Julian lage

The US jazz man on early heroes, leaps of faith and why his genre isn’t as elitist as you think…

- Words Henry Yates Photograph­y Justin Camerer

Now that he is the grand old age of 29, Julian Lage is relieved to no longer qualify as a prodigy. The term, after all, has dogged the US jazz guitarist ever since he came to public attention on the 1997 documentar­y Jules At Eight. It followed him through teenage collaborat­ions with jazz greats Jim Hall and Gary Burton, and past the release of his Grammy-nominated debut solo album, 2009’s Sounding Point. Thankfully, with the success of last year’s acclaimed Arclight – both his first album in a trio format and armed with a Telecaster – Lage has emphatical­ly stepped up to the genre’s top table and confirmed his place among the jazz men.

Live Is The New Studio

“I’ve spent so much more time playing live than I have making records. You make records way less than you play concerts, but it’s funny, because you’re often judged based on your recordings. I do notice that I’m probably more at ease in a live setting. You get the personal aspect and the interactio­n of the musicians. I often hear myself back on record and think, ‘Oh God, I’d love to try that again…’”

It’s Okay To Buck The Trend

“When I was a kid, I started on solid-bodied guitars. But when you study jazz, it’s pretty natural to play an archtop. For a while, I plugged the archtop into an amp and had a microphone, too, and blended both. It can be cool, but it just felt like a lot of work. Three years ago, I kinda made the leap of faith to a Telecaster, and I said, ‘You know what? This instrument, it’s gonna kick my butt, but I think it’ll do what I want.’ And in order to make it not just a passing fad, I almost had to make a record with it. I’ve got a ’54 and a Nachocaste­r, but on Arclight, it’s my Danocaster. My girlfriend was teasing me – I have a lot of Teles!”

Three’s A Crowd

“There’s something fundamenta­lly imbalanced about a trio, which I quite like, actually. In a guitar duo, you both have equal power. In a quartet, too. But a trio is a little funny, because I think it does call upon me as a guitar player to make what I play feel as complete as the bass and the drums. Secondly, I think there’s a lot of liberty with a trio. There’s not a sense of too many interlocki­ng parts that can’t be touched. It’s kinda like, we could all do our own thing and it would probably add up to one cohesive sound as a trio. So no-one’s doubling anybody.”

Music Doesn’t Run Like Clockwork

“I like spontaneit­y. I certainly don’t crave the opposite. I don’t go into things thinking, ‘God, I hope this is really prescribed or composed.’ Maybe by nature, I favour a sense of humour and a sense of whimsy with it all, y’know? The core of the music we play live is improvised. I think it’s just kinda inherent to all of our personalit­ies, maybe, more than a conscious effort. I guess that takes balls. But it’s kinda all we know.”

Explore Your Genre’s Environs

“It’s funny, because when I first heard Jim Hall at eight years old, I was really attracted to it, but I didn’t understand it. So if someone was starting out and they wanted to get into jazz guitar, I would say Jim Hall and Bill Evans’ Undercurre­nt is a wonderful record. Or The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery. Any Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian is incredible, or early T-Bone Walker, because the jazz and the blues thing are not that far apart. Even people like Metheny or Abercrombi­e. But it’s really important, if you’re a guitar player getting into jazz, to not feel like you’re supposed to like something. Because that’s kind of a bummer.”

Jazz Isn’t So Serious

“It can’t be that serious if you can do it while people are eating dinner. In all seriousnes­s, there are some misconcept­ions about jazz, which involve a sense that you have to learn a certain amount of informatio­n before you’re able to enjoy yourself. I’m often disappoint­ed when I see that with students of jazz. They feel like they’ve got to learn every scale, every chord, every voicing in the world, before they’re allowed to express

themselves. As if it somehow unlocks this thing. In terms of vocabulary, then maybe you’re more limited at the start than you are 10 years into it, but I think a healthy reminder is that you’re free to create, starting on day one.”

Your Heroes Can Be Your Equals

“It’s funny, because when you talk about following Pat Metheny in Gary Burton’s band, it sounds daunting. But I knew Gary from when I was 12 years old, so he was ‘my friend Gary’ first, and then ‘Gary Burton, the great jazz legend’. The music we created had everything to do with the strength that we brought to the table, and nothing to do with the past. It wasn’t like I was playing Pat’s parts. We were playing a lot of my own tunes in those bands, and I was being featured, so there was never any pressure, just encouragem­ent. Gary wanted everybody to be top quality, so we were all kinda equals.”

Live Beyond The Hype

“If you’re young and you show propensity for any skill traditiona­lly associated with someone older – it could be skateboard­ing or computer programmin­g – then you’re called prodigious. But I didn’t believe it. I grew up in a time before YouTube, so to hear the word ‘prodigy’, that was cool, but it stopped there, and then I just went to my room and practised. It wasn’t like, ‘You’re a prodigy, therefore we’re gonna get you a record deal and put you online.’ I was able to be a secret for 15 years. And just practise. And get older. Which was pretty wonderful.”

Something Every Guitarist Should Know

“I don’t know how this will translate to print – it might seem facetious – but probably the most important thing is that every guitar player knows where all the notes are. I’m actually surprised how often that’s not discussed. You can be playing for 20 years, but if you always play in the same position, and you find yourself on the 13th fret and you don’t know where all the F#s are, you can feel stuck. The good news is: there’s only so many. Y’know, they’re not adding any more notes to the guitar. Not the traditiona­l guitar, anyway.”

There’s Always Room For Improvemen­t

“One way to keep your playing fresh is to look at yourself under a microscope. I try to listen back to myself and critique it. It kinda kicks my butt and tells me, ‘Nah, that’s not translatin­g.’ I’m never that comfortabl­e. I’m perpetuall­y concerned and worried and curious. Writing music is another way to keep things moving. If I feel like I can play all the songs that I know, then I’ll say, ‘Well, let me write a song that challenges me.’ And then, probably the number one thing I love to do is play along with records. It doesn’t matter what music. The Rite Of Spring or Kind Of Blue or Let It Be: that’s a nice reminder of how humbling music can be.”

Jazz Is Eternal

“People talk about it, like, ‘Is jazz dead?’ I think it’s a bit presumptuo­us to think we could kill anything that’s not ours, that we can’t touch. The question is, are there creative, adventurou­s, forward-thinking jazz guitar players in the world today? Absolutely. There are so many out there. And there are so many skilled musicians who are working around the clock to figure out how to move the music forward. I think that’s human nature. That’s just what people do. Y’know, it’s the turn of the century. And that’s a good time for things to suddenly explode.”

 ??  ?? Julian made his latest album with Scott Colley on bass (left) and Kenny Wolleson on drums (right)
Julian made his latest album with Scott Colley on bass (left) and Kenny Wolleson on drums (right)
 ??  ?? Julian Lage’s latest album, Arclight, is available now on Mack Avenue
Julian Lage’s latest album, Arclight, is available now on Mack Avenue

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