jazz legend Lew Tabackin has performed and recorded with a
number of musical icons as well as working with and being married
to Japanese jazz legend Toshiko Akiyoshi. Tabackins sax and
flute work remains in peak form on his 2015 CD Soundscapes with
The Lew Tabackin Trio. Featuring Lew backed up in the studio
by Boris Kozlov (double bass) and Mark Taylor (drums),
the sound of the eight cut Soundscapes is very much in free-form
jazz with the accent on Lews highly improvised sax and flute
work. Speaking about Soundscapes, Lew tells mwe3.com, "So,
this project was instigated by a photographer Jimmy Katz, who is an
excellent jazz photographer. Hes been bugging me for years to
record. He wanted to do it with some kind of a recording kind of system
he wanted to use, which requires a band, a trio to be very close together
and play pretty much like the way we normally do. So he found the
spot that he recorded us in, Maxwells. Its a drum shop. Years
and years ago it was actually a recording studio. A small room with
a lot of drums, so when you play a note, you can kind of hear a little
of the drum reverberation, which is okay. Anyway, we did it there
in a very intimate manner. Tenor saxophone was not problematic and
the flute a little difficult because the room was quite dead. Youre
not supposed to play flute in a dead room, especially with no head
set or anything because you need a little room sound. Flute requires
some ambient sound. So anyway, I had to figure out how to deal with
it, performance wise."
76, Lew Tabackin is no youngster although were all getting older,
no doubt about it. That said, Soundscapes has plenty of jazz
fire running throughout its grooves, enough to prove that Lew Tabackin
has lots of worthy musical ideas left inside of him. www.LewTabackin.com
presents an interview with
I was reading some of the reviews of your Soundscapes album
and they were saying that you basically did the album on your own
without the help of a bigger label. I guess those days are kind of
Lew Tabackin: The major label or even semi-major label things
are gone. There are a few people able to do it but its just
not the way it is these days. Thats why I was reluctant to do
anything for a while because
it used to be the record company
will call you and talk about a date, personnel, concept and bread
and then you do it and they take care of everything. Thats about
it. You dont expect to get any royalties actually but you get
paid in front and you dont have to do the legwork or anything.
You just do some interviews, whatever
but to do everything yourself
its kind of really a drag. I dont really have the energy
to do it. (lol)
mwe3: What was your album before the Soundscapes album?
Lew Tabackin: Before that was a performance in Paris I did
for radio at a club in Paris. It came out really good so I decided
to release the whole second set unedited basically. The reality is,
you sell a lot of CDs at performances, so the economics are not that
bad in a sense. The reason to do a CD, for me, is more of a promotional
reality, so people say, oh, hes still playing and
this is what hes into now. People start talking
about you. On the last album, I got so much press, I got tons of reviews
and some of them were quite insightful. So anyway, it was kind of
mwe3: Are you producing your stepdaughter Monday Michiru?
Lew Tabackin: I never produced any of her stuff. I helped out
on one date where she did a duet date with Toshiko and I was trying
to be a go-between one generation and another generation. I was trying
to help out a bit. Shes in another genre and shes very
good at it and shes playing tonight at Birdland in fact. Shes
doing a set. Anyway, thats a different world.
mwe3: How about Toshikos music? Youve both been
incredibly prolific over the years. I saw you made an album with her
in Shanghai, China.
Lew Tabackin: Oh yeah, we were in China twice with the big
band. Japanese television was involved in it. Part of it was video
and some things got released as a DVD. If you go on Wikipedia, its
got just about everything. I couldnt believe how much stuff
was on there. Recordings and recordings with other people. Somebodys
putting in there. (lol) I dont know how it gets in there, but
it does. I was kind of shocked at how much stuff there was.
Speaking of wikipedia again, I did not know you played on the very
first Manhattan Transfer album from 1969.
Lew Tabackin: I did! I forgot about that. I saw this Wikipedia
thing with Manhattan Transfer. So I said Manhattan Transfer? Wait
(lol) And then I remembered. It was way back. This
was like their first recording I think. They had two bands. I was
in a band and Ron Carter was in it and a few horn players. And then
they brought in some really old guys to do some other stuff. (lol)
I had forgotten all about it.
mwe3: So about Soundscapes
. How do you compare
it with some of your other works? How would you rate it?
Lew Tabackin: I dont rate my stuff. Basically, its
an extension of what Ive been doing since 1967. So, this project
was instigated by a photographer Jimmy Katz, who is an excellent jazz
photographer. Hes been bugging me for years to record. He wanted
to do it with some kind of a recording kind of system he wanted to
use, which requires a band, a trio to be very close together and play
pretty much like the way we normally do. So he found the spot that
he recorded us in, Maxwells. Its a drum shop. Years and years
ago it was actually a recording studio. A small room with a lot of
drums, so when you play a note, you can kind of hear a little of the
drum reverberation, which is okay. Anyway, we did it there in a very
intimate manner. Tenor saxophone was not problematic and the flute
a little difficult because the room was quite dead. Youre not
supposed to play flute in a dead room, especially with no head set
or anything because you need a little room sound. Flute requires some
ambient sound. So anyway, I had to figure out how to deal with it,
performance wise. Fortunately, the engineer, Dave Darling imported
room sound (lol) into the music, which was remarkable.
When I mentioned to people that it was a dead room, he said, Really?
It doesnt sound that way. Now, the technology allows you
to actually change the sound of the room, which is quite interesting.
My little trio, goes to Japan every year. This particular one has
been going for about eighteen years. The same guys. We play in certain
venues and sometimes I write something for the venues. One tune, Garden
At Life Time became rather significant because after I did it...
because the place we play is called Lifetime and the guy that owns
the place is an amateur bebop piano player and he owns a lot of property
in Shizuoka, where it is located. He actually owns the garden of the
last Shogun (Fugetsuru). Its quite beautiful. So I dedicated
the song to that place. Before the album came out, I sent him a file.
And he was so excited that he went out, and believe it or not, had
a Noh Stage built. I dont know if youre familiar
with it. Its a 600 year old Japanese performance art. He built
the stage over this pond in the garden and my trio performed and then
I improvised a duet with a Noh actor (Shite). Theres
a famous Noh play called Hagoromo and I performed the
dance with him. It was quite exciting and very special. So the Garden
piece, actually, had some resonance and created some energy for me
in another direction. So I was very proud of that. I thought my little
trio was very empathetic and the improvisational stuff was really
magical. In fact, the great classical flutist Patrick Gallois, who
has became a friend of mine, and inspiration, thought my playing on
this recording made a great contribution to the flute world. I think
some interesting things came out of the recording. Presenting another
slightly different aspect of my playing.
I didnt know anything about the Noh stage.
Lew Tabackin: Noh, its a Japanese performance art thats
600 years old. Its very slow and narrow performance art. Its
very difficult for Westerners because it's very slow and meticulous.
But its amazingly powerful if you have the patience. I tried
to capture some of the essence of it... of that feeling. Its
a lot of space. Most Westerners dont know about Noh but they
know about Kabuki, but Noh is much more cerebral and spiritual. Its
theater and each Noh stage is built to certain dimensions. Its
finally starting to make some inroads to this country and people are
getting to know about it. In fact, I had a meeting with some important
Noh people. Its a very traditional art. and I was just curious
about how they felt about some of the things that I did... if they
were offended (lol), if they resented it, they didnt like it
or they liked it... and they very supportive. They said its
very important to add a little life into this old art form. Im
hoping to do more of that stuff and work on some Noh plays. The plays
are based on certain elements. It could be ghost elements, spiritual
elements. Its very special stuff.
mwe3: Would you say the Japanese influence is prevalent in
Lew Tabackin: Its prevalent on some of the material I
play. People are always saying, hes playing Shakuhachi
music. (lol) I do that for certain music, when the story suggests
it. So, basically, that particular tune tried to capture more of the
Noh spirit but the other things are basically jazz music. (lol)
mwe3: How about the Soundscapes track Minoru,
that must be Japanese related.
Lew Tabackin: Minoru is related in the sense that
there was a great saxophone technician Minoru Ishimori and he had
his own shop. Anytime an American saxophone player got into trouble,
he was the guy that straightened everybody out. All the great players.
He saved my life so many times. If you have an accident, he would
fix it. He was so meticulous. He was like the last of a special class
of artisans that dont exist anymore. Anyway, he died a few years
ago and I wanted to write something for him and in fact, his sons
expanded the operations and bought another place and they have a performance
space and I play there every year with my trio so wrote that piece
for the family and we play it when we play at that venue.
Youve been playing with your trio members Boris Kozlov and Mark
Taylor for 18 years. How many recordings have you made with them?
You guys have a great chemistry. Do you play better or more freely
in a trio setting? Its much more pure sounding than if another
instrument was added.
Lew Tabackin: Boris, Mark and I do a Japanese tour every year,
usually around September. We do everything, talk about producing a
record. I have to book the venues the gigs, I have to take care of
the air travel, trains, economically anyway. Boris takes care of the
train situation because hes one of the worlds foremost
authorities on Japanese railroads. Marks job on occasion, he
has to do some packing. Drummers know how to pack things into cars.
We each have our little job to do and we go on tour and travel almost
every day because expenses are so high that you have to keep on working
to make it work out since the venues can only pay so much. But we
have a very great time and we play for a lot of the same people every
year and it becomes more a personal reality.
mwe3: Were the Soundscapes songs written and are the
cover songs long time favorites of yours? Can you tell us something
about the Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn covers Daydream
and Sunset And The Mockingbird that you chose for Soundscapes
and when did you first hear those songs? Are they considered lesser
known songs by Duke and Billy?
Lew Tabackin: I play a lot of standard music. Im a throwback
to the days when you got up and played tunes. I play certain tunes
for a long time and internalize them and they typically become different
every time. I rarely play a song literally and I try to utilize tunes
to give off a certain essence, a certain character to be able to tell
a story through the tune, so its not just playing a song just
to play it. I absorb the song, I make it my own song and I try to
tell some kind of a story through that song. Nowadays... everybody
writes their own music. It started out as an economic reality. I talk
to young people and say Why dont you play at least one
standard tune? Because thats the only way, people can
tell if you can actually play. The only common denominator we have,
as jazz players are tunes that have been played before. And the response
will be, Theres nothing I can add to it, and I say
, Of course you can add to it. Every individual is different.
If I play Body And Soul, which has been played ten billion
times, thats okay. Its my version of Body And Soul.
I dont have to even change the harmony. Just allow the (your)
essential character to come out through the song. Its very important
because its becoming a lost art. I try to talk about it but
I think it goes in one ear and out the other. I dont like the
term cover. Cover this, cover that. I think thats kind of insulting.
Its not an adequate terminology. Most jazz musicians didnt
write much of their material in my generation. Most of the time they
were playing other peoples music and occasionally theyd
write something. But now its like everybody has to write the
whole album. Im sure it could be good but on the other hand
theres room for being an extension of the tradition.
I was reading your liner notes to Soundscapes and you call
it a derangement which is guess is a funny way to make
the song your own.
Lew Tabackin: (lol) I do a lot of deranging. What I try to
play, especially on flute but also on sax is to do a narrative.
I paint a picture or almost a video of what I try to do with a song.
I did Sunset And The Mockingbird with a little bit of
tongue in cheek because I was trying to do a lot of Bird
stuff so in the beginning I quoted some Messian and I
quoted some other flute Bird stuff that I made up (lol) and my classical
flute friend figured it out right away. He got the joke but most people
dont. And then when I play the solo, I quoted Charlie Parker.
I dont know if anybody got that. So I quoted Charlie Parker
and I was trying to get a lot of Bird stuff in there for
the Mockingbird and that was a little tongue in cheek,
which sometimes goes over the head of the listener because they dont
get the jokes. (lol) So that was a derangement of Sunset
And The Mockingbird and Im sure a lot of purists will
be offended but thats the way I like to do things.
mwe3: Were you able to meet Duke Ellington?
Lew Tabackin: No, I never did. When somebody left the band,
Clark Terry was trying to get me in the band but it didnt work
out, obviously. But I never had the opportunity to really meet him.
It never worked out that way.
mwe3: On Soundscapes you also play the Billy Strayhorn
track Day Dream. Duke and Billy worked together a lot,
how would you compare them as
Lew Tabackin: Billy Strayhorns tune are much much more
complex. He was an amazing young man. I dont know how to describe
it. More complex and more intricate. A lot of Dukes music wasnt
that complicated. He would tell a story in a less
for want of
a better word, a less complicated way. But also, his orchestrations
and his whole character was great. And together, they were a perfect
team. They transcended each other.
mwe3: You were born in 1940 so you kind of also grew up in
the rock and roll era. I guess you werent young enough to be
smitten by the Beatles and the British Invasion of the early 1960s.
Lew Tabackin: I was young enough but I wasnt smitten
by the British Invasion. I didnt have much interest in it. Most
of my peers didnt have much. They thought it was kind of , dumb,
to be honest. The end result of it is that Paul McCartney was the
musician of the bunch and the rest of it wasnt that interesting.
But it was a conceptual thing. When you grow up like I did, you get
interested in playing and all my friends were interested in playing
and we were more myopic. Its so hard to play jazz. You have
to learn so much and you have to try so much and you have to play
and you fail, you succeed, you fail... lots of trial and error. You
dont have time for the pop culture in a sense. I think that
people that came a little later maybe had that luxury and a lot of
people consider that important music but in my circle, we werent
interested in that at all.
mwe3: You also worked with the JCOA, the jazz composers orchestra
Lew Tabackin: That was a recording date, a recording session.
It wasnt a working group. I think we recorded a triple album.
It was a great payday for me. I was a starving jazz musicians at that
point. (lol) I remember having to audition to even get the date, for
Mike Mantler, I had to go to his place. That was just a recording
that was quite unique to say the least.
mwe3: ECM was also just kind of getting started around that
Lew Tabackin: ECM was another interesting phenomenon. That
was kind of the beginning of the European approach to jazz music.
The company refused to record any standard material. Talking about
cover tunes. (lol) Everything had to be original and in fact. I got
to produce a few albums for a Japanese company. A friend of mine was
Peter Donald, who played in our big band. He went to school with John
Abercrombie and George Mraz and he played me some things. standard
tunes that they did, in a expansive manner and I said Boy thats
really exciting and Id like to record that. Abercrombie
was an ECM artist and he got permission to do it if it wasnt
his name, and played standard material. In those days, ECM was trying
to create their own direction. So I recorded them in Los Angeles during
the late 70s. I never was interested in the fusion music. I
thought it was a sell out. All of a sudden, Blood Sweat & Tears
made a lot of money, so all the jazz musicians said, Oh, I play
better than that, I should be making that kind of money, and
they all compromised their art and created a whole generation of not
very interesting music, from my point of view. So I avoided the fusion
world as best I could.
I know you also recorded on the Blue Note label. Im surprised
they didnt release Soundscapes.
Lew Tabackin: They dont do much jazz anymore or very
little jazz, say Joe Lovano, maybe one or two people. They stopped
doing real jazz a long time ago. I mean I would have been very happy
to have a record company do this so I wouldnt have to deal with
these things. Fortunately, the records that I did for companies, I
had mostly control over material and I didnt have to compromise
too much. But it would be nice to do a record with somebody who just
says, okay lets do this recording and they take
care of everything. That would be nice but nowadays a lot of young
people dont even have CD players. Everything is downloaded and
MP3 and they listen on their computer. I think the next wave will
be vinyl. I think its the only hope that vinyl will come back.
People are getting into the old sound of vinyl. In fact, they dont
have enough pressing plants to do it.
mwe3: You were ahead of your time by marrying Toshiko. The
Japanese were always ahead of the curve. I remember back in the late
1970s and early 80s when Japanese vinyl pressings were so in
Lew Tabackin: Dont know what you mean, ahead of my time
by marrying Toshiko. Japan did give us the walkman. Our band did a
concert in Tokyo and we all got a little present. It was sponsored
by Sony and it happened to be the first Walkman. It wasnt on
the market yet. We didnt know what it was. We started listening
to it and it was amazing.
mwe3: I remember 32 years ago, in 1985 or so, you could not
make a CD in this country.
Lew Tabackin: I dont know much about that. I was kind
of offended by the CD when it first came out. Everything sounded so
bright and sharp and lacking in warmth. So it took me a while just
to get used to that sound.
mwe3: Are all your albums out on CD or vinyl?
Lew Tabackin: I have a lot of vinyl actually. Ive done
quadraphonic recordings, direct to disc recordings. All kinds of stuff
that didnt last very long that were basically Japanese experiments.
mwe3: Why didnt some Japanese company release Soundscapes
on CD or vinyl?
Tabackin: Theyre not putting out anything. Its mythology
that Japan is a straight jazz oasis. Its not. Its mostly
commercial. Even the big clubs like the Blue Note rarely have real
jazz music. It used to be, 25 or 30 years ago, it was a great oasis
for people really into the real jazz music. Then big business took
it over and they ruined it and young people couldnt afford to
go to jazz clubs anymore so they moved in another direction. The jazz
scene there is not that good. The local guys are playing for the door.
Its not that easy. A lot of people say Japanese love jazz. Some
of them do and some of them dont. New York is probably the most
happening place for jazz music and theres no place in Japan
like New York.
mwe3: Youve been in New York for most of your life. I
was amazed you worked with Doc Severinson in both New York and L.A.
Lew Tabackin: The New York band was like the Philadelphia Orchestra
of television bands. There was a lot of integrity amongst the players.
I was fortunate to do some subs on that band. It was a staff situation
and they werent allowed to send in subs but I did. some work
with them. This was like late 1960s. And then they moved to California
and then Doc tried to make it into a more todays
kind of sound, which was noisy and not that interesting. It however
subsidized my jazz career, lets put it that way.
mwe3: So now youve made Soundscapes
getting older now.
Lew Tabackin: It beats the alternative actually
mwe3: Any ideas for 2017? I guess were all still in shock
with Trump winning.
Lew Tabackin: Im waiting for a bunch of protest albums
to come out like the old days like, kind of Charles Mingus. Maybe
jazz will become protest music again but it will probably happen more
in the hip-hop world. Right now, Im just trying to work on what
I do, try to play better, work on my sound, work on fundamentals and
hopefully Ill get an inspiration. I have to start thinking about
my next little project. Itll happen.
mwe3: Would you consider a box set? Most people dont
know your extensive history.
Lew Tabackin: Its easy to come up with ideas like a boxed
set, but some company like Mosaic would have to propose it. I think
I should do something different, maybe completely different. I have
to think about that. My last three albums were trio albums and I should
start thinking about something else. I was thinking about doing an
mwe3: I was a huge Jean-Pierre Rampal fan. You must have been
influenced by him too.
Lew Tabackin: Hes probably the reason I got a gold flute.
His sound was rich warm and dark. I monitored a master class he did
in California. But Ive been influenced by a lot of classical
flute players and became very good friends and colleagues with some
around these days. Flute is something I have to constantly work on
because its really difficult to maintain and improve. Saxophone
and flute is a tough combination. Saxophone destroys the flute but
the flute helps the saxophone so its a kind of interesting dynamic.
And that cover art on Soundscapes is very cool. Thats
in Central Park.
Lew Tabackin: Yeah, Central Park, and at nine in the evening.
I was trying to hold on to my instruments and not fall in the pond!
That was my main energy at the time. That was hard work, holding up
these horns and if I stepped back three inches Id be in the
mwe3: You were born in 1940 and I was born in 1954. Thats
like a hundred and fifty years between us! Whats your overall
impression of life? Is it like a dream and as you get older what are
your thoughts on lifes meaning?
Lew Tabackin: Not a exactly 150 years. I grew up in the age
of Existential philosophy, Jean Paul Sartre etc... The concept of
in becoming. You are not a musician, but becoming a musician,
or whatever. The human condition is you can't win but you can try.