Jeff Lorber, Grammy Award-winning keyboardist-composer-producer has, over the course of 42 years and 24 albums, pioneered the post-fusion sound of contemporary jazz with his radio- friendly, groove-oriented instrumental music. From 1977’s Jeff Lorber Fusion to 2017’s Prototype, named Best Contemporary Instrumental Music album at the 2018 60th annual Grammy Awards, to his recent collaboration with guitar great Mike Stern on Eleven, Lorber has shown a knack for creating fresh vibes and funky grooves while layering on jazzy improvisations on piano, synthesizer and his signature Fender Rhodes electric piano.
An acknowledged pioneer of what would later become known as “smooth jazz” and “urban jazz,” Lorber has woven together elements of funk, R&B, rock and electric jazz into an appealing hybrid that has consistently won over listeners from coast to coast and resulted in several #1 radio hits. A member of the all-star group Jazz Funk Soul, featuring saxophonist Everette Harp and guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., Lorber has also headlined The Smooth Jazz Cruise, dubbed “The Greatest Party at Sea.”
As for the tag ‘smooth jazz,’ Lorber believes it is more a marketing term than a musical category. “While I’m grateful to the format for providing a platform for modern instrumental music, I was doing my music way before there was the term ‘smooth jazz,’” he said. “I guess the Venn diagram of my music intersects with some of those characteristics of smooth jazz, but my music has always been melodic, it’s always been funky and I definitely try to keep an attention to soloing. It represents something more ambitious and more jazzy and more compelling, I hope.”
Growing up in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Cheltenham, where he attended the same high school as Randy and Michael Brecker, pianist Marc Copland, saxophonist Andy Snitzer and baseball player Reggie Jackson, Lorber began playing the piano at the age of four and as a teen performed with a variety of local R&B bands. While attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Lorber developed an enduring love of jazz. “I was very lucky that I ended up at Berklee, and what I learned about harmony, improvisation and arranging there is the backbone for how I approach music,” he explained in a Berklee alumni profile. “Besides the music education, I found that hanging out with all the talented musicians and finding out what they were listening to was just as valuable. I was lucky to meet and play with John Scofield, who was already an incredible guitar player, and keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who went on to great success with the Cars.”
During his time at Berklee, Lorber also studied with the renowned piano teacher Madame Margaret Chaloff, whose other students included Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Hal Galper and Kenny Werner. “Along with studying the history of jazz piano, and jazz music in general, I was very influenced by both Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea,” he added. “I was also a big fan of Horace Silver, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly and Red Garland, and I really admired what Weather Report was doing.”