Admittedly, the first time I saw Mike Lorenz perform, I was there for the beer. His Jazz trio was tucked in the upstairs corner of Tired Hands Brewing Company, a small-batch bar with impeccable knack for creative brews from only the best local ingredients. Apparently their taste in music isn’t bad either. Since discovering the new brewery himself, Mike has turned from just another beer lover to regular performer at Tired Hands, which he currently has exclusive rights to. We sat down with Mike to chat about jazz and the nuances that make it so special. Bi-Weekly you can catch him play upstairs at Tired Hands including tonight and Thursday the 21st. Don’t forget to try their amazing beer and food, and remember to thank us later.
The Key: How did you get into playing guitar?
Mike Lorenz: I had a friend who played guitar, so I wanted to play guitar. I started playing in 5th grade because I saw him playing, so that was in like 1995, which I always tell people is a great time to start playing guitar because all the stuff on the radio was ‘guitar rock’ – even though some of it sucked. If you wanted to play it, some of it was kind of hard for a kid beginning, so I always credit that stuff for why I am a decent guitar player. (chuckles)
TK: What, in your opinion, is the state of jazz?
ML: I guess if you read jazz stuff on the Internet, it dies every year. Someone proclaims it dead ever year. But there is lots of neat stuff. It’s just where the influence comes from. There are some great Indian-American musicians who use jazz as an influence, there are people who grew up with hip-hop who use that as an influence, and I still think it is all jazz, but then there are people who don’t. The thing that is kinda constant now is people taking in exterior influences. There are a lot of people taking what A Tribe Called Quest did, or like J Dilla and playing it on acoustic instruments in an improvised setting. A big name from last year is a person named Robert Glasper. He released a record with musicians who do that really, really well, and it is basically an R&B but it is on Blue Note which is a jazz label and there is improvising on it, but they are playing what sounds like Dilla beats and stuff like that.
TK: The hip-hop influence seems like a way to make jazz more accessible. Are more musicians doing that?
ML: There are people with obvious hip-hop or R&B influences, you know, like a lot of them are influenced by that D’Angelo album Voodoo, there is a lot of that. But there are other people, like this piano player Vijay Iyer, on his last two records he has done a cover of a song that A Tribe Called Quest sampled and then done some sort of reconstruction of it, but obviously there is a very conscious cross examination of the song, cross referential. So there is a lot of that, and then there are people who just play jazz, where you’d be like ‘oh, that’s jazz?’ Swingin’, or something like that.
TK: How is important is improvisation to your music?
ML: That’s the essential part of it. I think that is above all what happens in jazz that makes it unique. The improvised spaces are what make it different than a jam band. A lot of times the ending is unknown at the beginning.
TK: How important is your setting in your ability to improvise?
ML: Yeah, I have to answer that a couple different ways. I used to have this friend, we had this joke that we would say during his gig. He would do this voice, but he’d say ‘Just do the gig.’ Which is sort of like, just do what the room is. Do what the vibe is. If you are playing a wedding, you are not going to do Coltrane, or post-Coltrane, like, blow it out. Sometimes I think about that, just do the gig. If you want to make it more colorful, assess the room, play the space. You have heard me play Tired Hands, and there I feel really comfortable and appreciated, everyone is great, the room sounds good, so I just feel comfortable and play, other places they expect a certain kind of thing so I give it to them.
TK: Do you have an ideal place for your improvisation to bloom?
ML: Ideally it would be a listening situation where people are listening and experiencing the music in some appreciative capacity, no yelling or talking over it. That would be ideal. It doesn’t have to be a concert hall, it can just be a club where people listen. You go to clubs in New York and people go and listen because they know it’s anticipated and there is a premium set of music. Ideally, I think jazz happens best in a place where there is movement and people and people are in and out and there is a buzz to the room, like a club setting, but people don’t always listen in those situations, around here, they do in other places. That would be ideal.
TK: Is making a jazz album challenging given the amount of improvisation involved?
ML: It captures a moment. It is just a matter of how special that moment is. It is a really moody music, it’s not like you can just reherse a bunch and your have your arrangement down like a rock band might. They have it all set and they can go in and hit it, and do a bunch of takes and have it be fine. But jazz, you can just not have it that day. You can have spent time and money and everybody else’s time and you don’t have something you aren’t happy with. There are special moments, but a lot of times with jazz it’s just that day, like classic albums are recorded in one day. Miles Davis recorded 4 records in like two or three days. They are called like Cookin’, Relaxin’, Smokin’ and I forget what the fourth one is [it’s Steamin’ – Ed.], but he just wanted to finish his contract with Prestige so he could sign with Columbia, so he recorded four records in two days, and they are all classics, like, everybody should own them that is a jazz fan. Basically they just took what they were doing in clubs and went in and recorded it, and that happened in two days. They captured the quality of what was happening.
Mike Lorenz plays tonight and March 21st at Tired Hands Brewing Company, 16 Ardmore Avenue in Ardmore. The 21+ performance begins at 8 p.m.