Jazz guys: Why do I like Julian Lage?

Cheap Trills

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If you didn't play blues, and just came into it hearing the most popular "blues" on Spotify, you may not like it as much. You'd have to dig in and find what you liked. If you like Lage, I'm sure you would get into some other players who maybe aren't that famous.

I like Lage because he has complete thoughts, even when improvising. I know he's highly schooled and studied, etc. but he still comes across to me as a natural player. And he started with blues, I believe.
 

Old Plank

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I really enjoy Julian's music, playing and tunes and listen to him a lot ... and the one time I saw him it was loose, fun, amazing; he was very animated and expressive as was the band. I would have never thought to associate the terms I'm seeing in this thread with him and am really quite surprised!; e.g. cold, boring, etc.; and maybe worst, a sellout, what?! I can't see terming someone a sellout for playing all the things they love to play, because someone else wants or expects them to be playing something different that they want. I'm glad for Julian being in this world bringing us his joyful gifts, and feel confident that he's seen a sunset and maybe been in love haha! (again, what?!!!)

Carry on Julian!
 

guitfiddles

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My wife and I are going to see Mr. Lage on Thursday at the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) in Phoenix. We will be sitting about 20 feet from the stage. I will let you know my impressions after the show, FWTAW...
Sorry, what is FWTAW? I searched it but came up with zip. Everyone is using these anacronyms these days and it’s a chore to find out what they are saying.
 

guitfiddles

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I don’t love all of Lage’s music but I really enjoy quite a bit of it. I think I like the simplicity of his tone and the way it sounds. I like the songs the best where he used his tele and a fender champ with no reverb or anything. It is just a raw naked tone and something I never enjoyed at all until I heard Julian play his music that way. I enjoyed it so much that about a year and a half ago I got a fender champ to experience that same type of feel. At first I hated it but then I started really enjoying it. When you have no reverb or anything it changes how you play. It takes work not to sound terrible.
 

El Tele Lobo

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I would disagree a lot with that statement. Lage plays jazz and really anything he wants. To me he's like Jim Hall/Bill Frisell with some more chops (a lot more).
His harmonic knowledge is far superior to Garcia (and I love the Dead). Jerry was great but (and let's be honest here) Lage is on a different level from him (as his Trey). Plus AFAIK, he doesn't have nor has he has had a problem with drugs (and that factor played into how both Garcia and Anastasio's playing took a turn for the worst at various points).

It's really apples to oranges.

Lage and Trey may have some similarities as far as how much theory they know but again, I would say that Lage is a little bit more versed in harmonic knowledge and how it applies to playing changes. And, if you haven't seen his solo guitar arrangements of some of the jazz standards that he has done (and they are on YouTube) then you owe it to yourself to do so. Neither Jerry nor Trey (and I am pretty confident when I make this comment) would think to A: do something like that and B: do it as well as Lage does.

I mean, listen to this (and on a Les Paul!):

I love his arrangement of Emily. Just beautiful.
 

speranza

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For those who are keeping track of these things — I saw him play last week here in Seattle and he played his Nachocaster exclusively on the neck position, with the maybe-it's-a-Fralin-P90 pickup. The Morning Glory is also gone from his pedalboard — just a tuner into the B1G boost into the Strymon Flint and the Magic Amps Vibro Deluxe on the non-vibro channel.
 

421JAM

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This is the best video of Lage that I've come across. When he has Kenny Wolleson (drums) with him, as he does in this video, is when he transcends as a live player. I've seen him with Dave King and with the guy that toured with him before Dave King (sorry, can't remember the name). Both very good players, but Wolleson brings something out of Lage, and seems to have a telepathic connection with him that the others don't.

 

fenderchamp

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Lately I've really gotten into Julian Lage, and I'm trying to figure out why. Obviously, he's a talented player, but im trying to decipher what it is about his playing that has connected with me when, for me, Jazz has been a largely peripheral interest. I just find his playing much more melodic and I guess accessible compared to a lot of jazz I've explored.

Don't get me wrong, as a blues guy I like Jazz, but there are few artists for whom I have had the desire to repeatedly revisit with consistent regularity; Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, and now, Julian Lage. I am not well enough versed in the genre to trace back influences the way I can with Blues artists so I was hoping some of you more learned Jazz cats can help me dig back into where Lage draws his inspirations so I can do some further listening and hopefully incorporate some simplified aspects of his playing into my own. Thanks in advance!
because you have insomnia?
 

chris m.

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I was trying to think of a great guitarist who has fantastic chops and amazing energy and where the music just sticks with you. And then I remembered Django Reinhardt. I really cannot think of anyone who did it better--- that elusive combination of technical prowess, effervescent energy, and melodies/arrangements that just feel perfect. And due to injury he did it with just two fingers on his left hand!

Julian Lage is amazing, no question, but not at Django's level (yet), in my opinion when it comes to creating music that has that energy and hook. But a lot of that has to do with personal taste. I'm sure he is playing exactly what he wants to play and expressing what he wants to express.

This challenge is not unique to him. There's a lot of jazz where you would be challenged to hum the "head" (main melody) of the tune. Obviously the standards are based on show tunes so they are typically melodic and memorable. But once jazz artists started composing tunes that were not based on standards, coming up with harmonically complex melodies that actually become earworms is not so easy...harmonic complexity is directly opposed to ear-worminess in most cases.

But a lot of guys did it. Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Miles Davis, and Herbie Hancock are a few that come directly to mind.





Hank Mobley's composition and phrasing on Soul Station are just amazing, IMO....both on the head and on his solo.
 

El Tele Lobo

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I remember about 5 or 6 years ago, when some of his videos started getting popular on YouTube, there was a thread on here where everyone was like, "Look at this arrogant a**! Who does he think he is?!" A few years later, some of the same people were praising him and becoming fans.

I never got a sense of arrogance from Julian...I think as someone above mentioned, if you think that, you might have missed something. He's very humble and down to earth. He is so mild mannered as to be almost effeminate. I can't imagine him trying to cut someone's head in a jam or make someone sitting in with him look stupid on stage for his own ego. Rather, Julian has what I would call a quiet self-assurance. We are so used to people who are at the poles of self-effacing or arrogant behavior that we might misinterpret that as arrogance, I suppose.

I can understand some of the stuff that people say about him. Some of his stuff is decidedly not "jazz"...it's music. Some of it's very safe and boring music....some of it is wild and out there. Very little of it is traditional, old-school, mainstream jazz as many understand it. And that's part of what makes it interesting, to me. It's interesting that many early jazz musicians hated being labeled as "jazz". They thought of themselves as musicians...period...playing (and pushing the boundaries of) music. Some became categorically difficult to define by nature of the breadth of their repertoire and/or explorations. Duke Ellington played swing, jazz, classical and a variety of other styles/genres. He had some of the best bands in history in my opinion. But it wasn't all jazz.

For me, with Julian, I take the stuff I like and leave the rest. He's neither the first nor the last artist who I find I don't like everything they do. For some, it seems, if they don't like everything an artist does, they don't like that artist...or think they don't.

I think the comparison to Eric Dolphy is fitting. Julian is doing something very important in music (and especially in jazz) right now. For one, he's playing it with real instruments (including this forum's favorite) and real skill. He's also pushing boundaries, not only of his own skill set, but also of music itself and what defines it. Which means, by definition, he's not always doing what we think he should. Jazz should be played on an archtop on the neck pickup? Here's a tele through a Champ on the bridge pickup. Jazz should be inscrutibly complex, self-consciously intellectual and dissonant? Here's a beautiful classical etude or pop ballad over a simple chord progression. Jazz should NEVER be played on a flat-top acoustic? Well...

Julian clearly enjoys what he's doing. He has attained what most of us strive for...the ability to completely express himself musically without making it into a calculus problem or being overly reliant on effects, gear or image. He gets lost in the music. If you watch enough of him, you'll see him laugh with it, grieve with it, fight with it, cuss it out, seduce it and roll on the floor wrestling with it.

I'm impressed by Julian's command of the instrument. He uses actual dynamics, and not just the volume knob...he plays the tele (and the Collings) like an Esquire...picking closer to or farther from the bridge, using his fingers, adjusting his touch, with/without vibrato and with or without effects.

I'm not sure if I would say Julian is my favorite guitarist/artist/musician...I hate distilling my interests down so reductively...but he's definitely among them. He's certainly one of the most highly respectable musicians playing today, in my humble opinion. Even if I don't like/get what he's doing, I respect that he's doing it and how well he's doing it. It's kind of like the people who liked Miles during the 50s and then hated him when he started doing fusion. I don't care for most of the fusion stuff (at least, the fair bit I've heard) myself...but I have mad respect for Miles for pushing music as far as he did and constantly reinventing himself along the way.

And that brings me to perhaps an important point. Unlike pop/top 40/covers, album-oriented mainstream rock and pop, and a variety of other genres, jazz music is self-indulgent music. It is, perhaps, the original self-indulgent music. Classical music was about the genius of composers and the prowess of musicians to play music as written. Folk, country and blues music was often about audience, activism or dealing with emotions/issues of the day. Worship music has always been focused on glorifying God or pointing the laity to Him. Jazz is musicians' music. It is self-conscious, controversial, improvisational, dangerous, reckless, wild and exploratory. All music has elements of those things to some degree...but jazz lives there. It is not uncommon for jazz musician's to completely lose all consciousness of the audience. Jazz is, fundamentally and elementally, musicians getting in touch with themselves and each other in spite of the audience. It is the pursuit of discovery, ecstasy, boundary breaking, higher consciousness and deeper emotional states. Unlike many genres of music, jazz is not simply written and played/performed...it is alive in the hands of musicians...evolving, breathing, battling...an unfolding lucid dream played out in real time. Julian is doing this. He recognizes he is a performer, but he is also an explorer. Sometimes, yes, he plays it safe...whether out of deference to those he plays with or his sense of decorum for the situation. Other times, he is breaking ground and fighting past his own limitations (yes, I'm sure he has some) to see where it takes him or what he discovers.

Finally, unlike some who simply guard their talent, skills and little corner of their scene with pettiness and jealousy...Julian shares his. He is a teacher. Some may say he is or isn't great at teaching, but he is making an attempt to share his knowledge, perspectives, approach and mindset with others for their betterment...and for the betterment of music generally. And I find that highly commendable.
 

ruger9

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I can understand some of the stuff that people say about him. Some of his stuff is decidedly not "jazz"...it's music.
The sooner people understand this... to hell with the genres... the better off they, and music in general, will be.

Except hip hop and rap. That stuff is crap. 😂
For me, with Julian, I take the stuff I like and leave the rest.
Again... if more people.... but then, that would remove people's most favorite hobby/pastime of all: COMPLAINING!!!

I think the comparison to Eric Dolphy is fitting. Julian is doing something very important in music (and especially in jazz) right now. For one, he's playing it with real instruments (including this forum's favorite) and real skill. He's also pushing boundaries, not only of his own skill set, but also of music itself and what defines it. Which means, by definition, he's not always doing what we think he should. Jazz should be played on an archtop on the neck pickup? Here's a tele through a Champ on the bridge pickup. Jazz should be inscrutibly complex, self-consciously intellectual and dissonant? Here's a beautiful classical etude or pop ballad over a simple chord progression. Jazz should NEVER be played on a flat-top acoustic? Well...
100%

Julian clearly enjoys what he's doing. He has attained what most of us strive for...the ability to completely express himself musically without making it into a calculus problem or being overly reliant on effects, gear or image. He gets lost in the music. If you watch enough of him, you'll see him laugh with it, grieve with it, fight with it, cuss it out, seduce it and roll on the floor wrestling with it.
The coolest thing. Not many players actually do this, or you can't see it. Even many of my favorites. His OBVIOUS emotional connection with the music and the instrument are something to see.

And we aren't talking about the cliche "guitar faces" here...

I'm impressed by Julian's command of the instrument. He uses actual dynamics, and not just the volume knob...he plays the tele (and the Collings) like an Esquire...picking closer to or farther from the bridge, using his fingers, adjusting his touch, with/without vibrato and with or without effects.

We must be brothers from another mother LOL. My other favorites who really do this well: Jim Campilongo, El Twanguero. Heck, even SRV.

Finally, unlike some who simply guard their talent, skills and little corner of their scene with pettiness and jealousy...Julian shares his. He is a teacher. Some may say he is or isn't great at teaching, but he is making an attempt to share his knowledge, perspectives, approach and mindset with others for their betterment...and for the betterment of music generally. And I find that highly commendable.

Amen!
 

ASATKat

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I've known of Julian for about 30 years. He grew up in Santa Rosa and I lived in Sebastopol just 5 miles west.

We had the hottest music store in the SF Bay area in Cotati, 10 MI South of SR in the 80s and 90s called Zone Music. I loved hanging out there, getting to know people. Julian would also show up at the store quite often with his dad and we would bump into each other, that was true when Pat Metheny visited, I saw Julian with his enabling loving dad. We'd say hi.

I also knew Steve Kimock back then. I was teaching at a high school as a jazz tutor for the jazz/pop big band, mostly a big band lol. I tutored the guitars with the songs the band was playing.

One day I thought of bringing a jazz clinic to the school. My thought was to hire Kimock and Julian, they knew each other well and it felt like I could pull it off. I did, although the money was low, $200 to split. Then again, it was a school so that seemed OK.

They didn't do it for the money, they did it because giving is huge for them, and they were doing me a favor, giving to me because I asked. Great guys, Steve took over the clinic, way over everyone's head including mine, only Julian could respond, and he did. They did play together for a couple jams. My fellow guitar teacher recorded it on his new Zoom H4nPro, but sadly he didn't know how to use it and the recording came out much below the H4n's ability, still glad to have what I got.

Kimock is my favorite overall guitarist on the planet. He does long jams like no one else, this is how Kimock shreds lol.

This is back in the 90s, he's playing with Bobby Vega b, Alan Hertz d, Ray White g. KVHW

 
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421JAM

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One of the things I like about Lage is that he tours extensively in the US. Unlike other players of his ilk (jazz-leaning, not massively successful artists), he leaves the big jazz cities and plays the indie rock and artist co-op circuit to 100 or 200 people a night. Not stuffy orchestra halls or jazz clubs.

When's the last time Scofield, Campilongo, Frisell, etc. played a show in Atlanta? It very rarely happens. But Lage has done two rock venue gigs here in less than a year, and one right before the shutdown. He's been here a lot.

I fail to see how getting in the trenches like that, risking losing money, can be equated with arrogance or selling out. It's quite the opposite as far as I can see. He could hold out and just do festivals for much more money and much less work, but he goes where his audience can see him up close, for cheap.
 




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