AD: What do you think about the jazz scene here in the live music capital of the world? Most people around town just are not tuned in to the jazz scene. It’s kind of strange because most of the popular styles of music’s roots can be traced back to jazz. What are your thoughts?
BT: Jazz and blues. Gospel vs. sex. all of these are at the roots of most all american music, popular or otherwise. Austin’s music scene is fine. Sometimes exciting but mostly bland from time to time. It’s easily taken for granted that Austinites can hear many kinds of music every night of the week. But the thing for me personally is, “Am I interested in hearing any of it?.” Although i feel there is a lot of great musical talent in Austin, there is also a lot of saturation of certain styles. Popular (styles) or not, clubs and publications and media bombard the public with this stuff and it chokes off all the other options. But those in the know still find their way to what they like. There is space for everything! About Austin jazz specifically…too many musician folk are lazy. I love the jazz standards. standards are songs that have stood the test of time, written by artists such as Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, etc… I love playing these songs because the tunes offer the vehicle to greatly challenge the musician to communicate using a highly developed language. For a jazz musician, it is MOST IMPORTANT to know these tunes and this language! However, once a cat learns certain things they should move on. I’d like to see more original material being put out there, people taking chances. Chances…not necessarily folks writing crazy sounding music but folks that have a vision and the balls enough to rehearse, present and represent themselves and their own identity.
AD: How did you get your start?
BT: I was raised by a pack of drumming wolves off the coast of rickety-row…just kiddin’!!! God-given talent, me recognizing this talent and having personal ambition, my parents and family, school, church, and lots of other folks that believed in me and my well being.
AD: Who are your influence?
BT: Bruce Lee, Richard Pryor, Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Sly Stone.
AD: Tell me about Blaze?
BT: I love this project and it’s current line up. Ephraim Owens on trumpet, Phillipe Vieux on tenorsax and flute, Yoggie on bass, Nick Nack on turntables and myself on drums and a sampler. With this, I play sounds and beats. We play improvisational jazz/funk. We infuse hip hop and various musical influences from around the world. (soul, gospel, pop, Indian, Latin, African, European andwhatever else the cats feel at any given moment) But the idea and challenge is to keep it grooving at all times. Keep it clever, fresh and soulful. We’ve toured a bit in the US as well as having been to Taipei,Taiwan twice, Germany once, Spain twice and Canada twice. In other countries, I’ve used other musicians to present the music and vibe but the aforementioned musicians are the A-team, the funky sound I envision. I’d love to expand the band to include other musicians but the rub is scheduling and, of course, money. Not speaking specifically about BLAZE but sometimes I wish I could do my thing with fewer folks. Three musician total, for financial reasons, from time to time is a thought. But I mostly hear things bigger. My last band project, Hot Buttered Rhythm, had 6 cats. BLAZE has 5…lots of ways to split the pie but worth the sliver!
AD: How did you all come together?
BT: It started with a few conversations with some earlier band members and blossomed into a few gigs as a quintet under my name. Early on, I wrote this latin/jazz tune and named it “Blaze”, and soon after named the band the same thing. I’ve since released three CD’s and have a fourth on the way!
AD: Was it in the original group plan to have a scratch DJ?
BT: No. It was my plan to have a jazz quintet similar to the Miles Davis group of the mid ’60s and the Donald Harrison/Terence Blanchard group of the ’80s. Both very influential to legions of jazz musicians. We’ve had some personnel changes through the years. Maybe you can say this about any city, but in Austin there is often only one person/ musician that has a certain flavor or ability. For whatever reason, when you no longer have access to that flavor everything changes and you must also change. The DJ addition was through another meeting. In all, it was timing. A strange trio gig that led us to becoming band mates. I lived in NYC for a short time and was introduced to many different sounds and found a desire to incorporate those into my group’s approach. Even now I have new influences and ideas. It’s all a work in progress because it takes time for these new sounds to soak in and then be inside of a musician before it’s your own sound and interpretation. Once again, this is the proper line up for the sounds in my head.
AD: Who else do you play with?
BT: Up to this point in my life I’ve found it important to drop a lot of the higher profile type gigs of my early career to truly hone in on my musical path and drumming sound and writing style to create what I think is interesting and exciting music with interesting and exciting musicians. Hot Buttered Rhythm (a band I put together in 1997 with 2 keyboardists, 2 bassists and another drummer in it’s line up.) and now BLAZE. In this same thought, I found it necessary to play with and support other independent artists. Some of those are Stephen Bruton, NYC jazz guitarist/songwriter Leni Stern, and have a band with Red Young on hammond B3 organ and Adam Levy (from California) called Adam Levy and Buttermilk Jr. I feel that soon, I will open myself up again to other, more high profile possibilities. Nothing in the works but we will see!
AD: What can be done in your opinion to strengthen the jazz scene here in town?
BT: SUPPORT. Folks coming to shows consistently. Venues being open minded about more than a ‘bottom line’ of making money. No, jazz is not on top of the music industry as far as revenue. But it is still an important voice in all of it’s incarnations.
AD: Where else besides the Elephant Room can we catch jazz?
BT: Sadly, only a few spots are willing to support this music solely. Reed’s Jazz and Supper Club, Club 115 has a night of jazz, every now and again at the Victory Grill, Kenny Dorham’s Backyard (when the city gives this business venture money)…it’s difficult. Lots of jazz musicians make their own way. That’s tradition. Create your own market. That’s for any musician playing any kind of music. Most clubs are somewhat willing to have jazz from time to time so you can catch it anywhere! I still get calls from venues that don’t typically book jazz so the interest is out there but once again, there is only a small home base for jazz…anywhere in the world. I’m writing you from Barcelona,Spain. Here, jazz clubs have been shutting down. The city government has begun to employ a ‘live music license”. Of coarse those suckers are expensive and thusly venues close their doors to live musicshows. It’s sad all around.
AD: What do you think about the build up of Austin?
BT: I don’t like traffic. And I stay away from I-35 north of 290 east from 2:30pm – 6:45pm. Other than that, I’m always game to have more (new) people at my show. It’s nice to have someone move to Austin, come to my show and come up to me and say, “Whew, I just moved to Austin and I’m happy to know you and that this kind of music exists here. When do you play next?”
AD: What sets Austin apart from other towns you have played in?
BT: Although I mentioned support earlier, like we as a music scene lacks this…but support is also something that IS there from Austinites! And a basic open-mindedness. I’ll play in some US towns and folks just don’t care for live music or crowds can be very small. I’ve toured with other artists in trio settings before and the band outnumbered the audience! Or people come to clubs/shows to be seen or to talk loud and not check out what we’re doing. In most other parts of the world, people just go to a live music show. Even if they’ve never heard of you. True open-mindedness!
AD: What advice would you give to any artist just starting out?
BT: Just beginning? My friend, the late world-class Austin born trumpeter Martin Banks, told me and I’ll tell you young’ins – you have to have a role model, a hero to follow to see how it’s done. Learn your craft right! Then as I said before, follow your own dreams and vision. Even if no one else is doing it.
AD: What do you think of the Austin Daze?
BT: I’m happy to know you exist and I hope for continued success for you guys!
BT: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to spout.