Jazz Drummer - Stix Bones, released a new single, May 27th, 2014 entitled - “Twice as Nice.” The song features Melvin Smith on sax and Densen Curwen on keys. The single is available at digital stores such as iTunes, Spotify and Amazon. Stix Bones, (an acronym for ‘Brother of Noble Excellence’) is most remembered as the former house band director of the Paradise Theater and the Jazz Night Series held at Metropolitan Room in NYC.
Stix Bones Interview 4/30/14
Sam: Good Morning Mr. Stix Bones!
Stix: Good Morning!
Sam: Well, the first question I have is…what kind of name is that? (laughs)
Stix: (laughs) That is the classic question! Are you familiar with the group called The Last Poets?
Stix: They used to have sessions here in Harlem and New York City and I was one of the musicians that hung out with them. Then there was another group of young poets from that group called The Vibe Khameleons. They all had interesting names Jasiri, T' Kalla, Sha-Key, Rahzel. Jasiri and T' Kalla told me “Hey man, you are a great drummer. You need to identify yourself with a name that will be memorable.” Being from Brooklyn, I hung out with a lot of Deejays. I didn’t hang out with a lot of musicians during that time. I hung out with people in hip-hop who had cool names like LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, DJ Scratch who are still famous today inspired me to do the same. I took on the name Stix to identify the instrument I played (Drums). Bones is actually an acronym Brother Outstanding Noble and Excellent. The S represents the band which is my squad.
Sam: Oh, I see!
Stix: It took a combination of poetry and knowledge, along with finding musicianship in hip-hop and what it meant to have a stage name for me to find the right name that made a statement of who I am. Stix Bones best identifies me as a drummer and as a person.
Sam: Alright! That’s nice. I like that.
Stix: Thank you.
Sam: So, you are a Brooklynite?
Stix: Yes, sir!
Sam: Cool. What part of Brooklyn you hail from?
Stix: I came up on the East Side of Brooklyn, not far from Flatbush where a lot of my island brothas and sistas are from. But you know Brooklyn is the sum of all of its parts. No matter what part you are from, you are from Brooklyn, USA. (laughs)
Sam: Yes, that is true. (laughs) So what age were you when you got your start in music?
Stix: I didn’t start professionally until like the mid 90’s. I always watched my older brother who grew up in Queens with my grandmother. I used to go to his band rehearsals all the time. He told me that my dad took him to a lot of James Brown concerts, which was his influence. A lot of musicians came from Queens like Marcus Miller and Tom Brown.
Sam: Oh, that’s good!
Stix: Yeah. So, I decided to go to college to learn music and how to play the drums. In 1995, believe it or not my first performance was working in NYC clubs thanks to Ms. Gail Grant of the Mercedes Ladies for discovering me and introducing me to Teddy B. that was when I decided to do this professionally. That same year I went on a tour in France, England and Switzerland with The Last Poets and The Vibe Khameleons. We toured these countries and I was the only musician behind these great poets. After that I decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I toured the US with an amazing Poet Jessica CARE Moore.
Sam: How old were you then?
Stix: I was twenty then. I’m not one of the ones that can say that I started at like four years old.
Sam: Well, I think Christian Scott started late. So, you guys are a testament that you can start late and play strong.
Stix: Yes. That’s true. You know it’s never too late. My brother always said to me that the only time you stop trying is the day you die. It just took some time for me to realize this was my calling. Because honestly, what I wanted to do was to be a Greyhound bus driver because that’s what my dad did.
Sam: Wow. That’s cool. So, when you were working in hip-hop did you participate in any recordings?
Stix: Yes. There was a movement out of New York called Lyricist Lounge. When I was in college, there were events held with signed artists like Biggie Smalls, Puff Daddy (now P Diddy) and Doug E Fresh who shared the stage with unsigned artists. It was during this time that I was asked to become the Music Director for the band who played at these events. I became good friends with the group De La Soul, and so many other great hip-hop artists. I’m the only musician on the Hip Hop album Lyricist Lounge Vol 1. This was my first Hip Hop recording. Following this record I recorded a solo drum record for Deejays to sample called Bones Beats Vol1. What is usually under-appreciated about Deejays is that they have a high respect for live music. So where some would argue that they sampled a record, think about it. They had to listen to and know that music to make a sample work effectively in a song. So, it was the Deejays that introduced me to the music of Herbie Hancock, Parliament Funkadelic, Bob Marley, Bob James from Foreplay and others by listening to their samples. The Deejays became the link between the artist and the recording artist. Some people believe that the best way to get yourself out there as an artist is through radio but not everyone listens to the radio. However, when your music is played in the club, it is played to masses of people at the same time. So, the Deejays and hip-hop was my core foundation. The turning point for me was when my mentor Ray Chew, then Music Director for Showtime at the Apollo who is now Music Director for Dancing with the Stars explained that it is difficult for a musician to succeed playing in the hip-hop genre. Ray Chew was the one who essentially influenced my direction to other genres. He told me to take all that I know and put it into genres that would offer me longevity in my career.
Sam: Ok. Well, tell me about your college career.
Stix: I attended SUNY (State University of NY) Purchase College (now Purchase College) in Purchase, NY. I initially signed up for the Music Production program. But when I found out that they had a Classical Drum program, I said “Hey, I can do that!” And can I tell you Sam…during my first semester of study, I failed with honors brotha! (laughs) I got “F” plus, plus man in every course!
Sam: Oh, wow! (laughs)
Stix: They said “How did you get into this school?” I’m thinking they’re gonna give me a drum set but they give me a Timpani to play with and charts and I had never read charts. Then one of my professors, Jim McElwaine pushed me at the end of the semester and said “You will be in the jazz program. We start in the Spring. No if’s, and’s or but’s about it.” And that’s what saved me.
Sam: (laughs) That’s good.
Stix: That was a turning point for me. I learned so much more of what music is about. Music to me is like an ocean. Yeah, there’re plenty of rivers and bays…but an ocean? An ocean covers most of the earth and to me, music is like that. You don’t hear the music that’s playing outside of your neighborhood. I advise anyone who wants to get into music, go to school. That is the place where you get to meet people from all over the world and become exposed to different music.
Sam: Well, I will just throw this out there. I am also a CUNY alumni. I attended the New York City Technical College.
Stix: I passed by there many times in downtown Brooklyn. Yes, sir!
Sam: Yeah. We met up with SUNY students often for events and sports.
Sam: So, tell me about your gospel background.
Stix: Well, my mother being a devout Christian kept me in the church. She is the reason I am able to step out by faith and not by sight. It helped me to know that I had someone to turn to during my trials and tribulations. I know that I can cast all of my cares on God Almighty and He will see me through. I grew up on music by Shirley Caesar, Mighty Clouds of Joy and James Cleveland. I have been blessed to collaborate with more current gospel artists like Sonya Johnson, as well as her brother Keith ‘Wonderboy’ Johnson. I haven’t met Kirk Franklin yet, but it’s all good. (laughs)
Sam: (laughs) That’s good. So, let’s talk about the single you are about to release.
Stix: On May 27, 2014 it will be available on digital mediums like iTunes, Amazon and Rhapsody. “Twice is Nice” is my second effort. My first effort is titled “Groove Like This” which was released in 2007 when smooth jazz was on it’s high.
Sam: Well, I hear that smooth jazz feel in “Twice as Nice”. When the project is released, is this what we should expect or is there a variation on this project?
Stix: Well, the message I want to send is you can do it big, you can do it small or you can just do it. A lot of people recognize me for my hip-hop background. Fans are beginning to recognize me for my jazz background. Now I want to bring the two genres together in a good way. Since Deejays influence hip-hop with Jazz samples, why can’t we bridge the gap between them. So “Twice as Nice” is a record where you are twice as nice in Jazz, as well as in hip-hop. On the album you will hear a beat box element that gives you that feeling that it’s ok to nod your head to something different. Hip-hop was started in New York City. We (New Yorkers) started that. We own it. So, why don’t we embrace our own? Plus, I take it personal because I’m a drummer. The beat box is my thing! (laughs)
Sam: True! (laughs)
Stix: Like you, Sam. You are “Twice as Nice” at what you do rather than Construction or being a Dentist.
Sam: (laughs) Yeah.
Stix: I mean, you can do what they do but you are “Twice as Nice” at doing what you do.
Sam: Yes, I agree with that! (laughs)
Stix: I encourage anyone to know that whatever you are doing now, you are “Twice as Nice” at doing that than doing something else.
Sam: I like that. Good concept right there! So, who are some of the musicians helping you on this album?
Stix: There are some talented brothas on my squad, man. First of all, Melvin Smith who is a genius when it comes to arranging and composing is working with me. He is a swing jazz player out of Florida who has several albums out there. He too was influenced by hip-hop with southern artists like Outkast and Goodie Mob and Cee Low Green. Melvin is a true man of God who not only plays swing jazz, but gospel as well. Also collaborating with me on this project is a brotha named Densen Curwen, a great piano and guitar player from New York City. He is part of a group called Blue Meadow that combine music from different genres to create great sounds. With the help of these two guys, the single is set up like a hip-hop cipher. First you have the piano, then horns then the drums. Then you bring it all in together.
Sam: Ok. Sounds good.
Stix: Also, you won’t hear any drum solos on this project because drums are not particularly the favored sound. I believe the sax and the piano are favored. Therefore, I decided to write the melodies and produce and arrange the music to give the people what they want to hear.
Sam: Well, that’s production. That’s part of how it’s done.
So, let’s talk about the timeline. The single will be released May 27th. When will the EP be released?
Stix: Well, this will be followed up with another track, leading up to the EP release at the end of the year.
Stix: Yeah. Imma tease them a bit. Give em’ a little of this and a little of that. Give them the hors d'oeuvres first, then give em’ the meal! (laughs)
Sam: I feel you! (laughs)
Sam: Cool. Well, thanks for your time and for sharing with us.
Stix: Sam, thanks so much for supporting Independent Artists. Also, I would like to shout out Randy Thomas for managing me, mentoring me and my team and you are going to hear a lot more from Stix Bones and The Bone Squad as the year progresses. I especially want to thank you for taking the time out for this interview because a lot of people don’t believe our music exists because it’s not on MTV and BET. But thank God for resources like you who help us to reach out to the world and let them know that we are here.
Sam: You’re welcome. You take care! I wish you the best.
Visit Stix Bones at the following links: