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Interview: Lafayette Gilchrist- Piano man speaks his mind

I recently talked to Baltimore jazz pianist Lafayette Gilchrist over a cup of coffee at a small lunch place on Cathedral Street.

If asked to pick the jazz musician out of a lineup, you’d pick Lafayette. He puts out a vibe of intense creativity on a level that is rare even among artists and musicians, and might not necessarily come across in the transcript.

Going along with that, he also has strong opinions on a broad range of issues, not just jazz music, so the interview is formatted a little bit looser, the questions a little more general on purpose. With that said, even the most mundane opinion can sound like sage wisdom when voiced by a veteran jazz performer of some repute.

Be sure to check out pianist/ academically trained economist and historian/ boxer/ thinker of thoughts Lafayette Gilchrist and his band The New Volcanoes at Joe Squared on March 22.
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Carl Grubbs with Lafayette Gilchrist: Exploring the Jazz Traditions

Supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, Carl Grubbs (saxophones, far left) and Lafayette Gilchrist (piano, left) explore oral tradition in jazz, live at An Die Musik.

Carl Grubbs comes from the John Coltrane school of bebop saxophone. By that I mean that he literally studied under Coltrane. They were so close, in fact, that Coltrane later married Grubbs’ cousin, Naima, who would later be immortalized on Giant Steps. You can hear Coltrane’s influence in Grubb’s composition and playing; he makes frequent use of the Coltrane matrix of descending major thirds and uses sheets of sound techniques for texture. On this date, Carl led the duo with his angry sounding sax while Lafayette was more reserved on keys.

At 8:20 pm, they opened things up with a blues to get the juices flowing. Grubbs’ alto sound is reedy and very aggressive at times, but can also be dynamic in the style of Stan Getz. After several choruses, Grubbs handed the tune over to Gilchrist for solo piano. My first impressions of Gilchrist’s playing are that he is a very precise player with a style all his own. Some of his pet licks are beginning to develop into a very signature style.

Next the trio played Body and Soul, as arranged by John Coltrane and Joy Spring with the addition of min IV, maj III progression (the theme of the night). It was at this point when sweat was beginning to form on Carl Grubb’s brow that I began to get more of a feel for Lafayette’s style. Taking the second solo and having some harmonic freedom, he made noteworthy use of building and releasing musical tension in a conversational way. Some of this voice leading on this tune reminded me of the style of Keith Jarrett without all the flash.

On the whole it was a great show that really represented what jazz oral tradition was about. I’m excited to hear Lafayette continue to grow as a musician and as a creative mind. Now that he’s back in the U.S.A., I look forward to seeing him in a trio setting in and around Baltimore. Watch for him!

Jazz great to perform tonight

Tonight at An die Musik Baltimore jazz legend Lafayette Gilchrist will perform with area saxophonist Carl Grubbs.

Gilchrist was featured on the recent Wire soundtrack.

He didn’t begin playing the piano until age 17, and before that he was a boxer. Some say his playing style mimics the rhythm of a young Sugar Ray Robinson. The left hand, the foot work if you will, constantly shuffles, while the left hand jabs, then lets loose a flurry of blows.

I remember Carl Grubbs, who studied with Coltrane, from the time I shadowed at St. Paul’s. He was teaching a class, and I was blown away by what he had to say.

All in all, this should be a great performance.