and other younger musicians like us can play”, he’s not about to leave town in its absence. There may be more work in New York, but there are also more musicians in competition for it. “Look at it this way,” he says of Toronto, “where else can you go downtown fairly regularly and hear the greatest guitar player in the world?” The reference is of course to Ed Bickert. Lofsky continues: “Sonny (Greenwich) has been around a bit more lately, and there was Lenny (Breau), when he was doing things – it’s a great place for a guitar player to be.” He seems unaware that he is approaching that company himself; indeed the observation probably would make him quite uncomfotable.

Nor does he seem very aware of a certain personal magnetism he holds over some members of his audience. As someone at the band table commented between sets – Lofsky wasn’t around at the time – “all the girls think he looks like Peter Frampton.” He doesn’t, really, but the same kind of appeal apparently is there. Nevertheless he gives every indication that it’s the music that’s most important. Just Squeeze Me after all, is just a good tune. Nothing more.