Messages from Masters: Bobby Carcasses

by Ella Campbell

(Pronounced Car-Kuh-SAYS)

Bobby Carcasses is a Cuban musician who was born in Jamaica and raised in Cuba, where he developed his art when he moved from Santiago to Habana in 1956. He is an artist by all counts: he plays instruments, sings, dances, paints and draws. When asked where his musicality was inspired, he said that he was “born singing.” He can play congas, saxophone, piano and flugelhorn. While in school, he wanted to drop out in order to focus on music and art, but his mother did not approve of quitting school. She insisted that he find work if he was going to quit, so he dropped out and got a job at a cracker packaging factory. Once he moved to Habana, he said “I realized that I can live life as an artist and have reason.” He studied opera, practicing in the walk-in refrigerator at a burger joint he later worked at. (Burger joint in Cuba? We were surprised too.) He also studied ballet, which is “another world of art,” when he decided that he would audition on a television talent showcase. From there, he was hired into a vocal quartet and made his transition from singing opera to singing Cuban popular music, and jazz. The music he creates is a combination of traditional harmony and new musicians putting their modern spins on it, and his son leads a music group called Interactivo.

Carcasses has another son, of whom he said “My son has autism.” The people in the room looked at each other, as if they thought he hadn’t meant to tell them that. “I am speaking about this because this is part of my life: it is a part of my art.” Another part of his life, and his art, is his wife. “When I was 12, my wife was 5. I never thought that little girl would be my wife. And, my wife? And we never have discussion. We only have love for each other.” He also said “My wife. She is fat.” The way he said fat, was not the way we say fat. He said “fat” the way we say “big.” In a beautiful, endearing way that makes us all wish we had MORE TO LOVE!

Bobby is a very charismatic man in person. He was very excited to be in the United States, watching students of jazz. I believe that he found so much joy in listening to American students because it is similar to us listening to him. When we watch a man who grew up playing and perfecting Cuban music, dance and rhythm in Cuba, we realize how little like him we sound, or will sound. We grew up with beats two and four, we grew up with swing. We grew up with the blues. Even when we try not to play that way, it leaks out anyway. I think our performances were so inspiring to him because he was watching Americans play the blues. After hearing three groups play three different blues, he went up to the front of the class and asked “If, if you can? Please. Play another blues?” and he stood there, in the middle of the band, and sang along. There immediately was brotherhood between all of the musicians.He is a man who very much understands the meaning of the blues “I am very happy. I am happy to be here because people of every country are the same. We all have different problems, but as people, we are always the same.” And everybody wants to hear just one more blues.

He explained this brotherhood between musicians. He studied jazz for most of his life, and had heard about Rodney Whitaker before traveling to Michigan. “Five minutes after meeting Rodney the first time, we were playing music. And we were like old friends.”  Music has the power to bring people together from across the world — and create brotherhood within minutes.

A man of many instruments, Bobby insists that the voice is the most divine. It is the only instrument you cannot see. We cannot watch how it works, and we cannot watch the mechanics of it.  It can imitate every instrument, and everyone plays their wind instrument in an attempt to sound as vocal as possible. You know you’ve all been playing something when someone shouts “Sing!” or when you haven’t been playing well and someone’s advice to you is to “Sing through your horn” or “imagine the lyrics.” We use our voices to speak, and we use our voices to sing, and we use instruments to imitate this, and create dialectic music.

Both Cuban music and jazz are dialectic. The dialogue in this music not only happens between musicians, but it happens between cultures, and it happens between the people and their leaders. The musicians in jazz are obligated to improvise, and this improvisation creates steady forward movement and development in this music. As Cuban music and jazz continue to evolve, they still have the same African rhythms in common, “in Cuba, the music is African and Spanish, and sometimes we just don’t know if what we’re playing is Spanish or African. And in Brazil, the music is African and Portuguese. In America? Jazz is African and American.” This combination of cultures, the relationship between colonizers and the colonized, the slaves and slaveholders, means this music is liberation music. And in Cuba, politically, jazz, the music of America, is the music of the enemy.

However, the lovers of jazz know that this is music of the people. It is from and for everyone, and the audience of jazz is an educated and intelligent one. It’s history is deep and complex, and it doesn’t separate itself from classical music. A good example of this, Bobby pointed out, is Gershwin. He is right in the middle, between opera and jazz, and both forms of music embrace and respect his work and each other’s interpretation of it.

Bobby used the history of the relationship between Dizzy Gillespie and Mario Bauza to describe the dialectic and brotherly nature of Cuban music and jazz. (Click the previous links in order to learn about them.)

Bobby spoke mostly about the human spirit and our relationship with each other and music, but he also had a bit to say about practicing and performing too. Some of his first experiences as a professional musician took place in a vocal quartet. In that quartet he learned to master writing for four voices and “if you can master writing for four voices, you can write a symphony.”

In his youth he would practice entertaining for an hour. He would sit with a piano, drums, his horn and his voice and attempt to be entertaining and fresh for an hour straight, alone. He was a one-man show, and he would perform blues, rumba and boleros in an attempt to stay interesting. This is a wonderful idea. Take one hour, and play tunes through, utilizing whatever skills you have, if you can play piano for a tune, then play your horn for a tune, then sing a tune, and see if you can be entertaining and enticing for the entire hour. It’s very challenging! Pick tunes that contrast in key, tempo and feel, and see if you can convincingly, excitedly and meaningfully play each one different from the others.

While he consistently reminded us to play with meaning, he also reminded us to “relax. Know that you have time. You may think the time is getting away, but it’s not.” You do not have to chase the time – as in tempo and the amount of time you are on stage. Be playful and relax into the time. Let it settle, and make it feel right. Dance with more than just your fingers and face. Only moving the parts of your body that mechanize the instrument is not enough to make the music settle, you must dance with your entire body, and you can make the time feel good. Making the time feel good is far more important than fitting as much information as you can into it. You can always get up and play another tune.

Finally, if you respect the music, and if you are going to attend masterclasses, and you take lessons, and you go to concerts, go there armed with questions. The musicians must know you are honestly interested in their music and their knowledge.

Bobby is an avid believer in the power of yoga, and making his spirit whole. Through yoga, meditation, and a belief in reincarnation, he discovered a world full of possibilities. “Knowledge is something. Wisdom is another thing.” He has also become very comfortable with honesty and people. Which, when you think about it, finding people comfortable with being truly honest with people is very rare. “The truth is the only thing I can give. It is the most beautiful thing you can give.” But he does not only find his spirit through yoga and meditation.

His drawing is also a form a meditation for him: “when I finish a drawing, I can look, and my spirit is realized.” Developing his human spirit and his spirit for life are also different. He believes that “we develop our spirit for life in groups. … When you play, you are entering a cosmos where you all know each other and are good friends. When you finish playing, you come back. Don’t think about anything except giving yourself. Offer your heart. You don’t have time to think.

He is very rapidly approaching the age of 74 and he works as hard as he can every time he performs.
He jokes about dying on stage from working so hard, but then he said, very soulfully
“If I die? Wonderful, because I died doing something important.”

Scene Stories: Esperanza Spalding

More Reasons to Love Esperanza Spalding

by Guest Writer, Hannah Dexter

As if there aren’t enough?

I’ll admit, this chick intimidates the heck outta me. But man, what a genius. A little background on our interaction. I was (and still consider myself to be) a member of Thara Memory’s American Music Program. A really kick-ass, intense, terrifying, and rewarding conglomerate big band in Portland, Oregon. Most jazz musicians who’ve come from Portland have gone through Mr. Memory; Ben Wolfe, Chris Botti, Esperanza Spalding, Hailey Niswanger, and many more to come. Ms. Spalding was in the band some odd years ago, and while she was attending Berklee School of Music, she always came back to the group over breaks to share charts and arrangements she was working on.

   I finally got the chance to meet this woman in late March of my senior year of high school. We spent 6 hours working on a latin chart called “Goombay Smash”. Ms. Spalding heard my samba groove and asked to borrow my electric . She sat down and said, “It’s all on the one and three. You’ve got to think about which drum in the Samba School you’re representing, and then, just hit it.” BAM! Without even touching the volume, that lady laid down a groove so fat that the whole room started shaking. My knees went loose and I suddenly felt what the groove was always supposed to sound like. 30 of my friends and I, carrying drums half the size of our bodies, walking down a street in the city, in the blistering heat, getting people dancing. It instantly made sense. She asked the rhythm section to join her, but I could’ve just listened to her play those two notes by herself for an hour. We had one more week of rehearsal, with rhythm sectionals every day thanks to our new understanding of the music. With all the knew knowledge I had gotten from her, and Cuban native Al Criado, I’m not ashamed to say that my band totally killed it at the Monteray Jazz Festival with this tune.

   So that was the last I saw of Ms. Esperanza Spalding until winter break of my freshman year of college. Like a lot of alumnis in the group, we all try to make it back to one or two rehearsals in the Christmas season. I got the privilege to play “Sweet Georgia Brown“ with the others home from college….. man, I was terrified. It did not go well on my part. I was so nervous. Oy. Ugh. Blah. But, I think she understood.

   Summer came. I went back to the band. Mr. Memory told me the great news. Esperanza’s new cd was going to have a song about Portland on it, and she had hired the American Music Program to arrange and perform on the recording (FOR UNION WAGES) and do a benefit concert with her at the end of the summer. For one reason or another, of all the great bass players he could have chosen, Mr. Memory chose me to play the concert, and be in the music video that accompanied the song, “City of Roses”. I was freakin’ out. To say the least.

   She ended up hiring the horn players for 3 tracks, “Radio Song”, “Hold on Me”, and “City of Roses”. I went to all the recording sessions, even though they already had a wonderful bass player (her initials are Esperanza Spalding). I just wanted to see it all happen. Goodness, was I awkward around her. I lent her my bass for one recording, and Mr. Memory my tights for another (apparently it makes a good harmon mute?). And then the whole band got together to rehearse “Sweet Georgia Brown” with her singing for our concert. As nervous as I was to be playing for her again, midway through, she turned around, smiled, and winked at me. Biggest compliment of my life!

   I transcribed the bass line to “City of Roses” for our concert, even though she was going to be performing it. I asked to play it for Mr. Memory’s feedback; “Sweetie, that’s okay, I suppose. But you’re missing that something that Esperanza has. You don’t have it.” I was pretty embarrassed. It was time for the soundcheck, and they couldn’t find Ms. Spalding, so they got the next curliest thing to check her bass. I went up on this big stage, closed my eyes, and imagined that someday I could give back to the band this same way. I played the groove to this song about the city I love, and felt it soothe the future homesickness I was to experience in a week when I went back to Michigan. At the end of a few choruses, there were two hands clapping. Esperanza’s. “You’ve got it, girl. You’re groovin.” Second biggest compliment of my life.

   I passed the bass off to her and watched her warm up. A worker for the concert told her, that the people who paid 100$ were getting impatient at the VIP reception, and wondered where she was for the meet and greet. “They’ll have to wait, I’m busy.” “But Ms. Spalding, they paid a lot of money to see you.” “No, ma’am, they paid to hear good music.” BAM! WIN!

   I only played two songs at the concert. But I spent about 42 hours in rehearsals for it over the prior two weeks. We traded bass playing on “Sweet Georgia Brown”. The biggest smile was on my face. I sat off stage for the rest of the concert. Tearing up with gratitude. She announced all the money for “City of Roses” was going straight back to the band. She said, “I’m grateful that my name, and my grammy, whatever that means, brought you to this show, but that’s not what this show is about. This show is about displaying the wonderful talent that Portland has, not just in the older generation, but in the future. I won’t be at every concert, but I hope and pray that you will be.”

   6 days later, my last day in Portland until Christmas. I played a gig at the Art Museam with one of the hardest working female leaders in Portland, Susie & the Sidecar. Then wheeled my bass and suit across the hot Portland sidewalks, to the Morrison bridge where we awaited the shooting of the “City of Roses” music video. The director from Brazil approached me, talking in Portuguese, and heck if I could understand her. An intern came to translate, “We don’t need two bass players. We have Esperanza!” Another worker talked to her gently, and she looked irritated, but walked over to Ms. Spalding’s makeup van where her fro was being meticulously landscaped. It was far away, but I could see her, smile big and say, OF COURSE! Like it was obvious.

   I played the groove. I sang backup vocals. I was constantly smiling. I was in. After the last take, I went up to Ms. Spalding, and for the first time had the words to thank her for all that she is and all that she’s giving. She put her hands on my hair and said, “Girl, not only where you grooving your heart out, here and at the concert, but your fro definitely beat mine today.” Third biggest compliment.

Transcription: Clifford Brown on “Minority”

by Emily Fredrickson

Hello all!

Thank you for staying with us through the short break.  We have been preparing lots of special things (and keeping up with our studies), so be ready for lots of exciting posts!

This week we will feature a transcription of Clifford Brown on his album “The Clifford Brown Sextet in Paris.”  The album was recorded in 1953 and featured Gigi Gryce (alto saxophone), Henri Renaud (piano), Jimmy Gourley (guitar), Pierre Michelot (bass), and Jean-Louis Viale (drums).  For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to check this album out (and let me recommend doing so!), here is a link to the recording that the transcription is from (this recording is “Take 2” on the album).  Clifford’s solo starts around 2:05.  Now, before you dive right into this solo, lets set some preliminary guidelines for learning transcriptions.

1) Fall in love with it (or part of it!)

What do I mean?  Well, since you’re playing jazz, you probably already understand this concept, but to refresh your memory:

Don’t do something unless you love it!

Okay, yes, it doesn’t always work out like this, but this is something you are voluntarily doing with your time, so LOVE IT.

2) Listen, listen, listen

We all have those records we can sing along to, so make your latest project one of those records/tracks.  But go beyond just singing along: internalize it.  Feel each and every inflection.  And don’t just try to start singing along right away; you need to be fully aware of each and every nuance.

3) Play Along 

No, I didn’t forget the step “Write it Out.”  That’s coming, just hold on a second!  Here’s the thing: if you can sing it, you can already play it.  Maybe not at tempo, maybe not as clean as you would like, but if you can truly sing the notes and inflections, you can sing them at ANY tempo.  Even WITHOUT a “slow downer.”  I believe there are some exceptions, but I am convinced that you can be your own “slow downer” if you have really internalized the music.  So do your best to play along with the record during the learning process.  You might be surprised to find how much you can already play!

(P.S. I can’t take full credit for the order of these steps, because I had them backwards as well. You can thank trumpet genius, Sean Jones, for his helpful insight with this matter.)

4) Write it Out/Learn the Tune

Some people are not fond of the writing step, and some really don’t need to, however, I find it helpful for later reference and for my macro/micro analyses of the techniques being utilized.  If you’re confused about those, don’t worry, I’ll give you an example with the transcription at the end.  In the processes of analyzation,  memorize the chord changes and the melody to the tune.  Now you can add another tune to your “I Know These” list!

5) Analyze, Internalize, Apply

Why do we transcribe?  To learn!  To know why we make that face whenever we hear “that one lick.”  To know how to deepen our own musical vocabulary.  And, to fall more in love with this music through focused appreciation.

Analyze: What are they doing? Where? Why? How often?

Internalize: Do what they did in a focused, methodical way.  For example, learn “that one lick” in all keys or practice a line through the changes of the entire tune.

Apply: This takes time and patience.  The more you do something in the practice room, the more likely it is to come out on the band stand.  Application also involves the step of PERSONALIZATION.  *Insert Bird Lick Here* is only entertaining for so long (and who is it really entertaining besides you?).

Alright! So that was somewhat long winded, but it is an important thing to understand before I set you loose on this solo.  You are probably thinking, “So why are you giving us this transcription if you just told us to do it ourselves?”  Good.  I’m glad you’re thinking that.  The reason we will post transcriptions is so we can have an open discussion about the techniques utilized, and hopefully it will encourage some new transcribers to do some of their own favorite solos.  Also, there is nothing like appreciating a master of jazz by checking out what exactly they are creating.   Maybe you’ll find a lick or two that interests you (my favorite is mm. 33-36!).  Either way, we are happy to share anything that may encourage your journey in jazz music.

Attached you will find the solo in C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef.  Also, check out the Micro-Analysis (in concert pitch).  This is something I like to do to take in all the techniques being used in a solo.

Enjoy studying this genius!  And Swing Sisters, Swing!

-Emily Fredrickson

Harmonic Analysis

Minority – C Instruments

Minority – Bb

Minority – ALTO

Minority – Bass Clef

Upcoming Articles

Hello Lovely People!

After a wonderful first week, we are back on the grind, and writing more articles. Soon to come are:

Transcriptions: Clifford Brown
Transcriptions: Stanley Turrentine
Concert Review: Snarky Puppy
Concert Review: Robert Glasper Experiment
Messages from Masters: Bobby Carcasses
Messages from Masters: Mardra Thomas
Guest Writer: “Taking Back the Night”
Arranging: “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for Big Band

Until then (this weekend!),
Swing sisters, swing!
– Shirley & Sweetie

10 Fingers: Derrick Hodge

by Ella Campbell

Allow us to explain what a “10 Fingers” post will be: we ask musicians ten fun and and quick questions. Hopefully the answers only require one or two sentences, we know these guys have got a lot of people to talk to! With those short answers, we at Back Beat add links so that you can discover and learn from them everything they mean when they just give us the name of an album or artist. I know these interviews look short, but try to read as many of the links as you can – we certainly learn a lot looking all of them up, and we want to share all of that with you!

On Friday night, Detroit was graced by the presence of the Robert Glasper Experiment. If you’ve never seen a concert in Detroit, go there. That city shows LOVE. Well, “moves love,” I suppose. The line-up included Mark Colenburg, drums; George Clint– I mean, Casey Benjamin, saxophones, vocoder and ambient laser sounds; Derrick Hodge, bass; and of course Robert Glasper, keys.

After the show, two friends, one Jazz Girl and one Jazz Guy, accompanied me while I was lucky to get the chance to have a quick conversation with Derrick.

1. What’s your favorite booty music? “Booty music? Depends.”
Okay, well, how about favorite dance music. … Still depends?
“Yeah. But I could go dance to some Skrillex. That’s some dance music.”

2. What’s your favorite thoughtful music? Radiohead.

3. What do you call the music that you play? “I call it whatever the people who come to see us play call it. Just as long as it gets them here to listen. ‘People Music.’”

4. What music from your childhood has stuck with you? Nancy Wilson, The Isley Brothers, Kirk Franklin and gospel music, and Marcus Miller.

5. What is the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? “Woooo.” He looked up and became thoughtful. “Donny Hathaway. The album with ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free.’” Extension of a Man. “I would listen to it to feel his spirit. He has an ability to really make us feel the way he felt.”

6. What is your favorite vocal jazz album?Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley. It was my dad’s favorite.”

7. If you could see any musicians play, alive or dead, who would they be?Michael. Then, Stravinsky and the Beatles, believe it or not.”

8. What’s your favorite basement album? Nas: Stillmatic

9. What was the most profound moment you’ve had in a private lesson or masterclass? “Hm. This is a good question… When I realized that all simple things answer all of my questions. I wanted to play fancy but, fancy is just a combination of boring and simple things. Vince Fay… He was my teacher.”

10. Who is a young musician that we should be looking out for? “Kenneth Rodgers. ‘Gizmo.’ He’s… well, he’s a musician. He plays guitar, bass, sings and is a musical director.”

Derrick Hodge poses with some of our Jazz Girls. Beautiful music, beautiful bass, beautiful man!

Derrick was one of the most patient musicians I have ever talked to. We would remind him that it was okay if he had to dart off and put his things away but he politely insisted that he had the time to answer our questions. Giving thoughtful and direct answers, our writing can barely illuminate what a truly wonderful spirit Mr. Hodge embodies.

Keep your eyes and ears open for our upcoming articles:
10 Fingers: Casey Benjamin
Transcriptions: Clifford Brown
Concert Review: Snarky Puppy
Concert Review: Robert Glasper Experiment
Messages from Masters: Bobby Carcasses

Until then –
Swing sisters, swing!
Shirley

10 Fingers: Casey Benjamin

by Ella Campbell

Allow me to explain what a “10 Fingers” post will be: we ask musicians ten fun and quick questions. Hopefully the answers only require one or two sentences because we know these guys have got a lot of people to talk to! With their short answers, we at Back Beat add links so that you can discover and learn from them everything they mean when they just give us the name of an album or artist.

On Friday night, Detroit was graced by the presence of the Robert Glasper Experiment. If you’ve never seen a concert in Detroit, go there. That city shows LOVE. Well, “moves love,” I suppose. The line-up included Mark Colenburg, drums; George Clint– I mean, Casey Benjamin, saxophones, vocoder and ambient laser sounds; Derrick Hodge, bass; and of course Robert Glasper, keys.

After the show I was lucky to get the chance to have a quick and light-hearted conversation Casey.

1. What is your favorite dance music? He chuckled. “Soca and ‘70s disco.” …Well that explains a lot.

2. What is your favorite thoughtful music?Todd Rundgren. He’s a folk-rock writer and producer from the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

3. What do you call the music that you play? “Good music.”

4. What music from your childhood has stuck with you? Pat Metheny: Offramp and Quincy Jones: The Dude

5. What is the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? Al B Sure: In Effect Mode

6. Name some musicians you’d like to see perform, alive or dead: “Miles. Herbie. Well, I’ve seen Herbie. Does that count? … Herbie. Roger Troutman, The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Donny Hathaway. Marvin!” [note: Make sure you peep that Roger Troutman link, readers! He’s the father of the mastery of the talk-box. Check these two vids as well: Roger Troutman Interview and I Want To Be Your Man. As soon as I listened, I was like “I understaaaand.” Listen. Do it.]

7. What’s your favorite basement album? “Well, am I chillin’ in the basement with a bunch of dudes or with a girl?”
I mean a bunch of dudes, because usually I’m chillin’ in the basement with a bunch of dudes (#jazzgirlproblems), but give me an album that you’d listen to with dudes, and one that you’d listen to with girls.
“Okay. With dudes, and I don’t want to sound cliche because I’m in Detroit right now, but ‘Welcome 2 Detroit’
…He had a lot more to say about chillin’ with a girl:
“Marvin Gaye: I Want You … But I just love, love-songs. I love writing them. I love ballads.”
Well then, feel free to write the Jazz Girls at Back Beat a love-song-ballad, Casey.
“Joni Mitchell: The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Radiohead: In Rainbows, Herbie: Mr. Hands. I mean, I really just listen to songs though. I make my own albums out of them.”
So, mix-tapes.
“Yeah, mix-tapes.”
Mix-tapes and love-songs? We’re charmed.

8. What was the most profound moment you had in a private lesson or masterclass? “When I found out I have perfect pitch. I was with Weldon Irvine, who was part of Freddie Hubbard’s generation.”

9. Who is a new musician we should be looking out for?Thundercat. And me!”

10. We’re going to have a Top Ten Jazz Booties list. Are you okay with being on that list? “Wait. Male? A list of the best, male, jazz musician, booties? That’s killin’! YES! … Wait. Who else is on the list?”

The spirit of Dilla watches over Casey. Nice shirt Rob!

Even though we’re partial to #JazzGirlProblems, we couldn’t help but notice a few funny and endearing #CaseyBenjaminProblems
1. Don’ git your locks caught in your neckstrap now! #CaseyBenjaminProblems
2. Bassist is soloing. Attempt to subtly walk to the side of the stage. You just can’t hide with a glowing keytar. #CaseyBenjaminProblems
3. Decide to rap about why I’m cool.  Digable Planets becomes famous for rapping, and I don’t. #CaseyBenjaminProblems

[Readers that don’t know Digable Planets? Peep this vid for reference: Cool Like That]

Keep an eye out for these articles coming soon:
10 Fingers: Derrick Hodge
Transcriptions: Clifford Brown

Until then –
Swing sisters, swing!
Shirley

10 Fingers: Snarky Puppy

by Ella Campbell

Allow me to explain what a “10 Fingers” post will be: we ask musicians ten fun and and quick questions, and most of the time they will be the same 10 for each artist.

    On a brisk Tuesday night in Detroit, a few friends and I checked out the band Snarky Puppy. If you aren’t hip, I highly suggest you get hip to this “music for your brain and booty.” The venue they played at, Cliff Bell’s, is in the heart of Detroit, smack on the Fox Theater’s backside. Usually a hub for straight ahead and organ jazz, the place was transformed into a disco-jazz-booty-funk-fusion dance club for a night. Not physically by any means, waiters and bartenders were still darting around tables, but spiritually, Cliff Bell’s was on a different level. The disco ball on the ceiling finally felt at home, as people squeezed between tables and each other, attempting to find room to dance.

After the show I caught up with Mike League, the leader, bassist, composer and producer for Snarky Puppy.

1. What is your favorite booty music? Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information
2. What is your favorite brain music? Debussy string quartets
3. What do you call the music that you play? At this question, Mike threw up his hands and sighed. Then, after a thoughtful moment his eyes lit up and he said “Instrumental!” If you’ve peeped any of their videos that we’ve posted here on Back Beat you’ll understand – you can hear a little bit of everything in their music. Literally, everything.
4. What music from your childhood has stuck with you? “The Beatles, Led Zepplin, James Brown, Stevie Wonder …” He paused to see if I still wanted more answers, but I got the gist. Anything that you recognize in his playing is probably from whoever you think it sounds like, and he’s probably been listening to them for a while.
5. What was the first record you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? Oscar Peterson: Live at the Blue Note (This guy knows what Jazz Girls want to hear!!)
6. What song was stuck in your head today?You Don’t Know How It Feels” by Tom Petty
7. Name five musicians that you’d like to see perform in a dream-band, alive or dead, any genre: The first two he gave me with no hesitation. “On bass, James Jamerson.” (Again, he knows the answers we want to hear! Detroit!) “On trumpet, Louis Armstrong. On piano…” He stopped. “This is a good question!” After thinking a bit more, almost slipping a jazz piano name out there, he caught himself and said “Mozart on piano. On guitar, Jimi Hendrix and on drums Jason “JT” Thomas.” Hold up. Let’s review that.
Trumpet: Louis Armstrong
Guitar: Jimi Hendrix
Piano: Mozart
Bass: James Jamerson
Drums: Jason “JT” Thomas
Pardon my French but, dat shit cray.
8. Favorite basement album? First, I must define what a basement album is: everyone chillin’ in the basement, smoking or drinking whatever, (or not!) Just. strait. chillin. His answer? No hesitation. “Voodoo.” Mike, on behalf of all Jazz Girls everywhere, we praise you.
9. Most profound moment in a private lesson? “Well, it wasn’t in a lesson, but a lecture with Johnny Vidacovich.” Vidacovich is a drummer from New Orleans who believes that the music is always there, and we are bodies lucky to be participating in the music. The music is bigger than us, it is bigger than being good or being sad. “Therefore, why, when we ‘don’t play well’ do we get upset? And why, when we do play well, do we develop egos?”
10. Who is a young artist we should be looking out for?Gabe Morales, a thirteen year old guitar player who has a mastery over his instrument unlike anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Next I talked to Robert “Sput” Searight, the drummer from Snarky Puppy. He was a popular man to talk to. I stood off to the side for a while, patiently waiting for my chance to rap with him. After a few minutes of not even being glanced at or recognized for wanting speak, I knew I had to bust through the circle of dudes surrounding him, with my nerdy pad of paper and blue pen, and demand his attention. (Why did I pick a blue pen?! I couldn’t see a damn thing that I was writing!) At my mentioning of writing for a Blog about and for women involved in jazz, he cocked his head to the side and looked at me quizzically. At my mentioning that we enjoy his music, he understood why I was talking to him.

1. What is your favorite booty music? Black Eyed Peas and Will.I.Am
2. What is your favorite brain music? Miles Davis: Bitches Brew
3. What do you call the music that you play? “Jafunkadansion. Jazz-funk-dance-fusion.” How appropriate, Sput.
4. What music from your childhood has stuck with you? “Gospel music. I grew up in the church.”
5. What was the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? Donny Hathaway: Live (this is also one of Shirley’s favorite albums!)
6. What song was stuck in your head today? “Our music. The songs that we performed tonight.”
7. Name five musicians that you’d like to see perform in a dream-band, alive or dead, any genre: This question stumped Sput for a second, so I told him that Mike chose Louis Armstrong and Mozart to be in the same band and he jumped at it, “Louis Armstrong! Yes. Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Herbie Hancock on piano.” I cued him: drums? “Buddy Rich, and Eddie Van Halen.” Bass? “Oh right. I haven’t named a bassist? Jaco.” He looked like he wanted more so I asked him what else he wanted to say “Well, I want an organ. Jimmy Smith.”
Stop. Rewind. Review:
Trumpet: Louis Armstrong
Piano: Herbie Hancock
Drums: Buddy Rich
Guitar: Eddie Van Halen
Bass: Jaco Pastorius
Organ: Jimmy Smith
… That’s right. He cheated. He named six. 😉
8. Favorite basement music? Radiohead
9. Most profound moment in a private lesson? “My teacher told me to play everything I knew in twenty seconds. And I did. And I felt great about it.  But I remember, while I was playing, my teacher was actually covering his ears. Then he told me to play it all again, and play it quietly. And I couldn’t.”
10. Who is a young artist we should be looking out for?Cleon Edwards. He is the drummer for Erykah Badu, and not many people seem to know about him.”

Content, I found my friends again and we blew off some steam before heading out. We collected our things and went outside, where, at one o’clock in the morning, it was brighter outside than it was inside of Cliff Bell’s. (No wonder I couldn’t see anything I was writing). Near the entrance, a man was sitting alongside the wall playing “Wonderwall” with his guitar, and his voice was incredible. We paused to listen for a moment. Music is everywhere, and as we stood outside near a steaming manhole with the lights of the city to our backs, we made plans to come back to Detroit on Friday. Not only to celebrate the birthday of a fellow Jazz Girl, but to see the Robert Glasper Experiment. We’ll see if I can weasel my way into talking to those guys as well. If anything, there will at least be a review of the concert.

So, Ladies, articles to look forward to include: Shirley’s review of Snarky Puppy’s show and of the Robert Glasper Experiment’s concert, and a Clifford Brown transcription by our editor Sweetie McJivin.

Unfamiliar with the Robert Glasper Experiment? Check them out here.

Swing sisters, swing!
Ella