Keyon Harrold

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 – All Along The Jazz Continuum

Melbourne International Jazz Festival has again succeeded in bringing some of the world’s greatest musical innovators to perform on stages throughout Melbourne over 10 days; creators from all along the jazz continuum – some whose music we’ve known and loved for our entire lifetime so far, others whose new music we’ll benefit from knowing better and may very well love for the rest of our lifetime to come.

Amongst the 129 festival events making up the musical feast on offer, opening weekend saw performances by the Robert Glasper Trio and Gary Bartz Quartet; as well as a screening of the film Miles Ahead– which has only just arrived in a few Australian cinemas.

The final days of the festival feast, the ones I was blessed to experience first-hand, included live performances by “modern masters” Eddie Palmieri and the Wayne Shorter Quartet – and contemporary “jazz explorers” Snarky Puppy and Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life. Every single musician who performed with those groups, representing 60+ decades of music, was an absolute delight to hear live.

Wayne Shorter Quartet live concert 2016

Wayne Shorter Quartet at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

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Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet

Puerto Rican-born Eddie Palmieri has over 60 years experience as a piano player, composer, bandleader and innovator in Latin jazz and salsa music. His performance at Hamer Hall stunningly showcased the full breadth and depth of that experience.

He began his MIJF show with a piano solo of “Life” – a deeply moving song written for his wife before she passed. From the first of every magnificent note he played during those first few minutes I was completely immersed in the experience; present in the heart-wrenching emotions his playing stirred up inside me.

Those feelings quickly turned to joy when Eddie Palmieri’s seasoned band joined him on stage for the second song – beginning an upbeat, energetic party that didn’t stop until the last beat of the encore.

Eddie Palmieri Septet live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Eddie Palmieri Septet at Hamer Hall

Jonathan Powell on trumpet – Louis Fouche on alto saxophone – Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero on congas – Camilo Molina on timbales – Nicky Marrero on bongo/timbalitos and Luques Curtis (the youngest in the group) on bass.

When the party started many sitting in the theatre crowd were quick to grab the rare opportunity to move onto the dance floor created front-of stage for this show only.

Appreciators of the group’s musicianship got to watch the hands, feet, faces and smiles of the seven musicians on stage up-close and in awe. Dedicated salsa dancers became frustrated at the lack of space to dance “salsa-proper” with a partner. But most people got to dance exactly how they wanted – salsa, Australian-Style – ie. any way they feel to. This inspired Eddie Palmieri to say something I wasn’t surprised by – “You don’t dance like any other crowd I’ve seen before”.

Eddie Palmieri Septet live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Check out video snippets from the show here:


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Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life 

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life shows is one of countless examples of Melbourne International Jazz Festival keeping its finger on the contemporary music pulse; always maintaining a revolving door of interconnected performing artists ready to share their new music projects. Having performed at the 2015 festival with Chris Dave and the Drumhedz  Marcus Strickland went home to the U.S. and finished recording his new album Nihil Novi with Bob Power, Meshell Ndegeocello and Twi-Life. In their good judgment the festival brought him back in 2016 to share those new sounds with Melbourne audiences.

Marcus Strickland live concert 2016

Marcus Strickland at Bennetts Lane

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Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life performed four intimate shows at Bennetts Lane: featuring Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Charles Haynes on drums, Kyle Miles on bass and Mitch Henry on organ and keys.

Mitch Henry live concert with Twi-Life 2016

Mitch Henry at Bennetts Lane

The connection between these five musicians and the inspiration they gleaned from playing together was palpable. They share a lot including a long personal and professional history together; experience in composing and producing as well as playing, and importantly; a shared view that music is music – an expression of themselves and the combined sum of all their many musical and other influences- free from the limitations of genre labels, expectations and boundaries imposed by others.

All that matters is that they express their voices in music – and that people feel it. And judging from the good-vibes mood and big smiles on everyone’s faces (including mine), I’d say Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life most definitely achieved that in abundance at Bennetts Lane.


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Marcus Strickland audiences got the special bonus of hearing he and Twi-Life perform a beautifully-haunting new song by Keyon Harrold called “Lullabye” (video footage of the first half of the song below). And folks who made it to the Arts Centre for MzRizk’s daytime interview with Strickland and Harrold were played a recording of another new killer track from Keyon Harrold’s forthcoming album, featuring prolific hip hop producer and vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow. 

Keyon Harrold live concert 2016

Keyon Harrold at Bennetts Lane

It seems only natural that the revolving festival door will bring Keyon Harrold back in 2017 to perform his new album live.  

Click on these links to read interviews with Marcus Strickland and Keyon Harrold in the lead-up to Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016.

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Snarky Puppy

I’m not gonna talk about the music Snarky Puppy played at The Forum– except to say I appreciated it and the musicianship with which it was played. Check out a tiny video snippet from the show yourself:

Instead I want to share something else I appreciated about my Snarky Puppy experience. And that’s the encouragement bandleader and bass player Michael League gave the crowd throughout the night to make the right choices in supporting music and the artists who make it.

Snarky Puppy concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Michael League at The Forum

It began with Canadian support act Michelle Willis. She was accompanied by League on bass and Mark Lettieri on guitar – with League introducing her as a talented independent artist they kidnapped to bring on tour with them so people could hear her music.

Michelle Willis live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Michael Lettieri & Michelle Willis at The Forum

More encouraging words came during Snarky Puppy’s set when League took time to talk about the ways people choose to consume music today, the importance of supporting artists by going to their shows and buying albums – and the efforts the group makes to support independent artists through their own GroundUP Music Label.

Hopefully it ended up with everyone buying a Snarky Puppy, Bill Laurance, Mark Lettieri, Charlie Hunter or GroundUP compilation cd on their way out of the venue. If so they would’ve been in the foyer with the band to hear and smile at the “woh-oh-ohhh-oh-oh-ohhh” melody from the song “Shofukan (We Like It Here)” which a group of fans coming from the show spontaneously broke into.

Listen here to a dirty mp3-only sample of a Snarky Puppy song from their latest album Culcha Vulcha– and buy an uncompressed, hard copy of the complete album here.

“Grown Folks” by Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy - Culcha Vulcha (2016)

Culcha Vulcha (2016)

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Wayne Shorter Quartet

Joining Wayne Shorter on stage at Hamer Hall on closing night of the festival was Brian Blade on drums, Danilo Pérez on piano and John Patitucci on bass.

Wayne Shorter Quartet live concert 2016

Wayne Shorter Quartet at Hamer Hall

The one and only word I need to describe the 90-minute musical journey with the Quartet that followed is exquisite.

It was a joy to see and hear the pleasure and inspiration all four musicians took in listening to each other, playing and bouncing off each together and in connecting – with each other and by consequence, the audience.

Check out some video snippets from the show here:

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Future Modern Masters of Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Every live music experience I had at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 left me feeling happy, high, energised and inspired…as live music experiences should. Blessed am I and every other festival participant for their own experiences.

I’m certain many of this year’s performing artists are making music now that will be known, loved, remembered and cherished for a very long time to come, maybe even forever-after. I guess that in 20 years+ time some of the “modern masters” programmed at future festivals will be the “jazz explorers” performing in these years now. That makes me excited about all Melbourne International Jazz Festivals still to come.

Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life live concert 2016

Marcus Strickland & Keyon Harrold at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

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Keyon Harrold Going Deeper

Being mentored by Wynton Marsalis; getting a trumpet lesson from Clark Terry before he passed; touring with D’Angelo And The Vanguard and so many others, and more recently playing trumpet for Don Cheadle in his role as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead. Those are just a few on an insanely-long list of music experiences St Louis-born trumpeter, composer and producer Keyon Harrold has within him.

Keyon performs next week at Melbourne International Jazz Festival, giving fans the blessed opportunity to experience him “go deeper musically” in a live setting and to hear new music. He took time with me before his trip to share some of his good-news music stories.

keyon harrold

Keyon Harrold

“I try to surround myself with the best”

B: The first time I heard you play live was in Australia with Maxwell at Soulfest 2014. Last year I caught you in London with D’Angelo And The Vanguard. And next week you’ll be in Melbourne again performing at the jazz festival with Twi-Life. You certainly keep yourself in fine musical company dont you?

KH: Exactly. I try to surround myself with the best.

Keyon Harrold live at Soulfest 2014

Keyon Harrold with Maxwell at Soulfest 2014

Maxwell live at Soulfest 2014

Maxwell

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“the horn is so much like a voice”

B: The trumpet seems to bring an additional freedom available for the taking that other instrumentalists don’t necessarily have- a greater flexibility maybe, to dip in and out, both within songs and between different musical projects. You seem to have taken full advantage of that versatility on offer to you.

KH: Absolutely. I try to sing it the way I can, being able to basically somersault from the jazz to the hip-hop to the R&B to the whatever. You know, whatever it demands, whatever the idea is, I try to bring it to life.

The horn is so much like a voice. I just wanna be able to sing in any genre that I take on. I love it.

“music is music”

B: Amongst the many different artists you’ve collaborated with during your career, where along the way have you felt most at home musically?

KH: I feel at home in any situation. It doesn’t matter to me cause I think music is music. The only thing that changes music to me is the beat. That’s also what Quincy Jones taught me.

I was explaining to some kids today. They asked me about the idea of do I play hip hop, or do I only play jazz. And I gave them an idea. I started playing the theme to Star Wars and had them basically pound out a beat while I changed the melody to fit their beat. And it was hip hop. And it classical. And it was jazz. You know, going back and forth.

And I let ‘em know that music is music. There’s only 12 notes so, I take that and I do what I do creatively in between that. The beat is the only thing that dictates what genre I’m in.

“music is who I am”

B: Talking with Marcus Strickland last week he told me a little about Meshell Ndegeocello recording your spoken words for the Nihil Novi track “Mantra” over the phone. Do you want to elaborate on the feelings you expressed to Meshell there about music?

KH: That interview is one of the funniest interviews I’ve ever done. Cause first of all I didn’t even know I was being interviewed. Meshell Ndegeocello called me and she was just like “Keyon, can I record you?”. I was like “Ok”. Then we just started talking and going into you know, whatever.

I think I spoke basically to the point that music is who I am. Music is how I approach the world.

B: So you didn’t know it was intended for the song?

KH: I did not know at all. That’s what was the funny thing. I went over to Marcus’ house one day after he finished mastering the record and he played it for me and I had no idea that that’s what it had turned into. I guess that’s maybe the reason why it flowed the way it did.

“Her Beauty”

B: If you’re up for it I want to swap “goodness-of-music” stories with you.

Mine’s about your song “Her Beauty (Through My Eyes)”. I first heard it at a time when I’d let myself get way too busy and wound up to stop and feel much of anything; and too busy to even notice. That song instantly hit me deep inside, stirring up a whole lot of emotion, making me feel. It stopped me in my busy tracks and put me back in the present-  in my feelings then and there. And it felt damn good to feel.

KH: Oh really? Wow, well you know what, I’ll tell a story about that song. And then I’ll think of something else.

“Her Beauty (Through My Eyes)” was a song that I literally was cooking up in my kitchen.

In my house I have a long deck that I got tired of going downstairs to where my studio was. So I put a set up in the actual kitchen. And I would just sit there and I would watch tv. I would watch sports centre and I would do music. And so I started crafting the music, I started you know making a beat. And what I wanted to do was fuse a trap beat to jazz. Because I’ve heard people try to do it but I’ve never heard them do it well. So I just wanted to do it.

So literally, that song took me about 30 minutes to put that together. And I did it- I did the bass-line, I did the track, I added some colour elements, I put the trap beat on it. And then what I decided to do was to double the bass line. And once I did that, with the trumpet I felt “ You know what, let me play a little bit over this”. So I played a little bit over it. And then like within 30-40 minutes it was done. And I just put it on the internet. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t even have to send it out to anybody.

I just put it out on the internet because I felt like you know, this is what I feel right now. And it’s beautiful to me and it’s what I think of it. So “her beauty” was about the actual music. It wasn’t necessarily a person. It was just a thought of what I think of as beautiful. But whatever I think of as beautiful, it’s my perspective. If you look at it like a woman then that’s a whole different thing, but I don’t wanna go there.

But that song was just one of the things that was just an honest perspective that I just wanted people to hear. I sent it straight to Gilles Peterson and Gilles Peterson put it on. And I guess people heard it from there. It was a process that didn’t take me going to the studio to do it. I just did it. And just put it out there.

And I’m happy that you.actually.heard.it.

“the kind of legacy that I dream to leave to other trumpet players”

KH: Another moment was when I met Clark Terry.

Clark Terry is an iconic trumpet player – a jazz stylist – an amazing musician. He actually was one of Miles Davis’ influences, from St Louis. I’m from St Louis. He played with Duke Ellington. He played with Oscar Peterson, a lot of different people. And he was just one of those people who was a trendsetter.

He recently died and right before he died, like literally maybe a month before he died, I was able to talk to him over the phone. And he gave me a trumpet lesson.

I was in the middle of a studio session. And I literally stopped the session to go out and have a 30-minute phone call with Clark Terry. And his biggest thing to me was jazz was annunciation on how to swing music. And his biggest thing was teaching me this phrase “oodles and noodles”.

So most people play things straight. But he showed me how to swing my notes by using “oodles and noodles”. It’s tough to explain it cause you had to be there, but it was one of those things.

Getting a chance to talk to Clark Terry before he passed away, that has set me in motion as a trumpet player to this day. You know, looking at people like him, that’s the kind of legacy that I dream to leave to other trumpet players.

“I got a chance to basically embody his spirit”

B: Speaking of Miles Davis and legacies, you play trumpet in the film Miles Ahead. How did it feel making such a significant contribution to a project honouring such a profound musical legacy?

KH: Working on the Miles Davis movie was such a highlight in my life and in my career thus far. An amazing ask of someone to have me step in and do it. I got a chance to basically embody his spirit and to basically push that legacy on. Also I got a chance to be myself as well.

It’s a total honour. You know when you think of jazz, you think of Miles Davis. They’re synonymous. You think of Miles Davis as the Treasure, as the Icon, as the epitome of what Jazz is. And I was called to basically you know, be that person. It’s such an honour.

Keyon Harrold live at Soulfest 2014

I mean that project was a special thing. I got a chance to work with my good friend Robert Glasper on the project. He did an amazing job with the score. I got a chance to work alongside Don Cheadle. And so many other amazing musicians. Marcus Strickland is on it as well. Kendrick Scott, Burniss Travis, Elena Pinderhughes, Mike Moreno, to name a few.  So many other amazing musicians from the States who all worked on the soundtrack.

It was an amazing project. It took while to get it done but we finally got it done.

at the record store

B: You mentioned Robert Glasper amongst other contemporary artists. If you’re down at your local record store buying new music which three albums are you going to be looking for?

KH: I’d have to have Radiohead [A Moon Shaped Pool]. I’d have to have the new Miles Davis album that Robert Glasper just did – Everything’s Beautiful. I would get the new Drake [Views]. I’d have to have all those.

Obviously the Kendrick Lamar [untitled unmastered] and my man Terrace Martin’s too [Velvet Portraits]. I’d have to have all that too.

“dropping some new music”

B: So when can we hope to get down to our local music store to buy a new Keyon Harrold album?

KH: Later this year, for sure. I’ll be releasing something in the next month. Probably dropping a single in the next month. I’m so excited to start dropping some new music for you guys. Definitely this year.

“an appetiser of what’s to come from the new record”

B: And your festival shows next week?

KH: On the 8th June I’ll be performing some original music so you get an appetiser of what’s to come from the new record. That’ll be myself featuring the Twi-Life group.

And then for the rest of the performances I’ll be supporting Marcus Strickland with Twi-Life. I’m so looking to it. We’ll be at Bennetts Lane, I hear it’s a cool place.

B: It’s that, and a hugely iconic venue for Melbourne. I’m excited to hear you play live again soon.

KH: Perfect. I had no idea that you’d caught me a couple of times already. I’m happy you get a chance to hear me in a different type setting. Playing with D’Angelo is very cool. Playing with Maxwell, also very cool. But you’ll get a chance to hear me really go deeper musically you know, as to what I like to do.

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Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 is on now until 12 June.  Robert Glasper’s shows have been and gone but you can catch Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life performing at Bennett’s Lane this coming week. 

Tickets here: 8 June –  Keyon Harrold feat. Twi-Life10 June – Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life (inc. Keyon Harrold); 11 June –  Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life (inc. Keyon Harrold)

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