As Reginald Chapman defines it, hip hop jazz is jazz with a back beat, and he is someone to listen to – both to his music, and to his ideas about being a musician — he has plenty of thoughts on working hard, and the music scene today. As you listen to a few minutes of Pressure Fit or No BS! Brass, it’s pretty clear that talent is the key, but Chapman philosophy is that the way to make is as a musician is to work hard — which is exactly what
Recently, he shared his thoughts on his work, being an artist, who influenced him, and what’s next.
Smile Politely: Your music is unique — combining of jazz and hip-hop. How do you like your music to be described?
Reginald Chapman: I would say hip hop jazz fusion. Where I come from in Richmond, VA, there is a huge hip hop scene that is growing there. That definitely started to infuse my music. I played in this group called No BS! A lot of our music is informed by hip hop music, brass band music, R&B, and gospel.
l grew up listening to gospel music. So just those rhythms are really important. Straight-up jazz is a little different. Modern jazz usually doesn’t have a driving dansical rhythm, it’s a little more floaty. Coming to school out here is where I got a lot of my jazz sensibility from, where gotten my modern jazz approach, harmonic and melodic sensibilities, mostly harmonic sensibilities from here and then mixing the two has created this stream of approach. Imagine it as a more instrumentalized version of J Dilla. A friend of mine said that my music that it’s more like Gil Evans meets J Dilla. Gil Evans was one of the guys who used to arrange all that stuff for Miles Davis, like Sketches of Spain. So that’s where I am coming from. I think it’s important because I feel like it allows a broader audience and reach. I have an album coming out of Fresh Selects label in Portland. This label usually is a hip hop tape label and it’s been moving in this direction and Kenny Fresh, the label owner is interested in the project because he says his beatnik audience that are into R&B and hip hop, they can still nod their head to it, and if you are into jazz it has that side too.
Smile Politely: What’s the main difference between hip-hop jazz and jazz in your mind?
Chapman: Just the back beat … hip hop jazz is derivative of mechanized, produced beats. If you go the Pressure Fit Bandcamp, there is actually a beat tape, a lo-fi beat tape, that we made. I have tried to stay away from screens and use lo-fi equipment. Like, those in the 90’s. Some are cool, some are touch and go, it’s kind of like a side project for me. I guess hip hop is meant for dancing and rapping. Jazz is more about improvisation and performance practice.
Smile Politely: Who would you describe as having influenced you in your music? Was there anyone that made you want to do music — want to pursue this?
Chapman: I played music growing up in church. There are people there that influenced me. I also had a band director, Steve Turner, at Jamestown High School. He gave me my main instrument which is bass trombone. He helped me get private music lessons in the summers. He pushed me really hard. He is very responsible for my even being a musician today. He showed me all the cool stuff and he took me under his wing. He is the first big hero. There are a lot of people who owe a lot to him today.
Smile Politely: What inspires you? How do you create your own music?
Chapman: Pressure Fit band specifically is a side project for me. My new music is going to be coming out under my name. A lot of stuff I have written down. Pressure Fit does play my music, but a lot of it is trying to play the lo-fi, like, tie your hand behind your back because you are dealing with this antiquated technology played in a certain way that you are not used to. Each piece of technology has its own quirks and own way of using it. It has helped me to create a lot of things that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to — as Brian Eno would say it’s an "oblique strategy".
So, what I have done I wouldn’t say I am a "master" of it, even though you can buy the tape. I have started using these 30 second beats as germs for larger compositions. So, taking a lot of music, even cut up my own music, taking all the new stuff, it’s helping me go into other directions. We play that music live and it has taken on a life of its own. That’s been super inspiring to me. Before that it was mostly about my community, before coming out here, I have this brass group, and I have this chamber, you can Google it and find — there is a Bandcamp page. The album is called the First Letter. It’s kind of some avant garde free stuff but a lot of my music just came from the unity of us spending so much time together. For the longest time, even now the culture of the brass band is that we didn’t write stuff down. So I guess some people would say it is like the garageband culture of playing music, you just work together for a long time and everyone builds their part. So that definitely inspired me for a while. I guess as of current, I have been getting into more high fidelity producing techniques, coupled with 20th century composition techniques.
Smile Politely: Your website describes you as an "instrumentalist, arranger, composer and educator". Does one of these describe you more than the others?
Chapman: I would say — I feel like artist, even though I don’t put that on there. Part of being an artist historically is being an educator. Like Picasso, he always had a huge studio with people helping him. He’s the name but he has a whole team of people who work for him but he also teaches them. So I think that you can say educator is the big bracket, so even when you are creating. You go to a Jay Z concert, you are being educated. I think that being an artist is the top part of it and everything else trickles out of it. When I am teaching my students, I would rather be the guru, like the person in the room who is sharing the overflow of the experiences.
Smile Politely: What are your goals as an educator?
Chapman: I had a teacher once who said that he wants to get everything out of the way so that the music inside the person can come out. I think that’s the goal — to get everyone out of the way of themselves. So whether that be shoring up the techniques so they have the clarity to say what they want to say or for them to be able to continue to teach themselves. I think that learning how to learn is one of the most important gifts that someone can give — teach the man how to fish, not giving the fish — because then you can teach yourself, or you can learn from everyone.
Smile Politely: What would you say to someone who wanted to pursue music as a career?
Chapman: I would say that you have to approach it as if you were going to open up your own butchery. The weird part about music is that it’s exciting and everyone wants loves to do it, and it can be soothing, there’s a stigma of leisure around it and like most of the time when you go to work, everybody else is relaxing, and your job is to help be the arbiter of that, but at the same time you are actually out working. There is the stigma that it’s hard in the music industry, but I think it’s just a matter of if you take it seriously like if you think of yourself a small business and you do what every other business owner would do, then you will be successful. it’s like opening a coffee shop, which is a whole lot of work, and the truth is like those guys work hard. They have to do the interviews, and then they have to do the show. These guys have been doing it their whole lives. They go to work like the 9-5 person goes to work — their cubicle looks a little different. I think most people — it doesn’t have to be a chance game – you don’t need to leave it up to chance — you can do what you can do. In short “work hard.”
Smile Politely: What are some of your personal favorites from your work?
Chapman: "Brass Scene Kids", No BS! – everyone likes. "Hoodie" which is coming out on the new album. Prototype is the name of the album on the Fresh Selects label out of Portland. I did this thing I put out called "Process Level Lament". I guess from that tape probably “before the day” that’s kind of the title is the one that pops up. There’s some other stuff I guess as far as things that are out. here is a new album I’m working on and there’s a song called “Seeing and Hearing” but it’s not out yet. I feel like I am infatuated by the music while I am writing it and then after the first few then I drums and then I move on to some new stuff and then I get re-infatuated like I don’t want to stop. That’s probably it so far.
Smile Politely: How do you balance going to school and touring and being a part of all the bands?
Chapman: My last year I did a sabbatical, I was a TA and we were touring on the bus. And it’s just the thing about music and it’s probably the same as pursuing your style of work, the ticket that you get at the end of your degree really doesn’t mean anything – maybe with a PhD — that ticket means a little bit more in academia, but in music that doesn’t mean as much — as a musician, the way you sound when you play and the work you have been doing that’s what means the most, music is a very “what have you done for me lately” kind of thing. School is not an end game for me. And neither is being solely an educator, mostly as an educator, I want to teach from my experience that’s important to me. That’s why I had to keep doing it. If I wouldn’t have been on those tours, the audio wouldn’t have happened. If you were a researcher they are not going to tell you to not publish because you are at school, you represent them and you represent yourself.
Read my bio, and it’s going to be connected to the U of I. It’s because it is what I love to do, it’s what keeps me going, it’s my end game — to be an artist. Going to school is to support that. That’s why I haven’t stopped pursuing. My first break from going to school it was April. I turned down an Easter gig, I had the opportunity, there is this artist Rebecca Rego (she’s not here anymore) to go out to San Francisco to mix it, but I hadn’t set up any gigs, I hadn’t got any calls, and I just sat wanting Netflix and I realized that sometimes you’ll get a lot of calls for gigs, and sometimes you won’t, and what do you have control over. You have control over that you can book your own gigs. Spend your time doing what you can control, and then all the other stuff will just fall into place.