If Lionel Hampton joined ‘80s King Crimson, he might’ve played vibraphone like Lalo. – Village Voice
She calls herself Lalo – it’s a nickname, not an homage to Mission: Impossible composer Lalo Schifrin – and she plays the vibes. Savannah native Laura Friedman left the Berklee School of Music and came to New York in 2000 to pursue a career that avoids most of the usual niches. JazzTimes.com calls her latest album, Half Moon (Kadooga),“a restless collection of mood swings that defy pigeonholing and AllAboutJazz.com adds that the “intriquing collection of often tone poem-like songwriting, where form takes precedence over freedom, is well worth checking out.” We spoke to Lalo recently about how she got started, and where she’s taking her music.
You grew up in Savannah. How did that shape you as a musician?
For one thing, I got incredibly lucky. The high school I went to had a jazz band director – Robin Beauchamp, he’s still one of my best friends – who was just really exicited about young people who were into music. When I tried out for jazz band in piano, there were two other kids who were incredible. But he figured since I was making these little compositions that maybe I could improvise. He found a vibraphone in a storage closet, wrote a piece called “Munchkin Blues” and had me try it out. I loved it. He just took it from there. Every time he could encourage me, he made it a point to. He’s a composer himself, a jazz player, but he had a lot of different influences he was eager to introduce me to, and that’s a lot of what’s in my music.
How do you define your sound?
It’s so close to me it’s hard to describe. I listen to different songwriters, electronic artists, anything that comes up that’s good music I can get into. It’s my own hodge-podge and it’s an ever-evolving thing. I’m working on a new touring band which is a duo with an eight-string acoustic guitarist His name is Jack West, and he’s from Savannah.
You started out with the vibes, but why have you stuck with them?
It’s something different, there’s no standardized way to learn. So I could learn my own. It’s got the melody, the harmony and the percussion. I can do any of those. So many instruments have limited roles, but with a vibraphone it’s all open territory.
It’s not all that common, either.
That has advantages and disadvantages. Someone says, ‘I’m gonna get you on the next record’ but then they call back: ‘Oh, you know the budget ran out…the vibraphone isn’t one of the basic instruments. But what I do is so unique that I get other calls. I tour a lot of colleges. Sometimes there’s an appeal because what I do is different. It’s not just jazz. I can play a coffeehouse, I can play a rock club. I get called to do college percussion residencies, which a normal solo performer would not get called for.
Where can we find you when you’re not touring?
The 55 Bar. That’s my New York home.
Half Moon is available through lalovibe.com.