Friday, July 15, 2016.
Brian McKnight, occupying a unique positon in contemporary music history, focuses on the here and now. While he has attained formal recognition from the American Music Awards, Soul Train Awards, NAACP Image and Blockbuster Awards and Billboard Songwriter of The Year, in addition to popular acclaim from his recordings and live performances, he looks to the present for his validation and sustenance.
His focus on the present allows him to flourish creatively, despite the challenges of the future for jazz and R&B. “I hesitate to say that it’s dead, but it’s on life support. There always will be those people who love it, but as far as it being a viable thing in today’s music industry, I think those days are probably over,” McKnight speculates. “No different from what we saw in the 50’s when Elvis showed up. That was sort of the end of an era where big band or that kind of thing happened. When folk music came, that was kind of the end of what Miles Davis was doing in bebop and now that hip hop is taking over and this dance music, this EDM, is taking over the world…here in America at least. The good thing is that, everywhere else in the world, they love it [jazz and R&B] like it’s 15 years ago.”
But, even in America, the fans keep coming to see McKnight, whose popular hits include, “Back At One,” “Anytime,” “One Last Cry,” “You Should Be Mine,” and “The Way Love Goes.” “It’s been 25 years since my first album and people are still coming, people are still wanting to hear the music that I’ve been writing for all these years. I think that’s really the barometer.”
The past is still important to McKnight, for two reasons: the music he listens to and the artists who have influenced him. “I still listen to the same records I listened to when I was 15. You put on a Steely Dan record today, it sounds like they made it yesterday. Earth Wind and Fire, the same thing. Stevie Wonder, all the classics,” notes McKnight.
And his influences? From one end of the spectrum, Stevie Wonder, and from the other, Donald Fagen. “Stevie from a soulful standpoint and the way he sings; Donald, from the chord changes and the lyrics in such a way that it doesn’t always mean what you think...or maybe it does. That’s the pool I swim in. On this side of the pool is Donald; on this side of the pool is Stevie. I swim back and forth, back and forth.”
The philosophical, insightful and humorous McKnight knows himself. While acknowledging the past, and its influence, while unsure of the musical future of his genre, he remains present with his audience…and his creativity. He balances thoughtfulness with his emotions. “Here’s the thing - when you’re dealing with your own emotions and your own demons, you just have to be okay with people not liking what you do because not everybody will love what you do. And, the way you do that is to not worry about it. You just have to write. You just have to create. And, whatever happens is what happens. And you have to be okay with that.”
And, he is definitely okay with his fans, where he can always “Find Myself In You."
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