Is This Jazz? An Interview with Lionel Loueke

A couple of weeks ago I spoke with guitarist Lionel Loueke prior to his performance with the Chick Corea and Steve Gadd Band at The VETs in October. The conversation we had reveals a lot about the group and his individual process, which makes it invaluable reading for jazz and guitar fans alike. Below is the condensed version of our discussion. For the full transcribed interview visit

Ben Shaw: How long have you been playing with Chick Corea and Steve Gadd?

Lionel Loueke: Not too long; we did the recording in January and the first gig was in Tokyo in August at the Blue Note. We got together [for] about a week for the recording, but that’s about it. Chick knew that we would be touring, so he put the band together with Gadd so right after the recording we could plan for touring. But we’ve been hitting it hard and will be going until the end of November.

BS: In terms of tunes for this band, did you all bring in different charts, write them as a group or did Steve and Chick walk in with tunes ready to go?

LL: Basically Chick came in with his tunes. There’s one song on the CD that came out from a jam I had with him, but otherwise they are all his compositions. We workshopped together for two days jamming, and we recorded everything as we played, then he used the melody and came up with nice harmonies.

BS: With this band having a sax player in Steve Wilson and Chick Corea’s right hand, how is it to balance the melodic playing you’re doing with the harmonic?

LL: It works fine because there’s no restriction with the harmony or how far one wants to go in or out of the structure as long as the form stays the same. Everyone is listening so carefully. We give room to each other to stretch out and do our thing, so there are no boundaries.

BS: Is there anything that you’ve learned so far that surprised you and has given you a new perspective on the music as it develops?

LL: Not anything completely different; it just sounds like a band that has been around for a long time. Chick and Gadd have been playing since the ’70s, Carlitos (Del Puerto, bass) has been with Chick about four years, Steve Wilson has been with him for a long time, so there is a foundation. Also, Chick is an excellent composer, player and arranger so he knows exactly what he wanted from day one, so it’s just about getting it better and better and find what the music needs.

BS: What sort of new concept are you working on? What has been the focus of your practice?

LL: Right now my focus is on my right hand technique. I don’t choose to play with a pick because it requires a much different technique. Plus I’m always switching between acoustic and electric, which is a different mechanic, but I want to sound right on both. Then you have to go with what you’re hearing. Right now I’m not able to play what I’m hearing, so it means I have to go back in on that and the technique together.

For concepts, I’m always looking for new territory. I listen a lot to classical music, contemporary classical, Bartok, Stravinsky. The development of movements and how I can apply it in my playing. Instead of throwing in many ideas, just focus on one and try to make sense out of it. I go back to the scores and look at their voicings, what chord is that, and apply it to the guitar.

I try to look outside of the box, to learn something new and bring it to what I do. When it comes to jazz, I focus on piano or saxophone, any instrument that has different type of phrasing that I can incorporate. Then I have the whole African side of traditional instruments that I listen a lot to, and try to get the sound close on guitar. I have a lot that I switch to periodically.

BS: Thanks so much for your time, I’m really looking forward to hearing you all play!

LL: Yeah, we’re doing great, man. I’m learning from everybody, stealing from everyone in the best way! Listening to Chick’s right hand, his phrasing; all things I’ve thought about, but is best to get from the source. I’m in school. (laughs)

Happening Around Town:

The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra; first Monday monthly @ The Met (Pawtucket)

Is This Jazz?; first Friday bimonthly @ AS220 (Providence)

Allary At Arias; Sundays @ Arias Lounge (Providence)

Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)

Jazz JamTuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)

Groove E TuesdayTuesdays @ Murphy’s Law (Pawtucket)

Parlour Jazz Jam; third Sunday monthly @ The Parlour (Providence)

Jeff Platz Quartet’s Modern Sound Series; last Sunday monthly @ Tea In Sahara (Providence)

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Ben Shaw is a local composer and performer. Find him at or on Twitter @ahueofshaw.

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