Next in our series of interviews with some of Central Ohio’s finest jazz musicians is saxophonist and woodwind specialist Brian Lang. Lang is active in many groups across the spectrum of genres and across the region. He is the leader of the Rorschach Trio/Quartet, Brian Lang Orchestra, and the Perpetual Motion Saxophone Quartet, and plays or has played with bands including In Full Swing, Rick Brunetto Big Band, Hubbard Stew, and Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra. The Rorschach Quartet maintains a busy schedule, and recently released a new unofficial live album (see below for more details). Keep reading for background on Lang’s musical development and career as well as info on upcoming gigs.
When and why did you start playing music and jazz?
Brian Lang (BL): I wasn’t someone that always wanted to be a musician or always loved jazz. I came from a musical family, with my dad being a jazz trombonist and my mom always being a part of community choirs. I started playing drums and piano at a very young age, but I didn’t take to it until much later. I even tried to quit the saxophone during 6th grade band. Despite all of this, I knew that music was always going to be a big part of my life. When I would listen to certain music, and not the stuff that the other kids were listening to, but classical and jazz, I knew that it spoke to me in a different way than other people.
I don’t want to sound like a nerd, but I remember watching the scene in Star Wars: A New Hope when the twin suns are setting and it’s like this beautiful horn solo and then enter the London Symphony Orchestra to finish the melody. To this day I can still watch that 10-15 second scene and get choked up. Fast forward to high school band when it began to become a much bigger part of my life. This is when I joined jazz band and I remember the first time the rhythm section played a swing feel, I think it was underneath the horns playing some simple swing rhythms, but I remember the feeling I got, swinging for the first time and I was hooked.
Who are some of your main influences in your playing/performing?
BL: There far too many influences to list, but as far as jazz saxophonists that I have transcribed and try to emulate: Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Dexter Gordon, Wayne Shorter, Ben Ellman, Rich Perry, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Hodges.
Other Musicians: Tom Waits, Robert Glasper, Vijay Iyer, Maria Schneider, Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, The Bad Plus, Post Modern Jukebox, Galactic, Lettuce, Wayne Shorter Quartet with Perez, Patitucci, and Blade.
What is your fondest musical memory?
BL: Too many to narrow down, but here are two that come to mind. 1. I played with the rock band Nelson, and the backup band was always all the way in the back of the stage, but after the first show they liked my playing so much that they brought me out in the front of the stage to solo. 2. My mom’s going to hate me for this, but when I played with Bowser from Sha Na Na it was my mom’s birthday and they brought her on stage for the hula hoop contest, funny stuff!
What are you listening to today? What’s on your playlist?
BL: I have very diverse musical tastes as I think most people do nowadays. I have been listening to the Tom Waits station on Pandora a lot, which has led me to a lot of eclectic blues and old timey music, which the more I listen to, the more I think jazz musicians could benefit from some of those influences. An album that I also seem to go back to a lot is the John Scofield album That’s What I Say where he plays all Ray Charles tunes. We play several of his arrangements in Rorschach. I recently checked out Stan Smith’s show at Carabar a few weeks ago so I have also been listening to vocalist KT Ramsey’s album, who was with Stan that night. I dig the emotional content and the creativity in the songwriting, lots of time signature and texture changes, and a Zappa-esque quality.
What inspires you about the Columbus Jazz scene?
BL: The amount of serious talent there is in this area, in straight ahead jazz, groove/funk oriented, and the organ traditions respectively.
What are you working on these days? Any new projects, exciting shows or releases?
BL: In the last month I put together an unofficial live album for my group the Rorschach Quartet. It is titled Hallelujah Live and is 9 live tracks taken from two shows at Brothers Drake in 2015. They’re all my arrangements and feature myself, saxophones; Dean Marcellana, keys; Greg Wolfram, upright bass; and Zach Compston, drums. All of the tracks will be downloadable and free and you can listen to them on our website: www.archcitylive.com/rorschachquartet.html
I will also be selling CD’s at live shows and for anyone who contacts me that wants one. They will be free but I will accept donations to pay for the cost of burning/printing.
The Rorschach Quartet will also continue to support the “Music and Memory” Charity, which raises money and takes equipment donations for Alzheimer’s patients. We accept donations at any of our live shows, or if you would like to donate, please email me: Brian@Archcitylive.com.
Where can local audiences see you play in the near future?
BL: The Brian Lang Duo will be at Mezzo (Dublin) on Wednesday, January 13th,
Rorschach Quartet plays Dick’s Den on Thursday, January 14th (EDIT: Postponed due to the passing of a family member), I will play with Doug Neel at Dick’s Den on Wednesday, January 20th [as part of Neel’s January Residency], and Rorschach Quartet plays Brothers Drake on Wednesday, January 27th. I also play at a weekly wine tasting at the Stoneridge Kroger in Gahanna, 1365 Stoneridge Drive, every Friday 5 – 7pm.