Interview With The Acclaimed American Jazz Band BWB

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BWB is a jazz band formed in 2002 by Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum, and Rick Braun. The name of the band actually comes from the initials of their last name.

Norman Brown, an award-winning guitarist whose jazz tunes fall into the category of smooth jazz. He has sold almost 2 million records so far and continues to be a musical sensation. He has garnered two Grammy nominations, The Best Best Pop Instrumental Album for his album ‘Just Chillin’ which he won and The Best Pop Instrumental Album for his album ‘24/7’in 2012.

Kirk Whalum, an American award-winning saxophonist who derives musical inspiration from his hometown Memphis. His sound was forged from his Memphis, (TN) gospel roots and his 1980‘s initiation into the thriving Houston, TX nightclub scene. He is also an Ordained Minister and has earned a Masters of Art in Religion. He is a twelve-time Grammy nominee and won The Grammy award (2011)for Best Gospel Song ‘It’s What I Do’  featuring Lalah Hathaway alongside life-long friend and gifted songwriter, Jerry Peters.

Rick Braun, is a successful jazz trumpeter known for his melodic tunes on the trumpet as well as his great compositional prowess. He is also a producer and has clenched over 20 number one jazz hits. Apart from his bandmates, he has collaborated with great jazz stars like Dave Koz, Brian Culbertson, and Boney James.

As a band, they have produced three albums; Groovin in 2002, Human Nature in 2013, and their latest collaboration being the BWB which they released in 2016. They showcased their musical prowess at the stage of the Safaricom International Jazz Festival which just celebrated 5 years.

What do you feel about performing at the Safaricom Jazz Festival?

Kirk: It is about the invitation and in this case, Safaricom is doing something bigger than just putting on concerts. Their ability to inspire such connectivity, such community and humanity is really a big vision and not every company can do that. That’s why I feel honoured that they would do think of us to be a part of this. I am just happy that we are able to do what we do during the 5th anniversary and to be able to play with the children.

It is the second time for Norman to be in the country, what did you think of your second time here?

Norman: I love being here because it is just more than performing for a concert. It is taking this powerful energy and this force that God has given us called music and using it to inspire and uplift the spirit of people. And from that standpoint, that is productivity, the betterment of this world and that makes it huger than any of us individuals and we are just honoured to be a part of it.

You have come so far as a group, did you ever envision this success?

Rick: I look at this group like family and the fact that we did record our last record together in our house and the fact that we worked together in that spirit means the spirit lives. The interesting thing is that it does not matter how long we have been separated as a group. When we come together it always feels the same and I would just like to talk about how you can not separate the ministry of music from music. This is because when I see or feel the joy of the music that our music brings and especially the joy it brings back to us. Seeing the joy you realize that there is a synergy and that is an energy we need so much in the world today. To able to travel so far and spread this message and to share the joy with the children is amazing.

How do you translate what you are feeling when you get on stage?

Kirk: We just kind of get on board. You just jump on the train. This is something that if it had been ten years ago it would be one thing. I just want to shout out to the despicable people in positions of power in many countries, unfortunately, because the contextualization of what companies like Safaricom are doing with these children means much more because it reminds us of how bad things can get and things can be disconnected. And being a part of it on stage as a band, that is the moment of creation and joy.

Norman: It’s tactical, it’s cinematic. It is a beautiful feeling to be giving rather than receiving. I love how Kirk has phrased it. It would take a musician to do that.

How do your solo projects feed into what you do as a group?

We do have our solo careers and it works really well together. I know that in each and every one of records we have included each other in one way or another. This we will continue to do even in future. It all fits together as a part of the big picture and we are always grateful to have each other. We play on each other’s records and its great. Sometimes we actually cut each other deals. You can be just like ‘Play on my record and I will play on yours’. That’s how we work.

 

Rick, what prompted you to get into music?

I grew up in a musical family. My mother played the piano and my brother played the trumpet. I actually wanted to play the drums but I eventually decided to try out the trumpet instead since it was already available to me.

Rick apart from being a musician, you are also a producer, does that pose a challenge?

It is true I do wear many hats. I am also a father and a husband. I do tour a lot. Each of these activities takes up a certain amount of time. It really keeps me busy but I have to find ways to balance it all.

So what is BWB going to take us through while they are in Nairobi?

We have 3 records. First is a party record of covers. So we will do that then we will do something from the Micheal Jackson’s Human Nature. Later we will play a few tracks from our album ‘BWB’. This is the first time we actually sat down together in a home and created all original music. We just wanted sound we could draw upon when making new music and that is what we did. We are also looking forward to doing it again.

Kirk, you have been engaged in projects with some children here in Kenya, Tell us more about that

The project is called ‘Humanity’. It is an album of collaborations that I will do. I have started already. I have done three Indonesian artists including Afghan who is among the best artists, along with the awesome Keiko Matsui from Japan, and in France, we have Ibrahim Maalouf, a wicked trumpeter. Coming up I have Kasiva, Aaron Rimbui, and the children from Ghetto Classics. Anyway, that is the basic idea or concept. So different musicians brought together by what ties us together.

What is happening with your next with your career?

Rick: There is a lot going on lately. I was fortunate enough to produce the last BWB record and that is one of the reasons we stayed at my house because I have a studio and the guys trusted me to steer the ship. We were having a great time. I am now producing the Summer Horns Record with Dave Koz and Richard Elliot. So the moment I have time I will jump on producing my next album.

Kirk: The next gospel album is on cue. But first thing after the ‘Humanity’ Project is that I have a record coming soon which is a continuation of the Love Covers which is covers of gospel music’s most inspirational hits, along with some newly reimagined popular songs.

Norman: I am currently working on a new album. It is going to be a continuation of the last one ‘Let it Go’. It is all about dealing with problems and challenges and turning them into lessons because they are here to make us resilient. That’s the only way anything can grow. When we lift weights we need resistance to build our muscles. Our spirit is the same way. That’s what problems are for, to serve as a resistance so that we can grow. So after ‘Let it Go’, I am going to do a record and I think I will call it ‘Free’.

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