KARL on the Cats and the Big Fun(k) Story:
The Don Braden/Karl Latham Big Fun(k) project was a dream of mine from the first times I played with Nick and Don.
Nick and I met playing straight ahead jazz in the quartet of long time Dizzy Gillespie bassist (and leader of the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni groups) John Lee. I knew Nick was a “bad boy” immediately and he told me he thought at the time, “Now who is THIS drummer?” We dug hanging and playing ever since and have played in every format and nearly every style of music. Nick is one of the top NYC area keyboardists and has performed with artists as varied as Lizz Wright, Nona Hendryx, Benny Golson, Roy Hargrove and even comedian and TV producer, Dave Chappelle. He is also known as a solo artist and emerging actor (check him out in Bernard and Doris!)
Don and I met inadvertently through saxophonist Bob Malach. Bobby played on German pianist Johannes Moessinger’s beautiful CD, “Nu Love”, along with bassist Kermit Driscoll and myself. We were scheduled to tour in Germany, but as karma would have it, Bobby was double booked. Once again, “the catalyst” John Lee (who is known for putting cats together musically and who had already introduced me to Don) connected Don to Johannes to replace Bobby on the tour. I loved Don from the first moments even before the first notes were played! At the beginning of that tour, Don, Kermit, Johannes and I were traveling in the van through the Black Forest, and Johannes, a VERY proud resident of that region (he lives in Freiburg, Germany), expressed some of that pride as we drove. Don asked “So what exactly is SO important about the Black Forest”? I, the idiot drummer yelled from the back of the van “Don’t YOU know, that’s where the Black people come from!” Man, there was a tense moment of silence… What did the idiot drummer do now? We all just met, a long tour just starting; was the dynamic for great music totally blown??? This could go awry… Don turned around with a huge grin and said, “That’s right!! How did I forget???” We’ve been Bros from that second on! What is there to say about Don as a musician and person? Don is simply a GENIUS...one of the most kind and generous human beings I know and just truly a great cat!
The last element of BF was in limbo. We had a killing African bassist (who will remain unnamed) booked for a recording session, but he called us from LA and said, “Oh it was today????” Oops! As karma (again!) would have it, this opened the door for me to recommend my lifelong buddy Gary Foote. Gary and I cut our teeth together in the pro music scene with an RCA/Novus artist who emerged and was very popular for a couple of years in the very beginning of the smooth jazz scene: Charlie Elgart. (Charlie was on the radio 6 times a day in the NYC market alone – we’d hear ourselves everywhere including places like K-Mart!) Gary had just come off the road with legendary drummer Billy Cobham when we started with Charlie. We hit it off immediately and we’ve played many times together since then. We have even shot a TV pilot together with Hugh Heffner’s former girlfriend “Kendra” and Jon Lovitz! Gary Foote is a killing bassist, and has performed with so many artists in funk, rock and jazz. He’s also an amazing composer and a beautiful human being. He is best known for his 20-year plus association as the bassist with Blood, Sweat and Tears.
The name Big Fun(k) is an homage to the first jazz recording I ever heard, Miles Davis’ “Big Fun” which IMMEDIATELY drew a young rocker (that’s me!) into the percolating world of that period of Miles’ music. If you know this recording, you know that probably explains a lot about why I have become known for playing nearly every style of music imaginable and LOVE to take risks!
DON on the Tunes:
I should say at the outset that Karl Latham is one of my favorite drummers and one of my favorite people, too. Great grooves, great energy, great intellect, and a million laughs! We are quite different of course (for one thing, he jumps out of planes – he said he’s a risk taker, right?!? – and I stay in them...), but we synchronize on so much. It is truly a blast to play with him, and this music reflects both the synchrony and the blast!
This recording is from a series of gigs performed at the remarkable Cecil's Jazz Club, in West Orange, NJ (more on Cecil’s below). The "official" band name is Big Fun(k), but the actual BF repertoire is still evolving, so we play many of these tunes differently now. These versions of the tunes are the "older" ones, but they're so hot Karl and I decided to release them as this album. Creativity, improvisation, interaction, emotion, soul and smokin' grooves are in abundance, reflecting our Jazz and funk roots. Enjoy!
I wrote High Rise on a flight home from the Netherlands, where I often perform. I also regularly teach at the Prins Claus Conservatoire in Groningen. Nick plays a killer solo on this one!
Since its release in 2005, we have liked Beyonce's Deja Vu, and have looked for ways to explore it creatively. This version is quite re-harmonized, but retains the funk!
A Foote in the Door is Nick's tune, and (switching to third person here) Don's improvised sax solo is one of his favorites on this recording. It is also a grooving vehicle for Gary Foote's creativity.
The arrangement for the Beatles classic (and one of Karl's favorites) Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was inspired by gospel music and the Blues. It is preceded by Having a Ball, which is me doing just that, solo saxophone style.
I wrote The Funky View during my days as composer for Bill Cosby and CBS from 1995-2000. It was intended as a straight-ahead, fun-to-play tune, and that's what it is now. Karl's groove on this one is particularly slammin'!
Heads Up was composed quite a few years ago, originally as a "Smooth Jazz" piece. As the band played it, the drum-and-bass approach evolved. Considering its origins, this open, exploratory version is pretty hot!
When the band first rehearsed Nick Rolfe's Confusion, it was just that! Following a minor-tinged main melody, the improv section is similar to the Jaco Pastorius classic, "The Chicken", but parts of it are in the challenging time-signature of 13/8. Obviously, we did get it together.
I composed Song For Mother for a Project Poetry Live (for Litchfield Performing Arts) some years ago, and dedicate this performance to my Mom.
Grover Miles is dedicated to two of our all-time favorite musicians: Grover Washington, Jr. and Miles Davis. The bass line is related to Miles' Tutu, and the melody has elements of classic tunes from Grover's recordings of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.
We hope you dig the VIBES of this music. It was created by friends, in a friend’s club with love for the music, the audience and the great SPIRIT of life!
On Don and Karl
Don Braden grew up in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970's, and while he was an excellent student (he eventually attended Harvard University as a Engineering major), he spent plenty of time in those days playing instrumental funk and rock music: the "Jazz" of the 70's. Later he seriously pursued straight ahead Jazz, and was considered one of the "young lions" of the 80's. He has toured the world and recorded with many Jazz giants, including Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Roy Haynes, Tom Harrell among others, and has produced 15 previous CDs as a leader. He has also spent many years as composer for Bill Cosby, writing for several of his TV shows. In addition, Braden is a very active Jazz educator.
Karl Latham grew up in Northwest New Jersey (farm country), and like Don, studied music and computer science. Karl won many competitions as a youth and nearly pursued a career in classical percussion. He played and listened to a great deal of jazz fusion, “ECM” jazz, world music and funk. He broke on the NYC jazz market with an RCA/Novus artist in the late 80’s, played with many groups including The Fantasy Band and Unit1 with bassist Mark Egan. Since 1993 Karl has gravitated toward the European jazz scene, touring with Wolfgang Lackerschmid's and Johannes Moessinger’s groups, along with guests Don Braden, John Lee, Joe Lovano, Kermit Driscoll, Boris Kozlov, Attila Zoller and Joel Frahm. Like Braden, Karl is a respected educator.
On Cecil’s Jazz Club and Restaurant
Cecil’s is musician owned and operated and is dedicated to presenting the best in Jazz. The owner, renowned drummer Cecil Brooks III (also a good friend and colleague of Don), was generous enough to provide his excellent venue to the band for this recording, so we owe him huge gratitude. Check the club out in person; it is a special place!
The website is www.CecilsJazzClub.com.
All arrangements by Don Braden except 3) and 8) by Nick Rolfe. Edited, mixed and mastered by Don Braden.
Don Braden plays the R.S. Berkeley Virtuoso saxophones, Keilwerth saxophones, the Powell Sonare alto flute, and Vandoren reeds. He uses Sonar Producer audio software for mixing. Karl Latham plays Yamaha drums, Paiste Cymbals, Vic Firth drumsticks, Evans drumheads and uses Atrio Futuresonics. Don Braden's manager is Gail Boyd Artist Management. For bookings, please contact Monica@GailBoyd.com