Monday, October 22, 2018

Kobie Watkins "Movement"

Kobie Watkins sent me his latest upcoming musical offering "Movement" featuring his band the Grouptet. I first heard Watkins as a member of the Spin Quartet on the album "In Circles" (Origin Records) featuring him with a group of great Chicago Jazz musicians. I was very impressed with his drumming so naturally I was very interested to hear what he came up with as a composer and leader of his own project.

Kobie was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to tell us about his new music:

1) Tell us about your latest recording!

Movement is an album about dance music that lives in your spirit and body. It’s about you the listener and how this music grooves with you. This album tells us it’s okay to still dance and to dance to jazz music.

2) How did you choose your repertoire and sidemen?

The songs on this album, I’ve been writing since 2008 (I’m still writing them, believe it or not). The songs "Rivet" and "Movement" are the most recent songs added to the list and "MBDC" (the real name for these acronyms I lost) was written in Africa in 2008. Since then the songs I wrote on this album have stuck with my spirit and how I want to present music on my second album.

The band was a total God send. We met and played together from my transplant years to Idaho. Justin Nielsen and I worked and played together at a performing and visual arts school in Eagle, Idaho (2010). During that time I met Ryan Nielsen (yes Justin’s real brother) at the school where he performed his original composition "Able Suite” and of course a jam session.

Later in 2014 Ryan (Classical and Jazz Trumpet Professor) and I worked together in Rexburg, Idaho (BYU-I) and a year later Aaron Miller (bassist) came back as the professor of Classical and Jazz Bass and we met and played at the student jam session. Jonathan Armstrong started working at Idaho State University as head of the Jazz Department.(2016) and we played his original music in a recital. These were immediate musical and spiritual connections, nothing political. These guys can just play (as you can here on the album). Let me just state the obvious: it was all a process and I (you) have to be patient in it.

3) What inspired you to pursue the vibe and instrumentation that you did?

I’m inspired by how music moves me and people all over the world. Music and dance, I’ve learned, breaks language barriers. You no longer have to speak Swahili, Japanese or English to speak music so as I wrote these songs this was my feeling while writing and discovering my natural inclinations. The instrumentation comes from listening to great jazz quintets and they’re horn blends (Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Roy Hargrove and Ron Blake, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Art Farmer and Benny Golson, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, to name a few). The modern sound of my writing and approach help me and the Grouptet make these instrumentation choices. If you don’t have the players/friends with the sound or potential, the search process must continue.

4) Was there a particular message you were trying to convey to the listener?

DANCE…on every performance and every listen. Make dance your outlet and avenue of expression through this and all music that interest you to Move. There was a time when jazz was mentioned, and you knew there would be dancing (though I never grew up then, I've heard stories and read some as well).

5) Who are your influences with regards to this style of writing and playing?

Artist and genres that influenced my writing include: Sonny Rollins, Branford Marsalis, Jeff Watts, Asa Watkins, Bobby Broom, Dexter Gordon, Thomas Whitfield, Stevie Wonder, Jarrard Harris, Kenny Garrett, Wayne Shorter. These people, I’ve memorized their musical signatures and creative style; singing and transcribing their melodies, solos and vamps.

6) What are you practicing/studying/listening to/researching these days?

I’m currently practicing ostinatos, bass drum and hi hat figures with triplet options with my hands and always practicing singles, doubles, and reconfiguring all forms of paradiddles. Researching: string sounds and articulations. Listening to gospel, classical, Brazilian, latin, big band and vocal jazz. Studying/reading: "Creativity the Perfect Crime" and "Born to Run".

7) What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?

My album release concert is on Friday, October 26th at the Durham Fruit Co. in Durham North Carolina.

Next February 2019 the Grouptet will premier with the Idaho State Civic Symphony six of my compositions arranged for crchestra. “The Kobie Watkins Grouptet Symphony Sessions feat. ISCS" will be performed in Pocatello, Idaho conducted by Julie Sorenson (undergraduate peer and now colleague).

8) How do the drums and overall approach to rhythm factor into your compositions and concept?

I sing the melody I hear and I play the drums after. The melody has enough rhythmic possibilities for a drum groove or feel that I rarely think about the drums as the first approach to the composition.
Drums of course do play a healthy roll in how the composition or arrangement develops. The drum part solidifies my melodic hopes.

For example, the song "Rivet" on this album has a flowing rhythmic melody but isn’t over instructed by drum riffs. MBDC is nothing but rhythm most of the melody sits on the syncopation of the beat. I’m a musician cultured by Rhythm, Melody and Harmony, influenced deeply by sound.

9) What drummers & other instrumentalists do you consider as influences?

Alious C Watkins, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Max Roach, Dennis Chambers, Dave Weckl, Michael Williams, Oscar Seaton, Dana Davis, Kevin Brunson, Joel Smith, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Pharohs, The Winans, Clark Sisters, Kim Burrell, Arlindo Cruz.

10) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz musicians and drummers?

My advice for young drummers would be to listen to music, not for what you can do to “improve it” but what musical messages are being conveyed. Meaning: can I/ you hear and sing the other instrument parts? What are the other instruments and are they real musicians? Can you follow the form? Can you sing the melody louder than you’re playing? I believe all drummers should spend some time at the piano (I’m not a functional pianist, but I can find what I need). Playing slow is just as important as playing fast, if not more. Continue to be the best musician/ drummer you can be. It’s fun and competitive, sometimes even physically painful, but rewarding, however one ends their groove for the moment or day. 

Young Ladies and Gentlemen: I honestly don’t believe there are bad (horrible) drummers, just drummers who do a horrible job of listening effectively.

Another importance: please learn music theory. It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Music theory is not just reading music it’s also arranging instruments and sounds. It’s balancing compositional decisions (sometimes in the moment). You can learn a lot by being more than just the drummer.


Learn more about Kobie and his latest album "Movement" over at his website: www.kobiewatkins.com

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