Photo courtesy of Silas Cook
We are excited to bring you a two-part feature on Kansas City's premier jazz sextet Shades of Jade. Comprised of band leader Joshua Williams, drummer Perry Holliday II, keyboardist Desmond Mason, and vocalists Venessa Ayala, Debo'ra Baskin and Derick Cunigan, Shades of Jade's sound is rooted in jazz improvisation with hip-hop and fusion elements and a healthy dose of musical risk-taking. Their recently released debut album, Fingerprinted Memories, Pt. 1 is being heralded as "contemporary improvisational music that transcends boundaries and shatters genres." Enjoy our interview with members of the band and hear some of the music they've shared with Listen Local.
Introduce yourselves. How did Shades of Jade come to be?
xJ-Will: My name is Joshua Williams, my friends call me xJ-Will. I am from St Louis, Mo and I am the Founder and Creator of the Eclectic band Shades of Jade. The band got its start while Desmond “The Professor" Mason, Tyree Johnson and Dominique Sanders were all in college about 5 years back at UMKC. While I was enrolled in the conservatory with Dominique Sanders we both were starting to feel the monotony of learning 50-60 year old jazz and Broadway songs that we enjoyed but couldn't’t really fully relate to as much as we wanted. We started to think about how the musicians of that time period weren’t playing songs from 50 years before them so why should we?! They were playing their own music and popular music of the day which became standards that stood the test of time later after they had passed. That's what we wanted to do! Write our own music, develop our own individual sound, and paint “musical pictures" of our millennial time period through our eyes.
The music that we were playing in school was great don’t get me wrong but our creative thirst was being held hostage in all the work we had to focus on in school. So we put this project together. In it, EVERYBODY WRITES and takes risks PERIOD! Those are the only rules really about the band. We started as a quartet, and experimented with different meters of time, compositional forms of songs, and had a ton of guest artists from different cites like Chicago, Houston, New York, and St Louis come in and do a week residency with the band to create and express ourselves aurally as much as we could. It wasn’t until recently this year that the band decided as a group to introduce regular vocalists into the band and it has been very exciting to start to write original lyrics for the group as well. So I guess to answer the question Shades started as a bunch of guys that wanted to jam and improvise on tunes by Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and OutKast without being looked at as being weird in the institutional curriculum of the collegiate jazz community. So we made our own platform to do it instead.
Desmond: Yeah, I concur with all that xJ-Will said. For my side of the story, please refer to my individual Local Listen interview that I did with the JOCO Library! ☺
Derick Cunigan: For me it’s a little different. I met Desmond back in May of 2014….Eddie Moore was supposed to do a gig for me and had sent Desmond as his replacement. I was super nervous I had never heard of Desmond and this was my first stepping out on my own gig. It was the best decision Eddie ever made lol. Now I think on every track that Des and I collaborate on there should be a quick snippet that says “Shoutout to Eddie” because I’m not sure how else I would have gotten connected to the group. From there it was just organic… nothing was planned it just happened and felt natural. I think that kind of chemistry is the best. I think everyone has been welcoming even as an honorary member and always pushing the music.…..It’s definitely a good time creating with the group.
Perry Holliday: My Name is Perry Holliday or Perry DJ Stix Holliday as I am regularly referred to. I am the drummer and one of the Co-owners of the band Shades of Jade. I am from Kansas City and have been playing drums for about 23 of the 25 years of my life. I studied jazz at the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. I am an alumni of Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, KS. For me, Shades came to be through me searching for an outlet. I’ve known Josh and Desmond since College and have played with them in different settings. None of those settings can even compare to what we have experienced these last few years that I have been with Shades.
Shades of Jade’s music is grounded in improvisation. Delve a little into the creative drive behind crafting compositions for your new album, Fingerprinted Memories, Pt. 1, while keeping the energy of improvisation at the forefront.
xJ-Will: We really wanted to find the best way to express ourselves, our emotions and our various circumstances of life withFingerprinted Memories series. So improvisation was actually really easy to continue to keep as the underlying energy of the album, because life brings up new challenges every day that we can’t predict, and so if you want to make it to tomorrow, you have to roll with the punches and be able to adapt on your feet. So when we went into the studio there was no sheet music for the tunes we planned on recording, just life concepts that we agreed upon. That way everyone had enough mental/creative space to add their piece to each track of how they interpret the song/memory/emotion.
Desmond: When I’ve created and finished compositions for our debut album and the album we are working on now, I think that ease of improvisation, or most importantly ease of expression, really informed the way I finished those tunes. In other words, while composing for a project like this and while composing “jazz” in general, I think of my tunes as not only aural pictures of life’s experiences and/or important people, I think of my tunes as vehicles of improvisation and facilitators of musical conversation. So while I have my past, present, and future in mind while composing, I also think about whether or not a vocalist or instrumentalist can use the tune that I am writing to “speak” to the audience or even to themselves in their own way.
Perry Holliday: I can’t talk much about the first album as I wasn’t on that recording but I can speak to the overall creative drive of this group. This is a place where you can express yourself and make music in a way that has no bounds. Our goal is to create a product with our lives, that our listener can connect to and join. It’s like outer space travel only you don’t have to be an astronaut to fly; all you have to do is be open to time and space. The emotion, mixed with the soul, kindred spirit, and hunger of this group is electrifying. And these are the factors that keep me around.
(continued in Part Two)