PROFILES IN JAZZ: Pianist Darrell Lavigne believes American jazz ‘is on life support’
By Edward Anderson of Nola Art House Music
The backstory: Jazz pianist Darrell Lavigne actually started out playing guitar before moving on to trumpet and then piano in high scool. He studied music composition with symphonic composer Roger Dickerson at Xavier University. He joined the Kent Jordan Quintet in 1982, playing piano/keys on Jordan's Night Aire and Essence CBS releases. He next performed with Kidd Jordan and IAQ, then joined Marlon Jordan in 1991, playing piano on his CBS debut, For You Only. Lavigne has performed locally and internationally with a host of New Orleans artists, including Wanda Rouzan (for whom he produced Where ya At?), Michael Ward (produced Make a Wish, Continuum, After The Kiss) George French, Phillip Manuel, Samirah Evans (produced Give Me a Moment) Karin Williams, Cyril and Charles Neville, Delfeayo Marsalis, Bill Summers, Stephanie Jordan, Kermit Ruffins, Donald Harrison and others. With jazz musician Edward Anderson, he is co-leader of the jazz music group Bleu Orleans.
Talk about your developmental years.
I didn't come from the Treme or a musical family like the storybook New Orleans stuff, but in New Orleans everyone is musical to a degree -- and they know how to improvise life. Music was always around. My father played Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Basie records, and of course, Pops Armstrong all the time since I had ears. He also threw in Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington. He told me to listen to the instruments like they were having a conversation. I guess I took the next step to be a musician, and I was glad he saw me perform a meaningful gig before he passed. The influences were anything musically sound: all jazz, especially Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Mc Coy Tyner, Amhad Jamal, Bill Evans; classical composers like Bach, Hindemith, Honegger, Stravinsky, Copeland, Schoenberg; rock and folk stuff such as the Beatles, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, King Crimson, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell; R&B, Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown, Chaka Khan; world music, like Brasilian, African, Cuban.
What are your musical goals?
In the short term, to keep writing and performing and making a living without having to work a day gig not related to music. In the long term, to stay healthy and remain true to good music
How does your art fit into the New Orleans music scene?
I really don't know how many people actually like my music. I've had a lot of people tell me personally that they have my songs in their iTunes juke, but that doesn't mean that it's widely accepted. New Orleans is a tourist town. Very seldom do we query our own people and find out what the locals like. Do we assume that everyone follows brass bands and things that fit neatly in the New Orleans box? Or maybe some of the city's musical hostages may have escaped to listen to satellite radio and discovered something new. If they allow the press to tell them what or what isn't good, we're all in trouble. Positively, I do believe in the human spirit and would think that the race has come this far that they would explore other muscial options. We've put music in fitted categorical boxes, so that anything in excess is left to be swept out the door. My vision is to see Bleu Orleans exploring music -- that same openess to sound my parents instilled in me that I assumed everyone possessed.
How do you feel about the current state of jazz?
OK, in America, jazz is on life support. We're teaching it wherever it's wanted; however, when schools and/or students don't have instruments or arts programs and funding, they can't develop musicians. If they're not introduced to jazz education, meaning jazz history in school, kids today won't have a connection and won't have any references pre-dating what they're hearing on the radio. It's a different time, which calls for different tactics. Of course, everyone won't be a musician, but we could cultivate more people's ears and knowledge. At the same time we develop musicians, we would develop audiences of the future. Jazz is an American art form and that Europeans appreciate it more than we do is appalling. They tend not to listen to improvisatory music with any preconceived notions. In the end, everything should be good or bad.
Future of jazz?
Unknown. Crystal ball needed.
- Profiles in Jazz is a series on contemporary New Orleans musicians. Edward Anderson of Nola Art House Music writes about jazz for NolaVie. For more information on NolaVie, visit NolaVie.com.