John Beasley: Master of All Trades

Jim Worsley By

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AAJ: Along the way there have been Grammy and Emmy nominations. The latter for your work at the White House. How do you approach a project of that scope and magnitude?

JB: It's a jigsaw puzzle and even blue skies have clouds, but they disperse. The most wonderful thing is that we are spreading the music of jazz, the music of freedom, of diversity, of community, of listening with a call and response, and of acceptance.

AAJ: What is this new show that you have on Sirius XM radio?

JB: Long-time and respected jazz radio host, Mark Ruffin, has been playing my MONK'estra albums these past few years. This led to him offering me a show on arranging. We called it Flipped. It will start April 5th and air every Friday 5-7pmEST, with a repeat on Saturdays from 6-8pmEST. This will run every week in April, which again is Jazz Appreciation Month. I play popular songs and show how jazz musicians creatively interpret them in different ways. "My Favorite Things" from the file The Sound of Music and John Coltrane's version. The Carpenters version of "Close to You" and Jacob Collier's interpretation. Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad Girl" and Herbie Hancock's take on this.

AAJ: Tell us about your formative years. What was it like growing up in a musical family?

JB: I'm a third-generation musician. My grandfather played in territory dance bands and was a jazz educator. My mom, Lida Beasley, was a brass instrumentalist and, also a music educator and conducted junior and high school bands and orchestras. She had me fill in whatever sections were weak in her bands, so it helped me to appreciate these instruments and it has helped me be a better writer. That's also why I use a lot of brass instruments in MONK'estra. My dad, Rule Beasley, was a professor of music at North Texas and Santa Monica College. He played bassoon and piano and was composer. I run my musical ideas by him. Last year, I won a composition international competition hosted by an Austrian music university called JAM Music Lab, for a jazz symphonic piece. It was the first time I had to write for a 75-piece orchestra. My dad always helps me out of writing jams.

AAJ: Your work as a clinician on a host of workshops is well documented. Perhaps you could talk about these educational workshops and how rewarding they are.

JB: There's a saying, "The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit." So, when I'm in a classroom I think about how I'm planting seeds with music students. You see how a plant grows from the seed into a tree fed with plenty of sunshine, pollination from bees, and precious water into an abundance of fruit. As a teacher, students force you to think through things with their questions or ideas. So, they feed you too.

AAJ: I'm sure you are looking forward to International Jazz Day later this month and that there have been many great moments over the past few years at the Jazz Days. What is especially unique and exciting about this occasion?

JB: I've been lucky to be the music director for International Jazz Day global concerts organized by the former Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute, now called the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz, since 2012, the inaugural year. Each year there are great moments because of the international roster of artists, some meeting for the first time to perform together. As the musical director, I decide on the combination of artists and arrange all the music. The delight is to see how musicians influenced by their culture, but that studied jazz, the original American music, perform, improvise, and interpret standards. There are so many awe-inspiring surprises. The venues are breathtaking because they are usually UNESCO heritage sites in global cities such as Hagia Sophia (537AD), the Osaka Castel Park (1931), or the White House (1792). This year the event will be at the renowned Arts Center Melbourne. This year the roster of artists include Chico Pinheiro of Brazil, A Bu from China, Till Bronner of Germany, Cieavash Arian from Iran, Eli Degibri from Israel, Eijiro Nakagawa of Japan, Tarek Yamani from Lebanon, Antonio Sanchez of Mexico, Tineke Postma from Netherlands, Igor Butman from the Russian Federation, Mark Nightingale of the United Kingdom, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Ledisi, Eric Reed, Somi, Liz Wright, and Co-Artist Director Herbie Hancock from the United States, and from host country Australia, Co-Artist Director James Morrison, Matthew Jodrell, William Barton, and Nathan Schreiber.

AAJ: Lastly, and just for fun, apparently once upon a time there was a band you were in with Vinnie Colaiuta, John Patitucci, and Steve Tavaglione called Audio Mind. That had to have been a blast of fusion! What can you tell us about that? Are there any recordings of Audio Mind out there?

JB: We still carry that 'audio mind' sensibility. We are life-long friends and know that those days were surely formative years. We were known for improvising whole sets which was unusual in that time in the LA fusion era. We learned how to be free. Free from judgment, jazz police, standards, and commercialization. We played for ourselves. Yes, there's a bootleg recording out there that I have. We should have a reunion one day soon.

AAJ: Indeed, you should. That would be outstanding. I look forward to that day and am most appreciative of your time today.
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