morgan bouldin
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morgan bouldin

Houston, Texas, United States

Houston, Texas, United States
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The best kept secret in music

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Tex-Jap Jazz


Bayou City keyboardist Morgan Bouldin finds a jazz groove in a restaurant of the rising sun


In multicultural Houston, keyboardist and native son Morgan Bouldin has survived professionally by being not only talented but flexible. It's a quality the fickle business of music often demands, even of its best practitioners. But listening to Wide Open Spaces (Heart Sound Records), Bouldin's new, tastefully smooth jazz CD, one might never imagine the musically varied path he has navigated to arrive here, at this Japanese restaurant beside the Southwest Freeway. For two decades Bouldin has adapted his skills to fit any opportunity, and in the process, he has served in numerous ensembles specializing in vastly different genres. His résumé includes quality time in pop (Shang), R&B and funk (Bachelor, Strangelove), reggae (Island Time), Tejano (Little Joe y la Familia), blues (Texas Johnny Brown, I.J. Gosey), gospel (pianist at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church) and jazz. As a result, Bouldin has performed many kinds of music in many kinds of places -- in humble joints and grand concert halls, mall bookstores and upscale nightclubs, barbecue smokehouses and Tex-Mex ballrooms, holy sanctuaries and happy-hour lounges. The wide range of styles and venues reflects not only his impressive polymorphic capabilities but also his hometown's diversity. And that connection is perhaps epitomized by one of his more recent affiliations. These days the 40-year-old musician has found a regular twice-weekly niche at Tokyohana Grill & Sushi Bar, a Greenway-area restaurant that describes itself as the home of "Texas-style Japanese food." You read right. In addition to the fresh sushi, the place emphasizes teppanyaki cooking, in which amazingly dexterous chefs serve up hibachi-grilled meats in portions sizable enough to satisfy the heartiest Lone Star appetite. And if that fused culinary concept isn't enough, consider that the dominant soundtrack here, at least on the nights Bouldin plays, is a sound he defines as "groove jazz." "We've been there for over two years," he says. "From a musician's standpoint, it's the best gig in the world, because we do whatever we want to do. It's relaxed, no pressure, and we have fun." Indeed, a visit to Tokyohana reveals a delightful hodgepodge of contradictions that somehow, collectively, make perfect sense. For starters, the decor incorporates some traditional Japanese motifs, an artfully designed waterfall with a bonsai tree centerpiece against a backdrop of delicate bamboo, while also featuring Western elements such as full-size cushy chairs (no pillows on the floor here) and hefty wooden tables. But the most telling concession to American ambience is the rollicking atmosphere. As explained by proprietor Harold Soo, a 28-year-old Malaysian immigrant who founded the restaurant with his older brother Akin, "People usually go to Japanese restaurants expecting typical traditional things, a style that is alien to most Americans. But here we want it to feel comfortable, kind of like their home." That concept has led Soo to do something unique among Asian eateries, at least in the Bayou City: book a jazz act. "Most Japanese restaurants are kind of bland -- no entertainment at all. I wanted to bring in more American style," he says. "And jazz music is the first American music, so I wanted to bring it in….I did not know if it would be successful or not, so I just tried." After a month or two of experimenting with other players, Soo eventually hooked up with Bouldin, and the relationship soon evolved into a happy symbiosis. Since then, every Friday it's packed. "The people like to dance and have fun, and they love the music," Soo says, adding with a laugh: "But we usually don't let them sing; this is not a karaoke bar." Manager Michael Bua concurs that Bouldin's keyboard stylings, usually accompanied by Milford Spivey's elegant fretwork on seven-string bass, are a big draw. "A lot of reservations that we book ask specifically if Morgan is going to be playing that night," he says. One of the table cooks at Tokyohana, an African-American named Dewayne Washington who fits comfortably into this multicultural environment, is a special friend of Bouldin's. The musician introduces Washington over the PA system as "Easy Money." Clanging his cooking utensils in a rhythmic frenzy, the young chef enthusiastically bobs his head and shoulders, almost dancing, while Bouldin improvises a series of organ riffs. And in a weirdly wonderful way, the food preparation and the jazz coalesce. "I'm as much an entertainer here as I am a chef," Washington declares during a break. "And I just love the music. It adds so much to it all. I can get into the beat and keep on going." An 18-month veteran of the Tokyohana scene, he further confides that he was raised in the working-class South Park neighborhood and never dreamed that one day he'd be "the only black guy in Texas working as a Japanese chef." Then again, Bouldin, despite his highly diversified background, never imagined that he'd discover a home base in a Japanese restaurant. But he's happy to have it. After all, it's a stable gig that allows him to experiment with new ideas or revert to proven favorites, depending on his mood -- all the while cultivating his evolving appreciation for sushi. "I know there's nothing new under the sun," Bouldin says. "I'm basically trying to express myself through jazz, but my roots are really deep in R&B, funk and blues. So that's the way I approach everything I do. I really try to concentrate on interesting arrangements of original material that is accessible to regular people." Wide Open Spaces, his second CD, is a fine document of that philosophy. Consisting of ten new Bouldin compositions (plus one cover), the album showcases his evolving power as a composer of both instrumentals and lyric-based songs, most of which radiate an urban sound that blurs the line between smooth jazz and contemporary R&B. The disc is also inspired by the interplay of two themes, one connected to basic psychology and the other to African history. The former notion is best exemplified in the title track as well as in "Emptiness Is Sometimes a Good Thing," both of which evoke a need for distance in order to improve perspective. On the other hand, "Washing the Spears," "A Good Day to Die (Dawn Interlude)" and "We Like to Run (The Battle of Isandhlwana)" are products of what Bouldin calls his "Afro-fusion thing," inspired by his fascination with military history in general and with the 19th-century triumphs and defeats of the Zulus in particular. "The African stuff just came from the beat that I started with," he says. "I had studied about Shaka Zulu, so when I found this beat, it all came together. I didn't really plan. The beat just took me there." The album also features guest appearances by some heavy hitters, including trumpeter Barrie Lee Hall (formerly of the Duke Ellington Orchestra), trombonist Frank Lacy Jr., saxophonist Eric Demmer, guitarists Joe Carmouche and I.J. Gosey, and vocalist Monae, among others. Bouldin himself delivers impeccable keyboard work that ranges from electric piano to acoustic piano to organ to synthesizer. He also -- for the first time on record -- sings lead vocals on two tracks. "I love everything about music -- the business, the performance -- but the creativity, making my own original compositions and developing, that's really what it's all about to me," Bouldin says. Satisfied since striking out on his own, he concludes, "I'm in a groove now, and I'm not worried about my ultimate destination in music. I'm just enjoying the trip." - Houston Press


Morgan Bouldin has been in the music business for the past twenty years. Bouldin is from Houston Texas and has worked in the R&B and jazz genres. In 1996 he launched his independent Heart Sound label. His latest release, “The World Is Mine” is the third release for the smooth jazz/R&B artist Morgan Bouldin. This newest album is equally as creative as his previous two releases. Every track has been written, performed and produced by Morgan Bouldin. Bouldin greatly appreciates various cultures and this love for world music is reflected in his songs. Bouldin has written his CD liner notes and explains the stories behind each track. “The World Is Mine” is the title first track. Kym Smith’s vocals and Bouldin’s smooth piano skills are mesmerizing. “All Day Long” is suave and funky with an infectious melody. Bouldin narrates in his liner notes that “My Groove” is “the result of what I call a spontaneous combustion because I literally wrote this song in minutes. I named it my groove because I think it typifies my style with tight, funky drum patterns and deep, low, syncopated bass patterns and repetitive keyboard riffs and arrangements with chordal harmonies.” “More Bounce To The Ounce” highlights what a gifted artist Morgan Bouldin really is. He seemingly effortlessly blends R&B with jazz and it works. “Faz Frio” is a alluring interlude. According to the liner notes, “They help the writer to better tell his story more subtly. As a composer, you not only want a person to listen and enjoy your music, you also want them to think about it. This is the greatest compliment any artist can get."The interlude seamlessly segues into Bouldin’s rendition of the timeless Oleta Adams tune. The next track “Slave Beat” is “in commemoration to the African slaves that first landed on the beaches of Salvador, Brazil.” “Jazz Music Box” is a dub of the Santana hit, “Black Magic Woman” and the Blackbird’s “Walking In Rhythm.” This track is slick and sizzling. The album continues with the tracks, “U Know What Time It Is”, “Kyle’s Groove”, “Tudo Bem”, “My Groove (short version)”, “All Night Long (reprise)”, The World Is Mine (short version).”
“The World Is Mine” is a brilliant endeavor, and I highly recommend that you add this to your collection it will broaden your horizons and you will have a new found appreciation for the various types of world music. Key tracks to listen for, “The World Is Mine," “My Groove," “Faz Frio (interlude),” “Get Here” and “Jazz Music Box.” Tracks: The World Is Mine, All Day Long, My Groove, More Bounce To The Ounce, Faz Frio (Brazilian Interlude), Get Here, Slave Beat, Jazz Music Box, U Know What Time It Is, Kyle’s Groove, Tudo Bem, My Groove (Short Version), All Night Long (Reprise), The World Is Mine (Short Version) - JazzReview.com


Morgan Bouldin resides in Houston, Texas, but his music encompasses the landscape of the world, most prominently Brazil and France. Bouldin wrote the liner notes to this CD and goes into extensive explanations about each tune. It is enlightening to read this kind of detail (although most people I know will need a flashlight and magnifying glass). The title cut, "The World Is Mine," features a lush background vocal by Kym Smith, and Bouldin plays a Roland RD600 keyboard with an acoustic piano patch that threads through the suave melody beautifully. "All Day Long" is in the groove with a multilayered instrumentation and a Latin- tinged melody with a snippet of refreshingly straight-ahead guitar solo by Joe Carmouche. Bouldin lays claim to being an "old-school funkateer" at heart, and the tune "More Bounce to the Ounce" is an example of how good funk can be. "Faz Frio (Brazilian Interlude)" leads into "Get Here" for an introspective piece that engulfs one in the lovely melody. "Jazz Music Box" has an intense repetitive chant by Paula Adams and a funky syncopated rhythm which is mesmerizing. Bouldin handles a little Portuguese on lead vocals on "Tudo Bem," and the percussion interpretation by Joe Pagliso dominates the fervent rhythm. Of the fourteen cuts on this CD, the last three are reprised ("All Night Long" is a remix of "All Day Long") and do not really add anything more interesting to what was done in the first place. Nevertheless, this CD is innovative smooth Jazz of consequence. It is a project of immense artistry that transcends the genre of smooth Jazz. - JazzNow.com


Another inventive keyboardist, Texan Morgan Bouldin, offers a nexus of styles-from tribal to jazz to modern funk, tracing Afro history and influence in music and story, on Wide Open Spaces. Bouldin draws on his musical vocabulary to build natural, theme-supportive arrangements, like the classic-style R&B tones of "Funny Face," with its step-up rhythms and vintage, bright organ sounds, and the lumbering groove and bittersweet, moody tones surrounding "Emptiness Is Sometimes a Good Thing." Among the best examples is the heavily textured "Washing the Spears," which peppers a walking-funk feel and deep-in-your-chest bass with spindly guitar accents, trumpet calls and chant vocals for a bracing, timeless quality. Bouldin's centerpiece here, the complicated story-song "We Like to Run (The Battle of Isandhlwana)," carries this universality further-meshing jazz piano and R&B features with heavy hip-hop grooves and a rap lead to convey the epic struggle of the Zulu army against British forces with power and grace. - Jazz Times Magazine


Discography

It's a Mystery to Me-1996
Wide Open Spaces-2001
The World is Mine-2005
Anthology 1- 2008
Little Drummer Boy(single) 2009

All tracks have had streaming, airplay and downloads.

Photos

Bio

Morgan Bouldin (born Morgan Lyn Bouldin, June 21 1960 Houston, Texas) is an American smooth jazz , soul jazz pianist, producer, vocalist, arranger and composer. Since the release of It’s a Mystery to Me in 1996, all of Bouldin’s albums have been self-produced independent releases, with Bouldin producing many of his tracks with a variety of synthesizer, drum and sample textures. Within the realm of smooth jazz, Bouldin is best known for his R&B flavored rhythms, soulful background vocals and synthesized heavy bass patterns. In 2001, he composed and released “Washing the Spears” an Afro- fusion tribute to Shaka Zula on the Wide Open Spaces CD. Bouldin has released a total of 4 albums to date.

Early life
Bouldin was born in Houston Texas on June 21, 1960. His mother (Pearlie White) was an elementary school teacher and his father (Johnny Bouldin) worked for the railroad. As a child he was influenced by a full range of musical styles including Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, Isley Brothers , B.B King and Elton John. At the age of 6, his parents bought him a trumpet and he played in the school band switching over to the organ/piano at the age of 13. He attended the High School for the Health Professions and during the summers he participated in the Houston Summer jazz Workshop meeting and coming under the tutelege of Conrad “Prof” Johnson, Bubbha Thomas, Don Wilkerson, Arnett Cobb, Yusef Lateef and Randy Jackson. Bouldin attended Lamar university in Beaumont Texas and later graduated from the University of Houston with a B.S. in Business Technology.

Early Career
Bouldin began his career as keyboardist and band leader for R&B and funk bands in Houston, touring Japan in May, 1983. He graced the stage for Al Hudson and One Way, Johnnie Taylor, Dennis Edwards and Archie Bell. During this time Bouldin also had a long association and collaboration with blues musicians including I.J. Gosey, Texas Johnny Brown and Joe Guitar Hughes to name a few. As the house keyboardist for C. Davis Bar-B-Q, Bouldin described the tiny beer joint as one big party where bluesmen throughout the South would drop in to play. As a result, Bouldin has performed many kinds of music in many kinds of places—in humble joints and grand concert halls, mall bookstores and upscale nightclubs, barbecue smokehouses and Tex-Mex ballrooms, holy sanctuaries and happy-hour lounges. The wide range of styles and venues reflects not only his impressive polymorphic capabilities but also his hometown’s diversity. In the early 90’s, sensing a decline in the popularity of R&B music, Bouldin turned his attention back to his jazz roots in preparation for the release of his debut solo album It’s a Mystery to Me.

Recordings
In January 1996, Bouldin released It’s a Mystery to Me on his own Heart Sound label. The album featured a rendition of Dionne Warwick’s You’ll Never Get to Heaven (if you break my heart). The Houston Press reviewed it favorably citing it’s meaty funk-laced grooves and better-than-average arrangements. (3)
Wide Open Spaces was released in May 2001 to critical acclaim by JazzTimes Magazine who reviewed the album as a nexus of styles-from tribal to jazz to modern funk, tracing Afro history and influence in music and story, with power and grace. The album features, trombonist Frank Lacy Jr., Barrie Lee Hall(trumpet), Joe Carmouche(guitar) and gospel vocalist Patrice Wilson. The album showcases Bouldin’s evolving power as a composer of both instrumentals and lyric-based songs, most of which radiate an urban sound that blurs the line between smooth jazz and contemporary R&B.
The World is Mine was released in August 2005. JazzReview called it a brilliant endeavor and JazzNow noted it innovative, funky and of immense artistry that transcends the genre of smooth jazz. Notable tracks include Roger Troutman and Zap’s More Bounce to the Ounce, The World is Mine, Oleta Adams’ Get Here and Kyle’s Groove featuring saxophonist Kyle Turner.
Anthology 1 – The Best of Morgan Bouldin was released in August 2008 as a compilation disc along with an added track of the Jackson’s hit Shake Your Body Down to the Ground.
Bouldin resides in Houston, Texas and has traveled extensively throughout Brazil.
An avid photographer, Bouldin is writing his first book "Gringo in Brazil" which will chronicle his Brazilian experiences. When not working, he likes to spend his free time watching movies and being with his son Kalin.