With Danny Lerman on an extensive tour for his new album, it is almost natural to begin the interview with: "Good Morning. Do you know where you are?"
Lerman quickly comes back with a lighthearted chuckle, setting the tone for an interesting, lively conversation, free of tension or apprehension. Lerman’s music is as effervescent, delightful and well rounded as is its creator.
JazzReview: You come from South Bend Indiana. That’s not exactly the music capital
Danny Lerman: Well, sure it is. You know who’s from South Bend? Junior Walker. (of the Allstars-great sax player, ahead of his time) I played with his band for a long time. He passed away a few years ago. The Midwest is a bastion of great players.
JazzReview: I know about Detroit-my home town and about Chicago’s great jazz and blues notoriety.
Danny Lerman: I should really give credit where it’s due. My uncles played saxophone. And, my mother pushed me to take piano and saxophone lessons. So, I really need to give them credit. Plus, credit goes to my grandmother who forced everybody to get into music. Just one more plug-my grandmother played with the South Bend Symphony. So, music was all around me.
I got to play in a show with the symphony a few years ago. Too bad she (grandmother) wasn’t there. She was a great inspiration. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it! (chuckle)
JazzReview: Your debut album, Danny’s Island, climbed into the top 20 on Radio & Records contemporary jazz chart. And, you had a number 1 single at Chicago’s top urban radio station, WGCI-FM. This is quite an accomplishment right out of the gate.
Danny Lerman: You know, I was very excited. I think radio’s changed a lot since then. That last record was also produced by Tal Bergman and we make a dynamic team, because, to borrow from a romantic comedy; "He gets me". He brings out the unique qualities I have as an artist rather than trying to stifle me into something he pre-imagined. I think that’s what makes an album great-- when you find what’s unique about what you have to offer, then bring that out and do the best you can.
JazzReview: How did you run across Tal Bergman?
Danny Lerman: That’s an interesting story. It was through my uncle, an economist, who was working in Israel with another economist whose son was a musician. I was in Israel visiting and met the son and we did a session. Then later that son moved to New York. When I was in New York he brought in Tal Bergman. That was like ten years ago or 15 years and I liked what Tal did and had him produce a straight-ahead jazz song on my first CD, "Do You Feel." I had him play some shows with me and I liked working with him so much, I had him produce Danny’s Island."
JazzReview: Almost like kismet-or fate. He also produced ten of your songs on Meow Baby, along with Norman Connors, who produced some of the songs. It sounds good. Tal also played drums on this album?
Danny Lerman: Yes. Tal played drums on everything he produced. He also did the programming. He has a very fresh, rhythmic approach that just uplifted the song for me and made it exciting to play on. It sounded good even on the parts he sent me to play on. The songs were so great they sounded good even without me playing on them. It isn’t all the time you can say that. Sure, he still left room for me but the music was so infectious, it was a hook also. I just love that.
JazzReview: I listened to your album several times to get a feel for it. When I woke up the next morning, two of the songs were still playing in my head-"Amadeus’ Kiss" and "The First Time." They just kept playing until I listened to the CD several more times and got them out of my system.
Danny Lerman: (chuckling) That’s what I like to hear. I hope that was a good thing.
JazzReview: Well, yeah, it is. "Meow Baby"-you wrote that song.
Danny Lerman: I co-wrote it. along with the guitar player, Ronnie DeJesus. He’s the one who played guitar on most of the Tal productions. He’s a funky Puerto Rican guy from New York. He brought a little street to it. He also came up with the guitar lick on "Summer In A Hummer." The guy is very, very creative.
JazzReview: Yes he is. I understand that Kojac influenced the naming of this CD, Meow Baby. You care to tell me about that?
Danny Lerman: Yeah another funny story. I was visiting my uncle Don, another saxophonist, and he was a big Kojac aficionado. He said, "Danny, you gotta’ see this one." I wasn’t a big Kojac fan but I watched that episode. Kojac was down at the station telling his cohorts, "We gotta go pick up this guy." And they went out to arrest the man in his apartment. Police were ready to bash down the apartment door when Kojac said, "Wait a minute. Let me do this." They were outside the criminals’ door and began making sounds like ‘meow," sounding like a cat while scratching at the bottom of the door. From inside the apartment you see the perpetrator walking towards the door, kneeling down, saying, "Here pussycat." He opens the door and looks down for the cat and all he sees are these big feet. He slowly looks up the legs until his eyes meet Kojac’s face as Kojac sucks on a lollypop. Kojac just looks down at him and says, "Meow Baby."
JazzReview: Oh, that’s too funny.
Danny Lerman: (laughing) Yeah. I don’t want to take myself too seriously. I wanted to keep a little sense of humor about all the songs and just have some fun with it. That’s what music’s about.
JazzReview: Well, you know, I think that came through in this album. Everything fit together so well the interplaying of instruments. It’s just a natural-- nothing out of place. It simply flows.
Danny Lerman: Everybody had the right attitude about it. Everybody was friends, trying to have a conversation with each other. No one was trying to show off or be the center. I’ve been around a while and I hope I have the correct attitude. I’m just trying to make music and do it from the heart. I’m not back in music school trying to do a solo to show off for fellow musicians.
JazzReview: After listening to music for a while it becomes easier to tell when someone is producing something from the heart. It’s fun when people are still fresh and creating dialogue within themselves through their instruments.
Danny Lerman: That’s astute. I wrote songs for two years. And co-wrote with friends of mine all over the world whenever I went someplace. And, when I was with somebody I liked to work with. I had about 40 to 50 songs to choose from and I actually had to hire somebody to help me. because I just didn’t know. They’re all my babies. (chuckle)
JazzReview: You don’t hear them the same anymore. They’re all too close to you?
Danny Lerman: You have to have an imagination to know what they could become. Even then, you still never know what’s going to happen to a song.. For instance, "Saxsultan" sounded very different in the demo version. We actually scrapped the chorus and the keyboardist wrote a new chorus on it. The producers really liked the verse but they thought the chorus took it in a different direction. It got away from the groove of the son. So it took a radical new direction, but nice.
JazzReview: It is lively. But, as you say, nobody took over and nobody took the lead.
Danny Lerman: Another example is the song, "Summer In A Hummer". (Lerman generously throws out a sideline trivia question-what do a Hummer and Danny Lerman have in common? They both were born in South Bend, Indiana)
JazzReview Funny. Now, you are both on the map.
DannyLerman: There you go!
Back to the example: The violinist who plays on "Amadeus Kiss" lives in Columbus. While in the car, headed to his house, I heard this song in my head. I wrote the melody while I was driving. And, sang it into my little pocket recorder. I went there (Columbus) and sang the notes to him. He started playing the acoustic guitar over it. We started interplaying back and forth. I didn’t even use my sax. I wrote most of these in my head, not on my sax because it’s more musical. You can imagine anything in your head. But, once you bring out an instrument, it will force the song to go in a certain way or limit what you can do. If you can sing it, you know it’s musical. That’s not to say you can’t write good songs on an instrument. But, it’s more organic somehow to do it in my head. So that’s an example of how that song and a lot of others happened.
When you woke up and a song was still going through your head, if you were a songwriter, you would have said, "This has got to be a ong and would have written a song around it."
JazzReview: It’s interesting to know that. You kind of live your music. It broadens in your mind. Things you can’t do with an instrument, you can do in your mind.
Danny Lerman: Since I wrote the song while I was driving I knew it worked while someone was driving. So I wanted a car theme.
JazzReview: You’ve given a lot of variety to the music in this CD. After "Summer In A Hummer", you came back with Sade’s "No Ordinary Love," a sensual, steamy song, just as she intended it. Then you turn around and come back with Howard Hewett for a very emotional John Lennon tune, "Imagine." How did you find and decide on Howard Hewett?
Danny Lerman: I met him a couple years ago at this organization called "Oneness" and they put on song writings, symposiums with producers, artists and writers. And, put them all together. You create and record a song and perform it for everybody else. It’s a lot of fun and they have some corporate endorsements for this. They put the songs together and use it for race relations and to foster good relations between everyone. Howard Hewett was at this in L.A.
I’ve always admired him and we talked and traded numbers. Later, he called me. I thought ‘wow’. He wants to do something Let’s try and make this happen. When I brought Norman Connors in-- he knows Howard. He had a demo he had worked on with Howard singing "Imagine" and he said, "Listen to this. It’s a great song." So we decided let’s go with this even though it’s dangerous territory. Then we brought in Bobby Lyle and he did a heck of an arrangement. It sort of goes where you don’t expect it to go.
JazzReview: It added a nice dimension to it. Fred Kron does a nice keyboard solo on "The first Time." He also performs on "Gotcha." A little about Fred please.
Danny Lerman: Fred is a genius young guy-28 or something like that, from the University of Miami. He writes a lot of music for Fox and for different TV shows and sports. He’s doing some film scoring as well. He’s worked a lot with Tal Bergman and Tal recommended this guy. We actually did some song writing sessions, too. Fred co-wrote "Baby Goes To Market," that African song. He co-wrote "The First Time" and "Gotcha." I can’t remember which other ones. We wrote a bunch of songs. It was hard to figure out which ones to use.
JazzReview: This is good. So, you’ll have another CD coming out next year, with the other songs?
Danny Lerman: (chuckling) I wish. Right now, I’m just so busy with the marketing and promotion of this one, it’ll probably be a little longer. Hopefully, people will be clamoring for the new one.
JazzReview: Yeah. I’d think you have a great following by now. Already people are hearing songs from this album and the DJs are eagerly waiting for the rest of the album.
Danny Lerman: But the record won’t even be released till February 26.
JazzReview: That’s right. And, it’s already a big hit up in the Great Lakes area, along with some stations in Tennessee.
DannyLerman: Nashville and Chatanooga, Alabama, Connecticut, Texas..
JazzReview: It hasn’t even hit the market yet and you’re already a star.
You brought in music icon, Hubert Laws who did a nice flute solo on "South Beach Serenata." You also did a nice interplay with Laws on this song. It’s lively all the way through-kind of a Caribbean sound. Did you enjoy creating this one? How did you come across Hubert?
Danny Lerman: In college I use to listen to his records. Norman and I were sitting at I-Hop thinking ‘ who should we bring in for this?’ Originally, we thought maybe a trumpet player. Maybe Arturo Sandoval or Rick Braun or maybe Kevin Eubanks of the Tonight Show. Then, I thought a little Latin flute work would be really good. You don’t hear about Hubert so much these days. He’s always on the scene but not so much up front. Norman thought that was a good idea. And, Norman works with Hubert’s brother, Ronnie, sometimes so he was able to get Hubert’s number. Hubert agreed to do it for a reasonable price and he was right in L.A., where we were and that was that.
JazzReview: That’s exciting. I was glad to see his name on there.
Danny Lerman: That’s what I wanted. People who hadn’t been used so much lately; Someone new and intriguing. I’ve got Randy Brecker on a song. People think of his with the Brecker Brothers or a lot of straight ahead jazz stuff. But, with a contemporary jazz thing like this I thought people would say, "Wow, let’s see what he does on this." That’s more interesting.
JazzReview: It turned out great. I like that. Your sax becomes steamy hot on "Snoopy’s Dance," with Haim Cotton, who does a rousing piano solo.
Danny Lerman: (saying Haim’s name correctly-with a roll of the tongue) That’s another Israel connection I met through Tal. We met in New York and did a song writing session together. He had a nice grand piano in his apartment. Even though I had to pay $25 for parking, it was still worth it. (hearty laugh)
Jazzreview: Well, some people are worth 25 bucks.
Danny Lerman: I thought, How do people live in this town? Ha!
We just started playing and that song came out. We demoed it up right in his apartment. He had a little recording studio there and actually, I flew to New York to produce his piano solo on that. He co-produced that tune and did all the keyboard parts, as well.
JazzReview: It’s excellent. Then you come back with "Saxsultan."
Danny Lerman: I wrote that with an old L.A. room mate, Tim Kobza, who I went to the University of North Texas with. He and my other friend, Mark Such, --I was walking down the hall towards a dorm room, hearing music and there they were with an old reel to reel recorder and they were writing and recording songs. Something just hit me, I said, ‘Now that’s what I need to be doing’. I started checking out what they were doing. Then, I bought an 8-track and when friends were walking down the hall with an instrument I needed, I’d grab them and tell them, " Come in here." Ha! That’s how I met Tim.
Then when I moved into LA a few years ago, (I’ve since moved out of L.A.) I was a roommate with Tim for about a year or two. And we did some co-writing on the album. This was one of the songs. He does a nice solo on there as well.
JazzReview: I enjoyed that. So, you did stay in L.A for a while?
Danny Lerman: You know, I thought I was kind of knocking my head on the doors trying to open them. Then, a friend in Turkey called me. So, I’ve been playing there every year. He’s setting to open a club in Marmaris , Turkey. This place is like Paradise. It’s right on the beach. But, you have to commit to six months. Originally, I turned him down. I was living in Glendale, with Tim. They have mountains (in Glendale) which look just like the mountains of Turkey. I looked at the mountains and thought "Wow, this is how it would feel. I’d be eating bagels instead but, it would be a great life experience." I’d regret it if I turned this down. So I decided to not worry about my career. Just live your life, I thought.
I went there and my attitude changed. I realized; I need to live my life. I thought, I’m not a college kid anymore. And I don’t want what happens with my career to affect my life one way or another. That’s when I decided not to go back to L.A. I eased up on obsessing about the music business. And that’s when things began opening up more.
JazzReview: That’s interesting to hear. It must be that once you became relaxed and re-focused, your creativity began flowing.
Danny Lerman. My attitude about life was healthier and better. I had to realize, music can’t be your life. Your life is your life. Music is a part of your life and that’s when you start enjoying it more.
JazzReview: A new perspective helps. I like talking with you. You have a good, healthy outlook (and a great sense of humor).
About Steve Baxter who plays trombone on "Don’t GoGo There"...
Danny Lerman: That was so much fun. After hearing all the jokes about "What’s an optimist?" A trombonist with a pager." We were trying to do things that were a little bit unique. And, you don’t often hear of deep trombone solos on this type of record. This is kind of a quirky, dynamic song so, what it needed was a quirky instrument doing a dynamic solo.
JazzReview: It worked out-gave it lots of zip, curves and turns. A little bit of everything is on this song.
Danny Lerman: Yes, and it set up the sax solo. When I did the sax solo, within the chord changes, Tal said " That’s not what it needs. Forget about the chord changes. You need to go outside and come back in. As you can hear, I go pretty far out as for the chord scale relationship. It creates a little more tension and release. It’s just more fun. Whacky? Yeah. That’s what the song called for and I enjoyed it. I hit that high note and just couldn’t blow anymore. I started laughing and thought "That’s what it’s all about. I’m having fun."
You can’t take yourself too seriously. When I listen to music, I want it to put a smile on my face and make me feel good about life. And, help me get on with the day. Making this album made me feel like that. And hopefully, it’ll make you feel like that, too.
JazzReview: Right. The more you listen to this album, the more you have to listen to it because you realize there are so many layers.
Danny Lerman: There are a lot of layers. I know Tal and Norman painstakingly worked on this and put in a lot more time than guys normally do. For instance, you may not realize this but, on Tal’s stuff, there’s loops as well as live drumming. You can do something to make the drums match the feel of the loops or make the loops match the feel of the drums. So that you can’t really tell which is which. It just sounds so tight. It creates that unsloppy layer of rhythmic goodness. It’s just another level of cohesiveness but a little more pop. But yet with more feel.
It takes extra time to tweak everything like that. And, it shows. There are no short cuts. You can’t do shortcuts on stuff like that and have it come out good. Having guys committed to excellence like that, really makes all the difference.
JazzReview: That’s throughout the entire album. Please tell me something about Ntombkhona Diamini who provides vocals to the African folks rhythm, "Baby Goes To Market:
Danny Lerman: She is the wife of the bass player on that song,--Jimmy Mogwandi.
In 2000 I met Dave Love and Joe McBride. McBride was in my improv class. They put me in touch with a promoter in Cape Town who put my disc on the radio and brought me to Cape Town to do the Standard Bank Jazz Fest in 2000. There I met Jimmy Mogwandi, who was also in the festival. From there he brought me to Johannesburg to do some shows. Jimmy and his wife were in the original cast of Lion King. You can sort-of hear that in her voice. She’s currently in the US doing touring productions of the Lion King. She was in Chicago and I brought her to South Bend to my studio to do the vocals for that. Jimmy is still in South Africa. I sent the song to him and he played over it in a studio there. They uploaded the tracks on the internet. I downloaded it to Tal for the bass.
JazzReview: That’s really a lot of changing. A well traveled song. I noticed several studios used for the production of this CD.
Danny Lerman: You generally try to find out who is the right musician for it. Generally, we used people in L.A. because that’s where the producers were. But for the African song, we used the right musician who could get us that feel.
For the violinist, Chris Howe, who did "Amadeus Kiss," Norman and I flew to Columbus. We actually got pulled over driving down a one way street going the wrong way -but that’s another story. (chuckle) Anyway, we went to a studio there out in the country to record Chris. We could have done it by just having him send us the stuff. We got a much better performance by being there and guiding him as to what we were looking for.
He played the melody three different ways with radically different tones, I didn’t even know a violin could do that. He said, "Well, which one are you looking for?"
If I hadn’t been there to say, "This is the one," he wouldn’t have known which one we were looking for or even which octave to play it in. All these things are things, well-you kind-of have to be there.
JazzReview: I think it shows. The interaction between your sax and his violin was infectious, as you would term it. It draws you in and the more you hear it the more you want to hear it.
I notice you mention a lot about Steel Warehouse Music.
Danny Lerman: That’s my studio.
JazzReview: Okay, thanks. Now, about Pascal Nanlohy? He plays on "If Only," a soft, smooth, gentle song.
Danny Lerman: Oh, that’s another story. These people reflect my life. I met Pascal by way of Turkey, which, by the way, comes from my current manager who booked me in the Jazz Festival in Finland a few years ago. I met and played with a Turkish guitarist there who brought me to Istanbul. There I met some guys who brought me to Marmaris, Turkey. From there I met a couple from Holland who brought me to Holland to do a concert. Pascal was a keyboard player in that concert and that’s how I met him. He also is a songwriter for EMI. Also, he was an A&R man for BMG Records. He came to South Bend to hang out with me and watch a couple Notre Dame football games. We were working in my studio and those two beautiful ballads came out of that.
JazzReview: So, he participated in the writing of "If Only?" It’s beautiful.
Danny Lerman: Yes.
JazzReview: The closing song on the album brings in R&B vocalist, Danny Boy, who provides sultry vocals for "You Take My Breath Away." It’s a mellow song that lingers in the air. How did you choose to close with that song and with Danny Boy?
Danny Lerman: Actually, that’s a bonus track from my other CD, Danny’s Island. It never got national radio promotion-just regional stuff and I thought this will give it a chance, since it’s distributed by EMI, and maybe it’ll take off. This album will have wider distribution.
Danny Boy I met through my old manager in Chicago. He’s just fantastic. We wanted to do some more performances together. This new album would give us that chance. For the last album, we did a lot of performing together. I remember one performance in Milwaukee with a lot of 12 and 13 year olds in the audience-more his crowd than mine. The next thing I knew, there were bras flying in the air. And a bra flew over my soprano sax and was hanging over my sax, .with one hook on each side. Danny looked over at me and yelled, "Hey Lerman, you know that’s for me!" With two hands on my horn, I wondered, "What do I do now? Stop the performance and remove it or just keep on playing?" (Great deep laughter)
JazzReview: What did you do?
Danny Lerman: I kept on playing and waited for a pause. Then I took it off.
JazzReview: Ahh one of those moments in time to be remembered. Do you have a favorite song on this album? Something that was really a joy to write? Something that reflects you most?
Danny Lerman: One that jumps into my mind is "If Only." That’s "If Only-I can find the right one.’ Or, "If only you are the right one." You know, love is the most important thing in life. Life is a little bittersweet until you have that-someone to share special moments with. Or it can mean other things whatever is personal to someone who is listening to it.
Another special song is "Baby Goes To Market." That one reflects life and discovering different places and people. That happens to be African. I was envisioning a little girl whose mother sends her to the market but once she gets there, she checks out this and checks out that. She gets so distracted, she goes home and forgets what she needed. You know what? Don’t worry, be happy.
JazzReview: It was light and airy. It does reflect a mystery. Was any song on this album more challenging to play?
Danny Lerman: There were a couple. "If Only" was the most challenging because it had to be so simple and pretty. And, I had to really work on getting the right sound for it. because it was so naked and bare and intimate. Every emotion on that song has to deliver. So that one gave me the most trouble, cause it was about a woman-So wouldn’t you figure?
But, thinking outside of myself, maybe "Don’t GoGo There" because - I wouldn’t say it was the most trouble. But it was the most counter-intuitive. I had to think outside the song. Like an out of song experience, and play what doesn’t belong because that’s what belongs.
Let’s see-I know every day there was a little nervousness because this is my career here and I’ve got to deliver. I think "Baby Goes To Market" was the first song I laid tracks on because I wanted to start with something fun and happy. And, to lay a good upbeat mood for everything. After we tracked session, we’d go across the street and have a lemon-drop martini and relax. Just, sit in the sun a little bit. And, put the right perspective on everything.
JazzReview: Absolutely. I understand you are a very sensitive young man and when you have extra time, you entertain people in nursing homes, back home in Indiana.
Danny Lerman: I have done that. It’s nice. I enjoy putting a smile on their face. And people appreciate that I’m bringing the music to them. Some people you think you wouldn’t reach, you really do.
There is more,---much, much more, to Danny Lerman. He’s a sensitive, jovial, high humored individual whose passion for his music and for life around him is always growing. The robust enthusiasm he has for life shows up in every note of his songs. His sensitivity allows him the great judgment to select the right talents to round out and make his albums completely satisfying.
Success with his first disc has built a following and has DJs salivating for Meow Baby. Danny Lerman epitomizes "Gotcha."