Interview: Julian Lee on Boss Tenors, Joe Temperley, and Generations in Jazz

News | Aug, 18th 2016

This September, when the Coca-Cola Generations in Jazz Festival takes over Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Julian Lee will be hosting Late Night Sessions in the club. The rising star tenor saxophonist is already a mainstay on Jazz at Lincoln Center's stages and recently subbed in with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Before he takes a spin as Late Night host, we caught up with Julian, who told us what he's looking forward to hearing during Generations, how an album by Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt shaped his sound, and what it was like to play with the JLCO shortly after Joe Temperley's passing. 

Jazz at Lincoln Center: You’re the host for Generations in Jazz—what does this mean to you and what are you most looking forward to?    

Julian Lee: Being the host of Generations is very humbling. The history of jazz is wrought with master/apprentice relationships (think Art Blakey's band, or a young Miles with Charlie Parker). It is an essential component of the music that takes the wisdom and experience of a master and couples it with the energy and talent of an apprentice, which in turn creates new and exciting musical styles and concepts. It will be a beautiful month of music, with people of all ages and walks of life coming together to bring music to the ears of an equally diverse crowd of listeners.

JALC: Which masters and rising-stars are you most excited to see?

JL: That's too hard to say! All of the artists performing in the festival are unique and exciting in their own way. I'm excited to see the arc of all of the performers throughout the festival and the ebbs and flows each artist brings to the band stand.

JALC: How did you become part of the Dizzy’s family?

JL: About 3 years ago, when I moved to New York from New Jersey to pursue my education at Juilliard, I would frequent the jam session at Dizzy's every Thursday and Saturday. I started playing more regularly there as a performer after a few months, and now I play there at least once a month, sometimes more.

JALC: If you could form a super group of 5 musicians alive or dead, who would be in it?

JL: I would pick the John Coltrane Quartet + 1: Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and myself, so I could just sit on stage and watch in awe.

JALC: Is there an album that changed your life?

JL: Dexter Gordon's album Dexter Gordon's album Go! had a strong effect on me as a saxophonist. My dad, Mike Lee, is a tenor player and would always have that album on around the house. Another album that had a deep impact was Boss Tenors by Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. To hear two drastically different yet swinging tenor players with very distinct sounds back to back was crucial to my development.

JALC: What was it like playing with the JLCO?

JL: Playing with the JLCO was a great experience. We played the music of Miles Davis. The first concert came the night after the passing of the beautiful Joe Temperley, member of the band for twenty-some years and my private teacher for a year at Juilliard. It was hard for everyone in the band to maintain composure as his rendition of "My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose" played over the loudspeakers in Rose Theater. In fact, most of the band, including myself, were in tears as we walked on the stage. We read the music with water in our eyes that night, and I had him on my mind the whole concert.

JALC: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

JL: Ben Wolfe, the great bassist, once told me, "Listen to every other person on the bandstand more than yourself." This advice has taught me to be a more selfless musician. When everyone playing is listening intently to each other, the greatest music is created. 

Join Julian for Late Night Sessions at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola during the Coca-Cola Generations in Jazz Festival, which runs all September. 

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This September, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola will once again host the Generations in Jazz festival, showcasing living legends and up-and-coming stars like Jimmy Heath, Dave Holland, Marilyn Maye, Ben Wendel, Joanne Brackeen, and Joey Alexander.


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