Fun and fusion

Jazz giant Jeff Lorber at the Schuster Center

 By Benjamin Smith

Photo: The Jeff Lorber Fusion will perform at the Schuster Perfoming Arts Center on Dec. 28; photo: Greg Allen

Considered “one of the founding fathers of fusion” by Keyboard Magazine, Jeff Lorber – the Grammy-nominated composer, producer, and keyboardist – has made his mark in contemporary jazz history. Listening to his music, though, one gets the sense Lorber is less interested in fame than in fun. The most recent album by the Josh Lorber Fusion, Hacienda (2013, Heads Up International), practically glows with a positive, carefree attitude. Consider it a sonic smile.

On Saturday, Dec. 28, Daytonians will be able to see and hear Lorber’s joie de vivre live and in person as he performs with saxophonist Everette Harp and guitarist Chuck Loeb at the Schuster Center’s End of Year Jazz Explosion. Lorber chatted with the Dayton City Paper about his recent record, playing on New Order remixes, working with Kenny G and the future of his music.

First of all, it’s notable that – unlike some jazz artists – you have not run away from the term “fusion.”

Even though jazz in general has always been a fusion of musical influences, the generally applied meaning of “fusion jazz” has to do with a contemporary jazz style that started to be played in the early 1970s. It combined straight-ahead jazz harmonies and improvisational phrasing with rock, funk and avant-garde elements. Miles Davis, the Tony Williams Lifetime, Return to Forever and Weather Report were some of its outstanding innovators. The type of fusion jazz I’m associated with is more of a “second wave” that included more R&B influences and more melody-based compositions. –Jeff Lorber

How has your current tour been going? 

Great, thanks for asking. We just played a number of dates in the Midwest, and just missed a tornado in Peoria, Ill. The audiences have been enthusiastic. –JL

You also recently played a Christmas jazz festival in Bari, Italy. What is the state of jazz in Europe?

Europe has a large jazz scene that’s very supportive. Most large cities have a jazz club. However, straight-ahead jazz is more common than the more modern types [of jazz]. –JL

Let’s talk about Hacienda, the new album by your group, The Jeff Lorber Fusion. The name was inspired by the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester, England – a venue synonymous with “house music” and groups such as New Order. How exactly did this now-demolished nightclub inspire the record?

From 1989 to about 1994, I did a lot of remixes with a little team out of Larrabee Sound Studios in Hollywood that included engineer Keith Cohen, executive producer Louil Silas and DJ Steve Beltran. Steve would keep us up to date about the latest trends, so I was immersed in house music at that time. We were very successful and had a chance to work on a lot of records from the leading bands of the day, including New Edition and U2. I was also fortunate to be included as a studio musician on some New Order remixes. –JL

The title track’s melody has been stuck in my head for the past 24 hours. Do you remember when and where you came up with the melody or what inspired it?

I often come home from the gym in the morning with some kind of idea about writing a song. I remember thinking about doing something along the lines of the song “Live Wire,” which was a “house”-inspired song from the Jeff Lorber Fusion’s Galaxy record (2012). Luckily, the entire writing process, which is very much like jazz improvisation, went very quickly and easily. Some of the elements that were added in the production really helped bring Hacienda to a new level, such as Dave Mann’s horn arrangement, Michael Thompson’s creative guitar overdubs and Vinnie Colaiuta’s drumming. One thing that makes Hacienda different is that while “Live Wire” had a lot of drum loops, Hacienda is “all organic” – no drum loops. –JL

The Jeff Lorber Fusion once featured a certain saxophonist known as Kenny G. What was it like working with him? Do you two ever run into each other?

I enjoyed working with Kenny a lot. We were good friends and we had a blast touring at a time when this kind of music was very popular; it was sort of a rocket ride. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to see him very often these days. –JL

So let’s return to the present. What should the audience expect from your set at the End of Year Jazz Explosion?

The group with Everette and Chuck is really a powerful combination. I’m really looking forward to the show and I think the audience will enjoy hearing music from the three of us. Come on down! –JL

Because 2014 is almost here, I have to ask: How do you see jazz developing or changing over the next few years? What does the future hold for you own music?   

It’s hard to say. I hope jazz becomes more popular and I hope some new transformational music arrives on the scene. I’ll certainly be doing all I can to continue to make exciting music. –JL


The Jeff Lorber Fusion will perform at the End of Year Jazz Explosion on Saturday, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. Ticket prices: $39 to $76. Meet & Greet tickets ($76) include a ticket to the show and access to the meet and greet. For tickets, please call 937.228.3630 or visit For more information about Jeff Lorber, please visit


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Benjamin Smith

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