Written by Patrick Jarenwattananon from NPR
The artists featured on this week’s Jazz Night In America Wednesday Night Webcast are, by a fair margin, the least-known performers we’ve had on the program. Their names don’t travel far outside the underrated musicians’ community of the mid-Atlantic — specifically, Washington, D.C. — but not for lack of talent. They’re among the premier musicians in the region, some being bandleaders themselves, and they all have strong individual sound identities.
So we wanted to introduce them to you. Collectively, they’re a group led by trombonist Reginald Cyntje, who composes and arranges all the music you’ll hear. His personal style reflects the Caribbean music he heard growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the spiritual leanings and social-justice missions that are a part of his persona, and the driving grooves for which D.C. jazz is known. He took time out to explain to us why he assembled his band the way he did — and introduced us to all of its members.
“I feel that in a band situation, you should have a really deep connection between the members,” Cyntje says. “When you have a family unit, when you have folks that are really invested — not just friendship-wise, but musically — it changes the sound. The audience can feel that. They can feel when you have a connection musically and spiritually with the band. So over the years, my focus has always been performing with musicians who I connect with — not just musicians who I want to use on a resume.
“When we have rehearsals, everyone comes prepared. When we go to the recording studio, everyone comes prepared,” he says. “We make good music together because we have a connection.”
In Reginald Cyntje’s own words, here are the musicians we can expect to hear tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 11) at 9 p.m. ET, when his band is featured in a recent performance from the Washington, D.C., club Bohemian Caverns.
Amin Gumbs, drums
Amin and I were born on the exact same day. We’re the exact same age. … We were born on different islands — he was born on a different island, and I was born on Dominica. We were both raised in the Virgin Islands.
Amin and I, we met in the seventh grade. What’s interesting about that — I didn’t start playing the trombone until the seventh grade, and Amin had been playing since the fourth grade. His father is a musician, as well. So I admired this — Amin was in the advanced band; I was in beginning band. I was like, “This cat is my age, and he’s killin’.”
Over the years, Amin and I got really close. What was interesting about that was that Amin would always encourage me. I would be into one style of music, like I would be really checking out Christian Lindberg, who’s a European classical trombonist. And Amin would be like, “Hey, man, check out this jazz album.” Or: “Check out this reggae album, or check out this other album.” He really exposed me to a lot of different styles of music.
So as adults, I became, like, this jazz trombonist, and I was performing with a lot of jazz elders over the years, and Amin went in a different route. He went toward producing and playing in a lot of different bands, not really focused primarily on jazz. But I wanted to have a family setting in the band. So when I formed a new band, which exists now, I wanted to include Amin in the band. We’ve been playing together as a band since 2005.
Victor Provost, steel pan
When Victor Provost first moved to the D.C. area, Amin Gumbs sent me a message: “Hey man, there’s this killin’ steel pan player that’s here from St. John.” The funny thing is, Victor and I didn’t know each other in the Virgin Islands. We met here in the D.C. area when he moved here. So I responded to Amin’s message and I said, “I’m going to contact Victor.”
So I sent Victor a message, said, “Hey, man, meet me on U Street and I’m going to take you to all the spots.” That night, we hung out until probably like 3, 4 in the morning. I took him to all the venues, introduced him to all the musicians. And that began our relationship. … When he came to the area, I immediately incorporated him into the group.
We grew up in a culture where the steel pan was originally used in calypso music, right? Because we’re lovers of the music, we find some way to take our cultural heritage and mix it with the jazz tradition. And Victor has done that without a problem. He found a way to really study a lot of horn players, and really play the language of his music on the instrument.
Herman Burney, bass
Herman Burney and I, we met in 2003. So the story behind that was, Herman and I met by chance. James King — great bass player, one of the elders of the community — James and I used to do a lot of duet gigs together, all over D.C. One evening, I had a gig at Bossa Bistro, and James thought the gig was 11 o’clock in the morning. The gig was actually 11 p.m.
Herman had just moved to the area, so what James did was say, “Look, man, I’m going to send this cat on the gig. I’m sorry I messed up — I thought it was 11 o’clock in the morning.” So Herman shows up, and I’m like, “Who’s this cat?” He had just moved to the area. We started playing, and we just clicked right away. From there, we’ve been playing a lot of duet gigs, trio gigs, quartet gigs, so forth. For 11 years, Herman and I have been in the trenches — we’ve spent a lot of time together practicing, and we’ve created this synergy between us.
Mark Meadows, piano
Actually, Herman Burney introduced me to Mark Meadows. We were on a gig in D.C., and I wasn’t familiar with this cat at all. Herman said, “Hey, man, there’s this cat, this piano player.” I said, “OK.” So we started playing, and musically, fell in love with his playing. I hadn’t heard him before, and he has this bebop approach to playing the piano. I really like his energy, and plus, Mark is a really talented individual. He’s a vocalist, as well, and a great composer.
Brian Settles, tenor saxophone
I’ve been playing with Brian Settles off and on since 2009. And I remember in 2009, we were walking to a gig, and I said, “Hey, man, Brian, how come you don’t do a lot of gigs in the area?” He said, “Hey, man, cats don’t really call me.” I said, “OK, we’ll chit-chat.” Over the years, I found a way to call him for more gigs in the D.C. area, ’cause Brian’s from D.C. Sometimes what happens is that because of the popularity contest that goes on in the city, some of the musicians that are in the area have to go other places to perform. So I started calling Brian for gigs.
I really like his playing because he has a different approach to the music. Sometimes, in our music, we honor our elders so much to the point that we just … copy everything that they play. And Brian finds a way where he studies the elders, but still finds a unique approach to the music. And I really love that about his playing.