Photography 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.
(Continued from Part One)
Tell us about the recording of your debut album, Fingerprinted Memories, Pt 1. What did you learn from the process that you’ll take to Part 2?
xJ-Will: For the first album we recorded the whole project in about five hours in one session just to see if we could do it (we also had a deadline to reach). Our next project, Fingerprinted Memories Pt 2 Sketches of the Heart, is definitely getting more time and energy into each single track for production. We learned from the last album that we have a potential that forces us to set the bar a lot higher for ourselves. FPTM Pt. 1 had a HUGE learning curve because up until that point, most of us had never all been involved with the process of recording, mixing, and producing our own material. Part 2 will be more of a “themed experience" project instead of just a few friends playing their instruments at the same time with a common ideal. Even from the single that we just released from the project this past month “That One” sounds completely different than what we did about a year ago now and we definitely liked it! The ideal for the project will stay the same: Life is lived forwards but is only understood backwards, and in the constant search of our personal identity FPM focuses on the individual “history” of past experiences, adventures, and background in order to define who we are and to embed our true fingerprint into the world. Oh and we also learned that when in the studio, turn Perry DjStix Holliday's (the drummer) levels in your headphones off because he is always got a hilarious random tidbit of information that was not necessary at all lol.
Desmond: The recording of our first album, as xJ-Will alluded to, went by REALLY fast. We did a couple of takes of each tune and went with the best takes, which is standard operating procedure for an instrumental jazz album with really no added effects or overdubbing, etc. (well, maybe there was some patching here or there, but not much from what I heard). I also remember that I was nervous as all-get-out during the session, because it was Shades’ debut album! I wanted my playing to be as perfect as possible. Now as far as what I’m taking from that session into the sessions for FPM pt. 2? The biggest thing is the actual studio experience, as I am not as nervous in those situations anymore and I know almost exactly what I want to contribute to the music before most studio sessions. Yet, FPM pt. 2 has been a huge undertaking in itself. Since SOJ is delving more into a fusion of genres (R&B, Jazz, Neo-Soul, Hip-Hop, etc.), we’ve had to learn more about recording those genres of music. Recording vocals, as we have found out, is way more time consuming than just recording instrumentals, for example.
We’ve also had to learn even more about how to be a contribution to the whole product rather than being the show. When playing jazz, each member has a chance to be “the show” at one time or the other. When recording things with vocals though, I know I as a pianist/organist/keyboardist/etc. that I have to be cognizant of every little thing that I play so I make a viable contribution that adds to the song yet doesn’t TAKE AWAY from the song. And yeah, I most definitely turn djstix down in the studio. He’s an awesome drummer but is as loud as a Rolling Stones concert (and I’ve never been to one). He’s most definitely the Elvin Jones of Kansas City drummers. I turn myself up though, I always like what I’m doing (I kid, I kid!).
Derick Cunigan: I can’t speak to writing on Part 1 but in “That One” I think moving forward everything will now be held to a bar. Like I don’t even want to go to the studio if my part isn’t solid or I at least don’t have a strong idea for the song just because it can take so much time and it can feel like a waste of time for others who may just be listening in the studio. For me I that “That One” was just a tip of the iceberg for me vocally, lyrically and just overall emotion of how I want you to feel when you listen to the music. I think Part 2 has a great theme and for me just fits right up my alley.
Perry Holliday: For Part 2, I want to make sure that we capture the essence of this group. People love our live shows, and while we can not totally reproduce live in the studio, I think we can do a great job giving our listener enough to want to come out and be apart of the live experience without leaving them unsatisfied.
What are your biggest creative challenges as a quintet? How do you move beyond creative blocks?
xJ-Will: Biggest challenge? Getting 5-7 people in one room at the same time to produce new music into a complete production seems to be more of the wall to climb rather than creativity. The group is full of creative people that can really channel and churn out new art pretty consistently at the drop of a hat when we are in rehearsal and collectively adding to a song. For me personally when I have creative blocks, instead of being frustrated I just step away from that specific work for a bit until that inspiration comes back to complete it or try to compose in a different space. I am a firm believer that the most genuine songs have a direct purpose based off of experiences people can relate to, so if I have hit a wall, its because I either haven’t finished living through what I’m trying to express or haven’t fully understood it yet.
To try and prevent creative blocks before they start I try a couple of different things. I always listen to new music to keep my ears fresh, attempt to write on different instruments, and I also challenge myself to work in a limiting scenario (i.e. melody must have certain requirements like a specific rhythm, in a specific key or time signature, or odd form etc)
Desmond: I agree with xJ-Will that the most challenging creative block as far as songwriting as a group is actually getting the group together. Each and every one of us do very different things outside of the band, with djstix owning an entertainment business in his own right! It is most definitely a challenge to get 5-7 minds in one room at a time. Another creative block that we run into from time to time is that we all are influenced by different music. When these influences mesh together it is a beautiful thing, yet sometimes when creating we can be on separate pages too. These things usually work themselves out in the end, however, as the members of the band have generally good chemistry and camaraderie.
Perry Holliday: The Biggest challenges we face right now are synergy. Having made some amazing additions to the group very recently, We are working to create that same Synergy with our new vocalists that Josh, Desmond, and I share. By the way the vocalists are doing an incredible job with meshing with the style of this band.
What’s the best thing about living, working and performing jazz in Kansas City?
xJ-Will: The best thing about living and working in Kansas City is the energy that fuels the artists here. I really wish I knew where it came from. Many artists here are very self driven Whether it's the First Friday events in the crossroads district, the multiple art fairs, or how there is some form of music being played every day of the week in local venues thats what i really enjoy about Kansas City.
Desmond: The best thing about living, working, and performing in KC is the cost of living. I’m just being honest with you. I don’t think we could be experimenting like we are in places such as LA or NY for example: the pressure to actually make a living would be too high. That’s my two cents on that. The musicians are the second best thing about living, working, and performing in KC. I haven’t met a generally mean or grouchy person among local musicians. They are all generally nice, wouldn’t mind jamming with you or teaching you a few things, and generally have each other’s backs when situations that affect the whole music scene arise. That’s the impression that I have thus far.
Derick Cunigan: What I have seen from Kansas City in my short 8-9 years is that there is so much talent and I think people want to come out and support but you just have to give them a reason. I kind of saw this first hand with my Soul Revival project. I have to add also the pool of musicians that live here is pretty cool and for the most part my experiences with everyone that I have had the chance to work with has been good.
Perry Holliday: Kansas city is a major hub of creativity and uniqueness. Jazz is not a lost art form. It wasn’t created and innovated to stop in the 60’s. Everything we do can still be referenced to Jazz because it innovates the unthinkable. It calls on creativity that has not yet been explored. It requires risk and faith. Which is what this group, and Kansas City Jazz since its inception are built on.