The story of singer / songwriter / percussionist Moses Patrou is the story of the push and pull of the blues, traveling around the world, covering thousands of miles, from the mid-west to the jungles of Brazil, from the barrios of Cuba to the legendary sixth ward of New Orleans, and finally, to New York City.
As a child young Moses (named for jazz / blues legend Mose Allison) loved hitting pots and pans and imagining himself on stage. Even then, he was interested in the music of Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters, and the swamp rhythms of pianist Professor Longhair, and he began carrying drum sticks with him even before he was old enough to go to school. The son of New Orleans style pianist John Chimes, he played percussion with Clyde Stubblefield (the funky drummer of James Brown fame) while still in high school, and after leaving, he formed a samba school of his own with several likeminded friends, called The Handphibians.
This free floating groove collective became a back-up rhythm section for international percussion players as they passed through town, and, in 1996, they supported Brazilian drum master Giba Conceicao. When Giba left to return to Brazil, Moses followed, living in Conceicao's house and studying with the master himself.
"It was a life-changing experience, we would wake up and the first thing we would do is practice. You could play really loud in his studio and his family was cool with it. Its a different kind of culture there where everybody on the block was a master of something. One guy would spend his whole time playing just a calabash shaker. You could walk around the neighborhood and find somebody to show you anything. And the house was great because everybody in the neighborhood would come by and hang out. Nobody speaks English there at all, so I had to learn Portuguese. I didnt know Portuguese, I just knew some Spanish. But by the time I left there, I spoke Portuguese."
Back in the States, he hooked up with old friends from The Handphibians and the recently formed Mama Digdowns Brass Band, a swinging marching ensemble with an ear for authentic parade music infused by Thelonious Monk and other jazz greats. Naturally, they headed for New Orleans. There, they worked Mardi Gras, the French Market and the Jazz and heritage Fest. "I did Mardi Grass for three years," Moses remembers. "And we went deep into where the brass band culture started and they let us in. We were in Treme, the home of parade music. And boy, you got to play it there or they will step up and show you how to do it."
Eventually, Moses and two other musicians from Digdown broke off to form what became the Youngblood Brass Band, a high-energy band fusing Jazz and Hip-Hop
Moses also began working with musician / producer Leo Sidran, son of jazz pianist Ben Sidran and soon-to-be producer of the Academy Award winning music from Motorcycle Diaries. Leo, who was working with Clyde Stubblefield and other local notables at the time, included Moses in his circle of recording partners. It would be a musical connection that would come home for Moses a few years later.
At the same time, Moses studied and worked with Grammy Award winning Cuban percussionist Roberto Viscaino of the Chucho Valdez Quartet. Eventually, he followed Viscaino to Cuba, where, in 2001, he found an entirely different kind of latin music scene. "In Cuba, everybody's a musician", he remembers, "like in Brazil or New Orleans, but the overall vibe is different. Its more refined. The guys can read music so easy. They come out of the womb clapping Rumba Clave. Its really the next level there."
Instead of returning to the mid-west following his stay in Cuba, Moses moved to New York City. There, he became an instructor of West African and Brazilian Drums & Percussion at the charter school Future Leaders Institute in Harlem.
"I arrived right before September 11. When that went down it was really stifling and I just didnt want to be in New York. But I was teaching four days a week in Harlem and I felt I owed the kids something. I taught them a lot of the stuff I learned in Brazil and Cuba. And these kids have really grabbed a hold on it and they really made it theirs. Its been sweet to see a lot of the same passion I had when I was their age. They're not just cute little kids. These kids can really play. Like I got some kids, they're like as tall as my waist, but they got good hands."
In New York, around 2001, things began happening for Moses. "I started playing with the Jay Collins band. It really made me bring everything I ever learned to the forefront. You have to bring it with those guys." He moved into the Brooklyn house with members of an emerging music scene, including bass player Jesse Murphy (of the John Scofield band and Brazilian Girls), Marlon Browden (of Vernon Reeds band) and Jay Collins himself (of the Greg Allman and James Hunter bands.) "So when I practiced, I had to really play something because everybody could hear what you were doing."
He continued to perform, including gigs with Los Sagitarios at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in April 2003, a European tour with The Youngblood Brass Band in 2004. and a West Coast tour including Monterrey Jazz Fest with Jay Collins band.
Then, in 2005, he re-established his working relationship with Leo Sidran, who had just moved to New York City and formed his own Nardis Music label. At the time, Sidran was also producing music for television commercials, and in addition to picking up the production of Moses album where he had left off, he also used the soulful singer as the lead voice in a Coca-Cola spot. "It was like a dream", he says. "They flew me to LA and treated me like a star. Like an artist. I could get used to it."
He might have to. The spot, called Video Game, will debut in movie theaters in August, 2006 and is scheduled to air internationally thereafter, culminating with the Super Bowl broadcast in January, 2007.
In the meantime, his self titled solo album is about to be released, featuring Moses on vocals, drums, percussion and keyboards, Leo on drums, guitar, bass and keyboards, and some hip help from both their fathers on piano, saxophonists Jay Collins and Al Falaschi (of Phat Phunktion), bassists Jesse Murphy and Tim Luntzel and vocalist Amy Helm among others.
How does Moses describe the music?
"Its like when you take a rubber band and stretch it as far as you can, stretch it and then just hold it there. I try to create that kind of push and pull with my songs. Like the man said, you cant play the blues if you cant live the blues."