The just-released single “Brother John” from composer and drummer Alfred Sergel IV is a broth of inspiration, affection and the acknowledgement of a unique talent not to be forgotten.
Released as an entry into the tiny desk concert contest in April of this year, the song soars with hope as it celebrates his friend and fellow musician John Alexander, who passed away in 2017. The song has a world music feel where intelligent percussion is woven with clean vocal harmonies. It shimmers in its simplicity and peaceably emits rays of light and love outward.
How would you describe the effect John Alexander’s music has had on your own career and your sound in jazz?
John was one of the top players in Charlotte, NC. He and Ron Brendle (bassist) gave me my start in the jazz scene in Charlotte. His band “Brothers” played the Piccolo Spoleto festival and many others. It was a great experience because, in that band, we played John’s original music and I think that planted a seed within me to continue promoting original jazz music within the Charlotte scene.
What did you want to communicate in this new release?
“Brother John” is me, musically, processing life and death. The song writing process started spontaneously the morning I got the news that John was diagnosed with cancer. I went to pray for John and his family and I felt compelled to sit at my old upright piano. Within a minute or so, the left-hand piano line just wrote itself. As a contemplative person, I often have more questions than answers, but ultimately, in this process, I started to embrace both the joy and sorrow of my emotions as a growing process; a way of growing as a human being.
Why did you collab with these musicians in particular?
It made sense to use John Ray on bass. John played bass on my EP and my single “Y Closed”. He has a great recording setup at his house and he knows my vibe. Martin Bejerano and I were scheduled to play a trio concert together back in May. It got canceled due to COVID, so I thought it was perfect timing to collaborate with him. Martin and I were roommates in college and played nonstop back then. We’ve always had a natural connection musically and I was thrilled they he could record on this single. His solo gives me chill bumps.
How do the drums speak through you?
Short answer, I don’t really know.
With my original music, the drum parts are usually the toughest part for me. I want them to make musical sense and work well with the composition. In that way, I think more like a pop drummer than a jazz drummer. I want the main drum parts to have a signature of sorts. There are times that I am spontaneous, but “Brother John” had a lot of re-writes in the drum parts.
Are there particular melodic or rhythmic elements that are important to you that you like to use in your music?
Melody is everything to me. When I hear a beautiful melody by an artist, I am inspired and my imagination soars. Melody for me is like words to a storyteller. I’m trying to tell a story with my melodies. More often than not, it’s a story of hope.
What excites you most about being a jazz musician today?
What excites me the most about being a musician today – in any genre – is the diversity of expression. I constantly have to remind myself to “take the lid off” of my thinking; that I’m not bound by any formulas or standards.
My only limitation is me and knowing that inspires me to try new ways of expressing myself through my music.