Twice-winner of the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award, tenor saxophonist Quamon Fowler performed earlier this summer at the Jazz Journalists Association's Awards program at B.B. King's in New York. Following the award Fowlerwho recently celebrated his 25th birthday and the release of his third CD, The Vision
was praised by Ken Cicerale of ASCAP as, "...a player and as a composer who is one of the most exciting players coming up. We're going to hear a lot more from him in the future, his high quality as a composer and as a band leader. Cicerale, in interview, said of Fowler, "This is it. This is the next generation. In the following interview Fowler talks about his life, and the faith that keeps him and his career going.
All About Jazz: How did you enjoy being in New York?
Quamon Fowler: New York was fun. It's always exciting to come to the city of New York. It is the Mecca, you could say, in entertainment and music productions.
AAJ: What all did you do while you were here?
QF: Most of the time, I was trying to rehearse. I was rehearsing with a band for the event. The rest of the time we walked around.
AAJ: What did you think about that jazz event that you played at?
QF: I thought it was cool, like I was in the back most of the time, but I saw a little bit. It was long event.
AAJ: Who are some of your favorite players in general?
QF: I came up listening to a lot of Sonny Rollins and Johnny Griffithand Cannonball Adderly and Branford Marsalis, as well as others like Arnet Cobb, one of those Texas tenors from Houston.
AAJ: What are you doing now?
QF: I go to Texas Tech., majoring in music performance. I'm doing a teacher's assistantship, so I'm a jazz instructor.
AAJ: How did you happen to play at the professional jazz industry event in New York?
QF: We won the young jazz composers event and ASCAP wanted their young composers to play. This was my second time winning the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers. Ken Cicerale, in charge of the awards, was real supportive.
AAJ: He praised you a lot that night.
QF: He's very supportive. He's an encourager. I need to send him a CD.
AAJ: What was the other year you won?
QF: I believe it was a few years ago.
AAJ: Is this your first CD?
QF: No, this is my second CD. The first one I did was in 2000.
AAJ: Tell us about this new CD.
QF: The new CD is entitled The Vision. The reason I wanted to call it The Vision is because God had revealed to me some things as far as songs I wanted to display in the project. Also, I'm visually impaired and I'll explain that.
AAJ: What does that mean?
QF: I have challenges visually seeing, and just need special accommodations.
AAJ: Such as what?
QF: Like magnifiers; I have low vision.
AAJ: Did you wear glasses that night of the JJA event where we met?
QF: No, they won't really help. I need to be close to focus on things, to get precision. I need to be closer than normal. I put the vision material on the inside of my CD; that I was different as a child, not being able to see things as other people did. Growing older, I realize God has given me an ear for music. While it was a challenge to see things visually, it was easier to pick up things musically.
To grasp things musically, I have to hear it from listening to it. I learned to read music and everything, but would have to get close enough. Once we played things a few times, I would memorize. I wouldn't need the music anymore.
AAJ: Did your teachers know that?
QF: Yes, they noticed it.
AAJ: Did they just think you were gifted?
QF: Yes. I was able to visualize the music in my mind based on what I heard.
AAJ: How was God involved? Do you feel more spiritual because of this?
QF: Yes. Ever since I was a child, I realized this and went through the struggle of not being accepted like the average person...like my peers, they would mess with me, tease me and make fun of me and all that stuff. The thing I realized over the yearseven though I had a challenge in my physical bodywas that God had given me a blessing through my perception and in hearing music. There's a scripture, II Corinthians. 12: 9: "For my grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power will rest on me...
AAJ: Mom likes to quote that too because she's in a wheelchair and can't walk now due to polio.
QF: I have it in my CD here. That's a beautiful verse. [He laughs jovially and continues to read from the Bible.] "That is why for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then am I strong.
AAJ: That's really nice.
AAJ: Do jazz musicians talk much about the Bible?
QF: [He laughed.] I think it'd be great if they would.
AAJ: Saxophonists are always talking about their embouchures and stuff. This is stuff perhaps saxophonists don't always mention.
QF: This gift that I have isn't just from me. The ability that I have is an ability that has God has created me with. Just as I have an instrument, my saxophone. It is like I am an instrument to God.
AAJ: That's great, tell me more.
QF: What I realized coming upfrom practicing so hard and spending all that quality time playing scales, playing solos, practicing, transcribing solos, learning different musical styles and you know, the long hours that I spent in doing all thatwhen I got older God had showed me the same energy that I put into that He wanted me to put into Him.
Through seeking God with the same type of mind and zeal as I had for music, it allowed me to understand my purpose as a whole in seeking allowed me to see God's plan for my life that He wanted to see that I could use my life as His instrument.
AAJ: How do you do that?
QF: Just as the saxophone I have now is laying in my case, it can't do anything unless I pick it up and put the neck on the body and put the mouthpiece on the neck and put the reed on the mouthpiece, and the ligature on it and put my neck strap on. I also have to hook it up and begin to blow into the saxophone. And then I push whatever keys I want to press, and whatever combination of notes that I want to come out will sound. This basically is what I am saying: the saxophone can't do anything by itself unless I pick it up and make it do what I want it to do.
I've talked with people before about this, but not lately. The thing is in the same sense God uses me; I am to God as my instrument is to me.
AAJ: You're right that if you have a saxophone in the case, nothing will happen unless you play it.
QF: We are His instrument, and unless we allow ourselves to be used by Him, we are useless, just like that saxophone in the case. Yeah. It can't do anything unless I pick it up. But it's not the saxophone, it's the player. And it's not the person; it's the God in the person. Or really it's God.
[He laughs easily. Mmm. Fowler pauses.]
AAJ: Do you explain this to your fellow players? Are you trying to make this part of your life?
QF: I have a company I started called Core Instrumental Music Company in Texas. And the theme is music after God's own heart. Like my experience, I've been a student of both jazz and church music. So my aim has always been to combine the two, to have the spirit of the gospel travel through a jazz medium. I guess you understand what jazz is. That's why I want to create my own genre. The "Core part is what focuses on our sole purpose, a focal point, which is the heart of God, what God expects in music.
AAJ: Do you have a website yet?
QF: I'm working on it.
Musicians are always seeking a higher spiritual experience in music. The fullness that we're going to be experience, that is when you have musicians playing who all have a heart for God. Then this is when we're going to be able to have a higher spiritual experience in music; where we're in agreement with each other, where we have the same faith. They have to have faith in Jesus Christ.
AAJ: Do you think Jesus likes jazz?
QF: Yes. Music was used throughout the Bible like through the Levites in the Old Testament. The people who carried the Ark of the Covenant played for celebrations. They used music for prophesy throughout the Old Testament. The psalmist David wrote many songs praising God with many different instruments. This was because he was a musician himself. He was a harpist.
Music was used for praise and worship. If you notice in church, they always put the music first. God created music for His enjoyment. It was for praise and worship for Himself. In Heaven he created a musical angel, Lucifer. The Bible talked about this in Ezekiel, chapter 28. I'll give you this in a second.
I have a book that has all those scriptures in it so people can go right through it.
Isaiah. You can read Ezekiel 28, starting at verse 12, 13, It starts talking about what Lucifer was made of, built into your body. He was anointed as a guardian cherub. Let me go and find Isaiah 11.
AAJ: In what way would Jesus like jazz?
QF: The music they used at that time was spontaneous. They just played. There were no popular songs then. They were songs that were made up on the spot, different ideas. They would create music on the spot.
AAJ: So how is jazz likened to that?
QF: Jazz is improvisational, spontaneous composition, liberating. It sound off an exciting It tells a story, and to relate it, there is emphasis like Samuel was told to go an meet some musicians coming down and they were going to prophesy to him through music. There are accounts all through the Bible where music was used to calm wars and even music was used to settle a person's spirit. And I could tell you the story about David, and how Saul, when he felt bad was distressed when He had lost his anointing as King and they sent for David to play his harp. When David played, the distressing spirit left. He was just playing for him.
AAJ: So music can heal people?
QF: Yeah, it can heal.
AAJ: Do you have any experiences with that?
QF: People tell me things, that when I play they are really blessed. People tell me how my music has really liberated them, has really blessed them.
AAJ: You were really great that night at BB King's.
QF: We had to play so early there weren't that many people there yet.
AAJ: How many songs are on this latest CD?
QF: Actually, it's twelve tracks. All the musicians on there are believers. We have the same faith. And all of the musicians on there are skillful musicians. It's a variety of musical concepts. It's not just one type of sound in music. Like I have fusion, I have things in odd meters. I have feelgood, easy listening. I have stuff that's family oriented. I also have things that the average jazz musician could get into. Even the most complex mind in jazz would appreciate it because I have challenging stuff. It's variety.
AAJ: Do you think it's unusual?
QF: It's different. It's unique. It speaks well of the time we're in. It's fresh and refreshing.
AAJ: I always wanted to make a CD where people can put it on and leave it on and have it looping throughout the day. A lot of times when I hear a jazz CD, it's just focused on one type of texture, or one type of contour of sound. There's often not enough variety. Each song that comes after the next is kind of predictable, whereas I don't have that. Every song is different. From the first song, it catches you off guard. It is the song that won, called "Special Delivery. It's more aggressive and it's fusion. And it's exciting. It's in 10/4 time, then it switches to 4/4 time
AAJ: What's one reason you made this CD?
QF: I wanted to bridge the gap between the experiences in the world and the experience in the church. Because it's people that don't go to church that love church music, people that don't have the same faith but love music. Music is a language that speaks to everybody. If you have someone who has faith and creates music that is appealing to someone in the world who has never been in church, this is a medium in which you can introduce them to faith.
This is a thing that goes deeper. I believe when you have musicians who play and have the same faith and who are in agreement with each, who pray with each other before they play just to welcome the spirit of god to flow through their music. I believe that the spirit is going to ride on that music, and it's going to go into the heart of the people who are listening, who are there at the performance. The musicians, they're going to experience it first.
The same heart and nature in me will flow in the music. This spirit is going to go across to the people. The spirit that's in my heart is going to come out, and God is going to make people feel better and uplift them. Even if they don't know about faith, it's going to put them in a positive mood. It's going to give them hope. It's gong to have an inquiry to want to know more about getting to know the person playing.
The lifestyle I live, people don't get to see everyday. They don't see that.
AAJ: What is that lifestyle?
QF: I don't drink. I don't smoke. I'm married. Me and my wife we pray together. We go to church every Sunday. We talk about the Lord. We talk about our relationship to God. We give. We pay our tithes. We give offering to different ministries. I have friends that I talk with who are the same way, and their lives are just going great because of what they do in secret. There is scripture that says what you do in secret, God will reward you openly. The people get to see the fruits of where they don't see the seed of: families and being nice to people. These qualities all comes out through music when I perform. So you might have people who just party all the time and are irresponsible, their hearts are touched and can change; they can try to get their life in order because of the way they felt the day they heard us play.
It's like an eternal moment. One of those meaningful moments you never forget. That's what I'm interested, those types of moments. We meet people all the time, and we're only around them a couple of hours. But the time I'm around them, I want God to speak to their hearts. That's what he created me for.
AAJ: How does someone find your CDs?
QF: You can go to www.quamonfowler.com. It'll be available on all of the digital download sites.
AAJ: Have you tried to get with a jazz label yet?
QF: No. I'm not one who wants to hook up with a label. I want to stay independent. It depends. I want to stay the way we are at the present. It depends on whatever I'm led to do. Whatever feels right...If God wants me to get with a label I'll do it.
The main thing is I want to hook up with people who have the same heart, who have the same vision, who are willing to help serve the same Purpose that I'm trying to serve.
It's more stuff available that we can get into musically. Someone who has skill has a heart towards God, who has faith in the Lord, faith in Jesus. I play with people who have skills and who have the same faith. If I play with people who have the same skills and do not have faith, we can only go so far.
The agreement is important, because if one person has a conflict with another person, it's going to come out in the music. It won't be liberty in that situation. There will be restrictions. A word doesn't have to be said, but I can feel it when I play.
That goes back to when God gave me a visual perception in music. God has given me discernment musically, and I feel I can pick up things in music, like spiritual things in music.
AAJ: What do you think about the way jazz musicians are often depicted, sometimes even the idolizing of the jazz musician, particularly in jazz publications?
QF: Well, I'd like to say that basically everybody that's passed away who's had great ability, such as John Coltrane, was seeking. He was a man just like me. But it was what he did. He was seeking God. He was real diligent in his practice. It wasn't really John; it was what he was aiming for. If anybody's aim is on God, then God is going to use them in a mighty way. The thing is that people always want to substitute, and they want to substitute God with somebody, with some person. The best person for a pattern for living is Jesus.
AAJ: Give some examples.
QF: Well, He was caring. He was loving. He was giving of himself. That's the whole purpose He came was to give himself in the place for us to die for our sins. Like He healed people who were sick. He gave sight to people who were blind. He fed people, both physically and both spiritually. He saw God, like He prayed. He sacrificed his physical needs to feed his spiritual hunger. He wasn't interested in the agenda o the world, but the agenda of God.
AAJ: You could stand up and give a sermon?
QF: I lead Bible studies here in Lubbock and in Forth Worth and in Louisiana, too. Most of the time, it was at school doing my undergraduate at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I organized studies (for any college student that was interested). We did it also at LSU (Louisiana State University).
AAJ: Were you parents helpful in getting you to know all this?
QF: Yes, I came up in church and they were church-going people. I've been praying all my life since I was a little boy. I would say I remember when I was twelve years old when I really confessed Jesus as being my Lord and Savior. I was at home. I had just finished talking to a friend and he was telling me about his Mom had a friend who went to sleep and had a dream they went to Hell and it was real, real hot, that you could feel it. She couldn't die because she was already dead. Basically he was telling me if you don't accept Jesus you go there. I didn't go there.
AAJ: I'm sure you've come a long way since then?
QF: [He chuckled.] I was scared.
AAJ: That was just an experience. I've learned a lot since then. It's more an experience the Lord wants you to live. Jesus came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Life is so much more fulfilling when you have a relationship with God. That's the whole thing: people live life the way they want. That's so destructive. If they die and don't know God, they are not entitled to the promises in Heaven because they didn't acknowledge Him when they were living. This is the whole message. This is why Jesus died and rose again. He told his disciples to go into all the nations and tell people this. He said he was going to be with the Father. Now you tell what you experienced. The interesting thing about it is that it is truesomething that was done over 2,000 years ago for the message to still be alive and true, that's encouraging! That's amazing.
When I put it on, I believe it. I don't believe it just because I believe it. It works. My life is just so much more fulfilling. I have so much more that I'm looking forward to because of my relationship with God through believing in Jesus.
AAJ: Do you have a family?
QF: No kids yet. My wife Ayanna is a beautiful girl. You're going to meet her someday. She is like a prime example of the reward, the fruit of my labor, really of God's goodness. She's just a replication of God's love for me. She is so beautiful. She's working on her doctorate at Texas Tech. Her major is English.
AAJ: She must love your music?
QF: Oh, she loves music herself. She loves mineand music as a whole. She probably loves music more than I do. She's real supportive. She just is a big help. I can't imagine my life any different without her. I can't imagine my life any other way.
AAJ: Tell us about someone in your group?
QF: I have Arlington Jones on piano and Fender Rhodes.
AAJ: Did you meet him in church?
QF: No, I met him in a bookstore, a regular Borders. This was years ago. But we were drawn to each other. I ended up recording on his CD and he recorded on mine. We have the same things in common. So everything I'm talking about, if you talked with him, you be talking about the same stuff.
AAJ: What are some of your plans?
QF: I want to give clinics, workshops and master classes, both in music venues and in churches and go to conferences. And we'll be talking about the same stuff, training up musicians in music and in the Bible.
AAJ: What about if it's not a religious venue?
QF: I deal with music and communication and what the goal is: working together and being in agreement with each other, not being selfish and into yourselves, but into what everyone else is doing so the overall goal is met when the product goes across to the audience.
I don't have any problems just dealing with music because I can do that as well as talk about the spiritual side. But it's all me anyway. It's going to come out through me talking. When Jesus would speak to the disciples or the different people, he would use stories that they could understand based on everyday life. But the overall meaning of the story had like a spiritual connotation or spiritual significance.
So I can talk about faith and talk about God without mentioning his name. And I can talk about music real in depth without even saying anything about faith or God. Because it's me and it's in my heart. God has a way of getting the glory anyway. That's an awesome thing. Because we're people. We're human beings, just like everyone else. We're not super. We experience the same thing, just in a different environment. I understand how to be practical and talk with people on an earthly basis.
AAJ: This has been a wonderful conversation today. We can picture you holding your horn up and saying all these things we talked about. Thank you so much.
QF: It's going to happen. Thank you so much.
AAJ: We admire you standing up for your thoughts and your beliefs.
QF: You have to in a time like this.
AAJ: Guess you're right. We'll have to talk more about that.
QF: [Laughs easily] This could turn into a book.
AAJ: Well, goodbye for now.
Visit Quamon Fowler on the web.
Quamon Fowler, The Vision (Independent, 2005)
Arlington Jones, Move the Heart ( Zamaria Musick Company, 2005)
Roland Guerin, Groove, Swing & Harmony (Mambo Maniacs Records, 2005)
Quamon Fowler, Making Provisions for the Vision (Independent, 2004)
Darryl Reeves, Diary of a Bandstand (Continuum Music, 2004)
Quamon Fowler, Introducing Quamon Fowler (Independent, 2001)
Arlington Jones, The Author & The Sourcet ( Zamaria Musick Company, 2001)
Lumark Gulley, Printilla (Continuum, 2001)