During the late ’80s the concept of great R&B bands began to wane to the commercial pop sensibilities of hip hop and pop culture. Tony Toni Tone was one of those few groups remaining in the ’90s that continued to produce tasteful quality vocal R&B that sounded good to both new school and old school ears. Since then Raphael Saadiq, the signature voice of that ensemble, has gone off to do his own thing as a solo artist. In doing so he put together a band of high-caliber musicians including two of our own: trombonist Terrance Taplin and trumpeter Jamelle Williams,
If you hang out on the local jazz scene you might recognize these names, as they have played with a host of local jazz aggregations and Jamelle built a reputation as a bandleader in his own right. In fact, both continue to play with Delfeayo Marsalis group when in town, off the road.
Of course, since they have been in Saadiq’s band they have been playing on huge stages in front of thousands of people; but. a few weeks ago, they got the opportunity to do something really special. They performed on the Grammy Award show, the mos- watched televised music show of the year, backing one of the biggest legends in music, Mick Jagger.
I thought it would be interesting to hear Terrance’s perspective on this experience, as that of a jazz-trained musician in New Orleans playing on the pinnacle of Los Angeles “glitz and glam.”
So what is Raphael Saadiq like?
Raphael is a cool person, first and foremost. He’s a musician first, then celebrity. He also loves his craft and studies his art form vigorously. Saadiq is the kind of guy who pays homage to all of the great talent that came before him.
When did you join the band and how did Raphael hear about you?
I’ve been in the band since July of 2010. My first gig was the Essence Fest. Raphael wanted a bigger horn section, since he was going to perform on the large stage at the festival. So he asked Jamelle to recommend a trombone player. Jamelle and I have been working together for almost 10 years, so he recommended me. The chemistry was great from the beginning and that made a great working environment.
A lot of great historic bands have used jazz musicians because of their musicality, training, and technique. Immediately I think of Ray Charles with Fathead Newman (tenor sax) and Marcs Belgrave (trumpet), James Brown with Maceo Parker (sax) and Fred Wesley (trombone). More recently the bands of Prince and Beyoncé have used jazz musicians. We play together in Delfeayo’s (Marsalis) Uptown Orchestra, so compare that experience to touring as a commercial R&B thing as a horn player.
I would say exposure is the biggest difference between commercial R&B and jazz. We perform in front of thousands of people, while jazz gigs are more intimate. Some of Raphael’s songs swing, so we feel at home when we play them. Also, the band loves to say they have horns from New Orleans. They believe that horns from New Orleans are the “real deal.” We take pride in what we do and we make sure that we represent the city in a positive way.
In both jazz and R&B we try to make a musical statement. Yes, there are stylistic differences, but that’s not the biggest challenge. In both idioms you have to “speak” to the audience. In jazz there is a lot of individuality and self-expression that you share with the audience, but with Saadiq’s group our goal is to sound as one big fat section. We try to match our attacks, release, swells, vibrato, and nuance all while trying to stay in tune and in some cases moving.
The Grammys had to be exciting, but I’m sure there were expectations by Rafael, Mick Jagger, and all concerned that things be perfect. Talk about the process of rehearsing with a legendary master entertainer who has been on top for 40 years.
As Raphael is respected as having one of the tightest bands in the industr,y we were asked to back Mick Jagger in a tribute. We had two rehearsals before the Grammy performance. The Grammys rented the rehearsal space, so there were other performers there as well. Bob Dylan and Willow Smith were two artists rehearsing at the same time we did. Raphael has one of the best bands in the business so rehearsals went smoothly. Mick was great as well. Mick had high energy every take. He’s a friendly guy. He wanted to meet everybody in the band and was very encouraging.
Between takes the band would keep things loose by playing, like when we spontaneously launched into a slow Muddy Waters-type blues. Mick was ready and surprised us when he pulled out a harmonica and started to jam with us. He can play very well. That really blew the rest of the guys away. He also sang a little over the blues and that really blew us away as well.
There was also a dress rehearsal at the Staples Center. I remember how the security was not messing around. The size of the stage and the production was a bit overwhelming at first, but once we took the stage it was like any other bandstand.
Were there any other notable people hanging around during rehearsal?
It was kind of cool to be behind the scenes watching the other artists rehearse. I remember Rihanna’s SUV rolling up and seeing her high-tail it to the stage so she could rehearse with Dr. Dre and Eminem.
During the final ru- through on the morning of the day of the show I literally bumped into Usher on the way to the stage. We passed Cee-Lo on the way to the stage and he gave us some encouragement as we took the stage. As we waited in place for the signal to begin the performance Mick began to do a little call and response chant to get us pumped and loosened up. The performance felt good and natural, just like a hundred others, so there were no jitters. We rocked the house.
Ok… so I have to say that reminded me that I was talking to a fellow New Orleanian. Remember, this is a city where the biggest stars just hang out like one of the locals, (Think Brad Pitt riding his bike through the ninth ward or Sean Penn hanging out a bar in the Bywater.) So Terrance… what about the after parties? Did you and Jamelle hang til the early morning with the rich, famous, and “pretty” people?
After the show my wife and I grabbed a bite to eat, then went to bed. The day was long and we were tired, so we didn’t do the after party thing. Mick wrote everyone a thank-you letter a few days later. We also received gift baskets from him. We all thought that was very classy and we appreciated it very much. Well, that’s the Hollywood story.