"I remember when I first read the words hanging in a frame on my grandma Rosa's wall. The serenity prayer was something I couldn't understand until almost thirty years later, but now after experiencing some peaks and valleys of life, those words ring in my ears with clarity."
Brian Blade has set those words to music for his first recording as a singer, guitarist and songwriter: Mama Rosa is a revealing journey through thirteen songs about family, loved ones, travels and a sense that these things that shape and inspire us have to be shared with others to complete a circle. He has been writing and recording material with words for as long as he's been making music. In fact, Mama Rosa grew naturally from the four-track home demos that he's recorded over the years and several of the original performances from those tapes can be heard on this album. Initially, Blade felt that these songs would never be heard by anyone else, but after encouragement from longtime friend Daniel Lanois, these home recordings became the cornerstones for the album. There is an initial spark close to the moment of inspiration and that intimate vibe is felt throughout Mama Rosa.
"For some time now, these songs have existed in the solitude of my room, and I got a lot of joy and satisfaction from just knowing that they existed," Blade says. "But at a certain point I questioned whether it was fear or selfishness that kept me quiet. Facing the music and the mirror, I began to ask if this was the end of the process? What does God expect of me? Maybe someone else might find some inspiration in the songs."
The lyrical themes of home, memories and loved ones, and how they shape who we are, are reflected in Blade naming the album after his grandmother. Rosa is the subject of the album's vivid opening track "After The Revival." Sung from the perspective of his mother Dorothy Blade, expecting the birth of her first son, Brian's older brother, Brady, Jr. "After the Revival" also alludes to Blade's early years at the Zion Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, where his father is pastor, and where Brian first started singing and playing the drums.
The multi-talented young veteran is already widely respected in the jazz world as drummer/composer/leader of Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band, with whom he has released three albums. He is also known as the drummer for many heroes of the music world, including Daniel Lanois, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Wayne Shorter, Seal, Bill Frisell and Emmylou Harris. Blade is always searching for the balance that gives a song a personal story with an outward reaching resonance. One such song of memories is entitled, "Second Home," a tribute to his teacher, John Vidacovich, and the city of New Orleans where Brian met Fellowship band mates Jon Cowherd and Chris Thomas. He lived in the crescent city for seven years while studying with musical masters Ellis Marsalis, David Lee, Jr. Bill Huntington, Mike Pellera, George French, Germaine Bazzle, Steve Masakowski and John Mahoney. Mama Rosa marks a new endeavor for Blade: a lovingly crafted, emotionally affecting song cycle that's deeply rooted in a rich vein of personal experience. "All That Was Yesterday", "You'll Always Be My Baby" and "Nature's Law" show Blade to be a soulful and expressive vocalist and a songwriter capable of rendering evocative stories that resonate with insight and empathy. "Revealing more of ourselves is always daunting," says Blade, "but I feel like I need to keep challenging myself and peeling away layers to get to the core of who I am and what I have to offer."
Mama Rosa's organic musical palette showcases Blade's diverse talents on acoustic guitar and drums, and one of the people who has inspired Blade for many years now, longtime friend and music maker champion, Daniel Lanois. Lanois is the featured soloist on Mama Rosa, offering perfectly formed and spiritually elevating Firebird guitar improvisations on the songs "At The Centerline," "Mercy Angel," "All That Was Yesterday" and "Her Song." In addition, guitarist Goffrey Moore, steel guitar virtuoso Greg Leisz, bassist Jenny lee Lindberg (Warpaint ), singer/songwriters Aaron Embry (Amnion), John Bigham (The Soul of John Black), Rocco Deluca and Daryl Johnson, and the Fellowship Band members Jon Cowherd, Chris Thomas and Kurt Rosenwinkel all help to serve the songs brilliantly. A deep sense of brotherhood echoes throughout the entire recording. Kelly Jones, a truly gifted songstress, blends beautifully with Blade on "Mercy Angel" and "Get There." Hearing them together brings to mind the inspiration and long history of touching duos, including Fred and Annie Mae Macdowell, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack and Sullivan and Iola Pugh (The Consolers). In addition to Blade's original compositions, the album features a memorable adaptation of Brazilian music icon Milton Nascimento's "Faithful Brother," as well as the pair of atmospheric instrumentals, "All Gospel Radio" and "Psalm 100."
"I hope that people will find some personal joy in these songs from Mama Rosa. The real challenge is to be honest with myself and to let more of who we are be seen and heard as the songs reveal themselves."
Brian Blade was born on July 25, 1970 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His mother, Dorothy Blade is a retired kindergarten teacher and his father, Brady L. Blade, Sr. is the pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in Shreveport. During his childhood, Brian would hear Gospel music in his everyday life, as well as the music of Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, and the Staple Singers. In elementary school, his music appreciation teacher, Lucy Bond, introduced her students to the music of Maurice Ravel and in this class, Brian would play the recorder and various melodic percussion instruments associated with the Carl Orff pedagogy.
From about age nine to age thirteen, Brian played violin in the school orchestra and continued to play until following in the footsteps of his older brother, Brady l. Blade, Jr. who played the drums in the Zion church.
During high school, both Brady, Jr. and Brian were students of Dorsey Summerfield, Jr. and performed as part of Dorsey’s professional group, the Polyphonics. During this time and through his experience with Mr. Summerfield, Brian began listening to the music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Elvin Jones, and Joni Mitchell.
In 1988, Brian moved to New Orleans to attend Loyola University. It was at this time that Brian would become friends with Jon Cowherd. Both Brian and Jon were able to study and play with most of the master musicians living in New Orleans, including: John Vidacovich, Ellis Marsalis, Steve Masakowski, Bill Huntington, Mike Pellera, John Mahoney, George French, Germaine Bazzle, David Lee, Jr., Alvin Red Tyler, Tony Dagradi and Harold Battiste.
There were many inspiring musicians living and visiting New Orleans who helped Brian in his development. Some of these friends are Chris Thomas, Peter Martin, Nicholas Payton, Antoine Drye, Martin Butler, Delfeayo Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Harry Connick, Jr., Gray Mayfield, Marcus Roberts, Victor Goines and Daniel Lanois.
In 1998, Brian and Jon Cowherd began recording their own music with the group Fellowship. The band members are Chris Thomas, Myron Walden, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Melvin Butler. They have released 3 albums together – Fellowship and Perceptual, both on Blue Note, and the 2008 Verve recording, Season of Changes.
Since 2000, Brian has been part of the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Danilo Perez and John Patitucci.
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band tickets for 6/6, 6/7, and 6/8 performances at Dazzle in Denver will be going on sale tomorrow!
wwno.org This week on Inside the Arts, an exploration of jazz. Acclaimed jazz drummer and composer Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band celebrate 20 years together.