(Lew Tabackin Music)


American 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. Tabackin’s 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 Lew’s 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. He’s 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. It’s 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. You’re 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." At 76, Lew Tabackin is no youngster although we’re 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


mwe3.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 gone.

Lew Tabackin: The major label or even semi-major label things are gone. There are a few people able to do it but it’s just not the way it is these days. That’s 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. That’s about it. You don’t expect to get any royalties actually but you get paid in front and you don’t have to do the legwork or anything. You just do some interviews, whatever… but to do everything yourself it’s kind of really a drag. I don’t 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, he’s still playing’ and ‘this is what he’s 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 nice.

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. She’s in another genre and she’s very good at it and she’s playing tonight at Birdland in fact. She’s doing a set. Anyway, that’s a different world.

mwe3: How about Toshiko’s music? You’ve 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, it’s got just about everything. I couldn’t believe how much stuff was on there. Recordings and recordings with other people. Somebody’s putting in there. (lol) I don’t know how it gets in there, but it does. I was kind of shocked at how much stuff there was.

mwe3: 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 a minute… (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 don’t rate my stuff. Basically, it’s an extension of what I’ve been doing since 1967. So, this project was instigated by a photographer Jimmy Katz, who is an excellent jazz photographer. He’s 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. It’s 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. You’re 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 doesn’t 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). It’s 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 don’t know if you’re familiar with it. It’s 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). There’s 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.

mwe3: I didn’t know anything about the Noh stage.

Lew Tabackin: Noh, it’s a Japanese performance art that’s 600 years old. It’s very slow and narrow performance art. It’s very difficult for Westerners because it's very slow and meticulous. But it’s amazingly powerful if you have the patience. I tried to capture some of the essence of it... of that feeling. It’s a lot of space. Most Westerners don’t know about Noh but they know about Kabuki, but Noh is much more cerebral and spiritual. It’s theater and each Noh stage is built to certain dimensions. It’s 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. It’s 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 didn’t like it or they liked it... and they very supportive. They said it’s very important to add a little life into this old art form. I’m 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. It’s very special stuff.

mwe3: Would you say the Japanese influence is prevalent in your music?

Lew Tabackin: It’s prevalent on some of the material I play. People are always saying, ‘he’s 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 don’t 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.

mwe3: You’ve 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? It’s 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 he’s one of the world’s foremost authorities on Japanese railroads. Mark’s 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. I’m 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 it’s 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 don’t you play at least one standard tune?’ Because that’s 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, ‘There’s 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, that’s okay. It’s my version of “Body And Soul”. I don’t have to even change the harmony. Just allow the (your) essential character to come out through the song. It’s very important because it’s becoming a lost art. I try to talk about it but I think it goes in one ear and out the other. I don’t like the term cover. Cover this, cover that. I think that’s kind of insulting. It’s not an adequate terminology. Most jazz musicians didn’t write much of their material in my generation. Most of the time they were playing other peoples’ music and occasionally they’d write something. But now it’s like everybody has to write the whole album. I’m sure it could be good but on the other hand there’s room for being an extension of the tradition.

mwe3: 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 don’t. And then when I play the solo, I quoted Charlie Parker. I don’t 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 don’t get the jokes. (lol) So that was a ‘derangement’ of “Sunset And The Mockingbird” and I’m sure a lot of purists will be offended but that’s 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 didn’t 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 Strayhorn’s tune are much much more complex. He was an amazing young man. I don’t know how to describe it. More complex and more intricate. A lot of Duke’s music wasn’t 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 weren’t young enough to be smitten by the Beatles and the British Invasion of the early 1960s.

Lew Tabackin: I was young enough but I wasn’t smitten by the British Invasion. I didn’t have much interest in it. Most of my peers didn’t 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 wasn’t 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. It’s 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 don’t 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 weren’t interested in that at all.

mwe3: You also worked with the JCOA, the jazz composers orchestra in 1968.

Lew Tabackin: That was a recording date, a recording session. It wasn’t 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 era.

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 that’s really exciting and I’d like to record that.’ Abercrombie was an ECM artist and he got permission to do it if it wasn’t 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.

mwe3: I know you also recorded on the Blue Note label. I’m surprised they didn’t release Soundscapes.

Lew Tabackin: They don’t 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 wouldn’t have to deal with these things. Fortunately, the records that I did for companies, I had mostly control over material and I didn’t have to compromise too much. But it would be nice to do a record with somebody who just says, ‘okay let’s do this recording’ and they take care of everything. That would be nice but nowadays a lot of young people don’t 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 it’s the only hope that vinyl will come back. People are getting into the old sound of vinyl. In fact, they don’t 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 demand.

Lew Tabackin: Don’t 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 wasn’t on the market yet. We didn’t 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 don’t 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. I’ve done quadraphonic recordings, direct to disc recordings. All kinds of stuff that didn’t last very long that were basically Japanese experiments.

mwe3: Why didn’t some Japanese company release Soundscapes on CD or vinyl?

Lew Tabackin: They’re not putting out anything. It’s mythology that Japan is a straight jazz oasis. It’s not. It’s 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 couldn’t 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. It’s not that easy. A lot of people say Japanese love jazz. Some of them do and some of them don’t. New York is probably the most happening place for jazz music and there’s no place in Japan like New York.

mwe3: You’ve 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 weren’t 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 “today’s” kind of sound, which was noisy and not that interesting. It however subsidized my jazz career, let’s put it that way.

mwe3: So now you’ve made Soundscapes… Everyone’s getting older now.

Lew Tabackin: It beats the alternative actually… (lol)

mwe3: Any ideas for 2017? I guess we’re all still in shock with Trump winning.

Lew Tabackin: I’m 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, I’m just trying to work on what I do, try to play better, work on my sound, work on fundamentals and hopefully I’ll get an inspiration. I have to start thinking about my next little project. It’ll happen.

mwe3: Would you consider a box set? Most people don’t know your extensive history.

Lew Tabackin: It’s 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 all-flute album.

mwe3: I was a huge Jean-Pierre Rampal fan. You must have been influenced by him too.

Lew Tabackin: He’s 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 I’ve 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 it’s really difficult to maintain and improve. Saxophone and flute is a tough combination. Saxophone destroys the flute but the flute helps the saxophone so it’s a kind of interesting dynamic.

mwe3: And that cover art on Soundscapes is very cool. That’s 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 I’d be in the water.

mwe3: You were born in 1940 and I was born in 1954. That’s like a hundred and fifty years between us! What’s your overall impression of life? Is it like a dream and as you get older what are your thoughts on life’s 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.


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