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April 21, 2011

NYU Jazz Interview Series: Lionel Loueke

Seemingly shy and gentle were my first impressions of Lionel Loueke. I found him to be somewhat reserved but brimming with great curiosity and genuine thirst for music and self expression. Lionel entered the international jazz arena only a few years ago as a student at the Monk Institute, mentored by the likes of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter to name a few. Infusing his African roots along with a thoroughly modern approach to jazz, Lionel developed his own voice in a world where so many musicians are inclined to emulate others rather than find their own paths. Speaking of unique infusions, check out the pops and clicks he uses as part of his vocal technique. I am certain that his cross over between jazz and African influences extends both ways, but am curious to know how his jazz infusions have influenced his fellow musicians in Africa.

Lionel’s story reminds me of my conversation with South African trumpet player Hugh Masakala and his experiences when he first came to New York City in the early 1960’s. Immediately upon landing, Hugh was literally shuttled off the plane and paraded around to every jazz club in the city to meet the likes of Miles Davis, Art Blakey and John Coltrane; introduced as the first African jazz musician to arriving from mother Africa. Expectations were high for Hugh as many jazz musicians at that time first began exploring their African roots. Hugh said that he truly felt like a fish out of water as he was trying to emulate a style closer to traditional jazz music rather than to infuse his African roots, as he was mentored by Louis Armstrong who had personally send Hugh one of his own trumpets in the 1950s. American jazz at that time musicians were excited and expecting to hear jazz music directly from its African source, but would have to wait a few more years until the following generations of musicians would begin to take full advantage of not only African roots, but influences from around the world, as Lionel so eloquently has done for us all.

– Dave Schroeder, NYU Jazz Interview Series Host

Lionel Loueke – Mwaliko

Produced by NYU Jazz Studies Dept. and Jazz Online and in association with Barnes & Noble, The NYU Steinhardt Jazz Series features interviews with the jazz greats. The series is hosted by Dave Schroeder, Director of Jazz Studies at NYU Steinhardt.

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