Soul of John Black ready to make festival-goers dance
Written by By DAVID DUPONT/Festival Program Editor   
Monday, 23 August 2010 13:10
When John Bigham put together his CD “The Soul of John Black,” he did it with an ear to taking it to the stage.
“That record was built to play live,” Bigham said in a recent telephone interview.
And not just for folks sitting around listening, but people who want to get to their feet and dance.
“It’s just a lot of jam music that we can stretch out for days,” Bigham said.
The Los Angeles-based musician will bring Soul of John Black to the Black Swamp Arts Festival’s Main Stage Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. with a show on the acoustic stage at 2 p.m.
That’s not to say Bigham as a musician is locked into any particular groove. The Soul of John Black emerged from his playing blues clubs where dancing is a priority. He’s also played with the rock-funk-ska band Fishbone for eight years and worked in the studio with Dr. Dre, Eminem and Everlast.  His previous effort was a more pared down blues effort that was nominated  for Best New Artist Debut from the Blues Music Awards. Other efforts have incorporated elements of hip-hop and jazz, and on the project he’s putting together now, there’s a strong influence from electronica. “That’s what will make it different.”
Bigham came to  his appreciation for a soulful groove as well as a tendency to blur styles early. Growing up in Chicago, he learned about music from the different record collections a home. His brother liked rockers such as Led Zeppelin,. his sister favored Dionne Warwick. His mom loved Nancy Wilson and James Brown while his father was a jazz fan with record by Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery. “I loved all that music,” he said, and it’s filtered into what he creates.
“My music has no genre, so I can do anything I want,” he said.
That’s a philosophy that was encouraged by his former employer, music pioneer Miles Davis.
Bigham auditioned for Davis as a guitarist, even though as he said “I don’t know all this jazz stuff.”
He didn’t get the job, but Davis asked him to write a song, and later Bigham ended up serving for a short time as a percussionist in Davis’ touring band. Not trained as a percussionist, Bigham impressed the bandleader by the percussion he added to his tracks. “He gave me the opportunity to give what I had to offer.”
Bigham’s tune “Jilli” appears on Davis’ “Amandla.”
The collaboration lasted until Davis’ death in 1991. Bigham was working with Davis at his home when Davis left for a doctor’s appointment. He waited for him to return, but the trumpeter was admitted to the hospital where he died.
Davis message to Bigham was: “To do what you feel... to be honest with your feelings and don’t be afraid to how your true self. That’s what people want.”
He shares the legend’s sense for reinvention. “I’m always working on something new,” he said.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, at anytime — an acquaintance’s red hair, chit chat overheard at lunch, a drum lick sent to him by a colleague, or the writing of a favorite author such as Truman Capote or James Baldwin.
He doesn’t let an idea fester. “I take it straight to Pro Tools... Usually when you’re excited about it that’s when it sounds best,” he said. Often that demo turns into the actual record. Sometimes that process takes a day, other times six months. He works with a variety of collaborators including Christopher Thomas with whom he founded The Soul of John Black.
When he hits the road he brings the energy of that initial inspiration on stage.
What Bigham doesn’t bring with him is the concerns of whatever project he’s recording at the time. “When I go on the road I just kind of forget about it, just leave it alone,” he said.
“When I’m on the road, I’m hanging out with the guys in the band, drinking beers and taking in whatever the city has to offer... I just open myself up to whatever is out there.”
And who knows when that might spark something that works its way around to a new Soul of John Black song.

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