14th Annual Concept Album Nominee
12th Annual Jazz Song Nominee
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Record Label: Origin Records
Home Base: Princeton, New Jersey
Category Entered: Concept Album
Work Submitted: The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite
Artists Featured: Anthony Branker & Word Play with David Binney (alto saxophone), Ralph Bowen (tenor & soprano saxophones; flute), Conrad Herwig (trombone), Jim Ridl (piano / fender Rhodes), Kenny Davis (double / electric bass), Donald Edwards (drums), Renato Thoms (congas), Alison Crockett (vocals / spoken word), 5th Grade students from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Piscataway, New Jersey (spoken word), and Anthony Branker (composer & musical director)
Label: Origin Records
Who are your influences?: Wow, there are so many to share, but I would have to say Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, Maria Schneider, John Coltrane, Pat Metheny, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Freddie Hubbard, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, Parliament Funkadelic, Terence Blanchard, Thad Jones, to name just a few!
Describe your nominated work: The concept for the album The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite was realized during the fall of 2012 when I was out of the country and watching the final weeks of the presidential election campaign unfold via international television news media. During this time, many thoughts swirled around inside my mind: I thought long and hard about what America meant to me as a first-generation American; I thought about what America has meant to my family, who immigrated to the United States from the West Indies in the 1950s, and what it might mean to future generations of my family; I thought about notions of democracy, freedom, justice, and equality; I thought about where we have been as a nation and what we could have done better along the way; and I thought about what we can still aspire to be and accomplish in the name of all Americans, if we, as a people, could simply come together as one, on behalf of all.
Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording?: No, not really. I use the sound of Fender Rhodes piano and electric bass, which is fairly commonplace.
Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned?: Any time you work with the kind of creative and inspiring musicians, such as those found on this recording, you know right from the very beginning not to be too prescriptive with what you want to hear and not to micromanage the process. If you give them the freedom to do so, artists like these will take the music to places you never imagined and, as a result, many profoundly beautiful things will happen along the way…never by accident, but always because of how they hear the music evolving and how they interact with each other in any given moment.
How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses?: Funds were raised through grants and my own savings. I probably won’t recoup those expenses due to the nature of this business.
Why did you choose to submit this work to the IMAs?: I was nominated for the 12th IMAs in the jazz composition category and had a great experience in the process, so I wanted to share this most recent work with the IMAs.
What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it?: Success, to me, is arriving at that place where you have the chance to do what you love and are passionate about, everyday of your life!! It has nothing to do with financial reward, but has everything to do with that sense of fulfillment that comes with accomplishing your goals, sharing what you enjoy with others, and hopefully touching their lives in some small way.
How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals?: I hope to receive more exposure for my work as a composer/producer/bandleader and have many more opportunities to share my music with audiences throughout the U.S. and all over the world!!
Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique?: Hopefully, they are listeners who are open to creative music and storytelling, enjoy rhythm & groove, and who want to travel along with the musicians on the bandstand in search of some beautiful and fascinating musical places.
What is your guilty pleasure on the road? Any close calls or mishaps while on tour?: I would have to say desserts!! Wherever I go, that’s one of the first things I ask about!! Then I politely say, “please take me to your pastry shops, now”!!
Are there any songs you wish you wrote and why?: There is an elegant composition known as “Don Quixote” written by Brazilian singer-songwriter and guitarist Milton Nascimento. It is so incredibly lyrical, has rich harmonies and an infectious groove, and has these sections or musical episodes that unfold throughout like a captivating storyline found in a book. Besides that, I would say “Flight of the Newborn” by Al DiMeola that was recorded by Chick Corea & Return to Forever on NO MYSTERY. Simply as funky as you want to be with great musical conversations throughout the band (with Chick, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Al DiMeola)
What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans?: Free improvising artists Anne-Liis Poll (vocalist) and Anto Pett (pianist) from Estonia; Bela Bartók’s String Quartets; and the music of pianist Vijay Iyer, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and bassist Dave Holland (maybe not that much of a surprise!)
How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming?: I try to check out what other people are listening to or ask for recommendations for things they dig that move them that I might not be familiar with. I always buy music for my own music library (I am so in debt!!). Streaming is cool to search for new things, but when it comes to including the music in one’s library, you have to make the purchase…we’ve got to support the artists and their creative work!!
How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free?: They simply won’t be able to, especially if they are depending on revenue from recordings or royalties. Musicians will have to rely upon live performances, publishing, and other pursuits (maybe even outside of the music field) in order to make a living.
What don’t fans/audiences understand about the music industry today?: The complexity of this business model and how difficult it is to be known and come to the attention of a particular genre audience, even if you have an amazing musical product. There are countless artists who are phenomenal and very special in their own right that we don’t even know exist, and may never know. This is tragic, but an inevitable consequence of the industry and how it functions in this day and age.
Are digital singles/EPs vs. full albums the future?: Not for the area of music I am involved with, which is jazz. It almost isn’t even relevant for an art form whose artists have traditionally shared their work through LPs or full-length CDs recordings. Each composition on a full album sort of represents a separate chapter of a novel or book created by the performing artist for their listeners.
Finish this sentence: The music industry is…“a challenging place in which to find your place and share your voice.”
What do you have in the works for the upcoming year?: I hope to record new project of original compositions for Origin Records in the near future that will explore some other interesting facets of my musical personality and compositional voice.
Anthony Branker’s Music at Amazon.com
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