August 10, 2006

Will Brock: Rhythm and Soul Personified

by Beverly Packard

WillBrockRecordingSession.jpgMusic has a lot of names, among them jazz, blues, soul, rhythm and blues, but I never heard anyone use the term rhythm and soul. No wonder -- it was only recently invented by Will Brock. Do you know him? He has a couple of his own CDs, but you may know him best as that capable and fun-loving keyboard player with Gerald Veasley’s band.

Gerald Veasley has a great band, and he freely admits the love he has for the members of the band. He accepts them as they are and allows them to exhibit their own individuality and that’s true, especially, in the case of Will Brock. At first you might not even notice Will – he sits there quietly before the show, taking everything in, very attentive to Veasley, and you get the impression he’s going to sit there and do whatever Veasley requires for a song. And he does do that extremely well.

But something happens along the way.

Something gets a hold of Brock………and he’s never the same for the rest of the night. He starts to dance in his seat, keeping the beat with his head and shoulders. Taking command of his keyboard, he appears to push it into areas it can barely go, at times shrinking away from it as if it’s going to protest and not cooperate! How can there be such a dynamic relationship between Will and his keyboard? Will explains some of this in the interview below.

The first time I saw him, he seemed to be exercising throughout one of the songs. His whole body is part of fascinating rhythmic movements and he exudes soul. He has more rhythm than almost anyone you’ve ever watched. Every movement is about the music; he seems to have a secret, and you’ve just got to wait until he shares it with you.

By the time Will Brock is launching into what I see as one of his most-prized compositions, ‘Home’ you know that song has got to be his secret. It’s a moving, nostalgic, spellbinding rendition of our collective wish to ‘be back home,’ to reconnect with all that is important and precious to us, to be excited and to be so keyed up (as he is) about this moment in time that, along with him, we can hardly sit still, either, because we, too, are ‘Home.’

Brock is a dynamite keyboard player and a dynamic person as well. He’s Rhythm and Soul personified – I call it R & S, and I could hardly wait to talk with him about his music and find out what's behind all that energy he has.

GVCDReleaseParty1WillBrock2.jpgBJP: Welcome to Smooth Vibes, Will! I'm glad we're finally getting to this interview! How did you get your start in playing keyboard? And 'where have you been’ up until this point in your career?

WB: Well, I started playing piano in my fifth grade band rehearsal hall, kind of fooling around and plucking out ideas with a bunch of other kids who played as well. I wanted to be a saxophone player at the time. The world is a much better place since I let that idea pass.

We would hang out in the band room and play tunes (or something… sort of resembling tunes). I fooled around like that on piano with short stints of lessons hear and there until I was in College. At that point I switched to piano completely as my “primary instrument."

BJP: Did you have that infectious enthusiasm right from the start? Were you sort of dramatic when you were playing, even early on?

GVBirthdayParty3WillBrock3.jpgWB: My friends will all tell you that I’m dramatic about everything. I have always been a little over the top in general. As long as I can remember, in my mind life has been something to get excited about, music in particular. There’s nothing more beautiful than being involved with and surrounded by art. Being able to get inside of an audience, fellow band members and ones self is, like, exciting. That’s what I’m responding to on that stage. Living in that space for an hour or two every night is just downright fun.

BJP: That’s a great way to express who you are, that really fits the Will I’ve seen on stage. You have so much fun, yet you’re so serious in doing the job ‘just right’ -- how do you do both at the same time?

WB: As I said before, the fun part is automatic. The job, however, is the job. To work on this level, a cat doesn’t necessarily need to be the next Herbie or Oscar. One needs to execute what the bandleader wants to hear and bring a voice and personality to the table. Executing takes focus. I focus a great deal of energy on making sure the “thing” is working.

BJP: You have eagle eyes for what’s coming, always watching Gerald and everyone to know your next step which you carry out with precision. You take a lot of pride in how you play. Where did you get your training?

WB: There are several “schools” that deserve credit for my training. I graduated from the University of the Arts with a Bachelors degree in Jazz piano. That experience gave me a fundamental understanding of music on a pretty high level. That’s the obvious answer. The truth is, my real training has been way more involved than that. When I got to Philadelphia, I’d go down to the Old Zanzibar blue (before it got all hip and upscale). On Thursday nights for many years, Barbara Walker had a residency there. I’d hang and sit in with the band, play the two songs I knew (Autumn Leaves and Night in Tunisia with a funk thing on it) and get on the bands nerves ungodly.

I say all that to say, it was that and hundreds of experiences like that, that really gave me a sense of making music person to person. My teachers, the cats who really taught me how to get down, are the philly gig hogs. They play in some dive or another every night to make ends meet. The beautiful thing is that they’re always willing to share a tidbit of knowledge or a story. If one truly wants to learn to “shake the room” and get people excited about the work, those men and women are the folks to teach it.

BJP: That sounds like a fertile background from which to grow. Wish I had been able to be there at Zanzibar Blue in those days. I’ve only been during the ‘hip and upscale,’ more recent years.

WillBrock1.jpgBJP: I have to ask about the song ‘Home,’ of course! How did it come about? It is really wonderful!!

WB: My best friend/big brother Charles Baldwin and I wrote that song. We spent quite a few years writing quite a few songs. Truthfully, “Home” is one of the many that we wrote in a period when we were focusing on songs that one might call timeless. The idea was to come up with songs that folks could relate to now and ten thousand years from now. There was a point when we were writing 1 or 2 of those a day. It was really quite insane now that I really think about it.

Anyway, it was really the only thing that Gerald had heard of mine at the time we started doing it. We did it at a jazz festival once and it’s become a part GV’s set.

BJP: I know from watching you that you have to move around! Is that just part of your natural self, as in, would your Mom tell us you were ‘always moving’ as a child?

WB: Yea… me and still don’t really get along too well. Especially when I’m doing the “thing”. Quite honestly I don’t understand how anyone can be still up under any kind of groove. For as long as I can remember music moved me, literally moved me, to …well… move. I’m guessing my mom would tell you that I was that way from the moment I came into the world.

BJP: I hear you on that and I’m sure most music lovers would agree. I’d say you definitely found your niche! Who would you say influenced you in your style of playing?

WB: It’s funny. My playing is not super influenced by musicians, piano players, and even less so jazz guys. The keyboard thing is kind of a small part of the picture for me. It’s only one of many artistic expressions that I need to be involved in to exist (not as deep as it sounds I promise). So what you hear when you hear me play is my entire artistic life, filtered through music that day. It’s kind of fluid for me. The books I read, the films I check out, art of any kind, it’s all the same to me. I just happen to be able to execute pretty well on the piano so that expression is very clear for folks that stop and listen.

BJP: I know it must mean an awful lot to be able to play with someone like Gerald Veasley – what a great performer and friend he seems to be. How did you two get together?

WB: When I was in School at Uarts, Gerald came and did a guest artist swing with an ensemble called the Fusion Band. I was in the band and He was to play a concert with us. We did a duet (Stella by Starlight) and the vibe was amazing.

After that he’d call me to work on some of his productions and eventually I became a fulltime member of the band. Gerald has been like a brother to me for a long time. It’s to great to be able to absorb the music and life lessons from him. He’s a beautiful person and an awe-inspiring musician.

BJP: Yes, Gerald Veasley is amazing. You also have your own solo career that you’re working on – how is that going and what’s new on the horizon for you?

WB: I’m in the process of writing songs for another project. That is my main focus (Solo Career). I have spectacular band. We put on a super fun show (and modest to boot). Seriously, I’m just working on creating honest music and letting folks hear it. Hopefully that will yield the results I want. We’ll see!

BJP: From what I can see, everyone who hears and sees you in person just appreciates you and your style so much, so I think you’re going to get results! Is there something you’d like your present and potential fans to know about you at this point in your career?

WB: I would like fans to continue getting to know me. I’ll be making music for a very long time so I plan to create long-term relationships with folks that have an interest in good ol’ fashioned soul music. I have a long way to travel in this thing and it should be a fun journey to watch.

BJP: I’m sure it will be. Let me just say you are awesome to watch, you have an infectious smile, you’re totally involved, and when you play it’s just the greatest experience for me, every time you play – I never tire of seeing that passion and raw emotion you communicate, especially during that song ‘Home!’ I hope you keep playing in Reading a couple of times a year!

BJP: Thanks for doing this interview for Smooth Vibes, Will, and the best of luck in all your projects!

WB: Thank you for doing the interview with me!


Please check out Will Brock for yourself at one of the following websites:

http://www.willbrock.com

http://www.myspace.com/willbrock

Happy Jazzin'

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania
MyGirlSunday22@aol.com

Photo Credits: Will Brock and Michael Packard

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at August 10, 2006 9:28 PM