By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Asked how his flute -- you know, the little silver rod your sister tootles on -- can penetrate so deeply, convey so many layers of passion, Newton says he practiced a lot and had great teachers. And?
“Duke and Messiaen both taught me a lot about the correlation between color and emotion. I’ll have visual images when I‘m composing or playing, of certain colors and certain emotions, and I try to think at the level of nuance that the greatest writers have. The flute is the tool, but the body and the spirit and the soul, that’s the real instrument.”
His eyes water; his throat catches slightly. “And . . . I try to think of being an openness, where I just say, ‘Use me, Lord.’ It‘s not about me. It’s about Him.”
Newton says his music, as well as his educational role, has much to do with knocking down those Jericho walls of money and race. And in teaching, a profession he practiced both at L.A.‘s Wind College with John Carter and at CalArts before entering the statewide system, there are barriers involving what the hell jazz is.
“Jazz education has been one of the downfalls of the creativity of the music in the last 20 years,” he says. “I’ve tried to approach education from the perspective of the person finding his or her own voice. Science is a big, integral part of music, but another important part is the codes that exist. Some of those can‘t be explained, they have to be felt. So I try for a precise and rigorous approach, and another approach that’s very intuitive, and bring them together. The most perfect model is Duke Ellington -- you can have a composition like ‘C Jam Blues,’ with two notes, and then you can have the Black, Brown and Beige suite on the other end of the spectrum. The music has to be distilled, of course. You want to maintain certain things. But the thing you have to maintain the most of all is change. It‘s always been about change, about taking big chances.”
Newton brings his theories to bear in the Luckman Jazz Orchestra, in which he uses the radical “conduction” methods of Butch Morris, where the conductor prompts spontaneous improvisations in his group -- in this case including veterans such as trumpeter Snooky Young, trombonist George Bohanon, saxist Charles Owens, baritone saxist Jack Nimitz and bassist Dr. Art Davis, as well as younger sparks such as tuba player William Roper. They’ll be approaching Ellington, Mingus, Miles, Gil Evans and James Newton compositions in their own way.
“We‘re not going to sound like other big bands. You have to put wild cards in your orchestra. You get your traditionalists, and you get your wild cards. That’s what Duke always did. I like the right notes, but I really love the wrong notes, too. When we walk onstage, I know: That music, with those players, is gonna be smokin‘.”
The Luckman Jazz Orchestra plays at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Cal State L.A., Saturday, February 24, 8 p.m. Call (323) 343-6600.