I was intrigued by a photograph of Lipbone on my friend, John Mazlish’s website, who photographed him standing on a train platform wearing a fedora and carrying a beat-up old suitcase. John told me that Lipbone has the unusual talent of making his voice sound like a trumpet. So I went to hear The Lipbone Jazz Orchestra perform at Bar Tabac in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. It’s true, Lipbone has this talent, and is so resourceful that he can use a wine glass as a mute. He also plays guitar very well, but above all, Lipbone is a gifted singer-songwriter and connects to his audience with tremendous ease and warmth.
Lawrence “Lipbone” Redding arrived in NYC on a Greyhound Bus from North Carolina in 1998 as a singer-songwriter-guitarist. But it was on the northbound platform of the #6 train at Spring Street that he turned into a vocal instrumentalist when he accidentally discovered that he could use his voice to sound like a trumpet. He then took the nickname “Lipbone,” formed The Lipbone Orchestra with bassist Jeff Eyrich and drummer Rich Zukor, and recorded four albums that mix jazz/blues/rock/ swing/ funk/soul. I instantly recognized the beat-up old suitcase near the entry door to Bar Tabac – that’s where he displays his albums for sale.
LD: What is the role of a guitarist, singer and trumpet vocalist in a trio? What makes someone a great at this, both as a performer and a musician?
Lipbone: I don’t know about the role of other guitarist/ singer/ voicestramentalists, but in my trio, the role is to create original material or revive dormant material from elsewhere and hopefully inspire the band to seek out their very personal contributions. In the course of the process, as a performer I hope to illuminate the material much like a manuscript is illuminated by pen, ink, colors and gold; to make a presentation which is as appealing from a distance as it is under the magnifying glass of sonic introspection.
LD: What are some of your greatest moments when performing before a live audience? What are some of your greatest moments when practicing?
Lipbone: I feel like every live performance is a miracle. Here I sit, strumming a carved piece of wood strung with metal and plastic, while making funny mouth noises, thinking about all manner of situations, people, places and things during the course of a night and hopefully at some point, you understand what I mean. Miraculous!
LD: You certainly travel extensively. Which cities in the US, Europe and South America have vibrant jazz scenes? Any idea why?
Lipbone: New York and New Orleans are my current favorite cities for American Jazz and Rhythm & Blues. But there are so many close seconds. St. Louis, for example. Other places like Paris, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, San Francisco, Madrid and Berlin all have been inoculated by Jazz and Blues along with other music and become something unique and beautiful. Music is like water that falls from the sky then rolls down rocks and mountains, onto lawns and into sewers, ponds, lakes and rivers headed out to sea and as a result there are certain places out in the ocean where life is teeming – This is how I feel about New York and New Orleans.
LD: What are indie labels focusing on?
Lipbone: Indie labels are more than likely focusing on the audience and putting out music that the label and the fans really like, to hell with correctness and everyone else. And because of the Internet, anybody can find something personal that speaks for them. There is a band out there just for you and your friends and people like you. If an indie label isn’t considering this, it may be a secret government plot bent on controlling your mind so you’ll buy more widgets.
LD: What opportunities have arisen for musicians with the Internet and social media?
Lipbone: The most important thing that social media offers is connectedness. It’s what people want. They want to know what their favorite musicians think, and they want to hear it from them and feel a part of the music. Musicians want the same thing as fans do. I love being personal with my audience. I feel like I have a big family that transcends all normal social boundaries. This is radical and that is why there is such a fuss about your Internet rights these days. Certain sects of society have been in control for so long, and then along comes the Internet with its weird music and funny ideas. Now there is a clear conduit between artist and art appreciator with very few toll bridges along the way.
Coincidentally, Lipbone makes wine, too, from dandelions and strawberries. I gave him some Bouké wine to serve at his next BBQ. “His neighbors, like him, are wine explorers a.k.a. wine snobs, and they all agreed that Bouké Red is simply out of this world! I mean really excellent from nose to finish!” That made my day!
For your next BBQ, bring a little North Carolina mixed with New York City to the party. Kick back, listen to Lipbone’s “Gonna Have a Party on the Fire Escape,” “Be Thankful for What You Got,” “Unbroken” and “Dogs of Santiago,” and dance the night away.