Tuesday, June 7, 2011

about face : defining patrick lamb

Having never made "a great saxophone record," It's All Right Now is Maceo meets The Crusaders meets Patrick Lamb.

Although the soulful jazz saxophonist and vocalist Patrick Lamb is a Grammy-nominated, Muddy award winning, multifaceted force, he's hardly got it all figured out. What he has learned after traveling the world sharing sold-out stages with multi Grammy-winner Diane Schuur, Bobby Caldwell, Gino Vannelli, and the Tower of Power Rhythm Section is that life is a journey and you can redefine yourself along the way as long as you stay true to yourself.

And as each year passes, Lamb is still trying to figure out what kind of artist he wants to be. One thing that has not changed is Lamb's unwavering focus and dedication to his craft. As a band leader and multi-instrumentalist playing an energetic mix of R&B, soul, blues, funk, and jazz, Lamb is ready to release his first "great saxophone record" titled It's All Right Now--his first effort recorded outside of Portland and which features celebrity players like Alex Al (Michael Jackson), Little John Roberts (Janet Jackson), Dave Weckl (Chick Corea, Robert Plant, Diana Ross), Paul Jackson Jr. (Tonight Show), Michael White (Steely Dan), Dwight Sills (Anita Baker, Babyface, Kirk Whalum).

Yet Lamb maintains that music does not define him. He's been recognized for his community service, and he tries "to be as healthy as I can" staying active with soccer and running. Believing that "opportunity knocks softly," "I try to remain open because life changes. Music defines me in a lot of ways but you never want to get comfortable. It's dangerous to be defined by what you do." Also an entrepreneur at heart, Lamb notably launched the multi-million dollar Tickets Oregon several years ago.

Born to teachers in Mississippi, Patrick Lamb "literally moved every single year until we moved to Oregon" in 1983. A Portland native since, he first picked up the sax in middle school band class and has clung to it ever since because moving every year "can be kind of lonely. As soon as I found music I just went there."

Who first introduced you to music?

My dad took care of the family basically playing piano and honky tonks and weddings and little private parties and outdoor concerts. I would travel around with him. We had a little green Datsun 220 and he had a Rhodes piano stuck in the back and there was just enough room for me to fit in the back and we would go out and play. He also had great records playing all the time--Ray Charles, Phoebe Snow, Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, really a wide range of stuff.

How did you become hooked on the sax?

I just jumped into the saxophone and I went through all the beginning band books in the first few months. And then my dad thought I was getting kind of cocky so one day he brought back this book called the Charlie Parker Omnibook and was like, "Okay, you think you're pretty good? Well check this out, see if you can learn some of these solos."

I started learning some of those solos and then after I learned three or four of those he took me out to the Jazz Quarry jam session--that's where all kinds of people were coming through, and I sat in and that's what really put a fire under me. I started playing, and when you're playing around town, you either do or you don't get a name for yourself or not. Somehow I started getting gigs and then I started getting calls for touring with Diane Schuur. My first gig with her was at Schnitzer Hall after she had won a Grammy and it was sold out.

After spending a career backing others as a sax-for-hire, how have you found our own sound and style on your most recent recordings?

It's definitely not some kind of concocted thing. It's a journey like anything else. Every year is a little bit different; I'm sort of like a kid, I get bored with one thing, don't we all? I've been a mercenary of sorts for the last ten years or so, just touring with different people.

I haven't really had a record that was produced outside of Portland until now. I decided that I wanted to make that next step, that next jump to another level, and by everything I could decipher, I really had to start working with people outside of Portland. So that's what I started doing. I haven't really had a great saxophone record to date so this next record is more of a saxophone record, it has one song that I sing on, but the rest of is kind of Maceo meets The Crusaders meets some of my other influences.

Your last record (2007's Soul of a Free Man) was the first record that you'd ever sang on but now you've taken a step away from the vocals to focus on the saxophone.

I spent about six months trying to figure out how to meld the two. It's really difficult because I sing all the time at different concerts, [and] I obviously play saxophone but I wanted to put out another record with me singing and also writing songs. I eventually decided to do two separate records. This [It's All Right Now] is one of a two part series. It's setting a new precedent for me; from now on I'm going to work with people in Los Angeles and New York and press forward with outside producers. When you go and work with someone who's produced India Arie and worked with Michael Jackson it's different, inherently different.

Does that have something to do with the fact that for as many studios and producers as Portland has, there aren't many internationally renowned or celebrity producers in town? Where New York, LA and Nashville have long-standing reputations and there's something that comes with that territory...

Yes. I'm just over simplifying of course, but all these studios have the same stuff in them. If you went to five studios here and then you went to LA and looked at five studios there, they practically have all the same stuff. It's not the gear, it's the ear--the person running it, the producer. That's what's taken me a lot of time and, frankly, a lot of money to figure out.

How much of this is meeting new people and moving outside of your normal group and comfort zone to see what these new collaborations can inspire?

Absolutely. I'm always about moving outside of your circle because whenever you stay there you get comfortable, you get bored, you get stagnant, you get placid, you just don't really make great or interesting stuff. It really comes down to who's on board not where you're going. Because if you have the right crew on board, then you can take a tiny bit of opportunity and knock it out of the park. If you have the wrong crew on board, you can spend $100,000 and you're gonna sink any major opportunity like the Titanic.

Have you finally discovered what works for yourself?

I've never had a giant record deal, I've never had some huge, super break that's happened overnight and catapulted me, like some artists have. My career thus far has really been incremental, but it's been slow and steady and I feel very happy now because we have a great fan base. Our fans our great, I'm debt free, I have a beautiful home, I tour the world with different people, and musically, the giant marketing machine, that used to wag the dog and make people famous whether they deserved it or not, doesn't really work anymore. For better or for worse, the only thing you can depend on is yourself and your fans and connecting with them. For me it really works because anytime we play at Jimmy Mak's, we play a couple of shows, we sell them out, and we make great money. Life is good but I'd like to be able to expand where I travel with my own band and I want to get out great new records so I can go travel internationally under my own name.

Speaking of connecting with your fans and marketing yourself, tell me about how you're funding the some of the new album with Kickstarter.

What I love about Kickstarter is that there's an element about it that's so inexplicable and unexpected. What I mean by that is, as an artist, you're generally aware of who, where and what your fan base is if you want to survive. The thing that's been fascinating about Kickstarter is that some of the fans that you think are going to be incredibly active and supportive and put a lot of money towards it, don't. Then on the other side of things, people that you are just sort of subliminally aware of step up and put in a $1000. I woke up this morning and looked at Kickstarter and it was up $1500 since last night and one of the people I didn't even know. And I'm still really, really curious [laughs]. The thing about Kickstarter is putting yourself out there and that's really what people want. They want it to be personal; they [don't want to be] subject to this kind of marketing machine anymore. They get it. If they hear some kind of crazy marketing sales pitch, they're immediately turned off. You can really connect with people personally by filming a video that just shows who you are and appealing to people to help you with your project.

The way we're funding this project is a hybrid way. The project's really expensive, so it's not like something I'm producing in the basement. The dollars that are needed are higher, just the personnel dictates that. I have friends that have executive produced the basic recording of the tracking and then I'm using Kickstarter to finish up mixing, mastering and some other things like graphics, duplication.

With Kickstarter you're able to honestly put yourself out there and let your fans share in every step of your process.

It makes or breaks you. That's what the reality is today. When I put something up on Kickstarter I pray that it's authentic and people connect with it. There's no BS because people don't want that. People typically connect with Kickstarter because they really feel that there's something meaningful about your project… or people just like you. You can appeal to all those different reasonings for participation from $10 to $25,000 and everything in between. That makes it interesting because it's not just one way to participate for one demographic. It opens it up to a lot of possibilities.

You mentioned splitting this project into two parts: a sax record and a vocal one. Did you end up writing or recording any music that will end up on the vocal album?

No. We went into this with a laser focus. We did it old school. I went down [to LA] in January and I spent the first week writing, and then the second week we recorded. The goal was to do a saxophone record and maybe one vocal track. That was really important going into this, to have focus. The difficulty for me over the last couple years has been trying to figure out that: What kind of artist am I going to be?

I do a lot of different things. When I go out on the road with Bobby Caldwell, I play strings. I sing backgrounds with most of the artists I travel with. The reality is that a lot of people here, and fans, know me as a saxophonist. And for people that I tour with, I think that it's important when I go in to different cities that I'm just playing as a saxophonist [under my own name], it's great for me to have a saxophone record for my saxophone fans. It just makes sense. That doesn't mean I'm not committed to the vocal stuff but I think I'm going to work with a different producer on the vocal record; someone who has a different angle so it'll have a different sound.

It sounds like you're defining and refining who you are right now.

You know, it's a cliche, but cliches are cliche for a reason because there's a lot of truth in them. Following your journey and wherever it takes you. It's really important for me to have a saxophone record, even if just to give to people I'm touring with for other touring possibilities. And to be able to give them a record that I'm actually proud of is important. You need something that you're proud of that you can give to people.

It's not just your art, it's your resume...

It's your business card too [laughs].

Give me a piece of advice for aspiring musicians.

Being a musician is kind of like the Olympics. You have to be committed to do what it takes to be in the top two percentile or you're not going to make it--not make a living. You have to have a laser focus and you have to be healthy.

Surround yourself with people who are much smarter and have already had extreme success in the business.

Patrick Lamb celebrates the release of It's All Right Now with two shows on June 18th at Jimmy Mak's with special guest and producer Jeff Lorber.

Read this article in About Face Magazine.

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