In a previous post I focused on Karriem's graceful uptempo playing, but today I want to highlight a different and more fundamental aspect of his playing, his soulfulness. Ray Brown and Art Blakey were two jazz musicians who epitomized the ideal of soulful playing. In this clip from the 2010 Detroit Jazzfest you can see Karriem, Christian McBride, and Benny Green tap into the spirit of these great musicians and bring the song "Buhaina, Buhaina", written by Ray Brown for Art Blakey, to life.
Soulfulness is not about flashy technique or abstract musical concepts, it is about selflessly connecting with your band and your audience in order to lift everyone's spirit. Art Blakey put it best, "Music washes away the dust of everyday life".
Elements of soulful playing: groove
It is much easier to hear and experience soulfulness than it is to explain it, but there are a couple of fundamental things about it that are important to mention. First, in order to connect with an audience, a band has to connect with itself. The connective tissue of music, the foundation it is built on, is groove. If you go to around 1:58 in the clip above you can see Karriem and Christian locking into the groove for Benny's solo, the energy and pleasure is palpable.
Once you have this kind of lock up established, the next step is to build momentum and energy on top of it by engaging in musical conversation. You can hear this conversation building energy throughout Benny and Christian's solos (for example check out 3:11, 4:09, and 4:43) before exploding in the shout section at the end.
In order for music to connect with audience, there needs to be a climax or resolution that releases all the pent up energy that the music has generated. From the opening roll at 6:03 till the end, Karriem provides the perfect climax to this song. Listen to the reaction of the audience and the band at 6:20 when Karriem starts playing a driving groove, or at 6:46 when the band briefly segues into a slower tempo. This is the sound of peoples spirits being lifted.
Producing this feeling in an audience by playing with soul should be the highest goal of every jazz musician. Thanks to Karriem, Christian, and Benny for this music and inspiration!