Steve Nixon's Interview With Jeremy Baum (Keyboardist For Shemekia Copeland)

I'm excited to share with you my recent interview with keyboard player Jeremy Baum.
Jeremy is currently the full time keyboard player for Grammy Nominated blues singer
Shemekia Copeland.

Jeremy and I first met on a gig in Atlantic City. I heard one solo of his and I knew
immediately he had something special! We developed a friendship backstage after the
gig and we’ve been friends ever since.

Over the years Jeremy has done freelance work for many different artists, touring and/
or recording with Richie Havens, John Hammond Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Jim Weider,
Melvin Sparks, Bill Perry, Sue Foley, Debbie Davies, Murali Coryell, Slam Allen, Little
Sammy Davis.

This is my second interview in my "Artists Interviewing Artists" series. I know you all
will definitely enjoy this one and learn quite a bit. Enjoy!

Steve Nixon: What do you think are the main ingredients that are important in building
your career as a musician and getting your name out there?

Jeremy Baum: I always knew I wanted to play music, from the time at least from the
time I was thirteen on and but the circumstances of my life - when I was
eighteen I moved in with this girl that I was in love with. My first love,
and we moved in together and for at least a year I was working but – I was
working for about maybe a year, year and a half at this gas station. Forty-
eight hours a week, it was six nights a week from 3:00pm – 11:00pm. All
the money that I made just went to you know pay the rent and put gas
in my car and I wasn’t getting anywhere and I had no time. You know,
every night I was sitting at this gas booth just collecting money.

Steve Nixon: Wow.

Jeremy Baum: And at that time I didn’t own a piano. I was, you know, not too happy
about the situation and then a couple years later, kind of interesting, my
aunt passed away and she actually had a life insurance policy in my name
and left me some money, and I saw it as sort of a real opportunity to
pursue my dreams in earnest. You know, I moved back home with my
dad and the first thing I bought was a piano and then I bought a station
wagon and I bought some keyboards and an amp and then I started –
basically, I quit my job at the gas station and I went out almost every
night of the week and I live out near Woodstock, New York and there was
usually something happening somewhere.

Jeremy Baum:
You know, that was before people regularly used the internet and you’d
just check all the papers and look at the papers and see what was going on
and between Woodstock and New Paul, I’d go out almost every night of
the week and find at least some live music and I got to know a lot of the
local musicians and basically asking everybody if I could sit in for free.

Steve Nixon: Right.

Jeremy Baum: And I did that for about a year just, and half the time they’d say yes.
Sometimes they’d say no but I got to know everybody, you know in the
area. There were a lot of people and they would just welcome me up and
you know I was just jumping in with both feet you know just playing
for free and putting all of my energy into just being out there where live
music was happening, being surrounded by it and trying to be a part of it.
I went to school for music and then Murali who’s the son of Larry Coryell
joined his band. We had a band for four or five years and we learned
lots of covers and we started hosting a blues jam in Middletown. I met a
lot of guys. It was basically trial and error too. It was like we were into
fusion. We were into like ‘musicians music” so what excited us, wasn’t
necessarily what excited people in the bars we were playing and so at first
we’d go out and we’d play some Return to Forever stuff and all this crazy
fusion stuff that we were really into and maybe some Miles Davis, late
Miles Davis from like “We Want Miles”. We used to do all this crazy stuff
and have these wild jams and it’s like we’d open our eyes and realize that
the bar had been cleared out.

Steve Nixon: Yeah. Ha ha…I’ve seen that before.

Jeremy Baum: You know, we’re drinking and rocking out. We thought we sounded
great and the next thing we know, there’s nobody there. So then we
started hosting this blues jam and because it was blues jam we were
learning a bunch of blues, you know, tunes and we would learn them and
everything was in there and then we started doing some R&B stuff and the
next thing you know we got really popular in this one bar. We were like
packing the place every Thursday night and that seemed to work. Playing
the R&B and the blues and the James Brown and Al Green and Freddie
King and all that. All that stuff resonated in the bars and you know,
with all ages. Young people and older people and everybody seemed
to dig what we were doing. It was like trial and error but really, more
than anything, it was just going out and playing for free and playing with
anybody and everybody and the next thing you know, people are calling
you for gigs and you’re playing with anybody and everybody, but you’re
getting paid a little bit of money to do it.

Steve Nixon: Right, right. Now did you have business cards?

Jeremy Baum: Yeah, back then nobody really had computers. It was the early ‘90s.
Maybe some people had computers, but you know I went to the print
shop and printed out a thousand business cards with just my name and
phone number and a little picture of a keyboard and a piano on there and
handed them out to everybody that I’d meet. At the blues jams really is
where I met most people. Some jazz jams, a lot of blues jams. There
was one blues jam over in Poughkeepsie, New York at this place called
The Sidetrack. I met a lot of guys there that I still know and the one in
Middletown at this place called The Downtown. Those were the two main
blues jams. I met a lot of people at those places and then like I said, you
know playing down at Manny’s Car Wash in New York City. I met a lot
of musicians down there.

Steve Nixon: How do you handle life on the road as a touring musician and being gone
form home so often?

Jeremy Baum: Well, it’s almost like you give your life to music. You make this
decision. This is what you want your life to be and you know it’s going
to be hard on relationships. There’s compromises that you make but
on the other hand you realize that you’re living your dream and you’re
living a dream and you’re so fortunate to be able to do this. So you know,
psychologically, that’s it. It can be it’s own reward. Playing music for a
living and you know playing for anywhere from 100 to 10,000 people in a
night, but all the experiences are great. Just doing what you love and just
being on the road, you know it’s really tiring.

Steve Nixon:
Yeah. Ha ha…I think I have bags under my eyes permanently.

Jeremy Baum: To say the least, as you know. It can be really hard on you. It takes a lot
of endurance, physically and mentally. So sometimes pace yourself. Try
not to drink too much. Of course these days, having a laptop makes it so
much easier or having a Blackberry or whatever it is that you use to stay
in touch with people. Facebook is great for staying in touch with people
all over and you make friends everywhere you go so after a few years, you
start returning to the same towns and you start seeing the same faces and
seeing people that you having established these friendships with and these
relationships with that you can you know. They kind of feel, you don’t
feel like you’re away from home so much.

Steve Nixon:
Okay, next question here. So I know that when you’re not touring, you
gig fairly consistently in your home market, which is the New York area?

Jeremy Baum: Yeah.

Steve Nixon: How do you keep your home gigs and connections in tack while being
regularly away from the scene?

Jeremy Baum:
Well I’m home about half the time, sometimes a little more than that so
I’m not away so much that it’s impossible and I just started working with
another local band and basically I have a pretty open, like a pretty good
relationship with them and they basically said any gigs that I’m home for I
can do with them.

Steve Nixon:
Oh wow.

Jeremy Baum: Because they work pretty regularly and they’re a great band, and that
only just happened but for the last three years basically, whenever I was
home and had a night off I would go out and hear them and sometimes sit
in and sometimes if their keyboard player wasn’t around they’d tell me to
go home and get my gear and I’d come back and I’d actually do the gig
with them. I’m the full-time guy I guess when I’m, when I can do it. But
it’s cool because I’ve had a few relationships with local bands like that
over the years where they’re like, yeah anytime you’re home if we have a
gig, you’re on the gig.

Steve Nixon: Gotcha.

Jeremy Baum: So that helps. That makes life a lot easier.

Steve Nixon: Definitely man. Now so do you have a sub then when, for you when
you’re on the road?

Jeremy Baum: Yeah, I basically told the leader my schedule, my touring schedule and so
he knows when I’m not going to be available for their local gigs and you
know I think he’ll call me. He’ll call a sub for me. I don’t have to call
subs.

Steve Nixon: Oh, That’s really good.

Jeremy Baum: Yeah, they have my schedule and basically just, yeah.

Steve Nixon: So I’m starting to notice a trend here Jeremy. Twice now you answered a
question by being saying something like, “I’d go see the band or I’d go out
and see live music”.

Jeremy Baum: Yeah I mean even at this point in my career. I do the same things that
I did twenty years ago. When I’m home and I have a night off, if there’s
a good local band that I like, I go out to see them as a fan and sometimes
they ask me to sit in and I’m always happy to sit in and sometimes they
ask me to sub and when I’m available, I’ll sub and yeah. It leads to more
work, so definitely getting out of the house.

Jeremy Baum: Seeing other bands and just making that human contact instead of just
staying home on the computer or watching TV or whatever it is. That’s
how you get more work. That’s how I get more work.

Steve Nixon: Yeah, I gotcha. Okay, next question. I knew your father was also a
musician.

Jeremy Baum: Mm hm. Right.

Steve Nixon: How did growing up with a professional musician in your house affect
your development as a player?

Jeremy Baum: Well basically just seeing that that’s a way to make a living kind of put
that thought in my mind, that idea in my mind when I was a kid. I was
like I could do this, you know. I could be a musician. That’s a viable
option as a career. Whereas a lot of people’s parents are not musicians.
You know if they tell their parents that they’re thinking of being a
musician, they’re often discouraged from it. I was never discouraged or
encouraged. It was basically my dad worked in the Catskills for thirty
years raising a family, raising my sister and me and we had a house
in the mountains, in the Catskill Mountains. He worked at this place
in Allenville, which is one of the Jewish hotels. He was working six
nights a week basically. So he wasn’t home nights but on the weekends,
even when I was not even a teenager, when I was maybe nine, ten,
eleven, twelve you know on Friday nights, Fridays and Saturdays if I
was home, you know he a lot of times would take me to work with him.

Jeremy Baum: And I would just hang out for however many hours and he played in the
show band so they would back up comedians and singers and so I got to
see a lot of comics, you know, the Jewish comics who would play the
Catskills and the singing duo teams and comedians and magicians and
every now and then there would be a burlesque act. You know, whatever,
just like this old school show business. It was travelling around, probably
the Catskills and Atlantic City and Vegas and whatever else. It was an
interesting way of growing up and just seeing this how everything worked
and hanging out backstage in the back. Oh and the entrance musicians
just, as always is like through the kitchen. When you walk through the
back where the garbage truck was and the next thing you know you’re,
walking on the stage and then everything’s groovy.

Jeremy Baum: You know bright lights and everything
It just made it like seem like a viable option like it was normal to go out
at night and play music.

Steve Nixon:
So it was almost just the fact that like you didn’t even know any better, it
was just the model was set for you?

Jeremy Baum: Yeah it was just like, yeah that’s something you can do. And also when
I was probably eleven, ten-eleven-twelve I was already sitting in with the
band and then there was another band in the bar that was the lounge band
and they did more covers, and my dad played in the show band where
entertainers would come in with sheets of music and they would read the
show down and you know, like entertainment.

Steve Nixon:
What a neat experience!

Jeremy Baum:
Yeah it was pretty cool.

Steve Nixon:
So I know that in addition to being an in-demand sidesman, I know that
you’re also leading your own organ trio. Are you still doing that or not
really?

Jeremy Baum: Yeah not as much.

Steve Nixon: Not as much?

Jeremy Baum: I mean not as much as I used to since I’ve been doing Shemekia’s gig.
It takes a lot of time if you’re going to be doing your own project, you
know, booking and lining up work and keeping the band working and I
was doing it before I worked with Shemekia but since then not so much.

Steve Nixon: Okay.

Jeremy Baum: You know a couple times a year. I have on organ trio gig coming up on
the 31st of this month and we’re playing a party with guitar and drums and
I’ll play organ but I don’t do it very often.

Steve Nixon: How do you shift your mentality when you’re not playing that role
regularly?

Jeremy Baum: Even when I’m playing with the trio, I don’t feel like I’m the leader of
the group. You know, I’m playing with my peers, my friends and Chris
guitar, Randy on drums who played with The Band for like ten years,
the “The Band” The Band”.

Steve Nixon: Yeah.

Jeremy Baum: We get together and we play and it’s just kind of a joy. You know, we
just play and we all pick songs and learn the songs that the other person
wants to do. It’s not really like being the leader as much as just being able
to stretch out with your friends and enjoy the gig.

Jeremy Baum:
So it’s not so hard.

Steve Nixon: Gotcha, gotcha and that’s obviously…

Jeremy Baum: As far as, as far as being a sideman with Shemekia, the mindset is a
little different because I’m playing my role in that gig. I’m doing, I’m
playing the songs the way they are played on the record and learn the
arrangements. Learning the arrangements how they are on the record.
It’s like playing a role and the solos are very short and everything is set
and also, it’s a show. You know, we play a 75 minute show and she’s
usually a headliner and so it’s basically you have to be on from the time
you get onstage until you’re walking off. You have to be totally focused
and doing your job and being a part of that group and playing a supporting
role for her and trying to make everything sound as good as possible and
be truly focused – almost like you’re doing a recording session. You know
it requires a lot of focus and keeping your energy where it should be and
it’s not about you. It’s about her and about the whole sound of the group
and yeah, so it’s different from being home and jamming with your friends
or doing a local gig that’s a little looser and being able to stretch out your
solos.

Steve Nixon: Okay cool. So what’s your keyboard rig currently consist of?

Jeremy Baum: I actually got an endorsement from Hammond and I have the new
Hammond XK-3C which is a fantastic organ.

Jeremy Baum: And I play that through the Leslie 3300, which I also hook up. It is a
300-watt solid state and a two preamp Leslie with you wheels and handles,
only 125 pounds which for a Leslie isn’t so bad.

Steve Nixon: Right.

Jeremy Baum: And it sounds amazing. It’s warm and it’s loud and it’s clean and that
organ, through that Leslie, I’m really happy with that. That’s my organ
and then my piano; I’m just not completely satisfied with it. I’m ready to
update my piano rig. I’m still playing a Yamaha P120.

Steve Nixon: Ah okay.

Jeremy Baum: And I’m playing it through a Peavey amp.

Steve Nixon: Gotcha. Do you like that amp?

Jeremy Baum: It’s decent. It’s loud enough and decent enough and it’s a Peavey so it’s
like a workhorse you know. It doesn’t break. It’s totally solid. It’s heavy
and it’s solid and it’s loud and it’s reliable.

Steve Nixon: Yeah that’s good. That’s huge especially for a rig that you’re taking.
Now do you take that on the road or are you doing backlines and stuff like
that?

Jeremy Baum: Occasionally there is, like in the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking my
rig in my van and driving it around. Whenever we fly there’s a, they rent
backline.

Jeremy Baum: Right now I have like the Yamaha CP300.
Steve Nixon: So, next question. What three artists have influenced you most as a player
and can you tell us why?

Jeremy Baum:
It all depends on what I’m playing, you know. If I’m playing jazz I
would say Bill Evans and then Keith Jarrett especially with solo piano or
even if I was playing like trio setting. If I were playing organ, especially
like soul jazz things, I’d say you know Jimmy Smith of course and then
Jack McDuff, and Brian Auger.

Jeremy Baum: Growing up my dad had a lot of Jimmy Smith, a lot of Ray Charles.
That stuff influenced me. I just love music. I listen to all kinds of stuff.

Steve Nixon: So lots of different influences?

Jeremy Baum: And then I played salsa music for ten years and you know Afro-Cuban,
Latin, all that and you know definitely the Buena Vista Social club guys
influenced me a lot. Ruben Gonzales on piano influenced me a lot for my
salsa playing, so it all depends what I’m playing.

Steve Nixon: What are you listening to right now?

Jeremy Baum: I would say over the last year I’ve listened to a lot of Imogen Heap.
She’s a singer and songwriter and producer from England and she’s
amazing.

Jeremy Baum: It’s an unusual name but she’s fantastic. I listen to a ton of her -
everything that she put out. I just couldn’t get enough and then more
recently a jazz group I listened to for a while, GSP.
another group, this duo group from Brooklyn, an organ player and a
drummer – Benevento Russo Duo.

Jeremy Baum: Yeah I really dug some of that stuff. So I would say that. Oh and I’m
always listening to Peter Gabriel. I would go see Peter Gabriel and Bruce
Hornsby.

Steve Nixon: Gotcha.

Jeremy Baum: Bruce Hornsby’s a big influence too.

Steve Nixon: Yeah he’s a huge influence on me too!

Jeremy Baum: Well there you go.

Steve Nixon: That’s a fantastic list!

Jeremy Baum: Cool, cool.

Steve Nixon: Now in 2010 with the current skills you’ve already developed, how do you
improve your playing?

Jeremy Baum: Well it’s for me now it’s more learning songs, so like I just picked up this
local gig with a great cover band, so learning the songs that they do, that
they cover and whenever an artist asks me to, you know do a showcase gig
with them, learning their original music. Learning off the chart. Learning
new material helps my skills develop more. When I’m home, trying to
read like Chopin, learning Chopin pieces and sometimes Bach and also
just standards, you know, going through the little drill books, going one
two three whatever and just picking the tune that I know from my music
collection that I’ve never played before and maybe trying to memorize it
and play my own arrangements of it. You know that’s basically what I’ve
been doing lately.

Steve Nixon: That’s great. So it’s kind of a cool thing man that you say you also do it
just as much for your pleasure and enjoyment because a lot of guys can
get burned out when all they’re doing is just learning music for gigs as
opposed to doing it because they just love music. There is some pleasure
to it, you know.

Jeremy Baum: Oh, absolutely. It’s all, to me, for the most part that’s why I do what I
do. It’s definitely not for the money.

Steve Nixon: I hear you there man. Alright now, so do you have any advice for aspiring
players in regards to how to improve their blues piano skills?

Jeremy Baum: Listening to as much of the music that they can get their hands on. If it’s
blues piano that they want to be better at then just listen to as many great
blues piano players that they can, you know, so…

Jeremy Baum: So listening is my advice.

Steve Nixon: Okay let me as a side question on that because I know for example some
of my students, if you gave them an answer like listening, which is
obviously very true and you know there’s no substitute for listening, but
they might be confused by how you listen to music to learn.

Jeremy Baum: Well I guess not just listening but also trying to learn the stuff that you’re
listening to.

Steve Nixon: By transcribing and things like that?

Jeremy Baum: Yeah, transcribing work, you know either transcribing, actually literally
transcribing or just figuring it out by ear what you’re hearing and trying to
get it with your ear and play it as close to that as you can.

Steve Nixon: And you’ve done a lot of that?

Jeremy Baum: I’ve done a bit of that, yeah I mean especially if I’m learning a particular
song, I try to figure out what he plays on those songs. Like if I’m learning
an Albert King song or a Freddie King song or whatever, let’s say “Born
Under a Bad Sign”

Jeremy Baum: Okay so learning the actual piano part in there, it’s like an arrangement.
One part is like quarter notes, another part is like eighth notes and it’s
just, it’s very particular what they’re playing. They’re not just playing the
changes. They’re playing top, you know so learn the parts you know on
all these classic blues tunes. Figure out what’s actually being played and
play those parts. When you go to the blues jam, play the parts that are on
the record, you know, don’t just play the changes and improvise wherever
you want. Play what the guys are playing on the record.

Steve Nixon: Yeah that’s huge.

Jeremy Baum: That’ll get your playing up to the next level.

Steve Nixon: That is right there man, that is a money statement. It really was because a
lot of guys are good musicians but they’re improvising too much. Much
more on the national scene, there’s a lot more parts playing as opposed to
just jam playing.

Jeremy Baum: Yeah, yeah which for me on Shemekia’s gig. I’m not improvising there.
I did an eight measure solo here or there, sometimes a four measure solo.
Whatever it is and you know even then, if it’s a short solo like that, you
got to burn from the moment, you know from the get go you’ve got to
play what you’re going to play immediately you know? But then the rest
of the song, you’re playing the parts. No screwing around, you know?

Steve Nixon: What about in your fills? Is it the same type of concept?

Jeremy Baum: Yeah, I mean the fills they’re improvised but you don’t want to be over
the top in your fills. You don’t want to be like calling too much attention
to yourself. You want do your job.
.
Jeremy Baum: Don’t overstep your welcome. Don’t overstay your welcome. Don’t
make your presence be too known because it’s not your name on the
billboard outside.

Steve Nixon: Jeremy that’s a great point. Okay, last question. You’ve had quite a bit of
success so far in your career. What are your future goals going forward as
a musician?

Jeremy Baum: I’d like to write more. I’ve put out a couple of CDs. One was a salsa
CD with a salsa band that I worked with for ten years. It was all original
music. My own CD with my organ group was mostly original music.
I’ve written some music with other artists and had a few songs on other
people’s CDs. I would like to write more. I would like to do another CD
of my own. Maybe another organ CD, maybe even a jazz piano CD with
a trio or something. I’d like to produce some CDs with some friends of
mine that are singers and guitar players and local musicians. I would like
to spend more energy on music. That will be my future goals, my say
three to five year goals – writing more and possibly producing more and
just creating more original music and getting it out there.

Steve Nixon: Original music. I hear you man. So it sounds like your goals aren’t
necessarily business goals. They’re more along the lines of personal
artistic goals and those potentially could lead to business. Is that a fair
statement?

Jeremy Baum: Yeah, that’s, it’s always been that for me. I’ve always, and I’ve always
thought about as far as a sideman goes, well who do I want to work with
you know, musically? Who excites me? What do I want to be? What do
I want to be a part of? Where do I want to be making music? Never so
much like, who can, how much money do I want to make? Or you know,
what do I want to do business wise? But different people think differently.

Steve Nixon: Right.

Jeremy Baum: But for me it’s always been artistic and aesthetic goals and spiritual
goals, like what’s going to give me happiness in this life? And how am I
going to, you know make music best.

Steve Nixon: Wow that’s really important. The beautiful irony of that is that you’ve
been able to parlay that mindset into making a living.

Jeremy Baum: Yeah, it didn’t happen overnight. I probably was in it for ten years
before I was actually at a point where you could say I was self-sustaining,
making a living as a musician. I probably did it for about ten years before
I got to that point. It’s always gotten a little easier. Every year’s been a
little bit easier.

Steve Nixon: Thanks so much for your fantastic interview Jeremy! It's truly been a
pleasure. You're answers were really informative and I know we’ve
all learned a lot. If you guys get an opportunity, be sure to check
out Jeremy’s playing with Shemekia Copeland. It’s a phenomenal show!

For more information on Jeremy Baum visit him at www.jeremybaum.com
His latest release “Lost River Jams” can be purchased at www.cdbaby.com/cd/
baum
and Itunes.
.

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