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.”
Keanna Faircloth doesn’t necessarily represent a changing of the guard at WBGO, but more the inclusion or the embracing of a new perspective. Equipped with ideas and skills successfully honed during her long tenure at jazz station WPFW in DC, Faircloth, who has also written for NPR Music and worked for Radio One, brings a knowledge of tradition while also an excitement for the emerging players on the scene whose sound harnesses an eclectic blend of present day influences.
Recent articles about WBGO suggest that, like the very music they champion, things had been changing, shifting, challenging. And what it is or should be seems to have varied in opinion from those both outside and in. That seems common for most long established and cherished institutions that are tasked with moving forward without abandoning what and who made them what they are. But what has likely been established as a shared desire or need actually, is for the leading jazz station in the nation to continue to be, thrive and engage new listeners while honoring its history. Faircloth clearly believed she could help them check all those boxes and she was right, however it took a couple of knocks at the door before they ultimately opened for her at the station. As she had already experienced at the beginning of her career, timing is everything. “I had come up from DC probably about three times to audition,” recalls Faircloth. Those visits started in 2017 when BGO had taken notice of the rising talent while at WPFW. “After those three or four visits they decided to go in a different direction. I guess at that time they weren’t ready for a new energy, we’ll say. I think a part of that is a lot of people in jazz, in particular, have a tendency to feel that you might not have enough under your belt in order to be able really know and express a love for this music. So I think at that time they weren’t necessarily ready for me.” Needless to say, that feeling changed in 2019 and after making contact with those at the station again, as she says, “the timing was right,”and with it acknowledgment that bringing her into the fold would be a good stone to place on their path forward.
You can say Faircloth’s entry into radio was both a result of her love of jazz and happenstance. She actually got her first taste of it while in high school acting as part of a soap opera on a local hip hop station. Fast forward to entering into college at the prestigious, historically black, Howard University, or as she proudly reps, “HU!” where she majored in music history including jazz and minored in classical piano. She had already become a fan of her local jazz station, WPFW, and one day decided to take a long trek there in hopes of talking to someone about internships. As it happened, her timing (there’s that word again) was perfect because not only was there one, but as she recalls, “the music director at the time actually said, you can start now if you want to.” She started with a small segment called Jazznotes, talking about jazz artists and doing public service announcements until an unforeseen circumstance provided, a surprise opportunity. “Somebody didn’t show up on a Tuesday I was there,” says Faircloth. “The host of midday jazz wasn’t able to make it for some strange reason so I literally got thrown in! So that’s how it all got started!” And she adds what was even more strange, but perhaps destiny, “For some reason the host of that show never came back so it became my show!” That happenstance became a successful sixteen year stay with the station while building a solid rep on the jazz scene. It was a rep that eventually caught the attention of where she now host in Newark, NJ, on WBGO.
“I never took BGO off my mind. It never stopped being a goal of mine.” Faircloth asserts. “For me, I looked at BGO and I still look at BGO like a beacon. It’s the mecca! It is jazz radio at its finest. I’m so honored to be on the air at BGO because I really am living my dream and I’m so glad that I did not give up or put BGO out of my mind. I said, you know what, this is for me. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But I know it’s for me. I’m just glad I didn’t give up.”
Now for great insight from Keanna Faircloth about being at WBGO, engaging new listeners, and what jazz is, be sure to check out the accompanying video above!
Check out Keanna Faircloth introducing and moderating a discussion with talented young jazz artists on the rise as part of this year’s virtual JAZZFEST put on by ArtsWestchester. Click HERE to view it in its entirety on their Facebook page
For most of us 2020 is a year we’d very much like to forget happened even though there’s still just a little less than half of it to go. Specifics to support this are likely not necessary. But in the midst of all the mayhem, tragedy and uncertainty, there are many who believe, are examples and have operated from the position that this time will birth new opportunity if you’re paying attention, are not afraid to explore and to act. Case in point, Kreshonna Keane.
Coming into this tumultuous year, the talented, twenty- five year old photographer who hails from the boogie – down Bronx, was already creating a lively buzz with her engaging style. It’s a now signature style the impressive photog, who graduated high school at fifteen, became a photo assistant at sixteen while attending college and has already traveled to twenty-five countries, crafted that vividly tells stories of her neighborhood with luscious color and fashionably swag.
When the pandemic took hold and almost literally padlocked us all inside, in addition to sharing her gems that featured others and stunning self-portraits of Keane herself via social media, she also embraced a concept born of the quarantine – FaceTime shoots. It wasn’t something she thought much of at first. Many others didn’t either. But then she discovered how she could bring her signature approach to this apparent fad and once Twitter got hold, Keane’s kite of recognition caught a hurricane force wind. I SPY SOUL caught up with Kreshonna Keane in the special quarantine version, video interview via Zoom above to talk about her style, motivation, the recognition, and more. BC