jeff lorber*Jazz may be his forte, but Jeff Lorber knows how universal a language music really is.

So much so that the entertainer has gone back to his jazz fusion roots with his latest release “Galaxy.” The album, released in January, expands up on the foundation Lorber laid with his Grammy-nominated last offering, “Now Is The Time.”

“It’s a little more up tempo and a little more musically ambitious kind of music,” the jazz keyboardist shared with EUR’s Lee Bailey while revealing details of his upcoming performance at Baldwin Park. “We’re going to be doing  quite a bit of music from the new CD and some other favorites that I know work really well for  a live audience.”

Lorber is one of many artists slated to take the stage Sunday (5/27) for a free community concert at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The event is part of Playboy’s free community concert series held in conjunction with the publication’s annual Jazz Festival, which takes place June 16 and 17 at the Hollywood Bowl. Although he isn’t slated to perform at the Festival, Lorber is just as grateful to be associated with Playboy’s community event series.

“It’s sort of the premier jazz festival in the country, just about, I think,” he said. “It’always a pleasure to be involved. They’re a first-class operation and playing at the Hollywood Bowl is amazing. It’s always just such a great collection of musicians there. And it’s right here in town where I live so that’s the best part.”

With more than 30 years in the music industry, Lorber has opened his ear to many genres, including hip-hop. Although he labels the late Notorious B.I.G. “one of the greatest rappers of all time,” Lorber confessed to being “completely shocked” that an old song of his was used in one of the lyricist’s protégé’s biggest hits.

“I put out a record actually in the early ‘80s an album called “Water Sign.” It had a song on it called “Rain Dance,” which…became a huge hip-hop sort of hit. It was sampled by Notorious B.I.G. and Lil Kim and became her first big hit. It was called “Crush on You.” It was a big MTV video and everything. I’m sure you heard it,” recalled the composer/producer. “The way that I found out about it was I live here in Pacific Palisades and I was driving around the neighborhood here and I was kind switching around different stations and I thought I’d put on… ‘let’s see what they’re playing on Power 106 right now.’ [laughs]

“And here it is. There is my song. No one had actually told me about it. I didn’t get any kind of phone call or any warning or anything. I just about ran in to a stop sign when I heard that… I pulled over like ‘Whoa. What is this?’ Obviously I made a few phone calls and found out what the story was,” Lorber continued while confirming that a green light was given to sample “Rain Dance.” “They did actually clear it. So everything was cool. Nobody told me anything. I had to find out by pushing that button in my car radio. [laughs]”

Although “Crush on You” is the most well-known use of Lorber’s music, it isn’t the music maker’s first brush with hip-hop. According to Lorber, his rap cred came after discovering a sample of another song of his on the holiday rap release “Christmas on Death Row.”

“I don’t think that it sold any copies but I think that was sort of a seal of approval that Jeff Lorber is cool to sample for hip-hop records,” he stated. “Around the same time also, there was a song by Jay-Z. He used one of my songs too. A different song. He had a song called “Who You Wit” that was in a movie or something and he had sampled one of my tunes too. So I’m not sure how it all happens, but I’m just glad that it did.”

Hip-hop’s influence on Lorber wasn’t limited to the occasional sample as elements of the genre can be found on “Galaxy,” courtesy of the song “Big Brother.

“It had that same kind of beat, that same kind of syncopated groove that “Rain Dance” had. It was kind of based on that same concept,” he shared. That particular style, that’s just sort of in my musical DNA anyway. I really like those mid-tempo funk grooves and so I can’t exactly remember the origin of it, but obviously I was kind of doing something new based on that particular sort of rhythm.”

Playboy’s free community concert featuring Jeff Lorber will be from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. May 27 in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza outdoor promenade.

Lee Bailey: Your thoughts on playing the Playboy Jazz Festival?

Jeff Lorber: We’re not actually playing the festival. We’re playing a concert leading up to it that’s kind of taking place in Baldwin Park. I guess it’s part of the festival, but I have played the actual festival at the Hollywood Bowl many, many times. It’s sort of the premier jazz festival in the country, just about, I think. Certainly in Southern California.

It’always a pleasure to be involved. They’re a first-class operation and playing at the Hollywood Bowl is amazing. It’s always just such a great collection of musicians there. So it’s like old time week backstage to see all these great players that you haven’t seen for a while usually.  And it’s right here in town where I live so that’s the best part.

LB: So it’s where? Baldwin Hills, Park?

JL: It’s Baldwin Hills next Saturday at 3:00. Baldwin Hills Mall…I suspect it might be outside.

LB: What does playing outside do to the aesthetic?

JL: You know what? The main thing and the people and if the people are in to hearing some good music and we’re definitely in to playing some good music. So, you know, all that just becomes secondary. You just get out there and have a really great time. From my experience of playing in those neighborhoods, usually you got some real serious music fans. So I’m looking forward to it.

LB: You’re going to be playing to a primarily black, Hispanic audience. What does that do that for you as a non-black musician playing jazz? We know you’re the real deal, but do you still feel any pressure playing in the hood?

JL: I’m very grateful that I’ve had a career that’s lasted 30 years and I would say my audience is probably at least 50% African-American audience, just in general. If not more so, depending on the city that I’m in.

I’m just very grateful that I get to do what I love. It’s basically black musicians that originated this music here in America, that originated jazz and originated R&B music and that’s two my roots are really in to more than anything. So I appreciate it very much. I’m a big fan of the music and I’m a student of the music and I’m happy to come with it as best I can when I get out there and play as funky and soulfully as I can.

LB: Do you still feel any extra pressure playing in the hood?

JL: I always try to do my best at all times and when you’re improvising jazz it’s tricky because it’s sort of what comes to you at the spur of the moment. It’s not always great. You hope it’s gonna be great but part of improvisation is you’re making up a lot of what you’re playing on the spot. So you have that possibility for failure because it’s improvised. It’s of the moment.

But by the same token what I do for a living is play music. So I love to play music. I love to have the opportunity to perform, especially to play my music. I generally feel very comfortable when I’m doing that, regardless of what the audience is. Sometimes, the things I have to fight against is more like things like acoustics or something like that. Or if I’m sick that day which hopefully. This rarely happens. Those are more the kinds of things that I’m worried about. But when I get to just get up there and play my music, I feel very comfortable and very happy and I’m really glad that I get a chance to do it.

LB: is there any particular direction in this performance?

JL: We had a record come out a few months ago. It’s an album called Galazy, which is sort of a return to the music I started doing, which was fusion jazz. It’s a little more up tempo and a little more musically ambitious kind of music. So we’re going to be doing  quite a bit of music from the new CD and some other favorites that I know work really well for  a live audience.

LB: So you’ll have vocalists?

JL: No vocalists. It’s all instrumentals…that’s pretty much what I do at this point, just instrumentals…I do it, very very occasionally we do things with vocals and we bring vocalists along, but in this case it’s basically the instrumental jazz we’re doing.

LB: Talk some more about the album. You touched on it going back to your fusion roots. There are some tracks, particularly “Big Brother.” It has sort of a hip-hop element to it?

JL: I put out a record actually in the early ‘80s an album called “Water Sign. It had a song on it called “Rain Dance,” which…I guess maybe it was about 10 years ago now, became a huge hip-hop sort of hit. It was sampled by Notorious B.I.G. and Lil Kim and became her first big hit. It was called “Crush on You.” It was a big MTV video and everything. I’m sure you heard it

LB: I’m sure you appreciated it?

JL: absolutely. The cool thing about it was that just new generation of music fans got to hear my music from back in the early ‘80s which was great. You know how it goes. Usually you make a record and it kinda comes out and it sells for a while and then people sort of forget about it.  It gets shoved to the back of the bins.

So here was a record that I did that all of a sudden basically anybody listening to pop music around the planet was hearing my song. And then obviously making a few dollars from publishing…

LB: So were you surprised that Notorious B.I.G. used your song?

JL: I was completely shocked. In fact, the way that I found out about it was I live here in Pacific Palisades and I was driving around the neighborhood here and I was kind  switching around different stations and I thought I’d put on… ‘let’s see what they’re playing on Power 106 right now.’ [laughs]

And here it is. There is my song. No one had actually told me about it. I didn’t get any kind of phone call or any warning or anything. So I just about ran in to a stop sign when I heard that.

LB: Did they get clearances?

JL: Yeah, they did but I made a publishing deal quite a few years ago with a company called EMI. Usually they send me… at least they kind of let me know what they’re doing. They did actually clear it. So everything was cool. Nobody told me anything. I had to find out by pushing that button in my car radio. [laughs]

LB: Were you by yourself?

JL: I was actually, yeah. I pulled over like ‘whoa. What is this?’ Obviously I made a few phone calls and found out what the story was.

LB: So you became a Notorious B.I.G. and Lil Kim fan?

JL: Well, Lil Kim, that was her first record. So I think that was about the first time anybody ever heard her. I do listen to some hip-hop music and without a doubt I think Notorious B.I.G. was one of the greatest rappers of all time, probably up there in there in the top three or five or something like that. I had been following his music because he had some really nice jams out there.

LB: You never followed up on what happened? Had he heard of you ?

JL: I don’t know for sure, but there was a real little record that came out that I don’t think anybody every heard of. But it was called “A Death Row Christmas” like the Christmas before that happened or something. I don’t think that it sold any copies but I think that was sort of a seal of approval that Jeff Lorber is cool to sample for hip-hop records.

And actually around the same time also, there was a song by Jay-Z. He used one of my songs too. A different song. He had a song called “Who You With” that was in a movie or something and he had sampled one of my tunes too. So I’m not sure how it all happens, but I’m just glad that it did.

LB: So did you write “Big Brother” with that in mind?

JL: Yeah. That was basically…it had that same kind of beat, that same kind of syncopated groove that “Rain Dance” had. It was kind of based on that same concept. That particular style, that’s just sort of in my musical DNA anyway. I really like those mid-tempo funk grooves and so I can’t exactly remember the origin of it, but obviously I was kind of doing something new based on that particular sort of rhythm. And it was No. 1 on the contemporary jazz radio charts for a couple of weeks. Up until this week, I think and so that was nice to see that happen.

LB: You did a salute to Horace Silver?

JL: Yeah. When I was a young music student I went to Berkley College for music right after high school. I was a big fan of Herbie Hancock and a big fan of Chick Corea but what those guys were doing was actually too complex for me to figure out what they were doing.

But when I listened to Horace Silver, he was the first guy that I listened to that I could really sort of figure out exactly what he was doing because his melodies and his songwriting were so beautifully sort of simplified in the way that he would use blues and bee-bop. They were just real such clear musical statements. I could just listen to it and I could figure it out. So in a way, he was my first music teacher, my first jazz piano teacher.

And so I came up with this idea on this new record of doing a song that kind used a couple of his little chromatic, bluesy licks and we did the song called Horace 5th that’s dedicated to him.

LB: Is he still with us?

JL: He is. I’ve heard he’s quite elderly and he’s frail and he’s having a little bit of a tough time but he’s still alive.

LB: Did you meet him?

JL: Yeah. I’ve met him on several occasions. I don’t know where he lives now, but I live in Pacific Palisades and I used to see him at the grocery store…I don’t know if he still does [live in Southern California) because I haven’t seen him in a few years but I used to run in to him at the grocery store and actually, I have two daughters and one of my daughters is named after one of his songs. There’s a famous song called “Nikka’s Dream” and one of my two daughters’name is Nikka.

LB: Anything else you want to add?

JL: I have a website which is Lorber.com and we’re constantly updating that for the latest appearances. So I would just let people know to take a look at that

LB: Thoughts on the deaths of Chuck Brown and Donna Summer?

JL: I was lucky. about two years ago, I was on a cruise that they do every year. It’s called the Capital Jazz Festival Cruise. Chuck Brown was on that cruise and I got to hear him live and it was so great. And they had so many acts on the bills on that cruise. It was really an embarrassment of riches of acts. But I think his show might have blown everybody else away. It was just so energetic and so funky.

And one thing about if anybody that’s seen a Chuck Brown show, he just starts the groove going and he does not stop. There’s no stopping the groove. When it goes from one song to another, it just keeps going. That go-go beat, it’s completely irresistible. I was a big fan of his…I bought a few of those records back in the days…he’s just so funky.

Donna Summer, she was a wonderful singer. I really like the album…There was one album that Quincy Jones that produced for her. I don’t think it was of her most successful, but it had a couple of really, really great songs on it. She was a  wonderful talent and she’ll certainly be missed also.