Upward Spirals and Beyond: Conversations with Branford Marsalis, Marquis Hill and Tracy McKnight, Shameless Shoutout Of The Week, Plus Aireene Espiritu, Charlie Faye & The Fayettes, Aerias, and Keith Johns Exclusives

Upward Spirals and Beyond: A Conversation With Branford Marsalis; and Much More
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Branford Marsalis Quartet / <em>Upward Spiral</em>
Branford Marsalis Quartet / Upward Spiral
Branford Marsalis Quartet's Upward Spiral album cover

A Conversation with Branford Marsalis

Mike Ragogna: What's the state of the union of the Branford Marsalis Quartet?

Branford Marsalis: I think that it's fine!

MR: Is it healthy and cantankerous and all the fun stuff a group is supposed to be for knowing each other and playing together all these years?

BM: Well, you know, we're a bunch of s**theads, so that part is always fun. There's always that whole false running debate about innovation versus tradition in jazz, and we are definitely more like the old, dead guys than we are the modern guys.

MR: [laughs] Well, you do have the option of being innovative in that realm, too, which I think you are.

BM: I don't think innovation can actually be legislated. That's the problem with all this. Every guy that leaves college and is good enough to play with the pros says, "I'm going to be the next Michael Jordan." That hasn't turned out so well. And the guy who is the best player in the league right now, everybody was questioning whether he would even make the league when he came out. Steph Curry was not drafted with hoopla saying he's going to be the next great guy. That's the problem with all of these prognosticators. There's a book that Nikolai Flimenski wrote called The Lexicon Of Musical Invectives, and it's basically about all these great works of art that were considered to be total crap when they premiered. Over and over and over and over again. When Gustav Malhler was alive, he was considered yet another great conductor who can't write worth a damn. Now everybody's like "Mahler's incredible!" It's an interesting presumption within our culture now. It used to be that time bears out that if the shit is really new and really good our first instinct is to not like it. We like to call ourselves forward-thinking but most of us are mired in the past in a way. With my students, I use pictures of movies and styles. As old people, we always talk about the sixties. But when we talk about the sixties, what we really mean is the late sixties, because the first five years of the sixties look just like the fifties.

MR: Never thought of it like that, right.

BM: In style, in context, in delivery, in architecture, everything. Then there was this explosion, and the people who were stuck in the fifties said, "These guys are horrible and trying to ruin the country." Part of that might be true, but that's a digression. When you look at movies that were made in the late eighties and compare them to movies made in the early eighties, the early ones were completely stuck in the seventies. It says something about us as people, about how we see the world. Martha Graham was doing and interview and she was talking about how great it was to be in Paris in the thirties when she was dancing and creating choreography and Stravinski was the court composer for ballet in France. Then she said she came back to America and it all sucked. Then Harry Reasoner, who was with 60 Minutes said, "Well Dame Graham, you were merely ahead of your time," and when I heard her response twenty five years ago it froze me: She said, "Is that even possible? How can one even be ahead of one's time? I think the most any artist can ask to be is at one's time. However, history has shown time and time again that most of the people are consistently ten years behind the times." I said, "Holy s**t!" When we say in popular nomenclature that someone was ahead of his time, he was really just at his time and everybody else was behind him. If you believe in that, then the idea that people are sitting around talking about what's innovative and what's new, first, they would actually have to know, when history says they don't know.

MR: Right, and I think "improvisation" comes into the mix. It seems one doesn't really know they're being innovative, it's just the definition that's applied when people don't understand what you're doing at the time.

BM: Then you have musicians who aren't very good, so they need to be "innovative" or declared innovative just to have a career. But I think, ultimately, music is like language. You and I are having a conversation and we are essentially improvising. No one would call this innovative, it's just conversation. To me, improvisation is conversation, and much like all the conversations that I've had in my life time, the success of the conversation is based on the ability of two people to share a vocabulary. If I'm having a conversation with my ten year-old, clearly, she has less vocabulary than me, so I have to have a different conversation with her than I would with an adult. The conversations I have with adults who read non-fiction is very different from the conversations I have with adults who read fiction. It's the same thing in music. When I'm playing a song from the thirties and everybody in the band knows thirties vocabulary, it's going to be great. But if you have guys that basically know vocabulary that starts in the 1955, it's not going to sound so good. Then they're going to have to invent measures to at least make the song sound half as decent. One of the measures is to change all the chords that the original guy wrote so you don't sound exposed. Then someone else hears that and says, "What an innovative concept, to change those chords." No, it's covering a turd with perfume is what it is, which is something I used to do in my younger years. I had a lot of perfume in my bag.

MR: [laughs] Kurt Elling speaks that language, like he was born in the thirties. So when you guys got together to create music, that "conversation" was probably on the same level, wasn't it?

BM: Well, the thing that's great about Kurt is he's one of the few jazz singers I've heard that actually sounds like a jazz musician, not, "Oh, this R&B thing didn't work out for me I think I'll sing jazz," or, "Oh yeah, this pop thing didn't work out for me, I think I'll sing jazz." His vocabulary is a jazz vocabulary. There's always the presumption that people who live in modern times can play modern music. I will always lean to that, so when Jeff "Tain" Watts left the band and I hired Justin Faulkner it was more about me hearing him play like an old man. The guys said, "Do you think he can play the stuff that we play?" I said, "Man, every young person can play the stuff that we play." It's just that because he has a solid base of old music he would be able to play it better than they would. All young people can conceptualize music that's not from the thirties, but in my opinion the musicians who learn the shit from the thirties have a much deeper vocabulary. You know Allan Holdsworth, the guitarist?

MR: Oh yeah.

BM: He had this quote basically saying that. He said, "I hear a lot of guys who play like Bird but it never really sounds like Bird because they haven't taken the time to actually sound like him. They just focus on the notes."

MR: Is this something that became conscious to you because of your family?

BM: No, I was in the very fortunate position of living in a city like New Orleans where Wynton and I both played in youth orchestra, but we also had to play in a youth brass band that was played by Danny Barker, who was the banjo and guitar player for Louis Armstrong in the late thirties and forties. You go from Peter Dombourian's youth orchestra, where clearly everyone is reading, to playing with a brass band where nobody in the place reads but you. So every Saturday morning, I got to work on my eyes [sight reading] for two hours, and then I got to work on my ears for two hours. I was always listening to music. I would always listen to music with headphones on, especially seventies rock. S**t was amazing. People like to talk about the songs, but if you listen to the production of the music that came out in the late seventies, it was so radically different from everything that came before it. With the exception of George Martin, the sixties were just like guys in a room playing live. You listen to a lot of the studio recordings, you listen to Pink Floyd with headphones on, there's so much f**king ear candy going on in there.

MR: With all that in mind, is that how you recorded this album?

BM: My engineer is an Englishman--well he's an American now--he was raised in Newcastle and his name is Rob Hunter. Rob played with a metal band called Raven that had some early success in the eighties. Rob and I are totally into sound.

MR: How did moving from classical to jazz or vice-versa change your tone?

BM: That s*t completely transformed my playing. The classical thing was another thing entirely. It's a wonky answer, but I don't believe jazz can be practiced, really, and it shouldn't be, but everybody does. When you practice the jazz licks and the jazz scales, all the of the things that you learn are eighth note-oriented scales and patterns in two- or four-bar phrases. I guess a good analogy is that I ran hundreds on the track team. Then I ran the four hundred, and I sucked at both of them, but I still remember that coach Winfield said, "Oh, you run sprints. You think you can just come out here and run sprints and you're done?" You had to do distance training to run sprints. It helped with the recovery. He said, "Everybody's heart's going to feel like it's exploding out of your chest, but when you're in good shape the heartbeat returns to normal within sixty seconds." He was a smart coach. It's very similar to that. A lot of the way jazz is studied and practiced now is the belief that the best way to prepare for a sprint is by running sprints and only sprints. That has all these repercussions. The longer the note is held the wavier the sound becomes at a quicker pace, the inability to play real slow tempos. The classical thing just kind of eliminated that thing for me in a way that's quite cool.

MR: As you're maturing, what do you feel is more "Branford" than not these days?

BM: I think it's all me. I've just become better at the things that I started doing. I have a much better sound vocabulary than I had when I started. I'm definitely a better saxophone player. I was not a good saxophone player when I started. That was the thing that was really irksome to a lot of guys about when I started to ascend, they would say, "Man, that f**king guy, he can't even play the saxophone!" I would always say, it's really amazing how much musicianship is the key. People want to hear music, they don't want to hear saxophone playing. It's clear that while I'm not the best saxophone player in the world, I must be playing more music than you motherf**kers because I'm getting work and you're not.

MR: [laughs]

BM: So now I'm a pretty good saxophone player. I'll never be as good as a guy like Chris Potter, forget it. I'm never gonna play the saxophone like that, but I'm okay with that.

MR: What are peak moments for you as a group and as the guy with the name of the band on Upward Spiral?

BM: The whole f**king record's a high point. It's one of the few records I could actually listen to after I finished mixing. I've gone back to it, and the whole record is great on a lot of levels. What I like to do when I work with guys, I become quickly aware of what they do well, and then I try to do s**t that's the opposite of that.

MR: So you challenge them.

BM: I guess it's a challenge. It's the same thing I do to myself. It's not like I'm saying, "Okay boys, we're going to play opera now." It's not insane, but it's the little things. When the record was put in the books in early Spring for December of last year, right in the middle of that, I had this insane concerto by John Adams that I had agreed to play in Japan. It took me five months to learn it. I had to play it in October, and the record was in December, so by the time I was done with that it was clear that I wasn't going to be writing any music for the record. Kurt started saying, "Hey man where's the material?" "Oh hey man, don't worry about it I'll get it to you in November," which freaked him out. "November?!" "Hey man, jazz simple. Either you can play the s**t or you can't, and I think you can." He says, "I've got to learn lyrics, I've got do these things," "You're a smart dude, you'll get there." He started sending me music and I'm like, "No, not that. No, not that. I don't like that." He was like, "Man, you rejected all of the s**t I'm suggesting." I said, "First of all, a couple of those things you've already recorded with other people. That's not really what we're doing."

In jazz now, songs are no longer sung, songs are vehicles to highlight the strengths of the artist. But for us, everybody in the band, songs are actually songs, and there are good songs and there are bad songs. If you have a song with really cool chord changes but a shitty melody, it is a song that will be rejected. If you have a song with a good melody and simple chord changes, we will accept it, because the melody is beautiful, or the melody is catchy. It's all about the melody. it's not about trying to shine as an individual in a particular setting. If you can play, you're going to shine in whatever the s**t is. You could play nursery rhymes and the s**t would shine. People would say, "Oh, nursery rhymes. Never heard them played that way before," and it would be something. Kurt got into that understanding of what the thing is... "We don't get to do what we normally do, so neither do you." That, to me, is the testament of whether a band is worth a s**t or not.

My experience playing with the guys in New York and now guys all over the world is that guys spend a significant amount of time learning how to be good at the thing that they're good at. Everything that they do and every piece they play, they want to do the s**t that they're good at. For me, I want to learn how to be competent at all of this s**t. If we're playing a thirties swing song, I'm going to play some cool shit in the style. I'm not going to try to change the song to a significant degree to be what I need it to be for me. Kurt sorted that out real quick. "We're not going to get to do what we normally do, and because we all have deep vocabularies it's going to be great." He suggested a lot of songs at the session, and I'm like, "Yeah, f**k, let's do that." He said, "Hey man, let's do 'Blue Velvet.'" "The pop song?" "Yeah, the one from the fifties," I'm like, "F**k yeah, let's do it. How do you want to do it?" He says, "I want to pretend that we're dead." I go, "Okay, dead people don't play instruments." He says, "I know, imagine you're a ghost and you're trying your damnedest to play the instrument but you're slow and sloppy and you can't get the sound out," and I said, "All right, that's hip."

The guys in the band didn't know "Blue Velvet," that's old pop s**t. I wrote out a chart for the guys and explained it, and the first take is the take. I didn't think it was going to be that good because we were just trying it, so we did the take--and I've made a couple of records, I know that I've got to keep my f**king mouth shut ten seconds after the fucking sound ends, but I was so surprised by how good it was that I blurted out, "Damn, that's deep!" We couldn't get it out of the track, because I talked too soon. I'd prefer for it not to be there, but the take was so good, I was like, "F**k it, it stays."

MR: It sounds like you achieved everything you really wanted to get done on this record.

BM: There are probably other things I wanted to do, but if we're making music it's going to be successful. I remember when we were doing "The Colonel" for this record a long time ago, we were listening to this particular song, and Eric was sitting there. I said, "Wow, man, that sounds just great," and he said, "Can we do another take?" and I said, "No, why?" and he said, "I realized some things that weren't right," and I said, "I suspect you were just listening to you play, and yeah I hear all that, but I was listening to us play, and as a whole what we did supersedes any little miscues or mistakes that you made." The mistakes are not egregious, it does not affect the quality or integrity of the song and we're not going to sit here and make music by micromanager, because a lot of guys are doing that, and that's why a lot of records sound like crap. We all play a little bad thing sometimes, but most people aren't going to hear that shit, and I'm not making the record for the nerdy fifteen year-old kid who sits around listening for mistakes. If it sounds good then it's good.

MR: You partner up with so many different artists, do you take lessons from the musical conversations you have with them? Do they go with you into new work?

BM: Oh, yeah. I think one of the reasons that the record with Kurt works so well is that I spent four years playing with Sting and learning when to play and how to play. I was playing behind a singer in New Orleans when I was about fifteen and she turned around at the end of the set and these were her exact words: "I don't know who the f**k you think you are, but don't ever play that fucking bullshit behind me when I'm singing my songs." I didn't know any better. I went home and talked to my dad and he started laughing. "Yeah, that's how she is. Look man, you have to think differently when you're working with singers. When you're working with a singer or you're working with a trumpet player you are not the star of the show. If you have to be the star of the show then you just shouldn't work with singers. But you should use this as a challenge and you should learn how to play with singers."

So I started doing it. By the time I got with Sting, I'd been listening to Wayne Shorter play with Weather Report for a number of years. He's the master of that s**t. He plays what is required. He doesn't use a song as a vehicle to play some monstrous run that is not accessible to you. There are things on the record, like when Kurt sings really important notes, instead of trying to solo behind him I just find a harmony note and harmonize with him. That's something I started doing with Sting, because unlike a lot of pop singers at that time Sting used to hold a lot of notes for effect. He understood that the power of tension is greatest when you're holding a whole note than when you're playing a flurry of thirty second notes. So I find that note, harmonize that note and hold it with him. I would always play when he didn't sing rather than play while he sings. If you listen to a lot of singers, the saxophone player is playing the whole time as if the singer is not even there.

MR: Yeah, it gets kind of annoying.

BM: I think it's annoying, but clearly, the singer thinks it's okay or something. Nobody seems to object, but it's not something I would do. The four years I had with Sting really helped me to understand how to work with singers.

MR: One of the tastier backups that you recorded was on "Englishman In New York." It's a dance between you guys. And on Upward Spiral, I noticed there were moments where it also was a dance between you and Kurt.

BM: Sting made it easy because I was responding to the melody. The way the melody is constructed I was trying to find little things that could get that reggae riff that the keyboard is playing. Everything I played is based on what the melody is and a response to that constant upbeat. I would play on the downbeats. When I was working with Kurtis, it was the same thing. I'm going to play where he doesn't play, and what I'm going to play is based on what he actually sung. I'm not looking at a blank page and going, "Oh, it's G7 so I'm going to play a cool little G7 hit."

MR: Is it tempting to want to do more of this kind of thing? I know you've got the quartet, but does this album point to you wanting to either work with other artists or do more Kurt albums in the future?

BM: I mean, maybe, but no. It's not a stepping stone to anything; it just is what it is. That doesn't mean that it's not going to happen in the future. The reason this record even started is because the band was sitting around being dumb.

MR: But it was a good dumb moment.

BM: No, you've got to understand how dumb this s**t actually is though. The guys will say, "Who would you sleep with?" and you've got to say, "Oh man, definitely _____!" Then Joey [Calderazzo] said, "I've got a question: If we had to work with a singer, who would it be?" I said, "Oh, Kurt Elling." "Kurt Elling? Why?" "Because he sounds like a jazz musician when he sings." With a lot of jazz singers the only thing that sounds jazzy is the song that they're singing. They don't. I said, "He almost always sings in tune. He locks pitch very well, so he doesn't have to slide up to the notes. He'd be great." Joey's funny, once he gets a bug in his ear he goes home and instead of going to bed he stays up for four hours watching Kurt Elling on YouTube. The next morning, we were going to the van and he says, "Hey man, I was listening to Kurt all night. You're right, man. That motherf**ker's bad, man. He can sing. He sings in tune, and it sounds like jazz when he sings!" I'm like, "Yeah, great!" "We should do a record with him." I went, "Fuck, that's a good idea, we should." Then it went away.

Two years ago, I was at the Thelonius Monk saxophone competition and I was hanging with one of my friends there, this guy named Paul Carver who lives in Washington, D.C.. We went to the bar and for reasons I can not ascertain, Kurt Elling's ass was at the bar. I said, "What's up, man? We were just talking about you a few months ago. We want to do a record with you." He went, "Ah, cool." So the end of the year comes and he says, "Hey man, are we going to do this record?" "Absolutely! Look, travel schedule sucks, call my manager, let's just book a date. It's done. We're going to do it." My manager calls me and says, "I just heard from Kurt Elling's manager." I said, "Yeah, just book it." He says, "Are you sure?" "Yeah, just leave this shit to me. This is the shit I know. Just book it." She calls me back in March and says, "Okay, we're set for December." "Great! December." That was it.

MR: I love how it all falls together. "We're just doing this."

BM: No massive amounts of extra meetings, not, "Let's talk, let's work on tunes," none of that shit. Either you can play this s**t or you can't, and if you've got to practice it you can't play it.

MR: You're a teacher, too, right?

BM: I teach at North Carolina Central University.

MR: What are you seeing coming through? What are some observations about the younger generations?

BM: The people with the most natural talent for jazz go to more lucrative professions. Mostly television production, musical direction, pop bands, stuff like that. A lot of the people who are coming through are very technocratic in nature. Their method for playing is very mathematical, very figured out. My method for teaching is more of a Socratic way. That's a struggle for them. They want you to give them patterns, give them licks, give them scales, asking questions, but I'm always saying, "What did you hear?" "How did that sound?" They don't hear very well. If you can't hear, I guess you need to know that kind of s**t. Otherwise you can't survive out here. It's hard to get young saxophone players and trumpet players and bass players to understand that playing jazz has nothing to do with playing the saxophone. A lot of my students aren't going to really be jazz players anyway. They come from small towns in Carolina, they hear like you would never believe, because they grew up in small Baptist churches where they've been listening to music since they were kids. Their ears are great, but jazz scares the crap out of them.

MR: I'd never heard that said before, young musicians playing their instruments but not playing jazz.

BM: It's really ironic, because even Joey noticed it, when I said I wanted him to come teach with me in North Carolina. He said, "Do they have any jazz players there?" and I said, "No but you need to see this s**t to believe it."

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

BM: I don't say anything to them unless they ask me. It just depends on who it is and what it is. Some of my students are trying to make it in the R&B/pop business. That is a completely different calculus. So much of it now has less to do with how good a song actually is but the combination of good and social currency and all these other factors. My advice to them wouldn't be, "Oh, go learn how to sing like Jackie Wilson," because that don't get you s**t. It gets you no deal at all. But if they're looking at it like they want to be a singer and they want to have a forty year career instead of a forty month career, then yeah. There's a singer from South Africa named Siya Makhuzeni and she is incredible. Her voice is astounding, she plays trombone, she has a band full of South African kids who are killing this s**t. I was at her show in Nairobi and I said to her, "Have you ever watched a James Brown show?" she said, "No." I said, "I want you to go on YouTube and watch one of those James Brown shows from front to back, because what you will notice is that back in those days the s**t was actually a show."

There was never a dull moment from beginning to end. All the black bands--they called them reviews, so the show was in constant motion. It went from song to song to song and when James needed a break the saxophone player would play the song, or one of the singers sang a song. In modern stuff the song ends and then there's like forty five seconds of dead space before the next one starts. I said, "If I were you, I would eliminate that s**t." If the show was an hour, it would be like a twenty kiloton bomb for an hour. It would go from song to song to song to song just like the old things. I saw her play the next night and it was a much tighter show. I said, "The second song you played should probably be in the middle of the show, because you create such an energy with the first song, but the second song is a letdown song, but it's an instrumental. Play the instrumental in the middle of the show." With shows, you have an arc, and you can have a flat line at the top of the arc, but everything in the middle has to be great, and everything as it starts to descend has to be great, too. That's where the energy needs to be.

So it's stuff like that. It just depends on who it is. If it's somebody playing jazz, all I tell them is, "Everything you need to know about playing jazz is in the recordings. Everything." How to play with emotion? There are guys to listen to. How to swing your brains out? There are guys to listen to. How to pick songs? This is a funny story, actually. I was playing with some guys in Atlanta at a golf tournament, and they said, "I've got these local guys, they want to play a song." It was a golf audience, so they like country music and Georgia. So I left it up to them, I said, "What songs do you guys want to play?" They said, "Let's play 'Well, You Needn't.'" "Okay, start the tempo." If you listen to Monk's version of "Well, You Needn't" it's like, [hums tune slowly] with it swinging, and you can hear the melody. But, of course, the modern guys... [hums tune vigorously]. I watched the life get drained from the audience as this shit went on. By the second tune, people were eating and talking. The guys turned around and said, "Yeah, man, this s**t was killing!"

That's jazz in a microcosm. Their calculus extends to playing every song as fast as they can play, and it never responds to if the audience is even responding to it. The audience doesn't even exist. When I'm around guys like that, s**t, what can I tell them? If somebody's twenty-five, twenty-six years old and never noticed there was actually an audience there, what am I supposed to say? "You've got to pay attention to the audience," and they'll say, "Well, I'm not a sellout. I've got to stay true to my s**t." "Well good luck with that, bra." There are places in New York that cater to that kind of music, but that's what it is. I do not want to play in a club where all the people in the club are musicians. I would never want to be in that situation. And I wouldn't want to be in the club where everybody I play for was a guy.

MR: You also need the feminine energy in the audience.

BM: God damn right. I was doing a thing in Germany and they said, "When did you stop listening to Weather Report?" "Oh, I was seventeen years old, I went to the concert and Jaco was running around all over the stage and not really playing with the group at all. But way worse than that was that I noticed I was surrounded by guys." There were like fifteen hundred guys in this room and I went, "Yikes."

MR: I never thought of that.

BM: I said, "What the f**k, man. I'm out." I grew up playing R&B, I didn't grow up playing jazz. Besides learning the vocabulary, the difference was you can't have a career in pop music being an introverted genius. You can be introverted in real life, but on stage, you've got to play an extravert or else this s**t won't work. When I go to these jazz concerts and I see these guys that are considered "geniuses" by jazz writers, it's really interesting to sit around and watch a bunch of people in an audience. The reality of American culture is that it's English culture and instrumental music is not our favorite thing. So people are going to spend thirty bucks once or twice a year to go see some instrumental music, not hear it. See it. And what they see is somebody who plays really well, never really looks up at the audience, doesn't seem to enjoy what they're doing at all, they seem to have no fun at all while they're playing and they conclude that jazz sucks. Because they have a jazz writer who tells them to go see this guy and then they go see the guy and the guy looks like a dead fish on stage. "I'm not going to go to that s**t again."

MR: So is fun what's keeping you in this?

BM: Well, you have to make the pain fun. When I started playing classical music ten years ago and I was like really, really, really, really, really, really sad at it and it was clear to everyone in the room that I was really, really, really sad at it, including the audience, you have to tell yourself that there's a purpose to it, and it's okay to sound like s**t. I sounded like s**t, and I said, "If you keep working you'll sound less like s**t." When classical guys ask me, "What do you think about your playing now?" I say, "It sucks a lot less than it used to." Notice I don't use the word "good." I don't think it's good yet, but it sucks a lot less, and if I keep working, in another ten years it might actually be good.

MR: So you're a work in progress.

BM: I'm always a work in progress. I'm a student. I'm constantly studying and I will be a student until I die. Otherwise, you become a relic. "Oh, that's that guy who did that thing." Then there's other people who want to try to stay relevant, like some of the eighties guys playing with pop musicians to try to stay socially current or socially relevant. That's not really my thing. It's not like I'm never going to play with somebody in pop music again, that's not what I'm saying at all. I play with the Dave Matthews Band whenever I can, but they're a f**king band, and they sound great. The thing that's great about the Dave Matthews Band is when Dave sold all of those records he didn't take two years off and take pictures of him chasing teenage girls in Ibiza, he went right to it with his band. He didn't start doing movies, he didn't try to expand his empire. He is a musician, and everybody in his band are players. I love playing with players. That was the great thing about being with Sting's band. It was a band full of players. When it's not about playing, I'm just not interested. I don't want to be liked by people who don't really like music that much.

MR: That's a great line.

BM: I just don't. My son is thirty, so I grew up watching his group, and they treat music like it's a car. With the invention of the MP3 player the most important thing became the playlist. "What cool s**t do you have in your playlist?" So then I would ask the question, "Oh, you like Billie Holiday?" "Oh I'm into her," "How many times have you heard that track." Blank stare. It's more important to have that in there. "Yeah, I like jazz! I like Wynton Marsalis." "Oh really? Which records do you like?" "I like all of them."

MR: [laughs] It's like a Trump answer.

BM: It's like a Palin answer. "Oh, I read all of them!" Twenty-year-old me was so intolerant of stupidity that I would just attack them. It wouldn't be like, "You're an idiot," it would be like, "No, no, which records do you like? Just name one!" And you just keep pecking at it and they're like, "Okay, motherf**ker, all right. Yeah. I don't listen to it."

MR: [laughs] That's perfect.

BM: But to use the same analogy as the music, I'm a little less immature than I was thirty years ago. I just want to play music, and whatever purpose music serves for them, that's great.

MR: So you're working hard at it but do you think you'll ever be a really good jazz musician? Of course, I'm asking this facetiously.

BM: I think I'm pretty good now, but what does that get me? That's like a death sentence. I was listening to Dexter Gordon for twenty years, went to Paris, came back. Huge celebration. "Dexter's back! We're not going to treat him like shit like we did when he left, we're going to love him! Dexter we're so glad you're back." Then he did the movie Round Midnight and now they're paying him incredible sums of money because he's the guy in the movie. He says, "Man, when I was at my best, playing my ass off, I couldn't get seventy five dollars. Now these motherf**kers are paying me seventy-five thousand dollars because I was in a movie. Ain't that a bitch?" "Yeah, man. Welcome to the world." They put on a Dexter Gordon seventy fifth birthday record or something and it just sounded so bad because he hadn't practiced in forever.

Then a few weeks later, I was listening to the classical station and they played Vladimir Horowitz's ninetieth birthday and he sounded good as a motherf**ker. I just kind of said, "I want to be that guy!" Everybody might not want to choose to be that guy. I am one of those people who believes we should celebrate people while they're alive. This huge outpouring of love for Prince--how about giving him that s**t when he was still here? All those times he came to town and you love him so much you didn't go to his concert because he wasn't socially current anymore? He wasn't pop culture relevant anymore, and then he dies and it's like, "Oh he was the greatest ever!" and it's constant. This s**t is constant. How do I want to be remembered? If you believe in an afterlife, f**k, you think I'm gonna hang around here to see whether people like me or not? F**k it! I'm gone. Once I leave, I don't give a f**k what happens! I don't care! "Prince was so great!" All of that s**t is true, but y'all should've treated him like that when he was alive.

MR: You wouldn't mind, would you, if people cared when you died?

BM: I honestly would not give a s**t, and I don't think Prince does either. He was clearly an explorer. He got a little full of himself after Purple Rain. It kind of threw him back a few steps, but he was clearly an explorer, and he's out there exploring, man. He's not hovering around saying, "Do people really like me?" He's not Sally Fields. That was disturbing on so many levels when I saw that. I was like, "Are you kidding me? That's your calculus? 'You like me!'" I'm sorry, I like me. I like me pretty much, which is probably why a lot of people don't like me, because I like me a little more than they think I should. And that does not suck. It totally works for me.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


Aireene Espiritu
Aireene Espiritu
photo credit: Cece Carpio and Wilfred Galila, as a project of Kularts, Inc.

Aireene Espiritu...

"When Jim Pugh [founder, Little Village Foundation] asked if I’d be interested in recording Sugar Pie DeSanto’s songs, I was open to it, thought it might be a really fun project, especially being something different from my usual folk scene. I had seen Sugar Pie live many years ago at a blues festival in Ashland, OR and remembered admiring her spirit and spunky personality on stage. Although some of my original songs are blues influenced, I never imagined actually performing these old R&B tunes myself. So between Jim’s suggestions and my search for her recordings, 'Going Back Where I Belong' was one of the few that stood out and one that I found myself liking enough to put on repeat play and sing along to with its nice groove and harmonies. It was one of the first songs we recorded in the studio. Then what started out as a tribute to Sugar Pie DeSanto became a collection of songs that is part tribute and also an exploration of other songs that were influential in my own original material, including Filipino and American folk roots music. In essence, the title of this song seemed fitting to describe what the album became as a whole...Back Where I Belong."

Marquis Hill / <em>The Way We Play</em>
Marquis Hill / The Way We Play
Marquis Hill's The Way We Play album cover

A Conversation with Marquis Hill

Mike Ragogna: So. The Way We Play. Exactly how is the way you play these days? Better yet, where are you playing these days?

Marquis Hill: [laughs] Well, right now, I'm living in New York. I moved out here about a year and a half ago. I'm networking and working on the record and playing with different musicians and just trying to make as much good music as I can. That's what life is looking like right now.

MR: Your hometown in Chicago, but you're also sort of a New Yorker. It seems like those are the two perfect places for jazz music right now.

MH: Definitely.

MR: Do you find New York and Chicago inspire you creatively?

MH: Oh definitely, one hundred percent. Being from Chicago, I was fortunate enough to have a lot of really good mentors. Coming up in the jazz scene I was fortunate enough to rub elbows with guys that are very important on the scene. I was going to the jam sessions at the Velvet Lounge and the Apartment Lounge when I was in eighth grade and freshman year of high school. I got a chance to play with some of the Chicago greats at a very early age and I was exposed to the music at a very early age. That alone right there has definitely affected my approach to my sound and the way that I compose and interact with musicians. I moved to New York for that same reason. I wanted to elevate my playing and get to interact with different musicians. We all know that New York is the heartbeat, the capitol of jazz. A lot of great musicians live here, so I wanted to come here and get that in me.

MR: You also have your ensemble with Christopher McBride, Makaya McCraven and Joshua Ramos adding to your inspiration, too.

MH: Absolutely.

MR: What is it like when you guys get together? How does it feel as far as the balance of improv and arrangement?

MH: For this record, specifically they were all arrangements. Normally, it's original music, like my first four projects. What normally happens is I'll bring in a piece, I'll have an idea for the piece in my mind and we'll start to play the piece and it'll start to take form.

MR: When you work out an arrangement, is each person contributing what they hear in their head as well as what's written?

MH: Absolutely. That's a part of the process. I was always raised up believing that music is not what you see on the page. I can write these arrangements and bring them in, but once we start to play them it's going to take its own form. They all contribute improvisation and ideas to the music, I just bring in the original sketch. Once we start to play and add our own voices to the music, it really starts to take shape. That's one of the reasons I have these specific musicians in my band. We've been playing for years, but the way I write music and arrange music I hear their voices, so I know when I bring something in they're going to play it the way that I'm actually hearing it.

MR: How did the band get together?

MH: I met all of these guys in Chicago. Christopher McBride, our alto saxophonist, we actually went to college together at Northern Illinois University. We played in a jazz band and had very similar sounds. Once I hard heard him I knew, "Once I start a group, I want to have him in it." So that was an easy choice for me to find someone for the saxophone seat. Joshua Ramos, the bass player, I just met him throughout the city at jam sessions. We all have a bunch of mutual friends, I used to go to the velvet lounge, the apartment lounge, the green mill with a bunch of different musicians. I just love how soulful he is. I call him the brick house of the rhythm section, he just holds everything together really well, so I knew I wanted to throw him in the group. Ramos has been playing with me for about three years. Makaya McCraven actually joined the band the same year that Joshua Ramos joined. He has a very unique approach, he can swing, but he's also one of those drummers who has very good "pocket fills" as they call it, creating hip hop beats and funk grooves, along with slinging like traditional jazz. And my music incorporates both of those, so he's just the perfect fit. Justin Thomas is the vibraphonist and I also met him in Chicago. We actually went to grad school together at DePaul University. When I wanted to change my ensemble I wanted to free up the sound of it. I had a piano originally, but the vibraphone actually makes the ensemble feel a little lighter, it doesn't take up as much space in the rhythm section, so it's a more open sound. I heard him play in Chicago and I wanted to write music for him in my group. We've been playing for a few years now; I think this is our third project together.

MR: What it's like in the studio? Is the recording process pretty much a jam session?

MH: For the majority of the records, the goal is always to capture the live essence of everything. On this project, we recorded everything live and, like most artists, we went in and tweaked a couple things that we felt needed to be mixed. For the most part, it's all just our live interpretation of the music. I think that's the best way to capture the music.

MR: So going in, you knew you'd have to capture everything perfectly.

MH: Yep.

MR: What do you prefer, live or studio?

MH: I like both process. For me, recording in the studio is like creating a film. You're etching something in time, but when you go see the performance live it should be a different experience. Some of my favorite bands, some of the greatest bands out there, you'll listen to their records and then you'll go see them live and it's the same music but it's on a completely different level. For me, both processes are really, really important. I love playing live shows but I also love getting in the studio and really just trying to capture the moment.

MR: So in this case, the project sort of combines the concepts minus the audience.

MH: Uh-huh.

MR: How did this track list come together? Were they favorites of everybody in the band? Were they personal favorites of yours? What was the statement you were trying to make with it?

MH: The tunes on the record are personal favorites of mine. You can talk to some of the band members and they'll say, "Oh, I love this tune," as well. A lot of them are classics. I wanted to grab a handful of songs that really impacted me when I was falling in love with this music. So I did a Gigi Gryce composition, "Minority," it's a classic, classic tune that most jazz players know, but for me I remember learning that tune in high school. That moment was one of those light switch moments where I learned something really important from that tune. There's another tune I do, "Moon Rays," it's a Horace Silver composition, beautiful, beautiful tune. I learned that tune my sophomore year in high school in after school programs. I just remember really falling in love with that melody. During that time, it just really stuck with me. I wanted to grab a handful of tunes that I really enjoy playing and had an influence on my sound and my approach to music, and I wanted to pay homage to them and put the band's sound and put my sound on these tunes, and just really put ourselves on the table, playing this music. "This is the way we play." That's where I got the title.

MR: Many artists record covers for their sentimental value. Do you have any super cheesy stories associated with these songs?

MH: [laughs] I learned "Moon Rays" my sophomore year of high school in an after school program called the Merit School of Music in downtown Chicago. I was in the pop jazz combo at the time. The director, his name was Michael McLaughlin, he actually passed recently, and that brought me back to thinking of that tune. I'm not saying I recorded it because of his passing, but it just kind of reminded me of that tune. He introduced me to "Moon Rays" and Horace Silver and Art Farmer, the trumpet player on that record. It's not really a super cheesy moment but there's a little correlation.

MR: It's certainly sentimental. What's your perception of jazz these days, and where do you see yourself in it?

MH: Jazz is a big umbrella, which I think has its up ands its downs. Some people are jazz traditionalists. They hear the word jazz and they want to hear a certain sound, right cymbal swinging, walking bass sound. The reality of it, this music has continuously grown. I think that's what our greats and our ancestors wanted it to do, they wanted it to grow. So I think nowadays, there's a lot of different music that falls under the "jazz" umbrella. I think it's a good thing. In terms of where I fit, I've never really thought of it that much. My goal is just to produce good quality music, really showcase my sound. I feel like we all have unique sounds that we should introduce to the world. That's just my goal right now, so I'm just trying to get in where I fit in, as they say. Maybe my own little lane there.

MR: Who were your influences?

MH: Definitely Roy Hargrove Quintet. I came up in high school idolizing Nicholas Payton's quintet, Roy Hargrove's quintet, Wynton Marsalis' quintet, I'm a fan of the quintet sound in general. Five pieces, two horns up front and a rhythm section. Something about that just seems really balanced to me, so I've been working in the quintet setting for a while. Donald Byrd, The Blackbyrds. My mom played Motown growing up--Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, Stylistics, The Dels, The Temptations. I think all of that is kind of engrained in me, and I think it kind of comes out in my music.

MR: What can be said about the jazz crowd these days? What's the age range at your shows?

MH: It's interesting, I have fans closer to my age, and then we still have the die-hard jazz-jazz fans that are my parents' age, or a little bit younger than my parents. It's interesting to me. I think in general the jazz crowds are getting younger just because of the direction the music is going. Nowadays hip hop is influences jazz--and it's been that way since the beginning but--hip-hop is really coming back into the forefront of jazz music, and that's drawing a much younger crowd. We have Robert Glasper and a group of musicians who really incorporate that sound, and more of the pop artists into the music. I think that's drawing a younger crowd, which is really cool, but there's also older people who are die hard jazz-jazz fans who come from that era. It's interesting.

MR: You know what's interesting that you put your finger on? The link between hip-hop and jazz. Even though it came up basically on the street through soul and R&B, it really has more akin with jazz. It plays with rhythm similarly, it has intense improvisation, and it's got elements of actual jazz. So I don't understand why it hasn't had a closer affiliation with jazz over the years.

MH: Absolutely.

MR: When you were a young guy listening to hip-hop and rap, was that how you were interpreting it?

MH: Honestly, yeah. I'm a huge hip-hop fan. My last project was titled Modern Flows, and that was kind of the theme behind the project. I used the example of Charlie Parker and Eminem. When you listen to the rhythms that a person like Eminem or Kendrick Lamar rap to, if you were to mute the lyrics and put those rhythms next to a Charlie Parker solo, some of the rhythms are exactly the same. To me, it's very similar. I actually use poetry and spoken word and hip hop artists on my projects because they feel so natural. They go together really, really naturally in my music. It's very, very interesting. I definitely came up looking at it that way.

MR: There's an assumption that artists performing hip-hop don't have a sophistication that would lend itself to jazz. I think that's a very wrong assumption.

MH: Absolutely wrong assumption, yeah, and I'm happy that nowadays, some people are breaking those barriers down. There's a rap artist from Chicago... Lupe Fiasco, Common, you see them working with artists like Marcus Strickland, "jazz" artists. The line is getting blurred more and more nowadays to where they're almost the same. I think that's a beautiful thing.

MR: How are younger people reacting to your performing standards?

MH: You know, it's hard to tell since the record hasn't dropped yet, but some of my peers that I've let hear it and some of the live shows where we've played them, they're reacting well. My goal for the record was to record these standards in such a way the audience would think they're not a standard. I wanted to record these classic tunes, put my sound on top of them, put my band's sound on top of it and really twist them and modernize them and twist the tunes to make them sound like I wrote them. Modernized. It's been working so far. I think I got my goal across. I'll let you guys be the judge of that when it comes out.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

MH: Just grind. Practice. You have to be able to execute on your instrument. Take advantage of the time you have when you're young. I'm talking like I'm old, but my elders would tell me when I was in high school and in college, "Take advantage of this time you have now, practice, write music together because when you're out in the real world it's going to seem like you don't have as much fun as you do now," and I believed it. I tell it to my younger students now. Take advantage of the time you have, really practice and hone in on your craft. Get your sound, get your approach, get your voice together because once you actually get into the real world, that time is going to disappear. You're going to have real responsibility, so now is the time to really take advantage of the time that you do have.

MR: What advice would you give the young Marquis Hill?

MH: If I could go back in time? Just practice. Pretty much the same thing I just said. If I could go back in time, I would take advantage of that time I had. I would actually write more music. The older I get... Actually, coming up in Chicago, my mentors ingrained in me the importance of having your own voice and writing music because that's the way to actually get your voice across, through writing and composing music. So if I could go back in time, I would do more and more of that and just really practice and get my stuff together on the instrument. Be able to execute everything that I want to.

MR: And what advice would you have for Justin Bieber?

MH: [laughs] Stay out of trouble. Do something positive with all that money you have.

MR: What does the future bring for Marquis Hill? Another standards album? Some originals?

MH: Definitely back to original music. I've been planning this record for a while. I knew recording all original music for my first four projects was what I wanted to do, and I knew at one point I wanted to modernize and create my own renditions of these standards, so next for me I want to do the volume two to my previous records Modern Flows Vol. 1. After I release this record I want to record Modern Flows Vol. 2. I want to play more on that concept of flows and hip hop and jazz. So that's the next move for me.

MR: May I make a suggestion? Call it Modern Flows Vol. 6 and confuse the crap out of everybody.

MH: [laughs] Right!

MR: And what else does the future bring?

MH: I've got a pretty busy year. I'm going to Africa, actually, touring with Marcus Miller. I recently started touring with him and it's been amazing, getting to see different parts of the world. We're going to Africa for three weeks and then we're going to Russia. Then I get back and it's going to be album release time, we have our opening show at the Symphony Center in Chicago, then we're playing a weekend at the Green Mill in Chicago, the Iowa City Jazz Festival, a show in New York and a Weekend in LA. Just touring and music and trying to get the music out there.

MR: Did you say you're going to play the Iowa City Jazz Festival.

MH: July 2nd, I believe. We're actually playing the night before in Des Moines at a new jazz club there called Noce, and then we'll drive up to Iowa City. It'll be a good weekend, won't it?

MR: And you'll be a Hawkeye in no time!

MH: [laughs] I like Des Moines. I like Iowa.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


Charlie Faye & The Fayettes
Charlie Faye & The Fayettes
photo credit: Eryn Brook

According to those who know a little something about Charlie Faye & The Fayettes...

"Charlie Faye & the Fayettes feature Charlie Faye, an Austin singer-songwriter with a few solo albums; Akina Adderley, Austin-based, NYC-weaned singer and granddaughter of jazzman Nat Adderley, who was the brother of Cannonball, and BettySoo who possibly set the record for most gigs during SXSW week as a Fayette, backing Michael Fracasso, solo. They revel in the diversity of the trio: Jewish, African American and Asian. Musically, the group hearkens to Motown, Spector or the Brill Building: Charlie is emerging as a budding Carole King, and the songs are good enough to rate comparison to Goffin & King or Mann & Weil—but they are Charlie Faye originals."

L-R: Cathy Schulman (President Women in Film & STX Studios), Melissa Etheridge, Tracy McKnight (music supervisor and Chair of WIF Music Committee), Kirsten Schaffer (Executive Director WIF), Loretta Munoz (ASCAP), Linda Wallem (co-creator Nurse Jackie), Christine Belden (Nettwerk), Kaylin Frank (Disney)
L-R: Cathy Schulman (President Women in Film & STX Studios), Melissa Etheridge, Tracy McKnight (music supervisor and Chair of WIF Music Committee), Kirsten Schaffer (Executive Director WIF), Loretta Munoz (ASCAP), Linda Wallem (co-creator Nurse Jackie), Christine Belden (Nettwerk), Kaylin Frank (Disney)
photo credit: Connie Kurtew

A Conversation with Tracy McKnight

Mike Ragogna: Tracy, as a Board member of Women in Film you have created and Chair a WIF Music committee that champions bringing more talented women composers into the film and tv world. It's very rare when you see a woman's composing credit in a movie. It seems obvious that the issue is not cracking into the boys club, but playing devil's advocate, might there be less women pursuing the field?

Tracy McKnight: Being on the Board of Women in Film has been an eye-opening experience for me to see the challenges that women encounter in the entertainment industry. WIF President Cathy Schulman and the entire Board have been huge supporters of my mission and passion to establish a music committee that supports and celebrates the talents of women who create music. I don’t think there are less women pursuing this field, I do think there are less women working in this field. So how do we start building some bridges of opportunity to get them in the ring? The music committee’s mission is to do just that--give female composers the tools to create opportunities and guide them on a path to succeed. I've been on both sides of the fence; as an independent music supervisor for many years and I was also in-house running the film music department at Lionsgate and what is very clear is that little, if any, women are in the running for scoring jobs. I know first-hand the talent is there and I am honored to be in a position to assist some talented women. One of the things about our business is that you have to have work to get work. Our job is to get women in the door so the opportunity can be created. The rest is up to them.

MR: It seems there are so many female composers in other fields that I think could have had careers in film if the environment had been more receptive. Could part of the problem be that there are a proliferation of stereotypical "guy movies" out there, with things exploding every five seconds, superheroes coming out of every corner?

TM: [laughs] There does seem to be an overabundance of superhero movies yet you have to give the people what they want and they have proven, time and again, they like them very much. I say great! I don’t think it has anything to do with them being “guy movies”--I know a lot of talented women who would love to score superhero films and all the explosions! So that begs the question--why hasn’t a women scored a tent pole movie yet? Why not let them demo--let them compete for the job? Let’s all take a left-hand turn and give some new talent a chance? That is what the WIF music committee's mission is about. Let’s get some more women on the pitch lists, let them demo, put them in the race, meet with them. After that, talent rules.

MR: Tracy, you were head of film music for Lionsgate, I'm sure you found there was more balance between men and women in licensing songs for film. Do you think that created a misconception with music supervisors where they forget about the concept of "composer" and the gender imbalance in movie music?

TM: Not at all. I don't think music supervisors forget about any musically--related aspect of a project--our job is to create the best music that serves the storytelling process. That doesn’t have a gender. I’m also the VP of the Guild of Music Supervisors and I can assure you that music supervisors are very, very savvy about composers. Case in point, women certainly dominate the pop charts, they write incredible songs and they're right up there with their male peers as far as a success rate goes, yet when it comes to scoring there is still a great deal of work to be done. How do you get on the list to get the job? I think that we're not seeing women go over those hurdles. That's the difference. When you go out into the world and you say, "Who are your favorite female composers?" People stutter; they don’t want to, mind you and of course, we can all bring up many incredible high-profile male composers very quickly--and they are GREAT. From our launch event, we were able to bring together forty music creators...female composers, orchestrators, etc. and introduce them to studio executives, music supervisors, directors, and producers. That’s how it all starts…we need to educate!

MR: I imagine you invited all the studios. What was their reaction afterwards? Do you feel like any inroads were made?

TM: Overwhelmingly positive, extraordinary launch event. The excitement and support in the room spoke loudly that “we're all a part of this community and we all want to do our part to start opening up this conversation.” To have Melissa Etheridge come to our event and not only perform but believe in the mission meant so much to everyone there, especially our committee. We asked her and she said “I’m in” immediately and that is how you start a conversation--people believing and then showing up. Melissa is massively talented and very successful and her taking the time talk to and inspire us by telling her stories about how she started to embark on writing music for film all the way up to her path to an Academy Award-winning song for An Inconvenient Truth.

MR: How does the process start? What do female composers have to do on their end? What are the practical ways to create opportunities?

TM: It all starts with talent, of course, so how do you actually navigate a business system and help people find the tools they need to succeed. There are programs that support this work. For example, for the past 15 years I have worked with the Sundance Institute's film music program and it's director Peter Golub. Their lab has nurtured many female composers through education and training. Our committee will be doing similar work providing tools encouraging female composers to score anything and everything they can to build a portfolio of work, they will have inroads to agents and we are building a network where opportunities will be presented. But that's on them...they have to hustle. Plain and simple. We all do. Work breeds work. Every successful person that you talk to had that breakthrough moment--meaning someone gave them a chance.

MR: There have been major strides in women directing and producing movies, it almost seems like composing is the final frontier.

TM: I mean, the numbers are really dismal. Just looking at the stats...in 2014 one percent of the top two hundred and fifty films were scored by women, in 2015 we're looking at a little under two percent, and none of them are in that category of thirty million dollar movies or over. These are all eight million dollar movies, five million dollar movies. Amazing movies, and we love them, I love independents--beautiful storytelling. How do we bring those numbers up? We know the talent is there, and now we are here to help connect the dots.

MR: Might one way be if finally there are a couple of major woman composers that come into the spotlight? You make a big fuss about a woman composer's big blockbuster, and then, as you said, success breeds success. The story has to start somewhere.

TM: That's exactly it. We know that those are the rules of the biz. You're an underdog until you're big. Hans Zimmer used Lisa Gerrard on Gladiator and that was a really big platform for her, so there's a successful woman who merged into film scoring. Rachel Portman won an Oscar for Chocolat. Anne Dudley for The Full Monty.

MR: It seems like there wasn't a big enough focus on those. The pioneering aspect alone is important enough to be emphasized, I think. I'm sorry, seems like I'm preaching more than asking a question.

TM: No, I love it! I love that you're an advocate, because I think it's really important. There have been many successful female composers, but they don't come to mind easily, and that's part of the conversation. Shirley Walker, Wendy & Lisa, Jocelyn Pook and Lesley Barber. Also, keep your eye on Deborah Lurie, Mica Levi, and Heather McIntosh.

MR: Let me ask you this question I ask everyone: What advice do you have for new artists?

TM: My advice is to be true to yourself. I've pitched a lot of reels, but I think you have to pick a creative lane--who are you artistically? When you are presenting to an agent, a studio executive, a music supervisor etc and they ask "What kind of music do you do?" While one may be able to respond," I can work in any genre," it's best to be focused, have a succinctly prepared reel, and put your best foot forward. Assure them that you are talented, organized, prepared and can meet all deadlines. Get yourself in the door, in the room and in the conversation. The rest will come.

MR: What are the future plans for your committee? Are there any future events down the line?

TM: We have a few things going on. First of all, we are setting up our female composer mentoring circle. We're going to pair up female composers with mentors to best help them answer their questions and give them career advice. We have studio film music departments, composer agents, and music supervisors as mentors. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming. The second thing is setting up industry showcases in a really fun way and bring people together to share music. That's what it's about. You have to be able to experience it and embrace it. The WIF music committee has the relationships and the reach and I know that we're going to be able to make a difference.

MR: Can you actually imagine the parity happening within the next few years?

TM: Rome wasn't build in a day, but you have to start somewhere. Every step builds another step. I really believe that. I sometimes think we want to be at the end of the road, but the fact is that we're at the beginning of it, and that's okay. One of the greatest things about our launch event was shining a light on these very talented women and saying, "We're so happy you're here. We believe in you”--now they know that Women in Film has a music committee and we want to assist. I am grateful to Women In Film, for having me on the team and that Cathy Schulman appointed me to the Board as a music ambassador and said "Let's make some music !"

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson made up the country supergroup The Highwaymen, their big hit being a cover of Jimmy Webb's "The Highwayman" back in 1985. It's amazing to think that three traditional country legends (with their pal, singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson) topped various charts with a song about reincarnation, but then, those were the eighties. The quick and dirty is Glen Campbell brought the song to Johnny Cash and the rest is history. These two new releases pretty much tell you everything you need to know about their great recordings and live shows.

The Highwaymen /<em> Live - American Outlaws</em>
The Highwaymen / Live - American Outlaws
The Highwaymen Live album cover
CD 1
1. Mystery Train
2. Highwayman
3. Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
4. Good Hearted Woman
5. Trouble Man
6. Amanda
7. There Ain't No Good Chain Gang
8. Ring of Fire
9. Folsom Prison Blues
10. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
11. Sunday Morning Coming Down
12. Help Me Make It Through the Night
13. The Best of All Possible Worlds
14. Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)
15. City of New Orleans
16. Always on My Mind
17. Me and Bobby McGee
CD 2
1. Silver Stallion
2. The Last Cowboy Song
3. Two Stories Wide
4. Living Legend
5. The Pilgrim: Chapter 33
6. They Killed Him
7. I Still Miss Someone
8. Ragged Old Flag
9. (Ghost) Riders in the Sky
10. Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?
11. Night Life
12. The King Is Gone (So Are You)
13. Desperados Waiting for a Train
14. Big River
15. A Boy Named Sue
16. Why Me
17. Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)
18. On the Road Again
CD 3
1. Mystery Train
2. Highwayman
3. The King Is Gone (So Are You)
4. I've Always Been Crazy
5. The Best of All Possible Worlds
6. City of New Orleans
7. Folsom Prison Blues
8. Intro / Highwayman
9. Shipwrecked in the Eighties
10. Desperados Waiting for a Train
11. One Too Many Mornings
1. Intro
2. Highwayman
3. Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
4. Good Hearted Woman
5. Trouble Man
6. Amanda
7. There Ain't No Good Chain Gang
8. Ring of Fire
9. Folsom Prison Blues
10. Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain
11. Sunday Morning Coming Down
12. Help Me Make It Through the Night
13. The Best of All Possible Worlds
14. Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)
15. City of New Orleans
16. Always On My Mind
17. Me and Bobby McGee
18. Silver Stallion
19. The Last Cowboy Song
20. Two Stories Wide
21. Living Legend
22. The Pilgrim: Chapter 33
23. They Killed Him
24. I Still Miss Someone
25. Ragged Old Flag
26. (Ghost) Riders In the Sky
27. Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way
28. Night Life
29. The King Is Gone (So Are You)
30. Desperados Waiting for a Train
31. Big River
32. A Boy Named Sue
33. Why Me
34. Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)
35. On the Road Again
36. Credits
37. Willie Nelson - Willie Nelson
38. Waylon Jennings - Waylon Jennings
39. Kris Kristofferson - Kris Kristofferson
40. Johnny Cash - Johnny Cash
41. Odds and Ends
The Highwaymen /<em> The Very Best Of The Highwaymen</em>
The Highwaymen / The Very Best Of The Highwaymen
The Very Best Of The Highwaymen album cover
1. The Highwayman
2. Silver Stallion
3. Desperados Waiting for a Train
4. City of New Orleans - Live
5. Big River
6. The Last Cowboy Song
7. Live Forever
8. Born and Raised in Black and White
9. One Too Many Mornings
10. The Road Goes on Forever
11. American Remains
12. Against the Wind
13. Living Legend
14. Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)
15. Welfare Line
16. The King Is Gone (So Are You) - Live


photo credit: Stephen Capusi

According to Aerias....

"For my first music video ever, George Sol of Sol Films and I wanted to go big and show people that there's a whole world out there! I want people to be inspired to get up, get out, live and love something! We shot this video in some of the most extreme parts of Peru, including Machu Picchu, the Ica Desert, the flooded capital Lima. I feel people need to be reminded that the world is huge and its ours to explore!"


Keith Johns
Keith Johns
photo credit: Michelle Harrison

According to Keith Johns...

"At its heart, 'Doomed, Free' has a dual nature; it's simultaneously about marveling at the beauty and freedom of being alive and able to choose our own ways in this world, while also not ignoring the fear of death at the end of the line that lingers at the back of our minds. Personally, I spend a lot of time trying to come to terms with death in attempts to remove the fear from it, so it became one of the themes throughout the album.

"When I started writing this song, I knew I wanted to play with both ends of the spectrum, the light and dark, weaving them together in a way that hopefully held meaning. I ended up focusing on the contrast between the two, aiming to use the standing darkness as a means to amplify the brilliance of living all the more, like the night sky around a firework. The end serves as a mission statement to not squander our days, but to be brave enough to face death and live accordingly rather than run from it and ourselves."

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