How Brian Blade’s Band Brings New Life to Every Song

The New Orleans-based jazz drummer tells us what he’ll show Chicago in his upcoming performances at the Old Town School of Folk Music and the Symphony Center.

 

Photograph: Cotton CLub Tokyo
 

The busy and versatile New Orleans-based drummer Brian Blade will be a familiar presence in the Chicago jazz scene over the next few months. This Friday, he leads his long-running Fellowship Band (which includes pianist Jon Cowherd, alto saxophonist Myron Walden, tenor/soprano saxophonist Melvin Butler and bassist Chris Thomas) through some of the group’s trademark slow-build compositions at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

Blade will also return for a date at Symphony Center with a quartet led by the legendary Wayne Shorter. Danilo Perez and John Patitucci also join on piano and bass respectively. We sat down with the percussionist to talk about his upcoming work.

The new record, Landmarks, is set for release this summer. What can listeners expect from this latest chapter of the Fellowship Band?
We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything, but we do want to see how we can fit into the story of the music that’s been laid down by everyone from Coltrane and Monk to Ellington and Joni Mitchell.

As far as the new album, I hope people hear it as a continuation of the voice we’ve tried to establish with our first three records—a very poetic and melodic delivery that really respects the song. I like to compose on guitar, so we have [the guitarists and Chicago natives] Jeff Parker and Marvin Sewell bringing that element in on a couple of the new tunes.

Do you find that there are advantages, or challenges, to leading a group from behind the drum kit?
The way I see it, I’m just the drummer in the band. The only time I see myself as the “leader” is when I have to sort out some kind of logistical issue with touring or whatever. When we go out there, we go out as a group to really explore these songs in the moment and deliver a collective vision.

What have you taken away from the experience of playing with Wayne Shorter?
I don’t throw this around lightly, but Wayne really is such a genius. And such a big-hearted man. His compositions are alive, like a piece of himself that he’s transcribed.

But he’s also quick to want us, as a band, to take what he’s written on paper and try and turn it into something new on the stage. It’s the absolute balance of composer and improviser. I write a song and it looks great on paper and sounds great in my head, but it’s dormant until the band starts playing with it and turns it into something new. That’s where the energy and the excitement come from. 

The Fellowship Band plays on 3/15 at 8; $28. Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln. oldtownschool.org

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