At the very end of August, Grammy award winning trumpeter Brian Lynch announced the impromptu release of his latest creation, The Omni-American Book Club, a big band album inspired by over 18 works of literature, including volumes by W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Isabel Wilkerson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Levering Lewis, Eric Hobsbawm, Nell Irwin Painter, and Amiri Baraka, and featuring special guests Donald Harrison, Regina Carter, Dafnis Prieto, Dave Liebman, Orlando “Maraca” Valle, and Jim Snidero. We caught up with the former Horace Silver and Art Blakey protégé to discuss the project in greater detail, the state of jazz music today, and his advice for the next generation of jazz musicians. Read our interview below.
Nextbop: Your latest album, The Omni-American Book Club: My Journey Through Literature in Music, features 11 original compositions inspired by 18 of your favorite authors, and also marks your recording debut with a big band. Can you tell us more about how this project came about?
Brian Lynch: In explaining why I embarked on this odyssey of a project, I’ve joked that as you get older, you may not necessarily get wiser, but rather more prone to making rash and foolhardy decisions! In all seriousness, a big band album is something that I’ve thought about doing for a long time, but until recently I never thought I’d be able to marshal the resources, both materially and in time needed, to pull it off. A sabbatical semester from my professorship at the Frost School Of Music was key for me in finding the time to both write and record this album. Likewise, the blessing of my being able to access the school’s world class recording facilities, along with the amazing talent of the faculty and students at Frost, enabled me to bring the music to full fruition on a manageable basis. I’m truly thankful for my Frost School family’s support in making this dream a reality.
Large projects are good opportunities to make a statement, and I wanted to make one about the causes and context that drive my music with this recording. I also wanted to engage with ideas and ideals that I’ve hinted at in my past work in a more direct way for this project. The times we live in demand it. I’m thankful for the help that producer Kabir Sehgal gave me in our many conversations about the theme of this project that resulted in the concept of The Omni-American Book Club.
My discovery of the music commonly called jazz, the choosing of a life’s work in music, and becoming conscious of the world’s tragic flaws all were experienced by me together at a young age. Sight, in the form of reading, and sound, in the form of music, have always complemented each other throughout my life in a quest for meaning and thirst for understanding. I’m very happy with the way that these strands have been put together in this project.
Nextbop: The album features special guests Donald Harrison, Regina Carter, Dafnis Prieto, Dave Liebman, Orlando “Maraca” Valle, and Jim Snidero. Why did you choose these specific musicians to bring your vision to life?
Brian Lynch: The special guests for this project were selected for both their musical and their personal qualities – that is to say, they’re all great musicians as well as great human beings.
My life has been enriched so much by knowing Donald Harrison – from Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers to Eddie Palmieri and then to each other’s projects, it’s always a peak experience to be in the company of this great musician, cultural icon, and friend. I think our playing together on The Struggle Is In Your Name illustrates well the bond we’ve developed over the last thirty years.
I’ve known Regina Carter for many years, but this was my first opportunity to make music together with her and it was fantastic! To have the opportunity to blend with her fantastic sound on the violin and interact in our exchanges on “Affective Affinities” was truly amazing. Her melodies and solos were works of art and things of true beauty.
Dafnis Prieto and I have been collaborators and friends for twenty years now, and I never cease to marvel at the genius of this spectacularly talented and deep thinking drummer and composer. It’s been a blessing, a challenge, and a continual education to play together with him, as well as a barrel of pure fun! His joy in music making is a continual inspiration to me. His featured playing on “Crucible For Crisis” is “off the chain”!
Another truly incredible musician, who I’ve had the honor of being associated with in the last few years, is Orlando “Maraca” Valle. From participating in his Latin Jazz All Stars project, we have become increasingly close musically and I enjoy playing together with him immensely – he’s an utter “beast” of a flautist. Like Dafnis, with whom he shares featured billing on “Crucible”, Maraca is a shining example of the astounding level of artistry and creativity endowed to us by the musicians of Cuba.
Alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, featured on “Tribute To Blue”, and I go back to the beginnings of our respective careers; we met soon after each of us arrived in New York in the early 1980s and forged a musical partnership through our tenure in pianist/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi’s big band. We played on each other’s first recordings as leaders, and forged a imperishable musical bond back then that has been reaffirmed in recent years as we’ve renewed our “player’s association” in recordings and performances. The easy, natural rapport Jim and I have together, as well as his own renowned saxophone voice, is displayed in abundance on his featured track.
Iconic saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master David Liebman was a mentor to Jim, and has been a hero of mine ever since I heard him with Elvin Jones’s group; at the age of 15, it was my first live encounter with jazz at such an exalted level and an indelible experience. He has been an inspiration and a fount of wisdom for me over the years as I’ve gotten to know him better, and his participation in this project is an honor and a source of pride for me. The freedom and knowingness that he brings to his solo feature on “The Trouble With Elysium” is a wonder and a delight.
Nextbop: Big bands are somewhat of a dying art form, why was it important for you to select this format and did you encounter any surprises or challenges during the recording process?
Brian Lynch: It might be a matter of dispute whether jazz large ensembles (“big bands”) are a dying form, given that there are so many composers that continue to be attracted to writing in this enduring format. Big bands are important to the continued health of our music in so many ways; as a nexus for players to find each other and play together, as an important part of developing and maintaining skills, and as a crucial part of the story, a tradition to be nurtured and further developed. For a seasoned veteran like myself, writing for big band was something to be able to still aspire to. This project represents something of a lifetime goal for me that I’m very proud of having been able to achieve.
Any recording project will have surprises and challenges, be ye sure of that! It was a pleasant surprise that I was able to get this project done in a relatively short time (less than 9 months from starting to think about it until its release). Staying focused, having great people working with me, from the musicians to recording and mix engineers to visual designers and artists, helped make it go down like that. One great surprise was how easily and wonderfully the artwork and packaging came together. Designer Jamie Breiwick did an incredible and seemingly effortless job! And artist Robin D. Williams took the whole concept of the album up a couple of notches with her incredible drawings of the guest musicians and myself.
Nextbop: What are 3 books you believe should be mandatory for every human being to read and why?
Brian Lynch: Given that I’m not disposed to be a dictator or demiurge, even if I had the opportunity, I don’t believe in things being mandatory for anyone! I don’t think that any one book, or three books, gives you the answers to life, just as no one or three albums can give you a picture of a musical art form or even a particular artist. You need context and cross reference to understand things.
Nextbop: You’ve had a prodigious career which includes a Grammy win for The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project’s 2006 album Simpático. You were also a member of the Horace Silver Quintet and of the final edition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and have collaborated with countless other notable musical fixtures over the years, including Benny Golson, Phil Woods, Prince, and Tito Puente, to name a few. What are some of the important life lessons you’ve learned throughout your career and do you have any advice for the younger generation of musicians out there?
Brian Lynch: As someone once said, “Jazz is the teacher…” and I think my dedication to being a student, acolyte, and practitioner of Black American Art Music has given me the tools and perceptual focus to deal with the other musics that I’ve been associated with throughout my career. I’m very much a purist in the way I seek out music that exemplifies a quintessence of a culture, projects a spirit of a time and of a community, and stands beyond outside judgement in its artistic autonomy. But I am also very much a pluralist, and I love all of music, as long as it’s good! Being curious and open while knowing what I stand for and what I like has served me well, and hopefully has also kept me relevant.
I’d advise the younger folks this: Be interested in everything. Learn as much as you can about the old things – the farther back you know, the further forward you can go. Don’t get stuck in nostalgia or re-creation though – and understand that it’s not about what you play, but how you think about it. Whatever you want to play, or write, make it relevant to today. And don’t follow the leader. Figure out your song and sing it.
Nextbop: What is your opinion on the state of jazz music today and who are some of the current or up-and-coming artists you admire most?
Brian Lynch: There’s so many artists to admire – this is a great time for music! But understand that anyone making music in the present is a current artist, whether 17 or 87. And we are all up-and-coming if we believe in the music and feel we have a part to play in it.
I’m reticent to name particular artists, because I think just about everything I come across has merit. If you try to hear things as they are, rather than as you think you want them to be, then listening to music becomes a whole other thing.
Nextbop: As a nod to Pannonica, if you had three wishes, what would they be?