All images courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the talented Jared Michael Nickerson of Burnt Sugar Arkestra The Chamber. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, Burnt Sugar Arkestra The Chamber’s newest music, his opinion of the music scene today, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.
If you would like to learn more about Burnt Sugar Arkestra The Chamber, you can head over to the group’s website, and dig in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Jared. Cheers.
Jared, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?
Nice of you to say..thank you. Well, it’s been an interesting time…a cautious, reflective, and strangely enough — rejuvenating time. There are so many time-consuming “off-stage” tasks that have to be tended to when running a working band comprised of over forty independent-contracting artists.
After our, what we like to entitle, “soul’d out” performance at Harlem N.Y.’s Apollo Theater performing the Shaft Soundtrack live to a screening of the movie, the producer of the event, CAMI Music, relayed we could look forward to an east coast, west coast and possible European tour. Now that was lovely to hear financially, but also meant my work as the band’s business manager was about to increase triple-fold. That was on the 29th of February, 2020. A week later all those plans and other performances in discussion around the world like SF Jazz dissipated in the ether…gone, with no sense of when even the talk of live performance events would resume. Financially that was devastating to our BSAC artistic family.
Greg Tate and I immediately went into support mode taking the money saved for our first vinyl recording, and turning that into a seven-hundred-and-fifty-dollar stipend for those of our crew most in need. It was lovely to be in a position to do that, and put into action what we always preach, “It takes a village.”
So, with that done, I found myself isolated from not only the band but the world with a lot of time on my hands. Amy Gail and I, well, we’ve been semi-isolationists since 1994. So, other than the misguided excessive disinfecting initially overwhelming our daily routine, our lives didn’t change much.
I did find time to read and became lost in Walter Mosley’s great run of Easy Rawlin’s novels; found time to let my brain release the hundred or so songs it contained for the Sugar gigs, and other side projects I was blessed to be in such as the Marshall Crenshaw Trio; and lo and behold…in that recently emptied head space heard my muse, and started writing songs.
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?
Dancing. I loved to dance as a child learning all the latest moves from my Mother and her friends — “the Hitchhiker,” “the James Brown,” “the Funky Broadway,” “the Camel Walk“…lots of dancing in my household and neighborhood.
Who were some of your early influences?
Well, it was the 60w where AM radio played three-minute songs and had yet to become format-oriented. I can still remember the day hearing “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” by The Four Tops segue to “Somebody To Love” by the Jefferson Airplane. How I danced through both due to their driving bass, and drum foundations. A revelation I didn’t really appreciate until later.
Then growing up in Ohio which was as much Rock ‘N’ Roll as it was R&B, as kids we were just as into Beatles ’65 as we were Dyke and The Blazers’ Funky Broadway.
Let’s talk about recent events first. Tell us about your new release, Angels Over Oakanda. Tell us about the album and how it came together. This is your first album of new material since 2017. Tell us more about what fans can expect.
BSAC’s last few recordings were “tune-based.” Greg called a recording session in 2018 specifically to go back to our roots of long-form, conducted improvisation.
“Angels” is the “love child” of a Greg-Tate-created loop, and the unscripted and impromptu musical renderings of Lewis ‘Flip’ Barnes (Trumpet), V. Jeffrey Smith (Tenor Sax), Avram Fefer (Alto Sax), ‘Moist’ Paula Henderson (Bari Sax), Ben Tyree & André ‘Dré Glo’ Lassalle (Electric Guitars), Leon Gruenbaum (Fender Rhodes), Shelley Nicole (Cow Bell) Greg Gonzalez (Trap Drums), and me, myself and I, Jared Michael Nickerson (Electric Bass). What a difference a day makes. One day you’re preparing for a massive amount of roadwork, then literally the next day you suddenly have a massive amount of time on your hands.
As the recent deluge of recorded material seems to suggest, like most artists, we decided to bunker down in the “lab,” and create new music. We could of easily let that twenty-one-minute, free-form jam exist on its own. But that wouldn’t have been, “Burnt Sugar Baby!”
So, we flew the recording to our longstanding compadre Satch Hoyt in Berlin where he created, and tracked multi-flute stems; then flew it Stockholm where, without hearing the original jam, and just receiving the individual track stems mind you, Marque Gilmore tha’ inna*Most created a completely fresh original five-song suite. Just getting started V. Jeffrey Smith create alternative mixes using Satch’s flute stems with the original recording in his Jersey City studio Jamcarver. While Lisala Beatty provided the Burnt Sugar “frosting” taking a freshly-penned Greg Tate lyric; creating a new track from a section of a Gilmore composition; then finally self-recording a cascade of multi-tracked vocals to comprise the only vocal track on the release…“Lisala Over inna-Oakanda.”
I did a bit of composing cut, and pasting the original twenty-one-minute track into a seven-minute track; bringing up my bass, Leon Gruenbaum’s Fender Rhodes, and Greg Gonzalez’s drums; then creating a new horn line by pasting together Satch’s flute stems and having V. Jeffrey mimic the new horn line on tenor to create “Oakanda Overdrive.”
When the proverbial remix dust settled, we realized two things, everyone on that 2018 session played melodies and, the session could easily have passed for a CTI session as it created enough material for our next four releases.
I wanted to go back a bit and touch on the origins of Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber. Tell us about how things came together, and how the group has evolved to what it is today.
The genesis of the group, from my perspective, and you’ll see why I say that, initiated in Greg Tate’s mind.
The next thing I know I’m receiving a call from Greg, on the recommendation of Jimmy Lee who’s been instrumental in my musical career as he also recommended me to Freddy Johnston which led to a very productive recording and touring stint, to jam in an NYC studio. I arrive and there’s folk like Vijay Iyer, Ronny Drayton, Simi Stone, Morgan Micheal Craft, Trevor Holder, and Bruce Mack.
Greg wanted to explore the idea of melding our personal artistic identities into a fist and then waving that fist around through the system of “Conduction.” A Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris construct in which a conductor through hand and baton signals shapes free-form personal artistic expressions into seemingly composed artistic group expressions be they music, dance, or spoken word.
From the exhilaration experienced at that jam by all, we agreed to do it again and then took it live with a few performances at CBGBs Underground. From CBGBs to Peter Karl’s Brooklyn recording studio where we recorded and Greg later constructed BSAC’s first release in 1999, Blood On The Leaf.
The quality of musicianship, and freedom of expression, while also having to be technically nimble on your instrument in real-time, has attracted the who’s who of NYC area musicians to BSAC. So many great players that rather than list them here I’d just say go and read the personnel lists on the recordings to know. As we stand today, BSAC can basically construct music out of thin air, play our own compositions from twenty-some-odd recordings, and take other artists’ compositions and present them in a new light.
Circling back around to the new record, Marque Gilmore played a significant role here. Tell us about what he brought to the table and his relationship with the group in general.
I’ve personally known Marque and his brother, David since they were youngsters running around their father, Marvin Gilmore’s club, The Western Front in Cambridge Mass back in the Seventies. It is not at all surprising they both developed into world-class artists with all the wonderful music they were exposed to in their childhood “playground.”
Then we reconnected in the 90ss through our mutual involvement in the Black Rock Coalition; Marque in Bluprint and I as the first Director of Operations.
To now with Marque being a trailblazing world-renowned Drum & Bass originator/drum programmer, and Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber being a twenty-one-year-old musical collection of independents creating what they want, when they want, for no one in particular.
Is there a musical through-line or statement you’re looking to make with Angels Over Oakanda? If so, tell us more about it.
Same as it ever was — a massively creative group of players helmed by a super-massively creative leader doing what we do.
Easy ones now. What are a few of your favorite albums, and why?
Not so easy, actually — Aretha Arrives, Invitation to Openness & Swiss Movement, Are You Experienced, Electric Ladyland, Axis Bold as Love, Band of Gypsys, Beatles ’65, A Hard’s Day Night, What’s Going On, Love, Forever Changes, Chicago Transit Authority, Peaceful World, Island of Real, Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, Fragile, Motherlode, You Are the Music, We are the Band, America Eats It’s Young, Donny Hathaway Live, Dixie Chicken, Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now, Sade’s Greatest Hits, There’s A Riot Going On, Fresh, Fat Albert Rotunda, Headhunters, Weather Report, Hejira, 3+3, The Heat Is On, Look How Long, Music of My Mind, Songs In The Key of Life, Cut The Cake, Soul Searching, Pain, Skin Tight, East Bay Grease, Back To Oakland, First Light, Expressway To Your Skull — because they’re all fly as hell!!
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?
Roller Skating. There’s a glide to Dayton Ohio’s style of skating that drops between the beat of a song that ends up affecting your breathing. It’s that “breath” that affects my bass playing to bounce where there’s no roll.
I also love the construct of a business negotiation; seeing it come to fruition where the end result is dispersing money to folk.
I love to nap and then nap again. I’ve written songs, and lyrics of import to me coming out of a nap.
In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?
First, let me say it would be a very strange time in the music business even if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic.
I’d like to think the dismantling of the “gatekeeper” music business system would make some artists more hopeful. Yet also scared due to the demise of our money-making capabilities through diminishing physical product sales. Also, the fact that with no “gatekeepers” there’s a sonic over-saturation to the content-purchasing public is presently compounded by the multi-format digital competition for the consumer’s eyes, and ears.
Hopefully, leading to the realization there is so much that’s out of the artist’s control these days, the current state of music business equation simplifies to…control what you have complete control of…your work, and how your work is presented to the public.
Last one. What’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?
We’ve been experiencing a “taste” of returning to live performance with shows at NYC’s Lincoln Center and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Sign of the times…presenters mandated stringent safety measures, but I have to tell you the feel of, and response from a live audience again has been beyond super-joyous!
I’m not sure with the Delta and oncoming variants the live experience will be able to shift indoors. To date with our recent and upcoming performances (Sugar Hill Festival in Harlem and Real Art Ways in Connecticut in late September), they’ve all been outdoors with an audience that was either completely vaccinated/masked, and socially distanced from the band.
With the now common thought, there’s no such thing as safe social-distancing indoors (and for that matter outdoors too…), the live industry could very well come to a resounding halt in the parts of the world where it’ll be too frigid to perform outdoors. With no foreseeable end to the pandemic in sight, we could very easily see seasonal live performances in some parts of the world.
Sadly to say that would be a completely new experience that would hinder, and reshape even further the very fragmented live music industry and all the ancillary industries who’ve already suffered greatly over the last nineteen months. So, regarding live performance, as the temperature drops, there’s really not a lot to “look forward” to.
This brings us back to my original, and self-sustaining joy…making music of which I only need…Me, Myself, and I.
Interested in sampling the work of Burnt Sugar Arkestra The Chamber? Check out the link below:
Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews