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For Los Angeles artist Kiefer Shackelford, music has always been a personal endeavour. Over his career, the musician has been evolving a style inspired by jazz and other Black American music that’s warm, approachable, and most importantly, “comes from an emotional place”.
Whereas Kiefer’s two albums and three EPs to date were crafted largely solo, with him playing keys and producing beats, his new album When There’s Love Around is the first to feature a full band. With this rich accompaniment, there’s a new sense of expressiveness to Kiefer’s music.
When There’s Love Around is an album of two halves. The first half is “about feeling small and insignificant and stressed,” Kiefer says. “It’s about things that cause me to worry, but at the end of the day, are probably unimportant from a larger cosmic perspective.”
On ‘i remember this picture’, ‘curly’ and ‘crybaby’, Kiefer reflects on his childhood and youth: the nostalgia of looking through old childhood pictures, being an emotional kid in school, and feeling self-conscious about his appearance. He says about ‘curly’, “When I grew up, I thought I looked weird. I had curly hair and brown skin. Now I like my curly hair and complexion. This song is my swag!”
The album’s second half is more reflective and spiritual, its cathartic mood occasioned by the loss of Kiefer’s beloved grandmother. While grief and loss are main themes, the tone is still largely positive – Kiefer describes himself as an optimist. He wanted to express the intense emotion of “missing someone, wishing them well beyond life on Earth”, and knowing that life can be beautiful and vast as well as painful. Four of the songs on the album’s second half are dedicated to his grandmother, followed by the title track – a Crusaders cover that offers a sweet reminder to live in the moment and appreciate the love around us – and closing with the blissful ‘i love my friends’, a song recorded on Kiefer’s birthday about the joys of friendship.
To help realize his vision, Kiefer assembled a band of his favorite musicians, including DJ Harrison, Andy McCauley, Josh Johnson, Will Logan, Sam Wilkes and other jazz luminaries. They laid the album down in three sets of sessions over 2020, including one stint at Jazzy Jeff’s studio after the DJ invited Kiefer to record there. Several songs were recorded in one or two takes, with any mistakes left in, true to Kiefer’s preference for music that feels spontaneous and from the heart. Kiefer has long performed with a live band, and found the setup suited the communal spirit he was striving for on this album: “I find something about the Herculean type of jazz performer really alienating. I want to celebrate human connection,” he explains.
The album’s two halves are united by the question of identity. Kiefer says: “I’m asking who I am, what my past means, what loss means, what my spirituality is. And in the midst of all of that, in every song, there is a theme of love. Even if it seems mundane or weird, we are perpetually living in a moment that is special and divine.”
Braxton Cook (born March 27, 1991 in Boston, Massachusetts) is an Emmy Award Winning Artist and one of this generation’s most exciting emerging voices in the Jazz world. Not only does he exhibit world-class virtuosity on the alto saxophone but he is also a uniquely talented vocalist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and composer whose sound blends Jazz, Soul, and Alternative R&B into a fresh new sound all his own.
Braxton grew up in Greenbelt, MD and after several moves up and down the east coast his family settled in Silver Spring, Maryland. There, Braxton attended Springbrook High School and studied saxophone under the tutelage of world-class educator Paul Carr. After graduating from Springbrook High School (Silver Spring, MD) in 2009, Braxton attended Georgetown University and studied English with a concentration in African American Studies. In his free time, Braxton worked regularly in the D.C. Jazz scene on the historic U Street strip of Jazz clubs. By age 18, Braxton had already made quite a name for himself in the D.C., by leading his own band at Bohemian Caverns, HR-57, Twins Jazz and many other venues throughout the D.C. area.
In the Fall of 2011, Braxton decided to transfer from Georgetown to The Juilliard School to continue his studies and pursue his music career full-time. As just a freshman at The Juilliard School, Braxton met Grammy Award-nominated trumpeter Christian Scott and became a long-term member in Christian’s band honing his skills on the road. Braxton has been featured on several of Christian Scott’s studio albums, some of which include Stretch Music (2015), Diaspora (2017) and the Grammy-Award nominated album Emancipation Procrastination (2017). He also toured and performed with Christian McBride Big Band, Jon Batiste and Marquis Hill among others. During this time Braxton was also selected as a semi-finalist in the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition.
In 2014, while still a student, Braxton released his debut EP Sketch (2014). The following year in 2015, Braxton graduated from The Juilliard School and continued his musical development with the release of his sophomore project Braxton Cook Meets Butcher Brown (2015), launching his solo career and bringing him to festivals and venues across the country. In April of 2017, Braxton released his debut album Somewhere In Between, which allowed Braxton to tour both
nationally and internationally to the U.K as well as Japan. In less than a year, Somewhere in Between as well as the Somewhere in Between Remixes & Outtakes albums have amassed millions of streams and downloads on Spotify and Apple Music and has been praised by peers, musicians and critics alike. Saint Heron noted Cook’s demonstration of “unmatched flexibility by merging multiple genres into an ardent, passionate and soul-filled project.”
In 2017, Fader Magazine named Braxton a “Jazz Marvel” and “Jazz Prodigy.” And shortly after, Braxton was listed as Top Five Jazz Artist To Watch (alongside Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Butcher Brown, and Kris Bowers) in the 2018 June Issue of Ebony Magazine.
Outside of the Jazz sphere, Braxton has worked alongside Rihanna at the 2016 VMAs and Solange Knowles; contracting the horn players involved in her live shows at the Guggenheim, Radio City Music Hall, Afro Punk Festival, Panorama Festival, and Made in America Festival. Most recently, Braxton was featured on Phony Ppl’s recent album Mosaic and performed with them for their NPR Tiny Desk performance. In addition, Braxton was featured on Tom Misch’s 2018 U.S. Domestic Tour which started with 2 performances at Coachella and culminated with a very special Tiny Desk performance.
In 2018, Braxton released his sophomore album entitled No Doubt (Independent) which debuted at #2 on iTunes Jazz Charts and amassed 6M streams on Spotify. Due to the albums success, he embarked on his first international headlining tour in November of 2018, performing at Tourcoing Jazz Festival, So What’s Next Jazz Festival and the legendary Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club in London, U.K. The following Spring of 2019, he performed for Quincy Jones at The Shed for Steve McQueen’s Soundtrack of America. In Summer of 2019, Braxton performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival as well.
In Spring of 2020, Braxton released yet another project called Fire Sign (Independent) which had amassed over 1M steams in the first couple of weeks of its release. This record grabbed the attention of many national press outlets including NPR. Braxton then created his very own NPR Tiny Desk at home performance which featured music from his entire catalogue. Now relocated in Los Angeles, Braxton is very excited to continue expanding his musical concept, compositional and production skills as well as growing his community.