Will Calhoun Credit: Photo courtesy of Gretsch Drums

The drummer, composer, cultural historian activist, Will Calhoun personifies stage originality; a new arrangement, a nuance of African rhythms, an added instrument from the Motherland along with his exuberance to consistently take audiences on his personal journeys of unchartered sounds.

On April 23, the Will Calhoun OF Ensemble will bring another perspective of this music to Sista’s Place (456 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn). Part of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival. Two sets at 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

The OF Ensemble will include bassist Rachiim Ausar-Sahu, sax and flute Jay Rodriguez, pianist Hector Martingon, trumpeter J.S. Williams, and Calhoun on drums and percussion. This is the drummer’s first gig as a leader since the pandemic. “Like Randy Weston I was born in Brooklyn and introduced to Sista’s Place by bassist Reggie Workman,” said Calhoun. “I felt it was time to have my own show at Sista’s.”

Calhoun is dedicating his performance to the memory of his good friend of more than 35 years the bassist Charnett Moffett, who transitioned on April 12, and his native-born Brooklynite pianist and composer Randy Weston: “He was my mentor, who discussed with me the significance of Africa’s music and its culture,” stated Calhoun. “Randy kept the language in his music on and off the stage.”
Calhoun’s love for the music inspired him to research various drumming techniques and indigenous percussive instruments in Mali, Senegal and Morocco where he was able to venture into the hills to study with the elders. The Moroccan musician Hassan Hakmoun, who specializes in Gnawa music and spent time (performing and recording) in New York City was the first person to invite Calhoun to Africa where he played in the Gnawa Festival.

One musician he was most honored to meet was Senegalese drummer, composer Doudou Ndiaye Rose, who was the recognized modern master of Senegal’s traditional drum, the sabar. It was Max Roach who first brought Rose to Calhoun’s attention. During the African Fête Festival in 2007, he met the master drummer in Senegal and had an opportunity to visit his home. Calhoun noted their meeting and the conversations that followed were enlightening and always inspiring. “Anytime he performed in New York City I was there, Hunter College, Symphony Space or Hostos College, and he was always incredible,” said Calhoun during a phone interview.

His repertoire will include a mix of tunes by Thelonious Monk, Jackie McLean and Mongo Santamaría (who he recognizes as one of the great percussionists of the 20th century), a few originals, music of the African ancestors, the insertion of speeches by both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and the introduction of a few indigenous percussion instruments.
For reservations call 718-348-1766 or visit the website sistasplace.org.

Every year publicists send out press releases on their latest artists. Most are filled with fluff and accolades of great proportion. However, this time the debut artists J3 on their new release “Opus 1” (Shanachie Entertainment) are hitting all the right notes. The trio consists of Justin-Lee Schultz (age 15), his sister Jamie-Leigh Schultz (age 18) (both born in South Africa, now residing in Los Angeles), and Jaden Baker (age 16) living in Dallas, Texas.

J3 delivers 11 tracks of which six are originals; their big sound of a quintet or septet stems from them being multi-instrumentalists. Jamie is adamant about not being categorized or placed in a box and her brother strongly agrees. Well, it’s very difficult to be placed in a box when you are writing and producing the majority of the tunes and playing multiple instruments on each cut. On this debut outing J3 are defying genre structure bridging the influences of pop, jazz, hip hop, and gospel.

Justin considers the piano as his main instrument while also playing bass, guitar (which he says he picked up during the pandemic), harpejji and the talk box. “The pianists that have influenced me the most are Bob James, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, George Duke, Oscar Peterson, Cory Henry, Art Tatum,” says Justin. “I am a straight-ahead jazz guy but I love mixing it all up and that’s what J3 is all about.” In 2020, Justin’s recording debut on Shanachie, “Gruv Kid,” landed at #1 on iTunes Jazz and featured such stellar guests as Bob James, Pieces of a Dream, Gerald Albright and Jonathan Butler, among others. Jamie, who will be attending Berklee College of Music in the fall, calls the drums her number one instrument as she effortlessly plays bass and guitar. Her varied influences include percussionist Sheila E., Stevie Wonder, Kora Coleman-Dunham, P.J. Morton and Kendrick Lamar. “It’s important for me to be able to play different genres of music so I can remain versatile,” explains Jamie.

Jaden, who originally began collaborating with the other 2 J’s on social media, cites bassist Derrick Hodge as a mentor. His favorites include Robert Glasper, Moonchild, and Snarky Puppy. He has already recorded and toured with Gospel stars Israel Houghton and Fred Hammond and is the music director for student ministries at T.D. Jakes’ The Potter’s House. “I play the drums, bass guitar, piano, guitar, cello, tenor trombone, bass trombone, and I’ve just started messing with trumpet and accordion,” said Jaden. “I have many influences for these instruments that keep me going and inspire me to do better!” The first time the teen trio joined forces live was in 2020 at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention in Anaheim, California, where an instant friendship was sparked. With their recent release, they are making efforts to meet more in person although some of their practices remain virtual.

“Opus 1” pays homage to the King of Pop Michael Jackson and innovative jazz pianist Chick Corea and Grammy award winning labelmate keyboardist Jeff Lorber.

“Chick Corea was one of the artists whose music was constantly played at our house. The main challenge of doing ‘Got A Match?’ for this album was putting everything together on the spot. It was tough but everything came together nicely at the end,” explains Jamie. J3’s rendition of Corea’s “Got a Match?” (first recorded in 1986 on the album “The Chick Corea Elektric Band”) is an exciting voyage with Justin playing a mean piano, sister Jamie holding down the drums and Jaden hittin’ bass. Jaden says, “Chick touched so many hearts through his music and by being the person that he was.” Justin admitted he is totally obsessed with Michael Jackson. The album opens with M.J.’s “Don’t Stop Til You get Enough”—J3’s interpretation boosts Justin’s soft piano riffs and his guitar ramp, Jaden’s melodic bass, and subtle but swingin’ drums from Jamie.

My favorite is “Vibe Cleanse,” a fresh soul hip hop strut reminiscent of the rap group Digable Planets. Justin playing piano, Fender Rhodes and keyboards, with Brandon Rose kicking the rap with positive vibes, “What they going to say when we all live in peace.” Jaden’s electric bass was right in the grove with Jamie playing the hip undertones. The track was composed and arranged by Justin and his father Julius Schultz (a guitarist and Justin’s main music influence), and lyrics by Brandon Rose. “Opus 1” ends with an M.J. medley of “Remember the Time,” “Love Never Felt Like This,” “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” and “PYT.” The tunes are jumping, a little electric R&B soul with addition of the talk box. No parking on the dance floor on this one, get up. Jaden composed, produced and arranged “Look to the Sky” and “Justice” while Justin and his father collaborated on most of the others, except for Justin’s “Junebug.”

Jazz is spontaneous, it moves and grooves. “Opus 1” is all that—a joyful compilation of music from J3, a young teenage group exploring the music and themselves at the same time. They are playing, composing and writing the innocence of jazz. It’s a rollercoaster ride digging a life that most of us forgot but this jazz story jumping genres inserting multiple instruments and laughing all the way to the gig and back is well worth listening to dancing to and just remember the time. It’s more than jazz, it’s teens making jazzy mischief. Great music for the times we are in, dig.

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