Jeff Lopez plays in a very special band. The United States
Army’s touring Jazz Ensemble called the Jazz Ambassadors.
We are proud and privileged to tell you his story this month.
So check it out:
When did you first start
playing an instrument? What was it?
1978, electric bass. My older brother played guitar and bass.
When I was fifteen I started to sneak his bass out of its
case and tried to teach myself how to play. It was a Rickenbacher
2001 model, like Chris Squire's from Yes. I eventually asked
him to show me some things on the bass and to ask him to allow
me to practice on his bass until I got my own instrument.
I sold my minibike, a Yamaha YZ80, to get my first bass—Fender
Do you come from a musical
My brother played bass in high school and still does it as
a hobby. I had a cousin who played piano professionally. He
played with Latin-Jazz and Salsa musicians in NYC. He played
with legends like Mongo Santamaria, Ray Baretto, Celia Cruz,
Tito Puente to name a few.
Are you self-taught or
school educated in music?
I started as a self-taught musician but quickly found that
I could learn more by getting a teacher. My first steady bass
teacher was Ricky Giovinazzo. He is now an orchestrator in
Hollywood. He has orchestrated music for 117 movies. You can
check him out and all the movies he worked on at IMDB.com.
He is a great orchestrator, classic Hollywood orchestrations.
After high school, I went to Berklee
College of Music for a Bachelors of Music in Performance and
Manhattan School of Music for my Masters of Music in Performance.
Some of the people I studied with throughout the years were
Anthony Jackson, Linda McKnight, Harvie S, Jeff Andrews, Mark
Egan, Jaco, John Pattitucci, Cecil McBee ,and Kenny Werner.
What first attracted you
to music? Who are a few of your influences?
I was attracted to music because how great it made me feel
when I listened to it and played it. I still feel that way,
now more then ever. My experiences as a creative musician
has made it easier for me to get totally and utterly absorbed
by the music. When you are young and just starting out, that
feeling happens sometimes by chance. Maybe when you're playing
a jam session and the performance experience could make you
feel great in an uplifting manner. Now that I have identified
that state of mind, it is easily achieved through focus, practice
and preparation. I would have to thank Jazz pianist and author
Kenny Werner for that particular skill. Thanks, Kenny!
My early influences were typical
for musicians my age. I listened to Jimi Hendrix, Cream and
Yes. As I matured I listened to Weather Report, Jaco, Mahavisnu
Orchestra, King Crimson, James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam and
At college I was introduced to
Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Duke Ellington,
Basie, and Gil Evans.
My influences on Bass are, not
in any order, Charles Mingus, Jaco, Scott Lafaro, Gary Peacock,
Jeff Berlin, Bootsy Collins, Ray Brown, Jimmy Blanton, Oscar
Pettiford, Andy Gonzalez, Anthony Jackson, and Dave Holland.
Influential composer are numerous.
My top favorites are Duke Ellington, Wayne Shorter, Gil Evans,
and Charles Mingus.
When did you join the Army
and what influenced your decision?
I joined in 1993 straight after my master's degree. The reason
I joined the Army Band Program was mostly because I needed
a job and the Army paid well and had a program that would
pay my student loans for serving in the Army. I would be playing
music while earning a decent living wage. The Army Loan repayment
program pays $65,000 worth of loans in just three years of
service. I had a new family and a hefty student loan bill
from attending Berklee College and Manhattan School of Music.
The Army seemed like a great opportunity.
I was the second oldest recruit
in my platoon at basic training. I finished it and got into
decent shape. After basic, I went to the Armed Forces School
of Music were I learned about specific Army Band training.
After that period of training I reported to my first band,
the 101st Airborne Division Band in Ft Campbell, Kentucky.
Shortly after arriving at Ft Campbell I was informed about
an opening in the Jazz Ambassadors. I sent a tape of my bass
playing which I recorded on a Tascam cassette 4 track to the
band. They liked the tape and the band invited me for an audition.
A few months later I was in Maryland recording my first CD
with the Jazz Ambassadors.
Who are the Jazz Ambassadors?
The Jazz Ambassadors is the United States Army's premier touring
Jazz ensemble. This 19-member ensemble, formed in 1969, has
received great acclaim both at home and abroad performing
America's original art form, Jazz. The Jazz Ambassadors play
these concerts to keep the will of the American people behind
the members of the armed forces and supports diplomatic efforts
around the world.
Concerts by the Jazz Ambassadors are designed to entertain
all types of audiences. Original compositions and arrangements
highlight the group's creative talent and gifted soloists.
Their diverse repertoire includes Big Band Swing, Bebop, Latin,
Contemporary Jazz, Standards, popular tunes, Dixieland, vocals,
and patriotic selections.
The band has appeared in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Japan,
India, and throughout Europe. Notable performances include
concerts at international Jazz festivals in Montreux, Switzerland;
Newport, Rhode Island; Toronto, Canada; Brussels, Belgium;
and the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands. In 1995,
the Jazz Ambassadors performed in England, Wales, Belgium,
Luxembourg, and the Czech Republic in commemoration of the
50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The band has
also been featured in unique joint concerts with major orchestras,
including the Boston Pops, National, Detroit, and Baltimore
symphonies. Check us out at www.jazzambassadors.com.
What are your responsibilities
with this group?
I play acoustic and electric bass for the group. I am the
Rhythm Section Leader as well as the group's Road Manager.
I am also the Chief Arranger for the group. The arranging
position allows me to have my original compositions played
during our shows and for our recordings.
We are working on a new project
that will put free music in the hands of music educators all
over the world to be used with their bands. I am writing original
Jazz band compositions for middle school, high school, and
university level jazz bands. We will record and publish these
composition on our website for free and legal download. The
educators can use our reference recordings with their group
to let the students know how the music is supposed to be played.
I am very excited about this project.
How did you come to hear
I heard about TAXI online and through colleagues. The reason
I joined was because some of my friends had some success with
their music. I joined specifically for the film and TV opportunities.
I was made aware of the TV and Film opportunities from a Berklee
College buddy who has a lucrative business promoting music
for TV and Film. He is the co-creator and CCO of Megatrax
Music. None of my music was appropriate for his business or
what he was doing so I saw TAXI as a chance to get my music
to the Music Supervisors and Publishers that need the type
of music that I create (Modern Jazz).
How has TAXI helped you?
Simply put, they got me in touch with people in the business
who need what I create. Through TAXI, I have two compositions
that appeared in two NBC shows. Lipstick Jungle and Heroes.
The knowledge and guidance from TAXI has motivated me to get
my music to other music publishers in the TV industry and
as a result, have placed songs in three other shows and one
documentary. Not too shabby for a Jazz guy. For my next recording
project, I hope to do some more of my Jazz compositions but
I also plan on doing more commercially accessible productions.
What accomplishments are
you most proud of so far?
Life: Being a Husband to my best friend and wife Hazel and
a father to my intelligent, well adjusted daughters Melody
and Julia. Career: Having a fulfilling, challenging music
career playing and composing music full time. Performing at
Carnegie Hall with the Jazz Ambassadors, twice! Those performances
were a little surreal. I never thought I would play at Carnegie
Hall, Carnegie Deli maybe, but not Carnegie Hall!
For folks that are sitting on the
fence deciding whether to join, I have one thing to say.
Take a ride with TAXI. You'll never know where it might take