“He had bounce in his rhythm that would bounce off the floor and carry the music up to the ceiling. He had this ethnic sound – the continent of Africa – but with grace. He has a dignity and the flavor of Africa, and of metropolitan cities, all with the element of surprise.” –Wayne Shorter
Jazz Central Studios hosts its Masters Series every Friday night, and no one better fits that description than Eric Kamau Gravatt. The former Weather Report drummer was already a legend in the 70s and has enjoyed a resurgence of his career over the past decade, particularly as leader of Source Code. He’ll bring the band with four other local heavyweights– Chris Thomson, Solomon Parham, Dean Magraw and Ron Evaniuk– to Jazz Central on Friday, February 5.
An alum of the bands of McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard and Blue Mitchell as well as Weather Report, Eric Kamau Gravatt essentially has had two careers in jazz with a couple decades of separation. Like John Coltrane and long-time associate McCoy Tyner, he is a native of Philadelphia. Originally a conga player, Gravatt taught percussion and music in Philadelphia and Washington, DC in the 1960s. Miles Davis invited him to join his band, but Gravatt turned down the Prince of Darkness to follow Wayne Shorter into Weather Report, with whom he toured and recorded. But Gravatt’s sound was not exactly what WR founder Joe Zawinul had in mind, and after a while Gravatt was replaced in favor of a more “bottom heavy” drummer. He moved on to the fusion band Natural Life (with Bobby Peterson and Bob Rockwell), a move that brought him to the Twin Cities some 30 years ago. Demands of family and a desire for financial stability took Gravatt out of fulltime music and into fulltime work as a guard at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes. “I had kids, and Corrections were the only thing being offered that paid that good, and they had (benefits) you couldn’t get in jazz,” Gravatt told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Only after retiring from Lino Lakes did Gravatt return to his calling, touring again with McCoy Tyner, performing with his band, Source Code, and engaging in some more experimental improvisations with metro area musicians including Adam Linz, Brandon Wozniak, and, recently, Dean Magraw, with whom he released Fire on the Nile.
Source Code (from software lingo for a collection of instructions to generate the programs that run on our computers, PDAs, cell-phones and toasters) tackles the works of such titans as Coltrane and Jackie McLean—and Gravatt’s band has the power to handle the repertoire.
Saxophonist Chris Thomson studied classical and jazz music, toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Over the past few years, Chris has been recording and/or performing with many of the Twin Cities most creative artists, including J.T. and Chris Bates, Anthony Cox, Dean Magraw, Dave King, Martin Dosh, Jay Epstein, Bryan Nichols, Michael Lewis, Adam Linz, Alden Ikeda, Tim Glenn, Greg Schutte, Adam Levy, Enormous Quartet, and Shovel, in addition to his own Bells and Whistles ensemble. He’s released three recordings as leader and keeps a busy teaching schedule at the Main Street School for Performing Arts (Hopkins), Hamline University, and MacPhail Center for Music.
Trumpeter and educator Solomon Parham came to the Twin Cities from Detroit where he taught in public school and performed at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. He’s also performed with Delfeayo Marsalis’ Jazz for Kids, ” Jazz and Jasmine Meets the Jazz Band,” Wess Anderson, and at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Artists Quarter, Dakota, Bedlam and Jazz Central. Currently, Solomon teaches in the St. Paul Schools and directs jazz ensembles at Walker West Music Academy. He also leads Solomon’s Sessions twice monthly at The Bedlam. He recently joined forces with trumpeter Steve Kenny at the Twin Cities Winter Jazz Festival.
Dean Magraw is one of the Twin Cities’ most eclectic musicians, with a thirty-year career spanning genres and cultures, from blues to classical to folk and jazz, from Japanese and Indian to Celtic and middle American. Dean has collaborated with many local artists at the Artists Quarter, Black Dog, Studio Z, Vieux Carré and more, including Brandon Wozniak, Bryan Nichols, Billy Peterson, Peter Schimke, Kenny Horst and Eric Gravatt. He’s released a series of recordings spanning his musical universe, including a duo with tabla master Marcus Wise, How the Light Gets In. After first playing with Eric Gravatt as a sub in Source Code, Dean has become a regular member of the band, and plays in a duo with Gravatt which led to the release of their Fire on the Nile in 2014.
Bassist with the Americana Classic Jazz Orchestra (devoted to the big band music of the 20s and 30s), JazzMN Orchestra, and leader of his own quartet, Ron Evaniuk recorded with Twin Cities trumpet legend Gene Adams and has played with George Avaloz, in addition to his long-standing work with Source Code.
Jazz Central Studios is a nonprofit venue at 407 Central Avenue SE, Minneapolis. Donations ($10) requested to support the space and artists. Calendar and more information online.