Monday, August 20, 2012

Marcus Strickland Interview

Marcus Strickland and his quartet kick off a heavy week of music at the Blue Note tonight. We caught up with Marcus to discuss his musical upbringing, how he approaches leading his band, and why he enjoys playing with his brother.

Tell us a little bit about how you got into music and when you decided you wanted to make it your living.

Music was always playing in my household, thanks to my father. And there was only one classification of music in our home, GOOD music. My brother and I wore holes into the backseat of our parents Toyota because we were always bobbing our heads to Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Parliament, etc... So it wasn't a surprise that we, at the age of 11, chose band as our extracurricular class. From the moment my band teacher introduced the saxophone I was in love with how it looked and sounded. The joy that filled my heart after two weeks of blowing hard to finally produce a sound was so profound that I think right then and there I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Football, car designing, and track all fell to the side because they had no chance against how much music compelled me.

Talk to us about the musicians who will be joining you on Monday evening. How did this group form? What makes these musicians special to play with?

I couldn't have asked for a more fitting band. Our sensibilities are quite compatible, and that's what I felt when I first met each of them on the New York City scene (Exception: I met my brother in the womb, LOL). We are all musicians who developed a sound that is outside the vacuum of limitations. At times I feel we all form a quite dynamic sampler of world music. My twin brother, E.J. Strickland, is an extremely versatile drummer. He is immediately able to shape and propel each piece from the first time he plays it, and it doesn't hurt that he is an amazing songwriter too. David Bryant's piano playing is provocative and sets the mood of any given tune we are playing. His ears and rhythmic flexibility make his sound the perfect environment for my sound. The bass is an instrument that requires a groove master at its helm, and that is what Ben Williams is. He always makes the bass lines I write into his own manifestation with incredible creativity. We are all rhythmic boxers on stage, jabbing n' ducking at spontaneous occurrences - playing with these guys is guaranteed fun for all.

Discuss your approach as a bandleader. On your bio it states that you try to adhere to Art Blakey’s saying, “Leave the band alone!” How does this influence the way you compose and arrange for the group?

When writing a song or rehearsing my band, I always try to leave room for each person's personality and ability to shine. I don't like to instruct and if I do it's very minimal. I just make sure I get incredible musicians, and I trust that whatever they don't understand immediately (which is rare) they will eventually hook up on the bandstand or in the studio. I want all of us to shine, my concept is not self-serving. This is what I feel Art Blakey meant when he said "Leave the band alone". Art also felt that if the band doesn't make any mistakes the music is being played too carefully, so I adopted that approach to band leading as well.

How is it playing with your brother? You are both band leaders and play in each other’s groups. Do you each contribute compositions and arrangements to both groups or does it depend on who is leading?

Ever since E.J. and I first started playing music we were experiencing the same thing with each other. We often played duo, sax and drums, while growing up - so it is not a surprise that both of us are very rhythmic and interactive with each other and all others. Every now and then I play a tune of E.J.'s in his band that I feel would fit with my band too. So I sometimes ask politely if I could add choice songs of his to my band's repertoire, very rarely though. Despite our blood connection we have different yet compatible approaches to songwriting and band leading.

What are your plans for the upcoming future? Any new records or collaborations we should know about?

There's a whole lot in store for my audience and those who will join the fun. I have plans in the near future to revive my Twi-Life project with a very fresh approach and some special guests. Every project I do is of course the most up to date version of me, so I am always exciting to get it on wax, plastic and bytes. My latest recording with my quartet Triumph of the Heavy, Vol 1 & 2 has a whole pile of music on it - 2 discs, 17 tracks. So, my output has always been extremely generous. I also have plans to showcase my skills as a producer now that more opportunities are arising. Many great things on the horizon, you'll see!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

JJ Sansaverino Interview

Fresh off five weeks of worldwide touring, JJ Sansaverino brings his Nu Jazz band to perform at the Blue Note stage tonight. We caught up with JJ to talk to him about his musical beginnings, what we can anticipate for his show at the Blue Note, and what his hopes are for the future.

BLUE NOTE: Tell us a little bit about how you got started in music and when you decided you wanted to pursue it professionally.

JJ: I grew up in a musical family. My Grandfather was a very well known singer in the Lower East side. My Grandmother sang opera and studied at Juilliard. My uncles sang in a Doo Wop band called Memories and performed for years around NY. So I became interested as a young boy. By the time I was 16, I knew I wanted to play professionally.

BLUE NOTE: It says on your bio that while attending the Berklee School of Music, you came to NYC every weekend to perform. I assume this must have been fairly stressful. Can you talk about your experience at Berklee and why you decided to attend even though you were returning to NYC so frequently?

JJ: I was performing regularly in NY before college, so it was important for me to continue playing around the Village while I was studying. To keep my name in the circuit. I chose an Arranging major at school so I was writing scores for small to big bands constantly. I needed an outlet to play my guitar. The traveling wasn't stressful to me because the bus ride was therapeutic, to be alone, think, and listen to music.

Berklee was a great experience. To have endless musicians and outlets available was awesome. The facilities and resources were amazing. I left because I missed playing live and traveling constantly. I returned because I still had much more to learn. It really gave me the opportunity to learn composing and arranging for strings, horns, and bigger ensembles.

BLUE NOTE: How did your band Nu Jazz form? Talk a little bit about the other musicians in your group and what we can expect from your performance at the Blue Note. Do you usually come in with a set list or do you tend to draw on the audience to dictate song selection?

JJ: Nu Jazz was created when I had the opportunity to work with one set of musicians regularly. Ze Luis Oliveira is my dear friend and a wonderfully blessed musician. He plays woodwinds and percussion. He co-produced my CD Sunshine After Midnight with myself and Alex Valenti. Etienne Lytle is an extremely talented keyboardist. We have been playing together for years. Thomas Gooding is my bassist. We have been traveling the world for years. Courtney Williams will be playing drums. We have worked together for years and he is playing for Eric Brown, who has a previous commitment. Courtney is an extremely energetic drummer who makes great solso. All of these guys are wonderful people and very talented musicians. It's an honor to be on stage with them.

As far as a set list, lately I have been making one in advance because I am trying to present more of a show instead of going song by song.

You can expect a very high energy show, with a blend of many genres. Lots of emotion and heart and soul. For our second show at 10:30 I will have a lot of special guests sitting in with us.

BLUE NOTE: You fuse a lot of different genres into your music. Can you talk about your influences and how they influence your unique sound? How would you describe your music?

JJ: I have been touring the world for 22 years, the last 12 with reggae legend Maxi Priest so reggae music is part of me. Jazz is the umbrella of many genres that I fuse including Latin, R&B, and good old rock guitar. The music carries so much emotion, that at different times different sounds, textures, and styles need to be used. I think my love of these genres helps give me a unique sound.

I have been influenced by many greats such as Bob Marley, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, George Benson, and Jimmy Hendrix as well as many R&B singers.

BLUE NOTE: You have garnered much critical acclaim and have achieved a great deal in your career thus far. What would you still like to accomplish? What can we expect from you in the upcoming future?

JJ:  I feel so blessed to be here in this world to do good. God has given me so much talent, but most of all the ability to be able to reach audiences and people. I have traveled the world extensively and have seen how much joy myself and fellow musicians have given people. I have currently been on the road this tour for 5 weeks, traveling to London, St Maarten, Sri Lanka, Anguilla, Vancouver, Seattle, Arizona, New York, Qatar, Dubai, California, Florida, and more. Last year we were in Africa, Guam, Spain, Japan and other great places. My ultimate goal is to continue to record my music and tour to support it. It is very important for me to be God's messenger and deliver musical blessings to the world while caring for my family.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

SoNuvo Interview

This Saturday, August 4th SoNuvo will play the Late Night Groove Series. We had an opportunity to catch up with them. Note: What should we expect this Saturday?

SoNuvo: This Saturday will be a celebration of the trio getting back together and playing again.  We've all been busy with other projects and traveling so we all had put SoNuvo on the back burner.  We're pulling out all the stops for this performance with special guests, new original songs, and new arrangements of some classics.

BN: Where does this name, SoNuvo, come from?

S: The name SoNuvo is a combination of "son" which is a prefix for sound, and "nouveau" which means new.  We thought of a ton of names and struggled to find one that both our American friends and French friends could pronounce.  It was a harder task than you might imagine.

BN: How was your tour de France? Did it influence the dynamic of the group?

S: While we were in France we grew exponentially as a group.  We had been spending a lot of time together in NY, performing weekly at Bubble Lounge, Chez Oskar and BXL, but in France we had time to workshop new material and hone our live show.  We found that aside from our musical roles in the band, we each had our role in our little family.  The personal rapport we built comes across in the musical performance and I think that people can see and hear it.

BN: Seth and Jerome have had a long history of playing together. How did Marie join the group? 

S: Jerome and I started playing together when we were about 15 years old in Cleveland, and continued playing in  different bands together here in NY, starting with Lee Hogans's band Pursuance.  Marie was a special guest at one of the Pursuance hits at Club Groove and I was blown away.  She had such an amazing harmonic and rhythmic sense, the likes of which I had never heard in a vocalist before or since, and such a great vibe and presence.  We started working on duets and thought that with the addition of Jerome we could have something really special.  The result was an environment for all of us to be featured and truly collaborate.  That's how I remember it, at least.

BN: Speak of past performing experiences and accolades and how that has affected the group. (2012 Montreux Jazz Voice Competition finalist, drumming with Sonny Rollins) 

S: All of our musical performances are a learning experience and affect the following performance.

BN: What should we be looking forward to with SoNuvo?

S: Well, we have a couple special guests that we'd like to keep as a surprise.  It's going to be a lot of fun and a very interesting and memorable experience for everyone who attends.