Special to the Informant
When first meeting Jean and Marcus Baylor, the talented duo that makes up The Baylor Project, you are struck by their easy, comfortable demeanor. They finish each other’s sentences. They banter stories back and forth with fun and love. There is a dynamic between them that explains the beautiful connection they create on stage between themselves and the audience.
Both started their music careers in groups of note. Marcus as a member of the GRAMMY winning jazz band, Yellowjackets. Jean as a member of the chart topping r&b group, Zhané. Before they formally created The Baylor Project, they had the chance to do projects together and liked the artistic freedom they had performing as a duo. After playing a nine month gig together, packing a small jazz club in New York, they were creating buzz with their performances. Performing together was a good thing. They began to do their own management, promotion and booking.
“We started playing concerts and waking up with purpose,” says Jean. “Since both of us had experience to go on, we started setting goals and managing our expectations. We have exceeded what we ever thought was possible.”
Their debut album, Journey, was released on their own Be A Light label in 2017 and came out #1 on iTunes jazz charts. The album garnered two GRAMMY nominations for Best Jazz Album and Best Traditional R&B Performance.
Their next GRAMMY nomination would come from the single they released in 2020, called “Sit On Down.” The song originally started as a spontaneous live video on social media and then was developed from there.
“Anything can inspire a melody or song,” Marcus said. “A conversation, the sound of windshield wipers. We are just comfortable with creating.”
The duo has been incredibly influenced by Black artists from the past and present, from Commissioned to Miles Davis, Ray Charles to The Winans, Hip-Hop to jazz. With both of them first experiencing the power of music in church, gospel is certainly at the root of what they create.
“My influences are diverse,” says Jean. “Hymns, Aretha Franklin, ‘80s Hip-Hop, rock and pop. I didn’t get into jazz until college and then it has been Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughn, Betty Carter and Anita Baker.”
After naming all of these icons of music, who influenced Jean to be a performer? “Bobby Brown. I saw him in college. He was up on the stage, singing and dancing. I saw how the audience was reacting. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
When the two talk about their music, it is evident that they put a lot of themselves in what they create. There is certainly a soul, a spirit, to their performances.
“After a performance, we want people to walk away feeling uplifted,” Marcus said. “They come to a show and we want them to leave their burdens behind.”
“We want them to be lifted, inspired. Feeling better about life. There is hope,” Jean added. The duo released their new album, Generations, on the eve of Juneteenth, June 18. The music on the album is “a cultural anthology rooted in everyday life experiences that celebrate love, family, faith and community.” The album features collaborations
with Dianne Reeves, Jazzmeia Horn, Kenny Garrett, Jamison Ross and Sullivan Fortner.
Generations has garnered the pair their fourth GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 2022 awards show. One of the songs on the new album, “We Swing,” featuring Jazzmeia Horn and Dianne Reeves was honored with No. 67 on NPR Music’s 100 Best Songs of 2021.
This husband-wife team certainly seems unstoppable. On Dec. 13, they announced an exclusive distribution agreement with Capitol CMG and Universal Music Group’s Motown Gospel division, in partnership with their Be A Light label.
“For the first time ever, we have an album that is available across all streaming platforms,” Jean said. “People can find Generations on Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube Music.”
“For years, we have followed our hearts to create music that is authentic to who we are and to find the ears of those who embrace our sound,” Marcus said. “This is a milestone in our journey and represents a unique opportunity to grow to our next level.”
Their expertise and passion is not
just put to use in the music they make, but also in other ways in the music industry. Marcus was recently appointed as a GRAMMY Trustee and Jean as a local GRAMMY Governor.
When asked who they are listening to right now, the list was long and distinguished. They are listening to Ricky Dillard, Robert Glass, Jazzmeia Horn, Christian Scott, Buster Williams, Dianne Reeves and Gregory Porter.
Jean’s first concert? Anita Ward in South Carolina as a tween. “This first concert came back full circle when Zhané did a cover of “Ring My Bell.” As an aside, hearing Jean sing the song spontaneously was pretty spectacular.
Marcus’s first concert? Commissioned when he was 10 years old.
The Baylor Project will be on the Chandler Center for the Arts main stage 7:30pm Saturday, Jan. 22, featuring an eclectic sound influenced by gospel, blues, soul and jazz. Be prepared to be swept up on original compositions and new arrangements of classic pieces of music that will inspire and move you.
Tickets are on sale now, $36 – $56, online at chandercenter.org or by calling the box office at 480-782-2680.