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Skip Martin - conducted by Dale Coachman  

Skip Martin (Kool & The Gang)

September 2006

Musically, growth can come in a myriad of forms, for Grammy award musician Skip Martin everything in life has a cycle and if it is right it comes from the soul. This is not to say that everyone will like it but if it comes from the soul which is in his eyes a higher power, nothing about that art can be wrong. As the sound of music grows with the expansion of technology and the interpretations from past and present generations who compose this music whether classical, rock & roll, hip-hop, or in Skip's case jazz, music always comes back around and as much as the music changes it stays the same.

MVRemix: How did you become affiliated with Kool & the Gang

Skip Martin: Well, originally I was singing lead vocals with the group called the Dazz Band and we had a song called let it rip and we used to go out the road and we started with the Whispers, Rick James, and Kool & the Gang, and we were the opening acts for those groups and Gladys Night and the Pips. That's how I got to meet the guys in Kool & the Gang because we were out there with the song Let it Rip and we won a grammy for that song and we stayed in communication with the guys and about 18-19 years ago and I had taken a hiatus from the Dazz band. I got the job singing lead vocals for Kool & the Gang and I've been doin that for 19 years. For the past 6 or 7 years I've been doing both with the band and Kool & the Gang.

MVRemix: Why did you decide to pay homage to Miles Davis as opposed to Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Jimmy Smith or Coltrane because it seems like a lot of artists pay their respects to Miles, so what gravitated you towards him as well?

Skip Martin: Well, originally I did the song for Miles the night he passed, and I was traveling on the road touring and I wrote a song that took me to one of his last projects called Tutu. I liked that vibe of how he was growing and experimenting with different sounds and adding different elements to his sound and I really liked that approach. I never recorded the song in the studio I had just recorded it on the sequencer on the road. When I started doing this instrumental I was really influenced, see I have a lot of influences that helped me with the process of doing this cd. One of my other influences was Donald Byrd and the Blackbirds they used to do songs like "Doin it in the dark, doin it in the park oh yeah rock creek." He used to play all these type of lines, these melodic lines that almost sounded like Hugh Masakela and Miles was always doing things with less notes and he was more singing the tunes with Desmond and play lines and mix the slickest lines he can play. Miles was playing the tunes and the tone of the horns. That's where he started playing for him and stopped playing for the audience and he was playing mystical and what it was, was he was trying to make people listen to the pain he was making. As compared to watching the action he was doing and that was his reason for doing it. So my love of it came from trying to sing through my trumpet. I had song 26 albums or so and I have sang with some of the top groups in the country, Kool & the Gang, Rick James, and I wanted to sing through my trumpet. I'm not Miles Davis, I'm not Freddie Hubbard, I'm not any of those guys I'm just Skip so one of my things was I have a knack for singing hooks, for being melodic and singing melodies that people can remember so I'm just changing that to a instrument which is one of the hardest challenges for someone to make to do, which is to make an inanimate object come to life and that was one of my goals for playing trumpet on this album.

MVRemix: So how long did it take you to compose this album?

Skip Martin: The composition took me literally minutes, I've gotten to the point in my life where I don't deliberate, at this point in time you need to do what the God force tells you to do and more times than not it's correct. So now I don't even deliberate if I hear a song that I like I'll say stop the tape and let's record it because whatever comes out it's the God force and we can go back and fix whatever later. The only song I've worked on as far as revamping it a little bit and perfected is the single Are you Ready.

MVRemix: I'd be remiss in asking you this question but what was going through your mind when you found out Miles had died?

Skip Martin: I just thought about the creative courage to do what he wanted to do and to go beyond his ability and capabilities and that was to add other elements and other people to what he was doing to help him reflect different performances and everything else that he did was God force perfect and that is all part of the canvas. So he was one that really played on the canvas as opposed to playing to the audience.

MVRemix: Kanye West has a song called Grammy Family but I looked at who you were working with on your album and it really is in true essence the grammy family you have so many artists that have won grammies in their own right what was it like being in the studio with this level of artistry and creativity?

Skip Martin: It was like riding a bicycle with a new axel grease on the chains, it was quiet, no glitches, it was a lot easier than I expected, and it was a beautiful thing. It's unfortunate that I don't always get a chance to work with this level of musicians but I'm trying to change that, but it was fantastic to have all these great players with their various influences and professional prowess and their attitudes and with their survival personalities. These guys were all survivors and they've all been playing music for a long time and they are just as crazy as I am. I was a wacko in a house full of nuts.

MVRemix: Your album features a spoken word artist, so how do you feel about spoken word and how it's used, and I guess that's a reference toward hip-hop and emceeing, how do you feel about that?

Skip Martin: Spoken word came way back before hip-hop was created, spoken word came into play with music with a group called the Last Poets. The Last Poets were an expressive poetic group who did spoken word to kola drums and it was around the time of civil rights movements and it was more music being used to pass on. I lived through a couple of those 20 year cycles, and now I know how things go around and come around and I was sitting at one of my jazz shows and this young lady and she reminded me of an Angela Davis with the big afro, and she was very urban and intellectual and she was sitting in her chair and listening by herself to the music. I came up to her on my break and I said, "Do you like jazz music?" and she said, "I love it I'm a poet." I told her sometime she should show me some of her poetry and she pulled out a book that was maybe the size of 2 bibles, and she had nothing but poetry in there and I said wow and said anybody that puts this much time into what they are doing I can appreciate because that's how I got to where I am and I said I'd like to add you to a project I'm doing right now and she had never been in the studio before but I heard something in her voice and in her delivery and again this was a God force type performance, I didn't have her deliberate, she had never been on the microphone and hadn't done her poetry and I told her just to feel it and listen to the music and run your part because you are an instrument just like this trumpet. So I caught her unthinking which is what I do with mostly everything I record. At this point in time I'm playing the God force and he tells me what to play.

MVRemix: So your music seems to come from a very spiritual felt place?

Skip Martin: I think so; I think it comes from the soul. The soul is not necessarily thinking spiritually or whatever but it is what it is and I think the soul is that. It's not a thinking intellectual type entity, it's a vibe between plus and negative and its that life force that's within all of us that is perfect and it helps me create whatever pieces I come up with and they may not be appealing to everybody but they are all perfect in their design where you cat do it twice duplicating it.

MVRemix: I read that you worked under and were mentored by Stevie Wonder, what was the like?

Skip Martin: Unbelievable, surreal, like watching a movie, he is one of my heroes. Along with him and Aretha Franklin, Martin Luther King and Muhammed Ali, he is one of those heroes to me and those pieces that was the fabric of my foundation and when I got to meet and talk with him it was almost surreal like I can't believe I'm even talking to you right now. Every time we met I was tripping out one way or another and I know he thought I was crazy but at the same time I was uninhibited about my expression and appreciation about who he was and what it meant to me.

MVRemix: Do you feel like jazz has lost any of its original essence or gritty sound? It may be generational because I'm only 26 but from the old records and vinyl sound I used to hear versus the melodic sound I hear now I personally miss that raw sound.

Skip Martin: Well you're 26 and that's one thing you are going to learn in life, everything can be guaranteed on and nothing stays the same. Everything goes through a period or level of being primitive and being more sophisticated and since the times have changed and technology has changed the ear that we listen with and are willing to accept things have changed over time. It's just that all things change with time yet they still stay the same. Basically the collage of music that has already been done, that's where the tapestry of hip-hop comes from Sheik who has these are the good times and then the Sugar Hill Gang comes in puts rap on top of that it was a tapestry type art. They've been writing their lyrics over collages that have already been painted and that type of music came from that development and I think we are still in that development. This is just a phase and everything happens in a 20 year cycle. Your 26 if you go back 20 years to 1986 we can go back to when people were wearing afros and the tight low jeans, they were doing boy bands and garage band type sounds ad it started out with celebrity dances its throwback its being back stuff that has happened 20 years ago and when that cycle of life comes back things begin to replay in a little different version. I've been lucky to be around for a couple different cycles of life.

MVRemix: So what is your current view of hip-hop now and are their any artists you would like to work with?

Skip Martin: I like the creative flow of some of what I hear hip-hop wise but I'm not a fan of all of it. How it was developed and where it came from I with because I was there during the inception, from listening from a band playing music to listening to a guy stand on stage with another guy behind a turntable standing next to him and that was Grandmaster Flash and I was like wow. I do like the hip-hop but I haven't picked out the people I want to work with but I do think there is a nice partnership between that generation and the generation before them. Now you have Kanye West and Ray Charles talking about a Gold digger I think that's cool they have collaged it and added old and new. Part of the essence of Ray Charles and what he was saying was so pure that putting a sample on it makes you believe it. In our time we couldn't say certain things, and couldn't utilize to much verbiage and you had to be very slick. "Let it Rip" came from us not being able to say spank the booty or you had to say joystick you couldn't say other things that they say today.

MVRemix: Anything else you want to say to the people?

Skip Martin: Let the musicians keep playing and let the music be the barometer of your life because the people that play music give other people a clock for what's going on in their lives.

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"The composition took me literally minutes, I've gotten to the point in my life where I don't deliberate, at this point in time you need to do what the God force tells you to do and more times than not it's correct."