The Quentin Baxter Quintet
For a jazz musician, Quentin Baxter could not have been born at a better time or in a better place. All the styles of this great American art form we enjoy today had made their marks, putting jazz on the way to becoming American classical music, a journey that would take only 25 years more. By the summer of 1970 when he touched down in Charleston, South Carolina, the first 75 years of jazz saw blues, ragtime, swing, bop, free jazz and fusion become the pulse and face of American culture.
The coastal city of Charleston was the cradle of the North American slave trade in Africans in the southeastern United Statesjackphoto2 and as a result of their interaction with Europeans, who they outnumbered for more than 200 of the Lowcountry’s 335 years, the culture of the place is a kind of African Christian one, not quite like any other place in the world. They have come to be known as Gullahs, an American people with West African roots, most closely identified with Sierra Leone.
On Aug. 28 of 1971, in walked Baxter, destined at birth, it seems, to be a percussionist. Baxter comes from a family of drummers. Both his mother and father played drums in church, as well as his three brothers. “I’ve been playing percussion instruments in church for as long as I can remember,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I don’t remember not playing some type of percussion instrument!”
Baxter was educated in public schools of Charleston County and is a graduate of North Charleston High School. While in his teens, Baxter was regarded as one of the most “in demand” and respected musicians in gospel as he was first-call for numerous regional concerts and served as minister of music in his home church, drummer for Christians United for Christ Community Choir and youth musician for Gospel Music Workshop of America.
Continuing his education, Baxter attended the University of South Carolina and later the College of Charleston, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theory & Composition and still serves on the faculty as Adjunct Professor of Jazz Percussion.
He also serves as musical director for the Charleston Jazz Initiative, a multi-year research project that explore the jazz history and legacy of African American musicians from Charleston and other places in the Carolinas.
As he continues toward his peak with a prodigious work ethic, he performs, composes and arranges, teaches, designs sound and leads bands.
Baxter is an extremely versatile drummer having played numerous styles of music during his career. He facilitated the drum position at Serenade, a “state-of-the-art” production/musical review, toured throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, Korea, Guam, St. Croix, Hawaii, Jamaica, South Africa, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Mexico, Scotland, Ireland and Greece, and is now regarded as one of the most sought after musicians in the Southeast.
While at home, Baxter still serves as musical director of The Charleston Grill in Charleston Place Hotel, performs locally with the Gradual Lean, Brazil, Q. Baxter Jazz Ensemble, the faculty and students of the College of Charleston, as well as live recordings with his own group, Emanon Art Ensemble. He also leads and writes for Franklin Street Five, a modern jazz band affiliated with the Charleston Jazz Initiative that pays tribute to the famed Jenkins Orphanage Band tradition and other local roots of jazz.
Baxter has worked with other great artists including Monty Alexander, René Marie, Allan Harris, Fred Wesley, James Spaulding, Bobby Watson, Ira Sullivan, Billy Childs, Eddie Henderson, Donald Byrd, Charlie Byrd, Gregory Hines, Sonny Fortune, Doug Carn, Wycliff Gordon, Marcus Printup, Terry Gibbs, Buddy DeFranco, Frank Gordon, Malachi Thompson, Obie Jessie, Ronald Westray, Marcus Roberts, Me’Shell NdegéOcello and India.Irie.
He recalls some of his most memorable and inspirational musical experiences in the coastal areas of Charleston, Beaufort, Savannah, and Jacksonville playing with greats like Oscar Rivers, Teddy Adams, Billy Barnwell, Tommy Gill, Kevin Hamilton, Charlton Singleton, Lee Burrows, Jimmy Minger, Kevin Bales, Wayne “Nekbone” Mitchum, George Kenny, St. Julian German, Joey Morrant, Frank Duvall and Lonnie Hamilton III.
Baxter’s sound is already his own. While still young he’s been sitting at the drum kit and playing other percussion for decades now and joining that with amazing innate talent and living and working in a cultural crucible, he’s an innovator. He also brings out the best in other players as his recordings attest. He’s first-call for Monty Alexander and René Marie, live or in the studio, because he comps and drives with his own feel as well as adds to any band’s uniqueness with his ability to solo. jackphoto1In Baxter you hear Big Sid Catlett, Art Blakey, Max Roach and Roy Haynes, perhaps his two favorites [Max & Roy]. He personifies swing, playing from inside the beat he feels, pushing it decisively but elegantly to produce a wholeness that warms the soul. He’s equally adept with sticks, mallets, brushes and his hands and he plays washboard and tambourine with uncanny precision. Baxter is completely comfortable playing Caribbean rhythms, swing, straight ahead bop and church. He played in school marching bands, too.
All of his variations, however, are imbued with Gullah rhythms, or the Gullah ostinato, as he calls it, a one-measure rhythmic repetition where the bottom, or bass drum rhythm, involves subdividing beat two into two beats and resting on the first of the two beats while emphasizing the second of the two beats. Ben Riley, the famous drummer who played with Thelonious Monk in his important bands in the 1960’s met Baxter about 12 years ago at the Savannah Jazz Festival, located in Riley’s hometown of Savannah, Ga. He said of Baxter, “He was a young fella’. I met him actually through Teddy Adams (a Savannah trombonist). I told Teddy this is a very talented young man. … We got to talking and he said he was from a church background. I could hear that. I was a Baptist originally but during a short period of time I went to a Pentecostal church. The rhythms in that church made me think of another way of playing. I could hear that in him. There’s a different way to play in church. If you listen to the rhythms, the beats, you get the chink-a-chang, laid back, really forceful rhythm going on. He plays with that rhythm. I heard that right away.”
Baxter plays with intensity, not volume.
He is part of a lineage that has run from enslaved African drummer boys in early Charleston drum and fife corps, to Herbert Wright and Stephen Wright from Jenkins Orphanage, to Swing Era master Tommy Benford, to big band master Rufus “Speedy” Jones, to modernist Alphonse Mouzon.
As deeply rooted as he is in entertainment, cultural and spiritual tradition, Baxter is no bland neoclassicist. He keeps moving forward, building all the time.
In January of 2005 Baxter performed a world premier concert in Tokyo of koto and drumset. A little later that year, he wrote music for a 21st century avant-garde sound and visual installation titled Art Moves Jazz , a collaboration between his Emanon Trio with saxophonist Kebbi Williams and bassist Delbert Felix and Charleston digital visual artist John Duckworth. In October of 2006 Baxter scored and arranged the music for local filmmaker Brad Jayne’s “Song of Pumpkin Brown.” In November, he performed, engineered, and co-produced René Marie’s “Experiment in Truth,” which was released during their performance for the Wachovia Jazz Series of Spoleto Festival USA in 2007, thus recognizes him to be the first Charleston native ever to play the series. Baxter is currently working on a solo drum recording, “Gullah Breadbasket: A Drummer’s Perspective.”