Questions for AhVantSoul
Leader Jon Pierre Gee has played with James Brown, Al Green, Bob Marley and many others. His band plays tonight at Jazz in the Park.
Jon Pierre Gee, founder, producer, and lead vocalist of AhVantSoul, has never let musical genres define his artistry. Since his start as a young boy singing in his church’s gospel choir, Gee’s musical talents have taken him from singing anything from blues to jazz standards, soul, rock and R&B. He was born in Greenwood Mississippi, and his mother, Elizabeth Mayfeild-Gee, called “Lennie B,” was a great lover of gospel music. Waking up in the morning, Gee remembers hearing his mother singing the likes of Mahalia Jackson, The Loving Sisters and James Cleveland & The Caravans. Gee’s father, Perry Gee, had a passion for blues music.
Instilled with a firm love of music, Gee began his career in 1968. Since then Gee has performed with such legends as James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Al Green, B. B. King, Bob Marley, Toots & The Maytels, The Temptations, The Contours, Martha Reeves, Tom Jones, Kenny Loggins and The Family Stone, not to mention rock drummer Legend Aynsley Dunbar and comedian Moms Mabley.
Throughout the years Gee has evolved; diversifying his talents to accompany the ever changing African-American music scene, all while maintaining his flair for the classics. After 40 years Gee shows no sign of stopping. He founded “Kandi International Inc.” in 1986, which produces and manages a variety of hip-hop, rap, R&B, gospel, jazz, blues, and rock artists. He also opened the Milwaukee Academy of Music and Performing Arts in 1995 as well as a publishing company to accompany his songwriting talents.
AhVantSoul performs tonight at Cathedral Square at the Jazz in the Park summer concert series, 5pm-9pm. Gee sat down to answer questions before his show.
How would you describe your style of music?
As a singer, songwriter, and recording artist for 47 years, I am original no matter what style of music I perform.
How did you get your start in music?
My mother, a gospel singer, introduced me to the church and Rev. Gladys Glass when I was 9. I entered the business through church; singing gospel music and playing drums for the church choir and quartet groups. There I was discovered by a saxophone player with a band named The Chefs in 1967. I auditioned and was hired as their lead singer to front this 11 piece sooul, R&B show band of the time.
How did your band meet and start playing together?
AhVantSoul was started by myself and Kat Webb. After a 3-year stint with Motown’s Jr. Walker’s All-Star Band, me as lead singer and Kat as part of the background, I personally selected and hired all the members in 2003.
How did your band’s name originate?
I created it from the French word “Avant” which means “fore” or “front”. I changed the spelling to AhVantSoul. In essence, the group’s name means that the music we perform is out front, leading the pack, and that the music is from the soul…AhVantSoul!
How did you become involved with Jazz in the Park?
We were selected as a second choice when the first band they choose could not perform in 2008. The response was so positive we were asked back in 2010. We were the first band in our style of music to perform at Jazz in The Park, something that is not new for me… being a first!
Who are your main musical influences?
Too many to mention in my 47 year career.
What do you hope the audience gets out of watching you perform?
Excited, motivated, inspired, unified and emotionally connected to the essence of the music we are preserving and presenting.
Which famous musicians are you inspired by and why?
All the originators and legends in gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, soul, funk, rock, pop, jazz standards and classical. They composed and perform music from their souls and changed the world. They touched the hearts of millions and changed my life. To become a musician is to become messengers of good tiding and inspiration.
How would you describe the state of music today?
The soul is gone; the inspiration today appears to be money, fame, sex (booty and gangsterism), vanity and vexation.
What is your musical background?
I learned everything I know in the music business by performing, doing it, studying the craft and through mentorships from the greats; James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, Bob Marley, Motown, Smokey Robinson, Miles Davis, and through teaching others.
What is your favorite thing to see in the audience while you are on stage?
People dancing, singing, smiling, and being inspired and engaged WITH THE MUSIC. I love the connection with the people, making them happy and giving them inspiration.
What are some of your most memorable experiences performing on stage?
Performing with James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, Al Green, Bob Marley at the peak of their careers in the 60s and singing with Jr. Walker’s All-Star Band doing the Motown tours. Another memory was recording my first record in 1982 “Not Enough Love” and receiving creative songwriter inspiration and advice from Smokey Robinson.
What are some of your hopes and aspirations for the band?
To work Las Vegas, Florida and California during the Midwest winters and tour Europe and the Far East. I want to complete my new CD and make a late night appearance on national television and eventually have my own show on the musical history, the art of music creation, music business and dance.
What are your fondest musical memories?
Learning that my first 45’ release 1982’s “Not Enough Love” by John Gee is now selling for as much as $100.00 a copy. And my subsequent 45’ release 1985’s “So Good to Me” is still in circulation in Italy, UK, Japan, French and Germany and is popular in the clubs where DJ’s play classic American Soul oldies.
What drew you to your style of music?
The music I perform is not something I was drawn to…. I live it! It’s part of me. It’s like asking me how I was drawn to walking.
What was your most memorable show to date?
Aside from my beginnings in the 60s working with the legends…more recently 2008’s Jazz In The Park, 2008’s BMO Stage opening up for The Temptations. After the performance I was asked backstage when Dennis Edwards and Ollie Woodson of The Temptations said to me, “You guy are tight.”
AhVantSoul can next be seen July 19at the ACT Festival, July 23 in Washington Park, August 1 and every first Friday of the month at the Coffee Makes you Black Fish Fry, August 2 at the Villard Avenue Festival, and August 6 at Gengler Park (St. Joseph Hospital).