Lester St. Louis

Steve: Can you walk me through what goes through your mind when you’re playing?

Lester: The hope is usually nothing, kind of regardless of context. More often than not if I have enough time upfront when someone sends me music, I will try to memorize it upfront so I don’t have to look at the music and the sound can help me navigate what’s going on. I try to have as few barriers to think about things and have my perception be really open and let everything take care of itself once I start.

S: Do you think if you had something inhibiting you from just being totally within the music, that would give you a less authentic performance than what you’re look for?

L: I think I can hear when people are thinking while they are playing, or you hear some music and think ‘wow they are really reading’. You can be overreading at such level to where the possibility for that music to become more musical and start to take its own route becomes diminished because there’s this thing inhibiting you from making more interesting choices that could create another piece of music.


S: So, would you say that for you, there is a stark contrast between thinking through music and feeling through music?


L: Part of me wants to say no, only because it depends what I’m thinking about. I think the only thing with feeling through music is that it can also become extraordinarily tentative and you can be making choices to help it move along but that doesn’t necessarily elevate any other element of the music. It’s just there and it works. The same thing can happen when you’re thinking. You are just trying to find the best decisions to keep the thing moving along but it doesn’t necessarily heighten anything.


S: You said you like to memorize any music that is sent your way for show, how has that changed throughout your time as a musician as your peers have gotten more and more into complexity?  


L: The way I came playing music was that I joined orchestra class 4 years after everyone started, so I couldn’t read yet. My ear got really good really quickly and in order to play the music on the concert without looking and feeling like an asshole, I had to memorize all of the sounds and be able to play it. In one sense it’s attributed to that. Regardless of the complexity, the feeling of where something happens on the instrument, when it happens in relation to another thing, and how it sounds are very natural for me.

S: Would you say you’re more classically trained, or what is your background as a player?


L: I still really haven’t found the best words to define it. In orchestra class, of course we were playing classical music and I had a lot time to spend with playing classical music. Concurrently, because I was trying to figure out how to play the instrument without instruction, there was a ton of improvisation and it was important for me to just play the instrument just as much as I could.


S: Do you feel tied to any sort of moniker of a type of music?


L: More often than not, no. I guess there is a patchwork-ness of putting ideas and abilities in music together. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel like I’m more so supposed to be in one kind of place than another at any given point. That’s something that interesting to me, people’s relationship to that framing. Calling it marketing feels harsh, but it’s very real. How you can frame it for other people will say who is in the audience, but I wonder if it changes how people feel or work with the music I think we are trying to obstruct that relationship in order to have it more open to everyone, and in some sense a more open place for people to come in regardless of where the tradition is from.


S: What do you take into consideration when you’re trying to construct a show, and trying to cater to whatever desires an audience might have or not cater to that?


L: It’s in some ways similar, but also kind of different everywhere. In some sense New York is a closed market, and it shouldn’t feel that way but we both know it is. Outside of practitioners, the range of some people who are not so involved with the music are rarely going to come out. Not trying to be dark or cynical, it’s just what I’ve seen from doing performances and running a venue. I don’t want to say that I am trying to make it one way or another for the audience, because I will know what they will like. Usually when I am putting together a show, I think about who I want to do it with and who is qualified to do it and right for the context, and also the context that I am creating. Also talking to people about stuff. Whenever I see people and they ask what’s going on I describe whatever project I am working on and tell them when the date is if there is a show. It’s like shooting a fish in a barrel but the barrel is in the east river and we are here {in Brooklyn}.

Lester and I improvised together, it was our first time playing music with each other

Lester- Cello

Steve- Upright Bass

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