This month I explore and celebrate the sadly departed T Lavitz. T came out of the University of Miami jazz department (we were classmates together) and joined jazz-fusion rockers the (Dixie) Dregs, sharing their most successful years as a band. He wore his influences openly; mashing up Jan Hammer, Chuck Leavell, McCoy Tyner, and Chick Corea into an aggressive blend that’s missed by so many of his fans and peers. T had a distinctive voice on piano, organ, and lead synth soloing, the latter of which we’ll explore now.
Sounds and Synths
T had no signature lead sound per se. In the early years with the Dregs he often used an Oberheim OB-1 solo synth along with an OBX polysynth, plus a Sequential Prophet-5. His sound was a pretty basic open sawtooth lead or sync lead—standard fare for the times. He can also be heard doing the “soft flute” type of sound Jan Hammer popularized. He got involved with Ensoniq when the company helped sponsor the band’s reunion in 1987, using their SQ-80 and later the SD-1 and TS-10. In the late ’90s he started using Generalmusic synths and toured for many years with their S-Series and later the Equinox.
The Mahavishnu Effect
The Dregs had a unique mix of styles, blending the Allman Brothers with the Mahavishnu Orchestra with ease. A common element derived from the M.O. was the trading of short solo lines, often at breakneck tempos. Ex. 1 (below) shows two phrases in the style of the Dregs classic “Cruise Control,” as performed on their 1993 reunion release Bring ’Em Back Alive. The first phrase has it all: The opening beat has a Jan Hammer flavor thanks to the Ab, which gives is a slightly Eastern sound. This moves into a common advanced blues lick many players use; Brian Auger comes to mind. In bar 2, T moves slightly outside the tonality, superimposing E major over G7, then sliding into some chromaticism before returning to the blues to conclude the phrase. The second phrase is more “inside” and shows his country and blues expertise.
T brought a very melodic sensibility to his playing, and Ex. 2 (below) is one of my favorites, a fiery solo inspired by the tune “Free Fall” from the 1999 California Screamin’ reunion tour. Bars 1 into 2 employ the “Jan Hammer” scale we’ve studied and then move into the same advanced blues lick discussed above. Bar 3 rephrases that same lick and then moves into a major blues scale lick, emphasizing the tri-tone interval of E and Bb (the sixth and flat third of the scale). By bar 5 we’re back to major blues, moving into an arpeggiated Dmin7 to give a jazz flavor followed by a resolution into the G triad in bar 6. Then he “takes it out” using his favorite E major over G7 trick—think of it as a major triad or major pentatonic based on the sixth step of the scale/key center. Bar 7 brings it right back to earth with his trademark blues, followed by a blazing descending chromatic run.
All players looking to blend rock, jazz and country should study T’s work. To help, You can download a PDF of still more synth solos by CLICKING HERE, and would welcome readers to share their favorite T Lavitz performances at the Keyboard Corner at forums.musicplayer.com.