Dubbed “one of Minnesota’s most charismatic and entertaining musicians,” percussionist and inventor of the “Troponga”, Babatunde Lea brings his quartet to Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog on June 18. Opening on the monthly JazzINK Youth Showcase will be the Will Schmid Trio.
Babatunde Lea Quartet (8:30 pm)
Babatunde Lea’s vast experience of over 50 years as a master percussionist, along with the spiritual depth in everything he does, has made him one of the most esteemed musicians of the past half century. A New York native who was raised in Engelwood, NJ, Lea (given name Michael) came to music naturally. His aunt was one of the first women to play in a marching band. Shortly after starting on drums at 11, he saw Babatunde Olatunji and his Drums of Passion, and soon changed his own name to Babatunde. Absorbing the rhythms of Africa and the Caribbean, Lea moved west to the Bay Area at 18, expanding his palette with affiliations with Bill Summers (Bata Koto) before joining Juju, leading to another relocation, this time to Richmond, VA. But perhaps the most influential connection was with Leon Thomas, who he had known from church back in New Jersey. “Leon sang in the choir. I used to see him sing every Sunday and he would ‘turn the church out!’” recalled Lea. Babatunde ended up working in Thomas’s band in the early 70s. “Leon was not only the bandleader and one of my bosses,” Lea explains, “but he was very instrumental to my artistic growth. He was a great influence on the type of music I like and the genre of music that I play.” Back in the Bay Area, He returned to the Bay Area a few years later, he worked with Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Randy Weston, Van Morrison and, particularly, Oscar Brown, Jr., who was “like a father, he was an activist and I learned a lot just being around him,” recalls Lea.
Babatunde released his first album as leader, Levels of Consciousness in 1979, recording with a band called Phenomena, which grew out of the Loft Jazz Association. It was nearly two decades before his next release, Level of Intent, on his own label, Diaspora Records, which was reissued in 2003 when he co-founded Motema Records with Jana Herzen. Four albums later on Motema, Lea released a tribute to Leon Thomas, Ubmo Weti (2009). In 2010, he moved to Pennsylvania to teach at Gettysburg College, moving again a year later when he finally landed in the Midwest.
Babatunde Lea has long been committed to education, not just about music but also about social justice and spiritual connections. In 1993, with his wife Virginia, he founded the Educultural Foundation, a California non-profit organization that provides workshops, classes, and presentations. “The purpose I try to imbue my music with is that our growth as human beings should strive toward an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, egalitarian, democratic universal society and I don’t care how many life times it takes to get there! I consider myself an activist as well as a musician and consider myself an ‘agent of change,’” says Babatunde. Lea has presented clinics and demonstrations of his approach to merging traditional African percussion with American jazz, yielding a drum kit he refers to as the Troponga.
The quartet at the Black Dog includes trumpeter Solomon Parham, pianist Phil Aaron, and bassist Graydon Peterson.
Trumpeter and educator Solomon Parham came to the Twin Cities from Detroit where he taught in public school and performed at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. He’s also performed with Delfeayo Marsalis’ Jazz for Kids, “Jazz and Jasmine Meets the Jazz Band,” Wessell Anderson, Eric Gravatt’s Source Code, and at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Artists Quarter, Dakota, Bedlam, Jazz Central and more. Currently, Solomon teaches in the St. Paul Schools and directs jazz ensembles at Walker West Music Academy. He led “Solomon’s Sessions” weekly at The Bedlam during winter and spring 2016. In his spare time, Solomon recently completed his Master’s Degree at McNally Smith College of Music.
Pianist Phil Aaron is a Chicago native who studied music at the Berklee College of Music and the University of Illinois. After ten years in LA, he moved to Minneapolis in 1989, becoming fully immersed in the local jazz scene. By day, Phil works as a composer of film and television scores winning an Emmy in 2007 for his scoring work on the PBS animated series, Auto-B-Good. As a performing jazz artist, Phil has shared the stage with Lee Konitz, Eric Alexander, Jim Rotondi, Jim Snidero, Byron Stripling, Barbara Morrison and Jackie Allen, among others, and has provided piano accompaniment to many local jazz singers and ensembles. An active recording artist as sideman and on five CDs of his own, Phil plays regularly with his own trio and Lucia Newell, as well as the Phil Hey Quartet. Drawing inspiration from Bill Evans, Cedar Walton, Tommy Flanagan, and Keith Jarrett, he “can swing hard or wax romantic at the keyboard” (Minneapolis Star Tribune).
Graydon Peterson played electric bass in his high school pep band and dabbled in rock music in his spare time. The school’s jazz director saw him play, and soon he had earned a spot in the All-State Jazz Band. At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Graydon was a member of UWEC’s Downbeat Award-winning Jazz Ensemble I, and performed with such guest jazz artists as Lewis Nash, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Marsalis, Chris Botti, and Christian McBride. Based in the Twin Cities over the past decade, Peterson is a first-call bassist who has worked with vocalists Debbie Duncan, Connie Evingson, Arne Fogel, Joyce Lyons and more; he performs regularly with Firebell, Adam Meckler, Reid Kennedy, and his own quartet.
Will Schmid Trio (7 pm)
The JazzINK Youth Showcase presents the Will Schmid Trio as the opening band at the Black Dog. In one configuration or another, guitarist Will has performed a number of times at the Black Dog as well as at the 318 Cafe, The Nicollet (now Reverie), and with fellow guitarist Adam Astrup, at the 2016 Winter Jazz Festival. The duo will perform at Golden’s Deli at the upcoming Twin Cities Jazz Festival; and again at the Iowa City Jazz Festival on July 2. Will recently graduated from Minnetonka High School where he was active in school bands; he also played in the Minnesota Youth Jazz Band and led trios and quartets at area venues. Will plans to study jazz and physics at Case Western Reserve University.
On bass will be Charlie Lincoln, a graduate of South High now attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. Charlie was a member of the Dakota Combo, MYJB, and performed with Eric Gravatt’s Source Code before high school graduation. While in town for the summer, Charlie is curating a monthly series of “new music” at Jazz Central and performing with a long list of area bands. Ben Ehrlich will fill out the trio on drums. A graduate of Wayzata High School, Ben just completed his second year of jazz studies at the University of North Texas. He’s also an alum of the Dakota Combo and has recently performed with Sound Skirmish and other “young lion” ensembles.
Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog is curated by Steve Kenny. No cover but donations appreciated to support the musicians and the series. The Black Dog is located at 308 Prince Street (at E. 4th Street and Broadway) in St. Paul’s Lowertown arts district; www.blackdogstpaul.com