Feature Friday Q&A with Gerald Cannon

Feature Friday Q&A with Gerald Cannon

Happy Friday! You made it to the end of the week! Gosh, it sure does feel good, doesn’t it? And the cherry on top is that we have the first installment in a brand-new Feature Friday Q&A series! This time, we’re interviewing the musician, composer, and painter Gerald Cannon.

Jazz bassist Gerald Cannon has performed all over the world with Roy Hargrove’s band, made his debut in the New York City visual art world, and is currently an instructor at the Julliard School and Oberlin College and Conservatory.  

But before all of those accomplishments, he was just a boy growing up in Racine, Wisconsin. Read the interview to learn more about his formative years.

JK: I read online that your initial inspiration was your father Benjamin, who was a guitarist, and bought you your first bass. So, I’m guessing that music was a big part of your household growing up?

GC: Oh yeah, constantly. My father had a gospel quartet when I was a kid—I mean he always had one as far back as I can remember. So, there was always music in our house. We used to rehearse at our house on Wednesday evenings. There were always guitars around the house, and I was never supposed to touch his guitars, but I did every time he left the house. He called me one day, and I though, uh oh, I’m in trouble, and if I hadn’t been able to play anything, I would’ve been in trouble! But I figured out a few notes—actually a few notes that my uncle sang in my father’s gospel quartet. I just played something nice that he sang—he sang bass. So, then my father took me immediately to a music store and bought me my first electric bass. I was nine years old then.

JK: Did you play any instruments before the electric base?

GC: No. Just electric bass.

JK: So, at age 9, did you know that was what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?

GC: Yeah, I kinda did. After that I pretty much spent all my free time on it. I was just really happy to have something that I could call my own. My brother was an actor and, so when I started taking lessons—I was about 9 or 10—my brother started taking voice and acting lessons.

And my mother and father used to dance all the time. I guess that before I was born, they used to win awards for their dancing abilities. And my grandmother was a great gospel pianist in the South. So, it’s kind of always been there.

JK: Was your mother also a musician?

GC: No, she wasn’t. She was just a housewife, but she loved music and could dance. Her and my father used to dance in our living room to Nat King Cole and some records and stuff.

JK: What was your most beloved song during your childhood?

GC: Oh, that’s an interesting question cause, like I said, we listened to music a lot. Let’s see—it would be this record my dad used to play all the time. It’s a Kay Burrell record called Midnight Blue. And I remember hearing “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You” all the time when I was a kid. I mean we just had records—I don’t know; I don’t really have a special song. We listened to music all the time in our house. It’s kind of hard to think of just one. It was all good music too—we listened to lots of jazz; my dad played lots of gospel records.

JK: What was the first song that you learned on the electric bass?

GC: Hmm. Probably The Old Rugged Cross. If I remember correctly. That was 50 years ago.

Tune in next time to learn more about Gerald Cannon. And in the meantime, you can listen to him play in the WJ3 All-Stars’ newest album, My Ship.

Feature Friday Q&A with Steve Davis (Part III)

The conversation with trombonist Steve Davis continues! And this week, he’s giving us all the juicy, behind-the-scenes details about the recording of the new album, My Ship!

JK: What was it like recording the album My Ship?

Stevie-D: Like I mentioned about Willie—to work with him is always great. He always puts together all-star groups, dream bands. Everybody on the date is playing on such a high level, and we all go back and have history together. There’s always such a good camaraderie and collaborative spirit working together and it’s just so inspiring to hear everybody soloing on such a high level, playing the ensemble passages. We really got together on some nice arrangements. And Willie asked me to put together some particular arrangements and I was really honored to do that. At the same time, we wanted to keep the approach somewhat streamlined—not too much over arranging and super complex writing because it just wasn’t necessary. And hopefully, it leaves some space for everyone in the band to do their thing and shine and give their full expression and contributions. Hopefully we achieve that and the record’s really wining. Anytime it’s Gerald Cannon and Willie Jones playing bass and drums it’s going to be swinging, big time. Yeah, I’d just say we had a great time doing it. And playing with Jeremy and Wayne Escoffery, they’re both just A1, top shelf tenor sax—you can’t do any better than that. And Isiah is a wonderful young pianist whose got a very strong voice already. We just had a blast—it was fun.

JK: And you did the arranging for the album, correct?

Stevie-D: Now that I’m thinking back on it, yeah, I guess I did do most of it. I guess it could’ve been anyone of us who filled that role, but I guess I did. Everyone helped a great deal to work out any kinks and make the music as smooth and hip and swinging as possible, so I really appreciate everybody’s efforts in that regard, and of course just everyone’s tremendous playing. I can’t wait to really have a good listen.   

JK: Kathy said that a couple of the tracks were beloved songs from her childhood. It all seems very serendipitous—like the album is about accomplishing one’s childhood dreams.

Stevie-D: I’ve been privileged to be on a few of these projects with Kathy and Willie now and it’s always such a pleasure. I really appreciate her spirit for the music and musicians. It’s just really easy and fun to work with her. I would say that when she gives us a theme like this, it does provide us with some really nice inspiration and it’s very genuine. It’s not some kind of manufactured thing; she’s really speaking from her heart when she talks about these songs and gives us an idea of what she’s trying to get to, in an emotional way, through the music. Sometimes when you’ve been playing—just showing up and making records, you can forget about that a little bit. You just kinda play the part, and that’s it. My Ship, though, is personal and I love that. Actually, at this point in my career, I always wanted to be involved in projects that are meaningful like that. I’m happy that this one is what it is and to be on it and be a part of it and that it’s doing well—that people are hearing it and digging it. Kathy’s collaborations with Willie—there’s a solid reputation there now, people know oh man, this record’s going to be swinging! So, it’s a real honor to be a part of that.

JK: So, could you tell me more about the arranging process?

Stevie-D: You get a list of songs. I don’t know that I suggested any of the tunes but they’re all such good pieces that I just, uh, embraced the assignment if you will. And then when you know who’s on the date and who you’re writing for—the instrumentation obviously, but the personality—you have history with the musicians and you can picture everyone’s musical voices, so I kinda start there—who’s going to take the lead on this? What would be a nice way to voice the horns, and then of course Gerald is a good writer and Willie is too, so I always defer to musicians of their caliber and those two in particular, and I ask, what do you hear on this? Do you hear something a little different they might say no that’s cool, or they might say nah this is cool let’s do it like this or they might say, that’s cool but how about right here what about this. I love that—when we collaborate. I never want to overwrite so that everything is so precise that everyone is locked in—it kinda takes the fun and collaborative spirit out of the music, which is the essence of what jazz music is all about. Art Blakey used to say—he’d point to the jazz band and say ladies and gentlemen, “This here is democracy at work,” and that was pretty profound to me, so that’s a good lesson to remember and try to adhere here. So yeah, that’s kinda maybe the bset way to describe it—I try to offer an interpretation on some specific things but always with room for everyone to add their two cents in there or twenty bucks and make the music that much better and that much more personal so that it’s a group sound and I think we achieve that.

JK: What is your favorite song on the album?

Stevie-D: Oh man that’s hard. That’s really hard. I can honestly say there’s something about every one of these tunes that with the arrangement and the way they came together that I was so proud of and really felt great about. It’s hard for me to choose, I mean it. I think “Wave” was not my suggestion, but I wound up playing a little on it and thinking, I don’t know about this—it was toward the end of the session—so that was a pleasant surprise, or moment. But that “Taking a Chance on Love” is pretty swinging—I like that. And “Can’t Buy Me Love”—I’m a Beatles fan, so I love that song, we all do. But “Taking a Chance on Love” might be a sentimental favorite for me.

Feature Friday Q&A with Steve Davis (Part II)

Happy Friday! We’re back to continue the conversation with the wonderful Steve Davis, who is a jazz trombonist & music educator. If you missed last week’s post, please check it out here.

JK: When you were a child, did you dream of becoming a trombonist?

Stevie-D: You know not initially, I just loved music. Another story about my nana—when I was six years old, my brother was maybe 2. I have a great memory of a visit and my brother and I are watching Tom and Jerry reruns and there’s one episode where Jerry is running away from Tom, running around the orchestra, trying to get away from Tom and Tom is on the piano and he’s on all fours and he’s playing doodle-doodle-doodle, like the left hand of a stride piano—what my nana calls the boogie-woogie—she would start playing doodle-doodle-doodle, so I loved that. Maybe it reminded me of my nana’s playing, I don’t know. So one day we were visiting and it was quiet and I made my way to the piano and I had no idea what I was doing and took my index finger and I went down to the base of the piano, down low, and I played a C—I didn’t know what a C was but I played it, and I don’t know how I knew this, and my nana came running in from the other room and she shouted to my mother named Syd—Sydney—and she said, “Did you hear little Stevie!? He made the change; he made the change!” The change is the fourth chord of the blues, and I had no idea at 6 years old what making the change was, but I sure felt special. So, that moment, I think, I knew something, I love music. I knew I was a musician right then. This is something I can relate to; I can bond with this. I just love music and I played a little electric bass, electric guitar, and the trumpet, and baritone horn, and when I got to the trombone, I was listening to jazz by then—my dad’s Blue Note Records—and I heard a great record by Lee Morgan. Most or any jazz fans know—called “The Sidewinder.” It’s just so funky and incredible and swinging and great, and I asked my father, what’s that? He said, oh, that’s Lee Morgan, that’s funk before funk. I said, I love that, and he said if you like that you might like these, and he made me a list— Horace Silver, Art Blakey and the Messengers, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, and then I was gone. Like wow. I just went into the world of jazz. And then I heard J.J. Johnson on the trombone on a Horace Silver record, called “The Cape Verdean Blues,” and I was like that’s the trombone? The trombone can sound like that?! And I was done for, that’s it.

JK: So, would you say that you accomplished your childhood dreams?

Stevie-D: Wow. I guess so. I played with so many of my heroes and many of whom aren’t with us anymore and you know I still feel pretty young—I feel like that skinny kid with hair, like a teenager or in my early 20s. And I met Jackie McLean at the Hartt School at 18. I attended school there in the mid to late 80s and he was a huge mentor for me and recommended me to Art Blakey and when I graduated, I moved to New York and became a Jazz Messenger—the last Jazz Messenger. In 1990, I did my first tours, and it all kinda just went from there—playing with Jackie McLean’s band after that for 6 years, and Chic Corea and several of his great bands over the years—Jimmy Heath, Penny Golson, James Moody and Freddy Hubbard and I’m like wow. I’m looking back now, and thinking was that me? Was I really there for all that? And meeting Slyde Hampton and Curtis Fuller—my heroes. Having them encourage me along and just being in their midst. Now, yeah, I can actually realize my dreams in that way and now every time I get to play music.

I just worked with Willie Jones III these past four nights at Dizzy’s in New York with one of his great sextets—he’s so masterful at putting groups together and I’ve always enjoyed playing with him. Of course, he’s a great drummer, but just the way he goes about assembling a band—he’s so smooth and he really knows what he’s doing and it’s just a pleasure every time, so that’s a dream come true. And playing with my peers and playing with younger musicians who used to be students and now they’re great new voices in the music—that’s a dream come true. It’s all wonderful. My. children play music—my son Tony is quite an accomplished guitarist in New York. He’s 28 now and I don’t know how that happened. My … daughter Angie is doing music education at the Hartt School and she’s 21, she’s going to be a senior and my youngest, Mickey plays tenor sax, he’s 16, and I think he wants to major in Dexter Gordon when he goes to college—haha I’m joking—but yeah he loves music, so I’m so thrilled for them that they found it for themselves. And when I play with my wife Abena, she’s a great vocalist, we have a great time doing projects, so I’m just loving it all now and I will always draw on my influences and my mentors and try to pass it on the younger musicians.

JK: Wow, that’s wonderful! It sounds like you’re really living the dream.

Stevie-D: Being a musician is not without its difficulties and there are times for all of us who do this where it’s a lot to manage. It can be difficult just keeping up with everything you have to do. Because jazz musicians by and large don’t have the support system that maybe other professions might have that, kind of built in. It is a wonderful community and we do all support each other. So whatever difficulties there are, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have to remember, wow I’ve actually been able to do this for 35 years as a professional. This is a blessing—it’s nothing but great.

Q&A Feature Friday with Stevie-D

Q&A Friday Feature with Steve Davis

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and raised in Binghamton, New York, trombonist Steve Davis has always had a gift for music, which led him to release twenty albums, gain recognition for his hard-swinging, lyrical style, perform internationally and teach jazz workshops at the Jackie McLean Institute.  

More recently, Davis—nicknamed Stevie-D—has joined with Night Is Alive to arrange the music, and play the trombone in the 2022 album, My Ship, which also features Willie Jones III (drums/bandleader), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax), Isaiah Thompson (piano), and Gerland Cannon (bass).

And since My Ship is about looking back fondly on your childhood dreams, today we’re going to get to know a bit more about Stevie-D’s childhood, family, and early musical influences!

JK: I read that jazz was played often in your household when you were growing up. Were your parent’s musicians?

Stevie-D: My parents weren’t musicians but they both loved music and my father, in particular, was a record collector—he had a lot of jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll albums. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I had access to his vast record collection and then later CDs. So, there was always good music playing in the house, and just a culture of appreciation of jazz music in particular. And then my grandparents on both sides—my dad’s father, my grandsire, he was also a newspaper journalist like my father was at that time, but a big jazz fan and played the trumpet as a hobby. My dad played the electric bass and did a few gigs in my hometown of Binghamton, NY, but he was mostly just a music fan and played for fun. And my grandsire played the trumpet, and he could belt out “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” and he loved Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

 

And then on my mother’s side, my nana, I called her, she was a great stride pianist. She was the real jazz musician in the family. She was semi-professional and lived in Connecticut. She died when I was 19, but as a kid, I got to hear her play. When I started playing trombone as a teenager, I got to play with her a little bit when we would visit. She didn’t read a note of music, she played by ear—she was a real jazz musician, but being a woman at that time, it just wasn’t so acceptable for her to just do that, so when I look back on it, I think it was relegated more to the parlor entertainment, like “Oh isn’t that nice, you know, she’s playing the piano.” But she played all kind of Gershwin and American songbook standards and Ellington, and I learned a lot from her. She could really play.

JK: That’s an amazing story, but a shame that she wasn’t able to pursue it more.

Stevie-D: Well, she did to some degree. Boy, she would sit down—she had a piano in the house, it’s a Steinway, my parents still have it—and she’d sit down at that thing and just start swinging and play all kinds of things—”Honeysuckle Rose,” “Them There Eyes,” “Undecided”—some of the old swinger tunes, and she’d sing a little bit. She just had it. She knew what to do. So, then I would get my horn out eventually and she would teach me some of these tunes and I did it just naively, and we had fun together. So, I did get to play with her, and looking back all these years, forty years later, I cherish those memories very much. She’s a big influence on me for sure.

JK: Did you have a most beloved song growing up?

Stevie-D: Wow. Um. There’s so many. Well, one of the first songs I learned to play on my trumpet—I started on trumpet then I switched to baritone horn, and they suckered me into the tuba for a while at school, and I would up on trombone at 14, so I was a bit of a latecomer—but one of the first songs I could play on any of those instruments was “When the Saints Go Marching In,” just by ear. I always like that song, but I think everyone loves that song. My nana’s favorite song was “Embraceable You” by George Gershwin, and I played it at her funeral when I was 19 years old and I did it, again, the best I could by myself. I didn’t even appreciate or understand the depth of that moment the way I would now. So, I love that ballad.

There are so many songs I love, and plus as a kid, I was listening to the blues, B.B. King and Muddy Waters, and rock ‘n’ roll, Rolling Stones and the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix. There’s lots of great music but “Embraceable You” was a special one because it was my nana’s favorite, so I think that one’s very close to my heart.

JK: Have you played it since then?

Stevie-D: Here and there. It’s one of those tunes that I, you know some songs are so special to you that you hold it out for the right time. There are some other American Songbook standards that I wanted to play in my 20s when I had become a serious jazz musician and now that I’m 55 years old, I finally feel ready to play them in the way that I was dreaming of as a younger musician. My wife, Abena—her name is Abena Koomson Davis—she’s a great singer and knows a lot about the American Songbook. She loves “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” so I always play that one for her and I love that song too. There’s so many obviously, that was one of the things that was so fun about the project with Willie and everyone—we always delve into some of the great standards, and I think all of us really appreciate the opportunity to interpret some of the American Songbook classics and put a little bit of a fresh spin on it, but also play the tones hopefully with a great deal of integrity and genuine feeling.

JK: Do you think you’ll record a rendition of “Embraceable You” at some point?

Stevie-D: I’d love to. I look forward to it. I haven’t yet. I’m just holding that one. I appreciate the question. I’m looking forward to it; probably sooner than later.

And the conversation will continue . . . Look for the next installment of the interview next Friday! And in the meantime, if you’re looking for more Stevie-D, check out our album My Ship, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms now. 

When was Louis Armstrong Born?

When was Louis Armstrong Born? 

Nicknamed “Satch,” “Satchmo,” and “Pops,” Louis Armstrong is easily one of the most well-known and beloved jazz musicians in the world. 

Armstrong was born exactly 121 years ago—on August 4, 1901—in New Orleans. Abandoned by his father and raised by his grandmother until age 5, Armstrong unfortunately spent much of his youth living in poverty. However, he found a safe place in the home of a family of Lithuanian Jews for whom he worked, collecting rags, and delivering coal. The family knew that Armstrong lacked a father, so they took special care to feed and nurture him.

At age eleven, Armstrong dropped out of school and joined a street quartet of boys who sang for money. Eventually, he joined a band where he developed his cornet skills. Finally, in 1918, the future legend found his way to a riverboat where he played in a brass band, learned to read music, and began expanding his career.

Now that you know a bit about Armstrong’s origins and childhood, it’s time to take a look at a few of the most pivotal songs in his five-decade-long musicianship!

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band – Chimes Blues

Dating back to 1923, this is the very first recording that Louis Armstrong ever did! And even at such an early stage in his career, Armstrong was a groundbreaking as an inventive soloist. Just listen to his cornet solo in “Chimes Blues” to see what I’m talking about.

This tune represents the beginning of a foundational change in jazz—a shift in focus from collective musical improvisation to solo performance.

Louis Armstrong – Heebie Jeebies

Also recorded in Chicago, this 1926 tune is said to be the first example of scat singing in jazz history. What is scat singing you may ask? Well, it is improvised jazz singing, usually involving nonsensical syllables that replace lyrics and imitate the sound of an instrument.

Legend has it that Satch dropped a sheet of music while they were recording, so he just did his best to improvise and, in this way, accidentally invented a new style of jazz vocalization that became an instant sensation and inspired countless singers to come! Talk about impressive.

Louis Armstrong – Ain’t Misbehavin’

During a time of segregation, Armstrong was one of the first African American entertainers to “cross over,” meaning that he become popular among not only black audiences but also white and international crowds.

Armstrong performed this song with a band at a popular Harlem nightclub called Connie’s Inn in 1929. White audiences loved his unique style of singing and playing instruments, which led to Armstrong later performing with many popular white musicians. For example, he appeared in many films in the 1950s and 60s, such as High Society in which he played alongside Bing Crosby, Gracey Kelly, and Frank Sinatra.

We hope that you enjoyed this post and that it allowed you to celebrate Satchmo’s birthday!

Obviously, we at Night is Alive do not have any songs featuring Louis Armstrong, but we do have some snazzy tunes that have been inspired by the legacy of Louis Armstrong. A great example is “Hudson River Wind,” which is from our album Old New Borrowed & Blue, available in our store and on all major music platforms.

This blog post was written by Digital Marketing Manager Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Kahlil Kwame Bell Q&A Part II

Q&A with Kahlil Kwame Bell: Part II

Last week we were lucky enough to sit down with percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell to discuss the history of hip-hop, contemporary R&B music and the pros and cons of singles vs. albums.

And guess what? The conversation continues!

This week we are chatting with Kahlil Bell about his experiences with music education and the role of money and profit in the art world.

We hope you enjoy this fascinating discussion just as much as we did!

JK: Could you tell me about your experiences with music education?

KKB: I didn’t even want to go to college when I graduated high school. I was summa cum laude and all that stuff. I had high grades, but I knew that I wanted to study music. By the time I was in school most of the colleges were offering arts programs, but they wanted you to take three years of classical training before you took a genre of your own liking and I was like that’s whack. I wasn’t down for that. I was like, nah, I don’t want to do that. So, then my mom was like well you’re going to school, she went off. Then the guy she was dating at the time told me to look at this school and I looked at the program. It was music and art of the African diaspora. And I said that’s where I want to go. I didn’t even know nothing else. I didn’t want to read nothing else.

I started when I was my youngest son’s age, when I was 10, at a school called Bloomingdale House of Music that used to be on Broadway and 106th or something like that. It was very private. They were teaching me the early classical theory and piano and I, of course, was too young to make the connection between piano and composition. It wasn’t until later on in my young adult years that I realized you could write for pretty much any instrument with a piano. A lot of musicians call the piano the bible for composition because you can write for strings, for lower registered instruments, bassoon, oboe, tuba. And that was my first exposure to music, and it was very boring; I hated it actually, and simultaneously my father was taking me to African dance classes and teaching me rhythms of the Mali Empire, so I was learning a lot of drumming from the time I was 2 years old. My father was the first one to expose me to music. My mother had no interest in the arts; she was a nurse practitioner. My mom is science all the way all day and I approach music like science. She doesn’t see the correlation and that’s cool but other people do.

JK: What do you think is the role of money and profit in the art world?

KKB: Money unfortunately validates someone’s work. And I say unfortunately because there are many genres and high-level quality things that people do that don’t get the acclaim; that doesn’t get the money. When those things don’t get that it’s a drag because you can see the quality, the beauty, the creativity in something but a lot of people miss it because they feel it’s not worthy of observing because there’s no money behind it. My youngest son has an art teacher, a private art teacher, and I put him in her class because I wanted him to do something creative that would bring him off the computer and force him to use his mind and not be pressing stuff.

With a computer, you press something, and the computer does it for you—the person jumps, something shoots, the person flies. But when you’re looking at a blank canvas, you first have to draw the background and then you have to mix the colors of the background and then you have to create the glare of the sun against the water, and you have to create the bird that flies above the water.  And he has to learn these things in her art class, and I think it’s phenomenal but the crazy thing is that I can’t get the town to enroll more kids into her class because my town doesn’t value that, and, again, they don’t value it because there’s no money behind it. Now maybe if she had a commercial on TV and she had a feature on Oprah or something like that they’d be like, oh, I know that place, I’ll bring my kid there. That’s how people move now.

It’s unfortunate because the most quality things I’ve had in my life, the most phenomenal experiences I’ve had in my life were through people who weren’t rich and didn’t have no money but gave me so much information and so much encouragement and support in regard to love and believing in me. All the people that I’ve met with money I can barely remember their names. I’ve played on people’s yachts, mansions, flown on their private jets, but when you do all of that, it means nothing if you can’t connect with that person as an individual. And when people have all of that they’re used to people only talking to them about what they have, and they don’t even want to talk to you if you have what they have or more. I remember this African scholar said, “Money can buy a spouse, but you can’t buy love. Money can buy a house, but it can’t buy a home. Money can buy you insurance, but it can’t buy good health.”

We have to learn to value other things; to reach back to the nature. Take the time to check out some trees and sand and water—things that are beyond our understanding, but we know they exist. We have to take some time to look at some ducks and geese or something. Check out some animals and see how they get down, and when we do that, it humbles us and lets us know that we’re all a part of something that is so much bigger than us and it also helps us dig into our art better.

Feature Friday with Kahlil Kwame Bell

Feature Friday with Kahlil Kwame Bell

This Friday, we were lucky enough to chat with percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell. Born in the Bronx in 1968, Kahlil Kwame Bell plays over 1,000 percussion instruments and explores a wide variety of genres, including jazz, rock, hip hop, classical and traditional African music. He has toured extensively with many famous artists, including vocalists Roberta Flack and Erykah Badu, and is passionate about reflecting the unity of cultures through music by layering sounds and instruments. His newest solo album is Homeland, which is an exciting journey through traditional African cultures and music!

JK: What do you love so much about physical CDs?

KKB: Most record labels that I know are still putting out physical CDs and I always ask for them, even if I have to pay for them, because I’m a person who still likes to read CDs and likes to connect myself with the record. I’m older, so I’m from the era of reading album covers, and I enjoy that, so I don’t like streaming and all this other crap. It disconnects people from artists, and, in my personal opinion, people don’t really know what it is a lot of times now to listen to a whole record and go on a journey from beginning to end.

I can name at least five records off the top of my head right now that I remember from beginning to end and I don’t know many people who can do that today, not even with hip-hop records, which are pretty popular. When I talk to my children, they don’t talk about albums anymore, they just talk about individual songs, and don’t get it twisted—I love individual songs—because that’s what exposes me to new art, but when I talk to young people, I’ll ask them who’s the artist and they’ll say, I heard them on this mixtape—they never really hear an album—they hear the artist through somebody else’s record.

JK: Which contemporary, mainstream artists do you appreciate?

KKB: I like Kendrick Lamar. I also go into this female rapped named Little Simz. She’s from England. She sings the Venom 2 theme track.

And my oldest daughter kept telling me about this girl H.E.R. and she showed me a song—I thought the girl could sing but musically, it was putting me to sleep. But then I did some research, I went on the internet, I checked her out and I realized how much of a prodigy she was, and I said oh no, she’s the truth. She plays instruments, she studied music her whole life, she’s dope. I heard her playing piano, playing guitar and I said, oh, she’s ridiculous, she’s the bomb. I can rock with her. So, now, I’m a fan of H.E.R.  

JK: Tell me more about your interest in hip-hop.

I grew up in the Bronx when hip-hop first started, so I remember when hip-hop was at a very young age and President Reagan and other politicians were saying that it was a dying art form because it was kids in impoverished areas and no melody to it, just beats. I also remember not only white politicians saying that but black politicians saying that as well which is interesting because those were their children and grandchildren, but they didn’t dig it, which kind of reminded me of my grandmother’s era when people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were laying the foundation of American music with the blues.

When they were at their prime, the blues was the popular music of America, then all of a sudden, Chuck Berry comes playing the blues but playing it a little faster and dancing with it and making it into something that later became rock and roll. It’s interesting how when he came out with that, the older blues artists like Muddy didn’t dig it, but yet, people like Chuck Berry and Little Richard established rock and roll. They made blues in a faster tempo socially acceptable to the masses and made blues danceable versus what most people considered depressing when they first heard it.

So, I look at hip-hop in the same way. When hip-hop was first made it was a very conscious music, a very informative genre. You had people like Grandmaster Flast & The Furious Five, who brought the song “The Message,” which was a key, key, key song in hip-hop. Of course, the The Sugarhill Gang came out, and that is what made hip-hop socially acceptable. But it was “The Message” that gave people of America a look into the world of impoverished areas of cities because nobody really had an idea or a clue about that.

Hip-hop came out in 1979. The pioneer of hip-hop was Kool Herc. He was Jamaican, grew up in the Bronx. When he first started playing music in a certain kind of way, it hadn’t really been heard. At that time, the last 70s, early 80s, the Bronx had just started becoming predominately Puerto Rican. Prior to that, the Bronx had a lot of Jews, Irish and Italian. Hip-hop was the first genre where you saw Blacks and Hispanics creating together.

Hip-hop came out of the Reagan administration annihilating the performing arts programs in the public school system. From my grandmother’s generation to my mother’s generation, they can remember and tell you that they had music appreciation, they had band, which allowed a child to come out of the academic mindset into the creative mindset. When you’re dealing with the arts, it allows you to create something from nothing. It allows you to take a blank canvas and totally envision something in your mind, see where it’s going and create something beautiful, and unfortunately, sometimes academics doesn’t always do that—it’s right or wrong. If you write a sentence and it doesn’t include a noun, verb, and predicate, you messed up, so when it comes to these aspects of learning it can get very intimidating to a child, but when it comes to the arts, there’s this flexibility.  

So, when, for some reason, probably for money, they killed that—no more arts, just academia in the inner city—the kids rebelled. All of a sudden you see graffiti and you see hip-hop growing. Not only did it grow but it became the language of the youth, and it became their story in existence. I grew up in hip-hop but the only reason I didn’t desire to be a rapper was because I played instruments, but in my time, most everybody wanted to be a rapper. It wasn’t making money, but it was stating your identity—I’m from Philly, I’m from Brooklyn, I’m from BK. Everybody had their little term that coined their own individual city, and that was the beauty. And we were children at that time and people are telling us it sounds like a bunch of noise, and perhaps it did, but it’s ironic that it started from that and look what it’s become today.

JK: Thank you very much for speaking with me today, Kahlil. I learned so much about the history of hip-hop! It was such a pleasure.

KKB: You’re welcome. I look forward to speaking to you again in the future!

This post was written by Blog Editor Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Feature Friday with Nicolas Bearde

Feature Friday with Nicolas Bearde

Sometimes the week just flies by smoothly by without a hitch! The weekdays blur effortlessly into the weekend, just like the fuzzy white poplar seed pods floating around in the air.

Those hazy days of summer have officially begun and what better way to melt into the encroaching sea of bliss than with a Feature Friday? Today we are chatting with the lovely Nicolas Bearde, whose silky baritone draws in crowds from all around the West Coast!  

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, award-winning vocalist Nicolas Bearde has always loved listening to music with his mother, and now, he has recorded six CDs, the most recent of which peaked in the Top 20 on the Jazz Week Charts. Bearde also has experience working as a music educator at the California Jazz Conservatory.

If you are not playing jazz, what is your favorite music to play?

R&B and hard funk! Or something like Caribbean-Soul… so much to choose from!

If you were a song, which would you be and why?

I’d likely be something out of the Stevie Wonder catalogue—he goes so deep. Or more likely—at this point in my life—probably “Here’s To Life,” which is an Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary composition. I think it speaks to where I am in life right now—I seem to be in a period of constant reflection… 

Do you have a favorite place to vacation?

Hawaii is one of my favorite places on earth! I don’t get there very often, but I feel a deep connection with the green-ness of it and the constancy of the ocean-song.

Who is your dream collaboration (living or legend)?

It would be interesting to have spent time with composer/songwriter/arranger like Duke Ellington or the songwriting team of Gamble and Huff. 

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

Treat others as you would be treated… a golden oldie you might say, but it works in every culture! 

Feature Friday with Lorca Hart

Feature Friday with Lorca Hart

Are you finding your eyes drooping at the end of a long, challenging week? Don’t worry—you’re not alone. With the schoolyear ending and summer right around the corner, I think that many of us are feeling the heat and are more than ready for Memorial Day weekend! 

And what better way to kick things off than with a Feature Friday? Today, we’re getting to know one of the West Coast’s most esteemed jazz drummers—Lorca Hart. Growing up in a musical family in New Mexico, Hart began performing in high school, then attended the California Institute of Arts and is now part of the wonderful Lorca Hart Trio! 

Drum roll please … 

If you are not playing jazz, what is your favorite music to play?

That’s a tough one—probably R&B.

If you were a song, which would you be and why?

Firm Roots by Cedar Walton. There’s something so positive and uplifting about this tune—I love the melody and it’s always a fun song to play!

Do you have a favorite place to vacation?

Maui.

Who is your dream collaboration (living or legend)?

Herbie Hancock.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

Don’t get so caught up in planning for the future that you can’t enjoy living in the present.

Feature Friday with Josh Nelson

Feature Friday with Josh Nelson

I don’t know about you, but this week seems to have gone by very slowly. The constant weather changes can really put my body in a funk, but alas, it is finally Friday! We made it! It is finally the end of the week, and hopefully, the sun is shining, and the rain will go away. But even if dark clouds come your way, don’t worry, we have something that’ll brighten you weekend … a Feature Friday with pianist-composer-bandleader Josh Nelson!

But first, a little more about Josh. Born and raised in Southern California, he produced his first independent album at only age 19. And he didn’t stop there—he went on to produce seven more albums. One of his latest albums, The Sky Remains,blends narrative and music to tell a story about the city of LA. Nelson has also worked with many famous musicians, like legendary vocalist Natalie Cole, with whom he toured worldwide for six years.  

Now, time to learn some more about this talented and fascinating artist …

If you are not playing jazz, what is your favorite music to play?

I also enjoy playing R&B, classical, and Brazilian music.

If you were a song, which would you be and why?

Probably “The Age of Not Believing,” which is a Sherman Brothers song from the 1971 Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It’s a classic song to me—wonderful melody, lyric and harmony!

Do you have a favorite place to vacation?

Palm Springs, California!

Who is your dream collaboration (living or legend)?

With visionary Herbie Hancock; he inspires me so much. 

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

You can always make more money, but you can’t get the time back, so use that wisely!