B.D. Lenz: Finding His Own Voice
AAJ: Will Lee plays bass on Hit It and Quit. He's played and toured with some of the best guitarists in the business. What was it like working with Will in the studio?
BDL: That guy is the funniest human being on the earth. I had never met him before we got into the studio, and I didn't really know what to expect. He turned out to be so cool and funny; it really took the pressure off of things. He's Will Lee, and I wanted to make sure the session was well organized, and he's cool with everything, but like I said, he was so cool, and his vibe in the studio was great. I have nothing but great things to say about Will. Besides being one of the best bass players on the planet, he's also just a great human being.
AAJ: There's a section on your Web site where you post full arrangements of your tunes so that people can download them and check them out. Why did you choose to share your music in this way with your fans?
BDL: At some point, I found a bunch of charts on [John] Scofield's site that were from his album A Go Go. After downloading them and checking them out, I really wanted to listen to the album and play along with it. So I thought if people only knew my music a little bit, if they checked out my charts, they might go back and check out the record. I'm not trying to make money off of the charts, they're free to download. I'm just hoping to inspire people to check out my music and maybe play along with a few of my records.
AAJ: It seems like jazz is taking a bit of a hit in most cities across the country, though in the past New York has always been a beacon of light in the jazz world, even in tough times. As someone who lives close to the city and is on the New York scene, what are your thoughts on the health of the jazz scene there today?
BDL: Every city looks great from the outside. I think that wherever they are, people complain about the scene. Having said that, New York has the best musicians in the world, and it's very cool to go and check out these amazing players night after night. There are a ton of gigs, but there are also a ton of players, so it's a tough scene to break into. Trying to make money in New York is difficult. I live in New Jersey, and it's actually much easier for me to get gigs and make a living playing here than in the city.
I don't actually pursue many gigs in New York so much any more. Practically speaking, I have a family and bills to pay, so I have to find gigs that will pay a decent amount of bread. Though people play in New York for different reasons than making money. A lot of the times the experience factor, getting to play with these amazing musicians, is worth enough on its own.
AAJ: What advice would you give to a young musician who's looking at doing jazz for a living?
BDL: To me, it's really important that people develop their own thing. I'm not saying I've totally achieved that, but it's something that I've worked hard to do. We all start out mimicking our heroes, but at some point we have to move on and do our own thing.
There are plenty of guys who play their butts off, but there aren't a lot of guys who have their own sound, compositional style or whatever. For me, finding a unique style of playing is one of the most important things and one of the hardest things to achieve.
B.D. Lenz, Hit It and Quit (Apria, 2009)
B.D. Lenz, Straight Up (Apria, 2007)
B.D. Lenz, Tomorrow's Too Late (Apria, 2005)
B.D. Lenz, Simple Life (Apria, 2003)
B.D. Lenz, Lost and Found (Independent, 2000)
B.D. Lenz, Tell the World (Independent, 1997)
Page 1: Courtesy of B.D. Lenz
All other photos: Courtesy of DeBlaze & Associates