Guest blogger Tina Aguilar teaches humanities and cultural studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.
This week I had the opportunity to visit with Dallas funk and jazz icon Roger Boykin and his R&B Ensemble students at the Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Some music history: Boykin, along with fellow funk musician Wendell Sneed, organized the South Dallas Pop Festival in the early 1970s. Both are good souls who have mentored many young musicians over the years. Electricity abounds in this creative oasis of the Dallas Arts District with the aura of students, staff, and the streaming echoes of a xylophone and dialogue of theater students in the hallway where I wait. I am greeted by Dena Townsend, Associate Principal, who smiles and reflects how Boykin is “so supportive of our students.” She continues, “I’ll often come in and see what they’re doing. Music has the ability to alter any mood you might be in and they are always doing something different in his class.”
Roger took the time to answer some of my questions about his students and his work.
Tina Aguilar: Can you tell me about your R&B students?
Roger Boykin: The R&B students are primarily music majors, although a couple of them come from the theater cluster. We have 7 vocalists, 1 drummer who also sings, 3 other drummers, one of whom plays vibes also, and one of whom plays bass and guitar also. We have 2 trumpet players (one female), 2 saxophone players, one of whom also plays drums. We have 2 guitar players (one of whom plays drums and piano). There are 2 full-time bass players and a keyboardist. That’s a total of 20 musicians and singers. The class is listed officially as Vocal Ensemble III, but it has always been understood to be the R&B Ensemble. This school year we gave the performing group the name “Liquid Funk.” There was an R&B group by that name in Dallas in the 1970s. We stole their name since they no longer exist. We play mostly music from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. I wanted the group to play “real” R&B from the Golden Age of R&B. I write 95% of the arrangements and they include music by such artists as Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, James Brown, The Ohio Players, The Temptations, Michael Jackson, and other such artists. There are a few of my originals in the book as well.
T. A.: I did see the R&B Ensemble audition results posted on the door. What does that mean for students?
R. B.: We have 12 seniors in the group. After auditions took place we identified band members for next year. Some of the present members will be returning next year. New members have to be broken in. This process usually takes about 6 weeks.
T. A.: How do you decide what pieces to teach and develop each term or quarter?
R. B.: I usually decide on about 90% of the repertoire, based on music that I played in my formative years. The band members sometimes suggest material, which we add, if appropriate.
T. A.: “Fire” by The Ohio Players is a favorite of mine. Can you tell me about the range of songs your students performed during my visit?
R. B.: When you heard us, we were playing funk standards with the exception of “Trouble Sleeping,” a song from 2006 British singer, Corinne Bailey Ray. This piece was added to feature vocalist Ashley Montez, at her request.
T. A.: What are the preparations like for the events or performances that your students participate in during the year?
R. B.: The students like to perform off-campus for community organizations. We get these gigs via phone calls from interested non-profit groups, schools, senior centers and such. They also like to perform at school in front of their fellow students. For the past two years we have performed at Neiman Marcus’s downtown store. Those were particularly enjoyable gigs. Other performances include: Paul Quinn College, the Hilton Anatole Hotel, the House of Blues, the Winspear, and a couple of other off-campus sites.
T. A.: Can you tell me about the upcoming “Taste of the Arts” event and history?
R. B.: “Taste of the Arts” started as an on-campus event featuring students from all four clusters: visual arts, dance, theatre, and music. It usually includes a silent auction and food in the hallways. Works of visual art are viewed throughout the building. In recent years the event was moved off-campus, but returns to campus this year. This gives visitors a chance to see what we do here and where it all happens.
T. A.: What inspires you lately and what is your performance schedule like for the next few months?
R. B.: I am inspired by deadlines and commissions as well as by the many exciting young musicians I encounter almost daily. I have been performing lately at the Dallas Museum of Art, about 15 times last year and 5 times this year. I freelance as well, all over the Metroplex.
Liquid Funk will perform at “Taste of the Arts” at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on May 14 and the festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. Roger Boykin will be featured on Monday night, May 17, at Brooklyn Jazz Café as part of an inaugural Legends on Monday Nights series. There will be more to come about these vibes.