(l to r, Me, Shedrick, Keyon (in front), Max, and Keyon's brother Emmanuel)
Maxwell not only has the hottest new album out, but his new tour might equal, if not eclipse the accolades that the studio production is receiving. After an eight year hiatus, Maxwell is back and this weekend his BLACKsummers'night Tour will hit St. Louis.
Maxwell's new album boasts a sound that blends love with laughter, pain with perseverance. BLACKsummers'night is the marriage of Maxwell's soulful, intimate, and inspiring vocals to the superb musicianship of an outstanding band. Two of those band members, Shedrick Mitchell and Keyon Harrold, are St. Louis natives that are excited about their homecoming this Friday.
For both Shedrick and Keyon the black church was an integral part of their musical and personal coming of age. Shedrick began playing the piano and organ for his grandfather's congregation and later for his father's church, (both located in Kinloch, MO). Keyon played the trumpet in much the same way. Family and faith were one in the same. "The church is the basis of my playing...it is that soul that other cats can't learn," Keyon mentions. Elaborating further, Shedrick suggests that there is an invaluable asset to growing up in the church as he and Keyon did. For Shedrick, the church, "prepared me for everything that I've encountered to maintain and stay on the scene...to have longevity and musically stay alert with my onstage surroundings."
Being alert is an important part of playing with Maxwell it seems. Shedrick calls Maxwell a "spontaneous entertainer" referencing the fact that working with him whether in the studio or especially live, the singer "keeps you on your toes. " Likewise, Keyon finds that Maxwell's ability to allow each band member freedom that does not compromise their own sound, while still contributing to something innovative and new is important as well. Keyon admits, "I feel like I'm playing my music every night--that's a blessing."
This is not that hard to believe. Keyon says that working with Maxwell has been a "musically stimulating experience, " from the standpoint that they "have created incredible music together...and there's still more levels of creativity to be dealt with."
Generally speaking, that very "creativity" emerges from both sacred and secular forms of music. Those musical roots have been equally significant in the musical maturation of Shedrick and Keyon. Both musicians cite gospel and jazz as their biggest musical influences. In Shedrick's case in particular it was Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" (1959) and Chick Corea's Akoustic Band's "Alive" (1991) album that really began to expand his musical horizons.
In much the same way, Keyon found his inspiration through the work of Davis too. "The album I fell in love with was the "Birth of the Cool","(1949) mentions Keyon. The sound and tone of Miles' trumpet on the tune "Boplicity" reaffirmed his love for the instrument and jazz music when he first heard it around age twelve.
Aside from a shared experience of family and faith, Shedrick and Keyon are products of the same high school in St. Louis (McCluer Senior High) and also attended Mannes College The New School for Music in New York City. These master musicians have played with the best artists in almost every genre of music: jazz, gospel, rock, R&B, country, and rap. Shedrick and Keyon last played together with iconic rapper Jay-Z on his American Gangster Tour.
Now together again, playing for Maxwell, Shedrick and Keyon bring their extraordinary talents into a volatile cauldron of creativity that will both grab at your heart and enliven your spirit. Specifically, you can hear the spontaneous, smooth, effortless, and yet robust sound of Keyon's trumpet on full display when Maxwell performs "Playing Possum". Shedrick personifies the sacred and secular mastery of the Hammond B3 organ as he commands the instrument like no other. His solos ring out like a divine messenger calling us to serve in "Help Somebody" while his chords are enchanting in the sultry, intoxicating "Bad habits".
Both musicians are able to accomplish such musical feats, along with their bandmates, without ever overpowering the vocal stylings of Maxwell. Shedrick and Keyon remain students of their craft. Shedrick maintains, "it's very important for me to always be a student of the music because I never want to become complacent with where I am...music is always evolving and it's very important that I keep my ears to the ground to stay fresh and current."
BLACKsummers'night is more than "fresh and current". When I first heard this album in November of last year, in its earliest incarnations, I knew it would change and revitalize an industry starving for creativity, purpose, and passion.
Maxwell has done it again, and Shedrick and Keyon are valuable assets to the continued growth of Maxwell's artistry, while staying true to their own sound.
To say that both musicians are excited about their homecoming is truly an understatement. "St. Louis is going to have an unforgettable night of music...Maxwell is going to croon and I'm going to keep it soulful and sexy," Keyon comments. Shedrick is assured that his hometown is in for a unique experience. "They can expect a night of musical romance, " he professes. As far as his own contribution to the concert Shedrick declares "...it will be a great night for everyone...for my family...for the fans as well because everyone will be family that night. People won't know if they are in a store front baptist church or an Alabama juke joint!" "PIANOMAN",(Shedrick's musical alias), promises "the concert will give you the sacred and secular in no particular order."
Ironically enough Shedrick's forthcoming solo project is called "The Sacred and the Secular". His first album "Introducing Shedrick Mitchell" was released independently in 1996. Keyon just recently released his own solo project, "Introducing Keyon" in September on the Criss Cross Jazz label while also producing a remix of Maxwell's "Pretty Wings" with his brother Jason.
St. Louis prepare for a helluva show!