Cool is as cool sounds and that is still true over three decades of the contemporary phenomena known as Pieces of A Dream, a jack hammer of hits with sweet sounds filtering through every jazz venue here and abroad. With that said, it was my pleasure to sit and discover the heart of this machine--this personality and creative elixir, Pillow Talk, that has poured out once more from Heads Up Records.
Keyboardist James Lloyd took a moment to reflect on many of his thoughts over the years--from the jazz industry to the brotherhood of the group, and all that encompasses this class unit. From the first spin of such special sounds as "Triflin," to the exquisite, yet dramatic, musical arrangement of "Sailing," all will melt into a moment in time as you spin. Every track is so very appealing.
Of all the discussion that sparked that evening, tune into the feel of the band and how for so many years they worked in conjunction with each of their parts. From their Philly show "City Lights" to today, it’s the many phases they’ve traveled that have made them an icon in the jazz arena. Mentors such a Grover Washington Jr. never envisioned what they were molding and putting forth to the music community. As a fan I spin I feel good.
Let’s get on with the heart and soul of Pieces of A Dream! Get the disk, sit back, and spin as you read the thoughts, retrospectives, and emotions of James Lloyd and Pieces of A Dream as always, between sets!
JazzReview: James, let’s start with the evolution of Pieces of a Dream over the past 30 years. How have you seen the band evolve?
James Lloyd: Well over these 30 years, I guess we’ve gone through several levels of metamorphosis. We’ve gone from a trio (guitar, vocals and saxophone group) to different band members that have come in and out. But, I think the music for the most part has stayed the same in the sense that you can expect a certain vibe from Pieces of A Dream. You know, a certain sound with certain key elements. At the same time there’s incorporating, what our fan base has come to know and expect of us. We try to stay current and look toward the future and where music is today through tomorrow.
JazzReview: As a contemporary jazz combo, you’ve been labeled many times as a dynamic force. Why is that and do you agree with that statement?
James Lloyd: A dynamic force well, yes. I think it’s flattering. I’m in too deep, considered one of the co-pioneers of this genre of smooth jazz itself. You know, along with people like our mentor, Grover Washington Jr. and Spyro Gyra, it’s like wow! When they were doing this, there were no smooth jazz stations, or smooth jazz record companies for a chance--cruises or smooth jazz festivals. I mean there wasn’t even the term smooth jazz. There was no such thing. Back then, it was just music, and here we were doing what we love to do all these many years. Here it was coming into it’s own.
JazzReview: Let’s get back to contemporary jazz. How would you define contemporary jazz to the people who are new to the genre? Compare it to the other genres, like fusion and avant-garde.
James Lloyd: I would say my definition of contemporary jazz is "today." You know, current times. Jazz has not just evolved into one thing to the next and the next, but has taken many different faces. Like contemporary and smooth jazz, which I have to describe as a cross between, I would have to say, fusion. I guess it is a fusion of jazz itself. It is a music created out of inspiration and feel, but today, its fused with pop, it’s fused with R & B, its fused with hip-hop and even fused with some straight-ahead. Contemporary jazz is so in the middle and is really a gray area as far as trying to defend its’ borders. What I like about it so much is you can go in so many different directions.
JazzReview: You cleared up a lot of things for our readers out there. Now, why has your group held the ever-changing nature of father time? Was it the magic surfacing in developing the band that kept it going?
James Lloyd: I have contributed that first and foremost to our supporters and fans, people that come to Pieces’ concerts, people who buy Pieces’ CD’s. They’re the ones who have kept us around for so long. If they weren’t buying it and coming to support us for all these years, we would have just faded. There would have been no need, no requests, no supply and demand! Can you dig it? At the same time, we try to do right by them by giving them what they expect from Pieces of a Dream, but then a little bit more. You know, try and stay abreast on what’s happening today and tap into where we feel music should be headed. Sometimes it’s not enough for me to do what’s right and true.
There come times [when] I’m tested by others and sometimes [I] try something. Even if it’s just cellophane, sonic elements, types of grooves, format, forms or another tune. You know, just different moronic ideas. You just have to stretch it and push the envelope. If you don’t, then it just doesn’t evolve!
JazzReview: You have been the foundation of this band for a long time now. You have seen a lot of things, and I’m sure you have a lot of opinions and philosophies about it. When do you look at it as a business, and when do you look at it as an adventure with a certain goal in mind? Can you separate it or do you have to look at it as a business in totality?
James Lloyd: Let’s see, I guess you do have to look at it as a business somewhat. I try not to look at it that way too much. I try to leave that part to the record company and management. So, I can just say, "What brain is that, the left or right side?" It’s the creative side.
JazzReview: Now James, I think that’s a myth.
James Lloyd: But, yes, it really is a business! I mean these days, it’s gone from music, to music business, to the business of music, you know. One way I look at it as a business is, I try to block myself from extending the boundary beyond Pieces of a Dream--my one personal boundary of producing and writing for other artists. So I guess I’ve put all my eggs in one basket. It’s an awful basket, mind you.
I’m really that grateful I haven’t taken anything from Pieces, but these days it’s like I’ve got so much music inside me. It’s too much to solely put on Pieces of a Dream albums. I’d probably pass away before I got them all on there, unless we put out an album every other month, or I could take these songs and spread them around to other artists. Some of them don’t even necessarily stick with what I was deemed as Pieces of a Dream-type of song material. So what! Let them sit there and get wasted, not to spread the love. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last albums and that’s what I plan to do even more in the future.
JazzReview: Why don’t I put you on the limb, let’s back off of that question and talk about the industry of jazz itself, how has it evolved and the good and bad of it all.
James Lloyd: The good is that there is a lot more meaning for artists like ourselves and others, and for that matter, people who have not already been established, but are up and coming to display their artistry their gift and what they have to offer to the world.
Like I said now, there are jazz stations, smooth jazz concerts and basically, there are smooth jazz record companies. Plus, now there’s a smooth jazz category. There are so many avenues, and the music has evolved so much that is a very broad with a wide array of artists.
The bad is that it’s not as commercially powerful as some other forms of music. You don’t get so see any of us perform on anything. We need our own awards that are televised and have our own categories. It was like, "Ok, so it’s just the Grammy’s and now it’s the Grammy’s and AMA and then it was the Soul Train, so it would be nice to have several smooth jazz awards.
I would love to see the day when smooth jazz radio stations are not taking up slots that could be filled with smooth jazz artists, [and not] being used by artists that aren’t necessarily smooth jazz. I guess I understand the reasoning behind it, but if you turn to your Hot 97 or your power stations, you’re not going to hear Kurt Wallen or Pieces of a Dream. Why would you have to hear Luther on a smooth jazz station? I mean I love Luther, but is that smooth jazz? No, I don’t think so and they aren’t playing us on those stations. Why can’t we have are own and then leave it at that?
JazzReview: Yes, I see and it makes sense. So let’s get to Pillow Talk.
James Lloyd: Yes?
JazzReview: Very versatile (Pillow Talk) as we talked about earlier. How did it become what it is?
James Lloyd: I guess [it’s] just coming from the heart, what you’re feeling musically at the time. Basically, my inspirations are music that is past, present and everyday life. That’s what I draw off of--what is in me and in my environment!
JazzReview: Was this a band effort or was it Curtis or yourself?
James Lloyd: No, actually it was not a thought out thing. It just flowed. It was just a whole bunch of tunes together, you know, thrown together stuff and he (Curtis has a studio there and I have my studio here that I’m constantly in.) We submit the material and we get together, narrow it down, out of twelve songs with about twenty minutes per song. Then we narrow it down more. We try to make them all fit each other, as well. That way, we don’t have a hop. And then bam, there it is. So the concept I guess is for it to sort of make itself as opposed to saying, "Ok we’re going to make a project like this," or "We’re going to make an album sound this way." [It] comes from the back door.
JazzReview: I like that, "comes from the back door." I like the sound on this album. It’s precise, clear, it’s very smooth. Talk about the production phase of it and what you had into it as producer.
James Lloyd: My role in production environment evolved to computer recording and into Pro Tools a little while back. You know, using Adobe version of that and buffing it up to HD when we’re running out of tracks. It’s like well, ok, and it’s really a great tool. [The] fact is that I have it right here in my own home. I can just role out of bed [and] go, or if I feel perky at three o’clock in the morning, I can just go. A lot of times I work ‘til five or six in the morning.
I do a lot of reading and research and checking out things on line, and cooperating different sounds. I do a lot of listening to other artists, so all these things go into my spirit. Then that’s like a stew or pot you put all these things in. Then I just sort of turn the fan around and instead of things in-going they are outgoing. Everything that is in there is coming out and that’s basically what happens with the material I do. It’s just a matter of everything I&&&ve absorbed and fixed together. Then I turn around and have the blower go outward.
JazzReview: Now let’s talk about two specific cuts. First of all we have "Sincere." It’s got a beat that’s very distinct and very smooth. Yet I have to tell you, at times it brings you up-beat mentally. How did that come to be through this song?
James Lloyd: Well, that one was done by Curtis and other group members. When I first heard that song, I was like, "Wow, this is some "Pieces!" The concept behind that was just something like an instrumental vocal, which has always been a fun thing for us to do, a smooth melody and a laid back cool groove. It’s like a level of maturity, you know. What you deem cool at fourteen is different than what is cool at forty-one years old a different type of cool. So, I would describe that it has a mature coolness to it.
JazzReview: One of my favorites spins is "Sailing." It’s a wonderful arrangement. Whose idea was it to do this cover and how did you go about producing it?
James Lloyd: My wife said to me "You know, you all have done too many remakes. It would be nice to do "Sailing." That would be a nice context to redo." And I’m like, really? I wasn’t totally feeling it at first and envisioning it, but I was like, "ok."
She is my toughest and best critic because she will tell me when something is not right. She’s not like a blanket of love for everything I do, so I hold her opinion high. I said, "Well ok, let me just take a stab at it!"
I started to lay some tracks down for her and I started getting into it. Then it came time to do the melody and I had the words in front of me. I listened to the original over and over, and over, ‘til my mind developed a process you know, fill in the pot for the stew. I had the lyrics right beside me on the keyboard. I started playing and trying to sing through the piano--phrasing a vocal that says both the plans like a piano player. Then I just started feeling it I mean I really did and it was just like, "Wow!" I got misty-eyed. Then I put some sax in there and it was like, "Ok, lush it up!" You know, have some strings synthesized, acoustic guitar, which I played, plus I also wanted to incorporate actual acoustic guitar. So you have both and it just started layering and layering. This is the result.
JazzReview: What piece on the album did you feel was the best effort out of the whole selection? And on the other end, is there a piece you think could have been better?
James Lloyd: One of my favorites is "Pillow Talk" I think that kind of catches the vibe of Pieces and at the same time, it kind of has a today type of sound, and sonically kind of meshes with contemporary. However, [it’s] different at the same time. It’s sparkly, so that’s how I am really feeling. One that I think could be better well, that’s a tough one because they’re like your children, so it’s like which one is your favorite and which one of your kids do you not like?
JazzReview: Well, we all have a naughty child, but we don’t like to admit it. You could claim the fifth. Let’s talk about the relationship between Curtis and yourself.
James Lloyd: I guess like any relationship, it has its ups and downs. I mean we’re human beings and it’s basically a family type thing, you know. We’re brothers, we have are ups and downs and moments where we get along--other times where we don’t. Its to be expected. Its real, but hearing something that’s been part of us for so long is just second nature and not first.
JazzReview: Why did you decide to start off with "House Arrest" on the album?
James Lloyd: It’s because it’s a get up and go type of thing, you know what I mean. I mean it’s a grabber!
JazzReview: What do you hope your fans will get out of this album? Every band has a goal.
James Lloyd: I hope my fans still say this is what we expect from Pieces, and then some--yesterday, today and tomorrow. And with our new fans we hope to gain, [we hope they] will appreciate the music, as well asfor what it is in conjunction with what’s happen today on the radio. With more people dying, it’s not so much a competition of sorts, but hey, we all want to sell records. We hope to gain new fans in the process.
JazzReview: Where are you guys going to go in 2006 after this? You’ve got "Pillow Talk," so what can we look forward to for the rest of the year?
James Lloyd: More of the same and then some.
JazzReview: I am going to leave it at that I mean you like to keep them guessing.
James Lloyd: That’s right. That’s what we try and do--more of the same and then some.
JazzReview: That’s kind of poetic to how you write your albums. You kind of put things together and let the feel and emotions take over.
Now on to fun we talked about earlier, which is another great chapter. If Pieces were a book where would you find it, what section, what would be the title and why?
James Lloyd: Let’s see if Pieces were a book, you would find us in the cooking section. We would be like this thing is cooking. The title would be "This is of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."
JazzReview: Philosophical, James. I like it!
James Lloyd: Yes, because it’s cooking!