Hailed by DownBeat
as the embodiment of “style, substance, soul, and swagger,” Reggie Quinerly
is just the kind of drummer to take on a first-time challenge—like writing an album’s worth of songs featuring vocalists. “As a drummer, I’m always trying to write things you wouldn’t expect,” says Quinerly. On Words to Love
, his third album as a leader which is set for April 20 release by Redefinition Music, Quinerly composed music and lyrics for eight songs exploring the many facets of love.
Previously the drummer had written words and music for the title track of his acclaimed 2012 debut album, Music Inspired by Freedmantown
, and collaborated on another song on that disc. Now, his muse told him to build on the experience.
“I decided to write about love in all its varieties,” the 37-year-old Houston native explains. “This gave me another chance to reveal something new about myself as an artist, and I really immersed myself in the process.”
Inspired by singers Lou Rawls, Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter, and others, Quinerly drafted a pair of proven young artists to sing his songs: Chicago native Milton Suggs, a soulful conduit to the Rawls legacy, and Melanie Charles, a multifaceted Brooklynite who also plays the flute and is actively in touch with her Haitian roots.
Quinerly had wanted to work with Suggs since meeting him about five years ago. “I love Milton’s articulation, his attention to melody,” he says. “He’s all business when he sings. Every word is meaningful, thoughtful, impactful. There’s a regal quality to what he does.”
Though he had only played one gig with Charles, she made a strong impression on him. “Melanie’s an expressive singer with a very personal approach,” he says. “I like the light texture of her voice and the fact that she sings in a lot of different styles. She brought a distinctive pop sensibility to the songs.”
Having teamed with Gerald Clayton, Tim Warfield, and Mike Moreno on his first album and rising stars Warren Wolf and Christian Sands on his second effort, Invictus
(2015), Quinerly put together another killer band for Words to Love
: pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Ben Wolfe, and, on selected tracks, alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw.
With its overarching concept and alternating male and female vocals, Words to Love
is an ambitious step forward for Quinerly. “I’m always looking to take a back seat, to play in support of the people around me,” he says. “Everybody on this album understood that the music, the songs, came first.” Words to Love
explores all varieties of love. The opening piece “Until I Met You” addresses “the full beauty” of what falling in love entails, while the bluesy “You Bring Out My Best” is about the kind of deep and lasting love Quinerly found with his wife Toni, to whom the album is dedicated (and who appears with him on the cover). The tender “Times We’ve Yet to See” was written with their baby daughter, Harper Joy, in mind.
One of the least discussed aspects of jazz may be the work of great drummers on ballads. “There is a tendency to focus on things that are more rhythmically challenging,” says Quinerly, who might be referring to the groove-tight but open-feeling “Hope Is My Home,” on which Shaw meshes beautifully with Suggs and Evans dances elegantly around Wolfe’s walking notes. “But ballads make their own special demands. It’s really important to be in control of your dynamics, to maintain an even sound, and to be supportive. Some drummers are much better at accompanying singers than others.”
Reggie Quinerly was born on November 16, 1980 in Houston, into a scene that nourished such strong and singular artists as Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, and Mike Moreno. Like them, Quinerly attended the High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, where his mentors included Lester Grant, a top session drummer in the 1950s. Reggie went on to attend the Mannes School of Music at New School University in New York where he got to study with three great drummers: Jimmy Cobb, Lewis Nash, and Kenny Washington.
From the start, Quinerly was less interested in becoming the next traps phenomenon than developing into a complete artist whose skills as a composer and arranger were fully integrated into his prowess at the traps. He went on to earn his Master’s in Jazz Studies at Juilliard, after which this “conscientious jazz drummer with a nimble and approachable style” (New York Times
) played with such leading artists as Wynton and Branford Marsalis. With saxophonist Marcus Strickland, he played and lectured as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz in the Schools program. In the fall of 2017 he returned to Juilliard as an adjunct professor.
The Reggie Quinerly Quartet will celebrate the release of Words to Love
at Smoke, New York, on Thursday 5/31.