We often wonder why things happen in life the way they do and when they do. Why when you least expect it things – life altering things happen. Needless to say, all of us during most of 2020 in particular, have been racking our brains to figure it all out. Loss of some kind and the distress it causes has unfortunately been a hallmark of these times for sure. So much so you can’t help but wonder if it’s masking lessons, signs of hope or a divine plan – The irony that out of the most unlikely places and times inspiration and opportunity often comes.
Singer/Songwriter Bradd Marquis has gone through this process of wondering, navigating loss and both discovery as well as rediscovery over the last several years. It was a big part of the reason for his three year absence from the music scene before releasing earlier this year his very relevant single, “No War.” During this time he lost his grandparents. Grandparents who helped raise him. His grandfather or “Pop” as Marquis calls him was first after a bout with cancer and later, “Mom”, his grandmother followed. Being very close to them both, a substantial focus was on providing the care they needed. “Both of them at separate intervals needed twenty-four hour care,” Marquis shares.
Keyboardist and artist BIGYUKI has been described as “NYC’S musical secret weapon.” For many prominent artists and musicians, as the saying goes, ‘that cat is out of the bag’ and to further expand it, is running rampant all over the place to parts way beyond the city’s borders. The talented musician, who hails from Japan but dwells in NYC, has over the years become a much sought after player being called upon to add his virtuosic skills to the mix on recordings and live performances for a long list of premiere artists – Q-Tip, Bilal, Talib Kweli, Jose James, Busta Rhythms, Ben Williams, Kamasi Washington, Lauryn Hill, Matisyahu, J.Cole, Marcus Strickland, Meshell Ndegeocello, and many, more. You can hear his work on the historic last release from A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service and on the recently released Petestrumentals 3 from hip hop producer, icon Pete Rock and The Soul Brothers stellar crew.
BIGYUKI is still a bit of a secret to music fans by name, but that too is hanging by a thread. In combination with his work with others he’s also been wowing burgeoning audiences with his splendid, high- spirited performances as a leader and has released a few of his own projects that have garnered deserved high acclaim. Needless to say, the busy keyboardist doesn’t get much time to do the latter. Even during this time of closed venues and cancelled performances his calendar has still hummed quite steadily with recordings and virtual gigs.
The most obvious job of a drummer is to provide the beat and keep the band swingin’ or bumpin’ in time. Just doing that is harder than it may seem, but the elite and legendary do it so well we might not realize really how much more they’re doing. Often nestled behind the vocalists or instrumentalists, they’re in a continuing cycle of providing a rhythmic canvas and making split second decisions on their instrument as well as for the others in the band that often set the tone for the whole vibe. And of course, when it’s time to in the immortal words of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, “give the drummer some,” they get to assemble a collage of sonic colors of their own that still artfully fits in the grand scheme.
It seems the acumen developed over time for many great drummers doing this night in and night out on the bandstand or inside a recording studio booth fosters a talent for leading a band and composing as well. Who knew? Well, turns out many do including the extremely accomplished drummer, composer and bandleader, E.J. Strickland.
The in demand beatsmith has and continues to work with a list of burgeoning and veteran, acclaimed artists including names like Vincent Herring, Ravi Coltrane, Russell Malone, David Sanchez, Reggie Washington, David Gilmore, Jaleel Shaw, Brandee Younger, Brianna Thomas Cassandra Wilson, Lizz Wright, Marcus Strickland (his twin brother saxophonist ) and many others. But he has also garnered acclaim with his own excellent projects as a leader such as The E.J. Strickland Quintet,Transient Beings, and very cool concept, Pads N Loops. In midst of doing so, he has successfully revealed that impressive talent for composing releasing three fantastic projects with the most recent being, Warriors Of Peace.
His ability obviously didn’t go unnoticed by the Jazz Coalition who in August awarded him, one of fifty given, a commission grant for the creation of music relevant to the times we now live. As you’ll discover in the video interview Strickland was already at a boiling point of expression whipped up by the uncertainty and adversity we are all facing at this pivotal time in our history when this opportunity arrived. The result is his highly anticipated suite called, A Unified Stance, We Must Take.
Check out the video to hear E.J. Strickland’s passionate reason for the title of this new work and the suite as a whole along with where his love of music and the drums came from; his relationship with his brother, saxophonist Marcus Strickland; a funny story about legendary drummer Roy Haynes and more.
When you see or hear the work of amazing artists – those who have garnered acclaim from audiences, their peers and the cognoscenti that herald them – it can be hard to believe there is room or for that matter, desire to grow. Perhaps that is what makes a talented individual great. To harness a passion to pursue and to be humble enough to acknowledge that there is more to learn, more to explore and that there’s no ceiling on getting better seems to be a common characteristic of those who rise to renown and reverence.
It’s clear saxophonist Jaleel Shaw fits that mold. The accomplished musician has been soaking up knowledge from influences and mentors alike since a kid coming up in the talent factory that is Philly, PA. Over the years the formula of passion plus a thirst of knowledge and a desire to truly move people with his gift has hoisted him into the category of great players garnering amongst other distinctions, a Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll Award and being listed in JazzTimes Magazine’s Readers Poll for Alto Saxophonist of the Year.
It’s also made him a sought-after musician prompting work as a long-time member of the Roy Haynes Quartet, and performing with luminaries such as Christian McBride (when they were kids in Philly and older), Nate Smith’s Kinfolk, Jason Moran, the Mingus Big Band, Pat Metheny, Roy Hargrove, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jimmy Cobb and many, many others. He even earned a nickname from the legendary Jimmy Heath, which is confirmation in and of itself that a musician has arrived. The one fittingly given to Shaw? “For Real.”
When the shutdown and challenges of 2020 came knocking at our doors for Jaleel Shaw, like the rest of us all, even with the accolades, well- earned respect and his tremendous ability, it unearthed an anxiety – Not knowing what the future would hold, how he’d handle it and who is the person he’d be on the side of it. But what kicked in for Shaw was the astute recognition that in this time was opportunity to learn more about himself. Something that would result in him being more. It was the kind of self-assessment that has made him the consummate player he is today. In the video interview done via Zoom, Jaleel Shaw offers great insight and candid observations that will inspire artists and non-artists alike. Check it out below. BC
“Grown folks music.” It’s a phrase proudly used more and more these days to describe styles of music that are otherwise deemed commercially irrelevant if not embraced by the hotbed demographic of 18 – 34 year olds. Thankfully, there is life after thirty-four and that moniker proclaims, “Hey, we’re here too and you young’ uns can have ‘your’ music, we’ve got our own.” But is there really such a thing as “grown folks music” or for that matter, “young people’s music?” Can’t what you like be more about exposure and simply what moves you both literally and figuratively regardless of age?
Jazz is certainly one of those genres that, for the most part, lives within the arena of “grown folks music,” but no one told a young Keanna Faircloth that when she fell in love with the music. “I was introduced to jazz probably when I was eleven years old,” says Faircloth. The recently tapped Afternoon Jazz host at fabled jazz radio station WBGO, grew up playing classical piano, but admired the sounds of jazz she heard early on. It’s something her parents astutely recognized and gladly fostered. “I was kind of a weird kid. I would just want to sit around and listen to jazz. The first album I remember I fell in love with was Miles Davis’, Kind Of Blue. I remember being in middle school, just sitting and studying that record,” she recalls as the album cover hangs prominently on the wall behind her. “My parents really did just nurture my love of jazz and I think I loved jazz even more than they did. And they would take me to clubs. I was the only kid in Blues Alley in DC where I grew up.” She even remembers having the chance to play for legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck when she was 12. “I got to play (acclaimed track) “Take Five” or at least my attempt at playing “Take Five” for Dave,” she jokes. “I really love all types of music. I find beauty in almost every genre of music, but jazz is near and dear to my heart.”