Greg Cox on the Noteworthy Concert Series

 
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The NoteWorthy concert series is presented by WDAV in partnership with the FAIR PLAY Music Equity Alliance . The series brings together gifted Black and brown artists from the Charlotte music scene with classical musicians for some genre-blending, community building music. Grammy Award winner Greg Cox, who blends hip-hop, R&B and Gospel in his music is joined by two veteran classical musicians from our area, violinist Jane Hart Brendle and violist Matt Darsey to talk about being a part of the concert series. Greg Cox Jane Hart Brendle Matt Darsey Transcript: Frank Dominguez : This is Frank Dominguez for WDAV’s Piedmont Arts. On Wednesday, May 26th at 7:30 p.m., WDAV continues the NoteWorthy virtual concert series presented in partnership with the FAIR PLAY Music Equity [Initiative]. The series brings together gifted Black and brown artists from the Charlotte music scene with classical musicians for some genre-blending, community-building music. Next up, we’re thrilled to offer a concert headlined by a GRAMMY Award winner and overall renaissance man. Greg Cox blends hip-hop, R&B, and gospel in his music and infuses it with his own Southern soul. He’ll have recording artist A$H. as his special guest, and they'll be joined by two veteran classical musicians from our area, violinist Jane Hart Brendle and violist Matthew Darsey. Greg, Jane, and Matthew are joining me now via Zoom to talk about their NoteWorthy program. Welcome, everybody! Greg Cox : Hey, Frank! Frank : Greg, I’ll start with you. We often distinguish classical musicians from artists in popular music like you by talking about the rigorous training classical musicians get in conservatories and the like, but then looking at your background, it strikes me that you came up in a fairly rigorous family conservatory of sorts and learned a lot from touring with some pretty top-notch gospel musicians. So, tell us a bit about your musical journey. Greg : Yeah, so starting in church is definitely something that I was fortunate to experience. Not much lesson - they just throw you in the fire there. When you’ve got musicians who are top notch since age 12, you're going into some proteges, some child legends. In Black church, you learn! You learn how to literally score what the preacher is preaching. It’s like scoring a movie as he’s going. And then touring with my dad, and touring with a few other artists, you bump into some of the best musicians in the world. So I wouldn't say I'm up there with them, but what I would say is we can eat lunch at the same table and hang out. If there was anyone who - you don’t have the money to throw your kids into phenomenal teaching (or) rigorous training, just drop them off at church. They’ll be fine. Frank : And when you consider how many wonderful musicians have come from the Black church tradition in this country and the influence its had on all sorts of genres, there’s definitely something there. Greg : There’s something the water, man. There’s something in the atmosphere. Blends of jazz, blends of blues, blends of old Negro Spiritual songs - it’s very, very unique music to learn how to play, and I’m very, very fortunate. Some of the best ever, right? Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Jennifer Hudson, the best vocalists ever come from the church. So it’s just something in the water and something in that community. Every week, it’s growing. So even if it's not as formal, you definitely learn things you can’t learn anywhere else. Frank : Jane, I've had the pleasure of hearing you play in a variety of concerts, including a Klezmer-infused program the Charlotte Symphony presented about music of the Holocaust, so I know you’re versatile, but I'm not sure I ever imagined you collaborating with a hip-hop artist like Greg Cox. What was that like? Jane Hart Brendle : It was so much fun! It was really way beyond what I imagined. I had so much fun, and Greg was so easy to work with. He just made it - it felt so natural to play. He just told us what he needed, and he had the parts written out, and it just felt great. Frank : And Matthew, even though you're a trained classical musician, I sort of expect you to be adventurous because I know you have a passion for contemporary music - and did that focus help you in any way for approaching this collaboration with Greg? Matthew Darsey : I think it does. You know, when you play a lot of contemporary classical music, your ears have to adjust to a different way of hearing music. And when you're playing in a genre that you're not really used to, your ears have to work fairly differently as well. The harmonic language isn't necessarily the same as it is in Brahms. So, in a certain sense, I’ve even trained my ears out of the classical years because I'm used to playing atonal music or music that doesn't really fit in with what we’re used to from Western classical music. So, when you're coming to someone like Greg, who’s so intuitively exacting in what he wants, it was just incredible. You sort of just - you almost lose control, or not lose control, but you let go of that really analytical part of your brain and just ride the wave that he gives to you, because it's such a powerful wave that if you just give in to it, then it sort of lays itself out there for you. Frank : Greg, talk about that a little bit. What was it like for you knowing the background of these musicians and coming together with them to work with them? Greg : Ah, man. Absolutely magical. So, classical musicians are literally like ninjas to me. Where do they hang out? Where do they, like... what do they eat? It's like when you go to a Broadway show and you try to go down and talk to (the orchestra), they just disappear. Like it’s a smoke bomb, and they’re just gone, or they’re in the lobby in the hotel. So, I've always wanted to have friends who were in that world. So, to be thrown into this environment, and to see that, “Oh, crap! They're human, they're just in different pockets.” It’s a different pocket. You figure out where they hang out at. “Oh, they’re at the Panera Bread!” “Oh, I need to go over to this side of town to see where they’re hanging out at.” So, it was beautiful to kind of pull back the curtain on that cultural demographic, and I was very fortunate to have the introduction that I did have through this organization. And they got it! I was very nervous going into it because I was like, “I hope I can speak their language.” (I had to) be overprepared. We had a little funny story of - the printer didn’t work. And sheet music without a printer, forget that. But thankfully, they had iPads, and they understood my chicken scratch and my little notations of what I was trying to communicate to them. They weren’t hard to work with at all. They didn’t use their knowledge to puff up, to make me feel inferior. They welcomed me. They spoke my language, and it was a humbling, humbling experience that I wish more musicians would get to experience. Frank : You mentioned that you were a GRAMMY winner. How did that accolade come about? What were you involved with that resulted in that? Greg : There’s this icon by the name of Kirk Franklin who just decided - woke up one day with his team and decided to have me be a part of this amazing, phenomenal album Long Live Love. I’m on a song called “Strong God” that he wrote and produced and had me feature as a vocalist in 2020. That album won for Gospel Album of the Year; therefore, I'm a part of that album and contributed to it, so anyone who is a part of the album gets a GRAMMY. It’s like going to the NBA and playing with LeBron (James). You gotta know that if you’re on LeBron’s team, you’re going to get a ring. You know what I mean? So I got a ring because LeBron was in the game. And I might have shot a few 3’s, I might have passed LeBron the ball a couple times, but it definitely was, on the back, carried by the LeBron James, Kirk Franklin. Frank : Jane and Matthew, when we were talking about the attitude you you brought to this project, I couldn't help but think back, because I've been in this classical music radio business for so long, to times when classical musicians in orchestras were perhaps a little more unbending - you know, who weren’t quite as open to collaborations like this in the past - and that seems to have really changed in recent years, I guess because there's new generations of classical musicians in orchestras. Am I right about that? Would you confirm that perception? Matthew : I think that's a very big trend right now. Especially, you see it with a lot of the younger composers that are coming up. Caroline Shaw, for instance, does a lot of genre bending. She’s from Raleigh, I think, too. And I think it's a really beautiful thing for the field because, for so long, classical music has been so very structured within its Western European roots. And you of course see that with the music itself, in terms of the Classical era music, was obviously very, very structured within its own form, but then the social structures of it have been very narrow as well. And then there’s something that I think that we’re - it's almost like if we’re afraid if we expand that, then classical music disappears, which I think is a very paradoxical way of going about it, because if you build a wall up around something, then it's no longer - then it it does disappear, because there's nothing to let it thrive. So I think that it's a really beautiful thing for Western European music to really open up itself to exploring what it can do with and for other genres, because if you don't grow, you're going to die. And so there’s a lot of really great younger performers that are breaking that mold, because we grew up with being very affected by music that wasn't necessarily, you know, classical music. And then we're wanting to combine all of that into something that is more personal to us, maybe, and not so much meaningful to the older generation, or the ones that came before us, but it's still a very powerful way for us to express ourselves as a musician in the 21st century. Jane : I think that we have definitely - in the recent years, we have started to branch out and look for many new ways to include all sorts of music, and it’s been a great adventure, and I’m so glad that it's finally open. It feels like it’s opening up, and it’s not just a token here and there: “Let’s play this piece by a woman composer because she's a woman composer.” It’s just opening up, and it doesn't matter anymore. We're just including all people and all types of music. That’s what it feels like. Frank : Greg, I'm going to give you the last word here. Hearing the three of you speak, I know I'm looking forward to hearing you all perform. What else can you tell listeners to this conversation to whet their appetites for the program you’ve prepared? What should they be expecting? Greg : They should be expecting White Sexual Chocolate. That's what they should expect. That's the name of the band that I gave them, and they put beautiful, sugary, milk white chocolate on my music, and it definitely embellished all the songs - every song that I perform normally. I feel really good about (the performance). They just added a different sauce. Frank : Do you think you'll - having done this now, do you think you'll consider doing something like it again, either in the recording studio or when in-person performing becomes commonplace again? Greg : I’m changed forever through this experience. I've always wanted to be involved with film, watching Disney growing up, (and) seeing Randy Newman, who is my favorite composer, just compose the crap out of string arrangements and provoke emotion in that way, I always wanted to be a part of it. So my next album actually is going to be very, very influenced by this experience (with) classical string playing throughout the entire album now. So it’s very much now a fiber, a part of who I am through this experience. I’m very affected by it, and very thankful for the organization again. Frank : I am so looking forward to hearing how that turns out, and I'm really excited for you. My guests are the performers for the next virtual concert in the new NoteWorthy series from WDAV and FAIR PLAY Music Equity Initiative, singer-songwriter and rapper Greg Cox, Charlotte Symphony violinist Jane Hart Brendle, and violist Matthew Darsey. The concert streams on Wednesday, May 26th at 7:30 p.m. You can get more information and find a link to the Facebook Live event at noteworthyclassical.org . Thank you all for speaking with me. For WDAV’s Piedmont Arts, I’m Frank Dominguez.

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