Day job: I work for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which organizes low-wage workers to get family-supporting wages and health insurance. Last year I worked on the Obama campaign in a couple of states, which was very inspiring.
How I got started: My grandmother, mom, and sister all played the piano, and I imitated them from an early age. In high school, I was taken in by a ’60s soul cover band called Sal Fortunata and his Fabulous Stingrays. Eventually I moved to Milwaukee, where I played in all kinds of bands. The highlight was the Thousandaires, a genre-crossing group that was equal parts Sly Stone, Kraftwerk, the Heptones, and Serge Gainsbourg.
Bands: I’m based in Washington, DC. My current projects include the Ambitions, an original rock ’n’ soul band. My other big gig is with Eastern Standard Time, a ska-jazz band. Both bands make the East Coast club rounds like the Knitting Factory in New York City, World Café in Philadelphia, Ottobar in Baltimore, and the DC clubs such as the Black Cat and the 9:30 Club. I do occasional soundtracks for indie films and the rare TV show.
Influences: My all-time favorite player is the great Jamaican keyboardist Jackie Mittoo. Another big influence has been all the old Parliament/ Funkadelic records. Bernie Worrell’s keyboard playing to this day blows my mind. I was influenced by a lot of music films like Prince’s Purple Rain, and the Band’s The Last Waltz, which introduced me to the Staples Singers. Lately I’ve been listening to lots of Indian Bollywood film soundtracks, as well as DJ remixers such as Girl Talk, and Terrestre, which is led by Mexican electronica producer Fernando Corona.
Why I play: A while ago I was at a party honoring Bill T. Jones, the choreographer behind Still/Here, a performance based on the stories of AIDS victims. The DJ had everyone on that dance floor, breaking down so many barriers between people. I’m sure I’ll never lose the desire for that kind of feeling — where you play a show, or go to someone else’s show, get hot and sweaty, and stop caring about how you look or how others perceive you, or what someone said at work. I don’t drink or do drugs because I can’t imagine a better high than that.
Jackie Mittoo and The Soul Brothers, Last Train To Skaville (Soul Jazz)
The late Jackie Mittoo has been called one of the most important artists in the history of Jamaican music. The founding member of the legendary Skatalites has been a major inspiration for weekend warrior Bill Dempsey. You can hear Mittoo’s keyboard artistry on several classic recordings included on the CD Last Train To Skaville.
Check out these keyboard-heavy acts, on tour this month.
Medeski Martin and Wood
Booker T bookert.com