Durand Jones & The Indications uses vintage disco and ‘70s R&B as inspiration and celebration
Being the lead singer in the fast-rising neo-soul-meets-disco band Durand Jones & The Indications is a dream come true for the band’s New Orleans-born namesake. It’s also a dream he had never imagined before — or even, for a while, after — enrolling at the University of Indiana’s Jacobs School of Music in 2014.
Jones’ goal then was to earn his master’s degree as a classical saxophonist. He was also working a side gig as an assistant at the nearby African American Arts Institute, where his job was to write brass arrangements and coach the horn players in the Indiana University Soul Revue.
“I was studying classical music, but I didn’t just want to be a classical player,” said Jones, 32, who performs with The Indications on Monday at the all-ages Soma Live. “I wanted to work my way into any setting and find my place and my voice.”
He found his voice, literally, when he was drafted to sing at a gig with the Soul Revue. It was then that Jones, who grew up singing gospel music in church in the Louisiana town of Hillaryville (population: 500), was heard by future Indications’ guitarist Blake Rhein, an audio engineering student at the time. Neither of their lives would be the same again.
Seven years, three albums and considerable acclaim later, Durand Jones & The Indications can count performances at the Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo festivals among the band’s growing list of achievements. And “Private Space,” the group’s third and newest album, is earning glowing reviews for deftly combing ‘70s soul and disco with contemporary sensibilities.
“So far, it’s been pretty organic,” Jones said of his band’s stylistic evolution. “The title track was written before the pandemic, but it gained a whole new meaning after the (2020) quarantine.”
The album is generally upbeat and anchored by snappy, dance-friendly beats. Its opening and closing songs, “Love Will Work It Out” and “I Can See,” allude to sobering social and political realities. But both songs also exude a sense of hope, of “darkness giving way to light.”
That is by design, said Jones, who cites such diverse inspirations as Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Coltrane, author Toni Morrison, Donny Hathaway and Cécile McLorin Salvant.
“We wanted to end the record with a hopeful, positive note,” he said.
“Even though I’m seeing modern-day lynchings and, last year, we were dealing with incompetency in the White House with this whole health crisis, I had to believe that love could make a difference. Maybe that’s optimistic. But, honestly, I’d rather stick with that — and believe in what I truly hope and dream for — than half wish for something.”
The vintage disco and ‘70s R&B stylings of the album are used as much for celebration as inspiration. Speaking from a New York tour stop, Jones chuckled when asked what disco means to him.
“Disco is such a very interesting genre, especially back in its heyday,” he said. “What does it mean to me? It seems like Black music. But digging even more deeply into that, its Black LGBTQ music, Black queer music.
“That’s where its roots come from. But that’s seldom acknowledged, which seems a little weird to me. Our music moving into disco just felt right with a lot of what is happening within pop music right now, where you have Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak really encapsulating that sound.
“It’s the same as when Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke utilized (Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song) ‘Got To Give It Up’ for their (2013 song) ‘Blurred Lines.’ So it felt like we were moving in a direction that felt right and was already in our realm of music.”
Jones is now completing his first solo album. He vowed to make a jazz album within the next decade that will feature his singing and his alto saxophone playing.
He also wants to teach music and produce other artists. And he hopes to inspire creative-minded kids in towns as small as Hillaryville, where he grew up.
“I love Toni Morrison!” Jones said. “She and Quincy Jones have really done what I want to do as an artist, which is to create art, produce, edit and mentor other artists, and teach youngsters all the things you wish you had known when you were their age. I want to be an inspiration.”
Talking sax appeal with Durand Jones
Q: You started off singing and playing alto saxophone. How does your phrasing as a singer effect your phrasing as a saxophonist, and vice versa?
A: I don’t really play too much alto anymore, although I got a project coming up where I’m playing sax again and that’s exciting. But I can remember, back in the day, when I was singing and playing a lot, and I had never thought about how they coincided with one another.
But once other musicians put that seed in my head, I realized its true and my singing and alto sax vibrato mimicked one another to the point where my sax teachers would say: “You’re doing vibrato like you sing, bending it down, rather than up,’ which is the ‘correct’ way to do it. Because it’s all subjective. My professors were trying to get me to not play like I would sing.
My vocal phrasing was definitely affected by sax, just thinking of lines in a linear way and making sure that where your breath is being taken is almost like a comma in a sentence. I think about that whenever I’m singing now and when I listen to other singers as well. I wonder: “Why do they take a breath there? They should extend the note more.”
Q: What’s the project coming up that you mentioned?
A: Well, it’s a solo record that I am going to put out; I don’t know when. The music is done and it’s very exciting. It’s a love letter to my hometown in Louisiana and it wouldn’t have been right if I didn’t play sax on it.
Q: Depending on their age, when people think of alto saxophonists they think of Charlie Parker, Cannoball Adderly, Ornette Coleman, Maceo Parker or David Sanborn. In classical music, maybe they think of Donald Sinta, John Harle, Nobuya Sugawa or Branford Marsalis. What was your gateway to alto?
A: Before I answer that, I’m impressed. I have done so many interviews and have never, ever heard anyone mention Donald Sinta... I guess I can say I’m part of the Donald Sinta lineage, because my sax professor was a student of his, so that’s really cool.
I guess what got me into alto sax was, well, I knew for a fact I always wanted to do music. I wanted to be in bands and jump in it. When the time came for us to try instruments in school, I found the sax to be very beautiful. Then, when I was 11, I read this book about (John) Coltrane; the book they gave kids to get them into jazz. That got me intrigued. And the more I dug into the music, the more I became enraptured by it and wanted to find out more.
Q: How did you find out more about John Coltrane 21 years ago, when you were 11, in a Louisiana town with a population of 500? Was there a library where you could check out CDs?
A: I got a book from the library at school and told my grandmother about it. And she introduced me to this song on a cassette tape, a Duke Ellington “Greatest Hits” album. The song was “In a Sentimental Mood” with John Coltrane playing on it. I’ll never forget that moment. Because that was one of the first moments in my life where I was like: “Gosh, I’ve been here before. This music makes me forget what decade I’m in. How can this feel nostalgic for me, when I don’t even know what nostalgia is?” All these feelings were happening and that was really birthing the process for me.
Q: It may be a good thing your grandmother didn’t play you Coltrane’s “Interstellar Space” album. That might have been tough going when you were 11.
A: (laughing) Maybe. I was a weird kid. I might have been really into it!
Durand Jones & The Indications, with 79.5
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Soma Live, 3350 Sports Arena Blvd., Midway District
COVID-19 protocol: By request of the band, all guests and staff must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event. Masks will be required for entry.
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