10 Fingers: Gretchen Parlato

by Ella Campbell

After the second set at Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, I was able to catch up with Gretchen Parlato and ask her a few questions. We are very excited about her – not only is she a phenomenal musician, soulful vocalist, playful front-woman, and fun person to talk to, she is the first woman we’ve interviewed for the jazz-girl blog!

1. What is your favorite dance music? Michael Jackson

2. What is your favorite brain music? Brad Mehldau solo albums.

3. What was the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? “Duran Duran. I don’t remember the specific album, but it was definitely Duran Duran. An entire album of Duran Duran.”

4. What is your favorite basement music? Bob Marley

5. What is the most profound moment you experienced during private lessons? When my students cry. I can see a breakthrough happening. There is something in their spirit or mind that was closed, and is starting to open, and they are breaking down the walls in their development. And I’ve been there too. I remember those lessons when I was a student.

6. Who are some musicians you would like to see perform live?
Miles Davis
Sammy Davis Jr
Michael Jackson
Taylor Eigsti!
Betty Carter
Whitney Houston. She would have been wonderful to see perform.

7. Who is your favorite musician to play with? Taylor Eigsti!

8. What song was stuck in your head today? “Stop. Wait. What was it? Oh. The Chili’s Baby Back Ribs commercial!” She nudged Taylor’s shoulder, “Taylor. What was that rhythm we came up with?” He started tapping on his knee. “Oh right!” She started humming. “And Burniss kept calling it baby rock tibs.” She laughed, “Make sure you write that down. Baby Rock Tibs!” Taylor chimed in “babyrocktibs”

9. What music did you listen to while you were growing up that has stuck with you? My grandma always played Ella’s records.

10. Who is a young musician we should be looking out for? Becca Stevens

Here is a fun video to watch in order to see how playful this woman and her band are. It may be silly, but it inspires me! It’s good to see exhausted and hard-working musicians that stay so light-hearted!

Until next time,
Swing sisters, swing!

10 Fingers: Burniss Earl Travis

By Ella Campbell

Burniss Earl Travis is one of the bass calls for Gretchen Parlato and the Robert Glasper Experiment. He is pretty off the radar – the only websites we could find were his MySpace and other blog interviews. Maybe he has an old Xanga floating around or something too.

He’s the youngest of the Ben Williams/Etienne Charles generation and has quite the youthful spirit to prove it: singing all the signs we passed, “Fox The-aaaa-ter Pa-harrkk-ing,” singing our names, “El-la-aah.” … Wearing suspenders and a belt. Adorable.

In a car ride from Ann Arbor, where he played with Gretchen Parlato, to Detroit (Burniss’ first time to the Motor City!) to see Etienne Charles, Rodney Whitaker, Diego Rivera, Reginald Thomas and Randy Gelispie perform, we asked him a few questions.

He mentioned something about Chris Dave and Alan Hampton. The reason I have those names in my notes escapes me, but here’s some information about them anyway:
Chris Dave
Alan Hampton

1. What is your favorite booty music? James Brown

2. What is your favorite brain music? Depends. Right now I’m listening to Djivan Gasparyn, Ask Me No Questions. He plays the duduk. It’s kind of like a type of flute. Or oboe. Only not.

3. What music from your childhood has stuck with you? Anita Baker, James Brown, Michael Jackson and The Temptations.

4. What was the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? Wayne Shorter, The Soothsayer

5. What is your favorite basement music? Well, I live in the moment. Whatever seems right at that moment, whatever people want to listen to, we’ll listen to it.

6. Name some musicians, alive or dead, that you’d like to get the chance to see perform live.
Oscar Pettiford
Miles Davis
John Coltrane
Tony Williams
Elvin Jones

7. What song did you have stuck in your head today? I haven’t really listened to much today. Just been chillin. (This is contrary to what Gretchen had to say….)

8. Who is a young musician that we should be looking out for? The Whitfield Brothers.

9. What is the most profound moment you remember having in a private lesson? I can’t think of one. I am still a student. I can and should still think of myself that way. The best way to learn is to play live. I figure it all out by playing it wrong first, this way I learn on the spot. I play based on a combination of many profound moments that have come along by living.

10. Who is your favorite musician to play with? “No one is my favorite. You should just play with people who have the same energy that you do. It’s just like how you hang out with friends, you gravitate toward people with the same energy.

I have discovered and appreciate a lot of different people’s individuality. Even my own. So, everyone needs to embody their individuality. Be your own self. I just try to be the best I can be. This is a natural world, we find our friends naturally, and we find musicians naturally. Explore this natural world, it’s full of beauty. Enjoy it. Live.

In the car ride he chose to listen to:
The Roots: A Peace of Light and others from How I Got Over
Emily King: No More Room

Keep your eyes peeled for an article about Gretchen Parlato – our first female interview for the jazz-girl blog! Yes!

Swing sisters, swing!

10 Fingers: Ishmael Butler


by Ella Campbell

For my birthday weekend, I traveled to Detroit to see Ishmael Butler perform in his duo known as Shabazz Palaces. In this group he rolls under the alias Palaceer Lazaro, but he is still affectionately known to many as Butterfly from Digable Planets. We know, Ishmael, Dig Planets take the three of you, but you hold a place in our memories that we can’t ignore! Ishmael is joined by a multi talented Zimbabwean percussionist, Tendai “Baba” Maraire. I love Ishmael’s voice, [I definitely have a place in my heart baby-voiced emcee/producers like Ishmael and QTip.], I love his vibe, style, MUSIC, hair… smile… salt n pepper beard… Lord have mercy.

I was watching the men of Shabazz Palaces create a type of music I’d never seen mixed live before. Their sound was so robust and full that it rumbled, rattled and kicked within my core, and clattered my eardrums. The combination of Ishmael’s skeleton rattling bass and electric sampling, with Tendai’s congas, mbira, hi hat, and other auxiliary percussion was mean. Tendai laid back, hard. Ishmael’s voice floated above it all. The way he pronounced his lyrics was all very soft, soft consonants. The blend of the timbre of his voice and softness of his pronunciation, with the mix’s rumbling underbelly, was truly astounding.

While writing, I’ve been listening to Black Up, Shabazz Palace’s latest album. Then I decided to switch to Reachin’. My heart blossomed with petals of admiration for Ishmael as soon as his voice graced It’s Good To Be Here. I busted out. I know Shabazz Palaces is completely different than Digable Planets, but you can still hear the Butterfly in Palaceer Lazaro – he even references some Dig Planets songs in his rhymes on Black Up. It’s like Daniel Radcliff or the cast of Friends, it’s hard to separate their past endeavors from their new projects. It’s also not a bad thing, just like when you listen to an artist and you hear their influences through them: the Ahmad Jamal in Robert Glasper, the Roger Troutman in Casey Benjamin, the Ray Charles in Ben L’Oncle Soul, the Billie Holiday in Madeleine Peyroux, it aids your admiration. It gives you a piece of history to connect them to.

I’m sure that Ish would be shaking his head if he saw how much I was talking about Dig Planets so let’s cut to the chase. The show ended. It’s amazing how fast the crowd peace’d so it was very easy to get backstage to talk to Ishmael.

1. What music did you grow up with that has stuck with you? Motown. We told him that was a good answer for being in Detroit, and he said “Oh yeah! I forgot that’s where we are. I tried to go to the Motown Museum today but it was closed. At least I got to look at the outside of it.”

2. What was the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? Prince, 1999. [Ishmael answered this question quicker than anyone we have interviewed yet. He said it before we finished the question.]

3. What is your favorite thoughtful music? Grachan Moncour III, Air Raid. [Jazz girls. If you are not hip to the album Evolution, I highly suggest you get it. A lot of the cats are on this record.]

4. The first time I asked the previous question, I said artist, not musician, and he mentioned Mickelene Thomas. Ishmael said she has the ability to depict creation in a biblical sense. [I noticed he said “‘biblical’ sense” – while wearing a keffiyeh and performing under the name Shabazz. I don’t think it’s significant, but it’s certainly intriguing!]

5. What is your favorite basement album? Ariel Pink (whose music has been distributed by Animal Collective)

6. If you could see any musicians perform, alive or dead, who would they be?
James Brown
Miles Davis
Billie Holiday
Erykah Badu
Lil B

7. What music were you listening to today? “I had a Wiz Khalifa song stuck in my head. I use Shazaam a lot too.” He pulled out his iPod “The song it’s on right now is T Rex, Ride a White Swan.” Tendai said he’s been listening to Lee Morgan and Nite Jewel.

8. Who is a young musician we should be looking out for? OC Notes. That’s all I’m going to say.

9. A film crew from Wayne State University was also there, and they interviewed him before us. We got to stand in the background and watch. They asked what their music was to them and Ishmael said “it’s hip-hop to us.” However, when the camera left and it was just the four of us, I asked him, What do you call the music you perform? “Black music. Because it’s true.” I rebutted, “So what am I doing here?” And they looked at me like I was crazy – Tendai spoke up “That doesn’t mean you can’t be here. It doesn’t mean you can’t listen to it.”

10. We are female musicians. When we go on stage we get a different vibe from the musicians and the crowd. Females add a different energy and dynamic to the stage. Can you tell us what it was like working with Ladybug? What is it like to have a female dynamic in a group? At this, Ishmael bowed his head and started laughing. My fellow jazz girl and I gave each other “that look.” I turned back to Ishmael and said “No. No giggling. Tell me exactly the first thing that came to mind when I said that.”
He looked up – “the first thing? Fantastic. It’s an adventure. It’s an adventure travelling with a woman. She is a true original. And, I like women, I think they are fantastic. But even if you don’t, women have a cerebral sensual power that everyone relates to differently. Female energy is not something to ignore. There is something very visceral about it.”