Larry Seals may not be the bad boy of modern jazz, but don't be surprised if he breaks a few rules along the way. The Larry Seals Quartet, a D.C.-based progressive jazz band, artfully combines a respect for traditional jazz with an ambitious reach toward the future.
"I'm not a conformist musically," says Seals. "There should be rules, but good reasons to break them or change them. I think that's the way music should be. I think that's the way life should be." Seals' personal nonconformity includes living in a room he has transformed into a mini-recording studio, complete with mixers, recorders and synthesized drum, keyboard -- and even violin -- sounds to back him up while he composes jazz pieces for the band.
He firmly believes that to be a successful musician he must follow in the footsteps of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock and "play in a current style while reaching one step beyond." That philosophy is what he most admires in his brother Richard, LSQ's drummer, who he says is "always leaning on the edge of going somewhere else. That's what he likes to do . . . a lot of musicians have trouble stretching it. How far can you go without alienating your audience?"
LSQ's bass player, Dwayne Smith, has a strong R&B background while keyboardist Robert Fox is well educated in traditional jazz and fusion jazz. "I look for musicians with jazz backgrounds because they are able to play a higher level of pop music," Seals says.
LSQ has been playing in the Washington area for about three years, but the individual musicians have changed frequently. "The band is not individuals," says Seals. "It is an idea of how a particular unit in a particular time should sound. I can put four other musicians together that sound like LSQ.
"The turnover in LSQ is what keeps me from leaving and going somewhere else to find something else."
Putting a definition on LSQ isn't easy. Seals calls it a progressive jazz band, but then goes on to label it a pop band, and calls himself "an R&B saxophonist with a jazz background."
About half of what LSQ plays is new or little-known material by other artists, one quarter is original music and the rest is LSQ's renditions of established popular tunes. "Sonny" is a big favorite with the fans.
Right now Seals is trying to get the business end of his music together, so he can record. In the meantime, he will continue to play at the Saloon in Georgetown, the Wharf in Old Town and other local clubs. And will he slow down his upbeat, progressive sound? No way.
"Some people think you should change to foot the bill," Seals says. "But when someone calls you because they like what you do, then they want you to do what you do."