About twenty years ago, right when The Jazz Gallery was getting off the ground, Lionel Loueke was a young guitarist studying at the American School for Modern Music, in Paris, France. He had moved to Europe from his native Benin (by way of Ivory Coast), but his musical pursuits would soon take him even farther afield. Loueke won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and then in 2001, won acceptance to the Thelonious Monk Institute, at the time based at the University of Southern California.
Loueke formed strong musical connections with his classmates. He linked up with bassist Masimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth to form Gilfema, a fleet-footed trio that is still going strong today. Loueke also met a talented young singer at the Monk Institute—Gretchen Parlato.
“Gretchen is always present, she’s my musical soulmate, there’s no doubt about it,” says Loueke. “We have a very deep connection musically speaking. She is always inspiring me, she is always looking for new things. I’ve never seen a singer like her, because she has a great sense of rhythm and melody.”
Loueke and Parlato both moved to New York after completing their studies at the Monk Institute and became frequent collaborators, performing on each other’s albums. Their musical chemistry grew to border on uncanny, with Loueke’s percussive guitar lines and vocal pops blending effortlessly with Parlato’s ethereal voice and syncopated hand claps. The pair’s version of Stevie Wonder-Michael Jackson song “I Can’t Help It” bares strong testament to this.
While Loueke and Parlato are now some of the most prominent jazz musicians based in New York, having toured all around the world and performed on Grammy-winning records, this success didn’t come overnight. The pair established their bonafides playing at small venues throughout the city, with one in particular standing out in Loueke’s mind.
“The Jazz Gallery is very special for me,” says Loueke, “because my first gig here in New York was at the Gallery, and it was the first place that opened doors for me.”
More than a decade on from his first Gallery show, Loueke still thinks about the importance of The Jazz Gallery in the bustling New York scene. “One of my favorite things about The Jazz Gallery is that it’s a non-profit for the musicians,” Loueke notes. “As musicians, we need the support of people who are trying to get the music out there.”
To celebrate The Jazz Gallery’s twenty years of supporting up-and-coming jazz artists, Loueke and Parlato will return to the Gallery stage this Friday and Saturday, February 20th and 21st, for an intimate evening of duets. This concert is a return of sorts to Loueke’s New York jazz roots, as he has just recorded a new album for Blue Note produced by Don Was. “It’s a brand new sound, very different than what I’ve been doing up until now,” Loueke says. “A little more rock, afro-rock, you know.”
Loueke says that it’s been about four years since he and Parlato have performed in a duo setting, but he’s excited to get back to the format. “I think we will bring back some of our old compositions, some of the tunes we used to play,” says Loueke. But he also doesn’t discount something new and different from coming out in the performance. “It’s going to be different because we have grown as musicians, and we might also do something completely new. I don’t know yet.”
Don’t miss this musical meeting of old friends at The Jazz Gallery this weekend.
Gretchen Parlato (vocals) and Lionel Loueke (guitar & vocals) play The Jazz Gallery on Friday, February 20th, and Saturday, February 21st, 2015. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. each night. $35 for cabaret seating ($25 for members), and $30 general admission ($20 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.