The Alabama indie smooth jazz/funk/R&B band BlendJazz pulls you in, grabs you with the rhythm, and keeps your head bopping. It’s because of the unique combo of Henry Mixon, Earl Rice and AnthonyStix Payton, who together, make tunes like “Slow Jam” that feel like honey you want to pour over everything. “Somp’um” adds an easy techno beat with the synth, and “Roses” has a beautiful, clear vocal track. The music is smart and sophisticated while being extremely listener-friendly.
Who makes up BlendJazz?
BlendJazz is Earl Rice (keys/piano/synths), Henry Mixon (bass) and AnthonyStix Payton (percussion/drums).
What cities are you each from?
Earl Rice – I’m originally from Battle Creek, Michigan. After several years of residing in Houston, Texas, I now live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
AnthonyStix Payton – I’m originally from Battle Creek, Michigan also, and I currently reside in Atlanta, Georgia.
Henry Mixon – I’m originally from Selma, Alabama and now live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Was your vision specifically smooth or R&B?
Our vision has always been on smooth jazz with an R&B flavor/flair, fueled by the music of Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Spyro Gyra, Foreplay and others of that genre of contemporary/fusion jazz.
Who does the composing?
The primary composer and engineer is Earl Rice, and all band members have input for the instruments.
How much is original vs. covers?
Currently we have 40 songs airing. Only two of those are covers, and they’re both on our second CD. We do prefer original material.
Do you have a regular vocalist or does it depend on the song?
It depends on the song. We have both Earl and Anthony who do vocals internally, and we bring on guest artists (primarily Cynthia Kelly and Jonae Muhammad) to do lead on songs. BlendJazz’s music also presents quite an array of great singers who add to the uniqueness of our sound.
What is your most recent CD?
“Writing On The Wall.” The brick wall represents a tapestry to write about real life and the issues that we and other people experience at some time in life.
You have a funky, definitive, energetic sound. How did you get there?
Our sound starts on “The One” and then ventures off into a unique flow of melodies and counter-melodies.
Just allowing the music to flow can get a new and different feel that’s pleasing to the senses and can energize the sound.
What do your fans request most often?
We get a lot of requests for “Don’t Give Me That,” “Chill Tyme,” “Bounce,” “Sweet Lies,” “You’re The One,” “Slow Jam” and many other songs as well.
What has been your favorite city or venue to play?
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at Government Plaza. This is a downtown, outdoor city venue that offers great acoustics around the buildings and the open-spaced grounds. It always accommodates a great crowd wanting to hear some great music.
What is the music scene like in Alabama?
Not very good for jazz in most areas except on the coastal areas, near resorts and the Gulf areas.
Where do you go in your head when you play?
(Earl) I go to my “happy place.”
(Henry) A release to a “free zone” where sound dominates and sensitivity of feel becomes important.
What new sounds, riffs or effects have you recently embraced?
(Earl) I enjoys playing my Roland FA6 keyboard, working with some of the 2,000 sounds that I can customize.
(Henry) I enjoy tweaking sounds on bass pedals to fit the texture of what is needed for each song.
Are you all from musical families?
(Henry) Not from a musical family.
(Earl) Yes, I have two sisters who play piano. I’ve played with Archie Bell & the Drells in Houston, Texas.
(Anthony) I have a brother who played with the Drifters in the 1970s. I played with JR Walker & the All Stars in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Have you all wanted to be musicians since you were kids?
What does “BlendJazz” mean to you?
A mixture of creativity and sound in the way that still retains the essence and foundation of the musical structure from past eras.
What would you want people to know about you that they don’t already know?
That we work hard to present a product that sounds the way that we intended it with our signature print.
What is the biggest change you have observed since starting in the music industry?
The change/transition from analog to digital technology. This allows indie artists to be heard on a global stage unlike before. More people in other countries know our music than people here in the U.S.! And definitely more than in our own state of Alabama.
What themes inspire you to write about?
In general, Life! It presents new opportunities to create something special.
Have you ever had guest woodwind or horn players?
A new project for 2018 will feature a lead saxophonist.
Favorite festival and why?
Magic City Smooth Jazz in The Park [Birmingham, AL]. We’ve performed there in two of the last three years.
How does a jazz band differentiate itself today?
A jazz band has to be original in approach to create a style that’s all its own, while incorporating elements of traditional musical genres – rock, fusion, R&B, funk and classic jazz.
How do you keep the writing fresh?
Guest artists are incorporated to add a new feel. This allows for the “fusion” of different mindsets to create new and different sounds within the framework of the classic structure.
Who are your favorite jazz artists?
(AnthonyStix) Billy Cobham, Buddy Rich, Dennis Chambers, Lenny White and Harvey Mason, to name a few.
(Earl) Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Les McCann and Chick Corea.
(Henry) James Jamerson, Stanley Clarke, Larry Graham, Abraham Laboriel, Verdine White, Bootsy Collins, Gerald Veasley, Scott Ambush and Nathan East. And endless bass world players out there!
It’s just an exciting time to be a jazz musician. Challenges and adversity exist for us as indie artists, but to have our music be heard on a global scale due to changes in technology opens possible promise for legitimization in the music industry, and enjoyment for the listeners who were, at one time, outside of our own boundaries!
For more information, visit BlendJazz on Facebook.
Photo courtesy of and with permission of BlendJazz.
(c) Debbie Burke 2017