Mac Writt
Jazz in the Park

Questions for Wicked Knee

Seeking a way different sound, Billy Martin created a brass and drum quartet.

By - Aug 7th, 2014 01:16 pm
Wicked Knee

Wicked Knee

Drummer Billy Martin has a choice description for the music of Wicked Knee, the band he founded and leads: “It’s cathartic, heart-based and primarily intended for situations that invite people to let go, get down and have fun. We add avant-garde interludes as release and tension.”

After two decades drumming with the trio, Medeski Martin & Wood, Billy wanted to create a completely different sound. He decided on a brass and drum sound, creating a group which had always been a dream of his. Martin enlisted trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, tuba player Marcus Rojas, and trumpeter Steven Bernstein. The quartet first pumped out a six song “ragtime funk” EP, half of which are original songs written by Martin.

Martin had worked on several projects with Bernstein, who is widely known in the New York City downtown music scene for his groups Sex Mob and the Millennial Territory Orchestra, and as a performer with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Sting, Sam Rivers and Roswell Rudd. Rojas, whose credits include his bands Spanish Fly and Les Miserables Brass Band, has also played with Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Queen Latifa. Rojas had only performed with Martin a few times before deciding to join Wicked Knee. Fowlkes, a longtime fixture on the New York scene, who has performed with the Lounge Lizards, the Jazz Passengers, Charlie Haden, John Zorn and others, became the perfect player to round out the lineup.

The band’s name, says Martin, came “from a record compilation my wife’s friend had called Shake Your Wicked Knees. I borrowed that compilation, which is a collection of piano rags, blues and stomps, and I loved the vibe and the title. I like that it is born out of an Afro- American expression but has a slight surreal meaning.”

Wicked Knee performs tonight, 5pm-9pm, at Jazz in the Park, the weekly summer concert series at Cathedral Square Park. We had some additional questions for him.

How would you describe your style of music?

It is multiple genres… music from the past and the future.

What do you hope the audience gets out of watching you perform?

I want us to heal the audience, as in medicine.

What is your musical background?

I started drumming when I was eleven. Back then I started taking lessons and practicing. In high school I started playing in a rock band, I played big band music, and even marching band.

What is your favorite thing to see in the audience while you are on stage?

I like to see people smiling and dancing, but not on their cell phones.

What are some of your hopes and aspirations for the band?

I would like to continue to be creative, and to get paid to do that is the most wonderful gift. But…it isn’t easy.

What’s your favorite song you perform?

There is a song called “Remington 411.” It is an original and something that has its own sound, something we really learned how to play.

Do you prefer a larger or more intimate venue?

Intimate venues. But I have heard a lot of great things about the jazz music scene in Milwaukee and I think this upcoming performance will be a great way to end our tour.

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