MARIANA QUINN-MAKWAIA w/ SMOKE & SUGAR

What are you working on right now and why are you excited about it?  I’m very blessed to be working on a few different projects that satisfy my multi-genre fancies: The Kai Lovelace jazz trio. The Sibylline is a folk duo with my ethereal composer of a sister Alice Quinn-Makwaia. VibeMosaic is an electronic neo-soul project with the magical Brad Morrison. Finally, Smoke and Sugar which is how we met at The Bitter End! We’re really excited to be putting out our first EP of neo-soul / alt-rock music called “Mindings” on Friday, October 6th. For any fans or explorers in the NYC area come join the celebration at Downtown Art in the East Village.

Did you grow up with music in your family?  Yes, my Dad’s a musician and composer as well as a voice teacher. My Mom is an actress and acting teacher. Actually most of our family friends are artists of one form or another. My sister and I grew up singing together. Sometimes my family would go on a walk and realize we’d been lost in some daydream and all four of us had been humming different tunes at the same time.

Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on?  I went to a concert of my Dad’s friend Paul Silber when I was about nine. He was singing jazz and blues standards with piano accompaniment. It was such a simple arrangement but he made me fall in love with those songs, with the call to improvise that exists in jazz and with that beautiful porous boundary between performer and audience.

What was your first public performance?  My first public performance was in preschool. I played a fly in an adaptation of The Itsy Bitsy Spider. I made it to the front of the stage and then burst into tears. I went through a very intense shy phase in my youth.

How do songs come about for SMOKE & SUGAR?  I love this project because everyone involved is a composer and a musician. We tend to start with a seedling from one of us, and then allow it to fill out as we bring it to the rest of the band. First with melody and mood or lyrical theme. Then add counterparts maybe break up sections or embellish parts and lay out the lyrics.

Do you have any day-of-show (or pre-show) rituals that help you get in the right mindset to perform live?   I tend to channel all of my nerves or excitement into my hair and the set-list. The first lets me fuss over minute details in an internal headspace until it’s time to get onstage and the second lets me fuss over the flow of the evening with everyone in the band.

Who is on your musical Mount Rushmore? Lianne La Havas, Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone. The Beatles, Stevie Wonder is a prophet.

What’s your favorite thing about the music scene in New York right now?  I love how many New York musicians want to build community rather than compete. It can be so hard being an artist in a world that finds creative thought dangerous. Of course we’re all stronger when we uplift each other.

Last minute, you are asked to perform on a new version of Soul Train but they want you to do a 70’s cover — what tune do you chose for the band?   Oooh we already do a cover of “Master Blaster” by Stevie Wonder! But since that’s a 1980s single I’d go for “Ebony Eyes”. My favorite secret tune from Songs in the Key of Life.

You are granted special access to a time machine called ‘The Day Tripper’ in which you can go backstage and hang at any concert in history: what are your coordinates and what happened?   This may not be very original but I’d give a lot to be able witness what happened in Woodstock in 1969.

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JAMIE OLDAKER

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What was the first album you ever bought and what’s your favorite track on it today? I don’t remember the first album I bought, but I do remember one of the first albums that I remember hearing as a young kid. My dad played me the 1937/38 jazz concert at Carnegie Hall with Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and the great Gene Krupa…..He is still my hero and my favorite drummer!! My dad also played me John Phillip Souza marching records as well and told me to listen to both and I would be allright….Ha !…I listened to Joey Dee and the Starlighters along with Chubby Checker with my parents……then the Beatles came along…favorite song was “Love Me Do”…great cymbal crash in that song.

Who were you favorite drummers as a kid? Growing up , I had a lot of drummers that I listened to….never tried to copy anyone…My favorite to this day would have to be Gene Krupa.

What groove, or musical style, came most natural to you at first? I started playing to records that I heard on top 40 radio…Beach Boys, etc. until the British invasion came to America…I still enjoyed the loose feel of Gene Krupa with the Goodman band….He seemed to play the way he wanted to…no rules. I am a huge bebop fan….1960 jazz from New York.

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Looking back, was there a pivotal first ‘big break’ for you as it were?  Playing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1971 was cool and my first semi rock star tour and album was with Bob Seger and I recorded the album Back in ’72 which contained the original version of ”Turn the Page “…  As you know, my career then started to go forward!!

Of all the kits you have owned and played, what is your all-time favorite?  Well, I have had a few…one was an old Camco kit which I wish I still had and my first Ludwig kit my Dad bought me when I was first starting out….Today, I am playing Sakae Almighty maple kit…..I left Yamaha after a 40 year relationship and endorsement with them….My favorite Yamaha kit would be my Maple Customs which are no longer available……Sakae made all Yamaha drums for 50 years.

Do you have a philosophy when it comes to recording?  Recording is a personal preference, but I will say that it is different than playing live, so I would recommend to any young drummer to learn how to do both…I did, and it was beneficial in my career.

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How important is your mind-set before going on stage and what do you do to get ‘ready’? Going on stage is still frightening to me…Their is always that split second thought before I go up on stage that I question if I really know what I am doing….Ha ! We are all insecure……But once the music starts, everything comes back to you and you feel comfortable ……I will walk around by myself before I go up on stage and think and say a few prayers to help me have a good show and remember the songs!!
Of all the studio material you recorded with Eric Clapton, which drum track are you most proud of today? I don’t really listen to myself after I have recorded an album….We spend enough time listening to tracks back in the studio, that by the time it is released, I don’t want to hear it anymore!!! probably “I Shot The Sheriff”, “She’s Waiting”, “Wonderful Tonight”, “Double Trouble”, “Motherless Children”….They are all pretty good I think. No real favorites.
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What is the scariest moment you ever experienced on the road or playing live? Private plane with Eric going through bad weather was no fun, splitting my head open at Pine Knob with Eric, still played the show with a nurse holding a towel over my head….21 stitches after show….Military chaos with Peter Frampton in South America…..Held hostage by government for a few days…. more of this in my book!!
What 3 albums make your deserted island play list? Miles Davis…Kind of Blue, The Tractors…Christmas Album, Novabossa….Novabossa. – Jamie Oldaker.com

MELVIN TAYLOR

L1010246_3bwWHAT WAS THE FIRST GUITAR YOU EVER OWNED AND WHAT WAS THE BEST THING YOU RECALL ABOUT IT?  

My very first guitar was given to me by my teacher, Father Duffacy at Saint Francis Cabrini.  I was 13. It was a white Kingston and he also gave me an amplifier. I couldn’t believe it – my family could not afford to buy me one.  What a wonderful, generous man.  I loved that guitar.  I polished it, slept with it… The best part about the guitar was that it was my very own.

ANY GUITARS YOU’VE HAD OVER THE YEARS THAT YOU WISH YOU STILL HAD NOW?

One guitar I wish I had now was a cherry red Gretch Country Gentleman. It was a reissue of 1967 Chet Adkins model.  I lost it when my basement flooded in 1998. I was on the road, out of town at the time.  It was completely ruined by the time home.

IN TERMS OF PLAIN OLD FEELING GOOD, DO YOU PREFER PLAYING GUITAR AT HOME ALONE, IN THE STUDIO OR LIVE ON STAGE?

For me there is nothing like performing live on stage.  I feed off of the energy the audience puts out and I throw it right back to them.

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO MAKING NEW RECORDS? DOES THERE NEED TO BE A MUSICAL THEME FOR A GIVEN RELEASE OR DO YOU PREFER THE FREEDOM TO CHANGE IT UP THROUGHOUT?

When I started out I recorded for a label – my first 6 CD’s were done that way;  the producer sets the approach and theme for a release. The music turned out great but financially it did not work well for me.

melvinMy most recent CD’s, Beyond the Burning Guitar (2010), Sweet Taste of Guitar (2011), and Taylor Made (2013) I composed, recorded and produced on my own.  It gave me the freedom to record and present the music the way I want.  It had been almost 10 years since my last CD so there was lots of discussion with my management about how to proceed.  BTBG is all instrumental, 23 original songs plus my arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth (Melvin Meets Beethoven).  The CD covers several styles of music including, jazz, latin, blues and classical. The idea was to feature my guitar playing.  I love ALL kinds of music and I’ve been blessed with my talent. I’ve never had a guitar lesson, no one taught me how to play; I would just hear a song and could play it.

Throughout my career I constantly heard producers, music critics, other musicians say, “pick one style, just one, and stay with That”.  I thought the idea was absurd and could get very boring. I did not want to limit myself.

Basically I created my own sound by combining elements from many areas of music and I think I have done it well. Once again with my latest release, Taylor Made (2013), the theme is exactly that.  The title explains the music on the CD – All kinds of music is who I am.

WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WERE GOING TO PLAY GUITAR FOR A LIVING AND THERE WAS NO TURNING BACK?

Around age 11 or 12 I began performing on Maxwell Street in Chicago.  I would play with my Uncle Floyd and his friends. I did not even have my own guitar so I would play my uncle’s Fender Mustang. When people started crowding around us and throwing money in the tip jar – I knew right then there was no turning back.

WHAT’S THE BEST BLUES GUITAR SHOWDOWN YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN OR WITNESSED LIVE ON STAGE?

I think this answer will surprise you – the late 1980’s – I believe 1987, George Benson and Earl Klugh at Carnegie Hall of all places.  Fabulous blues by two exceptionally talented guitarists.

HOW DID THE HABIT OF TURNING YOUR AMP BACKWARDS ‘TO THE WALL’ COME ABOUT?

Good music and sound levels go hand in hand.  Lots of people think the louder the music the better – not true! Inexperience with sound engineering can ruin a show.  Sound levels of each band member need to blend.  Whether it’s a 3 piece band or a symphony orchestra.  When playing in a smaller club I often turn my amp to face backwards or away from the audience.  I don’t want to shatter their eardrums.

MelvinTaylorWHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE GUITAR(S) FOR THE CLEANER, MORE JAZZ INFLUENCED MATERIAL VERSES THE BLUESIER, MORE ROCKIN’ BONZO BLUES STUFF?

My personal favorite guitar is my Ibanez SA200.  I can play everything on this guitar – jazz, blues, rock. Now let me add that I modify ALL of my guitars, amps and pedals.  If someone goes out and buys the same brand names of equipment they will not get the same sound that I do.  Recently I’ve been beta testing ceramic wire for a company in Japan. Some day I hope to market my own line of guitars and equipment.

WHAT EARLY BLUES RECORDS HAD THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON YOU AS A YOUNGSTER AND DO YOU STILL LISTEN TO THEM TODAY?

Freddie King –  Hide Away. Jimmy Reed Shuffle. These 2 are at the top of my list. Remember I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s – EVERYTHING was going on. Motown, James Brown, Hendrix, Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.   It was funk/soul, rock, jazz – an absolutely amazing time to be growing up and soaking in all this music especially for a young guitar player.

DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE BLUES TO PLAY THEM OR IS IT MORE A WAY OF LIFE THAN A STATE OF MIND?

When I think of guys who put blues on the map I would have to name Albert King, Pinetop, Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James, Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) and Willie Dixon as major forces. The blues is a “feeling”.  Broken and in pain, sadness and misery. Unfortunately it WAS a way of life for these people. Many people have come to me to teach them to play the blues – I can teach them blues chords and blues licks but the real blues comes from deep within….MELVIN TAYLOR