28 Sep 2013

BadBadNotGood: breaking the jazz mould

From RNZ Music, 3:04 pm on 28 September 2013

BadBadNotGood are a Candaian jazz quartet known for re-working popular songs by artists including Feist, Drake, Joy Division, Kanye West and A Tribe Called Quest.

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Photo: Supplied

The group say they’re not intentionally trying to make jazz more accessible to those who wouldn’t normally listen.

“We just have fun. We just like playing these songs and it’s super fun to arrange them,” says the group's drummer Alexander Sowinski.

Keyboardist Matthew Tavares chimes in: “We’ve obviously thought about it … but I don’t think any of us has approached a song and been like, ‘Oh, I want to take this song and get people who like this song into jazz.’

"It’s more like, ‘Hey, we all play jazz instruments – that’s what we’re good at, so let’s just play these songs that we really like.’ And then if people like them, that’s awesome.”

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of the first songs the group worked on was their take on Tyler The Creator’s ‘Bastard’, which they spliced with Gucci Maine’s ‘Lemonade’. ‘Lemonade’ has an almost nursery rhyme quality to it, which is not something you’d expect a group of jazz school-trained musicians to turn their hands to.

But Sowinski says any song can be complex: “Even a song that has one note might still be complex if you look at it the right way.

“I don’t like how a lot of people in the jazz world think that certain music is intellectual and certain music isn’t, because it really is just how you approach music … you can intellectualise anything and probably come away learning something.

“With ‘Lemonade’ it’s a three-note melody and it’s just really catchy. When it comes down to it, music should feel good.”

This approach to music was not welcomed by the group’s tutors at the Humber College jazz program in Toronto, where they met: “I don’t think they weren’t into it, but I don’t think we had our perception of how we were going to do it 100 percent of the time,” says Sowinski.

“The first time we tried, we made a little medley thing for an assignment I had. We played ‘Lemonade’ and Bill took a solo on it and just jammed out.”

Sowinski was supposed to be playing a series of percussion pieces including etudes and a standard, but instead, he put together this medley with his pals: “Because [the tutors] didn’t know the music, there was no reference [point for] the feeling and I think they just didn’t get it whatsoever.”

“So I’m not going to say flat out that they wouldn’t [accept it] if they knew it, but I think … us loving hip hop and being very involved in jazz … was a complete disconnect and didn’t translate … at the time they were just like, ‘What the f*ck.’”