Ingrid Hertfelder

Julian Lage, center with guitar, will be joined at the Mondavi Center shows by, from left, cellist Aristides Rivas, drummer Tupac Mantilla, saxophonist Dan Blake and bassist Jorge Roeder.

World of the guitar is wide open for Lage

Published: Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2AANDE
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 - 7:47 am

At age 8, guitarist Julian Lage was already getting more screen time than most of his jazz contemporaries.

He earned that as the focus of the 1996 Oscar- nominated documentary "Julian at Eight."

It was no surprise that Lage, who grew up in a semi-rural patch of Santa Rosa, would be the focus of a documentary at such an early age. After all, he was a guitar prodigy, having performed publicly in restaurants and clubs in the Bay Area.

A year later would see Lage performing at the Grammys.

Today at 25, he still looks as fresh faced. His standing as an innovative and genre-bending guitarist is one that critics often describe with superlatives.

Starting Wednesday, Lage and the jazz ensemble that bears his name make a four-night appearance at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis. In addition to Lage, the band consists of saxophonist Dan Blake, cellist Aristides Rivas, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Tupac Mantilla. The result promises to be a blend of jazz, folk and Latin music.

The Julian Lage Group will perform works from his debut album "Sounding Point," a nominee for the 2010 Grammy Award for best contemporary jazz album. The band will also tap works from the recently released album "Gladwell." Lage will also perform new works.

The Bee talked to Lage, via phone from his apartment on New York's Upper West Side, about his unique musical upbringing and his approach to the band.

What was it like growing up in Santa Rosa?

It was wonderful despite it being kind of a rural setting. There was a vibrant music scene there, so from an early age I was exposed to a host of performers, educators and performers, as well as local colleges.

Did growing up there impart anything to you musically?

I felt I was in the best possible place for a young musician. It not only gave me balance, it also protected me. It allowed me to grow and explore things I was interested in. By the same token it also created a real excitement for moving away to go to college.

Your father played the guitar. Was he a big influence?

He's the reason I started on the guitar. I saw him play, and I wanted to join in. He's a brilliant thinker and good at breaking things down. At the time, he was studying blues scales and progressions with his teacher. He'd come home from lessons and would teach me the scales. I started to improvise on them. He'd play the accompanying blues parts – the progression and changes.

You played with older jazz musicians in Bay Area restaurants and clubs as a kid. What did you learn from that?

I learned more than I think I can articulate. My dad would drive me, and we would meet these people, and then we would go back home – nothing too spectacular.

I remember it as a really enjoyable time. I was probably learning about the qualities that professional musicians must have – like how to set up, how to structure a set list and how to arrange music for bands I wanted to play with.

What did you learn when you attended the Berklee College of Music?

I went there at 18. It was a two-year program and was structured like a graduate program. It was phenomenal because it was so tailored to my needs.

I studied with Mick Goodrick every week for two years. I studied classical composition every week, three days a week.

I also studied classical piano. I got to do ensemble work with Joe Lovano, Hal Crook and all these stellar teachers. I wanted to come out of it with a band of my own that incorporated classical composition and improvisation. My final project was what became my first record – "Sounding Point."

I understand your latest album, "Gladwell," has a unique story arc to it.

"Gladwell," being a second record, was kind of an experiment. The organizing principle of the record is that it's the story of a fictional town called Gladwell. In this town there are different goings-on and happenings. Different types of people live there.

It was really a kind of an experiment to see if that would inspire any specific kind of composition or musical organization.

I understand that Stravinsky and Debussy are influences.

More than anything, I'm a fan of their music. I love the orchestral qualities of their music, like the relationship of motion from the harmonic to the melodic.

My intent, as a composer, is to use anything about music that I love.

What's next for Julian Lage and the Julian Lage Group?

I feel like the Julian Lage Group is morphing into a collective, of sorts. It feels like a five-headed monster, and increasingly I feel the desire to relinquish some of the control of it being my band and my vehicle.

It's now this other thing … so with regard to future recording projects? I'm not rushing to do anything under my name.


When: 8 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday

Where: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, Mondavi Center, UC Davis

Tickets: $38-$42

Information: (530) 754-2787;

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