Braxton Cook is no doubt one of this generation’s most exciting voices in the jazz world. Not only does he exhibit world-class virtuosity on the alto saxophone but he is also a uniquely talented vocalist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and composer whose sound blends jazz, soul, and modern R&B. Braxton’s music is above all a celebration of his diverse musical background and of black artistry. We sat down with Braxton to discuss his upcoming performance and his ever-evolving journey as an artist.
PAN M 360: Braxton, what a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time. Are you in LA then?
Braxton: Yeah man, back home. We had a nice little Midwest, Canada, sort of run. We played in, let’s see, Chicago, the Tri-C festival in Cleveland and then Toronto. I only got back a couple of days ago.
PAN M 360: And you’ll be in Montreal soon enough. Is that for another touring leg?
Braxton: Actually it’s a one-off in Montreal and then we’re kind of chilling for a bit.
PAN M 360: I’m glad you’ll get to spend some time in Montreal. There’s nothing quite like it! Do you remember when you were here last?
Braxton: I think we’ll be around maybe for like three days or something. I’ve played the festival a few times with Christian Scott a few years back. You know it’s going to be so nice to be there and I remember it just being really beautiful.
PAN M 360: And it’s going to be your first time presenting as a leader in Montreal then?
Braxton: It is my first time with my band, exactly. So we’re very excited, and we’re gonna try and do our best, and hopefully people will enjoy it.
PAN M 360: You’re very humble Braxton. A lot of my friends are musicians and I know they really appreciate what you do. I’ve heard a lot of them play ‘No Doubt’ in fact. Do you know how much of an influence you are these days?
Braxton: That’s crazy to me, wow, really? That’s amazing. Once I did have some students at the Berklee College of Music reach out saying they wanted to get an ensemble of my music. And they were like, can I buy your sheet music? And that was wild. That was really cool and maybe that might have been the first inkling that like, there are some cats in the younger generation checking my music out. But I don’t know, every time I hear that, it’s amazing. It’s humbling and also nerve wracking that I’m just like, all right, I hope this music is good. But it’s a blessing brother, I ain’t gonna lie. Because, yeah, there have always been a lot of musicians that I’ve loved for their original music, even like contemporaries of mine. Obviously Christian, Marquise, Ambrose and all these cats. I’ve always wanted to contribute in my own way to the lexicon of just tunes and music that people like to listen to, so that’s incredible to me to be honest.
PAN M 360: Well your music seems to have evolved over the years and it really feels like you’ve come into your own as an artist, not just a saxophonist or sideman. So when people come to see Braxton Cook, what should they expect to hear?
Braxton: Really a bit of everything. I think for sure you’re going to walk away still feeling like this is very much a jazz band, you know, a band that is really communicating musically, right? I think you’re gonna still feel that. But I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t singing like, you know, five or six joints on the set. But every song still has a solo of some sort. And I feature really everyone in the group. So it’s like, you’re gonna get a lot of, obviously me and my performance in the music, but I think you’ll also really get to hear the band shine. Most of us went to Juilliard together, and they are all way better than me, and they are my good friends. So it’s really nice. Like, we push each other musically and as friends, and it’s been a ride.
As far as rep goes, you know we’ll still play classics like you said, we got to play ‘No Doubt’. I try and like craft the shows so that it’s depicting sort of the journey of my artistry, I guess. So there’s songs from each saga, like each record. They kind of just tell the story of my evolution musically, but also even in my relationship as well, you know, because I’ve got a lot of love songs. Chaya and I have been through a lot, from just being students together to getting engaged and married to like house and kids, you know what I’m saying? So it’s like all of that is in there and hopefully you kind of get a sense of that narrative right through the show, while speaking up on certain social and political injustices, you know.
PAN M 360: When I listened Who Are You When No One is Watching?, it really felt like the culmination of your life unto that point, you handled all the different musical threads and influences so gracefully.
Braxton: Thank you man. I’ve always loved someone like Roy Hargrove, who is a prime example of someone who lived in different soundworlds. He literally played on my favourite neo soul albums of all time and was in those spaces, you know what I’m saying, with D’Angelo and Erykah Badou and Rob and all those people. And then obviously also playing with Herbie and Michael Brecker and all these heavy modern jazz dudes. That’s a space I’ve always admired, that he could genuinely live in that, in those two worlds and meld them in an honest way. And I’m always inspired to do that, you know, in my own way. Yeah man, Roy’s a cat, and he could sing too.
PAN M 360: And you as well Braxton, I actually wasn’t expecting that! Maybe it’s a bit soon to ask but I’m curious if there are any new directions that you’re wanting to explore with your music and art.
Braxton: I definitely always wanted to realise my music in a larger way. So, you know, when it comes to strings or orchestral writing, I’ve always wanted to do something like that, even work with The Metropole Orkest or something like that just to hear this music outside of the quintet kind of setup. For the Good Morning America performance we had background singers, and even that was awesome. I’d like to add some more pieces out to the live show and to experiment a bit with the live experience as well.
PAN M 360: I’m sure we’re in for something special. It’s going to be two sets, so I wish you a restful journey! Thanks again Braxton.
Braxton: Ha thanks for reminding me. See you there!
Braxton Cook plays Pub la Traversée Molson Export – Place Tranquille on July 8 at 8pm & 10 pm