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Exclusive Interview: Jazz Guitarist Jacques Lesure



Jazz Guitar Today contributor Wayne Goins interviews Jacques Lesure, a leader in the jazz scene in more ways than one.

Jacques Lesure has been a prominent mainstay on the West Coast scene for decades now, and is proving to be a leader in the jazz scene in more ways than one. As a guitarist, his influence is as strong as ever, having recorded and performed with numerous world-class artists, and inserted himself as a prominent voice in the Los Angeles community and surrounding areas. We caught up with the always-nattily-attired veteran at his home, where he was meditating and musing on all things jazz.

Top Photo credit: Reggie Dunn

JGT: What’s in a name? Is it Jacques Lesure or is your stage name Lesure Lesure?

JL: Jacques Lesure is my real name—Lesure Lesure is my Facebook moniker.

JGT: What’s your background? Were you raised in Detroit?

JL: Yes, I was raised in Detroit.

JGT: Let’s go way back to the Atlanta days, where you arrived when you were 28 years old. What clubs and gigs were you involved in?

JL: My first gigs in ATL were with the late Theresa Hightower at Club Escape. I had
many more gigs at places like the Homage Coffee House, The Parrot, Just Jazz, The Pepper Pot, Churchill Grounds, and Yin Yang. I was one of the founders of Friday Jazz at the High Museum.

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JGT: When and why did you relocate to the west coast?

JL: I came to the West Coast in 2003 for a change of environment and new experiences.

JGT: Tell me about the regular gig appointment you have at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach.

JL: I’ve played at the Light House Café since I arrived in 2003. Due to a recent change in ownership, I was called upon to host a regular Monday night Jam Session. It’s working out quite well.

JGT: Do you have other regular gigs or places to play in California?

JL: I have a regular gig at Lavender Blue in Inglewood and I also play at Sam First LAX and many other venues in LA.

JGT: Talk about your numerous encounters with George Benson.

JL: I met Mr. Benson many years ago and since that time have been under his direct mentorship and friendship. It’s always a blessing to sit at his feet and learn. I’ve been afforded an opportunity to stay at his home on many occasions and soak up all that good guitar playing. I’ve learned playing songs that people can relate to is an important part of being a well-rounded musician from George Benson. This does not mean watering down the music, it means playing with the intention to touch and uplift people.

JGT: Who are some of your main jazz guitar influences?

JL: Of course George Benson. In addition, currently, two main senior influences are guitarists Mike Jackson from Washington, D.C. and Roger Boykin in Texas, in addition to my “Big Brothers,” Henry Johnson in Chicago, Rodney Jones in New York, and Perry Hughes in the ‘D.’ [Detroit.] Three guitarists who are no longer with us but impacted my life and playing were Jerry Byrd, Wilbert Longmire, and Jimmy Ponder. Lastly, like most jazz guitarists, I can’t get around the influences of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, and Kenny Burrell.

JGT: Any thoughts on the role/importance of being a community leader in jazz?

JL: Every city needs an experienced individual who has traveled and played with jazz greats in order to set the standard and provide an outlet for younger musicians to develop their craft in the local scene. [Drummer] Billy Higgins was very instrumental in doing this in LA. There were many in ATL like [trumpeter] Danny Harper. I feel blessed to be able to act in the role today.

JGT: What are your thoughts on jazz education and related organizations?

JL: Jazz education and jazz organizations are beneficial in providing structure for young people to learn and have opportunities to perform live. However, these institutions can’t be the only outlets for the music. I believe students have a more well-rounded education and a deeper level of understanding of jazz when the educators are playing the music both inside andoutside of the classroom.

JGT: Are you doing any teaching to students—either online or in-person?

JL: I am currently on faculty at UCLA in the Global Jazz Studies Department, and I also have in-person students.

JGT: How did the recent COVID epidemic affect your ability to gig, tour, teach, etc.?

JL: COVID placed us in a position where we had to reinvent ourselves. We were able to transition to the live stream concept early on, so we were able to stay in contact with our audiences during the lockdown. I also had more time to practice and tighten up my own playing.

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JGT: Why aren’t there more black jazz guitarists?

JL: I believe there are several factors. One reason is due to limited exposure and opportunities to learn about jazz and music in general in the public educational system. Secondly, jazz is not widely available on popular radio, nor is access to live performance available on a regular basis in most urban communities. Lastly, in higher education, attending college has become somewhat cost-prohibitive.

JGT: Are there any jazz guitarists that deserve more attention in your local area or anywhere else in the US that you’d like to mention?

JL: Yes. In New York, Bruce Edwards is a fine player who deserves more attention. In ATL, a former student of mine, Rod Harris Jr., is truly playing great music.

JGT: What recordings have you been involved in?

JL: I have been blessed to record several records under my own name on the WJ3
Record label owned by the prominent drummer Willie Jones III. I’ve also recorded with
many others in the business.

JGT: Let’s do a bit of tech talk: What amps, guitars, etc. are you using for your gear?

JL: When it comes to guitars, I have several. I’m a proud endorser of Landscape
Guitars of Japan and Sabolovic of France. I also love my 1978 Gibson L5. My amps are Henriksen and Fender. I use Reunion Blues gig bags, Walker Williams straps, Dogal strings, and Pig Hog cables.

JGT: How would you describe your overall teaching philosophy?

JL: I believe that each student is truly an individual. My intent is to bring out their personality through the music so they can express themselves at their personal highest level. I don’t like to use a cookie-cutter approach to learning. There are foundational things we all must know. However, as one develops, they must find the path that allows them to create authentically.

JGT: Any questions I didn’t ask that I should have?

JL: No, I think you covered it all quite well! Peace be unto you, Dr. Goins!

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