Ben Williams declares people still need to know, “I Am A Man”

I AM A MAN

Bassist, composer and vocalist Ben Williams was one of the busiest and sought-after players on the scene prior to the pandemic. The Grammy-winning musician has been a first-call bassist for many elite artists for more than a decade with a sterling resume that includes work with Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Pat Metheny, Nicholas Payton, José James, Marcus Strickland and so many more.  So certainly, like most artists and musicians, the reality of the resulting shut down was mind-boggling, life-altering and incredibly disappointing.

But there was another layer of disappointment for Williams as well. That’s because he found opportunity and was in the midst of touring and performing as a leader in support of his instantly acclaimed third album, the compelling, I AM A MAN released in February 2020. Borrowing its title from the signs held high during the consequential 1968 Memphis sanitation strike where 1,300 black sanitation workers walked off the job, protesting awful working conditions, racism and discrimination, Williams’ project sought to shine a light on the continued racial injustice and inequality experienced by African – Americans in America. 

The pandemic seemed like it would steal the spotlight, momentum and most importantly, message of the project away. In the most twisted of ways that would have almost been preferred when you consider that the alternative would be some of the most alarming examples of what Williams’ I AM A MAN spoke to. There was news and video surfaced about shootings of Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor and alas, the horrific scene shown the world over – the killing of George Floyd, which of course led to mammoth protest, unrest and conversation about racism and change. For us all the pandemic hit with huge, unicorn-like proportion and out of nowhere, but sadly the killings where an almost inevitable occurrence and Williams’ I AM A MAN provided a powerful and prophetic soundtrack. 

In addition to talking about what influences his bass playing; his emergence as a vocalist; the confines of being labeled a jazz artist and more, in this special I SPY SOUL podcast edition interview, Williams shares why pushing this project continues to be so very important to him and toward a continued goal of change.

The following tracks were played during the course of the interview. Click the title links for full track:

“Half Steppin'” from the album Coming of Age

“Promised Land” from I AM A MAN

“If You Hear Me” from I AM A MAN

“Take It From Me” from I AM A MAN

“High Road”(Instrumental) from I AM A MAN (Instrumentals)

For more about Ben Williams go to BenWilliamsmusic.net and to keep up on Instagram follow him @benwmsonbass

Carmen Rodgers wants to say “Hello”

Since breaking out on the scene with her stunning debut Free, vocalist and songwriter, Carmen Rodgers has garnered a very faithful fanbase of soul music-loving cognoscenti and accomplished peers. She emerged in the early 2000’s and became part of a top-tier class of vocalists and artists that fueled the already fertile resurgent or “Neo soul” crusade.  Dropping subsequent winning projects like The Bitter Suite, which houses the arresting track “It’s me” and Stargazer, boasting amongst others the passionate and idyllic duet, “Charge” with soulful crooner, Anthony David, stoked the fires of adoration. Then there’s her work over the years as part of popular, Grammy-nominated unit, The Foreign Exchange, helmed by revered rapper and vocalist, Phonte and multi-instrumentalist/producer, Nicolay. Add to that, as well, her performances with fellow Exchange comrade, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Zo, and it’d be a fair guess that Rodgers has solidified her place in the hearts of those ardent fans. But that said, there’s still a chance you may not be one of those . . . yet. 

As Carmen Rodgers shares in our video interview, she does want to reach you too and has released what will serve as a splendid introduction in the form of her new EP, aptly called, Hello Human Vol. 1. For many fans it will be a welcome reunion as this is her first project since the drop of Stargazer in 2015. The time in between is certainly a testament to how busy the talented artist has been performing and touring.  

Really, be it newcomer or already snagged, Rodgers has something for you both on the project, offering her beautifully toned, wonderfully skilled, and mesmeric vocals in a context of hip progressive soul with a classic appeal. The collection keenly explores the very human condition as it pertains to relationships, something Rodgers admits is a favored subject, with tracks like the clever, role reversed, “No Good” and lead single, “Again and Again” produced by Nicolay. However, it also features in the epic track, “Say So” especially earnest advice in the wake of the adversity 2020 unearthed and the unknowing canvas the new year is still constructing. Carmen Rodgers, of course, hopes you’ll embrace all of Hello Human, Vol 1, but in the I SPY SOUL interview she explains why she believes, “Say So” is so important for us all, herself included, especially now. She also shares what inspires her writing and the kind of artist she isn’t afraid to be called.

Check out Hello Human Vol. 1 on all major platforms including HERE on Spotify

And for more about Carmen Rodgers visit her website @ https://www.iamcarmenrodgers.com/

Nick Rolfe has found another way to lift people up

We’ve made it to 2021 or perhaps better said, out of 2020. Although there are some significant changes in place and progress has been made on the virus front, we’re still in the midst of some very challenging times and issues that need to be addressed. 

Few have gone unscathed by the enormity of the situation we’ve been in. Included in that count of the greatly impacted are artists and performers of all kinds. When the virus reared its ugly head and eliminated a slew of performances for them around the world the blow was swift, mind-blowing and for the vast majority, life – altering. What to do was the universal question and the answer for most of them after the initial “dear in the headlights” pause, was somewhat the same. Survival economically and mentally was, needless to say, paramount as well as to immediately ponder how long this would last.

Many have seized the time to reflect, refocus, practice and create to varying degrees. Some, like the greatly accomplished keyboardist, singer and songwriter Nick Rolfe have done that and more, like rescue people and save lives. Yes, you read the last part right. Rolfe, who has over his career released impressive projects as a leader and performed with the likes of Sting, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Idina Menzel, Busta Rhymes, India Arie, Ledisi, and the incomparable Aretha Franklin, has been part of a search and rescue team tasked with braving the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and removing folks from life – threatening situations. That included, this past summer, the added need and danger brought on by some of the worst wildfires the west coast has seen in years. But this is not something new for Rolfe. He actually became part of the volunteer rescue team before the pandemic. However, what he knew before but became even more evident with his ability to devote more time was how much he loved doing it. It’s understandable. Imagine losing something as rewarding as bringing smiles to faces ( including his own) through live musical performance and getting to replace it with bringing smiles to the faces of family members ( and yes, his own) with the return of loved ones rescued from wild fires or life – threatening injury in mountainous terrain.  What’s not to love? 

With the uncertainty of just what the new normal will be for artists and performers, Rolfe knows first hand from speaking with fellow musicians that for many of them options beyond music will have to be a consideration when the “smoke” clears.  But for some, because of discoveries made during this dormant time of performing, they now may have choices not explored before.

In the video interview below Nick Rolfe speaks about doing and missing two things he loves a lot and allowing himself to make a choice about what the future holds. 

Bert Caldwell

feature photo: Nick Drukker

For more about Nick Rolfe visit nickrolfe.com

Jeff Bradshaw knows what makes you Stronger

The year 2020. No one could have envisioned what it had in store when it arrived, but oh boy, most of us the world over are looking forward to seeing it leave. However, it won’t matter if we earnestly move into 2021 and change hasn’t begun to happen – If we’re not wiser, more knowledgeable and involved.  If we’re not more caring and respectful of one another.  If ultimately we don’t come out of this better or stronger.  That is what adversity is capable of doing. Some might argue or testify that is the reason for it. 

Like most of us, revered and accomplished trombonist, producer, artist Jeff Bradshaw didn’t know of course what the year would bring either. But he’s for sure had experience with being blindsided by a tumultuous, life altering event. In 2016, as he’s shared in the time since, the proud North Philly native was diagnosed with the very painful and serious condition, diverticulitis. It was without warning and in the midst of some exciting, successful and crucial times for this in demand musician whose impressive and long list of credits include work with Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Patti Labelle, Jay Z, Mary J Blige, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Kirk Franklin, Common, and many more. Referencing the challenging times we’re currently in the midst of he notes, “I can say that because of what I’ve been through that I was spiritually and mentally prepared for this ‘season’ in our world.” But he admits, “I don’t think anybody can say, ‘oh yeah I was ready for this.’ In my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like this. So I can’t say I was ready for it, but I can say I was spiritually and emotionally prepared to be able to handle something like this.”  

His personal experience, in great part, encouraged the title of his new project being aptly called, Stronger, a super impressive collection of tracks and assembly of premier guests that include Chrsitian McBride, Conya Doss, Amber Jeanne [Moonchild], Frank McComb, Robert Glasper, Glenn Lewis, Jazzy Jeff, Micki Miller, Lin Rountree,  Marqueal Gordon and more. As Bradshaw shares, the title does speak to how he genuinely feels about himself as an artist at this point in his career. “ As an artist, writer, producer, I am stronger. This is the strongest music I’ve put out, my best playing, my best producing, my best writing. I feel like this is stronger than any work that I’ve ever put out.”

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