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Kevin Brandon: Brandino Is In The House

Kevin Brandon: Brandino Is In The House
Scott Mitchell By

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Kevin Brandon is a Los Angeles-based bassist, producer, teacher and song writer who has been on the scene and laying it down for a long time. Known to his friends and colleagues as "Brandino," this musical dynamo has earned seven Grammy Awards and has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Robbie Krieger of The Doors, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder and Outkast, and toured with Aretha Franklinfor over 20 years.

Picking up the bass at a young age, this self-taught player used music as a means to survive the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles in the early 1960s and '70s. Brandino is serious about life and seriously passionate about his music and art. He doesn't mix words and tells you like it is. Keeping it real in out and of the studio, Brandino has a reputation of laying down a track on the first take.

All About Jazz: I have never seen a bassist—or any musician, for that matter—move his head around as much and as fast as you do when you are playing. How do you do that and not give yourself whiplash? Where did that come from?

Kevin Brandon: I get pretty intense when I play. A lot of emotions and pain need to leave my body in a positive way, so I guess it's pure expression when I do the whiplash thing. Born in South Central and being an in and out patient of Shriner's Hospital for the first five years of my life might have something to do with it.

AAJ: There is an interesting story behind your childhood and how you were able to pick up the bass. Can you share that?

KB: I started playing piano at about age four, with my sister as my teacher. I started to play the saxophone with my brother at seven years of age. Then my brother and sister formed a band and they needed a bassist; I wanted to play drums, but my father didn't want me to get discouraged from the physical hardship on my legs, so they thought it would be better for me to play bass. So my father went to the swap meet to purchase a St. George bass for twenty dollars, and that was my first gig—with my family, playing bass at nine.

AAJ: Your roots are in New Orleans. How did that experience influence your personal and musical direction, and life?

KB: My father and mother had a lot of music that they brought with them when they moved from New Orleans. Jazz, blues, swing, big band, classical, and wide mixture of music like gumbo. So I used to come home from school and pull out 33s, 45s—whatever was in the collection—and decide what songs and recordings I liked and disliked.

AAJ: We are half way through 2012, what has the year been like so far?

KB: A lot TV writing, using my Warwick Single Cut five-string bass over loops and beds. Working on Will I AM s and Justin Timberlake's new CDs. Working with my fusion/funk group, Brandino and Friends, around town. Started on Brandino 's Melodies and Songbook Volume 2 and forming my Bass Quartet group with four acoustic basses.

AAJ: What are you currently working on?

KB: New music and a DVD on my band, writing for the shows Ancient Aliens, Lock Up, Wicked Tuna, Kickin' It, Pit Bulls and Parolees, Code 9, etcetera. Releasing a straight-ahead CD and a solo album.

AAJ: What is in store for you for the rest of the year?

KB: I'm going to Germany in September to hang out with my Warwick Family CEO and founder Hans Peters, [as well as bassists] Jonas Hellborg, Steve Bailey, Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins, Verdine White and all the other endorsers for a 30-year anniversary of the company, which will be a complete party in itself. Bass Player Live, in October in LA, and the seventh Grand (a popular whisky bar in downtown Los Angeles) performance in November with Brandino and Friends.

AAJ: What goes through your mind when you look back at where you started and where you are now?

KB: Well, I'm still here doing what I wanted to do as a kid, which was to play my bass and make music. I think the older you get things get better because you get wiser about life and the decisions you make. And you can reflect on the things you had fun doing up to this point and the things you going to do in the present and future.

AAJ: Who were your earliest musical influences?

KB: The early recordings I stated earlier in the interview. All the recordings that were on the radio in the mid-'60s and '70s, and bass players like Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Chuck Rainey, Wilton Felder and James Jamerson, to name a few.

AAJ: How did your musical influences grow and/or change over time?

KB: As I started to play with so many groups stated in my bio, my music vocabulary grew, matured, and developed in each musical experience I was involved in. Growing into an encyclopedia of knowledge from these experiences.

AAJ: What artists and bands do you enjoy listening to today?

KB: I listen to all types of music when I have a break in my schedule.

AAJ: What was your first big break as an professional musician?

KB: The Tommy Dorsey band in New York City, when I was 19.

AAJ: Was there a specific moment or time in your life when you realized that you had a gift and the skill set and competency to play with the best?

KB: I told my mother, at an early age, that I didn't have to go to school because I was going to be a professional musician, I think I was nine.

AAJ: When did you know that you could hold your own?

KB: When I went through the Cerritos College Summer Camp for kids during high school with my friend the great Poncho Sanchez and graduated high school. I was ready to take on the World [laughs].

AAJ: How would you describe your playing style and approach toward your craft?

KB: I play and perform like it's your last gig, so you must make everything count because you never know what life will bring or cut short. I approach playing bass as a sideman, leader, arranger, orchestrator and composer. I like to see how I can make the musical situation better and move into a memorable experience.

AAJ: What was the nicest and most personal compliment that you received as a musician?

KB: If James Jamerson were alive to hear you play, he would definitely be digging on where you are coming from.

AAJ: Do you recall your introduction to the world of jazz?

KB: Louis Armstrong in 1959, when I was released from the hospital. My father treated me to his concert at the Palladium in Hollywood. Besides my early experiences with my family's record collection, when I started learning acoustic bass as my main instrument, the musical journey went deeper into the roots of the music.

AAJ: What are the most challenging projects that you have worked on and why?

KB: Besides doing an audition for Frank Zappa—I wasn't interested in the gig, but wanted to check out the music—probably performing with my pal Billy Childs, going to Hong Kong with a black ballet company from Los Angeles.

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