Quentin Moore: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
“ I've been telling everybody who's been collaborating with me, that if you like every song on "Quentinized," then you are insane. Like me! ”
Much has been recently written about the "graying" of jazz and the audience who listens to it, young musicians seem to continually discover (and rediscover) its enduring valueand not just the value of jazz as its own standalone genre, but the benefit of incorporating aspects of jazz, such as improvisation and arrangement, into music of every type.
Quentin Moore is one such musician. Though his 2009 debut, Vintage Love, and 2011 follow-up, "Quentinized" (Mixtape), both self-produced, unapologetically present large, steaming warm slices of R&B and soul, he speaks freely of the jazz elements and influences in his music, in particular the impact of studies and friendships formed at the University of North Texas, from which Moore graduated with a Human Resources degree in 2007.
Moore grew up surrounded by the sound of the church organ, drums, and vocals from the soulful gospel music of St. Stephen's Baptist Church in his hometown of Austin, Texas. While playing drums through middle school and high school, his taste expanded into soul and R&B. But at the University of North Texas (UNT), Moore was introduced by peers and professors to jazz, while he simultaneously expanded his instrumental prowess to include electric guitar and bass. Since then, his music and life have never been the same.
By graduating from UNT, Moore joins a long line of alumni that includes Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Belden, Conrad Herwig, Lyle Mays, saxophonist Bill Evans, Bob Dorough, and Norah Jones (and, among others, Roy Orbison!). The prestigious UNT One O'Clock Lab band has received six Grammy nominationsmost recently, for Best Large Jazz Ensemble and Best Instrumental Composition ("Ice Nine," by Steve Wiest) in 2009and will perform in November 2011 with special guest Terell Stafford for the UNT 51st Annual Fall Concert.
Moore wrote his entire Vintage Love debut, which suggests a cross between a young Stevie Wonder, from his keyboards and arrangements, and a young Maxwell or Brian McKnight, from his smooth, sure vocals, and also provided all the lead vocals and much of its instrumentation. One of the top selling Urban R&B/Soul releases on CDBaby.com, Vintage Love highlights include the lushly evocative "Sex Song" a quiet storm that thunders and billows like Teddy Pendergrass on the tomcat prowl, and the energizing "Whoop Your Jazz (jam)."
All About Jazz: You were born in one of the world's best music townsAustin, Texas. Did you hear much of the region's famous roots, blues, and blues-rock music while growing up, and do you think it had much impact on you?
Quentin Moore: Growing up in Austin influenced me a great bit. It's a cultural melting pot when it comes to music, a lot of different styles and a lot of different people. I primarily started with gospel, in church. Down in Austin, gospel is pretty big. But one thing that's different about gospel in Austin compared to other places: With Austin being so diversified and cultured, the gospel would mix over into different styles of music, from blues to rock to jazz and even rhythm and blues.
Also, part of growing up in Austin is that I grew up around the blues and zydeco. When I grew up, an independent radio station (that's still there) played everything, reggae to zydeco to smooth jazz to straight-ahead jazz. So I could literally just flip on this one radio station and listen to all these styles of music. I've never found another radio station that comes anywhere near that. With Austin being in south central Texas, we also heard a lot of reggae and Tejano music.
When I was younger, I primarily listened to what young people listen to; you know, pop and rap and popular R&B. I used to not like blues; my grandparents would play the blues all the time and say that they saw B.B. King here and there, but my position was that I couldn't stand that stuff. Tejano music, tooI'd hear my neighbors play it every day. But as I got older, I grew to appreciate those different styles of music. So Austin influenced me in several different ways.
AAJ: They're two terms that seem to be used pretty much interchangeably. What is the difference, at least in your mind, between R&B and soul?
QM: To me, soul is like this perfect mix between gospel and R&B, [with] the lyrics and worldly culture of R&B, but the soul and spirit and sincerity of gospel music. You can pretty much hear someone crying their heart out for someone, and them sincerely meaning it. But R&B is stuff that people dance to or play when they're interested in having a good time. I've always thought of soul as...not necessarily blue music, but something played from the heart, whether through the music or the lyrics. I look at soul as a little bit deeper version of R&B. A lot of soul singersfor example, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Al Greentheir vocal stylings are real similar to gospel, but they're singing R&B style songs. R&B is kind of more on the surface, not to be disrespectful to it, but soul is from more deeply within.
A lot of soul, especially contemporary soul, has jazz stylings because it tends to use a lot of live instrumentation, as opposed to R&B using more electronics and samples and things like that.
AAJ: The University of North Texas (UNT) music program is internationally renowned and boasts a heavyweight list of musical alumni. Would you share some of your curricular and extracurricular experiences there?
QM: I did take a jazz theory class, a voice class, and also a guitar class. These and other things brought about several moments of epiphany for me. I went to UNT primarily thinking that I was going to be a football star and music would be my side deal. I knew that UNT was a big music school and I wasn't that deep into jazz, but then I met a couple of musicians there. Tony Spiro, who owns several websites devoted to the DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) music scene, was a drummer in several ensembles at UNT when we met. He said that he enjoyed my style, we traded some things, and when he began to share about jazz, it was a moment of epiphany for me: "Wow, this jazz stuff's pretty cool!" I would take those things back and try to play them. Tony also gave me some CDs that introduced me to such artists as Herbie Hancock and Jaco Pastorius.
Then I figured out that a lot of artists like Herbie and Jaco and Bob James and Jeff Lorber were all sampled by R&B and rap and hip-hop artists: "So, this is where they got that from! This was the original stuff!" So I realized that this was what I needed to be listening to and working on. So I got deep into Jaco Pastorius, such a talented bassist. Deep into Marcus Miller, another great bassist, and Pino Palladino, and others, keyboardists like Herbie and Brian Culbertson, smooth guitarist Norman Brown, and started really studying this stuff.
As for more personal instruction, I credit Jermaine Stegall for giving me serious theory lessons. I played at a church in Denton, and had grown up listening to a gospel group called God's Property. What impressed me about God's Property was how they infused jazz and funk into their music. I had never heard gospel done that way, with jazz fusion to straight ahead jazz to funk. I just sort of took it in but didn't really know where it was coming from. I got to Denton to play at this church and most of the musicians who were in that band were at this church: Jermaine and R.C. Williams, who's currently the musical director for Erykah Badu, and others. I came in at a good time. Jermaine helped me with the keyboard and organ and showed me some theory and scales, and gave me tips and pointers. Jermaine also took me under his wing, introduced me to a lot of artists, and showed me all the tricks when it came to theory. That genuinely changed my life, revolutionized my musical career, and got me thinking about taking my music more seriously.
Jermaine once he asked me if I looked at the songwriter, musician, engineer, and producer credits on these records, and suggested that I study them as well. I had never thought about that but once I did, I began to see that certain sounds were associated with certain musicians. On this D'Angelo album, for example, Pino Palladino was the bassist and ?Questlove, from The Roots, was the drummer, and they had their own sound. Certain peoples' writing had their own unique sound, and I began to study these people. He got me doing my homework: jazz theory; studying CD credits; even just hanging out and trading licks. Jermaine was a Masters composition student at UNT at that time; he's now in LA doing film scores as well as serving as a saxophonist, keyboardist, and arranger. We became friends and not only shared music but life together. He took me in like a little brother.
AAJ: Your website biography says: "As a student and athlete at the University of North Texas, he was inspired by jazz by artists such as Jimmy Smith, Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, and Roy Hargrove." How did these jazz musicians influence Vintage Love?
QM: There's a lot of jazz on it right from the title track, which is kind of jazz-soul. You catch a lot of jazz-soul from tunes like "My Old School" and "'Smooth 4 U" and several others, a lot of jazz voicings on the chords, a lot of live instrumentation and horn solos. UNT greatly influenced it; I wrote most of these songs while I was still at UNT listening to artists like Herbie Hancock, like Isaac Hayes, like Pino Palladino and John Maher and Jaco Pastorius. I arranged all my own horns based on what I learned from being around various UNT ensembles. UNT got me into that type of stuff.
AAJ: One of its bonus tracks is called "Whoop Your Jazz." Could you walk us through this tune's inspiration and construction?
QM: Originally, the main part of the tune was just the "Whoop Your Jazz" part, which comes in after the Digable Planets' "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" part. But what I started doing in my live shows, to try to get people my age more into it, was to use Digable Planets in front of my own song to get them to pay attention to what I was doing; if we could get them to listen, then we could move on with what we were trying to do in the jazz tune. I call that beginning Digable Planets part "Cool like a Tutu" because it fuses this Digable Planets songthe opening bass linewith chords and licks that are very similar to "Tutu," a tune that Marcus Miller wrote for Miles Davis. I decided to arrange them together like that. Most of the "Whoop Your Jazz" part of it is original, but the hook part of it is very similar to "Autumn Leaves." We just kind of took the chord progression and filtered it in.
The story behind the actual writing of this song is very UNT-influenced. We were very, very competitive when it came to musicianship. Not in a bitter sense, but there were a lot of talented musicians and it was a friendly rivalry among different cliques. Michael League from Snarky Puppy came out of UNT. He was there when I was there, and used to sit in on some of our rehearsals. Kevin Pittman had the Voices of Praise, a gospel group on campus. A lot of guys were deep into funk in the jazz program. There were the lab bands and other bands and just a whole lot of different things going on.
We had this soul and R&B band called Soulbol. I wanted to write a tune to kind of show that although we primarily do soul and R&B, we can get with you. We can whoop your jazz. Don't get mixed up by us singing these popular R&B songs, we can actually play. We wanted to prove that Soulbol could hang, even though we weren't all enrolled in the music program and we primarily did R&B and soul.
AAJ: What's the one piece of advice you'd give to a young person graduating high school and considering studying music in college?
QM: Definitely number one: get with someone older than you, someone who has more experience. Number two: study as many different styles of music as you can. Dig deep and dig deep early. One thing that I would have done differently would be to dig deep early, to find more styles of music. Open your mind; even if you're primarily into jazz, start studying rock or soul or reggae, because you never know what you'll end up liking. As a kid, I thought hip-hop and pop were going to do it for me. That's the reason why I started writing, but when jazz and gospel started coming heavy to me, I moved closer to the soul side. Broaden your range. Study. Get out and play. Improvising early on helped me, because when my time came I wasn't scared. I would do a lot of that at church and when I played with R&B bands, so that when I played jazz fusion it was no problem for me to come out and just play what was on my mind.
AAJ: Your YouTube video commercial jingle for Fat Ho' Burgers in Waco went viral. How did that come about?
QM: I'd noticed that a lot of people do YouTube. I wanted to do some YouTube videos with my soul, R&B, and jazz, use live instruments and cover trending topics, or take popular songs and "Quentin-ize" them, turn them into my style of music. Fat Ho' Burgers was a trending topic at that point in time. One personal tidbit about me: I love hamburgers, so much that sometimes I have to stay away from them. Some trending topics were a harder for me to do, but this one came right to me. And I love comedy, so I thought her whole idea behind the business was great. I know a lot of people didn't like it, they thought it was disrespectful, but I thought it was funny.
They have good burgers. We went down there on a leg of our tour in May and played three live shows for them. To be honest with you, we had Austin and Houston and Dallas on that leg, but those shows were the best. We probably had maybe twelve people therereal people who loved and appreciated usbut it was just great. She's still using that theme, and now she's looking to open up another location, possibly in Dallas. They were doing pretty good, last I heard.
AAJ: What are your current and future projects?
QM: The project that I'm finishing right now is "Quentinized" (Mixtape) and that's exactly what it is; a fusion of my core style, soul and R&B, that also features several different styles, almost too wide a range from jazz fusion to straight-ahead jazz to smooth jazz, reggae, Tejano, zydeco, second line jazz, and even a little bit of gospel. "Quentinized" (Mixtape) is a lot of unreleased material plus some jazz stuff that just didn't fit on the Vintage Love project. I'm stretching out a little bit more into jazz in the instrumentals on here. It's also going to feature some popular R&B covers. There will even be a little bit of comedy, so people can laugh a little and have a good time with it. It became available for download on July 15 , with a release party in Austin that night. There will be a download link on my website, as well as on all my social media sites, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, available for worldwide download. And it's available for free, which is another good reason to go get it.
I just want to give folks something until my next project, generate a little buzz about the range of my production and writing skills and presentation style. My goal is to get listeners in every type of audience to put at least one song on their iPod. I've been telling everybody who's been collaborating with me, that if you like every song on this project, then you are insane. Like me!
Quentin Moore, "Quentinized" (Mixtape) (Soulbol PRO, 2011)
Quentin Moore, Vintage Love (Soulbol PRO, 2009)
All Photos: Courtesy of Quentin Moore