JOANNE LAZZARO
Under The Stars
(Joanne Lazzaro Music)

 

The night sky and the planets within are so inspirational to so many artists of all different stripes and colors. Add to that list Native American flute player Joanne Lazzaro who released Under The Stars in 2015. Recorded live at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California, the twelve track album is just solo flute playing and the sound is quite expressive and magical. Joanne claims the CD was “created for everyone who has ever gazed into the night sky and dreamed.” It’s amazing to also note that the music on Under The Stars is improvised and comes across as very buoyant and kinetic sounding. Regarding the method of operations here, Joanne was influenced early on by her husband who encouraged her to play her music by the camp fire while he viewed the night sky with his telescope and the concept took off from there. Speaking to mwe3.com about Under The Stars, Joanne Lazzaro explains, "The comparison to Paul Horn’s playing flute inside the Taj Mahal came up often, and that was the beginning of the idea to record my own album, improvising live, and using the natural acoustics of the observatory dome. Everything fell together pretty quickly. In the meantime, the director and staff of the Mount Wilson Observatory made the facility available for me to record, reserved a date, and prepped the dome to be used for recordingswapping out lights and turning off anything that made noise. We recorded the whole thing in about 3 hours, playing only one take per track, no listen-back. When people think of space and the cosmos, some hear synthesizers, and some hear sweeping orchestral scores, but I hear the sound of a solo flute, singing out in the darkness." Ancient sounding Native American flute music and the cosmos makes for a rather metaphysical pairing, though clearly Joanne Lazzaro fulfills her musical mission on Under The Stars. www.facebook.com / www.kokopelli.la



 


mwe3.com presents an interview with
JOANNE LAZZARO



mwe3
: Tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now. What other cities, towns and even other countries do you like to visit and perform in and do certain geographic regions influence you more than others?

Joanne Lazzaro: I grew up in New York state, in the Hudson Valley, and went to college in Pennsylvania. I moved to Los Angeles after graduation, and have been here ever since. I’ve performed in Europe, Australia, a bit in South America, and of course all over the US. I enjoy traveling, and really each region or city has its own unique character and music scene, which can be really exciting. For Native American flute playing, there are a large percentage of excellent players and venues in the Southwest, and I’ve been influenced the most by traveling there and listening to players from that part of the country. I also enjoy traveling in the South Pacific. I’ve been to Hawaii, Australia, Tahiti, and Easter Island. I try to bring a flute and play wherever I travel. Sometimes a classical flute is just too heavy to pack, or too much work to take through airport security, so now I often travel with a small Native American flute. People seem to find the sound of that type of flute both soothing and haunting, so I can play it pretty much anywhere. Often, if I’m in a place that speaks to me, I’ll play whatever comes into my head at that moment, and if I remember to hit “record” on my phone, I’ll have that musical idea to work on later.

mwe3: What were your early music studies like and when did you embark on your flute playing career? Do you play other instruments and do you practice your instruments every day? What is involved in flute practice and how do you stay in shape as a performer and flutist?

Joanne Lazzaro: I started playing classical flute when I was 10 years old. I had public school lessons at first, and then private lessons in high school when I decided that I would be a music major. I was always interested in exotic flutes made of wood, bamboo, ceramic, etc... even as a child, so friends and relatives would bring me unique instruments they picked up while traveling. As a music education major in college, I had to learn the basics of all the other woodwind, brass, string, keyboard and percussion instruments, which is how I discovered that flute was an excellent first choice! For a while I also took guitar lessons, classical and flamenco, but ultimately I decided that flute was really my calling. Flute is definitely one of those instruments that you have to practice every day to stay in shape. My practice routine varies according to what instruments I’ll be playing for upcoming concerts. For classical flute, I’ll work on tone studies, scale exercises, and cleaning up any technically tricky spots in the music. For Native American flute, I’ll often need to get myself reoriented to the specific flutes I plan to be playing, since different makers and styles of flutes require different finger patterns. I do most of my improvisational practicing on Native American flute, since so many of the performances require it. If I’m playing a gig that calls for shakuhachi or Baroque recorder, I’ll focus on those instruments for a period of time, so I’m more comfortable getting around on them. I also stay in shape physically, since flute playing takes a lot of air and physical energy. Lots of flutists love to swim, and so do I!

mwe3: In the CD liner notes for Under The Stars you speak about playing your flute under the night sky while your husband Nik viewed the stars through his telescope. Is that the story behind how the album came together? Do you feel the ancient sounds of the flute and the never-ending depth cosmos are connected in metaphysical ways?

Joanne Lazzaro: I acquired my first Native American flute while Nik and I were on a cross country road trip. In a souvenir shop in Boulder, Colorado, I saw an unfamiliar kind of flute hanging on the wall. I had never seen or heard a Native American flute before, but as soon as I played a few notes, I was hooked. This flute became my “camping” flute, and I would play by the campfire at night, while Nik was doing astronomy. Most of our camping at that time was in the desert southwest; California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah – and the sound of the Native American flute in the desert seemed fitting. Sometimes we would be at astronomy parties, I’d play for a while, and people would come up to me and say how much they enjoyed my playing, and how well it suited the moment. Eventually this lead to my playing a bit during astronomy sessions at the Mount Wilson Observatory. I was hesitant at first, because there’s a big difference in sound between playing off in the distance, on a ridge in the desert, and playing in a confined dome with a huge resonant echo. At first I was concerned about being too loud, or interfering with the actual astronomy. But everyone who heard the flutes loved the sound, and once again felt that the music was perfectly suited to astronomy.

The comparison to Paul Horn’s playing flute inside the Taj Mahal came up often, and that was the beginning of the idea to record my own album, improvising “live”, and using the natural acoustics of the observatory dome. Everything fell together pretty quickly... I met Phil Mantione, my producer, at a housewarming party. He became interested in the project, got the support of the Art Institute –Inland Empire, and put together a truly wonderful recording crew. In the meantime, the director & staff of the Mount Wilson Observatory made the facility available for me to record, reserved a date, and prepped the dome to be used for recording; swapping out lights & turning off anything that made noise. We set a date, and set up a temporary control room in the observatory visitor gallery. I had made a set list to organize which flutes to use, in order, and what the working names of the tracks would be, so I could focus on the actual improvisations. We recorded the whole thing in about 3 hours, playing only one take per track, no listen-back. I was pretty nervous about how it was going to turn out, and it took me almost three days to get up the nerve to listen to the whole session. When people think of space and the cosmos, some hear synthesizers, and some hear sweeping orchestral scores, but I hear the sound of a solo flute, singing out in the darkness.

mwe3: How many flutes do you play on your solo album Under The Stars and what are the differences between your silver flutes and your Native American flutes? Do you have a preference or favorite among your various flutes?

Joanne Lazzaro: Although I brought practically every flute I owned to the recording session, there are ten different flutes on the final version of the album. Some of the tracks wound up as out-takes, and includes four additional flutes. There are quite a few differences between playing classical flute, and simple-system flutes like the Native American flute. The NAF has a more limited range, just a little over one octave, and is tuned to play diatonically in one minor key and its related major key - although you can get other notes using special fingerings. Since it’s one solid piece of wood, you can’t retune it to accommodate the temperature, or other players. The NAF is also keyless, so that means you can take advantage of special techniques like slides and pitch-bending. Otherwise, a lot of flute-playing techniques, like flutter-tonguing, transfer nicely between most types of flutes. Wood and bamboo flutes each have their own very distinctive sound due to the type of wood used and the techniques of the flute-maker, so I’ve acquired quite a collection as I’ve found instruments that speak to me. I can’t really choose a favorite, but like many players, I find that certain flutes are suited to particular keys, modes, tunes or styles of music. Ultimately, I’ll choose flutes according to what I’m planning to play or think I might be asked to play... that means I’m often carrying around a lot of flutes!

mwe3: Who are some of your favorite flute players? Are you influenced by all the different ethnic flutes say from India, Japan, China, and South America? What about Western flute legends like Jean Pierre Rampal and even Ian Anderson, who was the first rock music flutist – how have they influenced your playing? I also feel Ron Korb made a great album of Asian influenced music featuring his flute.

Joanne Lazzaro: It’s really hard to pick a “favorite” flute player... there are so many people doing such a wide variety of music! Growing up, my flute teachers of course had me listen to recordings by Rampal, since he recorded so much of the repertoire. But in terms of developing musically, the person I was encouraged to listen to was Paula Robison. She has a way of presenting and developing a musical line that is exceptionally expressive. I eventually wound up studying with one of her teachers – Roger Stevens, who was retired from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and teaching at USC at the time I moved to LA. Once I started really getting into world flutes, I spent a lot of time listening to other players, and watching YouTube videos, to pick up some of the playing techniques. I like the way Ian Anderson has gotten into playing world flutes recently. He does a great job on Roots To Branches.

Greg Patillo has made beat-boxing incredibly popular for both classical and jazz flute players and composers... getting better at beat-boxing is on my to-do list! The duet Flutetronix is doing really interesting urban music that features flute, which is great to see happening. I do like Ron Korb’s track “The Reed Cave” from Asia Beauty. It’s a great example of improvising on a dadi (Chinese bamboo low flute), in a cave using the natural acoustics. Regarding influences on my own world flute playing, I think I’ve been the most influenced by Hindustani bansuri (bamboo flute) playing, in terms of being able to create a musical mood, establish a theme, and then jam on it for a very long time. Hariprasad Chaurasia was just an amazing performer. I was amazed at how he could develop a tune for close to an hour without stopping! And of course, there are even more types of flutes that are on my list to learn to play; pan-flute, dizi, and ney, just to name a few.

mwe3: You also speak about Carlos Nakai. Is Carlos the most famous Native American flute player and what albums of his are the most influential? Why do you think that the flute, and Native American style flute in particular, has become so popular in New Age music?

Joanne Lazzaro: Carlos Nakai was really instrumental in making the Native American flute more well-known, written about, and recorded. His iconic album Canyon Trilogy was the first example I had ever heard of anyone else playing the NAF. I was in a gift shop in a national park, probably Death Valley, and as soon as I heard it, I knew it was something special. That album also inspired me to become a much better NAF player. I listened to it many, many times. Interestingly, I once asked him which of his albums was his own personal favorite, and he said that it was his first one, Changes.

His style is a little more intimate and personal on Changes, but it’s Canyon Trilogy that’s gone platinum, and is the one most people are familiar with. I think there are several reasons that the NAF has become so popular in New Age music. The sound is very earthy, and natural. The tuning, especially the pentatonic scale, has a universal appeal. It’s a user-friendly instrument to learn to play, with a fairly short learning curve. Both musicians and formerly non-musicians can learn to play it, and become quite good at it. Some of the amateur players who have woodworking skills, have gone on to become excellent flute-makers, too. And audiences seem to just love the sound.

mwe3: In addition to your solo career and releasing Under The Stars, what other groups or orchestras do you currently record or perform with and what have some of your recent live shows been like? I saw the youtube video for the Shakulute. Is that an ongoing ensemble of yours? Is the Shakulute a Japanese instrument?

Joanne Lazzaro: Right now I play with the Beach Cities Symphony Orchestra (principal flute), the Los Angeles Flute Orchestra, which is a professional ensemble made up entirely of flutes, from Sub-Contrabass flute to piccolo, playing new music written especially for flutes, another ensemble called Pipe Dreams, the Arroyo Trio, and am starting a new collaboration with a percussionist and a dancer, but I still need to come up with an original name for that group!. I also play with a lot of pickup orchestras and groups.

The example of me playing shakulute is one of those groups. It’s a core group of players who do the shows at the Multi-Cultural Music & Arts Foundation of Northridge, which focuses on the music and culture of indigenous peoples. The shakulute I’m playing was developed by a shakuhachi maker here in California – Monty Levinson. He came up with a way to attach a bamboo shaukuhachi-style mouthpiece to a traditional concert flute, using a silver tenon. It makes a silver flute sound just like a shakuhachi, with the advantage of a fully-chromatic three-octave range. It took a little while to learn, but it’s a lot easier to play than traditional shakuhachi, especially for someone like me with very small hands.

mwe3: What kind of album would you like to record next? Under The Stars II or something completely different? What other plans do you have for 2016 as far as new music writing, recording, teaching flute and live shows?

Joanne Lazzaro: I was actually working, slowly, on a neo-classical album when I had the opportunity to record Under The Stars, so I’ll be getting back to finishing that one. It’s a collection of previously unpublished chamber music for flute, including a wonderful piece by the New York-based composer Katherine Hoover, called Canyon Shadows for classical flute, Native American flute and percussion. After that, I’d like to do another album of my own music, mostly featuring bamboo flutes, and based on themes from poetry. I’m still hosting the Los Angeles World Flute Circle, assisting other NAF players find concert opportunities in the Los Angeles area, and hoping to expand my teaching schedule. There are a few more orchestra concerts lined up for the spring, too. I’m presenting a workshop on Improvisation for Beginners at the World Flute Society conference in July in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Then in August I’ll be attending the National Flute Associate Convention in San Diego, giving a workshop on how to facilitate a Flute Circle, performing with the Los Angeles Flute Orchestra, and probably playing both classical flute and NAF in a showcase or two. It will be a very busy summer!



 

 
   
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