The New Big Band
It was a black tie night of cute dresses and fancy tailored suits. The sun had just began setting against the backdrop of Westside Indianapolis and left a crystal shine on the JW Marriot Hotel, where the 2012 Uptown Saturday Night Inspired 100 Black Men Gala & Awards Dinner was being held. The age range settled with a predominance of 45+ but it was easy to spot a few twenty and thirty somethings enjoying the dim lighting and awaiting the mock casino that would cap off the night's event. The stunning decor helped us travel back into a time where clubs like The Savoy were heavily frequented. Before long, the circular tables with the expensive chinaware were full of people eager to hear speeches from the night's honorees and indulge in the culinary magic served in three courses. This type of gala perfection could have only been completed with music full of high voltage drums, horns and sporadic keys that were reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance.
~ Enter Kool’s Bazaar ~
Back in the 1920's and especially during the Harlem Renaissance, Big Band Music was gradually evolving into the rebirth of the already popular jazz music. These "big bands" consisted of 12 or so members (usually 5-6 on brass, 3-4 on reed instruments and 4 rhythm musicians) and became widely popular due in part to the dancing public that would frequent Harlem hotspots like The Savoy and dance the night away to the sounds from groups such as the Jenkins Orphanage Band and the Bennie Goodman Orchestra.
Fast forward to that September night of the gala and local band extraordinaire, Kool’s Bazaar. They emerged from their respective suites and entered the stage with ease and confidence. It was as if each person clenched a tiny piece of the renaissance in their palms. In addition to the four members that comprise KB, they added six additional musical contributors creating a modernized Big Band with a neo-hip-hop flair. 8 musicians, 2 singers and 1 hip hop emcee conjured Old Harlem’s spirits from left to right of the Marriot’s ballroom. Dressed in their signature colors red and black, from the moment they started playing, anyone within earshot of them could easily tell they weren’t listening to just any average band. This was not a group thrown together over loosely rolled joints in the back of a cluttered garage. This was a union of musicians who came ready to entertain, empower and embody [the theme] the way true professionals do. These are keen spirits aligned not by happenstance, but rather by design.
There were three sets. The first one, which began as the people were still filing in from the lobby, was very big band inspired. There were two trumpet players and two saxophone players. The mixture of brass horns & reed saxophones created the type of harmony that deserved a quick step of the Lindy Hop or at the very least, a Charleston showdown. And while a dance-off never happened, a thoroughly entertaining back and forth of these particular instruments picked up the slack. The melodies were up-tempo and the vocals were tenacious. Althought there were a couple of technical difficulties with teh sound, as they say, the band played on. Naz Khalid was the lead songstress/poet with Ashlee Baskin on secondary vocals. Both women’s voices were impeccable contrasts and compliments of each other. Naz owns a peaceful bluesy sound that feels as if it originated from the pains and loves of Lenox Avenue, while Baskin's voice was like the perfect flutter of butterfly bravado. The band’s rendition of “Strange Fruit,” made famous by jazz legend Billie Holiday (who Khalid’s voice has often been compared to), pulled the attendees away from their programs and private conversations and brought them into the cultural world of Kool’s Bazaar.
Big band music had a knack for bringing people together regardless of race, class or creed. The love of dance and the urge to do so when these bands would play transcended the racism and hard times of the 1920's and 30's. Although a lot of the music was pre-arranged, the room for improvisation is what set them apart from the average jazz band.
By the time the second set ended and the third set began, KB had shifted into their complete comfort zone. Hip hop artist/emcee (and frequent Kool’s Bazaar collaborator) Tony Styxx joined them onstage to help bring the energy in the room to a new plateau. Whether it was age or awe that kept people from giving in and cutting loose on the dance floor, the music in the room definitely called for and was worthy of it. Each artist was given a fair chance to flourish under the stage lights. The audience was treated to a vast array of sounds and genres; even poetry made a guest appearance. KB crossed boundaries and generations in three single leaps. As the night came to a close and the people began to pile into the blackjack tables, the new millennium “big band” ended on a friendly, upbeat and bittersweet note. Throughout the night, they had successfully fused original work with a few covers and their final number, a rendition of classic hip hop song “The Rising” by The Roots, was a sublime crescendo in both performance and lyrical content. After all, they are the breath of fresh musical air the world and on this night, the gala had been waiting on.
It was indeed a black tie event of glamour, dessert served in martini glasses and profound guest speakers. But ask anyone within earshot and they will surely tell you; the night belonged to the entertainment, Kool's Bazaar. And they did it all with just the right amount of Uptown Saturday Night flavor !
Kool’s Bazaar is as follows:
Nazeeha Khalid: lead vocalist/poet/emcee/songwriter
Richard Trotman: keyboardist/band director/ composer
Jesse Thomson: Bassist
Joe Elliot: drummer
Ashlee Baskin: Secondary Vocalist
Ronald Craig aka Tony Styxx: emcee
Brandon Crawford: Aux Keys
Jefri Payne: Trumpet
Joel Auxier: Trumpet
Jared Thompson : Sax
Lamont Webb: Sax