The funky and soulful styles of Jimi Hendrix will forever live on through his music but with the help from guitar goddess Sheryl Bailey, they can live on through the smooth and sultry sounds of jazz music. Taylor interviewed Bailey to get the inside scoop of her popular jazz/rock band, Hendrix Electric Ladyland Project.
Smile Politely: Tell me a little bit about the Hendrix Electric Ladyland Project and how it got started.
Sheryl Bailey: Well, it kinda started — wow, how long ago — I wanna say 2005. There was club — it’s kind of a funny story how it started — there was a club that had jazz, right? I guess for some reason, some owners or something in the club, they didn’t really like jazz, even though they had jazz in there. So the guy that booked the place was kind of joking and said, “I’ll give you a gig here if you play Hendrix tunes” and I was like, “OK, I’ll do that, I want a gig.” So I put together some arrangements of some Jimi Hendrix tunes and it was really phenomenal like it just took off and people were talking about it for months and months afterwards, it was kind of lark. But people would come up to me asking, “Hey, when are you going to do that Hendrix band again?” So then we started a regular residency at the 55 Bar in New York, so we would do like the Sunday of every month for quite a long time. So that’s how it started and developed.
The approach of it is not to be a cover band at all, I mean, we’re all Jazz musicians, but I wanted to approach it from a Jazz musician’s perspective and keep it loose. Almost like the real book, you know Jazz musicians play standards out of a real book so I tried to make the tunes open enough but also to reflect the original tune. And I think with the Hendrix material, it’s easy to do that because has such strong melodies and he has such strong harmonic changes, chord changes to the song. It’s actually pretty easy to do without changing much. My thing was not to change the song but to maybe have them sit a little better with an instrumental jazz setting but also not like a fusion band so it’s not over-arranged. So that we keep a lot of that rock and original elements in it, you know what I mean? So, that’s kind of the approach to it. So, I think that there are people that are into Hendrix that come to the show, we get a really unique audience. We get rockers that are like, “Hey, there’s a Hendrix band” and we also get jazz people cause they know us a jazz players. And it’s kind of a perfect situation because all parts of the audience have a good time.
SP: Well, that’s what it’s all about.
SP: So I was also wanted to know how you met Vic Juros and how did you guys decide to collab on this project?
Bailey: Well, you know Vic is a well known jazz guitarist, you know, he’s worked with Dave Leibman, he’s one of the top guys and I’ve always admired his playing. But he’s also very modern and he’s very open. Steve Cardman, also a great player, played the gig, he was on the very first gig but he wasn’t available because he was touring a lot with Steve Swallow, so I thought who would be a good person…and Vic was so excited to do it. He does a lot of stuff with different kinds of sound so he was totally into the project. So he’s been really important to our sound because we’re different. We approach the guitar differently, we approach the music differently. We’re kinda good foils for each other that way.
SP: So how long has he been a part of the project? Has he been a part of it since it started?
Bailey: Yeah, I mean after the first gig, and speaking of Steve who’s great he couldn’t make any of the other gigs, and it’s been Vic ever since then.
SP: What should the audience expect from The Hendrix Electric Ladyland Project at ELLNORA?
Bailey: Well, they should expect to hear a very loving tribute to one of the greatest guitarist and composers of the guitar. We don’t play some of the obvious tunes, there are many other tunes like “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” that will probably be on our set list.
SP: What about Electric Ladyland made you want to start a project off of it?
Bailey: Well if you play the guitar, I mean Jimi Hendrix is one of the guitarist you have to deal with. There’s Charlie Christian, there’s Wes Montgomery, and there’s Jimi Hendrix, really. He was somebody who changed the way the guitars played, just the sound. And he was undeniable virtuoso, you know, people would go and he would play and it’d make your jaw drop. He was also a really great song writer, and he just had a very powerful energy as a human spirit that’s very attractive. You just can’t deny that. At first, Miles Davis wanted Jimi to play in his band but Jimi felt that he didn’t know enough about jazz, that he wasn’t a skilled musician. So he never got to go with Miles, but so many jazz musicians really admired Jimi because he had that ability to cross over, I think because of the kinds of harmonies he used but also his sense of the blues which is a common factor between jazz and rock music, really. So I think on all other levels as guitarists and a jazz musician, there’s something that draws you in that makes you want to explore it.
SP: As far as the project, where do you see yourselves in the next few years?
Bailey: Well, hopefully being able to play for more and more audiences outside of New York. And to also develop the music, we treat is as jazz musicians so there’s a lot of improvisations so things change from gig to gig. So that’s always the excitement, we’re not really sure how it’s gonna unfold until the evening pass so I think there’s a lot of that, that I look forward to developing some more in the band. And that’s the jazz part.
The Hendrix Electric Ladyland Project performs on Saturday, September 7th at 5:30 p.m. on Stage 5 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The show is free of charge, but donations are welcome.