Zo!’s Top Five Moments of 2011 – #2 My First Trips Overseas b/w The Release of ‘…just visiting three’

Performing in Amsterdam • Photo by Sarah Jane Van Beek

I quickly went from having never traveled to Europe… to traveling to Europe three times in the first three months of the year. In January, I went overseas with The Foreign Exchange for our first European Tour as a collective, which covered London, Amsterdam, Paris, Köln, and back to London for a second show. While the tour was extremely tiring and my feet hung off of the ends of ALL of the beds in the hotels, I was very grateful to see the outpouring of love we received in each city. These kats were hyped up to see us and their energy was taken in and transferred right back to them via our shows. We were also fortunate enough to get together with the talented and VERY quick learning drummer UK Laurie Lowe who held us down on stage the entire time we were over there. BIG up…!! I know I’m leaving out a ton of details, so please don’t hesitate to click on each city above to read my write-ups on each date…

In February, I went back over to Paris with DC based, Grammy-nominated artist Kokayi at the Maison des Arts festival playing alongside Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch… Talk about FUN. We arrived in Paris a day early, so we were able to walk around the city and take our time to really take everything in. This is generally uncommon during multi-city touring where you usually arrive to a city, check-in, soundcheck, get ready fo the show, play the show and get ready to do it all over again the next day. I experienced some excellent food, beer mixed with tequila, as well as a pigeon that decided he needed to initiate me by letting himself loose on my hat and coat. Great… The show itself was crazy… Especially when I was able to see kids start to breakdance on the sides of the thatre. I was looking like, “Wooooooooow, for real?!” Fun, fun times…

I think the most memorable time overseas was the last time I went, in March with Sy Smith - these were actually the FIRST of our “Duo” shows. We had two shows scheduled in Paris at Bizz’Art and London’s famed Jazz Café. But our schedule was pretty interesting. Despite playing the Paris show first, we flew in to London’s Heathrow airport the morning of Thursday, March 3rd where we were picked up by one of the vocalists and taken to our hotel. We had the rest of the day to explore London, or rest before rehearsal began that night with the band. The next morning (the 4th) we took the train to Paris and was greeted by our promoter upon arrival who then walked us to our hotel to check in and gave us a brief tour of the city as well as the venue we were going to be performing in the next night. We had some wine, did an interview, rested up and enjoyed a helluva dinner at a spot across the street from our hotel. The actual day of the show, March 5th… We met up with the Paris band at the venue who we could already hear rehearing our material as we walked in. That crew of musicians was on POINT. I actually remember thinking to myself when I heard the second keyboard player, “Damn, he might know my shit better than ME!” That Paris show was NUTS. Bizz’Art was filled up, the people were into the show from start to finish and showed their appreciation afterward by forming a line to the merch table where we were seated that seemed to never end. I was extremely grateful.

The following morning (Sunday the 6th), we took the train back to London to check back into our hotel and prepare for our first performance at the Jazz Café. After a quick soundcheck and a couple of interviews, we got started that night and had a BALL. Although we didn’t get on stage until late, the London crowd had a lot of energy for us. I can still remember a few kats on the sides of me who were actually “studying” what I was playing… I could tell this, because I would hear them comment or say, “Whooooo!!!” after I would hit a certain series of notes or chords. Now THAT was kinda crazy as I hadn’t experienced that before. We ended the show with an “acoustic” encore, just Sy singing and me on the keys, which gave us the idea to make our going out on the road as a team more permanent – Combined with the love we received in both London and Paris, the Zo! + Sy Smith show became solidified. Now the question is… When can we go BACk overseas?!

                                                                                                       

I’m gonna let ch’all in on a little well-known secret among us artists… Releasing new music NEVER gets old. One of the reasons is because we are always being asked, “So what’s next?” “What are you working on currently?” I had a couple of people ask me “When’s your next album coming out?” just three days after I released SunStorm in 2010. To have your current music, your “baby” see the light of day and watching people react to it in realtime via Twitter, FB, etc. is one helluva reward in itself. This time around, I was able to SEE people’s first time reactions to the new music in the form of a series of …just visiting three listening parties. The first one was the night of its release at a very intimate setting in Washington D.C. at a spot called Tap & Parlour. Right at midnight, while the album was being released online, I got up on the mic to introduce the new material to everyone in attendance and DJ 2-Tone Jones spun it straight through. To see people react to …just visiting three’s song selection, yelling out “SOOOOMEBOOOODY TEEEEELL MEEEEEEE” during the hook for “Everything She Wants” and yelling out “OHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” when “Playing Your Game, Baby” started…. and ANOTHER “OOOOHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!” when Anthony David proceeded to start singing and take ownership of the song. I was sitting in the spot with my laptop open reading reactions to the album and experiencing them all at the same time. That feeling was absolutely priceless… I can’t wait to do it again in 2012.

SoulBounce.com Gives End of the Year Props to ‘…just visiting three’

SoulBounce.com just unveiled its “Hot 16: SoulBounce’s Best Albums of 2011″ which gave ‘end of the year’ props to my …just visiting three EP as well as my brother Phonte’s Charity Starts At Home… one of my favorite people IN music Deborah Bond’s Madam Palindrome album… and the family affair album and DVD that featured +FE’s entire live collective The Foreign Exchange’s Dear Friends: An Evening With The Foreign Exchange.

Source: SoulBounce

We may live in a singles-driven, pick-what-songs-you-want-from-the-menu world now, but there’s nothing like buying an album and letting it play straight through. No skips. No pressing stop to listen to something else. Just letting it ride out and getting lost in the groove. That’s the sign of a good album, and 2011 had its fair share. That’s why narrowing down all of the albums that we had in heavy rotation at SBHQ was quite a task, but we whittled our collective favorites down to a Hot 16 to present SoulBounce’s Best Albums of 2011. We started out the year anticipating many of them, but a few snuck in to surprise us with just how undeniably great they were. We have high expectations for another banner year for progressive urban music ahead, but not before looking back on the exceptional year that was and our Hot 16 plus a long list of albums that deserve honorable mentions. Be sure to come back tomorrow to find out which one of these albums will receive our Album of the Year nod during our annual SoulBounce Honors. Read the full article

                                                                              

…just visiting three can ALSO be found twice on the “Hot 16: SoulBounce’s Best Songs of 2011″ for “Playing Your Game, Baby” featuring Anthony David and “Marzipan” featuring Eric Roberson and Phonte. It also makes an appearance on the ‘Honorable Mention’ list for “Everything She Wants” featuring Phonte.

Source: SoulBounce

Oh 2011, where, oh where, did you go? It seems like just yesterday that we here at SBHQ were lamenting the slow start to the year and hoping that the remainder would make up for it. Well, we definitely weren’t disappointed with the vast majority of what we heard. These past 12 months have brought us new music from old faves and a slew of new faves to join them, and our list of SoulBunce’s Best Songs of 2011 reflects that. If you’ve been following SoulBounce this year, then some of these selections should be no-brainers, but there are few surprises to be had. 

In the past, each editor has posted their own year-end top 10 list of songs, but in an effort to streamline the process the staff of SoulBounce has combined all of our eclectic tastes together into one Hot 16. We may or may not have had a Love & Hip Hop style brawl to narrow this list down to just 16 songs, but not to worry because a list of honorable mentions is included as well. Without further delay, see what tunes made our Best Songs of 2011, and stay tuned for SoulBounce Honors 2011 where we’ll crown one of these as Song of the Year. Read the full article

Zo!’s Top Five Moments of 2011 – #3 Rock Creek Academy in D.C. Closes Down = Full-Time Musicianship…

Friday, August 5th began early for me as I was picked up from my hotel room in Houston at about 4:45am to catch an early flight back home after wrapping up another successful listening party for my then new release, …just visiting three. For those of you who know me personally, along with others who happen to follow me on Twitter or Facebook know that I taught Music at a Special Education Charter school in Washington D.C. (Rock Creek Academy) to high school kids for five years. Well, August 5th is significant because it marked the last day of summer school at RCA, which also meant that our staff had the entire following week off before it was back to the start of yet another fall semester. I would ALWAYS take the summers off, just so I could regain my sanity and have some time to myself in regards to being productive in the studio without having to worry about my day job. Despite not working in the summer, I was still able to remain connected to the happenings in the school because I still received work emails on my phone. That morning, we all received an email from the CEO of the school that read like this:

After reading the email, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Normally when we would get this same type of email at the end of each semester or summer session, it would serve almost as our “enjoy your time NOW… because in a week, it’s back to the plantation!” warning. Even with seeing and reading this email, I was so determined to keep the school out of my mind until it was actually that time to go back in there to work – I think any teacher can relate to that. At the time I was focused on my upcoming trip to Atlanta that I had scheduled for another …just visiting three album listening party at Moods Music that Sunday, the 7th. Soon after returning home from Atlanta on Monday, August 8th, received a text from a friend of mine who was formally employed at Rock Creek Academy with me…

“You hear about RCA?”

I responded… “No, what happened?” …but I already pretty much knew what she was about to respond with. When folks text you out of the blue asking if you’ve “heard about” someone or something, it is rare that a positive update will follow. She then proceeded to tell me that the school had shut down and that there should be a letter in the mail formally confirming this. I got up and walked outside to check the mailbox. Sure enough there was a large white envelope from Rock Creek Academy, Inc. that contained one letter of recommendation, a letter instructing us on how to keep our health benefits, and a two-page letter informing us that our signed, upcoming 10-month teaching contracts were “terminated” effective immediately due to the permanent closure of the school. Although the news came as no surprise to many of us (even though we were “assured” throughout the spring semester of 2011 that we had nothing to worry about as the school would remain open in the future), it was kind of a shock when it actually happened. What wasn’t a shock though was the fact that the two-page letter was dated Friday, August 5th… The same day the CEO sent out the “not-so-out-of-the-ordinary” email above thus confirming in print what we all already suspected… He knew. How far in advance did he know the school was shutting down? There’s no telling, but I think he was aware of it way in advance. Personally, I have always thought that was shady as shit… Regardless of what it was, what I SAW was the door to “Full-Time Musicianship” fly wide open, which was excellent… There was also a HUGE change taking place, which set the stage for a rather intense mental battle to take place… The battle started off as a back and forth debate…

“But you’re making a huge impact in some of these kids’ lives” vs. “You’re also making an impact in people’s lives who listen to your music”

“You are salaried at the school” vs. “Music isn’t salaried, but you can definitely work to make it very consistent”

The debate slowly started becoming a bit one-sided…

“Your being an artist was not at all respected by the school at all… Until it was time to show you and your students off” vs. “Your art is respected by your listeners and supporters”

“While you ARE salaried, the school has it set up to where they are not paying you for two consecutive missed days whether you have leave hours or not” vs. “You can go out on the road whenever you need to – No permission needed, no leave slips”

These were all factors that I was weighing when deciding whether or not to go back into the classroom as a music teacher. The thing is, I am very passionate about passing music down to the younger generation of kids – whether it comes in the form of music theory and education or just simply letting them hear my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire record to expose them to what I think is “good music.” I think that it is our duty as music lovers to expose these children early to some good undeniable music. It’s always silly to me when I hear people complaining about what our kids listen to, yet they have never once schooled a kid on anything music-related. Let these kids hear some stuff and pass some history along with the song and they just may surprise you by taking to it. I eventually decided to continue passing along my knowledge of music in the form of private piano lessons, which actually started at the top of this month… Despite not working in a formal classroom setting, music education never stops.

The one thing that I’ve learned since becoming a musician full-time is if you want to know how people truly feel about you, go into business for yourself and start doing what you love as a profession. Maaaaaan, that shit is TELLING!! The few things that I have learned about myself have been interesting as well. For example, I realized that once I get focused on productivity and being consistent whether in the studio, the gym, or on-stage, I have an extremely low tolerance for folks with constant negative energy. I wasn’t fully aware of that until recently and I have certainly had to adjust accordingly. On the other hand, my family and close friends have been nothing BUT supportive in my recently enhanced musical journey and to them I would like to say, “Thank you” and “I love you” for it because honestly, it is part of what drives me during some of those “low” days. Overall, the school’s immediate closure has certainly opened up brand new opportunities as well as a brand new purpose and motivation behind my music career that has resulted in a greater amount of shows and studio time and subsequently a lesser amount of sleep. I am extremely anxious to let you all hear what I have been working on since the closing of Rock Creek Academy and thank YOU for continuing to support what I love to do and that’s create and release quality music.

Upcoming Shows with Sy Smith… Portland (12/22), Seattle (12/23) & LA (1/19)

I’ll be traveling west to perform with my sister in music, the wonderfully talented, Sy Smith to perform our intimate, acoustic set in Portland and Seattle at the end of this week and LA in January…

Zo! + Sy Smith @ The Crown Room – Portland, OR

December 22, 2011

9:30p

Zo! + Sy Smith @ Nectar Lounge – Seattle, WA

December 23, 2011

9:00p

Zo! + Sy Smith @ Little Temple – Los Angeles, CA

(Limited Discount Tickets Available Now – $5)

January 19, 2012

9:00p

Zo!’s Top Five Moments of 2011 – #4 First Videos Placed in Rotation

Valentine’s Day 2011 – I had just returned home from the school (or “that PLACE” as I would call it) after a typical day of working as a student bodyguard (a/k/a a teacher) and proceeded to send texts to numerous people in my phone letting them know that If they were close to home, pull up in front of the TV real quick and turn on VH1 Soul at 6pm EST… My video for “This Could Be the Night” was set to make its second television appearance (It was run at 10am earlier in the day). I was very promptly informed by my mother who called that morning and left a super excited voicemail, “It came on! Your video was on this morning!!” (To this DAY, she either emails or sends me a text whenever she happens to catch my video) Her voicemail was then accompanied by several texts and tweets that said the same thing. To me, this was pretty exciting being as though prior to the release of SunStorm, I had no videos. We shot footage for “This Could Be the Night” in June of last year. At the time of the shoot, I was told that the final product would be included in the MTV Networks rotation a/k/a VH1 Soul at a later date… after several steps were completed, so I thought to myself, “Just be patient, it’ll show up.” Hell, most times I would pretty much just put it out of my mind for long periods of time so I wouldn’t have to think about it. This was a fairly important accomplishment for me because a producer is normally more behind the scenes and not necessarily looked at as a “frontman.”As a matter of fact, there have been people who I have run into who had been listening to my music for some years, but barely knew what I looked like. So even just for visual’s sake, I felt that a video would be a great look… After seeing the final cut of the video, I was extremely satisfied with the result and couldn’t wait until folks would be able to see me, the crew, and hear my music on a channel that they were familiar with. When the video finally DID air, I stood up so that I was basically positioned in the middle of the living room floor, grabbed the Verizon cable remote and mashed my thumb on the “Volume +” button, which resulted in the TV blaring throughout my house. From there, I was just kinda staring motionless at the screen as if it was the first time I had ever seen my own video… I know that YouTube and other video-based sites are now almost as relevant as television, but there’s still something about seeing and hearing your work of art being displayed on TV that is still rather fascinating to me (you can tell this is my first televised video, huh?). I got on the phone with my parents and spoke with them while one of my cousins called me and screamed into the phone as if she saw me performing at the Super Bowl during halftime. If I remember correctly, the video ran right after The Foreign Exchange’s video for “Maybe She’ll Dream Of Me” – Definitely a surreal moment.

During the space of time that in which I was waiting for “This Could Be the Night” to air, I was contacted by some of vocalist Conya Doss’ people to meet with them about possibly co-starring in a video of hers (“All In You”) that they were set to shoot in November, 2010… Wow, word? Now that was something different and completely unexpected… I’m definitely no actor, nor had I ever been specifically asked to appear in someone’s video before. Regardless, I set up a meeting with them and talked about the “good guy” role I would be playing in the video and I agreed to do it. I ended up shooting the scenes for my part in a day… The next thing I knew, I had “This Could Be the Night” in rotation… and was simultaneously co-starring in another video that was also being run on television. NOW, I get texts and emails from moms that look something like this… “Both videos were on today… Your video came on at 20-after and your acting video came on at 45 after…” (She passes along the times because she knows that the video shows run the videos in the same order each time they air that particular day). That’s her all DAY… Super informative #1 fan.

“Greater Than the Sun” was a video that Phonte and I discussed shooting early on in the planning process of the album, simply because we knew how easy and stress-free it would probably be. When we eventually shot the video back in February, it was the easiest for kats to shoot… we were in Atlanta for a hot second, shot, and rolled out – AND I had some Zaxby’s while on the set!! BUT on the other hand, it has been the most difficult to get into rotation due to editing issues… The most interesting piece to me and my sense of humor is reading the comments made via YouTube as some think that Phonte is the one driving the car, somebody else thinks that Kareem Johnson produced the song and not the video… It kinda had me thinking, “Well shit… What do folks think I do anyway?” haha …Phonte isn’t driving to go and pick himself up from his house in the video! lol Maaaaan, a brovah can’t get credit for shit! LOL But I love how the bright video directly reflects the mood and the content of the song… Perhaps one day soon we’ll be able to enjoy the second video from SunStorm on TV as well…… Two outta three ain’t bad… That’s two more I had on TV this time last year!

Zo!’s Top Five Moments of 2011 – #5 The Co-Signing of “Flight Of The Blackbyrd” by Original Member Of The Blackbyrds, Allan Barnes

Whenever I do a cover of a song, or in this case an original piece that serves as dedication track paying homage a favorite group (The Blackbyrds) and favorite production team (The Mizell Brothers), the way that I judge the finished product is by asking myself, “Do you think that this piece can be presented to the original artist… WITH confidence?” If the answer to that question is a “yes”… I keep it. If I feel otherwise, I will not hesitate to start over or completely scrap something I don’t deem high-quality enough to keep around. With that being said, let’s discuss a phone call I received the afternoon of January 18th while I was in the classroom teaching… I couldn’t get to my phone obviously, so I let it go to voicemail. When I finally had a free minute to check it, I looked and saw that it was saxophonist and original Blackbyrds band member, Allan Barnes who called. Oh damn, word?! Now, I had not talked to him since the summer of 2007 when I went back home to play keys in Detroit’s CityFest with my former band, The Gorilla Funk Mob (ironically, I actually JUST found footage of this performance on YouTube last month). From checking the voice mail, he was giving me a shout letting me know that he was in D.C. for a day or two… Alright, sounds good to me. So, I called him back and we chopped it up about that for a few minutes. Suddenly, it hit me… I need to ask him about hearing “Flight Of the Blackbyrd” from SunStorm!! A friend of mine and GFM drummer, Tate McBroom told me that he played the record for him a few months prior… Being an original Blackbyrd, I was anxious to hear his opinion first-hand…

Me: I’ve been meaning to ask you about this for a minute…. Have you heard the “Flight Of the Blackbyrd” joint?

Allan Barnes: What? Your joint?

Me: Yeah… The one that just came out last year.

AB: Oh yeeeeeeeah!! That’s the SHIT man!!

Me: *Trying my best not to attempt a back flip that I know I can’t execute*

It was probably the shortest and most direct approval I had ever received, but it didn’t lessen how humbled I was, especially being as though the only other song I have ever received praise for from the original artist was my cover of “Star Of the Story” by Heatwave…  Of course as soon as I got off the phone with AB… I passed the positive news along to Phonte.  

Allan’s words came in addition to what happened soon after SunStorm was released in July of 2010. Larry Mizell Jr. tweeted Phonte and I regarding “Flight Of the Blackbyrd” giving the Mizell Family’s approval… (I wish I would have favorited that tweet). Talk about HONORED. You never know who is listening and possibly enjoying your music – particularly when your music is “to” them…