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Zama.co.uk Interview

It was around 1981/82 that I first became aware of Canadian Guitarist Lorne Lofsky. A trio album released on the legendary “Pablo Today” record label called “It could Happen To You” featured the work of this remarkable new face on the world jazz scene. The album came about as a result of the intervention of Oscar Peterson who saw Lorne play at Toronto’s “George’s Spaghetti House”. Oscar also produced the record. For my money, this album remains one of the finest guitar trio albums ever. Why? Now there’s a question. What makes a great jazz recording or soloist? I can only speak for myself on that score. Why does this particular album ring all the right bells for me? Well, a combination of elements, dexterity, sound, but number one is phrasing. To my mind, phrasing is damn near everything. It’s the manipulation of time and melody, the centrepiece of the improviser’s continuum. Getting the phrasing right is to my mind by far the hardest thing. It is the thing that defines us as players. If you want an object lesson in as close to perfect phrasing as it is possible to find, then listen to “It could Happen To You”. It is truly awesome. Sadly, the album is no longer available but I have seen copies come up on eBay. If you see a copy come up on eBay, buy it! .

After the release of the record, Lorne recorded and toured extensively with Oscar Peterson. Today Lorne is playing with a Trio called “Inside out” which includes Kieran Overs on bass and Barry Romberg on drums. In 2004 they released an album called “What is this thing”, stylistically very different from previous recordings, the band stretch out on standards pushing rhythm and harmony to their collective limits. Lorne can be seen playing at major jazz festivals in Canada and the US and frequently around his hometown of Toronto. He also has an extensive teaching practice having previously taught at the University of Toronto.

Lorne has a website with video and audio clips as well as a full biography and some guitar lessons. You can also get hold of his teaching videos and latest recordings.

Lorne very kindly agreed to an interview.

As a rhythm guitar player, how did you approach comping with piano in Oscar’s line-up. Often without fixed arrangements guitar and piano groups can sound like a dogs dinner?

LL: It’s important to stay out of the way. On medium and up tempo tunes, some of the comping consisted of short rhythmic phrases and simple harmonized background melodies, riffs. Ballads were more challenging. I had to keep the radar on and listen for the spaces. Listening and reacting accordingly was the most important thing.

What I enjoy about your “Inside Out” album is how you explore the extremes of harmony with some pretty standard standards. “All the things you are” is great fun (if I may make so bold!). For me, I sometimes get it, I sometimes don’t. There is obviously a master at work here. What’s your thinking on exactly how far you can take things beyond the original changes? At what point would Lorne Lofsky believe that the plot has been lost?

LL: Well, I don’t know about the “master” part. I’m trying to push the envelope with like minded people. A lot of these tunes have been played thousands of time. The challenge is to not fall into the “in the tradition” trap where things sound so derivative that they almost become “classical” in terms of style and content. I like to take chances when I play. Things don’t always work out but that’s ok. I don’t think in terms of how far things should go. When improvising I try to keep an open mind and “go along for the ride”.

“It Could Happen To You” is an awesome album! It is however unavailable. Is there any chance of a re-release?

LL: I don’t think it’s going to be re-released..

The album is much more “verbose” (more notes!) than “It Could Happen”. With over twenty years between the albums, is that a technique thing (can you play better) or an ear thing (can you hear better)? Do you listen to that album now and wish you could change things or are you happy to let it be?

LL: Re:”It Could Happen To You”, That was then, this is now. Hopefully, after more than twenty years, all aspects of my playing have progressed. That seems to be the case.

On your “Bill Please” album you have a track called “Django”. Did you ever get into the “Django” hot club thing?

LL: “Django” was written by John Lewis of the MJQ. I’ve never really gotten into the “hot club” thing.

Are you still as excited about jazz guitar as ever? Do you feel that there are avenues that still need exploring?

LL: I’m more into the guitar than ever. In terms of exploring, the sky’s the limit.

How much do you practice?

LL: All the time..

Being a jazz musician is concerned not only with the musical adventure but also in the real world, paying your taxes and bills. As a survivor, would you say that things are getting better or worse for the working jazz musician.

LL: Most players, myself included, teach a lot. I find it quite rewarding for the most part. I think things could certainly be better in terms of employment opportunities.

I would suggest that playing ballads is a tricky thing in jazz, particularly for guitarists. Guitarists want to fly about the place as fast as they can and impress the neighbours. Ballads can sort the men from the boys. With the track “One for Ed ” in mind, how would you advise a student to approach the task?

LL: Don’t play like you’re getting paid by the note. I think it’s good to play rather sparingly, with a strong melodic sense. Also, it’s very important to me to create dynamic contrast between the melodic line and comping. [make the comping quieter than the solo line] This creates the impression that someone else is playing the accompaniment. It’s challenging, but well worth the effort.

Do you have a regular trio gig?

LL: I have occasional trio gigs.

Does Toronto have a vibrant jazz scene?

LL: It could be better.There are lots of great players and only a few places to play. The concept of “supply and demand” certainly holds true in the jazz business.

People like Zawinul, Metheny and even as of late Mike Stern have controversially pushed the boundaries of the genre. Metheny would write a song with a hat stand if he thought he could get away with it. Do you consider what those guys are doing to be jazz?

LL: You know, it seems to me that “jazz” is a term whose definition is constantly changing. Everybody has a different idea of what jazz is, largely based on their musical biases. I think the term ‘improvised music’ might be more suitable. At this point , to me anyway, it’s one big blur.

You have said that in the past you came from a rock and roll background. Do you ever indulge that side of your persona? Are there any side acts we should know about?

LL: I don’t really get into the rock thing that much anymore. Once in a while I’ll listen to some early Zeppelin,or Hendrix/Clapton. It’s really a nostalgia trip for me. My 10 year old son listens to some of this stuff. I think it’s a good alternative to [C]rap. At least people are playing instruments and they’re not talking about selling crack and shooting cops.

Have you ever played in the UK?

LL: I played Barbican Hall in London with Oscar Peterson in the mid-90’s.

Where does Lorne Lofsky go from here?

LL: I’m constantly practicing, refining my musical skills and trying to deepen my understanding of music.
Which sports do you follow and why?

LL: I don’t follow sports regularly. I watch an occasional game of baseball, hockey, etc.

Lorne Lofsky is without doubt one of the finest exponents on the art of Jazz Guitar. I would recommend you check out Lornes most recent offerings with his group “Inside Out” or various solo albums and instructional videos. All are available from the Lorne Lofsky website.

View Original Article Here

Jazz in Brief

By Leonard Feather, 1981

“It Could Happen to You” Lorne Lofsky. Pablo Today 2312-122. This 26 year-old Canadian guitarist was discovered by Oscar Peterson, who produced the album in Toronto. That Lofsky at his age hews to the tradition of unspoiled jazz guitar, without pedals or other extraneous devices, is remarkable in itself. That he chooses to play Bill Evans’ “Blue in Green”, John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” is hardly les noteworthy.

Lofsky seduces with quiet good taste and harmonic beauty. The backing by Kieran Overs on bass and Joe Bendzsa on drums is low-key and adequate. Four stars.

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.