Jeff Lorber fans owe a debt of gratitude to his wife, Mink, which will be disclosed shortly. A father of fusion and a pioneer of smooth jazz, Lorber returns to the Dakota in Minneapolis for two shows a night Tuesday and Wednesday, playing in multi-instrumentalist Shaun LaBelle’s “dream band.” My friend LaBelle is launching his latest CD, “I’m Back,” with the gig that also stars sax player Everette Harp and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Stokley, of Mint Condition.
I interviewed Lorber for this startribune.com/video Q & A when he was here in February 2012, not imagining he would be so long returning. There’ll be a short wait for his next CD, “Hacienda,” being released at the end of the month. For more on “Hacienda,” check lorber.com.
Q Did you always want to be a musician?
A I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but when I graduated high school, I knew I loved music. I loved it more than anything else. I went to music school and that led to a career as a musician. I did actually kind of get away from it for a while. I was a chemistry student at Boston University for a couple of years.
Q So you can do math?
A I can try to do some math. [Laugh] Actually, it really came in handy because all this new music technology requires kind of a scientific mind to master it.
Q Do you think the music industry has lost its way?
A It’s tough. Unfortunately, I think music has taken a little bit of a back seat compared to the way it was years ago, with people spending all their time online and [with] other forms of entertainment. At the same time, I think people still love music and I know I love making and playing it. I’m going to stick with it as long as I can.
Q What do you think of jazz being categorized as smooth jazz?
A Smooth jazz was a radio format. That was great for giving instrumental artists a chance to be heard. Unfortunately, the way it has been, it’s become sort of an irresistible punching bag. I’ve done what I’ve always done: make funky, melodic music. I hope listeners get a chance to hear what I’m doing without having to be filtered by the critics.
Q Is Patti Austin the greatest singer in the world or is this just my opinion?
A Well, she’s an excellent singer. The work that she did with Quincy Jones on “The Dude” album was the first time I ever heard of her. That’s probably one of the best records ever made. I think that sort of established her career. I actually worked on one of her albums. The album’s called “Getting Away with Murder.” I’m sure you know that she’s a real stitch to hang out with, a real fun lady.
Q Who are some of your favorite singers?
A El DeBarge is one of them. Luther Vandross, Frank Sinatra.
Q Who are your favorite instrumentalists?
A Probably my biggest influence is Herbie Hancock. When I first heard that blend of funk and jazz he came out with, really in the ’70s, that just had an enormous effect on me. That was sort of “Man, I want to do something like that!” I’m sort of a big fan of the history of jazz piano players, like McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk — piano players with Miles Davis. Hancock and Chick [Corea] as far as modern piano players; Keith Jarrett is one of my favorites.
Q Tell me about the time you ran into your idol Herbie Hancock near the ice machine.
A We were both staying at this hotel in Florida. I open the door about to go out to the ice machine and there was Herbie. It was late at night. He was on a mission to get some ice cream. He invited me to come along and so I got the chance to get to know him quite well over a few hours. Before that we had met briefly here and there at some jazz festivals. He was gracious; allowed me to ask him all the questions that I have been saving up for years. I think it was Häagen-Dazs.
Q Do you have to stay with your wife since she gave you a kidney?
A Not only do I have to stay with her, but she wins all arguments from now on. Basically, I just say, “Yes, dear, you’re right about that.” It actually makes life a lot easier. I was very, very lucky. A number of years ago I had end-stage kidney disease; polycystic kidney [disease] actually affects a lot of people, but people don’t know about it. We were a perfect match. I’m very grateful. I’ll tell her something good happened, like, “Hey, my record came in at No. 2 on the charts,” and she’ll say, That’s good, I want you to work hard, that’s why I gave you my kidney. [Laughs]
Interviews are edited. Reach C.J. at firstname.lastname@example.org and see her on Fox 9.