For These Grammy Nominees, What’s Old Is New Again

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Four artists talk about drawing on musical legacies and being recognized by their peers.

Musical styles come and go...and sometimes come back around again. When Grammy season rolled around, we talked to four past and current Grammy nominees to find out how their musical upbringing shaped them, and which genres and styles they borrow from to produce their unique sound.

Acknowledging inspirations

Hiroshima Music Band

When discussing the influences for his 1971 album Afro-Eurasian Eclipse, Duke Ellington observed “that whole world was going Asian.” The eclectic ensemble Hiroshima is the fulfillment of that observation. For more than 30 years, Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto, Kimo Cornwell, Danny Yamamoto, and Dean Cortez have electrified the world with their unparalleled fusion of jazz, pop, rock and traditional Japanese folk music. The group was nominated for a Grammy in 2010.

Despite the obvious Asian influence on Hiroshima’s music, only June Kuramoto was not born in the United States. She discusses the exotic cultural mash up behind her music.

The diversity of our influences, both musical and beyond, would take volumes to list. To simplify, I’d have to focus on a cultural perspective. Ranging from Yusef Lateef, Pharaoh Saunders, James Moody, and of course Miles (who we briefly toured with) to Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Santana. They taught us that being different was not just good, but important. That music broadens by inclusion and exploration, and that it deepens if you have something to say.

Next month, repeat Grammy nominee Ledisi Young will be celebrating the launch of her fifth major studio release, The Truth. The first single, “I Blame You,” has already soared into the Top 20 on the Urban Adult Contemporary chart. Ledisi’s inspirations are evident in her work.

Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, and currently Mali Music. They make music that's timeless and they manage to uplift people through their music.That is what I hope to do through my music.

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair has seen a lot in her career. She spent two seasons as the featured saxophonist on the smash television hit American Idol, jammed with Paul Shaffer on Late Night with David Letterman, and jammed on tour with Aerosmith and the Backstreet Boys. In 2014 she received a Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category for Summer Horns, a #1 recording with her friends Dave Koz, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot. Her musical inspirations are as wide-ranging as her achievements:

I grew up on the road with my dad’s band, The Entertainers. He played sax and B3 organ with the group, and he had moves. He’d shimmy and his knees would knock together as he’d run around the stage and play. It was all very high energy and fun. I wanted to have that much fun, so in school band I chose to play the saxophone.

As a kid I watched MTV constantly, so I was inspired by what I saw. I wanted to rock like Tina Turner and Heart. I saw Nancy Wilson kicking her leg up in the air rocking a guitar, and I wanted to do that! I watched Joe Perry play guitar and thought he looked like a gunslinger with it. I loved that. When I heard David Sanborn for the first time, it occurred to me that I could be the lead player in a band and rock out on saxophone. I truly am the sum of my influences.

GLC

Born and raised on the the south side of Chicago, hip-hop maestro GLC has risen from gritty roots to perform with musical royalty, collaborating with Jay-Z, John Legend, Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa, Bruce Springsteen and others. His broad range of influences prepared him for a versatile career:

Isaac Hayes was the true embodiment of soul and macking. Also, I love Curtis Mayfield. Being from Chicago, whenever I listen to his music I see exactly what he is talking about. He was able to turn words into visions, it makes me feel like I am physically in the place in which he is talking about lyrically.

Minnie Riperton is another one of my favorites. She was from Chicago and was also fighting cancer and she had a very unique style and voice. Lastly, I can't forget about Marvin Gaye, I like that he was the ultimate ladies man, whenever you were in the midst of courting a woman, he would aid and assist you in your endeavors. Presently, I like King Louie because I believe that his music is a great representation of Chicago's present state.

Each of these accomplished artists pays respect to the musical pioneers and techniques that came before them. But they didn’t stop at imitation.

Achieving their own sound

For Hiroshima, the challenge is not just honoring their influences, but expanding upon their groundwork to create a new and unique sound.

Because our music in basically uncategorical, it allows us to explore idioms that we dig. We love shifting layers in ways unique to us. Though we are always looking forward, we stand on the shoulders of the great music that we love and continue to grow with. At this moment we are in the midst of our first-ever vocal album, encompassing the vocal tunes from our earlier projects, some of which were radio hits.

Ledisi Young

Ledisi Young also strives to incorporate her musical past into current and future projects.

I'm from New Orleans but raised in Oakland, so I have a great combination of culture and music influences from jazz,funk, gospel, folk, blues and opera. It makes me all mixed up. I'm a mixture of everything. With every album I grow, and with The Truth I've gone to a new level. It's an extension of who I am and where I am in my life. Everything I am feeling and experiencing is in this album and I am excited to share it with my fans. Of all of my recordings, this is definitely my favorite album ever.

Mindi Abair sees her music as an ongoing evolution and incorporates retro elements into her current project.

I wasn’t looking to make a rock ‘n’ roll record necessarily, but I was looking to make a record that hearkened back to the days when saxophone was a mainstream instrument, back in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. Currently, only jazz fans listen to saxophone music. I wanted to make a record that would appeal to more people than just jazz fans. I didn’t want to make a retro record, but a record that had those influences and inspirations with a modern twist. A rockin’ fun saxophone record for the millennium. I feel that’s the record I made.

GLC continues to feel the influence of his Chicago roots, but has opened his projects to influences from musicians as far afield as South Africa. He believes consistency between past projects and current is responsible for his own unique sound.

I always incorporate samples from past records on my projects. I use my own unique rhythmic patterns, I change the octaves and the pitches of my notes. I speak on current topics and do a lot of ad lib.

On being nominated

No matter how many years or albums a career spans, all our musicians celebrate the special honor of being nominated for a Grammy. June Kuramoto, celebrating Hiroshima’s second nomination, says there’s nothing like the feeling. Or the responsibility.

To be recognized a second time by your peers is a dream. To be a part of both a grand tradition and the latest and greatest of current music—I think this is our blessing and legacy. To have come along at a time when the doors were open to things different mandates that we continue to do just that.

Ledisi Young looks forward to her first win, but notes that even being nominated is a sign of success.

Every time I'm nominated it means I'm acknowledged. It means I am seen by my peers. One day I will win and I can't wait for that day. But being acknowledged is just as important.

Mindi Abair agrees that even the nomination is a musical victory.

This year I was nominated for my solo record, Wild Heart. It feels so amazing to have my record nominated. I wrote the songs. I produced it with my friends. I decided who played on it and who I wrote with and how it all happened. It’s amazing to have something I poured so much of myself into be recognized by my peers. I’m so honored. Win or lose, I win. I love being at the show, and I couldn’t be more humbled to be in the company of my fellow nominees. I’ll be walking on air Grammy day.

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