Join us for a previous interview with the one & only Walter Beasley as he breaks loose and speaks on just about everything going for him & his career with Terrill. They conversed as our very 1st interview for The Urban Music Scene about a year ago!!
Terrill: #1 Smooth Jazz CD on SmoothJazz.com with “Ready for Love”, Mr. Walter Beasley is in the house! What’s up Walter?
Terrill: Man, what’s happening brother?
Walter:Uh, man, you can’t beat me with a stick! I’m very pleased and very happy and very content, but yet wanting much more…
Terrill: I hear you, I hear you. But right now I hear you got the #1 Smooth/Contemporaryjazz CD, as of May 14th man! #1 on smoothjazz.com, #1 on the R&R chart and, of course, you are also on the Top 10 of Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart!
Walter: Yes, it’s listed as #2 right behind Kenny G.
Walter: Yes, I don’t think I ever had an album that broke out this quickly, this strong – you know? It’s powerful and amazing, but I think it speaks to the power of the album. The album for me…., I’ll give you an example: I’m very, very hard on music. I’m very hard on musicians, I’m very hard on myself, I’m very hard on my own music and usually after I do a project, I’m so tired of it. I just leave it alone. This project, I’ve listened to yesterday and it’s five, six months into the record and I’ve never ever listened to any of my projects this much for this long. So I really feel I have a connection to this project that makes me feel real good. When I listen to it & as long as I’m feeling good when I listen to it, I know others will.
Terrill: Good, good. Well let’s talk about your project – “Ready For Love.” How different is this project as compared to your previous, “For Her.”
Walter: “Ready For Love” was better. I’ll just say the writing is better, the playing is better, the singing is better, the choice of the material, I think. There was much more time put into it. I didn’t do a song unless I just felt it and you know one of the things we talked about. Urban Music was “Be Thankful”. You know I have two friends who are African American women who have very low self esteem. Who were talking about how they don’t see themselves on TV. Media dogs them, media just ignores them and they felt so alone. And I remember there were times in my life when I felt that way and I thought about any of the songs I remember in my childhood that got me out of that. “Be Thankful” for what you got. When it came on, it reminded me that no matter what we had, a Volkswagen and everything else. I mean people were driving ‘deuce and a quarters’ and Cadillac’s and stuff. You know what I’m saying?
Terrill: Right, right.
Walter: When that happened and when that song came on, I was like “Yo”. I have a great foundation to do whatever I need to do in life and I wanted to bring that back and I didn’t want to say how the younger singers now are singing everything but the lyrics. They’re running up and down, doing gymnastics, turning flips and all this kind of stuff and there’s no song.
Terrill: Well, you know – There’s a big variance between today’s music and what we call the “Old School” R&B music. A big variance between current singers, in terms of their vocal approach to content as to our likes of how Aretha Franklin came and displayed her vocal prowess. Stephanie Mills, etc…there’s countless lists of them. When you bring your music out Walter, do you take the youth in consideration, & do you feel that the music you’re projecting is a sense of education?
Walter: Yes and no. I used to try to do a little something that was maybe contemporary now. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, that’s cool too. But what I try to do, I don’t. Well I do kind of mix them now. I don’t really necessarily connect the education with what I do on the outside or what I put on the record. It forced me to take a look at the situation. I was hearing no song and I was hearing no real no meaning in the lyrics and I’m listening to all these R&B singers and I’m hearing no song. I’m hearing little stories about the club and what I’m goin’ to do to you and that kind of stuff. I mean we are at war. People are dying everyday in Iraq and you can’t say anything about it because it’s going to cost you your endorsement with blah, blah, blah. This is now. You can do what you want to do young boy or young girl, whatever. This is the way I feel about my music and this is the way I feel about this subject and there’s no note that I’m going to play. There’s no note that I’m going to sing that’s going to take me away from the passion of that story.
Terrill: Do you find that your music is not getting the rap, not the word applicable that I’m looking for but, how about the idea that your music might not get the standard approach of replay on black radio?
Walter: Don’t care, I mean in my opinion, black radio is like I was saying before. Black radio is no longer progressive. Black radio is regressive and at this point the artists are going to have to show black radio what black music is. And if they ignore it, then you know what? History will record that black music sold out their children for the fast buck. You know that’s on them, that’s on the people in power and you can say what you want to. Black TV is no longer black TV. So we have our sense as black people, as urban people who are our ancestors, who were the founders of this music – we have a responsibility to keep it. We have a responsibility to deal with it and make sure our children are respectful of it. One of the things I do when I’m teaching is make sure that I always have my saxophonist or my singer study older musicians so they can understand better how to present a lyric, how to present a phrase, how to present a song in a way that is going to move themselves and move other people.
Terrill: Speaking of being a founder, other than the fact that you’re an educator, ca
n you tell us a little bit more about Affable Publishing.
Walter:Affable Publishing was started because I felt there was a need for me to reach out to young saxophonists, or young at heart saxophonists who wanted to develop a nice sound and a nice approach to playing the saxophone. Who didn’t have $30, $40, $50,000 to pay to go to a four-year institution. And I felt it was my responsibility. I had the opportunity to do it in a manner that would allow people to go right into the world of Walter Beasley and only pay $20. So after I did my first one, I said “OK”. I would start talking about how to improvise and how to deal with melody and harmony. How to deal with so on and so forth. I wrote a book called “Performance Insight” that dealt with every aspect of everything, that happened to me along the course of my career and what I did and what mistakes I made and how I learned. I truncated the ideas and put them in paragraph, because you know people ain’t got time to read no more.
Terrill: That’s true, that’s true.
Walter: I would put them in little paragraphs. Now my ambition, my goal, is to create a website that will be dedicated to young aspiring musicians who want to be successful in the new music industry. When I say successful, I don’t mean American Idol. I mean take their talent, move one person, move ten people. Then move 20 people, 30, 40, 50 people. Thereby those 50 will tell 50 people. The old way of doing things. Word of mouth going straight to the people and saying I am this. Believe me – Trust me and you will have a great product and build your career like that.
Terrill: Cool man and I tell you what: Thank you for being considerate of re-educating & bringing back music programs for our youths. Which of course is lacking significantly in different spectrums of education in the United States and with that said, Please tell us about Berkeley’s Association of Faculty of African descents.
Walter: AFAD was started by John Ramsey, a faculty member who had an idea, who wanted a better representation of African Americans at the institution. At the time we only had 6% African American teachers at a school that taught jazz music. He felt there was a need to establish an organization that advocated for more faculty of African descent. Better courses that dealt with the history of music of African Americans and a mission statement that said that this institution is founded on the music of the black people. That was his mission. We formed a board and got people on the institution in the last couple of years & it has cooperated with our beliefs. It’s a nice marriage of new ideas, old ideas and doing what’s right. Not only for African Americans, but all Americans and students. The students would come out, the students would win in the end & that’s what we’re there for. We’re there to service the students. I tell people all the time the reason why Walter Beasley is Walter Beasley. Not because I’m talented, but it’s because I work, work, work very, very, very hard to maintain that talent A and B. I study the history of the music unlike no other. When I put those forces together, what you see on the stage is a combination of everything that I have learned…. everything that I have studied, everything that I practiced over the course of 30 years and that’s what I think that AFAD mission is to at this point in our history. To show students that there is another side to music that you can be better educated if you study the music of African Americans and the culture of African Americans and incorporate that into your music and you’ll be able to see then how much you’re going to better perform and how much it’s going to really enhance your performance.
Terrill: That’s good. Do you get a chance to get on the stage with some of your students?
Walter: Yes. What I try to do in every city I go to is bring a student up. It could be a high school student or junior high student or college student or somebody in the community who needs some support. Some record sales, or whatever. I always ask the promoters “Is there anybody you know who need some love that I can bring them up on stage and play a tune?” I can shout them out and they can have records out there or whatever. Because this is where we are now. Everyone has to reach out and help somebody along the way. That’s what I try to do because somebody did it for me. People did it for me. And it’s my responsibility to make sure that younger saxophonists or saxophonists in different local communities have the opportunity to do better and it starts with me. It ends with me. That’s my philosophy.
Terrill: That’s awesome! You know, you probably also had the challenge while you were getting your education with a classmate that I have some sort of appreciation for by the name of Mr. Branford Marsalis.
Walter: Oh yeah.
Terrill: That’s a bad cat.
Walter: Exactly! We met the first day at Berkely College community. I walked into the audition and I was this scared kid from California! 18. I heard this guy running his mouth – blah, blah, blah, blah blah, blah – My teacher had told me ‘you don’t have to worry about the people who run their mouths’. They really, really can’t play. So with Branford running his mouth and I’m like who is this kid running his mouth? He went and sat in the audition room and tore up the saxophone!! I said, ‘Ahhh man I’m in trouble!’
Walter: So then I went in and he heard me play. He came up to me and said ‘You can play a little bit man!’ I said ‘So can you!’
Terrill: I heard that!
Walter: We formed a relationship and have been friends ever since! I think that I’m more proud of our relationship off the stage and we never talk about music unless it like he did the Podcasts for me on Walterbeasley.com. Other than that, we basically talk about music for about an hour and a half, but we always talk about life. Kids, people,- you know – things like that. We never talk about music.
Terrill: Well, hey man, I wanted to ask you a question that’s going to steer you away from education a little bit and more to the direction of your background right now in terms of the industry, the music industry. “Ready For Love” of course, went supremely well and again congratulations on behalf of the TUMS. We hope more things to come from you and of course this interview. But is there a sense of trouble with smooth jazz right now?
r: I think …
Terrill: The genre itself?
Walter: I think the genre was in trouble from the beginning.
Walter: And I think that it’s because it’s so limited. Smooth jazz is a micro of the macro. It is controlled. And I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing or a good thing. It is what it is – it’s controlled. It’s very, very conservative. It’s by the numbers and you have to be on counters, counting the beans, that kind of thing. It’s a pop version of instrumental R&B. Whenever you have a pop version of anything you know usually it doesn’t last that long because you have a lot of mediocrity in the format. It really doesn’t matter what the content is, it matters what the perception of the content is. Now what’s happening is that people are getting tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. They get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. Taxes, taxes and taxes. Momma’s and Daddy’s and taxes. Daddy’s, Grandmama’s and taxes. How many times are you going to put that together? Until you just collapse the whole industry.
Terrill: That’s true because now, when you go to some of these concerts and festivals – The Saxes, Guitars tours are now being collaborated with Old School groups, Old School R&B groups, pardon me.
Terrill: And it seems like that’s the fans trying to you know push their envelope to the promoter to see some difference in entertainment.
Walter: Well you know what man? The truth be told people – know what they love. When you establish something, I think that the better smooth jazz players and the better smooth jazz singers will always have a career. They are planting the foundation of the community and the music that the community produced. When you can play that way like the “Be Thankful” album, I have a song called “I Miss You” that’s straight up R&B Old School, like ‘baby please come back home, bring your five kids with you and the three dogs’. People will relate to that – that’s life. When you have songs like that that you grew up with, you get to hear them and then all of a sudden, turn on the smooth jazz channel and have nothing. If you want a combination of nothing and stuff you grew up with, your emotions go from one end of the spectrum to the other. I think it’s a good move to have them like that. I think its an omen for smooth jazz unless they open up that play list and get some more songs in that recipe.
Terrill: Do you think the genre named ‘Smooth Jazz’ will be adjusted to lets say ‘Urban Jazz’ or ‘Instrumental R&B Jazz’?
Walter: We did that and we knew what that meant. That meant Gerald Albright, that meant Walter Beasley, that meant George Howard…
Terrill: Art Porter…
Walter: This is the perception now. We’re talking perception and they don’t want to change that perception because the core is looking for the household that makes 75,000. The advertisers want to see those people at the concerts and etc. It’s about the advertising! We don’t have any money but they call us “passive consumers”. Black people and brown people are passive consumers. They want to get their money quick and they want to target that kind of community. To give you an example: I was told by a promoter that I could not close a concert with a #1 record in the country. That’s #1! Actually….There’s different charts because of the demographics.
Walter: What does that tell you?
Terrill: What? That’s controlled and a lack of experience.
Walter: No. He’s a very seasoned promoter and what he’s saying is that basically his market has a whole lot of white people who listen and want to see a whole lot of white people playing saxophone. It’s not about the music. It wasn’t about the music and I wasn’t offended. Its just the business. Now on the flip side, we let this happen as urban musicians, as urban consumers, the whole nine. We let this happen. There was a time in our history where we supported our people. We supported our musicians. Everytime an “Earth, Wind & Fire” album, I don’t know about you – but every time an Earth, Wind and Fire album came out, I had it! I had it because it was good! I had it because it reflected who I was as a man, as a black man and every time Ronnie Laws’ album came out – I had it! Everytime George Duke came out – I had it. When Patrice Rushen came out – I had it. I supported concerts….EVERYTHING. We’re not doing that anymore.
Terrill: And the record sales speak volumes!
Walter: Right! When you put people who don’t play or sing that well up on pedestal, saying ‘this is the best we got’…, AH!….Come on man!
Terrill: It does take away the template. It does. It takes away the foundation. Because when I do think about contemporary jazz, I think about your music, I think about Grover Washington Jr. I think about the Crusaders, even though they were part fusion you know. I will even go back and talk about even Jeff Lorber. These guys and yourself have put out some tremendous projects that built the genre. Let’s say it took the contemporary jazz scene and pushed it into another genre, which is known as smooth jazz, which is not really growing.
Walter: Well ..
Walter: Well it’s not growing because they don’t care if it grows or not.
Terrill: So I guess my question to you Walter is – Because smooth jazz pushes a stake or an element of stagnancy, do you think urban jazz can come in and change it?
Walter: No, I think that urban jazz can come in and create a serious niche. I think that as long as you can get a foothold in then that’s all you need because if ‘you build it, then they will come!’
Terrill: There it is …
Walter: That’s what I know. I don’t worry about my career so much. Well actually, I never worry about it. People are like ‘Whoa’, record sales are bad, what are you going to do – especially my enemies – record sales are down, are you going to retire? I’m like, please – I’m fine. All you got to do is, as long as you’re rooted in the fundamentals of the music, like you said, the community is our community. It was the one that started the whole instrumental R&B. We sanctioned this. If you take it out of the community, you got to call it something else to get other people interested. So that’s okay! But it’s not really going to be what it’s supposed to be and this is not just smooth jazz. This happened with R&B and rock ‘n roll. I mean we seen this before, so the pattern is basically the business model after rock ’n roll and R&B. I mean Kenny G, can’t hold my neck strap, but yet you know he’s the #1 seller in the world. Elvis Presley couldn’t touch Little Richard but who sold more records?
Walter: It’s the same thing. Same format and you can’t get emotional about it. That’s my point. I have black f
ans, brown fans, white fans, but they love me because I’m honest about the music. I’m honest about the presentation and something about me speaks to the humanity of everybody and that’s what black music does or urban music does.
Terrill: Absolutely. Hey man I got another one for you, a beautiful question to ask you Walter: You have seemed to enjoy working with a lot of kids, students and a lot of people in general. Who in jazz, right now, would you love in a dream job to collaborate with? Be on stage on a project? Anyone that you definitely, other than Branford Marsalis of course. Anybody that you’re listening to out there that’s getting your attention?
Walter: You know I like this kid named Raul Midon. Have you heard of him?
Terrill: No, what’s his name?
Walter: I think its Raul Midon (M-I-D-O-N). A fabulous guitarist/singer. He is incredible! I like him! I listen to XM, I listen to the Groove and the channels and stuff like that. I listen to the stuff that I mediate to. So I like Raul Midon. There’s not really much, but see, that’s the thing. The industry is so controlled that you don’t really get a chance to hear some really new exciting stuff because it’s out there. What I do know is that – to give you an example: I have a song on my record called “Land of the Sun”. I’m on myspace (.com) perusing just looking around I hear this sweet gorgeous rhythm, I email this guy and say ‘Look, my name is Walter Beasley’ and he said, ‘Yeah I know who you are?’…‘Look, there this track you have, I would like to put a melody to it and maybe put on an album’. He flips! So I write the melody to his thing, I fly it over to his thing, he puts it on a thing. He flies the tracks back to me, and we record the album, record the song without even looking at it each other. Don’t even know what he look like. So my point is that it’s a new day, it’s a new way. There are ways to make money with people from around the world from different cultures as long as you remain grounded and rooted in what you do best. That basically is what I do. I don’t really worry about smooth jazz. If its going to crash or whatever because I know that I am rooted in the music and the foundation. I will stand the test of anything that comes our way. That’s the great thing about being rooted in the fundamentals of urban music or African American music. If you have those fundamentals, no matter if you’re white, brown or whatever, if you learn how to play and express yourself and historically respect those elements. You’ll be prepared for anything that comes up musically.
Terrill: Cool! Just before we close on this interview, there’s some videos you got man that I saw on your website that have released on some music education DVDs.
Walter: Yes! Those are for sale! I actually have one called “Hip Hop Improvisation”. There’s also “Sound Production For The Saxophone Vocal Performance.” We’re talking about voice the other day, I said ‘these are designed to help people learn how to help people hone their skills and better their musicianship’s without spending a whole lot of money for some stuff that may be useless.’
Terrill: OK! I tell you what man, it’s awesome to see your DVDs of this nature out there that could be used to. …
Walter: I’m the first one to do! This is the first one. I was talking to somebody the other day who said ‘Walter, I want to do what you’re doing’. They said, ‘Walter, you’re the only one doing it’. I said, ‘Ohh shoot!’ Because see my school is not that happy about me doing it. See they have an online school. It’s all white. They’re trying to do again what they did in 1940. Take black music and put it online so that white kids can buy it from white teachers and white kids ain’t going for it.
Terrill: That’s right!
Walter: The other thing also: I’m telling the black teachers don’t get mad at the white schools, don’t get mad at your white colleagues. They’re just trying to make a dollar. This is your music. You get out there and make the same product and say ‘look this is the way it should be taught’ – ‘this is the way it should be sung’ – ‘this is the way it should be played’ and do it. You don’t have to make as much money as them, just pay your electric bill.
Terrill: What’s also about it too is the convenience.
Terrill: As much as many of the High, Middle & Elementary schools are lacking music programs, this will enable a parent(s), themselves, to just dish out a couple of dollars and go grab the DVD and allow the kids to learn from the comfort of their home.
Walter: Thank you! And it empowers the teacher to own their own material. You know it’s nothing like waking up in the morning and clicking on the Internet and finding out that you sold 20 DVDs while you slept! Educational DVDs. I tell teachers all the time ‘look!’ A lot of these people are not coming to me because I’m who I am or the other – they’re coming to me because there’s content they want to learn. That they want to know how to do, what I do, but only better! As a musician, not an artist or not as an entertainer, but just as a musician. So you have to find a market out there for people who know what they’re doing. You have to know what you’re doing. I mean, that’s my baby! Like I said before, www.walterbeasley.com will hopefully be a place in the next year or so where people would go and just know they could go there and get something and leave with something they didn’t have before.
Terrill: Right on man! Hopefully that will give more than just the music, but also the education and the definitely the promotion!
Walter: The education sold more than “Ready for Love” on my site and get 11,000 hits a month.
Walter: I just checked it yesterday, and I was like, that can’t be right! I mean, all of them are not staying, but that’s 11,000 hits! That means I am #1 on Google when you type up my name! Its out there man!
Terrill: And it’s growing …
Walter: Brothers and Sisters are just trained to look to the white man for their source of income.
Terrill: Right …
Walter: And that’s what we have to try change in Berkeley. Yes, AFAD & I are having a problem right now because I’m saying, ‘look’…They’re trying to get a course established at the institution of African American history and so on, etc. What I’m trying to tell them is hey look the white institution. You may get the course but its not going to be taught the way it should be, because the container is owned by the white man. Why don’t you, why don’t we develop a curriculum. Either to sell it or offer it for free, online, as an addendum to the stuff we teach inside the institution. That way, we can just send the students an extra credit assignment or etc, etc. You know what I’m saying? It’s simple. But we don’t want to do the work. I’m like, so ya’ll don’t want to do the work. That’s cool! I got business to tend to and I got to do my thing. And so now we’re having, you know its growing pains, that’s all. I got to go too.
Terrill: You know man we need a part 2 of this.
Walter: That would be great bro.
Terrill: Part 2 of this is coming my Brother! Thank you so much for your time.
Walter: Thank you for the opportunity. Its’ really been a pleasure and thank you for your support.
Terrill: Absolutely man I’ll talk to you later.
Walter: All right man!
The Urban Music Scene