Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
October 27, 1999. All rights reserved.
On the Road with B.D. Lenz
Just a few short years ago, B.D. Lenz’s parents were
worried about their son’s career direction. He wanted be a jazz guitarist,
not the best paying of vocations. Now they couldn’t be prouder, he
says, speaking by phone from his home in Parsippany.
For his dad, a retired social work administrator for the State of
New Jersey, and his mom, a technical writer, "a music career was
not something they really understood in the beginning," says Lenz.
"They were understandably nervous at first." But that was
in 1995, the year he graduated from Trenton State College.
Now Lenz, 28, teaches mathematics part-time at Lenape Valley Regional
High School in Stanhope and has more gigs than he knows what to do
with. Aside from leading his own B.D. Lenz Trio and Quartet at gigs
around the state, he plays with drummer Greg Federico, with a wedding
band, Sizzle, and an original rock band, Violet Truth. On top of all
that he is also making appearances on the Manhattan music scene.
"Their fears are allayed now that they see how busy I am,"
he says. "My mom has seen me doing some really nice gigs, so she’s
getting the idea that I’m doing all right."
Lenz celebrates the release of his all original, all-instrumental
CD, "Lost And Found," at the Urban Word Cafe on Friday, October
29, and at Small Word Coffee on Saturday, October 30.
Like any other artist or craftsman, Lenz argues that it takes time
for a musician to get established. "You pay your dues in the beginning
and try to find work where you can," he says. In recent months,
the guitarist and his trio or quartet have performed at the prestigious
Panasonic Village Jazz Festival, held every August in New York City,
at the Westfield Jazz Festival, in June, and he has made numerous
appearances at the 55 Bar, an intimate yet prestigious Manhattan jazz
Lenz notes that "B.D." is not a stage name, but rather what
he has preferred to be called since he was in grade school, the initials
for Bernard Davidson. He says his earliest awareness of jazz came
when he attended the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles for a year
after he graduated from high school.
"I played saxophone through high school," he explains, "but
at home I was playing guitar and I basically picked up on it my freshman
year at the Musician’s Institute. It’s a one-year, very intense musical
program, and after I got back I traveled for a while and then went
to the College of New Jersey," he explains.
"At the Musician’s Institute, I got an awakening to a lot of stuff
I’d never heard before," he admits, noting prior to attending
the college, he studied the guitar stylings of people like Stevie
Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani, the latter two
jazz-rock fusion specialists, an area Lenz has chosen to pursue.
The tunes on the new CD, "Lost And Found," are fusion in the
best sense of the genre: they not only fuse jazz and rock, but they
incorporate elements of funk, blues, and rhythm and blues. Lenz released
his first recording, "Tell The World" in 1997. He had 500
copies of "Tell The World" pressed, but now that he has established
regular shows at places like Manhattan’s 55 Bar, he went ahead and
had 1,000 copies of "Lost and Found" pressed. He recorded
"Lost and Found" at SS Sound Studios in Hamilton Square. Like
a lot of up-and-coming musicians, he freely admits that going back
in to record his second album, he had a much sharper vision of the
kinds of sounds he wanted and he knew more about how to get them.
"It was a huge growth curve involved from when I did the first
CD," says Lenz. "I knew coming into the studio what I wanted
and how to get it done. The first recording was great for when I did
it, but having gone through that experience, I felt this time I knew
what I wanted and how to get it as well."
"I also felt my writing had matured, so I had something better
to work with from the start," he adds of the original tracks that
can be found on "Lost and Found," with titles like "Leaving
The Ground," "The Truth Be Told," and "Wishing You
Lenz says his two biggest influences are Pat Metheny
and Mike Stern, masters of the jazz-rock fusion idiom, a largely instrumental
vein of music, with little or no vocals.
"I’ve seen Al DiMeola, and I love the older jazz players, but
personally my love is more the contemporary jazz styles of Pat Metheny
and Mike Stern," he says. His ideal band is a quartet, with a
saxophonist, drummer and bassist, but because of the economics of
playing coffee houses and small bars, it’s not always possible to
play gigs as a quartet.
"We really sound our best as a quartet, but most of the time,
we play as a trio," he says. Lenz and his trio can often be heard
at various Border’s Books locations around the state, including the
one in East Brunswick.
At the Urban Word Cafe on Friday night, Lenz will perform with Greg
Federico on drums, while at Small World Coffee he will perform with
drummer Tom Cottone. Bassist James Rosocha will join him both nights,
and saxophonist Dan Muller will add his stylings to Friday’s show
at the Urban Word.
"The Urban Word’s a great place and a breath of fresh air for
Trenton," Lenz says of the South Broad Street coffee house, located
not far from the new Sovereign Bank Arena, and two blocks down from
the landmark Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon. The cafe, restaurant, and nightspot
is the first phase of a proposed arts center complex that will incorporate
a bookstore, performance space, galleries, and offices.
Lenz says some "heavy people" have stopped in to hear his
shows at New York’s 55 Bar in recent months, including guitarist Hiram
Bullock and jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. He has gotten to know both
of them during the set breaks. Lenz says if he’s learned anything,
it’s that the path is never easy, even for well-known musicians.
"It’s a struggle to continually find work, and that struggle never
ends, no matter how big you are, and you just have to kind of get
comfortable with that fact," he says.
The fact that Lenz plays his original compositions, devoid of vocals,
is a considered choice. "I know there’s a real select audience
for this kind of music," he continues, "so my hope is that
it encompasses a little bit of blues, a little bit of funk, and a
little bit of rock ‘n’ roll. And musically, that’s who I am. I love
all of that stuff."
"You just have to persevere and keep doing it as long as you can.
I mean, in my short career, every year I get more work, more notice,
and better gigs, so it’s just a matter of hanging in there and continuing
to perfect the shows," he says.
— Richard J. Skelly
449 South Broad Street, Trenton, 609-989-7777. Friday, October
29, 9 p.m.
609-924-4377. Saturday, October 30, 8:30 p.m.
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