Mike Lee is a saxophonist and educator with an established career in the New York City and Northern New Jersey area. He performs regularly with a variety of ensembles, including the Jimmy Heath Orchestra, the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, The Josh Evans big band, etc. Mike Lee is professor of Jazz saxophone at The John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University. His students have won an array of national awards and several of them have gone on to attend The Julliard School, Berklee College of music, Manhattan School of Music, etc. He has also had compositions rate in the top five at 1997’s Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and BMI International Jazz Composers Competition.
What inspired the creation of Song for All of Us?
The title song “Song for All of Us”, was written the day after the election of 2016. Our country was so divided, and I think we were pretty apprehensive about what was to come. This song was written for all of us that we might heal and find our country and the world a better place after all the turmoil.
How did you meet the musicians that came to form the band for this album?
Lenny White has been a hero of mine since my earliest introductions to jazz music with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and the Griffith Park Collection. I first started playing with him in Wallace Roney’s “Universe” Orchestra and later in Wallace’s quintet. My first gig with the quintet included Buster Williams on bass. One tune from that first gig stands out in my memory. We played Ron Carter’s composition, “RJ” without piano - just two horns and bass and drums. I think I floated off the ground for about two weeks after that gig. Lenny has become an important friend and mentor, helping produce and release this recording as if it’s his own record. His musicianship is exemplary. His knowledge of all types of music is encyclopedic and you can hear that expansiveness in the variety of music represented here.
You can check out Lenny's label: IYOUWE.
I’ve looked up to Ed Howard since my early days in New York. Back then, he was playing with Roy Haynes, Clifford Jordan, Eddie Henderson, and Gary Thomas among many others. He is a tremendous bassist with the ability to create remarkable textures and creative directions in any context. His encouragement and musicianship throughout this project have been invaluable.
I met Dave Stryker in Brooklyn in the 80’s. He is rightfully acknowledged as one of the great guitarists and band leaders of today. His musical output is staggering. He is currently experiencing a surge in an already flourishing career. I had the great pleasure of being one of ten saxophonists on his 2015 release, “Messin’ with Mr. T” which featured one saxophonist on each track of this tribute to Dave’s long-time employer, Stanley Turrentine. Being included in a lineup that featured Jimmy Heath, Chris Potter, Houston Person, Bob Mintzer, and Eric Alexander was quite an honor. Dave continues to be my friend and mentor and I was very happy to have him join us on this recording.
Bruce Williams and I started hanging at Cecil’s Jazz Club in the early 2000’s. I knew him only by reputation at that point from his work with Frank Foster and Roy Hargrove. Bruce’s weekly jam session in our Northern New Jersey neighborhood became my regular Tuesday night haunt and lifeline for New York caliber jazz while I was spending so much time on the road and raising small children that I had little time to cross the Hudson into the City. Bruce introduced me to several of the bands that I play with regularly including Oliver Lake and the Josh Evans big band. “Uncle Bruce” has helped and continues to help raise my children musically. It was great to do a couple of quintet tunes with him on this recording.
I’ve heard George Colligan on many live gigs and recordings since the 90’s. He’s one of the most sought-after pianists today because of his virtuosic command of the instrument and his ability to interpret original material masterfully, as he does on this recording. He was brought to this project by Lenny White who has worked with him in several groups including the Buster Williams Quintet. His professionalism and creativity are both well represented on the five selections he plays here.
As each month passes, Julian Lee gains notoriety in the jazz world. He graduated The Juilliard School last year and received the Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists in 2017. His many appearances with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Wynton Marsalis Quintet are evidence of his having already established himself as a saxophonist of note. But to me he’s still just my kid and we’re playing some tunes.
Not be overlooked is Julian’s little brother Matthew Lee, who has already been on the scene for almost a decade, having played with jazz luminaries from the age of nine. His contribution to this recording is nothing less than remarkable.
What do you want the listener to take away from this album?
I think of this album as a journey. Since it draws on so many different aspects of my musical life, the lineup changes often but with great consistency as well. It is conceived as an album, to be listened to in order - an old-fashioned notion. But I hope it gives a glimpse of the joy I find in playing music, writing music, conversing with great minds, and hanging out with my kids. It is intended to feel like my living room where my kids are playing, their uncles stop in for a bit of conversation and a tune or two and there’s a sense of coming and going and the feeling of great comradery.
How would you describe your experience working on this album?
It was cathartic. Having so many tunes in the cue - I had to really think hard about which tunes would be recorded and then which would be selected after we recorded. Many of the tunes were written before I dreamed that I’d be working with musicians of this caliber in this kind of “all for one” experience where Lenny White and the other world class musicians become co-leaders and sidemen who were thoughtful and powerful but ultimately wanted to help me realize my vision.
Did you run into any challenges when working on the album?
We had too many tunes! - I think we recorded 16 tunes in 2 days. It was hard deciding what to cut, but we’ve got the foundation for another record already in waiting.
Why did you choose to create a CD when streaming services, like Spotify are now in the game?
I wanted physical copies, because it is a suite as much as a collection of tunes. I hope there will be a fair amount of listeners who will want to hear it in its entirety in order. Also, it’s still easy to sell CD’s and it helps offset the cost of touring and producing the CD. Download cards aren’t very popular in my experience.
How do you believe streaming services have influenced the production of albums?
Artistically we have to realize that many people will only listen to one or two tunes and that each song needs to stand on its own. It’s MUCH harder to get revenue from streaming sources than from hard CDs so we have to be realistic about the business purpose. We can still document great music, create a buzz and build and audience, get radio play and increase our visibility, but the idea of making significant profit from record sales alone is a much less likely scenario.
What’s next on the horizon?
More CD release events at Smalls, Jazz Standard, and the Montclair Jazz Festival. Dates will be posted at mikeleejazz.com. Oh, I have been informed that my next CD, in addition to my two sons, who perform on “Song For All Of Us” will also include my daughter, Jacquie, an amazing 13 year old violinist
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