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Spontaneous combustion 

Jazz legend Art Lande keeps the art of piano improvisation alive

Boulder-based pianist Art Lande's résumé would be the envy of any jazz player: He's toured the world as a musician and educator, performed with artists like Bill Evans and Jan Garbarek, and earned acclaim as the leader of Rubisa Patrol, an eclectic jazz group that included future Grammy-winning film composer Mark Isham.

Next week, Lande will be playing Colorado Springs for the first time in years, performing with bassist Marc Neihof and drummer Amy Shelley at Motif. Neihof, a long-time Colorado Springs Philharmonic bassist who's played with jazz luminaries like Ron Miles and Arturo Sandoval, says the trio will be playing a mix of Lande's tunes as well as some jazz standards.

"Art's one of those guys that seems to operate on a higher plane," says Neihof, who put the local gig together. "He has truly inspired musicians, young or old, and pulled them in a more creative direction. When I first moved to town, I had heard his name, and whenever people spoke of him, there was always someone who would comment to the effect of, 'That man's a genius.'"

Now in his mid-60s, Lande still has no plans to retire anytime soon. "I'm always working to build new concepts and produce new projects," says the pianist. "I never slow down. I have a band project that I've started here with mostly young musicians that I'm teaching. Each gig, each month, I will be presenting a new band. The musicians will play with me — sometimes I do drums, sometimes I do piano."

Regardless of an artist's age, Lande says, the goal is to "get their creativity and spirit flowing and reclaim their freedom as artists. Most artists experience rough points in their career, whether it's with gigs or creating new music, so I become the guy that gets them back on track."

Lande currently has a half-dozen professional projects going, including his Boy/Girl Band, an improvisation ensemble that's been doing spontaneous composition for more than a decade. With his various groups, performances may end up encompassing world music, classical traditional jazz and performance art incorporating poetry and theater.

And then there's his series, Art Lande Presents, at Dazzle Jazz in Denver, during which Lande presents original, new music while leading a separate band for each performance. "I don't constrict my works for others," says the musician. "I like to be a refreshing artist that wakes people up through their ears."

For those who come to see him, Lande promises, "you never know what you'll get. It's always a surprise as to how the gig turns out." And that, he says, is what keeps audiences coming back.

So while next week's Motif performance may be with a "traditional" jazz trio, it will be anything but ordinary. The music, according to Lande, "is dependent upon the interaction and vibe we have with each other on that particular night. Everyone has their own job to make their contribution to the music work. We introduce what we have to say musically in new ways. This is how we bring a certain sparkle to the stage. The audience can expect their ears to tingle a little bit and hear things they're definitely not used to hearing."

scene@csindy.com

  • Jazz legend Art Lande keeps the art of piano improvisation alive

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