The Baylor Project was formed in 2017. (L-R) Vocalist Jean Baylor was one half of the duo Zhane and drummer Marcus Baylor was formerly with the contemporary jazz group Yellowjackets. Credit: Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer

Hearing veteran successful jazz musicians, along with artists deserving of broader recognition, was part of the beauty of this year’s DC Jazz Festival in its 18th year.

Friday evening at Eaton Hotel’s rooftop venue, Matthew Shipp performed a mesmerizing solo piano set. “Free jazz” is often associated with Shipp’s piano approach. In a conversation following his performance, he admitted that some might compare him to jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. Taylor was considered to take an energetic or physical approach to the piano.

The Baylor Project performed at Transit Pier on Saturday at the 18th DC Jazzfest. The group consists of (L-R) pianist Terry Brewer, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, saxophonist Keith Loftis, bassist Richie Goods and co-leaders vocalists Jean Baylor and drummer Marcus Baylor. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer) 

“I think there is a psychological freedom that I think ‘free jazz’ has allowed me to synthesize a bunch of things together,” Shipp said. “It’s not the cliche of ‘free jazz’ that is important; it’s the mindset of being able to draw from whatever you want.”

Shipp performed only one song for his set. It lasted 55 minutes. I was reminded of my younger years when I absorbed everything I was exposed to in jazz. With Shipp, his performance made me say, “Oh, this is what’s happening.” Shipp admitted that when he sits down to perform, he doesn’t know what he will let come out.

“It depends on the mood,” Shipp explained.

Lucky me for the spot where I was seated. Shipp’s fingers were often curved, with the tips landing lightly on the edge of the keys, then fluidly falling off the keyboard in rapid motion. Other times he played powerfully, almost banging keys on the lower registry, sounding like the boogie man.

“People call it my cat movement.” He laughed about banging the keys. “I spent a lot of hours as a child watching horror movies. There’s a lot of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman in my music.”

Some may want to also classify Shipp’s set as improvisational music, but I kept hearing bits from classic jazz songs. I tried to hold those classic bars in my head until I could get to him after the set.

“I threw in a couple of standards, ‘Infant Eyes,’ ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ and ‘On Green Dolphin Street,’” Shipp confirmed.

So, I did hear John Coltrane’s “Infant Eyes,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” a Miles Davis Sextet interpretation of Disney’s “Cinderella,” and “On Green Dolphin Street” from Davis’ second great quintet. Those jazz classics are not “free jazz,” showing how Shipp should not be put in a box. We heard a few of his influences.

Learn more about Shipp at http://michaelbisio.com/shipp

Baylor Project Are All Things Beautiful

Husband and wife Marcus and Jean Baylor have contributed their music longer than most people realize. Marcus was a drummer for Grammy award-winning jazz group Yellowjackets. Jean was one half of the platinum recording duo R&B Zhane. It makes sense that these two musicians, composers, and producers would collaborate in 2014 to form the Baylor Project.

The Baylor Project performed at Transit Pier on Saturday at the 18th DC Jazzfest. The group consists of (L-R) pianist Terry Brewer, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, saxophonist Keith Loftis, bassist Richie Goods and co-leaders vocalists Jean Baylor and drummer Marcus Baylor. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer) 

The Baylor Project was introduced at DC Jazzfest as performing jazz with a little gospel infusion. Part of their repertoire comes from both their roots as children of pastors. They proved to be much more.

“Our mentor Buster Williams hired Jean to do a gig,” said Marcus about legendary jazz bassist Williams. “From that, it opened the door for a nine-month residency at Smoke Club in New York.”

The Project’s set was jazz played hard, meaning the group did not hold back. Drumming from Marcus and multi-octave vocals from Jean were accompanied by pianist Terry Brewer, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, saxophonist Keith Loftis, and bassist Richie Goods. Individually, each member of the Baylor Project went all out, so the total combination was an invigorating concert experience.

The timing was perfect for the Project’s performance at the weekend music festival since their third CD was released on September 2. Titled “The Evening: Live at APPARATUS,” audiences can feel from their latest recording what I felt during their performance at the S.W. Wharf. With Jean’s beautiful vocals, the group’s interpretation of “Tenderly” was superb. Some may remember Nat King Cole’s rendition. When the group sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” I felt the church upbringing of Marcus and Jean. The crowd was deeply moving with soft shout congregational responses. Feeling moved was just the tip of the iceberg of emotion. The audience embraced the Baylor Project’s entire DC Jazzfest set.

Give yourself a treat and take time to learn more about the Baylor Project at https://www.thebaylorproject.com/home. 

 Brenda C. Siler on Twitter and Instagram: @bcscomm  

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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