Detroit Bass Player interview “Ralphe Armstrong” interview

ralhe armstrong

Big Ive sits down with the legendary Ralphe Armstrong for an up-close and personal chat. For those that know or have seen Ralphe know when he talks, you should listen!

In 1973, Ralphe Armstrong – a 17-year-old Detroit kid just out of high school tried out for a gig with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. “The other person who auditioned at the same time was Jaco Pastorius,” he says. “Jaco had a different sound then. He had an old, beat-up fretted Fender Precision, as I recall. I got the job because I played fretless.”

Armstrong was classically trained during his four years at Michigan’s Interlochen School of Fine Arts, where he studied the Josef Harvey method; later, he transferred his acoustic technique to electric while also putting up some ferocious funk on a trio of powerful mid-’70s Mahavishnu recordings: Apocalypse, Visions of the Emerald Beyond, and Inner Worlds (all on Columbia and reissued in the ’90s as part of the label’s Legacy series).

Following his three-year Mahavishnu stint, Armstrong joined a stellar fusion group led by violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, a former Mahavishnu bandmate who had also appeared on Apocalypse and Visions of the Emerald Beyond. Ralphe can be heard ripping it up alongside guitarists Allan Holdsworth and Daryl Stuermer and drummer Steve Smith on Ponty’s 1977 landmark Enigmatic Ocean [Atlantic] as well as the 1978 follow-up Live [Rhino], which Ralphe calls the “best example of my electric bass playing on record.”


DBP INTERVIEW WITH JAZZ GREAT ‘ROBERT HURST’

Robert Hurst

While not exactly sure how big the Bass-Mint is, this summit of upright bass players is impressive. Ivan “Big Ive” Williams chats with Jazz Great Robert Hurst, and friends.

Robert Hurst has been one of the most in-demand bass players in jazz for the past quarter century and has done extensive stints in the bands of Wynton Marsalis, Tony Williams, Branford Marsalis, Charles Lloyd, Chris Botti, and Diana Krall.

Hurst is an Associate Professor of Music at The University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance, Dept. of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation, Ann Arbor, MI.


Saving R&B with B Williams

B Williams

While only in his early thirties, Grammy Award nominee Brandon “B” Williams has been sharing music with us for a while. As a direct protégé of super producer Michael J. Powell, Brandon has lent his production skills to many artists: Janet Jackson, Pharoahe Monch, Bobby Creekwater, Vickie Winans, Jadakiss, Lin Rountree, Anita Baker, Jay Electronica, Jeymes Samuel, Ryan Leslie, and Amp Fiddler to name a few.

As an artist, Brandon stays busy touring and gigging locally with his group, The B Williams Experiment. But the next big thing for Brandon is his upcoming debut solo project, titled XII. We just saw the first single released, “Stronger”, which has been climbing the charts and acquiring accolades. With the album  slated to drop in 2014, we caught up with the hard-to-catch musician/producer for an in-depth conversation:


  • Brandon, you’ve worked with producer Michael Powell and have been touching various artists albums throughout the past few years, accumulating Grammy nominations and other production awards. How have these building blocks been essential for producing your upcoming solo album XII ?
  • It’s been an absolute blessing to work with and be mentored by him. I’ve been listening to his music literally all my life, so I jumped at the chance when he asked me to collaborate with him on some music. I was actually very surprised. In my mind, I’m thinking… this is Michael J. Powell. The man who produced all of Anita Baker’s hits. He wants me to work with him? It’s been a great relationship ever since. Working with him taught me how to make records versus just making songs.
  • “is on a mission to bring back Classic R&B by any means necessary”. In your opinion what happened to Classic R&B? Why does it need saving and how are you planning on doing it?
  • I’m not exactly sure what happened, but it’s on life-support right now for sure!!

    Most of the artists people are calling R&B (Chris Brown, Trey Songz) are really Pop. You have Frank Ocean and The Weeknd around, but that’s a very different kind of R&B. I’m not a big Miguel fan, but he’s definitely doing it right now. Brandy, Usher, Brian McKnight, Tank, and some others are still around, but you hear much from them.

    Robert Glasper has a new album out that’s VERY R&B!! Brandy and Faith Evans are on there killin’. It needs saving because people miss that 80’s and 90’s R&B sound. People are longing for it. We miss groups like Blackstreet, SWV, Jodeci, Janet (Jackson), etc. I’m just going to continue to do music that “feels “ like that.

  • You do a great job of blending genres, like you do with your band , the B. Williams Experiment, citing influences from Coltrane, Dilla and Radio Head. Is XII going to showcase this side of you, or is XII going to be more strictly a classic R&B project?
  • Thanks!! XII is definitely not an R&B album. I don’t quite know what to call it because there are so many different genres on it. I’m a student of all music, and I’m influenced by it all. Soul, R&B, Jazz, Pop… it’s a wide range of music on the album, but it all still works together. If I had to categorize it, I would simply call it a “soul” album, because that’s where the music is coming from.
  • Tell me about your songwriting process. What do you start with? An idea, guitar lick, bass line? What’s the creative process like and when do you start thinking about which artists to include in your music?
  • Man, I start with any and everything. I remember one time hearing a succession of cars horns and that became a melody. Lol! I play multiple instruments, so I can write on them all. Sometimes I’ll be out and a melody will pop into my head so I’ll just record it into my phone until I can get back in the studio. Normally though, I start with either some chords on piano or a drum pattern.

    I just finished the last song idea for XII, and for that one, I had my keyboard player and good friend Tony Gordon over. I told him to just play some chords. I picked out what I want, then picked up the guitar and started going around those. Came up with a drum pattern, and BOOM! A song was born. It’s feels heavenly too.

    When it comes to picking artists for song, I normally just go with who would work best on the song. Like, for the new single “Stronger”, it’s has a stronger 90’s R&B feel, so, who better to pair with on that than Jean (Baylor). Her group Zhane was huge in the 90’s. All of their music felt great. I’m so honored to have worked with her on that song. Shout out to Marcus Baylor as well, who had a huge part to play in that song. He did her vocal production, and played live drums. It’s a great tune!!

The Big 3:
Detroit musicians that have inspired you, past or present:

• Stevie Wonder,  Karriem Riggins, Charles Wilson III

Other musicians that have inspired you, national or international, past or present:

• Joe Sample, George Duke, Ivan Lins

Ways Detroit has influenced you as a musician:

• Detroit has such a rich musical history. I’m simply inspired to do what I do from that. Lots of greatness has come before me, and I’m planning on continuing with that.

If I had to categorize it, I would simply call XII a “soul” album, because that’s where the music is coming from.


Stay connected with B Williams,

http://www.bwilliamsmusic.com/


An Interview With Saxappeal

Saxappeal

When Detroit Sounds Like This sat down with LaDarrel Johnson for an interview, one of the first things to happen was a show-and-tell about his instrument, custom made and engraved with his ‘Saxappeal’ emblem.  A wealth of pride was evident on his face as he carefully handled his saxophone with loving attention and beamed with happiness as he talked about how it was made just for him.  Johnson handles his alto saxophone in the same fashion in which he plays his music — with attention, pride, and a graceful passion.

Saxappeal does not exclusively work alone; his part in the local Detroit music group Collective Peace allows for him a place to collaborate with like-minded musicians to produce spirited jazz and soul as a multifaceted unit.  Describing Collective Peace in our interview as “a nucleus . . . [members] can go out, record a solo project, then come back home and do a group project.”  Saxappeal  has received international recognition in the contemporary jazz world for his brand of “SaxSoul,” a mix of jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B.

You play it…and you can feel it [soul music].

Get to know more about Saxappeal and how Detroit, his experiences, and Lisa Simpson influenced him to produce the experimental, up-tempo style of sound you will hear in his performance at our Detroit Sounds Like This studio.


Robert Glasper Experiment Helping Detroit Sound Beautiful

Robert Glasper

If I would’ve been told in advance, I’m pretty sure I would have been skeptical on hearing a jazz rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” at the recent Detroit Jazz Festival. But then again the Robert Glasper Experiment is known for providing an interesting spin on popular music, check out their “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover if you haven’t yet. The Experiment kicked off the cover super-slowed up, with that melancholic charm and voice a la vocoder they incorporate so well. Genre defying music, jazz is of course the key component, but refreshingly gets edgy in all the right places. From Robert’s website, we’re given a little insight into Black radio 2, that will be dropping in late October, and among a list of killer guest artists, will also feature Detroit’s own Dwele.

“On October 29, RGE ups the ante with the release of Black Radio 2 (Blue Note), another genre-defying effort that takes the Black Radio blueprint and builds to even greater heights. The core remains the Experiment, as astoundingly versatile a band as has ever existed, featuring Robert Glasper on keyboards, Derrick Hodge on bass, Mark Colenburg on drums, and Casey Benjamin on vocoder and saxophone. Providing the vocals throughout is another jaw-dropping roll call of vocalists including CommonPatrick StumpBrandyJill ScottDweleMarsha AmbrosiusAnthony Hamilton,Faith EvansNorah JonesSnoop DoggLupe FiascoLuke JamesEmeli SandéLalah Hathaway, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.”

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The Detroit International Jazz Festival Turns 34

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Since 1980, the mention of Labor Day Weekend inevitably turns to the Jazz Fest. Now in its 34th year, it is still the largest free jazz festival in the world. The Detroit International Jazz Festival annually shines a much-deserved spotlight on some of the most hard-working and influential artists in the spectrum of jazz styles alive in the world today. The historical significance and integrity of the festival has long been preserved by the very idea that it started with – that exceptional music should be available for anyone who loves live music and wants to watch and listen.

The lineup for the Detroit International Jazz Festival has once again been stacked with artists who represent a large vocabulary of jazz. The organizers of the festival have stated that it is their mission this year to “. . . [focus] on the language of jazz and the generations of musicians who have dedicated their lives to propagating its many dialects.” The festival serves as a gathering of both artists and jazz enthusiasts, and also serves Detroit itself, as just over 25 percent of the audience makeup is out-of-town guests of the city who come for the music and to embrace the education about jazz that the festival has always made a point to share with its audience.

Since its inception the Jazz Festival has strived to connect established jazz professionals with young musicians. Once again festival-goers will hear some of the most talented local high school and college bands performing in ensembles throughout the 4-day weekend. The Artist-in-Residence this year is Danilo Pérez, who will kick off the festival on Friday August 30 with music inspired by his Panamanian roots. Also performing Friday evening will be legendary tenor saxophonist David Murray with his Big Band, featuring soul singer Macy Gray on vocals. Saturday’s lineup has highlights that include Detroit native and vocal powerhouse Thornetta Davis, The Brubeck Brothers Quartet performing a tribute to the late legend Dave Brubeck, bassist and University of Michigan music professor Robert Hurst, and groundbreaking saxophonist Charles Lloyd performing with guitarist Bill Frisell. Another notable Saturday performance harmoniously fuses the art forms of jazz music and tap dance — McCoy Tyner is a revered pianist well known in the jazz world for his early work with the John Coltrane Quartet, and Savion Glover who created and choreographed Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, works to reintegrate African roots back into contemporary tap.

The second half of the weekend will feature some prime performances, including The Real Ambassadors on Sunday, a story that takes place during the Civil Rights Movement and illustrates the important roles of jazz musicians as cultural ambassadors, written by Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola, and originally performed at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival. Detroit resident Karriem Riggins will also perform on Sunday, who is known for his work as a hip-hop producer as well as his jazz drumming. There is a wealth of tributes throughout the Sunday lineup which honor a range of musicians, from the saxophone sounds of Pepper Adams to the spirit of John Lennon. Rounding out Sunday are jazz-fusion group the Yellowjackets, influential pianist Ahmad Jamal, and modern jazz guitarist John Scofield and his Überjam Band. Labor Day Monday gives us grand orchestral tributes to the music of Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck, as well as a fusion of jazz & hip-hop from the Robert Glasper Experiment, and an all-star gathering of jazz legends and former bandmates of Miles Davis, including his sole trumpet protégé Wallace Roney, jazz-rock pioneer guitarist Larry Coryell, and fusion drummer and original member of Weather Report, Alphonse Mouzon.

Labor Day Weekend has always meant a multitude of options for Detroit residents and visitors as far as music, food, and the spirit of celebration is concerned. The freedom to navigate through Campus Martius down to Hart Plaza and enjoy the performances at no cost is just one of the reasons the Detroit International Jazz Festival is a Labor Day must. Not only have festival organizers and sponsors staked their reputations on the quality of the performers, but the festival has helped to preserve an important part of music history by educating visitors through artist talks, information sessions, and workshops. Festival-goers all have a chance to share in and learn about the rich cultural history that makes jazz a compelling, emotional, and innovative art form. The mission of Jazz Fest founder Robert McCabe and major sponsor and philanthropist Gretchen Valade is to “Perpetuate Detroit’s significant jazz legacy through educational and collaborative opportunities accessible to all.” The free admission price year after year brings together people with a passion for music from all ages and stages of life inside the perimeters of downtown Detroit. For 2013, the artists, volunteers, sponsors, and organizers who participate in the Detroit International Jazz Festival will surely help influence those who may be disenchanted with the city to come out and support the structure of community and perseverance that is ever-present within the arts.

For more information about specific events going on within the festival, complete lineup, schedule, maps, and FAQs, visit the official Detroit International Jazz Festival website. Also check out some performance highlights from past installments of the festival below.


Track of the Week – Damon Warmack “Evolving”

mixes

This week we have some Detroit Jazz for you, please enjoy the brilliant bass guitar of Detroit Jazz artist Damon Warmack.
You can watch Damon play at his frequent spots around the city such as Motor City Wine, and Bakers Keyboard Lounge.

Enjoy.

Want to know more about Damon? Check out his website here:
http://www.damonwarmack.com/

Artist: Damon Warmack
Track: Evolving


Damon Warmack On Bass And Beyond

Damon Warmack

Chatting with born and raised Detroiter – “east side by the grace of God” – bass player Damon Warmack is always a good time. We get in depth with Damon about his musical journey.

Unsurprisingly, Damon had aspirations to be a jazz musician. So the Fender Precision bass he first received just wouldn’t cut it. Most of his heroes were playing the Jazz Bass, so making that exchange was the first step.

The humble beginnings, mentors and inspirations that paved the path along the way are far from forgotten.

Detroit is one of the bass player towns… so there’s always competition here… There’s always a ton of guys who can play, and play really well.

Detroit is this huge proving ground, as far as musicians are concerned. Playing with musicians from around the states and the world is only half the story. Check out the video for more…