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 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 Jeremy Pelt

Feature Friday with Jeremy Pelt

Fourth of July is right around the corner! How are you celebrating? Barbeque and fireworks? Going to the lake house? Long weekend out of town? I don’t know about you, but to me, it sure feels like I have been craving a vacation for a while now, so I am really looking forward to a long weekend with family and friends. We could all use a break to relax and recharge, and what better way to get the festivities started than with a Feature Friday?

This week we are speaking with one of the most preeminent young trumpeters in the jazz world—Jeremy Pelt. Voted by Downbeat Magazine as a rising star on the trumpet, Pelt has performed with some of the biggest names in jazz, like Cliff Barbaro, Keter Betts, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Ravi Coltrane. His latest release is Soundtrack, which Apple Music calls sublime and soaring in its harmonic imagination.

Now, you’re lucky enough to get to learn a bit more about this fiery and lyrical trumpeter …

What motivates you?

That’s a hard question to answer, as my motivation changes daily.

 What games did you play when you were a child?

Monopoly.

 What was your first job?

 My first job was a student! Alongside that, I was very entrepreneurial and to that effect I had a car washing business in my neighborhood where I would travel with a pail and sponge and wash people’s cars. I called it “Jeremy’s Jolly Car Wash.”

 What was your most beloved song as a child and why?

I didn’t have any beloved songs in my childhood but, interestingly enough, there are old songs that I hear to this day that take me back to my childhood, and then that’s when I remember the songs fondly. But it’s filtered through an adult lens.

Feature Friday with John Di Martino

Feature Friday with John Di Martino

Summer is really heating up—finally! I don’t know about you, but for a while there, when we were having fifty-degree mornings and evenings, it didn’t really feel like summer. Now, though, with the sound of the ice cream truck around the corner and the sweat slick on the back of my neck, I’m ready to turn on some country music, take a dip in the pool and crack open a beer!

Country music is the sound of summer in America, and there’s really not a hotter country album out right now than Cryin’ In My Whiskey, which offers jazzy renditions of your most favorite country classics, like “Whenever You Come Around.”

And this Friday, we get to chat a little bit with composer, arranger, and pianist John Di Martino, who is featured in Cryin’ In My Whiskey, and who journalist Mark Ruffin described as “one of the most inventive small group arrangers in NYC.”

What was your most beloved song as a child and why?

“Once in a Lifetime” by Anthony Newly.

What is your favorite country song (that is not included in Cryin’ in My Whiskey)? 

“El Paso” by Marty Robbins.

What was it like rehearsing and producing this album? 

I really enjoyed producing and arranging this project. Kathy Salem and I are thinking about making another country music CD featuring a male singer!

Our album Cryin’ In My Whiskey is available on all major music platforms now and in our store.

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 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!