On Friday, November 22nd, the Great American
Music Hall will play host to one of the more promising line-ups to gather
in 2002. Brian Jordan, Robert Walter, Chris Stillwell and
Zigaboo Modeliste will perform together for a single night as part of
the San Francisco Funk Festival.
[Note: Chris Berger and Chris Rossbach have recently been added to the lineup.]
Billed as the Funk Fest All Stars,
this is a meeting of several young lions in the recent pride of soul revivalists
joining up with the justifiably legendary Modeliste, drummer of the pioneering
Meters. Ziggy takes time from his fine New
Ahhkestra to hold down the bottom end with Greyboy
Allstar bassist Chris Stillwell. They are joined by longtime collaborators
Brian Jordan, guitar marvel in Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and keyboard wrangler
Robert Walter, leader of the 20th Congress. This is the first and quite
likely the only time this group will descend from the Mothership to lay something
heavy on the masses. Like the recent NYC performance by The Concept
this will be a unique collaboration between the high energy modern approach
and classic good and greasy Funk. Walter, Stillwell, Jordan and Modeliste joined
in a virtual roundtable about the nature of one-off occasions like this one
and offer us a few observations on the nature of Funk.
1) To begin, whom do you consider the funkiest mother on the planet right
It's hard to pick one when there's people like Bootsy, Zigaboo, James Brown and Fred Wesley who are incredibly funky legends
in their own time. But the funkiest person I've heard most recently is Prince.
He was a big influence in my earlier years, but after hearing a recording
of a live, raw after-show jam during Prince's most recent European tour, I
am convinced that he is the funkiest mother on the planet right now! He was
R-I-P-P-I-N-G the funk like nobody's business!
It's a tie between Fred Wesley and Zig.
The funkiest mother on the planet right now is a question so hard to define
from moment to moment. There is so much funk on this earth to be celebrated
that it is impossible to determine who's the funkiest and at what time, how
long and to what degree!
The funkiest mother on the planet is my record collection – bar none.
2) How does Funk differ from other types of music, in other words, what
makes Funk unique?
I don't really think of Funk as a type of music, but more as a quality that
music can have. Rock music can be funky, so can Jazz and so on. To me it has
to do with expressing organic, dirty, human rhythms. It's more physical than
Syncopation, Syncopation, Syncopation.
Funk is the capitalization of Rhythm and Blues and the punctuation of soul
and the beautifulization of repetition!
Funk is unique because it can draw from a diverse mix of musical genres, but
it's the way it's played in a syncopated, soulful way and it’s the back-beat
that make it funky.
3) Please offer a few thoughts about the other members of the Funk Fest
At this point for me, It's a whole new experience. I have never played with
these fine gentlemen before and I've only met Robert Walter once. I had a
chance to see him play and liked what I heard. But it should be interesting
Zigaboo is truly a living legend and pioneer of funk. He has helped to create
and define the genre since it's beginnings. Chris Stillwell is definitely
a master of his craft. I can't think of anyone today who can play like him.
When it comes to Soul-Jazz, Stillwell seems to hit the nail right on the head
like no other bass player today can. Robert Walter is an amazing talent. I
have played music with him since he was 16 years old. I have seen him go from
being a funky drummer to being a ripping keyboardist. There is nothing this
man can't do musically!
Brian Jordan is a good friend and a hell of a player. Robert is my favorite
piano and organ player, and a dear friend. Zig is one of my drumming heroes
and I've heard he's a really nice guy.
I've known Brian for a long time. He was in my first real band when I was
a kid. I looked up to him because he was a lot more advanced as a player than
the rest of us. He used to play keyboards, guitar, and bass all in the same
set. It's great to see him now that we have both grown up a little bit. I've
played more with Chris Stillwell than any other musician. He is a great historian
and lover of music. When I imagine bass in my head, Chris is playing it. I've
met Zigaboo briefly a couple of times but have never gotten to play with him.
That was the big appeal of this gig to me. When I first started learning about
music, I had a copy of Rejuvenation that I listened to over and over. Later, I got
into the earlier Josie stuff (not to mention all those Lee Dorsey records,
Dr. John, etc.). He is the ultimate
funky drummer in my opinion and much more influential on drumming and music
in general than he could ever get credit for.
4) How do you approach playing in a one-off setting like the SF Funk
Festival? Does your approach to the music change, and if so, how does it change?
Learn the tunes as best you can and listen listen listen. Try to hide any
I never completely change my music for any one even. If you came to hear Zig
put the funk on, that's pretty much where I'll be coming from.
I try to approach a one-off with an open mind. I try to play tastefully and
play for the music while letting my own flavor shine through as well. I usually
feel a lot more free doing a one-off.
There is the limitation of not having much time to rehearse. The musicians
need to find some material in common because there is not enough time to write
a bunch of tunes. I like to keep it as loose as possible so that we can relax
and interact without trying to nail a lot of parts. Simple songs usually work
better. The up side of this approach is that the musicians are required to
really think on their feet and negotiate their roles in the group as the music
5) The world of Funk is full of flavorful nicknames. What new monikers
have you earned, if any, playing this type of music?
I don't have any real good ones. Karl used to call me Lex Luthor when my head
was shaved, once in a while. I wish I had a cool one like Bootsy or Catfish.
None that I know of. [This may be seen as a challenge to Brian's fans to
get their thinking caps on.]
God Father of Groove. KOFD, King of the Funky Drums.
“Chris Stillwell on the bass.”
6) When a special guest steps up on stage how do you integrate that person
into the overall sound?
I try to give that person as much information as they need to know about the
songs in the set, and some space so that they can do their thing.
Give that person some space and simplicity and a strong back beat for them
to enjoy themselves.
Listen to what the person is playing and try to support them. A smile goes
a long way, too.
When I'm the bandleader I try to create some space for the guest to point
the band in the direction that they want to go. Some people can always make
the music their own, some people need something to react to.
7) Finally, when you see the phrase The Tao of Funk, what quickly pops
into your mind?
“Cane” from the “Kung Fu” TV series played by Mr. Carradine.
Loosen up! Free your mind so your booty can shake!
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