A regular contributor to All About Jazz and a very busy musician, guitarist B.D. Lenz is in the middle of his 10th anniversary tour of the UK. Mix the sophistication of jazz, the grit of blues, and the grooves of funk and soul, and you have the recipe for this jazz guitarist. Mary James caught up with him at his gig in Thornbury, Gloucestershire at the start of his tour.
London Jazz News: This is your 10th anniversary tour in the UK. Can you tell us why you like playing here and what can people expect to hear?
B.D. Lenz: We love touring the UK because we seem to get a genuinely positive response to what we do. The hospitality is amazing too. We’ve made so many close friends here. If you come to see us expect the unexpected. We really try to mix it up. You might hear us go from Fly Me to the Moon to Pink Floyd’s The Wall!
LJN: How long have you played with James Rosocha (bass) and Joe Falcey (drums)?
BDL: We’ve been playing together for about 20 years. We may not play a lot together when we’re at home but we have many, many miles on the road together and you’ll hear that when we play, we have a pretty deep repertoire. If I bring a new tune into the mix I usually just bring in the basic idea and we work out the details as we play it on gigs. I’ve found that arrangements work themselves out on gigs but always mature over time. We made a live recording on one of our tours a couple years back (Live in the UK!) and some of our arrangements have changed even since then.
LJN: You play compositions by Pink Floyd and the Beatles, amongst others. What were the challenges in creating your own versions of these modern standards?
BDL: The challenge in playing songs like that is satisfying the jazz listeners. Yes they’re rock tunes but we can improvise on them and take them places just like we would on a Monk tune, say. We’re a jazz band at heart and could play standards all night but we also have this more contemporary side to us. I want to please the jazz audience so we always throw in some standards. I want them to know that’s our tradition too. But we also want to take it to the more rocking side because that’s another aspect of what we do. But I feel that if we’ve established to an audience that we ARE rooted in the tradition they’re more likely to be follow along with us when we venture into the rock side. And they’re usually classic tunes (Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, etc.) so it shouldn’t be too hard a leap.
LJN: There’s a lyricism about your playing that I’d associate more especially with an acoustic guitar. Would it be true to observe that and where does it come from?
BDL: I play a lot of solo gigs when I’m home and I do those on an acoustic. It’s become a big part of my playing.
LJN: You mentioned some new “toys” in your set up – what are they and what effect do you want to create with them?
BDL: We are only a trio so it’s important to change up our grooves, tempos, and sounds to keep the audience interest up. Among my arsenal of effects are some great pedals including one that can make guitar sound just like an organ.
LJN: It’s an amazing achievement to have booked a long tour from 3,500 miles away – do you have any advice for UK bands about touring the States?
BDL: It’s been a work in progress and took many years to develop. Just start small and don’t expect to make a profit in the beginning. But keep doing it, work hard promoting it and, if it’s something good and unique, people will respond.
LJN: Your new series in All About Jazz called Mind Your Business is a refreshingly practical and honest column. How did this come about?
BDL: I had recently begun to feel (sadly) that I’m no longer of the new generation of musicians. In terms of being a bandleader I’ve pretty much done it all and have learned so much by having to do it all myself. I actually felt a little resentful (although resigned) towards the industry that I’ve had to go this far on my own. So I wanted to help empower younger musicians because they’ll likely have to do the same if they’re going to last.
LJN: And what’s next?
BDL: I’m starting to think about a solo guitar recording for next year… and booking the next tour!
Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, is a jazz promoter working with John Law and others. Twitter @maryleamington