Walter Beasley: Behind The Beats
Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Walter Beasley.
Walter Beasley is back with a new single. “Hydra”, a Grover Washington Jr tune that may not be familiar to everyone. We sat down with Walter this past week to catch up.
Walter, thanks for taking some time with us. We’re loving your new single “Hydra”. Tell us about your decision to record this tune and release it as a single.
First let me say thank you for the opportunity and the continuous support. Grover Washington Jr. in my opinion built this format and I owe much of what I have accomplished in this format to Grover Washington Jr. I wanted to do a song that was very popular but is very difficult to do because Grover in this song especially did it in a way that was perfect. I always tell people to be careful in doing remakes by Grover Washington and Stevie Wonder because if you play too much you will destroy it if you play too little you will destroy it. What I try to do is be as honest as possible and tell the story as I feel the story should be told while respecting and honoring Grover Washington Jr. approach.
How did Grover Washington Jr impact your decision to become a musician?
I first heard Grover Washington Jr around the age of 13. My mentor Jimmie Cannon taught Pharoah Sanders ( a great saxophonist) who inspired Grover Washington Jr. By the time I heard Grover Washington Jr. I had already been exposed to him through Pharoah Sanders. If you listen very closely you will hear Grover Washington in the phrasing of Pharoah Sanders. My mentor exposed me to great musicians. Most of whom, were incredibly passionate and soulful.
So many talented musicians have come out of the Berklee College of Music. Tell us about your experiences there.
I went to Berklee College of Music in 1979 and my class was probably one of the most talented classes. They called that year the “Golden Year,” if I am not mistaken. In that class you had Mark Ledford, William Rhinehart, Greg Osby, Branford Marsalis, Rachelle Ferrell , and many others. I believe Juan Luis Guerra was in the class before us, I am not quite sure, but he was there when I got there in fact that was the first band I played with. It was a band that Willie Zepeda was in charge of and I played with Juan Luis Guerra when we were kids. The experience at Berklee was very special because I got a chance to compete with and grow close to many Musicians who were very talented. Musicians who believe like I believe that music was our first love. We committed ourselves to the music and to this day I am very grateful for my experiences at Berklee college of Music and the people with whom I became close during that time.
And you are also a professor…
Yes. I taught at Berklee College of Music for 33 years and I really enjoyed my time there until the institution became a different institution. By that I mean it was harder and harder to teach music performance because the industry was changing so rapidly and I felt that students should be learning music business along with performance and pretty much it was just a culture split. I wanted to make sure that what I taught was useful to students in the real world. I have great respect for some of the teachers there and I don't mean to downplay or degenerate anyone but the curriculum was changing but was not changing fast enough for me to be comfortable. Standing in front of students and preaching the institutional version of what they should know to be successful when I knew that that information was rapidly changing made me quite uncomfortable. The best decision for me was to leave the institution and to continue my efforts as a performing artist and teacher independent of any institution.
And you also teach sound production. Tell us about how important that is to releasing a project.
Sound is the foundation of everything. When I come on the radio within two or three notes people know that's Walter Beasley. When Kim Waters comes on the radio within two or three notes they know it's Kim Waters. When Dave Koz comes on the radio you know it's Dave Koz. The essence of good music and expression is developing a sound that is unique to your own experiences; but at the same time drawing upon the experiences of everybody that you listen to and respect.
You have recorded with and performed with some great artists over the years. Any highlights you can share?
I have toured with many great musicians, some of whom I tour with regularly. I am very grateful to them and for them. Two things kind of stand out. My first tour musically as it relates to performances happened with Gerald Albright, George Howard, and Everette Harp. It was called “Just the sax, Jazz Explosion Tour,” we challenged each other and played every night for two months. We played 3 to 4 thousand seaters, sometimes we played smaller venues( 200 to 300 hundred seaters), sometimes two shows a night, and we did that all across the country. The level of musicianship was so high that I don't think I will ever experience that again. The band that performed with us consisted of Lil John Roberts, Ray Fuller, Larry Kimpell, and Brian Simpson. Those musicians were as good or better than the first line, so that tells you how great that tour was. After we toured, guitar and saxes and other forms of that tour were developed but we did it first. That's what I remember most about my touring. The second part of that was being able to help the people that tour with me develop their own small businesses and get them into writing and publishing, bringing in passive income and not relying on the touring aspect of music to make their living. As we both know Covid-19 changed a lot of things for people who were only one-dimensional artists. It was incumbent upon me to make sure those who toured with me thought of themselves not as side men but entrepreneurs.
Has social media played a larger role in sharing your music over the past few years?
Social media is incredible and has changed the way I think of music marketing, music performance, and recording music. It allows me to go to the audience, the consumer, and make projects that they want to hear. I am so grateful for social media and the people who follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube as I am able to make products that I think do better in the long run.
What would be your top couple of pieces of advice for young musicians?
My suggestion to young people would be to study the music, performers, solos, and songs. Imitate your favorite artist. Imitation is a lost art. It is needed to become a successful and innovative musician. I know that to be the truth. The side effect of social media is that it gives you the illusion of being able to do something of value quickly. Just because you can do something quickly doesn't mean you are good at it. Focus on studying and mimicking, the process will take care of itself.
Any plans for live dates this summer?
No, I really don't have any live dates for this summer. My goal for this Summer, Fall, and Winter is to create as much quality content as possible. For me that can only be done by being in one place and staying in the studio for as long as possible. My goal is to make the best music possible.
Check out Walter Beasley online, here.