Smitty: One of the most prolific keyboard players join me here at JazzMonthly.com. He’s one of my boys in the business. He’s a musician with a rare groove! His great new record is called NewUrbanJazz.com and there are some serious, serious funky tracks on this great new record. He has been a mainstay on the jazz scene for many years, he’s got so many things happening in his life, and I’m so excited for this cat. Please welcome NuGroove recording artist, the one and only Bob Baldwin. How you doing, Bob?
Bob Baldwin (BB): Saying all that stuff about me, man?
BB: Holy cow. I didn’t know I did all that.
Smitty: Yeah, you’ve done a lot, man, and that was just the tip of the iceberg for you.
BB: (Laughs.) Always a pleasure, man.
Smitty: Yeah, it’s a pleasure to talk with you, man. I’m also happy to let people know that you are the “Baldwin” with all of the talents.
BB: They tell me they dragged us over from Europe somewhere like England, I think. I think I have a little England root in there or Irish or something.
Smitty: Oh, you got a little Irish in there?
BB: I think so, man.
Smitty: Oh, okay. I’m feelin’ it, I’m feelin’ it. (Both laugh.) Well, we can tell people now, I’m Baldwin Smith and you are Bob Baldwin because I get mistaken for you so many times when I’m out on the road.
BB: Oh really?
Smitty: Yeah, man. “Are you Bob Baldwin? Are you the keyboard player?” (Laughs.)
BB: That is funny. I’d never heard that one. That’s cool.
Smitty: Yeah, man, so I haven’t perpetrated yet.
BB: I hope you’re saying nice things in the process.
Smitty: Oh yeah. It’s tempting to be Bob Baldwin sometimes, you know? (Both laugh.)
BB: I feel good now.
Smitty: Yeah, man. Well, hey, I’m totally excited about this record, man. I’m loving this New Urban Jazz groove.
BB: Thanks, man. The record—it took a long time to put together because I went through a few deals, if you will, so by the time it started and by the time it finished, it was like a whole new record, but the concept is basically funky jazz, push the kick up, push the bass up, add some vocals. I kinda go back to my older sound. I’ve always had a funky vibe anyway.
Smitty: Yeah, man, absolutely, and you were destined to be a musician because your dad is an incredible musician. Talk about your relationship of putting that all together watching your dad and then now doing your thing.
BB: He was pretty incredible, man, because he taught me how to play when I was about four years old. I had no idea what kind of talent I had and he just tapped into it. He’s a fantastic piano player. He had the opportunity, before he got sick, to work with Keter Betts, who was the former bass player for Ella Fitzgerald before she died. I think Keter and Ella were actually married for a while and he lived up in Yonkers, New York, which is the next town over from where my dad lived. And dad also worked with Art Davis, who was the last bass player in the John Coltrane band.
So both of these cats played upright, so my father came from more of a traditional route, so at the age of four and five and in kindergarten, I’m sitting up here listening to Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. (Both laugh.) Barely know my alphabet. I’m sitting here listening to some “Night in Tunisia” and stuff like that, all blues and stuff, so I had a really interesting background, childhood. Then my sister, who was a little older than me, had a lot of funk records in her catalog and so here comes the Ohio Players and Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and Aretha [Franklin], Chicago, and so in growing up I had the best of both worlds, so here I am a few years older just trying to fuse it all together and the end result is NewUrbanJazz.com.
Smitty: Yeah, man. But at that age you could have tuned out everything you were hearing, you could have done something totally different. What kept you interested in this great music?
BB: Probably the same thing that keeps me interested now, which is when you’re young and you’ve got a certain kind of passion for what you do, you don’t look at the financial piece of it. When you’re four years old, five years old, you’re not thinking about money. You just want to have fun. And the feeling that music gave me when I was a youngster still gives me that same thrill when here I am so many years later, so that’s pretty much—it’s just a passion that I have for music. It’s just something that’s just completely inside my body and my spirit, you know?
Smitty: Yeah, so what’s the driving force of New Urban Jazz? What started this whole project?
BB: The original project title was Jeep Jazz, which is the first song on the album.
Smitty: And it’s kickin’ too.
BB: Yeah, thank you, man. So I wanted to come up with a record that had some jazz influence but also had the hip hop bottom, something that the kids could put in their SUVs and turn the bass up and just walk down the street listening to some deep grooves but also hearing something slick and sophisticated up top, kind of like modern day Quincy Jones, right? I grew up listening to Quincy a lot and his whole harmonic and orchestral sound just really took me to that place.
So that was the original vibe, Jeep Jazz, and then it just evolved and eventually someone ended using that title for something else, so I just moved it over to New Urban Jazz and it’s funny. The week I released the record, the following week, I think CD101 went off the air in New York and then we lost stations in Houston and Washington, D.C., Denver, and eventually Jacksonville, so I thought it was quite ironic that here I’m trying to fuse a new sound into the format and the stations that are in place now were not succeeding.