What made you want to be a composer?
I was inspired by the Duke Ellington was able to create beautiful music that was personal and, at the same time, reflect his creative connection to the world around him. I wanted to do the same with music. Composition seemed to be a natural and exciting way to express myself in this way.
When did you first start studying music?
I first started studying music informally in my church at the age of 13 by playing with the men's chorus. I officially started studying music in school soon after that at the age of 14.
What was the first instrument you ever played?
The first instrument I played was the guitar and I quickly picked up the bass soon after that.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
I did not grow up in a musical family in the professional sense (although I had cousins in Memphis who were in Blues bands). The music in my family centered around church music for the most part. My mother plays piano and knows a fair amount of spiritual music, so this became my early and enduring music education.
How did you break into this business?
I "broke" into the music business when I moved to Los Angeles in 1990 shortly after I finished college. In Los Angeles, I met drummer Billy Higgins and joined his workshop called "The World Stage". There I met other young musicians and we eventually formed a group called Black/Note. Through the support of Mr. Higgins, we developed rather quickly and recorded our first record in late 1990 called 43rd and Degnan, which launched my musical career.
What is a typical day like in the office for you?
A typical day for me ranges anywhere from composition and arranging, practicing,rehearsing with a group or my orchestra, doing research, working on aproduction, teaching at a school, answering emails and othercommunication, and meeting with artistic partners.
What are you working on currently or have coming up?
I'm excited to be working with L. Peter Callender and the African American Shakespeare Company on Twelfth Night (opening April 2011). This December, I will begin touring in Japan with vocalist Ledisi and the Count Basie Orchestra. Also, my orchestra is releasing a new CD on January 15, 2011 called Soul of the Movement, which is a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the music of the Civil Rights Movement.
What is your mantra?
I try to live by the principles of Satyagraha which is "love-force" or "truth-force". My goal is to express these tenets through my music.
What was the last fun purchase you made and from where did you get it?
My last fun purchase was the new iPhone because I'm a news junkie and now Ihave ALL of the news apps at my fingertips...24 hours a day!
Any recent discoveries this past week that you can share?
My most recent discoveries center around the research I'm currently doing to develop a musical piece about sustainability. I believe music can help raise consciousness around the values of green economics by illuminating its connection to social justice. I'm learning a lot in this area as I discover new resources and seek knowledge from various mentors.
What brought you to San Francisco?
I was inspired by the overall art community of San Francisco and that is the main reason why I moved here in 1996. I wanted to be part of the energy and creative spirit I found here. I was most interested in working with choreographers at first; I admired the work of Robert Henry Johnson, Reginald Ray Savage, and Robert Moses. I also felt that this would be a good place for me to develop my individual skill sets.
My favorite getaway is Fairfax, CA. I like the fresh air and the hiking trails; the people are wonderful and loving. It's a refreshing place for me and my family to go to when we want to get out of the city.
Favorite entrée to order and from where:
I'd have to go with home cooking. My partner is the best cook I know. She makes excellent Brazilian cuisine.
Do you have a Favorite vice/ Guilty pleasure?
I drink way too much coffee.
What is your hometown?
Sacramento, CA and Memphis, Tennessee
What is something most people don't know about you?
I was born in Anchorage, Alaska
When you were a child, what did you dream about doing as an adult?
When I was a child, I wanted to play professional basketball. Music came much later as a career dream.
What was your first real job since formal schooling?
It was performing with my group Black/Note in Los Angeles. We recorded 4 albums and did a fair amount of touring between 1990-1996.
What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
Ten years ago, I was a hardcore musical purist who only listened to progressive jazz. I would have told myself to listen to music other than jazz. I now believe that one should broaden their scope not only in music, but information in general.
What keeps you up at night?
Sometimes my 11 month old daughter, sometimes news websites, sometimes composition, but most of the time, it's reading some book.
Who are three people, living or dead, you'd have over to dinner?
Billy Strayhorn, Bayard Rustin, and Harriet Tubman.
Any words of advice to people hoping to break into the business?
I would suggest creating a vision for yourself and actually visualize doing it. Don't put limits on what you can do. Work towards and believe that you will be as great (if not greater) than the heroes you admire. Have patience and never stop improving your craftsmanship (or craft-womanship). Lastly... Satyagraha.