Rising Jazz Pianist Lawrence Fields ’08 Reunites with His Berklee Family

In advance of his upcoming concert at the Red Room at Cafe 939 as part of The Checkout—Live at Berklee, which will be broadcast on NPR station WBGO, jazz pianist Lawrence Fields '08 discusses his path to and after Berklee, upcoming projects, and how his education informs his music.

November 10, 2016

Pianist and composer Lawrence Fields ‘08 didn’t grow up planning a career in music. Instead, he studied such varied fields as computer programming and dance. However, after playing shows around his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, he decided to apply to Berklee. Thanks to the scholarships he received and his piano prowess, Fields’s future evolved to include gigs in Japan with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah ‘04 and Fields has made music with Grammy-winning saxophonist, composer, and arranger Joe Lovano '72 '98H, Grammy-winning percussionist, composer, and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington '83 '03H, and other members of what Fields refers to as his “Berklee family.” Fields is returning to Berklee on November 30 for a concert (get tickets) at the Red Room at Cafe 939 as part of The Checkout—Live at Berklee which will be broadcast on NPR station WBGO.

Fields is looking forward to seeing family and friends and presenting his new group while enjoying fond memories of his years of learning and growth at the college, saying, “There’s a little piece of that feeling that never goes away.” Edited and abridged excerpts of Fields’s interview are below.

Watch the Lawrence Fields Quartet perform "The Lookout" live at Berklee:

Tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up at Berklee.

“For most of my adolescent life, I was pursuing other things. Music didn't become a serious pursuit until much later on. My father played a little piano, and my mother had taken lessons when she was younger, and they were able to give me a start. But neither was playing seriously or performing in bands or concerts, so I learned most of what I know from listening to records and observing others. At the time that I applied to Berklee, I was working in software development and starting to play small gigs around St. Louis as I learned more about music and the piano. So eventually being accepted to Berklee with a scholarship was sort of a 'jumping off' point for me, and a very big change in both career and lifestyle.”

How did your time at Berklee affect your growth as a musician and shape your subsequent career?

“Berklee was absolutely huge for me, and a complete blast from start to finish. Since I didn't grow up with the usual system of private lessons, performing arts high schools, special music camps, and bands and so on, being in Boston around so many great musicians was a revelation. It was the first time that I was around people my own age who were really mature players, performers, and composers. It was a terrific environment to be immersed in, with a lot of world-class performers coming both to the school and to venues like Sculler's and the Regattabar. So between the classes, the music happening down at the famous Wally's Cafe, and performances in the area, there was a lot to learn from. I really enjoyed myself, and grew each year, the whole way through.”

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

“I've had so many great experiences so far that it's very tough to catalog them all. I really appreciate all the great musicians who have taken me under their wings at one point or another, and I've really enjoyed traveling with, performing with, and getting to know them all.

Jeff "Tain" Watts ‘81 gave me some of my first traveling gigs, and his touch and power on the drum set have a way of speaking for themselves. Being in his employ was probably my first experience regularly playing with touring musicians at that level, and there was a lot to learn in the middle of a bunch of great music. But even before that, at Wally's, I had a great few years playing alongside Jason Palmer, Warren Wolf '01, Peter Slavov '02, Lee Fish '05, and everyone else. Later on, I had a lot of memorable musical experiences with Nicholas Payton, and spot dates/recordings with Branford Marsalis '80 '06H. The current groups with Joe Lovano are particular highlights as he has a kind of warmth that emanates equally from his horn and his personality. I'm grateful for every one of these situations, and I'm building everything I've learned into my own music now.”

What other projects are you currently working on?

“There’s [an upcoming] release for a saxophone player, Steve Slagle '70, which features Bill Stewart, Gerald Cannon, Joe Lovano, and myself. Bassist Yasushi Nakamura '01 has a new recording that will be out soon in a piano trio format with Clarence Penn on drums. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah has three albums releasing next year, with a lot of songs we've been playing (and even composing, in some cases) on the road. And Joe Lovano's Soundprints quintet with Dave Douglas '82 will be at the Village Vanguard in New York City and on tour early next year.”

Watch a performance of Lawrence Fields's "New Heroes" live at Berklee: