Our Conversation with Bob Baldwin

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Interview with Mr. Bob Baldwin…

Mr. Baldwin: Hey Man, I’m just doing my thing, right down here in the Dirty South (Atlanta), if you will. I’m doing some music consultant work for WCLK right now, just having fun with that and playing music. Life is good, man!

TH: Alright, Alright…. and everything’s good in Atlanta?

B.B.: Everything’s good Man! You know my quote, bro. “Just doing what you love no matter where you are, and run from the stress every step of the way!! That stuff will kill you!!”

TH: That’s good to know! Hey Bob, I wanted to ask you: Now that you are an upfront pusher of one of the hottest genre’s in the game, Urban Jazz, how would you compare Urban Jazz to the likes of Smooth Jazz & Contemporary Jazz?

B.B.: I think Urban Jazz picks up where Contemporary Jazz had gotten thrown off in the mid-90’s, up from the 70’s. At this point, 25-30 years with Grover, The Crusaders, etc…they were on top of their game! It seems right around the mid 90’s, it was taboo to put back in vocals on an instrumental record & the game started to change real quick. So, where Urban Jazz drops in – we are going to reclaim the things people like in their music & put a line of R&B back into the forefront without compromising the instrumental quality of what jazz always had to offer…I also think it is a broader audience (Radio people, trust me on this!)….there’s been a few examples of artists topping the SJ chart, but when you go into the sales reports, these records ain’t selling and that’s killing the genre!! Radio and Record folk need to get back on the path of re-enlightenment…..we all need to get back to radio airplay of artist generating a vibe at retail. The last couple of CD’s have been a little quiet for me, mostly because of label disintegration…..a440 filing bankruptcy, 215 going south, Narada getting swallowed up, etc….but even with all of that kind of drama, sometimes my records come out with less than deserving airplay, but I kick butt at retail because people dig what I do.

TH: Do you think Urban Jazz would become more appealing to our youths? Our young listeners?

B.B.: I think that the Urban Jazz genre will quickly connect with the 18-25 year olds. It should be able to give them an opportunity to understand where & what Jazz is. It definitely can be used, The urban flavor…the caveat, to help bring the kids in because that’s what they relate to. That’s what radio has been broadcasting the last 10-15 years. In my opinion, the way Hip-Hop has evolved, and the exposure that those lyrics have been getting eyeballed by the Label Exec’s – which is kind of in a crash & burn status right now with the advent of Imus & Sharpton, they are going to need a voice real soon about the meaning of what they are promoting. And with the increase of the Baby-Boomers in effect, I think Urban Jazz is definitely the answer. It gives them the majority of Jazz & it helps to keep some of that funk that we still love from the 70’s.

TH: Right on! RIGHT ON!! So hey, is that pretty much your premise for the release of the “Soul Providers” project last year?

B.B.: Yes, ‘Soul Providers” was basically the same concept that Kim Waters had with ‘Streetwise’ & Hidden Beach did with “Unwrapped” (Vol. 1-4), Except, not everybody tryied to acknowledge that Hip-Hop & Rap, in its truest form, came out of the Northeast region – Brooklyn & The Bronx. I grew up listening to that stuff, along with everything else that I was clinging on to. It seems that there was no instrumental hip-hop records coming out of the East Coast. “Soul Providers” was one of the 1st, or the only, to come out of there. Kim Waters stuff came out of the Atlantic region & Charles Whitfield’s “Unwrapped” coming out of the West Coast. But this is the only one that has come out of Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a provider of the original rap music scene!! You can’t do hip-hop jazz without recognizing Brooklyn and the boogie down (Bronx)…that’s the true home of Hip-Hop!

TH:That’s Right! Brooklyn is in the HO– — — USE!

B.B.: Yeah, No Doubt!!

TH: Brooklyn is in the house! With the “Soul Providers” release, I’m sure with the covers you have done…And by the way, that was a very good project my Brother!

B.B.: Thank You Man! I wish the label had supported it just a little bit to it than what it was supposed to be because the music is on point! Case in point, we had a KILLER version of “Ordinary People” with my friend Nelson Rangell….to the point that on George Benson’s latest version, they bit a little of my arrangement on the chorus. I was flattered, but it confirmed to me that BB is on point again. The Benson version of same went top 10 and that CD caught a couple of Grammy’s.
Are you guys looking forward to coming together again?
A Vol. 2?

B.B.: There is a follow up in place. I’m not sure which record label will be involved.

TH: Koch has been responsible for putting out some great releases! Thats’ a good thing! Are you going to be touring anytime soon?

B.B.: What I am doing right now, I’m trying to put some finishing touches on this day-to-day project that I have been working on for the last couple of years called “Memoirs On The Hudson” & it was recorded up in New York, right on the Hudson River – about 20 miles north of the city. I am trying to get that done 1st & then finish this other record. There is 2 ways I can describe this new album – what I call ‘Hip-Hop’ to Jazz is Latin; The other variation to that is if Quincy Jones was 25 living in a keyboard-driven times of today, this is the kind of music he would be doing. His orchestral ear is still pertinent, but the application changes, kind of what he did with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”….still a masterpiece!!!

TH:Now THAT’S what I am talking about! If anything, you are trying to revolutionize the game!

B.B.: Exactly! And keep the music in the mist of R&B, in my opinion of which it is very much watered down (R&. The kids nowadays will want to learn how to play an instrument and get back to the basics.. They get behind a drum machine nowadays, push a couple of buttons, & think they are doing something. It’s a little deeper than a loop and a few knobs. It’s still has to get back to music, harmony, pitch, rhythm, etc….

TH: Right!

B.B.: This is the primary reason as to why Janet Jackson went from Jam & Lewis to Jermaine Dupri and that combination not working. You got Jermaine who doesn’t know how to layer harmonies & voices as to where (Jimmy) Jam & (Terry) Lewis make very beautiful music and were a perfect match for JJ. She’s need that extra weight, not just a drum groove and a hook…but hey, love makes you do some deep things (laughs!)

Jam & Lewis has been in the game for a very long time! They prod
uced another Hip-Hop 12″ classic of all-time “Bad Times” from back in the early 80’s! Which is from New York I believe! Is that something you might want to cover on your next project? (chuckles)

B.B.: I might have to go & check that one out! I haven’t heard that one in a while!

TH: A Hip Hop classic from the 80’s!

B.B.: That’s great tunes, Man…Great Tunes! Jam & Lewis, they know how to build a record from the ground up. They always had funky bass, good drum tracks, the harmonies were bangin’, people was singing in key – HELLO!

TH: HEH! All right Now!

B.B.: Can I get a right key here please?? (LAUGHTER) I have this thing about being off key; this kind of stuff drives me off the road! Otherwise, I get dizzy in the head…start switching lanes and stuff!!

TH: I hear you, I hear you! And that’s the purpose of our discussion – Your discography runs deep! Not only with the urban jazz flavor of the month coming up, but Man, you had some quality jazz-funk work back in the day. What’s’ it like to participate in the game back in the 80’s-90’s in comparison to today’s game? Did you have more fun back then, or now?

B.B.: I think I had – There’s a lot more work being done now. I had a lot more fun back then! Back in the 80’s, there was a Mayor in New York by the name of Ed Koch. Ed Koch decided to re-enact a law that had been dormant on the books since the 1920’s called “The Caberet Law”. And right around 1987, he decided he wanted to re-enact ‘The Cabriolet Law’ which states that there cannot be more than 3 musicians on stage at once!


B.B. He brought that back! Prior to that, there was the Big Band, The jazz scene in New York was vibrant. Afterwards. ‘The Cabaret Law’ came in & ‘killed’ the Big Band scene! Took hundreds of cats right out of work, Brother! Right around 1987-88! The one club that got affected to most was called “Mikells” – one of the hippest spots around NY on 95th and Columbus – a place as to where I’ve witnessed some of the best jazz that I had ever seen! I used to go down there & see Richard Tee, with Anthony Jackson, Michel Camilo, and Steve Gadd…

TH: Those are some badd cats Brotha!

B.B.: Oh man!

TH: I still have most of their collections off CTI Records with Creed Taylor & more!

B.B.: Oh Yeah! Richard Tee was one of the best groovers I had ever heard in my entire life! And for Michel Camilo – just as he was coming in from Argentina – we went to the New York jazz club, He flew in on the set & just ‘killed’ it man!! The 1st trio was Anthony Jackson and Steve Gadd…The 2nd set was Michel Camilo, Dave Weckyl, & Anthony Jackson….then Joel Rosenblatt and Anthony…SMOKIN!! That club was eventually replaced with a building owned by Leona Helmsley. That’s how crazy that was!!!

TH: Those cats were Badd!

B.B.: So..these clubs were getting in the way of construction of these big tall Skyscrapers & Condominiums. When they put this Cabaret law in, the jazz clubs started fading out & made us move on man

TH: Did you experience a lot of success in your earlier recordings considering how Contemporary Jazz was on the move in the 80’s?

B.B: The Contemporary Jazz scene was very big between ’88-’95, especially in New York. It was kind of the original spot, man before Smooth moved West. Sanborn was doing sessions with Carly Simon and Steve Gadd was hanging out with Paul Simon. The jazz cats could play anything with anyone and that was the NY scene…..of course, before the Cabaret kicked everybody’s butt….In that period, when a radio station played your single, they played it because it was good! Because it was good, people would go buy your record.

TH: No Payola?

B.B.: I’m sure there was, but I don’t believe it was a crazy as it is right now! Frankie Crocker played the record first because it was GOOD….He stayed on Frankie Beverly’s Joy and Pain for a year before it broke national…primarily because he believed in the tune. That’s was College radio is about, man. Playing the consistently good music, going deep into a record so people can experience the record. The SJ singles format has limitations and it robs people of what’s happening on the record. I’ve had success in Jacksonville, Bermuda and now in Atlanta and the listeners are responding. I have the savvy of radio combined with musicianship and I have track records in Contemporary and Smooth, so the credibility is there. I’m not just a keyboard player imposing my favorites on people, but pick music that’s pleasing to the soul and earlobes, bro. Play the tunes and let the PEOPLE decide!!

TH: Right!

B.B. If you were to sell a record right now, you would be lucky to move 20,000 copies man! That’s sad!

TH: That is sad!

B.B.: That kills the whole genre! Because you have, a record/song taking up all the space on radio that’s not moving any copies. It’s killing everybody!

TH: You know it’s said; sometimes you have too fall in order to get back up. Do you feel this is a good time to revive Jazz for what it is?

B.B.: Yes. I think the record labels, right now, are confused about how they think songs are radio ready, when they are not selling records & I think radio stations should be recognizing what should be radio ready based on their advertisers. They have got to understand that if you are playing a record that is not selling, the labels will not be able to furnish a radio station new product. Its a really nasty cycle. If you got an industry that is not selling records, then there will be cutbacks & eventually, cutbacks affecting the artist(s). So, everybody suffers when the records are not selling. Then you have the whole digital thing coming in like iTunes & digital downloads, it still hasn’t stopped. The other thing is that if an artist is not getting airplay, it hurts their portfolio, even though they are commercially worthy, so radio has to pick the single that not only is popular at radio and fits their whole agenda, but also gets people to buy the disc and keep this genre more hipper. That’s what’s up at other genres. Stations play the music and the consumer buys in bulk. We have to follow that model a little more closely because our audience is hip, smart, technologically affluent, intelligent, and cool!!

TH: But I tell you what Bob, when you come back out to play, it’s going to be ON & it’s going to be CRACKIN’! Because this is the perfect opportunity now for jazz artists like yourself, especially you because you have been in the game. And you are from the Old School Baby! The Jordan Music Group & your fans already know, when you come back….you are going to BRING IT!

B.B: I’m definitely going to come & bring it! It will more than just Urban Jazz. It will also include Gospel Jazz, Straight-ahead…it will be a little bit of everything! All different kinds! I love confusing the critics….like Quincy did…from Big Band to Thriller….How about what Q says, “There’s only two kinds of music, good and bad!!” As evidenced at WCLK radio, there’s a lot of good music out there! There’s going to be good quality & as an artist and record label, if your are going to spend $15 dollars, don’t give them 2-3 good songs, give them the whole record man!

TH: Hello! That’s what sold albums back in the day! The completion of an album!

B.B.: That’s right! You put the record on & just leave it! Just let it play! Let it go the whole hour! Let an artist evolve, man. People dig that kind of evolution. I hate labels and being pigeonholed. Watch my next few discs and check out all of the directions they take. That’s me, man. Quincy, Miles, Sanborn, Aretha, Marcus, Duke, George Duke, Funkadelic, Wynton Kelly, Herbie, Oscar, Brazil, Africa, NY Latin music…..All of that is what and who I am –
they just come out in different phases but when you see the discography in whole, you’ll capture all of those nuances that is BB!!

TH: Bob, thanks for your time & May God Bless Ya’ Man! We Love You! Please keep the music coming & we look forward to a part 2 of our discussion Brother!

B.B.: Sounds like a winner! Thanks for the opportunity of being heard, brother. Much continued success!!

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