|L-R: Xantoné Blacq, Pee Wee Ellis, Patches Stewart|
Keyboard player, singer, composer, recording artist and jazz-funk impresario Xantoné Blacq played keyboards for Amy Winehouse. He’s appearing for two nights at The Hideaway next month as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. With him are trumpeter Patches Stewart, famous for his collaborations with Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Marcus Miller and others, and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, saxophonist, arranger and bandleader for James Brown. Peter Jones interviewed Xantoné about the gig.
LondonJazz News: How did you get together with these two funk demigods?
Xantoné Blacq: I first met Pee Wee Ellis at least ten years ago. I was working for Collage Arts in North London, and Pee Wee was there, teaching the students. They did a show at the end, and all these rappers were coming up, and at one point I shouted out: ‘God bless the rappers, Pee Wee, but what about the singers?’ So he said OK, what about you? So I got up on stage and did I Feel Good – his take on it – and we kept in touch after that. And when I did my first album, he came to London and played on it. Then last year he was guesting with the Paul Jackson Trio, and we worked together there as well.
I met Patches Stewart when I was working in Poland with Michal Urbaniak. Patches has a Polish partner, so he lives there some of the time as well, and he came on the gig with Michal too.
LJN: You’re also playing with your regular trio guys Nathan Allen and Alex Bonfanti at The Hideaway?
XB: Yes, they’re my partners in funk! There’s been a slight change actually – Nathan Allen is still playing drums but Alex has a six-week tour, so Dale Davis is now on bass. Both of the guys are Amy Winehouse alumni. Dale was musical director for Amy’s band. So there’s huge experience there, and I feel very lucky to have these guys. I mean, Patches was with Al Jarreau for ten years, and Pee Wee was right there at the genesis of funk. He wrote Cold Sweat with James Brown. So you’ve got this front line and the Winehouse guys keeping the groove going. A lot of firepower!
LJN: But it’s also a classic jazz quintet line-up.
XB: Yes, it’s a classic quintet, but not as we know it! There will be a lot of funk, but we have the capability to play straight-ahead too, and I’m sure there will be some moments of that.
LJN: Without giving too much away, what else can audiences expect at The Hideaway?
XB: A mixture of everybody’s original material – my stuff, Patches, Pee Wee, plus covers done in our way. But there will be surprises too. There will be some kind of framework that we have rehearsed, but really from that point on, it depends on the day. I would not want people who come on both nights to see the same show. The set list will be the same, but it will morph. I really believe in that jazz aesthetic. All the people I respect in music – and in life – are people who follow their gut and focus on being in the moment.
There’s something very interesting about watching a band like ours play, where you have people from different generations and backgrounds playing in the same tradition of music, and seeing how that music has evolved. So for example you’ve got Pee Wee, who was there at the start in the Sixties, then Patches was the next generation, then there was funk in the Eighties when it integrated with soul. And of course you had all the changes in technology, and it continued to mutate. And then there’s my own background coming from Lagos in Nigeria, the African influence that I have.
LJN: What else are you up to?
XB: I’m about to start work on my third album. And I’m learning to play the guitar!
DETAILS: Xantone Blacq & Patches Stewart Band featuring Pee Wee Ellis are at The Hideaway on 13th and 14th November. The gig is one in the series of Xantoné Blacq Presents live music events which he curates and promotes. Twitter: @xanblacq andFacebook: The-Magnificent Xantoné Blacq.