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Lori Andrews: Jazz Harpist

When most people think about a harp, they think of music that's heavenly and classical. Lori Andrews has shattered that notion as she has become one of the best jazz harpists around. She says, there's not that many jazz harpists around. Deborah Hensen Conant, who is just extraordinary. There's actually two in Los Angeles, Carol Robbins and Corky Hale, playing jazz and there's a couple around the country. It's becoming more popular, which is good for us because I do believe that at some point when something is so obscure, it's not necessarily popular until it becomes part of someone's vocabulary. Like jazz harp it's just a very strange thing to say.

Andrews says more people should get acquainted with jazz harp. She says, I still think we need to get more jazz harpists out there in order for jazz harp to be a household name. It may never be a household name. It's going to be right up there when people say jazz mandolin or jazz banjo. Yes, there is a few and it's very cool, but I personally love the idea of getting different instruments out there because if you listen to some of the smooth jazz stations, it is all about sax and guitar and piano. I love it, that's where our influences are, but to throw in a harp in the mix it's a very thrilling thing for me to be able to bring to the table.

Lori Andrews broke the classical mold when she went to college. She says, in college, I was studying both piano and harp, getting a degree in classical. I also have a degree in music education. I graduated college and got a job in Atlantic City. They didn't want me to play "Claire de Lune" anymore. They wanted me to play more pop and I kind of drew from the music I've been listening to in college as well as classical and some of the jazz. I started doing kind of a pop thing which turned into a jazz thing in a club and that's where it all started.

Andrews says by stumbling into the job in Atlantic City, she gained a chance to get out of the classical mode. She says, Talk about two worlds coming together beautifully, they needed me and I needed them. I was one of those harpists that was willing to not sit there and play "Claire de Lune." I really wanted the challenge of trying to expand the possibilities on harp and play what everybody was asking me to play, which was not classical. It didn't hurt that they were throwing $100 chips at me also and saying, "Here, can you play 'The Godfather' theme" or play Whitney Houston's latest tune. Yea, you bet ya, I went home and learned Whitney Houston's latest tune. That was a long time ago and the pop just went into some jazz.

After a while, Lori Andrews decided to expand on what she wanted to do. She says, I actually went into the entertainment office at Caesers back in 1984 and I said "Would you consider putting me in the lounge as a jazz act with a duo, maybe harp and sax?" And he said, "I love the idea" and at that point, I have committed myself to learning how to play jazz and learning how to solo. I was the rhythm, I was the bass, I was the comp instrument and then I had to figure how to solo on top of that. It was just me and sax and it was really, really an amazing experience. I learned so much and I learned it on the fly because I'd just be sitting there in front of a bunch of people and I know my sax player, her name was Susan, and she'd just stop playing and I said, "What are you doing?" She said, "Time for your solo." That's how I learned and it just went from there.

Andrews believes more and more harpists should expanding their musical world by branching into jazz. She says, classical music is very structured. Harpists aren't used to thinking outside that box. I just loved rhythm. That was my thing. I was missing the rhythm when I was playing classical music. I was missing hearing a bass, hearing some drums, dancing a little bit. There's so may things you don't learn when you're studying classical harp in a college. One of the things is rhythm. You either kind of have it or you don't. When you're in the orchestra, the conductor is bringing the orchestra together and you do have some sense of rhythm as any musician should and does. But talking about rhythm playing with bass and drums, that's a whole other thing. There's not many drummers that are happy about playing with a piano player that doesn't have great time.

After paying her dues in Atlantic City, Lori Andrews had to make a move. She says, I've been playing jazz for two years and I had all this music background from the age of six. The choices were either New York or LA and I thought, who wants to lug a harp around New York? I see pictures of guys with their acoustic bass in the subway and I say I can't do that. I come from Philadelphia, I know what the weather's like in the winter, I know the rainy season. It's like LA just sounded perfect and I've been here now for close to 24 years.

Andrews has a lot of people that influences her music. She says, I'm very much geared toward piano because I am the piano player of our group. There is no keys, it's just me. So I have to have it and I think it's really hard to step into that role. You just have to feel it. I listen to a little bit of guitar and sax as well. I've listened to a lot of Brecker and a lot of Pat Metheny. I've met Bob James and Lee Ritnauer and Hubert Laws, very, very nice people. I've always been drawn to funk bass, like kind of an R&B bass, like Nathan East and Marcus Miller, I love to listen to that.

Lori Andrews says she enjoys what she does. She says, it's a really interesting thing to do something different, but if someone can't pay you for it or if you can't make a living out of it, you have to figure out something else to do. It doesn't mean it's not worthy, it's just the sign of the times of what will fly and what won't. I've just been really, really lucky that I have just played the harp my whole life and that's my job. I thank God every day I know how lucky I am. I'm married to an acoustic and electric bass player. Two musicians in the house making a living out of playing music. I have my own thing and he does his own thing. He does mostly scoring for orchestra for movies and TV and commercials and CD's and I do my share of sessions, but my thing is live playing and his is recording.

Andrews' latest CD is called After Hours, which also features some of her art work as well. She might play an unusual instrument for jazz, but her heart and soul are in it and she's a treasure.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lori Andrews
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