Close Your Eyes: an espresso with Lionel Loueke

Image Credits: Lionel Loueke © Luca Vantusso


November 18, 2021

After reviewing “Close Your Eyes”, re-released by Sounderscore, we interviewed Lionel Loueke who told us about the genesis of the album and his vision on what it means to be a musician today. 

> Ivano Rossato – photo credit LKV Luca Vantusso

How did you select the standards played with the trio and published in “Close Your Eyes”?
We musicians have a different love for different tunes and standards, the basics of our language. In this particular gig I didn’t have much time actually to prepare the recording session and all the guys I called were as busy as I was. It happened at the last minute so I just put together a bunch of tunes that I liked. The only arrangement that I brought was Footprints, that I made when I was at the Monk Institute in 2002. But, beside Footprints, we arranged the other tunes on the spot in the studio. It was really spontaneous, the record speaks for itself.

The joyful moments for me are when I’m taking the risk and don’t know exactly what is going to happen… sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, like in life.

Your musical style is among the most recognizable and personal ones today…
It is my way of speaking, totally natural for me. It’s a process that developed over the years.I grew up in Benin, playing percussion, listening to Miriam Makeba… and all these influences made me grow up musically. It’s a natural process of course, but there is also a lot of work done behind the scenes. I’ve spent a lot of time studying, I’m still learning, but the final result is to think about the music I’m playing, not about the things I learned.
How would you define jazz music?
For me Jazz is going back home. Ok, we don’t have harmony in Africa, but the spirit of jazz music is the attitude, the improvisation part of the music. It’s how much you are willing to leave your comfort zone. For me this is the first element of Jazz, actually we are all improvising in life, it doesn’t matter if you are a musician or a carpenter, or a journalist… You have to improvise based on the situation. We are doing that every day and everywhere all around the world. You have to learn and then forget everything to risk. The joyful moments for me are when I’m taking the risk and don’t know exactly what is going to happen… sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, like in life.
Is there a characteristic that all the great artists you have played with have in common?
That’s a good question. If I have to choose one, it is that they are all still thirsty to learn. From Herbie to Chick Corea, to Steve Gadd… none of them think for a second to be in a comfort zone or that they have accomplished anything. They are all in the process of developing their own art. 
What would you suggest to a professional musician in this period of rebirth of music after the pandemic?
I speak for everyone including myself. We all learned from the pandemic, I personally learned so much, because I was forced to do something I always wanted to do, that is finde space to practice, to chill, to enjoy life. In other words music is not who we are but is what we do. If you can be a better person (any way it means to you, for me in the pandemic is to take care of each other), if you think that way, then you bring positive energy at the table. For a musician, sometimes it’s good to get out of what we do regularly, to find a solution. For me the solution is to think of something else. It’s a turning point: I don’t want to go back and be super busy like in the past.
What is the most important advice you would give to a young musician?
The lesson is: digest what you are learning, don’t refuse any lesson and welcome all the suggestions, and than play it the way you want and you are, this is the key for everything. We all have the same language, same vocabulary, the same notes. If we don’t have personality in what we do, then I don’t see joy in continuing. So young generation: get the information, learn it and then speak truly from your heart not from your mind!
Close Your Eyes: an espresso with Lionel Loueke copyright Jazzespresso 2021.
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