Born in Dallas, Texas and now happily domiciled in Los Angeles, bass player Edwin Livingston could be described as being on the crest of a wave. His CD 'Transitions' was released in late 2010 and when recently I caught up with him in LA I first asked him about the creative process that brought the project to fruition.
"The majority of the tracks were put together in 2003" he explained. "I was in New Orleans at the time. In fact I left there just six months before Katrina but that's a whole other story. Anyway, back then my life was going through some changes, changes I needed to draw a line under. The title 'Transitions' describes that change. For me it represents a different kind of music, a different kind of me. It's about moving on and clearing my head. I finally completed the album in LA early in 2010 and now that it's done it feels very good."
The complexity that underpins the music of 'Transitions' might suggest to some that Edwin is a 'straight ahead' jazz musician yet there are other examples of his work which luxuriate in a tight R & B inspired groove. I wondered which of these styles were closest to the real Edwin Livingston.
"I'm a lucky guy" Edwin confided. "I like music of many complexions and in my career have been fortunate enough to perform with artists of different styles and from different genres. I guess you could best describe me as being versatile and skilled enough to do justice to every style that I play. Yes 'Transitions' is basically a 'straight ahead' piece of work but then again I have worked with Ronnie Laws whose groove is always 'right in the pocket'. I enjoy that too and touring with Natalie Cole has exposed me to even more variety."
The Natalie Cole connection has taken Edwin to many parts of the world and soon he will be on the road with her again for performances in both Eastern Europe and Brazil. I was interested to know how audience reactions changed from country to country.
"It's interesting" Edwin began. "Audiences in some parts of the world have discovered Natalie through her standards, you know from the 'Unforgettable' CD. It provides an instant link to her father's music. In other places, the United Kingdom for example, the fans are more into Natalie through her R & B work. In fact, I am hugely impressed by how UK audiences are so knowledgeable about R & B and soul music. They totally get it and that's refreshing because in some places that is being lost. So these different audience preferences make for good diversity in the music we get to play."
I was aware that in addition to Edwin's playing, touring, and recording career he is also on the faculty at USC (University of Southern California) where he teaches bass in the jazz studies department. I speculated on how this must present some schedule challenges.
"That's a very good point" Edwin replied laughing. "You know, way back, when I was on tour with various musical acts it would be road trips for months on end. With Natalie it's not like that. We might be out on tour for two or three weeks but then return to LA before going on to somewhere else. That means I can balance my teaching workload, reschedule some teaching or have a colleague stand in for me. It works pretty well."
I queried how he enjoyed being a music educator.
"You know" he said, "I really enjoy it. There are some really good kids coming through. I feel their ingenuity is partly due to how the internet, YouTube for example, has exposed young musicians, wherever they might be located, to a whole range of influences that they can absorb, adapt and ultimately make their own. Its technology fuelling creativity and that's wonderful."
Of course Edwin Livingston is not only a recording artist, touring musician and educator. He is also a movie star. His film debut came in the motion picture 'Ray' and I wanted to know how that had come about.
"It was when I was still in New Orleans" Edwin told me. "I got the call that they were making this movie in town and wanted a whole range of musicians, bass players, saxophonists and so on and so forth. I went down there and at first they were a little worried that my hair style didn't really fit with the Ray Charles era of the late 50's. Anyway, one haircut and a tuxedo later and I was in. I am a big believer in one thing leading to another...and so it was with 'Ray'. I was very new to the business of movie making, how a few minutes of footage can take hours to shoot. I was totally intrigued by it. I got to know the costume designer and it was through her that I relocated to Los Angeles. As I said, I was in transition' and had thought about moving to New York but she convinced me that LA would be my best option. Shortly after I arrived, I got wind of the motion picture version of 'Dreamgirls'. They needed musicians and so that was my next opportunity. You know, being professional, doing the right thing, being flexible and having the confidence to take the chance. That's how one thing does lead to another."
Along the way that approach has led to television appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Today Show and notably Live with Regis & Kelly where he played alongside Queen Latifah to perform the great Phoebe Snow classic 'Poetry Man' (from Latifah's 2007 release 'Trav'lin Light'). In fact, for Edwin, a particularly memorable experience from that tour was when Phoebe Snow actually attended one of the shows.
All things considered that's quite a resume and I was curious to know what was coming next.
"Well" smiled Edwin. "It's funny you should ask that. I am working on a new project with a neo soul flavor to it. You know, kind of what artists like Jill Scott and Incognito are known for. I will be writing some tunes with lyrics and this, for me, will be different. I'm lining up some vocalists to help me with the process. We will probably put a few tracks out digitally and service them to radio stations. From that an album will follow."
From New Orleans to LA and through a tapestry of musical genres it seems like Edwin Livingston is still 'transitioning'. If indications so far are anything to go by it promises to be a fascinating journey and one well worth following.