Jeff Lorber, the father of fusion and a pioneer of smooth jazz, was having a surprising amount of fun over a typo in his name on an important document.

Somebody booked Lorber’s flight under a misspelling of his surname. As I prepared to ask my first question about the Jeff Lorber Fusion, while he was at the Dakota Jazz Club in November, he said with a smile, “Lobber. L-o-b-b-e-r.”

Resolving the problem at Sun Country Airlines was taking awhile until Lorber lucked out in the customer care department. The Sun Country employee not only knew Jeff’s last name, she had purchased tickets to the Dakota show. Minnesota’s Shaun LaBelle brought Lorber and guitarist/vocalist Marlon McClain, of Pleasure fame, to town to play with Mint Condition drummer/vocalist Stokley Williams. LaBelle was on keyboard and bass.

It was a very cool night of jazz. Between shows, just before the food arrived, I tossed some questions at Lorber, whose next album, which features sax player Andy Snitzer, is due in March.

Q: The Jeff Lorber Fusion still exists?

A: Well, what happened is the Fusion was a pretty tight band that formed in the late ’70s. It went through a few personnel changes but basically was a pretty solid unit of Danny Wilson on bass, Dennis Bradford on drums and Kenny Gorelick, [that’s Kenny G to the rest of us] on sax, and me. That was the band about five years. And then the idea of fusion seemed passé so I started making Jeff Lorber records. I got rid of the “Fusion” because it [seemed] played out. There were almost eight years where I didn’t record at all — I was just a studio musician in L.A., an arranger — and then I got back into it. When we started playing in Europe, that’s when promoters wanted to promote us as the Jeff Lorber Fusion. Then we had that idea, “Why don’t we just go back to Jeff Lorber Fusion? That name sounds cool again.” So we went back to that and more of a band concept, which has been me and Jimmy Haslip and we’ve worked with Eric Marienthal for about four or five years now.

 

Q: What does it take to keep a group together for that long?

A: It’s hard, I mean, it just takes like-minded people [who] have a commitment to it. If you are a successful band leader you can afford to put people on retainers, so they are always available. That’s one way to do it. Actually, I did have that for a while in the early Jeff Lorber Fusion. It was tough ’cause you’d have a few weeks where you were playing a lot, making good money, easy to pay everybody then. Then a couple weeks off and, ‘Now what? We’d better get some work. Like right now!’

Q: What breaks up groups besides drugs, alcohol and egos?

A: [Laugh] That’s a question that could go on for hours. It’s just like a marriage. Some marriages make it and some don’t. It’s funny you should mention that. I was just talking to my friend Bobby Colomby, the original drummer with Blood, Sweat & Tears. He was interviewing U2 one time and telling them that the thing that was successful about them was that they all came from the same place, they all shared similar experiences. He was basically telling them they should stick it out because that’s what people really liked about the group.

 

Q: You never developed one of those big music egos.

A: I guess not. [More laughter] I just have fun with what I do. I mean it takes a certain amount of ego to put yourself out there and promote yourself, your music. But from a band standpoint … in my group I like to be equals and have a lot of talented people around me and then feature them. That makes a more entertaining show. That’s my basic concept.

 

Q: How much money do Ashanti and Ja Rule owe you?

A: [Big laugh] My song “Rain Dance” has been sampled a bunch of times and they sort of interpolated — I think that is the word; it has some to do with mathematics — it. You take something and make some little alterations, so it’s not quite the original thing. They had a pretty big hit; I don’t quite remember [the title].

C.J. can be reached at cj@startribune.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.