Julian Lage is a jazz guitarist and composer who splits his time between Nashville, TN and Brooklyn, NY. He has been on the scene since at least 1996, when he was the subject of the documentary film Jules at Eight. At age 12, he performed at the 2000 Grammy Awards Ceremony, and things have really taken off from there with regular gigs with some giants of jazz as well as other-worldly projects like those with Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, John Zorn and others.
Julian is one of those rare players that makes even the most difficult maneuvers look easy, partly because he's worked very hard for most of his life, but also because he has a truly easy-going, generous and fluid spirit.
Here is our email chat with Julian:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
One record that I really think stands out as fun to make and listen to years later is a solo acoustic guitar album called World’s Fair. This record was entirely inspired and made possible by my dear friends David Breskin and Chelsea Hadley. I am eternally grateful to them for making this possible. I’ll never forget David asking what kind of record would I be most afraid to make. I said solo guitar, to which he said “Lets make that happen!” It was the greatest experience to slow down and write for the guitar and learn from every aspect of the process. I’m so grateful we made that happen.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?
I am so fortunate to collaborate with my favorite musicians and friends, and though sometimes I am the leader as in the case of my trio, it always feels collaborative and group-centric. I like the way that line can be kind of blurry and fluid, depending on what the project calls for.
How did you get started in music?
I began playing guitar because my father played guitar. He started playing when I was about four and I asked for a guitar and my parents said if I still wanted one when I was five, they would get me one. And I was eager to play a year later and I began studying with my father, who is such a great musical mind and artist. I began by studying the blues and kind of organically started exploring jazz and improvised music.
Can you name any factors you feel majorly influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?
I feel so fortunate to have grown up with so many incredible teachers and mentors. Truly, it is the greatest gift in this world to study with Randy Vincent, Mick Goodrick, my parents, Hal Crook, Debi Adams, Gary Burton and so many more. As I reflect upon growing up with these masters, I see that one thing these relationships all had in common was that each and every one of these is so incredibly kind and respectful and they always treated me with such care, and enthusiasm and honesty, like an equal colleague. They all continue to be my greatest teachers
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
This is such a great question and quite honestly I am not totally sure. I like thinking of obstacles and challenges as reflections of a dissonance between what I think is happening and what is actually happening! Like when I’ve been trying to push myself to be stronger as a player and then realize that I’ve been trying to upgrade an aspect that might not actually need upgrading. Those realizations perhaps start as frustrations but have become such beacons of light in my life.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
I’m a Telecaster nerd and love all kinds of teles, so that is my main go-to for writing and performing over the past several years. Having said that, I’ve so enjoyed recording lately with a beautiful guitar made by Collings. It is a model that we made together called the 470 JL and is a blast to play live and on records as well. That guitar in conjunction with Magic Amps have been a great combination lately. Also, I am a super fan of Nacho Guitars and think they are just the best guitars, especially in conjunction with my favorite pickups by the master Ron Ellis. I love the way all these elements can work together, and how one change affects the whole tonal palette.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire to get where you are in their own careers?
I would first say we are so very much in it together as a community and that is one of the greatest gifts in the world. Jim Hall had a wonderful sense of making you feel like you and he worked for the same company and we were all privy to the same experiences, and I found that so comforting, grounding and supportive to witness that perspective. And I would encourage other players to consider that perspective as well, especially at times when maybe you feel like you are going it alone and crave some support. Also, a big part of that sense of support is knowing that you don’t have to work with, study from, or hire anyone that you don’t feel good around. You can really cultivate a community of kind, brilliant, and loving people and they will be your greatest support, as you will be to them. That’s powerful!
How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?
Growing up, I loved using headphones to study records under a microscope. But over the past several years I have mostly relied on headphones for when I'm traveling and want to listen but mostly keep sound out. Using the Audeze headphones literally changed my life - the experience immediately took me back to when I was a child listening to music and falling into the heart of the sound. I am re-falling in love with sound! I feel deeply rejuvenated by these headphones!
This is what Julian had to say after he first used the LCD-Xs for a mixing project:
HOLY GOODNESS... these are insanely GREAT! Wowwwww.... my mind is blown. Didn’t realize I was living under a rock, haha. The project I’ve been using these headphones for is a new trio record which is our Blue Note debut, although it doesn’t have a title yet! The entire mixing was done with these headphones and they have been absolutely transcendent in every aspect: quality, beauty, musicality… they are deeply inspiring and true.