SaxShed.com Artist “MiniView”
Chad Lefkowitz – Brown is the second subject in a new series of SaxShed.com “MiniViews”. The MiniViews are shorter, informal interviews intended to be digested quickly in this busy world we all live.
Not long ago, while clicking around on Facebook I discovered a charming video recording by Chad Lefkowitz – Brown. Although I’m not sure if it was posted by a “friend” or on his own page, it caught my attention. That recording impressed me and led to me seeking out Chad for this artist interview. Enjoy!
Chad, I just discovered you and your playing online. Where are you from and what led to you living and working in NYC??
I grew up in Horseheads, a really small town in upstate New York. By the time I was 12 I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician so I always knew I would be in NYC eventually. I went to college at the Brubeck Institute Fellowship Program in California (started by Dave Brubeck.) That was a really amazing experience, because I got to perform and tour with the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet. It gave me some great real world experience. After finishing up at the Brubeck Institute I moved right to NYC.
I saw what appeared to be an advertisement on Facebook for your YouTube video of “It Could Happen to You.” Tell me about that.
I’ve just started working with a manager to help promote my music, since I’ll be releasing an album in the Spring. She’s worked hard to expand my social media presence, and we both agreed it would be a good idea to post a solo video for people interested in my music to check out.
Yes, a great idea as it caught my attention and presumably many others as well. Tell me what’s on your plate in the near future. Tours? Recording? Live dates?
Right now I’m on tour with a wonderful singer named Alice Tan Ridley. So far for the Spring and Summer I have tours scheduled as a sideman with Clarence Penn, The Metta Quintet, and Quentin Angus.
My next show as a leader will be at the Jazz Gallery in NYC on April 25th. The music will be from my forthcoming album, Imagery Manifesto, which will be released in the Spring. Everyone on the album will be on the show so I’m very excited for the performance!
It seems as though your career is really moving in the right direction Chad. I’d like to find out more about your background and beginnings in music. How and when did you start in music?
When I was just a few years old I started telling my parents that I wanted to “play the microphone” when I grew up. I really loved singing. I started playing saxophone when I was about 9 years old and didn’t actually like it that much at first. I was just playing out of standard method books, which really bored me. I was really lucky in that my dad was a music teacher, and I was home schooled until 7th grade. I didn’t have to take group lessons in a classroom and I didn’t have to follow any sort of curriculum. Instead, my dad started showing me simple improvising techniques, and I became really excited about playing. He had always played Charlie Parker around the house, so I quickly showed a lot of interest in learning music from his omni book. The solos were obviously way above my skill level, but I would take my time moving through the solos really slowly, and quickly I started to get the hang of it. I recall picking it up way more by ear than through reading out of the book.
Was your mom a musician as well as your father? Tell us about that.
Yes, Although my dad was a music teacher at the local middle and high schools, but he would always say that I got my natural music ability from my mom. She was and still is a great singer. She would always sing anything from the Beatles to Ella Fitzgerald around the house and I would have fun joining in with for as long as I can remember.
Do you teach privately or work with any particular institutions? If so, how do today’s students/university programs compare with your experiences as a student? Do you feel far removed from your days as a student?
I teach privately, and I do clinics, workshops and master classes both on my own and with JazzReach. JazzReach is a wonderful Jazz Outreach program that I’ve been very fortunate to start touring with. I’m just a few years out of college so I haven’t been on faculty at any institutions yet, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be a guest artist and do clinics at several universities and colleges.
You are clearly an accomplished saxophonist with a passion for playing jazz. Do you limit your work to artistic endeavors or do you also play Club Dates/Private Parties? If not currently, did you ever play these types of commercial gigs? Recording sessions or jingles?
When I first got to NYC a few years ago, I was right out of college and I took any work I could get. I was very fortunate in that I was able to become financially stable pretty quickly, and I was very lucky to start playing with some great musicians who worked a lot. I still play in an awesome wedding band when I’m available and in town, and I find that I’m happy to do any gig with people I like to play and hang with, no matter what the pay or the venue is.
What’s the worst gig you’ve had to do, either in music or as a “day gig”?
I played some pretty weird gigs when I first got to NYC. Once I was a “surprise saxophonist” at someone’s going away party. The host was throwing a party for a friend who was moving to New Orleans, so she had me walk in through the back entrance of her apartment, playing “When The Saints Go Marching In.” The awkward part was that there were only five people at the party, and then after the surprise I had to stand in their dining room playing solo saxophone while they ate dinner. Really odd!
What is your routine like now as far as warming-up and practicing? Is there a routine? To what extent do you work on tunes, patterns, compositions, books, etc.
I used to practice everything I could think of. I had a good work ethic in high school and college, so I shed anything that was thrown at me. Books by Jerry Bergonzi, Walt Weiskopf, George Garzone, learned lots of tunes, long tones, everything! Towards the end of my college days, I started focusing on sounding like myself, and practicing more creatively. I started working on tricky rhythmic concepts, and different combinations of intervals. Practicing became more of a fun game, and I’ve tried to continue this approach as best as I can. I don’t have nearly as much time to practice as I used to, but as long as I can get in an hour or two every once in a while I’ll feel good about that.
Tell us about the instruments and set ups you currently use. Our readers would be very interested not only in the horns, mouthpieces, reeds and ligs but the lineage to acquiring them. For example, where did you find the main tenor you currently play on?
The tenor I play on right now is a Selmer Mark VI, 140xxx. After my dad retired from teaching, he got really into instrument repair. He bought the Mark VI that I play on when it was in terrible condition. Totally banged up. He fixed it up and now it plays beautifully. Needless, to say I’m very lucky!
The mouthpiece I play on was made by Eric Drake. He’s got an awesome shop called Saxology in Berkeley, California. Highly Recommended! He’s an amazing technician and has an incredible selection of vintage mouthpieces.
What hobbies, if any, do you have outside of playing music?
I love watching or playing any sport, especially hockey. My first dream was to be in the NHL, but that quickly changed to saxophone. Fortunately I didn’t lose any teeth before making the switch. I’m also the world’s worst movie buff. I absolutely love movies but there are way too many classics I haven’t seen; too many holes in my repertoire!
What do you say to someone who’s trying to develop their own individual sound and be an artist above all else? – particularly in the current economical climate.
I think with the increased presence of institutionalized jazz, it’s easy to fall into the trap of learning improvisation through a curriculum. Thelonious Monk probably would have gotten kicked out of jazz school, but needless to say, he’s one of the most important artists ever. When I first started college I got wrapped up in playing everything “right.” I actually think I digressed in some ways conceptually, because I was being critiqued so much more than I used to be. Once I accepted that not everyone would love me, and that’s the way it should be, I started focusing more on just sounding like me. I think that’s the first, and most important step to finding an individual sound.
Where would you like to be in 10 years? Musically, spiritually, financially, etc?
I love NYC, but I’d love to be able to move to Northern California sometime over the next 10 years. Ideally, I would love to be able to tour, record and give clinics without having to be centered in NYC.
You can find out more about Chad and upcoming tour dates at www.chadlefkowitz-brown.com .