Baltimore Jukebox: Lafayette Gilchrist
When we sat down with Lafayette Gilchrist for our "Baltimore Jukebox" feature in this year's Big Music Issue, the pianist ended up filling nearly three whole cassettes with his intelligent and wide-ranging ruminations on everyone from ragtime master Eubie Blake to young club producer Blaq Starr to smooth-jazz sensation Kim Waters. As garrulous in front of a microphone as he is economical at the keyboard, Gilchrist's interview was way too entertaining and thought-provoking to run edited down, and so, as an exclusive extra to this week's feature, here's the whole opinionated, occasionally contentious shebang. Gilchrist proves to be a stern, thoughtful critic of the local music community, as well as one of its most articulate boosters.
Eubie Blake--"Charleston Rag"
Lafayette Gilchrist: It's Eubie Blake.
City Paper: Do you know which song?
LG: (pause) This is "Charleston," right?
CP Yeah. Do you remember the first time you heard this?
LG: Yeah, I was little. I was little. I saw him on TV . . . he had these enormous hands. He was real old, and he was killing it.
CP Was he a big influence on you growing up?
Gilchrist: Oh yeah. He's an influence today. I've always been interested in playing what the old-timers used to call "two-fisted piano," and Eubie Blake is one of the early masters.
CP What is it about that all-over-the-keyboard style?
LG: What appealed to me is just the beat. Even when he's playing solo piano, you can tell he's playing dance music. I was having a conversation with a drummer, and we were talking about how every time James Brown came out with a new record, he'd come out with a new dance. Like the Charleston--that was a popular dance. You can tell this piece is tailored specifically to dancing.
CP Is having that beat important?
LG: Yeah, everything I write is dance music. You're supposed to move to it in some kind of way. Even if it's just nodding your head or patting your foot, the body is involved.
CP Does Blake's style still have currency in jazz today?
LG: As long as it swings in some kind of way. When you hear his beat, it's what [old jazz players] would refer to as the walking bass. (Imitates classic jazz bass line.) Which I suppose at that time--seeing as how the piano was the orchestra, you dig? The solo pianist was playing like a marching band, so the left hand is almost like a tuba part. And the rhythmic attack is like the banjo parts. And the melodic, the various arpeggiations with the right hand, are the brass. So when I play with the Volcanoes, I always set up the grooves like that, so that everyone knows what's happening.
Bossman--"I Did It"
LG: Oh yeah. Uh-huh. (nods head)
CP Do you know who the rapper is?
LG: Well, it sounds like Kanye West.
CP It's Bossman. He's a local cat.
LG: Sounds like Kanye.
CP Do you listen to a lot of hip-hop?
LG: I used to. I still listen to some--Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Nas. And I grew up on Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang, Afrika Bambaataa, Eric B. and Rakim.
CP Was there a reason you moved away from it?
LG: I'm just now starting to drift away from it, in a way. Just because--it's disappointing. The genre's not really growing up. It's in the pop music arena. And the pop music arena is all about the youth market, so they're always looking for the next crop. When I listen to guys like Lil Jon and Lil Wayne and Birdman and stuff--my standards for Southern rap really come from the Geto Boys.
CP Scarface is a tough yardstick to measure anyone against.
LG: It's hard for me when I hear the kids coming up today. When I listen to Scarface, when I listen to "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," or really anything he's done as a writer, as a lyricist--this [Bossman track] sounds to me, and I don't mean to put nobody down, but the thing about Baltimore hip-hop . . . I dunno if they're just listening to the mainstream artists too much. It only counts if you've got something of your own.
CP You just don't see a lot of originality around town?
LG: I don't say that. I'm just commenting on this specific track. This isn't very original. It sounds like a Kanye West track. I mean, I like Kanye. I think he's a talented producer. I think he's a limited MC, a very limited MC. I like the concept of how the music [for this Bossman track] is put together, that I really like. I like the Denise Williams sample, how her voice is a constantly present in the track. That gives it a real sweetness that oftentimes you don't get [in hip-hop]. But I look for originality in terms of approach. The approach is not original. But it's very good.
CP A lot of times people say they hear some hip-hop in some of your own writing.
LG: It just comes out. I don't think about it. When you're playing music, it's supposed to be a creative act. Especially if you're playing with improvisation. You can't be thinking too much about that stuff; it's just a part of the fabric. I grew up in Washington, D.C. I grew up on D.C. go-go, all the popular black music of that era. When I grew up, D.C. was called Chocolate City, you know? With the vanilla suburbs. Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, Trouble Funk, Junkyard Band--I've seen them all. It's all just filtered in there. To me, the most important thing about hip-hop is that it swings. I'm free, because I don't have to fight the battles that the past generations fought. Like, say, when Miles did Bitches Brew or when Trane went his way. I've never felt like I've had to choose a side in order to be respected. To me, the bottom line is that hip-hop swings. It has that buoyancy, it has that bounce, just like funk had that bounce. It's all part of the same thread.
CP Is there room for improvisation in hip-hop at all?
LG: Well, you know there's always been this balance the best musicians seek out. Like Sun Ra, the Ellington orchestra--there was this balance between arrangements and improvisation. . . . I get a good deal of inspiration from [sampling], because it's very creative and it's not from a specific Western musical tradition. And that makes it exciting. So I draw from it. I'm going to use it to do my thing, which is always to open up some space for cats to blow and to be able to express themselves individually. I think there is space in [hip-hop].
Vattel Cherry's Bassrespanse featuring Marjani Dele--"Strange Fruit"
LG: (long pause to listen to solo bowed bass) Can you turn it up? (vocals come in)
CP It's just the bassist and the vocalist, by the way.
LG: Is this Vattel?
CP It is.
LG: I thought so. I've always enjoyed Vattel for a bunch of reasons. One, 'cause he's crazy, and I love that about him. The other is that he's daring, he has courage, and that's reflected in his playing. He's always testing you, he's always testing the boundaries. It seems like when nobody's looking he moves the line. It's like he's playing with it, which is thrilling. I like what he's done with this song. I've performed this song, backing singers at Billie Holiday concerts. Some do an almost operatic interpretation, and some do an almost R&B-ish kind of version of it. I think what Vattel is doing here--this is interesting. This is an interesting treatment of a standard, because he's emphasizing sound in a way that illuminates a text. If I could do that . . . I don't really know how to do that. Yet. He's figured out how to do that, at least from what I'm hearing here, in a really dramatic way.
CP Is pushing boundaries important to you?
LG: I'm not in favor of pushing boundaries for pushing boundaries' sake. To me, that's a bit arrogant. I'm interested in what makes artistic sense. This makes artistic sense. Because you can point to specific musical things that he's doing that makes the piece fresh, that give you another way of listening to it. He's added some spoken word. He's using sound to push the text. And that's--that's the shit. Vattel's a bad motherfucker.
LG: Can you turn it up a little bit? Can you start it again? (relistens) I don't listen to a lot of piano players in my age group or younger.
CP It's actually Cyrus Chestnut.
LG: That's Cyrus, huh?
CP From his first solo album.
LG: Swingin', swingin'--very much in that hard bop style.
CP Why don't you listen to many piano players?
LG: Because they're all playing like this.
CP What turns you off about this?
LG: It's not terribly interesting to me. Cyrus is a technically brilliant pianist. Nothing he can't handle, musically. The actually music itself--I'm not too interested. I like the virtuosity. That's one of the things I actually enjoy about it. It just doesn't speak to me. It sounds like mainstream jazz radio. You're inundated with this kind of thing.
CP Where do you think your approach differs from his?
LG: I mean, I can play in this style. I have played in this style, and I still do on occasion. I would not rhythmically orientate myself in that way--in terms of relating to the beat, in that kind of way. That's always sounded dated to me. And besides. if I wanted to listen to somebody play this style, I'd listen to somebody from that era. I'd listen to John Hicks. Or I would listen to McCoy Tyner. I wouldn't listen to this. Nothing against Cyrus.
LG: It sounds like someone playing the inside of a piano.
CP It's actually a guy named Neil Feather--he makes his own instruments.
LG: Oh, I know Neil. I've played with Neil.
CP Does this sort of free improvising hold much appeal to you?
LG: I've done records like that, I've participated in that. I think it's viable. I respect John [Berndt of the High Zero Foundation], because John is more into the process of music than a lot of people in this town. John is interested in where music comes from, how it's made. So he's willing to allow for scary kind of situations to happen in order to get to something magical. It's a process that musicians are always seeking. So in that sense, I'm always going to be interested [in free improvisation]. John can play, you know? John can play.
CP Is that "scary moment" something you ever go for in your own playing?
LG: At times. It's not something that I do all the time. But it's something that whenever I'm asked to participate, I never flinch from it.
CP Does this stuff link back to jazz for you?
LG: Well . . . no, not really. I think that they're coming from a diversity of worlds. They're coming from the European [world]--Stockhausen, Cage, Glass to a certain extent. And jazz doesn't come from that, but jazz has always kind of coexisted with it, a kind of a mutual admiration society--although cautious and at times cold. I think I come more from the aesthetic of the black musical tradition, which is a tradition that makes room for that kind of experimentation. So I think it has a relationship with jazz, but I don't think it's at the root. But you know, this is America, man. All this shit is mixed up. I always seek to have a conversation of some kind in any musical situation that I'm in. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you get it in parts. But I don't think that's a negative, necessarily, if you don't get it. Music is just a reflection of life, and life is like that. Increasingly, actually, we have more capacity to communicate than ever before and less dissemination of knowledge.
Blaq Starr--"Tote It"
LG: (nods head to the beat) Can you turn it up a little?
CP This is a guy called Blaq Starr, a local club music producer. I know you grew up in D.C., and you've talked about the influence of go-go, but I was wondering if, since coming here, club music has had much impact on you.
LG: Oh, man. Yeah, man, definitely. When I first came to Baltimore to go to school, I ventured into the city, and there was this club called Odells on North Avenue. And yeah, that was an adjustment, man. 'Cause the D.C. go-go was more of a (nods head, moves shoulders) kind of thing, but club, man, motherfuckers was like running up the walls damn near.
CP This was like the late '80s/early '90s?
LG: Yeah, when Frank-Ski was in town, he was doing his thing . . . I loved it, though. See, lot of people from D.C. didn't like it.
CP Why was that?
LG: They've always seen Baltimore as like this bama town. When I first came to Baltimore, my grandmother was like, "Oh my lord, don't bring those Baltimore chicks home with you." But I didn't look at it like that. The club thing was exciting. That's what I was saying, what's a shame about the hip-hop thing . . . those tempos, and the heavy syncopation, would challenge the rhythmic approach to the vocals that a lot of these [rappers] have. Then you mix that in with a real drum kit, you might really get some shit going. And then the punk scene is gonna seep in some kind of way--any time you introduce a drum kit, the punks come out. The punk drummers have incredible energy, incredible stamina. So it's like, to me, it's a shame. The rap artist you played for me earlier [Bossman]--same fucking tempo, same fucking rhyming on two and four. It's boring. Do I want to listen to 10 or 15 cuts that are in that same tempo, that are in the same key, the rhymes are on the same beat? You know, I live in a world of sound. That shit drives me nuts--it's like Chinese water torture. But I can say a lot of the same things about club music.
CP But that almost seems like it's kind of the point with club, that sort of repetitiveness, the hypnotic state while you're dancing.
LG: I think it goes with the drugs, too. It's also machines. Drum machines have a really hypnotic effect--and a seductive thing, too.
CP Is that something you'd be interested in, working with a club producer?
LG: I've worked with [house producers] Basement Boys. I've always worked with the Basement Boys, done session work with them.
CP But what about a full-on jazz/club hybrid? With the live drummer and . . .
LG: It wouldn't be something I would play in. I'm not a musicologist. I'm just a poor soul out here. (laughs) I do what comes into my imagination. I would be very careful about planning something like that. If I did any planning, it would be to try to create an environment [where that hybrid] could happen organically, not do it ass-backwards. It's more important to create an environment for an adventure than go off to the side and create this experimental venture and then there's no place to play, there's no real scene for it. We need to do things in the musical community, the artistic community, to create a better environment. Right now we're all in our separate camps. We need like a First Avenue in Minneapolis. Prince created that sound because he had a place to go and play, where his kind of crowd would hang out. Which was basically people like ourselves. But I don't see too many places like that here. I've participated in a few, but they haven't lasted. And they've been underground. I've been playing Joe Squared and it looks like that might turn into something. I've played at the Ottobar. I've played right along with the punk bands.
CP Do you think those sort of connections are important for jazz in Baltimore?
LG: This is a segregated town. I don't give a fuck what color somebody is. And I don't give a fuck what scene you're from. I don't give a fuck just following a trend. That's the thing that would happen a lot of times, some of the guys that came up under me, they would just play with people they were comfortable playing [with]. Which is an understandable thing, but I would try to pair them up, bring more brothers in, mix it up. And there was resistance on both sides because of the social thing, the segregation. The New Volcanoes at the Ottobar were drawing people there from everywhere, black and white. We always draw the fringe from every scene, so to speak. But it was like pushing a rock up a steep-ass hill.
The big problem is segregation and the racial polarization in town. And I don't know how to deal with that, other than to start having a serious dialogue about it. The other thing, and this is probably as big or bigger than the racial thing, is that everybody is really into their own thing. The punk rock scene is really cool but really [insular]. They're very specific, they're almost like a jazz audience in terms of insisting on defining "punk," like "punk is this." In much the same way that Wynton Marsalis is "jazz is this." On the one hand, you've got Wynton with his suits, and on the other hand you've got the punk guys with their ripped T-shirts and jeans. They're both wearing stormtrooper uniforms, to me. That's a big, big part of the problem--the purists. It's not a purist country, it's not a purist fucking town. But we've got a lot of goddamn purists. (laughs)
CP Well, it's all been hybridized from day one.
LG: Right, but once you get it in the marketplace, a social scene comes along with it. And then it becomes very cliquish. Artists, we're supposed to be leaders. Fuck the politicians, we're supposed to do it. The artists, and the intellectuals. We're supposed to practice some kind of dialogue across the lines. That's not happening. On any level. I'm trying, and I'm sure that other people are trying. But we aren't getting it done.
CP Is that discouraging at all?
LG: I don't even think about getting discouraged. I mean, I have my moments. But I'm too excited about music.
CP That's the most important thing still?
LG: It's always swimming around in my head. People come around eventually. You've just got to stay out there, keep doing it. And challenge ourselves.
Kim Waters--"Bring the Troops Back Home"
LG: (immediately when saxophone enters) Is that Kim?
LG: Yeah. Yeah, that interests me about as much as the Cyrus Chestnut.
CP Is it that corporatized sound that's a turn-off?
LG: Yeah, yeah, that's part of it. Let me say this: Musically, it's excellent. Decent production, not on the level of Dave Koz or Fourplay. But the quality is there. Kim's got a beautiful tone, for what he's doing. The music itself--I recognize it, I respect it for where it's coming from. I would like to see the stations who play this kind of music expand, just a little bit more. The positive thing about smooth jazz is that rhythmically it's orientated in a contemporary way. And I think the practitioners of smooth jazz are extremely smart in that way. In a way, in a way, they're like the only jazz impacting the black community, a mainstream black audience. So for that, I appreciate Kim a lot.
CP But is there any frustration over the fact that this is what "jazz" has been whittled down to in most people's minds?
LG: When I listen to cats play like this, I think, Well, that's nice, man. But when are you just going to go ahead and hit it? Hit that shit, man. You've got your little smooth introduction, now play your fucking horn, man. But their idea . . . I remember Bernie Reeves told me one time--Bernie's one of my big benefactors, my big brothers--and I remember Bernie telling me, "The problem with cats like us is we go there." And the idea of this music is, "Don't go there! Don't go there! I'm home from a hard day's work, I'm trying to kick back, sip my brew, and relax." I can't relate to that.
CP This is from '91, and the track is called "Bring the Troops Back Home." So obviously recorded during the first Iraq war. And I was wondering if you thought of jazz as a political music, not in terms of direct political action, necessarily.
LG: Well, everything I write about, in my music, has a political slant to it. It comes from basically a very, very disturbed young black man. And at times angry, furious. But if that anger doesn't have a spiritual dimension, you're going to be in a lot of trouble.
CP Do you feel like that anger is something contemporary black music has lost?
LG: I wouldn't say it's lost. You always had Bob Marley. In the '80s, you had Public Enemy and X-Clan. In the '90s, in a way, we had Tupac. What's concerning me, man, is beyond the music--the music's really just a reflection of the shift in society as a whole. I was talking to a friend of mine about this war, this administration, and the worst of Nixon doesn't really compare. And the interesting thing about it is, the climate in the country at the time of Nixon, it didn't tolerate it. The climate of the country today seems to tolerate it, and that is going to have catastrophic results over the long haul.
CP Do you think it's going to get worse before it gets better at this point?
LG: It's going to get worse, and then it's going to get worse.
CP You think?
LG: Well, all societies are based on certain premises that you can really believe in.
CP And you don't think we really have that here anymore?
LG: (shakes head)
CP Do you think there's any way to reverse these changes or are we just fucked at this point?
LG: Well, I don't know. Something always comes along. One group of people is running shit, and they're bound to run out. White people run shit, and produce some fantastic people. But one group can't produce [everything]. That was the whole point of diversifying. It wasn't to give black folks a break. It was because the corporate community began realizing in the late `60s and early '70s that this was going to be the only thing that was going to allow [corporate] growth. The mistake that was made was that in the practice of it, you are sometimes made to and sometimes voluntarily abandon your own perspectives, your own cultural perspectives. So a lot of times with integration, like when I went to UMBC, a lot of times the misunderstanding between the black students and the white students--we saw integration as, "We'll bring our shit, and we'll merge." White society saw integration as, "We opened the door for you, buddy, come on in! Aren't you happy?" No, motherfucker! So now the diversity thing is nothing more than a cliché.
CP Well, it seems weirdly "accepted" now. "We're diverse now!" Like there's no more work to do.
LG: OK, we're diverse. We've got Condoleezza Rice. An absolute monster.
CP And Alberto Gonzales.
LG: Alberto Gonzales, another one. And these guys--what good is it to have a black or a Hispanic or an Asian, if they all think like the white man. The whole point of it is cosmetic. It has nothing to do with diversity. So that would have been a hope if we could have dealt with that in another kind of way. The other part of it is just an inability on the part of everyday people--white, black--to even dare to imagine that they could rise.
CP Do you think that's something most people have given up on?
LG: Well, you know, Jess, we're the ones who do all the fucking work. You've got to look at the labor movement in this country. Some people argue World War I and World War II is where it went wrong. We don't want to do the hard work of stopping the train. It's inconvenient, it's hard. Everybody wants to be free--and wants the train to run on time. Which means somebody isn't going to be free. We're not willing to do that. We want democracy to mean clean streets, manicured lawns.
CP And no homeless people.
LG: Not within sight. I certainly don't want to walk out and see them on the street. We're like children. We're like a bunch of children.
CP Do you think music has, if not direct power to change that, at least to influence or reorient people.
LG: I think so. I think music is one of the things that's kept us going. Music has shown us possibilities. Like when Sly Stone played Madison Square Garden, that was a little glimpse of what America could be. It was almost like after that moment everybody separated.
CP Like it had gone too far?
LG: Yeah. On the one hand, you had this glimpse that Sly provides, and on the other hand you'd had COINTELPRO at the exact same time. You've always had the artist constructing the vision of how the world could be. With hip-hop, gangsta rap, in the last part of the 20th century, you've got a group of artists who came along who were no longer interested in providing a vision of how it could be. They were just going to tell you how it is. You know? Shit is fucked up. And that seems to be where we've been kind of stuck. The guys coming out of struggle, because hip-hop really does come out of the struggle, they've not been able to construct a vision of the world that has the liberation of African-Americans. We as artists, we have a constructive vision, to say the world doesn't have to be this way. The world can be this way.
CP Do you think black music is almost too mired in "reality" at this point?
LG: Well, that's our whole culture. Our whole culture is reality-based. You buy a DVD of the movie, you get the making of the movie, the commentary, all of that. But I don't want people to see the outtakes. We live in an age of reality television. And it's so cynical. Cynicism--like Bill Maher and [political pundits], they're like real clever, real hip.
CP But there's a hollowness.
LG: There's a barrenness.
CP In terms of music, certainly in terms of something like late-period Coltrane, they had to go up there naked in a way. Like, "This is my guts." Or someone like Albert Ayler.
LG: But Trane happened on the cusp of the civil-rights movement. And the problem is [that since then] media has adjusted. I was watching an episode of Boondocks the other night, and there was a scene where Huey was at one of these rich white families' houses. And he's like, "Ronald Reagan was the devil, Jesus was black." And instead of being offended, these rich white folks were like, "Oh, he's so well-spoken! Isn't he adorable!" Whenever something comes into the news cycle--a news item like, "There are no weapons of mass destruction." Everybody should have hit the streets. But what [the media] did is, the way that they funnel it, they softball it, and then they run with it. They inundate you with it. And then nobody is hitting the streets.
CP Well, it makes you wonder if organized protest is even--well, if you look at it, there are obviously still thousands of people out there interested in it. Just not the millions that there were in the '60s.
LG: Well, maybe it wasn't even what it was in the '60s. I was listening to this speech by Malcolm X, where he talked about the march on Washington, where he talked about how Kennedy gathered all the big six [of the civil-rights movement] and said, "You've got to stop this." And they said, "We can't stop it, we didn't start it." It started right over here in Cambridge, Maryland. It was a grass-roots movement. It was angry, it was militant.
CP Well, that ties in with the Kim Waters song, because even that vague political statement--"bring the troops home"--bringing that kind of political statement into that kind of "Don't go there, I'm chilling out" sound, does that bother you?
LG: Yeah, it bothers me.
CP Because it feels almost at cross purposes. You've got this music that's almost an anesthetic, which is a harsh thing to say about it . . .
LG: I think that music is what is wanted but not what is needed. I think the community needs to be disturbed at this point. The community needs to be disturbed by music. If it's instrument music, I think the sound of it, the tone of it, should have a certain urgency. And it should reflect the real world. That's what I try to do, I try to reflect the real world and not this upper-middle-class, wall-to-wall carpeting, two-car garage, P.G. County suburban kind of existence. That's not the real world. It's not the world of decisions that get made, decisions that matter. It's the world of reality, in terms of truth about how resources are distributed. That music represents, "Don't worry about it. Everything will be OK. Just don't worry about it. God will take care of it all." Well, why should God take care of it all? He didn't do shit. We're the ones who fucked it all up.
CP Do you think that kind of avoidance, that "music of avoidance," is dangerous?
LG: Yes. It's really prevalent in gospel music, too. When I hear the Kirk Franklins and all these guys with their really cotton candy, sing-along--that's a long ways from "How I Got Over." For black folks, gospel music was music of resistance. "Steal Away." "Climbing Jacob's Ladder." "Singing With a Sword in My Hand." "Motherless Child." I could go on and on. "Go Down Moses." We a long ways from that kind of political content in gospel music. Even with Mahalia Jackson singing "Precious Lord," we're a long ways from that. What they're saying is that God is a personal God, and you should just accept things. Well, that's not going to save the world, and I don't think it's going to save one soul. It's selfish, it's self-absorbed, it's a narcissistic reading of the scripture. Which is anti-Jesus Christ and anti-Muhammad. And that's what gospel music is, and that's what smooth jazz is. And that infuriates me, disgusts me.
The Greg Thompkins Quintet--"Misterioso"
LG: (immediately upon piano entering) That sounds like me. Oh yeah, that's me and Greg. "Misterioso."
CP The reason I chose this one was kind of twofold. One, was Thelonious Monk a big influence for you?
LG: He still is. You can just not get around him. The American musical establishment only really recognizes you as a serious musician, a composer, if you write standard works. But Monk never did that. Some guys say, "Well, Monk stopped after a certain period." But you know, some guys do that. Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, [Charles] Mingus--they write symphonic works. It might have allowed them to achieve a certain respectability, to expand their horizons, to challenge themselves. But the problem is the situation exists of a cultural hierarchy that's European, that says Europe is responsible for the most important music. Which lands you in something of a dilemma when you say you want to do a classical piece. Because you're always dealing with these ghosts, so to speak. W.E.B. Du Bois writes about this in Souls of Black Folks, this double consciousness that most black people have to deal with.
CP Do you think Monk just sort of doggedly stuck to his own sort of Monkish idiom?
LG: I think Monk did what came naturally to Monk. Monk did exactly what Monk wanted to do. If Monk wanted to write a symphony, he would have written a symphony. He just had no desire to do that. And he stood up there as a proud black man. Hey man, in the fucking '40s, '50s, and '60s, that's enough. You don't have to write no symphony.
CP I guess the other reason I played this kind of goes back to when we were talking about you playing at the Ottobar and some of the problems facing the local jazz scene. So I guess I wanted to know what you think are some of the good things about the scene in Baltimore right now?
LG: The best thing about the scene is that we're here. We're all in very close proximity to each other. We're not spread out. It's not a big town like Chicago or New York. In New York, cats are spread out all over the place, and with the economic situation, cats live in Jersey or Brooklyn or Queens, some guys have even gone to the Bronx. Baltimore hasn't experienced that, the economics haven't run us all out. There is an artistic community. And I think we're beginning to talk to each other. At least I hope that's what's happening. I hope that's what that stint at the Ottobar meant. We have more awareness of each other. Labtekwon, you know, Lab is definitely doing his thing. It's just exciting to have Lab on the scene at the same time as I'm doing what I'm doing. The whole Organic Soul scene. The Ottobar scene, what you used to have, is really now turning into the Joe Squared scene. We're all in proximity to each other, we all kind of can talk to each other.
CP Do you see more of that on the horizon?
LG: I do. I see more crossing the lines.
CP How do you see that happening?
LG: We need some entrepreneurs. We need some middle management to come in. I think the artists are willing. What we need is the middle management and we need some leadership.
CP Do you think club owners are a little wary of putting on bills featuring a number of different styles in one night?
LG: Yeah. They're all wary of that. See, what the club owners have to realize is that, and this goes for all the venues, is that you're not gonna make money every night. No matter what you do. You're not gonna make money every night. But you will make your return if you think about your business as part of the community. If you think about it as part of the community, then you start thinking about programming in a way that is going to consistently build the scene that you want. In other words, club owners have to have to have a social vision. If they don't have a social vision, not only will they continue to be isolated, but they'll continue not to make money.
CP Do you think at this point it might almost be better to turn to more nontraditional venues?
LG: Yeah. I can dig it. I can dig it. It's already happening. The town is rich [in talent]. We've got so many wonderful people here who've done so much, and who've done so much for the town. There's talent popping up all the time. But what we need is the middle management to have a real social vision for the artists. If we get that going, then we're the shit. For the concentration of talent in the area, if we really got the other things going, this town would be the shit. Like Bernard Lyons [who books jazz for An die Musik], Bernard has a vision. He has a vision of the kind of music he wants to be associated with that room. That's what we need. We need people who are passionate and who care about art, music, sculpture, photography, what have you. The people who run the venues have to be driven first by being passionate about it. If we get that going, the sky's the limit.
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