John Beasley: Everyone Loves John

Scott Mitchell By

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Keyboardist John Beasley (aka "The Bease" to friends and family) is a musician's musician and one of the busiest professionals in the game. His biography and list of credits are so broad and deep that they could fill an NFL playbook.

If NASA or MIT were to invent a device that could measure creative and musical capacities, John Beasley would be one of the first artists to which they would hook it up.

The short biography would read; Grammy-nominated music director, producer, arranger, pianist, film/TV composer, who played with the likes of trumpeters Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard, along with some of the most influential musicians of the past 30 years. Beasley has led music, jazz and piano clinics and workshops worldwide over the past 25 years across the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Latin America, including The Grammy Foundation's camps.

He was the musical director for American Idol and just finished work on the new James Bond film, Skyfall.

All About Jazz: Congratulations on the release of your recent album, 3 Brave Souls (BFM, 2012), featuring drummer Leon "Ndugu" Chancler and bassist Darryl Jones. How did this project come together?

John Beasley: Michele Ito, from BFM Jazz, came to me with this idea for a funk record, so I found the two funkiest guys in LA who can write and improvise, along with some great guest artists, [singers] Sy Smith, Dwight Trible and Monet Owens, [harmonicist] Gregoire Maret, [saxophonist] Bob Sheppard, [Djembe player] Leon Mobley, [trombonist] Francisco Torres and [EWI player] Steve Tavaglione.

AAJ: Can you tell us more about the creative aspect of this album? Where did the songs come from? What ties them together? Was there a specific muse or creative inspiration?

JB: My notion was to make something organic—a new way to make a funky, rootsy jazz record. Each of us come from both jazz and R&B roots and have different writing styles. Ndugu wrote four songs, Darryl wrote two and he's singing on one, and I wrote five songs. Ndugu , Darryl and I got together, talked, went away to write, then went into the studio for three days to rehearse and record. Organically, while we played, we listened to each other's influences and improvised along the way. We built on the takes we liked. I was harking back to a Gulf-coast Jazz Crusaders/Meters sound, and then one song had influences from early '70s Ethiopian jazz.

AAJ: Where did the title, 3 Brave Souls, come from?

JB: Do you remember the three prisoners in the movie Shawshank Redemption? They called themselves the 3 Brave Souls, so we were thinking that, given the demise and big shifts in the record business, we would be courageous and finance a CD and make music how we want.

And, this courage has paid off. 3 Brave Souls was accepted in seven categories for the Grammy Awards: Best Traditional R&B Performance, "Wanna Get Away?"; Best R&B Song, "Love's Graces"; Best Improvised Jazz Solo; Best Jazz Instrumental Album; Best Instrumental Composition; Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), "Wanna Get Away?"; Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

AAJ: How was this project different from albums that you have done in the past?

JB: It is the first band CD that I've done with each of us writing. My other projects were from my instincts.

AAJ: How would you describe the sound of the album?

JB: This record is more commercial in the sense that the undertones are funk and R&B, but it still retains the looseness of a jazz record—basically a funk/R&B record with solos.

AAJ: What was the highlight or most significant and personal aspect of the project?

JB: Among the many highlights was hanging in the studio with Ndugu and Darryl and laughing, learning and getting to know each other musically. I've been an Ndugu fan since hearing him on [pianist] Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi (Warner Bros., 1981), and heard Darryl with Miles Davis and the The Rolling Stones. Since all of us played with Miles but not together, we shared a lot of stories.

AAJ: Have you, Darryl , and Ndugu been able to perform together since the release of the CD?

JB: We are about to go on tour in Europe and are booking US gigs now. See my All About Jazz calendar for the details.

AAJ: It might be too early to ask but is there talk of a second album with the same players?

JB: Good idea!

AAJ: How did 2012 treat you?

JB: 2012 was multidimensional. The year kicked off with the mixing of 3 Brave Souls, then I got a call to work on ABC's new singing competition called Duets, featuring John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke and Jennifer Nettles. My role was Music Director, and the main objective for any singing competition is to make sure that each contestant reaches his/her full potential.

There were a couple of breaks in the production so I went to Paris to direct the inaugural International Jazz Day concert for the UN, hosted by Herbie Hancock with about 35 all-star jazz artists. And, I managed to squeeze in a week in Senegal, Africa playing with Persian singer Sussan Deyhim.

In the summer, I went to London to join 10-time Oscar nominee film composer Thomas Newman at the historic Abbey Road Studios to work on the James Bond score. I did drum and synth programming and drank a lot of beer in the pub. In the middle of the work, I went to Sardinia, Italy to perform with Kip Hanrahan's band with El Negro Hernandez, Robby Ameen, David Murray, Carmen Lundy, Joe Fiedler and Junior Terry, Charles Neville, and 10 other musicians.

There were some other fun projects like writing a bra commercial with Siedah Garrett, finishing up a score for a documentary about to release called Patrolman P; the release of Exotic Marigold Hotel, another film I worked on with Tom Newman; playing with [guitarist] Lee Ritenour, the Miles Electric band at the Hollywood Bowl, a special Miles Davis concert with my quintet at Los Angeles County Museum, and arranging for the Luckman Orchestra, to list a few.

AAJ: What part of the world are you in right now?

JB: Just got back from Boston, so I'm in my Hive!

AAJ: What are you working on?

JB: I'm practicing with Dwight Trible to promote my other CD called Duality: Dwight Trible sings, John Beasley swings (BFM, 2012). We had the CD launch concert Nov 1 [2012] in LA at Vitellos.

AAJ: What did you do after the release?

JB: Headed to Europe to promote the 3 Brave Souls CD in Germany, Netherlands, Austria, and Italy.

AAJ: Where do you find the energy to do all that you do and stay on top of your game?

JB: I have a daily routine and try not to break it. After waking, I go into my Hive and chant, then practice. I get energy from the projects themselves. All are so creative that I really don't regard them as work, or doing a job. I'm so lucky to be doing what I feel is the only thing I can do. I would be lousy at any other profession.

AAJ: How do you find and maintain a balance between work, travel, and your home life?

JB: When I'm in LA writing, my home and studio are 25 feet apart in two separate buildings. So, I do feel like I'm going to work when I step out of the house, though I'm usually in my pajamas all day.

When I'm on the road I've have Skype to stay connected. I can work on multiple projects from wherever I am because technology allows us to email music easily. It is sad that musicians do less face-to-face projects.
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