Saying KC-based jazz musician, arranger and composer Marcus Lewis has played with the greats is an understatement. Whether supporting moderns legends such as Janelle Monae, Aretha Franklin and Prince, among others, or producing his own music with local hip-hop luminaries Kemet the Phantom and Kadesh Flow, Lewis's life is deeply rooted in music. He is also the founder of Future Jazz KC, which is "dedicated to inspiring young minds through jazz." In this interview Marcus Lewis delves into all of these subjects and more.
It’s been a year since you released Brass and Boujee. How did this collaboration with Kemet the Phantom and Kadesh Flow come about?
Wow! A year already? Man, the time has flown by. The collaboration came through a conversation at the Blue Room. I had an idea to so a cover of Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" but in a big band context. Even though my forte is jazz, I always keep my ears open for what's happening in other genres. Kadesh was an obvious choice to do this, because he has the speed and can chop it up when he needs to. We performed the cover at the Blue Room, and the people loved it. Kemet was in the audience, and captured a video of that performance. On the set break, we were all at the bar, and knew we had found something. I said to Kadesh, "Send me four tracks, of yours and I will arrange them for the big band! I was already aware of Kemet and Kadesh's music, so I knew the vibe would be right. I asked Kemet to do the same, and the rest is history!
Talk about the mix of styles on Brass and Boujee – it’s got everything from jazz, hip-hop, swing, rap. How much of the range of genres was part of the original plan for this album?
I believe as a composer/arranger everything has to come from a natural place. Desh and Kemet were super open, and said "Don't be afraid to take these anywhere musically! So I just lived with the music for a couple of weeks and little ideas would come to me as i'm listening. I had no preconceived ideas about, style, genres or anything. I just want to make sure I upheld the integrity of the song, and come from a place of honesty.
You’ve worked with countless musical luminaries over the years, such as Aretha Franklin, Janelle Monaè and Prince, among many others. What experiences, encounters or collaborations have been the most meaningful for you?
Where do I start? I try to learn something from every experience that I have. Touring for eight years with Janelle was super important for me, because I learned a lot about the business, traveled the world, and it catapulted my career to a higher level. I was able to play with her band for President Obama numerous times. I played the Grammys, Letterman, SNL, American Idol, Good Morning America, The Sydney Opera House, The Apollo, Arsenio Hall, and many others. I feel like "Brass and Boujee" will be my best collaboration to date, because I have ownership in it, we were the first to do it, and it will catapult my career to the next level.
What would you like people to know about Future Jazz? How has this endeavor evolved since you founded it in 2015?
I really care a lot about Future Jazz. It is a 503c3 dedicated to inspiring young minds through jazz. We have professionals come in weekly to work with kids from different schools and backgrounds. We try to do two performances around the city per semester. The arts are not shown as much love as other subjects in schools. We want to be here to help and provide a creative outlet for young people. It's is as important as being able to add and subtract. I really want to get more kids in the inner city involved, in particular young girls. We need more women in jazz. We are adding more women to our faculty so that young girls can see examples of this. We are evolving slowly but surely. I need help getting more outreach and letting kids and parents know about the program. You can find out more about us at www.futurejazzkc.org
Marcus Lewis's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and Branding by Al Ries
Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Women by Charles Bukowski
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
How Not to Get Shot by D.L. Hughley
Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? by Seth Godin