Jason Miles and Global Noize Keep The Music Expanding
In the case of veteran jazz keyboardist/producer/arranger/songwriter Jason Miles is concerned, once was not enough. An interview regarding his performance at the 29th Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland led to a discussion of his next project, Global Noize. The album, which blossomed out of a working relationship with DJ Logic includes guests John Popper, Billy Martin, Karl Denson, Cyro Baptista, Vernon Reid, MeShell Ndegeocello, Herb Alpbert and Christian Scott.
Global Noize is among five releases that Miles has worked on over the past year — Soul Summit, a chronicle of a performance at last year’s Berks Jazz Fest with guests Susan Tedeschi, Denson, Steve Ferrone and Richard Elliot; Enjoy by Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, which offers jazz interpretations of Bjork’s material; a sequel to his Grover Washington Jr. tribute album, To Grover, With Love, and an album for country artist Suzy Bogguss.
On April 5, Miles performed a world premiere concert with the Global Noize band at the Berks Jazz Fest. The line up that night included Bernie Worrell, Jeff Coffin, Ndegeocello and Scott.
Several weeks later, selections from the album were showcased at The Howlin’ Wolf during New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. This time Martin, Oteil Burbridge, Bernie Worrell, Christian Scott, Topaz and Carl Burnett joined Miles, Logic and Denson.
With a positive reaction for its world-unity-through-music aesthetic and interest in Global Noize growing, more live dates are being planned for later in 2008.
“We’re stepping out of the box with something different and the scene desperately needs something interesting,” said Miles whose career history includes working with Miles Davis, Michael Brecker, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, David Sanborn among others and a catalog of albums that re-interpreted the music of jazz and r&b legends.
“Just seeing the audience reaction to our shows was fantastic. And I know there’s something there.”
JPG: DJ Logic contributed to a couple of your previous albums (tributes to Marvin Gaye and Miles Davis). Now, with Global Noize you collaborate on an entire album.
JM: What happened was that I had a couple of very bad weeks, about September 2006. Just very bad. Death in the family, somebody very close. My friend, Michael Brecker, I don’t mind talking about it now, wrote me and told me he was going back into the hospital cause he had leukemia. I’ve been with him for so long. He’d been a great friend with me over my whole life and career. And then I had a professional situation that wasn’t working out. Top it all off, I had to have a root canal.
And then DJ Logic, out of nowhere, calls me right after the root canal and said, Hey, what are you doing tonight?’
I’m going, hopefully, to drink a little, couple glasses of wine and forget all about this.’
You want to play the Blue Note with me?’
The Blue Note. Isn’t Dee Dee Bridgewater playing?’
No. I’m doing the late night jam.’
Really? What time?’
So, I looked at my wife and I said, What do you think?’ She goes, We’re definitely doing that. There’s no doubt about it.’ I said, Okay.’ And we did two nights there and it was really beautiful, man. It was different. And I just said, There’s something here. There’s really something here.’ I started talking to a friend of mine, really talking to him about what I thought of the project and everything like that. I said, It has a different element to it almost a global noise’ kind of thing. My wife said, There’s the name of your band.’
I played the music of Marvin Gaye in Morocco. And after we did that we went to Marrakesh for few days. And that just totally twisted our brains. It was amazing.
JPG: On a podcast interview you said, “It altered the way you think about life in a lot of ways.”
JM: Yeah, it did.
JPG: Was it something you saw or just…
JM: Yeah, you were in the middle of it. Say, you go to Europe. See the Italians. Yeah, it’s different, but it’s still westernized and you still think that it’s our tie to Europe. You’re in an industrial country. You’re not out of the realm of things that are different in your life. But now, you’re in Marrakesh man. You’re in the desert, and we’re staying outside of the city in the palmary, all these trees and plants and the incredible food we’re eating. And then we go into the city. We go to these gardens and then we wind up in the middle of the medina (_note:_ non-European part of a northern African city Merriam-Webster), man, with this beautiful guide that’s taking us around and with snake charmers and dancers and all these people; another side of life.
And I realize the world is so different, man. Everybody is so different and yet there are so many things that can bring us together that we don’t really realize. We’re not the ugly Americans. There are the ugly Americans out there, but that’s not us. Everybody that helped us, we realized that $10 to some of these people is big. So, we tipped well. People were into the way that we were thinking. We came together with people. We went and took the picture of the album cover in the desert with these camels. The guys walked over to us, We would take pictures with our camels.’ So we’d pay them. Oh, thank you.’ Thank you because we used what you have.’ People think they can just go ahead and keep on taking pictures, but that’s how they make their living. The culture was so different and the music was amazing there.
Then I see, we can do this project, man, and bring all these people from all over the world in. It was pretty deep.
JPG: With all the special guests you have on the album and the main core of musicians that play in the Global Noize project, is that the hardest thing, to get everybody together?
JM: You have to have a longer lead-time. I didn’t go, Oh, next week’ We have to go, Four months from now what do we have going on?’ We’re looking at like 09 European Festivals, the summer, hopefully, and some other stuff.
JPG: Is it something where you have a room full of managers or just a bunch of musicians getting out their day-planners?
JM: That’s what we have to do. The thing not to keep your eye off is that it is a business and we’re trying to turn Global Noize into a brand name. We have work ahead of us to do. The public has to help us, too. They have to buy the album. They have to get behind what we’re doing. I just realized that the album is just the tool to let people know that we’re here.
JPG: Going with the idea of brand name, I keep seeing references going back and forth. So, just to make sure, is Global Noize a group or a Jason Miles/DJ Logic album?
JM: It’s a Jason Miles and DJ Logic group and album. It’s our entity. That’s what it is. I keep on going back and forth myself about the world needs this music and this group. It needs a fresh break out. We’re trying to be there to give it. We did it in New Orleans. The people freaked out over us. It was great.
Billy Martin on drums. Oteil Burbridge on bass. Karl Denson on sax and flute. Bernie Worrell. Myself and Logic, Carl Burnett on guitar. Falu on vocals. And Topaz on sax and harmonica.
JPG: Familiar with all of them but Falu until I listened to the album.
JM: Falu, she’s an incredible singer. We’re going to bring her around with us because that’s what makes it a whole nother vibe.
JPG: An other worldly
JM: Yes. That’s what it’s supposed to be. The whole album is supposed to be. We’ve created these grooves, but look at the music we’ve created around it. How can I say it? It’s not your typical jamband kind of vibe. This project is brought together through a lot of experience.
JPG: I read in an announcement for the New Orleans gig that you were going to perform two sets.
JM: No. We did one long set.
JPG: Was it just the album or did you have new material?
JM: No new material. We haven’t even played this material. You know what I mean? Let’s get to this thing first. Let’s go and expand it and see where we can take these songs cause they’re all so workable, to take us to many different places. Let’s get there first and as we get there, we’ll see where we go with the next batch of material.
We did seven songs and it was two hours, but nobody lost interest. The crowd loved it even more cause of the virtuosity of the musicians. Kept the music expanding. That’s what it was about.
JPG: As far as the musicians, because of everyone’s busy schedule are you able to get together and rehearse or
JM: It’s a matter of trying to get together and gel. When we did the Berks we were able to get together a few times and rehearse. When we did New Orleans we were not with Billy and Oteil and Carl. We rehearsed right at the venue. It was rough. We still made it amazing.
JPG: As far as the core people on the album, how did you go about choosing and bringing in special guests?
JM: We sat and we actually said, Who would be the right person to play on this thing?’ And then we think about it and then we call. And that’s it. I mean, I wish it was a bigger answer. But it isn’t. Who would be really great on this tune?’ Well, we have “The Souk,” what do you think about John Popper playing harmonica? He’s in town today and he said he would do it.’ That’s a great idea. Let’s do it.’
JPG: As far as the writing, I read that you started with Cyro Baptista and Billy Martin jamming in the studio and built up the tracks from there. Is that pretty much how it all came about?
JM: Not the whole thing. Some of it I had some chord structure ideas on “Exotic Thoughts” and “Pool of Honey.” We had some ideas on that. And then I was home, I played some stuff for Logic and, all of a sudden, he was sitting at the keyboard and started playing this bass line. It was like, Whoa, check that out, man. That works.’ The most important thing on the record is create the space and have every bit of space make sense. And that’s what it’s about. When in doubt don’t put anything in there.
JPG: And “A Jam 4 Joe” (dedicated to jazz great Joe Zawinul of Weather Report and The Zawinul Syndicate), why did you include that number here rather than, as you have in the past, include it as part of an entire album dedicated to him?
JM: That one just organically came together, and it felt like a Joe Zawinul vibe. It could have been something that he would have dug. Maybe it’s a futuristic type of Weather Report vibe, where we would put vocals in it and groove, keep it open and just go there and play.
JPG: Doesn’t it seem fitting that on an album that’s meant to represent in some small way the world you do a number that offers a nod to Zawinul, a jazz musician originally from Austria, and a performer who traveled around the world?
JM: I knew him for 30 years. Sometimes I think making a statement about somebody in a song is better than making a whole album about them, depending on what the story is. When I do an album like I’m doing this album now, the follow up version of my album To Grover With Love. I’m doing it because I feel like I can take that music and expand it and turn it into something really great. Joe Zawinul, I think it’s coming up with some improvisatory piece like that is a big enough statement to make.
JPG: At Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland, your concert is titled, “Celebrating the Music of Marvin Gaye and Motown,” with special guests DJ Logic, Bobby Caldwell, Walter Beasley, Kevin Mahogany, Maysa, Walter Beasley and Nick Colionne. Tell me about the concept behind playing Marvin Gaye’s music.
JM: The way that I have to go with the thing isn’t like some tribute show. This is a fresh view of Marvin Gaye and Motown with interesting grooves. A very tight knit group of musicians that go and get into groove arrangements of it, try to update it to 2008 and bring the vibe of…not only that but why the music is so important now because it is.
After (sings) “Wonderful One,” “Ain’t that Peculiar?” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Then, all of a sudden, “What’s Goin’ On” happened and he figured it out. The war. How many black people died in Vietnam? There’s so many black people that didn’t go to college, they got drafted. Not only that, “Inner City Blues,” “What’s Goin’ On” “Mercy Mercy Me.” The issues of the time that were so relevant. Now here we are 38 years later and the shit hasn’t changed. Worse.
JM: A little bit of a prophet here. And I looked at it and the idea came to me the night of the Presidential Debate in 2004. I was at Martha’s Vineyard 2004 the night of the first Presidential Debate between Bush and Kerry. I’m not going to hide the fact that I’m very, very tired on a social level, which the music means something to me on that level. I’m very, very tired on a social level of If you don’t support the war, then you’re not supporting our troops.’ I don’t buy into that bullshit. I buy into that they were told to do a job and they’re going to do a job and they’re doing the bidding of these people. And I was down on the war from the very beginning. When we had to go door to door in Baghdad, do you know how big Baghdad is, man? Baghdad is like bigger than Brooklyn, bigger than Cleveland. We’re bringing our guys in there and they have to go door to door with these people. I wouldn’t want to be doing that.
So, all of a sudden, the debate is coming up and I’m at this restaurant at Martha’s Vineyard. As I’m eating, this guy starts playing all these Marvin Gaye songs. “What’s Goin’ On.” “Inner City Blues,” “I Want You.” “Trouble Man.” This wave came over my head. No joke, man. This whole vibe came over me. I sat up and I walked outside of the restaurant with my food there. It was expensive too. I start thinking about this. I could do this record. I could make this album happen. I started thinking about “I Want You” with a bossa nova. Getting these different people involved. How can I make this album really great?
I owed Narada a record on the right of first refusal. They were into it and I made the record for them. It was my view of Marvin Gaye. Then, I did a show and it was really great. It was like my view of how the Marvin Gaye vibe was. That’s where I’m at right now. I think it’s an ever-continuing process. It’s an every continuing project. It’s music that should really stay in the consciousness of America just because so many artists aren’t in that consciousness. We have certain artists, like the Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam, but I can’t see Kanye West doing some Marvin Gaye or making an album, you know what I mean? It’s all about how much money everybody is making. Marvin was to what the social consciousness was.
JPG: Over the past year you’ve been moving from project to project to project. Using a quote of yours. “It’s boring to do the same thing all the time.”
JM: Yeah, it is. I want to tell you something man. Playingyou know what, I’m coming to Cleveland. I’m going to walk onstage. I’m playing for free, okay. I don’t have to get paid for playing. I want to get paid for all the other shit that I go through to make it happen and bring it to perfection. It’s the preparation to making it into brilliance. That’s the hard work.
JPG: You’re always involved in projects with a number of different musicians participating.
JM: I have a great time challenging other great artists to go and raise their level to the music and to be a part of something that is bigger than just one person.
JPG: Also, in the artists that you highlight and the styles you incorporate you don’t see genre.
JM: No, I don’t see genre. I even produced [country artist] Suzy Bogguss from Nashville. We crossed genres with the record, man. It just rose into the higher stratosphere of music in such a beautiful record that’s got such a long shelf life, because the songs are wonderful and the way we did it is wonderful music in its purest sense. It’s timeless. That’s what I learned from all the people I’ve played with over the years and worked with over the years, just about what it means to put music out there forever.
JPG: Is that something that came about as a by-product from growing up in Brooklyn and the surrounding boroughs or was it something that you gained through going to college and session work and…
JM: It first starts there because if you’re growing up in New York and you’re into something, well what are you into? Well, you’re into jazz, you’re into pop, you’re into r&b, you’re into all the different musics of the neighborhood. Growing up in the 60s, there really weren’t that many musical rules. There were crappy songs around then, but around those songs were also some amazing songs that were out there.
I have a jones for a group right now from the 60s that I’m really getting into, that I realize Holy Shit! these guys were really, really good and they were just one of the bands then, and that was the Fifth Dimension. The Fifth Dimension was fantastic! God they could sing. Marilyn McCoo, what a voice, man! You listen back and go, That was a timeless voice and timeless vibes.’ We don’t have any of that. And the music is timeless. That’s why I can go back. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, I have listened to that album once a month for the last, I don’t know, 40 years, and it sounds amazing to me. That’s what it’s all about.
I think that what happened was I was very, very prepped growing up about what kind of music to listen. My father, a truck driver at his business, listened to salsa all the time. He was a Puerto Rican guy. Then, I loved funk and James Brown and everything. Loved Jazz. Wes Montgomery was the first. I went to the Fillmore East. I loved the Paul Butterfield Blues Band there. The Grateful Dead. Traffic. All these bands, man. I loved the bubblegum pop, also. And then coming back from college in the Midwest to New York, all of a sudden my sophistication of music…Bitches Brew had come out. All of this stuff was to go and probe more, and now into the middle of more international music. I meet all these Brazilians. I meet all of these people and your musical vocabulary grows because you want to grow.
JPG: Not everybody does that. For example, a blues artist often stays solely within the framework of the blues
JM: Not everybody’s meant to do that. Not everybody’s meant to go out there and be a traveler and probe and go into other things. That’s okay, but you look at it and you say, What sandbox do you want to play in?’ I want to play in the big sandbox. I want to work with lots of people. I want to be a part of lots of incredible music and there’s stuff that just makes me excited.
JPG: Looking at your career, I can see the idea of playing in a big sandbox…
JM: The whole thing is when you really base it around that; it’s not a very good way to think about making a living in America because in America it’s about how can we make everything generic? A company like Apple, that’s so beautiful, man. They make products like that, but you’re still able to personalize them. Then, everything else you haveit’s like you’re in the middle of Manhattan, 42nd street to 54th Street between 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue. How many different Italian restaurants can you go into? Lots. And lots of good ones. Why is everybody eating at the fuckin’ Olive Garden on 46th Street on Times Square?!?!?
It should be empty. What the fuck is Red Lobster doing there? You know what I mean? C’mon man. Well, we feel comfortable. It’s not like you’re in a foreign country and you’re eating at McDonalds because you’re okay with it. There’s even a McDonalds in Marrakesh!
So, you say, Why can’t people go and take chances? Why can’t people try other things that are new and different? Isn’t that what life is supposed to be about? Experience? Not about doing the same shit over and over again. Many people do the same shit over and over again, every day. When are you going to try something different?’ That’s my way of thinking.
JPG: Now, how that relates to music, there’s an interview I read where you were talking about the commercial pressure in jazz. And not meaning to beat up specifically on him, but it was interesting to have you recount how Kenny G played one way live and when “Songbird” took off there was that commercial pressure of jazz musicians to sound and play in a manner like that.
JM: This isn’t a negative about Kenny G. He made this album. It sold 14 million copies. Now, every record company is going, Well, we can find the next Kenny G and sell millions of records ourselves.’ And, all of a sudden, that’s the standard, not realizing that it’s an anomaly. Norah Jones. The same thing. Have you heard Norah’s last album? It wasn’t exactly something that made me jump for joy.
JPG: I do give her credit for not repeating the first album again and again.
JM: But that’s what she is. It wasn’t that much of a drift. When you’re an artist like that based around great songseverything is based around great songs and we don’t have great songs.
JPG: Do you see a shift or is it a blip when Herbie Hancock won the Grammy for Album of the Year?
JM: I’d like to hope it’s a shift but I do think it’s a blip because number one Herbie is Herbie and he’s brilliant. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it wasn’t hard work making that album, but for Herbie to sit down there and re-interpret those songs like that isn’t a big stretch for him. That’s what he does. Now, is what he does a beautiful, amazing thing, deconstructing those tunes and bringing them around as an impressionistic painting? Yes. But that’s what it is. When he sits down at the piano, that’s what’s happening. Not everybody knows how to do that. Not even close to know how to do that.
All I’m saying is will the paradigm shift because of that? I don’t think so because the radio won’t play it. People are saying it because it was so cool and so different and so beautifully interesting. And who better can put that across than Herbie? These are my heroes. Quincy Jones, Herbie
JPG: Now, if you could step back from yourself, what would you say are the strengths of Jason Miles and what is he still working on as a musician and person?
JM: I love it. I feel like I’m in the locker room of a sports team. Jason Miles says. What are the strengths of him? The strengths are a 32 year career in the music business and a lifetime of studying and always being a student of music and life experience…and not scared to take chances that I believe are right. Planting the right seeds to watch them grow. To take time, and to make it so everything worked because I never will mess with what I put out there for the public. I want to put out the very best product, the very best show, the very best thing that I can put out there for them because they deserve it. Their lives are hard enough, and I need to provide some moments that make them think as well as make them have a good time.
It’s a commitment. It’s not bullshit. I’m not a rich guy. I’m rich in many ways. I’m not wealthy in money. It’s very difficult in our business right now to really go and make things. The music business is going in a different space. The economy, the whole deal. What can I do? Just try to be me.