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Notations from… Charles Burchell


Mark Luebbers

A sought-after jazz drummer and hip hop producer, he’s known as BLVK SAMuRaI, as well as his birth name, Charles Burchell. Born in New Orleans, the 25-year-old composer and educator grew up around second line parades, gospel and R&B. Mentored by ace drummers Herlin Riley, Jason Marsalis and Zigaboo from the funky Meters, Burchell heads up his soul band Love Experiment and finds time to teach music production at Carnegie Hall.

What’s in your background that people may not know?

I grew up listening to a lot of different sounds. My introduction to music was gospel and watching the drummer in church play. Then I listened to a lot of old-school R&B before I got into jazz, also a lot of hip hop. Through those lenses, I discovered a lot of producers sampling jazz music and that was one of the ways I began to have a stronger connection to jazz. Even though I’m from New Orleans, which has a rich cultural history for being the birthplace of jazz, I came to jazz through the back door [laughs]. 

I travel around teaching music production as well as jazz. I just finished a program with the State Department — The Next Level Program — and went to different countries around the world to do culture exchanges. It was a way to do diplomatic work as far as musical cultural exchanges. It’s like an extension of the jazz ambassador program from the days of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.

What do you see as the connection between jazz and hip hop?

I think socially, hip hop fills the place that jazz did back in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, in being a music that comes out of the social experience and has also been able to become popular worldwide, an international phenomenon. There’s a lot of similarities between jazz solos and freestyling, rappers making up lyrics on the spot. Even the way that rappers flow, the way they use their words and rhythms, reminds me of the way horn players play, especially when it comes to rhythm and the social impact of the music.

Please complete this sentence: The other day I heard this tune _____ and I thought I’d like to add that to my repertoire because _____.

The other day I heard the tune “Never Will I Marry” by Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson and I’d like to add it because it’s a great lyrical song. It’d be great to play with a singer, but I like it because it has a very beautiful melody that I think people can catch on to. I’ve really liked that song for a long time and when I listen to that record I think it’s a classic. I think one day I can put together a project where I can use that record.

What is it about the energy of New Orleans and its faith in music?

It’s a culture that really embraces music and bringing up the next generation of musicians. You’ll see young musicians playing on the street, young musicians playing in the clubs at an early age, playing in marching bands and second line bands. It’s embraced by the city. It creates a very different environment from the rest of the country. It’s the perfect environment for creative people to blossom in. There’s an openness from the people there and people love to be entertained. If you want to go into music, there’s already this infrastructure to support you and not look down on you, like this isn’t a real job. Musicians are respected and are legends of the community and we have elders who invest in the youth, this master-apprentice angle that’s a beautiful cycle of training for the next generation.

What’s on your plate right now?

I have my own band, Love Experiment. It’s like a soul band, and I’m ready to release a record. I’ve played with Portland’s Grant Richards and on his record “Numinous.” I do a lot of traveling and performing with a lot of musicians in Europe. I also produce music for other artists. I consider myself well-rounded. There’s a new school of hip hop production that a lot of people are calling “glitch,” a quirky style of production that sounds a lot like an extension of jazz, where a lot of the harmony and drums are not perfectly quantized and made to not sound like a machine, but natural, and the way the samples work are more perky. I see that as a modern extension of what jazz musicians were doing back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when trying to stretch. When I say I produce hip hop, hip hop is just a base of understanding. I push to make new music that won’t be classified in a genre, like Miles and Coltrane did.

What will be on your plate in ten years?

Hopefully, continuing to play music for the world. I really want to get into film composing and film directing. I hope to make that shift and I see myself traveling, performing creatively and teaching wherever I go around the world. That’s what I do now and I want to be able to continue to do – that, and to continue to reach people on a larger scale, whether I do jazz or hip hop.

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