Cathedral Park Jazz Festival Artist Feature: Jayson Tipp of Under the Lake


Today's installment of Better Know a CPJF Artist, Jayson Tipp of Under the Lake.

JazzScene: What is your main instrument, or role in your group?

Jayson Tipp: In addition to being the keyboard player (for Under the Lake), I founded the group twenty-five years ago and have been the one continuing member over the years. I am the primary composer/arranger for the group as well.

JazzScene: Can you describe your set for those that may not know a lot about jazz or blues music?

JT: The group's material varies a bit over the four albums and twenty-five years, but generally it fits into the "contemporary jazz" category. Sometimes the music has been described as "fusion" and other tracks are considered "smooth jazz." We try to avoid those descriptors. The music is definitely influenced by classic soul, R&B, funk, and contemporary jazz of the 70's. Folks will hear a bit of The Crusaders, Joe Sample, Steely Dan, Roy Ayers, The Stylistics, David Sanborn... there are plenty of familiar references.

JazzScene: What inspires you to perform, or compose?

JT: That's a difficult question to answer. I've been playing one instrument or another keyboards, trumpet, trombone, or guitar (or all) since I was eight years old. Playing music, and a love of music in general has been the one continuing compulsion through my entire life. At a fairly early stage, thirteen or fourteen years old, I became a lot more interested in trying to get the ideas I heard in my head out more than trying to learn someone else's compositions.

JazzScene: How did you end up becoming a professional musician?

JT: It happened a long time ago. The band I was in started doing gigs and that just became part of life. Then I started recording. And I don't like to pursue anything casually. I prefer to do things with intention or not at all. And the next thing you know... I'm a professional musician.

JazzScene: Past or present, where have been some of your favorite places to perform in Portland?

JT:  I've only been in Portland for six years, so my experience in town is limited. I really enjoy The 1905. Aaron (Barnes), the owner, is a musician and has a very supportive approach. Over time, it's increasingly becoming known as a hang for jazz and the crowds are pretty good. Plus, there's no cover charge for the audience which I think is what consumers in local clubs seeing local groups prefer. 

JazzScene: Who are some Portland musicians that were a big influence on you as an artist?

JT : Again, because I've been in Portland such a short time I can't really speak to Portland references in that way. But, I can say that drummer, Brian Foxworth, has a big impact on the sound of the group over the last few years and our album released earlier this year. Brian is a Portland original... just a fantastic groove drummer with a lot of versatility and talent. John Moak on trombone has also had a big impact on the sound of the group. He's a very creative, lyrical soloist who seems to have an inexhaustible source of soloing ideas. I've been lucky to work with a lot of talented folks in Portland. Bassist, Kenny Franklin, guitarist Evan Mustard (who's trio is doing some very cool stuff), and saxophonist David Evans who humbles me every time we play together.

JazzScene: If you could wave a magic wand, is there anything about the Portland music scene that you might change?

JT: I wish there were more venues willing to invest in supporting the local jazz scene. As a business person, I understand that they need to make money. And that requires audiences to show up and buy food and drinks. Professional performers also need to make a living. They can't perform for free. It's a bit of a vicious circle. How do performers grow an audience if they can't get in front of an audience? If they can't grow an audience, it's hard for them to the risk of playing for nothing or for venues to risk paying them. If they aren't in front of an audience, how does the public learn about performers and realize there's really good music being made in Portland and they should make their dinner/drink plans because of the music they want to hear?

It's not a situation that just magically changes. Venue owners who support jazz, local government, and arts organizations and performers need to work together to find the means to affect this change. Portland has way more jazz talent per capita than a lot of other cities in the U.S. and PDXJazz has contributed to put Portland on the national stage. But PDXJazz, as great as that organization is, addresses only a portion of the opportunity for building the local jazz scene. Jazz could be part of the international identity of Portland.

JazzScene: If you had to pick one moment or professional accomplishment for which you are most proud, what would it be?

JT: I'll preface this story by saying that my music has never been terribly commercial. It reflects a lot of influences and has always been a little too aggressive and improvisational to be successful in the "smooth jazz" genre and too electric and pop/soul influenced to fit neatly into the more mainstream jazz format. Compromises could have been made one way or another to make the music fit more neatly one way or another, but that just never felt right. As a result, I'd decided we were doing something that was going to be in a niche.

Many years ago performing at a festival in Maui, we were a supporting act. We were performing on a secondary stage but we were performing before a much more well-known group which was comprised of members of The Rippingtons. We finished our set and during the transition, we were all chatting as many of the players knew each other. Bassist, Kim Stone (The Rippingtons, Spyro Gyra, Rare Earth) approached me. As a fan of his, I commented on how much I appreciated his work, playing, recent recordings, etc. Kim didn't miss a beat in replying something to the effect - "I really dig what you guys are doing." I was surprised - "Really? You like what we're doing? We're just doing our thing. You're on the big stage paying some great music, some great performances." He replied, "Yeah, but our music is highly arranged. I get to choose about five notes all night. You guys are really playing what you feel. I'd love to be doing a gig like yours."  
I'd rather have that interaction as a reward than to be limited to choosing five notes a night or asking the talented musicians I get to work with to work in that paradigm.

JazzScene: If you could only listen to three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?

JT:  Miles Davis - Kind of Blue; Steely Dan - Aja; Joe Sample - Carmel 

Don't miss Under the Lake at 2:30 pm on Sunday, July 22nd at the 38th Annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival.