The Baylor Project: A Brand New Day

K. Shackelford By

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AAJ: It is so unique that you are a husband and wife musical team. I'm curious, when you were at Smoke Jazz Club what were some strengths and weaknesses that you noticed in each other?

JB: One of Marcus' strengths is—being in the moment. He has more faith than I do, in general. [laughs] For example, we're in this club, and I'm getting ready to sing Afro Blue, a jazz standard that we do. I don't know what he was feeling, but on stage he starts whispering to me, "Babe, sing "Praise Song." And the song he suggested was a "Hallelujah" song, one that you typically sing in a church.

And I was on stage, like "No. No." [laughs]

He then says, "Go ahead and sing it!" with a very encouraging tone. And I'm like, "No we are in a club, a bar and everything— they didn't come to hear that." [laughs.] But he was so darn persistent, and said, "Go ahead and sing it." So I said "fine," and I sang it off the cuff with the pianist. We hadn't rehearsed, but it went really well, and everybody loved it.

MB: Smoke Jazz Club has three sets, 7pm, 9pm and 10:30pm and so we had a residency twice a month. And that led to us playing a headliner slot at Smoke over the weekend— which consisted of three sets a night—Friday through Sunday. In that setting, I saw how Jean was able to stay consistent for three sets a night, not slacking off at all, and every night really pushing and reaching.

AAJ: You are masters of all genres, but your faith is a symbol of your music. Your cover of the 1923 hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness," has some of the most interesting chords at the beginning and an amazing groove throughout. But where did those chords at the beginning come from?

MB: When touring with the Yellowjackets, I met Masayuki Hirano, also known as Big Yuki. He is really tearing up the scene and touring with everyone. He is from Japan and he has so much soul. One time we were playing at a place called the Firehouse Café. Yuki said, "That is my favorite hymn." We played it, and next thing you know Yuki played the chords that you now hear on the album.

AAJ: Jean you're now on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music. How is that working out?

JB: It's a really neat experience. It's the graduate program for vocals. It's neat because you never know who is going to apply and get admitted. Teaching is about being able to communicate and translate information. I try to convey whatever I am trying to communicate to the student in a way that they can hopefully understand it and apply it to what they are doing.

AAJ: That is wonderful, it seems like both of you are mentors to a lot of musicians?

JB: We like to share information. We have had such a process of learning, and figuring things out. A process of discovery, and understanding why things work, and don't work. What we've learned is that you have to change through the technological times and seasons. For example, we meet not just younger artists, but artists who have experience. Yet maybe their situation has changed, such as from having been on a label to becoming an independent artist. That change is a paradigm shift. You have to literally learn how to think completely differently because you're functioning different.

MB: Jean's group Zhané was formed 25 years ago. To look ahead 25 years to right now, and totally reinvent yourself was tough. It was challenging for us, because that brand was so big. But the blessing of it is when we came into jazz, it is not like she has to say, "I'm Jean formerly of Zhané." Her name is just Jean Baylor. People sometimes had no idea she was a part of Zhané." For The Baylor Project, now the audience is able to connect the dots, realizing that Jean is from the group Zhané. And most people say, "I had no idea." That is the power of re-invention. To re-invent yourself is a blessing from God.

AAJ: Marcus, it seems like you are a big inspiration to a lot of drummers? Do you hang out with a lot of drummers, and give them tips?

MB: We are based outside of New York City. I always enjoy hanging out with them. I enjoy any chance I get to speak to the next generation. It is a learning experience for me too. Some of the musicians and drummers on the scene did the same for me. They imparted information to me when I first moved to New York, and was a student at the New School.

I've been blessed to have a lot of mentors in my life. Just like someone passed the information to me, I want to do the same thing in terms of gigs, or recommendations.

AAJ: Are you currently writing and doing production for other artists?

MB: Currently, we've been focusing on this new record. But based off of our recent success, artists are starting to reach out. Jean and I have our own studio, and we have always produced music. We started writing together around 2004. Our first independent record came out in 2007 under Jean Baylor as the artist. Jean was really the person that pulled me into writing and production. Her work is featured on Grammy Award-winning artist Mary J. Blige's record, and she had a few songs for the HBO movie Disappearing Acts with Sanaa Lathan. She has also worked on stuff for Grammy-nominated R&B group SWV and a couple of other notable music artists.

JB: We're getting into doing work for other artists as well. You know, you have songs and ideas that you think would be better suited for another artists. We did something for Philadelphia singer Carol Riddick's album. She has been around for some time and is a great singer. We wrote and produced music for the movie Of Boys and Men, produced by Robert Townsend and starring Angela Bassett (Golden Globe-Award winner, Marvel's Black Panther). We worked in the studio and collaborated with Grammy nominee and one of Philadelphia's super-producers, Carvin Haggins.

We are able to take those production experiences into what we do for our own group, The Baylor Project. All of those experiences have helped cultivate our sound. We don't really see music as genres, but we see music that was born out of the African American community. So, I don't necessarily think R&B, gospel, soul and jazz. It is just music that feels good, and that comes naturally, spiritually and emotionally.

AAJ: Is there a new album coming out soon?

JB: Yes, yes, and yes! I am so excited. We started working on our album. We had our first session. We are three songs in. The last time we had to kind of figure out the concept. This time, we have the concept, and now we are creating the music to go with it. It's always fun. Doing the music is the most fun part. That's just who we are and what we do. And then we kind of frame everything around the music.

MB: And you also spend your own money. We did our first album, independently, on our label, Be A Light. We are not signed to a label or anything. We are still doing it ourselves and it's a blessing.

Photo Credit: Deneka Peniston
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