The Baylor Project is an innovative collaboration that merges the talents and creativity of dynamic husband and wife duo, Marcus and Jean Baylor.
Already established and well-respected within the music community individually(Jean as half of platinum selling R&B duo, Zhane’, and Marcus as a long-time member of the Grammy-Award winning group, Yellowjackets), it was a chance meeting prompted by Jean’s needing a last minute replacement drummer for a showcase that first brought the pair together on stage back in 2000 and they’ve been inseparable ever since. With a number of successful gigs and collaborations under their belt throughout the years, the pair finally formed The Baylor Project in 2013 and have continued to make a mark in the jazz community while growing their fan base. This past February saw the release of their debut album entitled “The Journey”
N’Digo recently caught up with the playful duo to talk about their album, their influences, how they initially got together, and what they love most about Chicago.
How did you two first meet and when did you know there was more there than just music?
Jean: I was performing in a showcase for ASCAP years ago and needed a drummer. Thankfully, a mutual friend of ours, Orrin Evans, who was also on the gig, had just run into Marcus and recommended him. We decided to meet up in front of the venue, The Blue Note, so I could give him the music. This was in the old days before MP3’s. That’s how we met and we hit it off that day. He was kinda sweet on me from the start but tried not to act like it. We started hanging out and it developed from there. I will say that we watched the video of the performance we did and I noticed that he was checking me out on stage. That was a funny moment!
Marcus: Nawl, I’m still upset because I wasn’t the first drummer you called lol.
Though you’ve been collaborating musically for nearly two decades, this is your first full-length project together. What took so long?
Jean: As independents, we have the flexibility to create the music and decide how we will market it as well. Each project has been a different sound as well as geared toward different markets. With “The Journey” we knew this one would be a full-length CD because of the type of project is it. I must say, we went all out with this one, artwork and everything. We wanted to do everything from the songs, production, design, etc. top notch. I hope we succeeded.
Marcus: Our path has been a journey. It’s funny because a good buddy suggested years ago that we should do a project together which featured me and Jean. I didn’t think about it at the time. All the projects we produced together in the past led to “The Journey” which featured Jean’s vocals and me on drums with our creative worlds coming together. Jean thought it was a dumb idea at first which is the case on many occasions…That’s the husband and wife dynamic… lol.
What can listeners expect from your current project, “The Journey”?
Jean: I think listeners can expect to hear a potpourri of soulful music inside of the jazz diaspora. You can also expect to hear music that is really and truly a part of us. We wanted to create a project that people could really relate to even if they don’t listen to jazz music. You’ll hear family, love, a party, retrospection, history and however the music hits you. But, more than “hearing” these things, I think you will feel them.
What’s the significance of the album’s title?
Jean: We decided to name the album “The Journey” because it’s a reflection of our journey as individuals and as a married couple. There’s a lot of our lives in this project and I think you really get our story. That’s one reason we included a few excerpts of our parents’ voices because they are our beginning.
Marcus: Also, we have a lot in common being Pastor’s kids and having a great upbringing of family, church, and music which was the foundation of our lives.
If you had to pick a song as your favorite at the moment, what would it be and why?
Jean: The song I listen to the most on the record is “Tell Me a Story.” This song is a new arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s song “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.” I love, love, love this song because it’s super smooth and soothing to listen to. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I also dig the vocal harmonies at the end. I’ve always said that this joint is “the Love Jones song.”
Marcus: “Laugh & Move On” is a favorite because it really speaks to life’s challenges that we face. Learning to love one another despite adversity we may have. It’s best to let it go and forgive.
Do you have a specific formula that you use or routine you follow as far as creating music?
Jean: I wouldn’t say that we have a formula, but we tend to work within our strengths to begin creating music and branch out from there. Sometimes we may start at the piano, sometimes at the drums and sometimes the song concept and lyrics may come first. When the inspiration comes, we get the idea down and then start developing the idea into a song.
Who were your musical influences? Who were the artists that made you want to pursue music?
Jean: As for my musical influences, there are really too many to name. All things ’80s! But, the artists I really honed in on are Anita Baker, Carmen McCrae, Whitney Houston, CeCe Winans, Aretha Franklin and Lalah Hathaway. But, I have many more influences including the hymns I grew up singing in church. Believe it or not, I got really inspired to be an artist at a Bobby Brown concert in college lol. But, all in all I’d say music itself is the biggest inspiration for pursuing my dream. Without it, it’s like living without air.
Marcus: My biggest influence was the gospel group Commissioned! Growing up they were innovative and creative. Their albums and concerts were a creative outlet for me which inspired me to be the musician that I am today. Also, the spirit and emotion of John Coltrane’s music and band moves me like church! There’s nothing like the sound of Elvin Jones on the drums, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Jimmy Garrison on upright bass! I feel like gospel, jazz, R&B/Soul music comes from that same place, born out of the African American experience. I’m a fan of today’s artist such as Robert Glasper, Corey Henry, Tye Tribbett, Jekalyn Carr, Avery Sunshine, Lalah Hathaway and Kendrick Lamar.
Favorite memories or things about Chicago?
Jean: Some years ago I toured a little bit with Will Downing. We did a show at a smaller, really cool, laid-back venue in Chicago. What I remember most was when they opened up the floor for dancing and they had a stepping contest. It was so dope! Chicago people can DANCE! These jokers were killing it. I definitely got a piece of Chicago that night.
Marcus: I’m midwest born and raised from Ferguson, MO which is a suburb of St. Louis. I have family in Chicago and I use to visit as a kid. I fell in love with the city when I started touring.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
Jean: I think people would be surprised to know that I went to Temple University, first on a Field Hockey scholarship then transferred to a Lacrosse scholarship and was voted Co-Captain my senior year. As for Marcus, anybody who follows him knows that he reps LeBron with his famous saying “Grown Man Basketball!” But, few know that once upon a time, he had a basketball moniker ”Shake & Bake.” It’s a move he used to do a blow past the defense. I saw him do the move myself on a video from back in the day!
Marcus: To add on, I should have been a NBA lottery pick… I’m 5’4 ½… lol
Best advice or words of wisdom to young musicians?
Marcus: Character… Develop your craft… Study… Practice… Stay Persistent…Learn how to save money from all your gigs even the ones that don’t pay as much. Get in the routine of putting money away.
Favorite quote or affirmation?
Jean: My favorite quote is by Marianne Williamson because it speaks to how we are to think of ourselves and thereby, live. It is the difference between living a life of defeat and insecurity or living a life of God given purpose: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people wont feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as child do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
What’s next for The Baylor Project?
Marcus & Jean: With the release of the CD, our immediate goal is to expand our touring across the US and abroad, building our fan base across genres and bringing The Baylor Project experience to the fans everywhere. We want to bridge the gap of bringing the African American community out to more jazz concerts which will bring diversity to the audiences. This music was born in our community and this is a great way to inspire the next generation!
Catch The Baylor Project live in concert on Saturday June 24th at 8pm at The Promontory, located at 5311 S. Lake Park Ave West in Hyde Park. For more information, please visit www.thebaylorproject.com