By Chris Burnett
As a contemporary jazz keyboardist, composer, and producer for the last 15 years, Bob Baldwin is continually maintaining his status in the music industry as a person to watch. With the new release of "Brazil Chill", his eighth US CD and 10th overall, Baldwin continues to garner additional international media attention; along with receiving rave reviews for his innovative integration of styles and sounds.
This is Baldwin's debut on the Chicago-based A440 Music Group Label since the release of his album "Standing Tall" hit the airwaves 18 months ago, hovering top 10 statuses in both Billboard and R&R Radio Charts.
When Roberta Flack first selected Baldwin as the 1989 Sony Innovator in Music, this Mt. Vernon, NY native has remained a dynamic artist known for pushing the envelope. Inspired after meeting legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock at this prestigious competition in Beverly Hills, Ca., Baldwin says that particular opportunity motivated him to reach toward his goal to create music "outside the box" by blending his own concepts of Contemporary Jazz with R&B grooves and funk music. The coveted Sony Innovator in Music award, coupled with the resultant national exposure, led to Baldwin?s two-album deal with Atlantic Records under the direction of then President Sylvia Rhone, and the subsequent release of his debut solo projects "Rejoice" and "Reflections of Love".
I first became aware of Bob Baldwin's music through his having made it available online at MP3.com. As you see by this article, Bob is a veteran musician and recording artist with several national charting releases for both his own label and major jazz labels alike. This musing will feature an article about Bob's career and his astute business sense, along with an interview discussing his approach to both music and marketing his products. In Part One, we will meet Bob via his biographical narrative, and Part Two will feature my interview dialogue with him. For more information visit: www.BobBaldwin.com
All About Bob Baldwin
Over the years, Baldwin has shared his inventive arranging, and prolific writing with an impressive roster of jazz artists who?ve appeared on his CDs. These artists include: the late legendary Grover Washington, Tom Browne, Pieces of A Dream, Roy Ayers, Marion Meadows, Chuck Loeb, Will Downing, Chieli Minucci, and Kim Waters, to name only a few US stars.
Known for collaborating with the highest caliber of talent, Baldwin recently explores South America to work with the likes of: guitarist Torcquato Mariano; saxophonist Leo Gandelman, percussionists C. Silva; and long-time Pat Metheny sideman, Armando Marcal; as well as, Ivan Conte and Alex Malheiros, of the legendary Brazilian Funk group Azimuth. All of these musicians contribute to his release, "Brazil Chill".
This particular CD was recorded in beautiful Rio de Janeiro; and New York City - which has a significant Brazilian music influence. Baldwin initiated the production of this recording by traveling to sunny Brazil, where he worked with musicians on that scene in order to capture a truly authentic Brazilian flavor.
"I?ve had a long desire to explore authentic Brazilian music, beginning with introduction to works by the late Antonio Carlos Jobim back in the ?70s when my dad would play his music on gigs," says Baldwin, whose father, Robert Baldwin, a jazz pianist taught him to play the piano at age 4. "Living in the NY/Tri-state area, I've always had Latin flavor in my music. I used to visit a hip Jazz club in NYC named Mikells and my friend, the drummer Joel Rosenblatt along with Anthony Jackson on bass were playing with Pianist Michel Camilo. I would also go and watch my uncle Larry Willis, who played for years with Jerry Gonzalez - Fort Apache Band at the Blue Note on many occasions. I've shared the stage briefly with Tito Puente and some of his great sidemen. That is part of being in NY, the diversity it brings, so my love for percussion has taken me to Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and now Brazil. The music of Brazil has a softer, more harmonic approach, and is inherently compatible with my own musical palate."
While other contemporary jazz artists have recently created music influenced by Brazil's pulsating rhythms and intoxicating sounds here in the United States, Baldwin is one of the few to actually invest in recording in that international epicenter of culture, music and travel. Of his latest endeavor, Baldwin best defines his motivation and musical direction as a true "melting pot". "It's Brazilian rhythms consisting of Bossa-Nova, Samba, the Partido Alto and Contemporary Jazz all rolled into one, each song carrying a different feel with a twist of Rio de Janeiro funk."
On, "Brazil Chill", Baldwin also returns to his 1970's-tinged Neo-Jazz roots and creates an emotive 55 minutes of alluring originals and even an upbeat remake of the Jackson classic, "I Want to Be Where You Are". This time around, Baldwin adds vocalese to his already numerous performance credits. He delivers a Bobby McFerrin-like scat vocal-solo on the track "Oasis of Love", as well as background vocal performances on several of the other numbers. His vocal sound is reminiscent of his signature CD101.9 (New York City) jingle package and is also further explored on his "Don't Get It Twisted" CD.
Known for uniquely bringing together the best performers in contemporary jazz and R&B, Baldwin's latest collaboration also marks a reunion with some old friends like New York vocalist Tonni Smith on "Funkin for Jamaica". He and Smith used to work together in Tom Browne?s band for many years. Baldwin features Smith's vocals on his funky, bass-laced tune, "Can You Feel It". There is also Jeff Kashiwa, whose contemporary saxophone stylings add the desired sweet and succulent sounds to Baldwin's composition, "Sho' Nuff".
Life, Music, and Business Synergy
Often described in the press and media as a chameleon, who was destined to play jazz, Bob Baldwin, Jr. was born in Mount Vernon, NY and reared in Westchester County, NY. The Jr. Baldwin credits his father, Bob Baldwin, Sr. for recognizing and nurturing his gifts at an early age. At age four, the elder Baldwin discovered his son's perfect pitch. Prior to illness, his father was an engineer and accomplished jazz pianist in his own right - Bob Baldwin, Sr. worked with former John Coltrane bassist, Art Davis; long-time Ella Fitzgerald bassist Keter Betts, legendary jazz drummer Max Roach and many others.
Throughout his youth, the Jr. Baldwin continually studied both, classical and jazz repertoires in private music lessons. However, his development of intriguing harmonies was no doubt honed due to his older sister's contemporary music record collection that included a wide range of inspiration from artists like: Oscar Peterson, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind and Fire, Chicago, Tramaine Hawkins, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Miles Davis.
Baldwin earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Geneva College at Beaver Falls, PA, while later working at MCI and Sprint Communications in their Accounting Department. After launching his music career fulltime, Baldwin didn?t let his business acumen go to waste. He further developed City Sketches, Inc. (Inc. 1996) and his first venture "City Sketches I/Welcome To The Games", which sold over 7,000 units on the Internet, an unheard of by an Artist of any genre. Then after developing a greater understanding of how the business of Music is run, he then, independently produced his seventh US CD, "BobBaldwin.com". He used his acumen to raise his own funds, and negotiate and secure a contract to distribute the CD through Virgin/EMI Network. "BobBaldwin.com" has sold an impressive 60,000 units and counting - his highest selling release to date. He acclaims that success to two things, allowing no one to dictate the selection of music on the recording and basically, calling his own shots. The other credit he makes is his development of relationships through radio, where he initially pursued as a career.
Baldwin also exercises his entrepreneurial prowess in the administration and management of his own publishing company, Funky Onion Publishing, Inc. Some of the company's writing, production and performing credits include George Benson, Grover Washington, Jr., Will Downing, Marion Meadows, Deniece Williams, Tom Browne, Norman Conners, Freddie Jackson, and Pieces of a Dream. He also owns two production companies: Chameleon Productions, and City Sketches, Inc. These organizations showcase his production portfolio for other artists, as well as, his body of work. Baldwin's goal is to push the envelope even further in 2004 by putting together a unique live DVD presentation.
1985 - Baldwin's first recorded sideman sessions were with Melba Moore, Freddie Jackson and Vaneese Thomas in New York City.
1986 - Baldwin formed The Bob Baldwin/Al Orlo Project. The Baldwin/Orlo Project, which showcased original materials and a hot NY-Based rhythm section, performed at the legendary Bottom Line in New York City, leading to the keyboardist's first production with trumpeter Tom Browne ("Funkin' for Jamaica"). Some of the band's sidemen went on to work with the likes of Spyro Gyra, Chick Corea, Average White Band and others.
1988 - Through Browne, Baldwin meets Producer Danny Weiss and debuts his Production and Arranging talents for Browne's "No Long I" album. This led to his Production deal with Malaco records, resulting in the release of his first production effort, "I've Got a Long Way To Go", which featured Saxophonists Nelson Rangell and Fred Vigdor (Average White Band).
1989 - Won the Sony Innovators Award, selected by Roberta Flack. This award receives great media attention, and that led to the signing at Atlantic Jazz Records under then-President Sylvia Rhone, with Weiss co-producing the project.
1990 - Baldwin released his debuting solo CD, "Rejoice" on Atlantic Jazz Records, which featured Lenny White, Tom Browne, Sharon Bryant and others.
1991 - Baldwin met singer, Will Downing at a benefit for Yogi Horton in NYC and co-penned "She" on his "A Dream Fulfilled" CD.
1992 - Baldwin exchanged talents with the late legendary saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. on his first Self-Produced CD, "Reflections of Love", which also featured Downing, Meadows, and Atlantic Starr Vocalist Porter Carroll. Later in the year, he teamed up with Washington, producing a song on his album, "Next Exit", which featured Levi Stubbs and The Four Tops. "Reflections..." peaked at #5 Billboard Contemporary Jazz, while "Next Exit" peaked at #5. Baldwin also worked on Marion Meadows' "Keep It Right There" CD and teamed up with Meadows and Downing on Meadows "Keep It Right There" and produced "Come Back To Me", which also peaked #7
1993 - Baldwin enjoyed a brief collaborative stint with Pieces of A Dream and had the chance to team up with James Lloyd on Keyboards. He also produced two songs on the "In Flight" CD on Blue Note Records, which went Billboard Jazz Top 20. Working with Lloyd was a personal thrill. Baldwin also recorded a CD entitled, "State of Mind", which was never released. To this day, it has yet to be released.
1994 - Baldwin spreads his musical wings and moves from NY - Atlanta, where he begins a new recording and goes on the road with Marion Meadows for a period extending 4 years.
1995 - Baldwin produced Meadows, "Body Rhythm" CD, which went Top 20 on the Billboard Jazz and top 20 Radio Charts. Baldwin and Meadows also Headlined the Asbury Jazz Festival in front of 15,000+ fans.
1996 - Baldwin produced and released his first independent CD, "City Sketches I/Welcome To The Games", featuring Rohn Lawrence and Meadows. "..Sketches" was a Musical tribute to Atlanta, Ga. Over 10,000 units were sold on the Internet and Live Venue Sales. He also incorporated City Sketches, Inc., based out of Atlanta, Ga., and also launched his website "CitySketches.com" and became one of the first Jazz Artists to sell CD's online. The music to "City Sketches.." was later used during the 1996 Olympics, also held in Atlanta, Ga.
1997 - Baldwin signs to Shanachie Records, under Danny Weiss, produced and released his CD, "Cool Breeze", on Shanachie Records. His hit, "Summer Breeze", peaked Top 20 on the smooth jazz radio charts. This release featured saxophonist, Marion Meadows and guitarist, Larry Coryell.
1998 - Baldwin teams up with Downing on the road and does a series of concerts, which include the Newport Jazz Festival; and the 10-city, Benson and Hedges Music Festival.
2000 - Baldwin acquired investment-funding, signs a Distribution Deal with EMI and completes his second independent CD, "Bobbaldwin.com", on City Sketches, Inc. The CD peaked at Number 13 on Billboard Jazz. The innovator's remake of Tom Browne's "Funkin' for Jamaica" won rave reviews, while his album distributed through the Virgin/EMI network sold units. He also launched BobBaldwin.com online and tripled his hit count in less than 6 months, tying in the title with his site. Vaneese Thomas, Eric Essix, Gerald Albright, Dean James support him, along with long-time supporters Browne, Meadows, and Downing.
2001 - Baldwin signs a one-year deal with Narada Music and commences recording. He begins to develop his Bob Baldwin and Friends Package, which featured Tom Browne, Marion Meadows, and Chuck Loeb.
2002 - Shortly after the World Trade Center tragedy, Baldwin penned and released, "God Bless America", which was played in NYC. This led to the "The American Spirit" CD in May as a tribute to those victims, killed in the twin towers lost in the World Trade Center tragedy. Baldwin shared his empathy and performed "GBA" on several Fox TV stations and made a brief appearance on BET. Baldwin also released his CD, "Standing Tall" in September, which jumped out of the box as Number One during its first week on the radio airplay charts. Both CDs featured Chuck Loeb, Ray Vega, Dean James, Kim Waters, Marion Meadows, Phil Perry and Chieli Minucci. He also worked with percussionist Cafe Da Silva from Brazil, where his musical interests in Brazilian Jazz began to peak. He plays at the Catalina Jazz Festival and Headlines the Riviera Beach Jazz and Blues Festival.
2003 - Baldwin teams up with R&B crooner Freddie Jackson and produces his new single, "Natural Thing", in anticipation of a Spring 2004 release. He also signs to A440 Music and travels to Rio De Janeiro and Ipanema in Brazil to commences his upcoming recording and gains a better understanding of Bossa Nova, Samba, Partido Alto and Choro styles. "The Way She Looked At Me" was the 9th most played song in the Contemporary Jazz Format for the entire year. He features Jeff Kashiwa, Doc Powell, Phil Perry and Chieli Minucci on the BB and Friends Tour Package.
2004 - Baldwin makes his debut on the A440 Music Group Label and releases new and 8th CD, "Brazil Chill", where he fuses Brazil with Contemporary Jazz. Features Cafe, Torcquato Mariano, Azimuth and Leo Gandleman. He also teams up with Saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa, who also makes an appearance on the new CD. The overflow of music creates 2 CDs, one to be released in March 2004 with the follow-up in June of 2004.
A440 Music Group
All Music Guide: Bob Baldwin
Bob Baldwin Official Web Site
Google Search: Bob Baldwin [many links]