Photo of Ronald Bruner Jr. courtesy of Ronald Bruner Jr.
Ronald Bruner Jr. Talks Jazz, 'West Coast Get Down' + More [Interview]
Photo of Ronald Bruner Jr. courtesy of Ronald Bruner Jr.
There are quite a few famous families in the music business: the Jacksons, the Braxtons, the Debarges, the Isleys and the Leverts to name some off top of the dome. But, unless you're a true music geek for knowing who's who, you might not yet know of the Bruner Bunch. The Grammy Award winning family of musicians consist of keyboardist Jameel Bruner, formerly of The Internet; Stephen Bruner, a celebrated bassist whose recent project Drunk reunites him with To Pimp a Butterfly star Kendrick Lamar and father, Ronald BrunerSr., a drummer who has worked with Diana Ross, The Temptations and Gladys Knight.
Bruner Jr., a member of the West Coast Get Down collective, acquired strong musical knowledge that enabled him to perform with artists such as Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter. With credits longer than a giraffe's neck, Ronald Bruner Jr. has remained one of the go-to-performers for musicians looking for a diversified style. With his debut album, Triumph out on March 3, the soulful romp features childhood friend Kamasi Washington, ingenious rap lyricist Mac Miller and jazz legend George Duke Continuing to build his rep as a dynamic performer and genre-redefiner — Ronald Bruner Jr. deserves to have his name amongst the greats.
We sat down with the older brother of Brainfeeder's bassist sensation, Thundercat, and spoke with him about his West Coast Get Down family, his upcoming tour and more. Enjoy!
Okayplayer: How would you describe your album to someone that has never heard it before?
Ronald Bruner Jr.: My music is a way of you seeing the many colors of who I am. My normal is crazy. Everybody has the same first inclination when they hear my music: there's too much going on. But that is me. I was playing heavy progressive bebop and punk rock at the same time. Then I'd play in a funk group acting like I didn't know about either. I can't write a record with a continuous line through it. That's not who I am. Now, I am thankful that people say it is expressive and it is different.
OKP: Tell me about producing your album the same time Kamasi Washington made The Epic.
RB: I have known Kamasi Washington since I was born. We started The Young Jazz Giants along with Thundercat and Cameron Graves. The Original Four. At the KLS sessions, all of the West Coast Get Down were together with our ideas and skeletal structures of our music individually. Because we were in the room together, it gave us an opportunity for us all to touch each others projects.
OKP: When did you notice success of the L.A. musicians in the West Coast Get Down?
Photo of Ronald Bruner Jr. courtesy of Ronald Bruner Jr.RB: Thundercat cracked open the door. Kamasi [Washington] unscrewed the hinges on the door. I'm gonna knock the wall down the door's attached to. This is a beautiful movement in the West that has been bubbling for a while now. I saw it happening when people started showing their appreciation towards my brother and [Flying] Lotus for their endeavors in musical expression that we all were a part of.
When we touch Kendrick [Lamar's] record, it gave us coal to start our trains moving forward. It's our time. My Los Angeles family is at the plate to bat and we are swinging for the fences. When that ball heads over the fence, the whole squad is running the bases. We all have the same goal, which is to express how we feel as honest as possible. The West used to be a place you would go to drink boxed wine and listen to smooth jazz. We chose to attack our norm and change the formula.
OKP: Talk about where the West Coast Get Down fits into the history of jazz music.
RB: Jazz is a very high form of expression that, through the years, got diluted. Jazz is a music that came from the blues. It gives a chance for the people that put that little extra work into their thing an outlet to express the work and devotion to their craft. It is an original American musical language and dialogue. As it grew, it was infiltrated by motherfuckers that weren't real.
It turned into some really weird shit. You ever taken an orange and squeezed it into a cup and had a glass of raw orange juice? It's like if you took half of that juice and added water to it. It tastes good—but not as good. That's what happened [with jazz]. Not many can transcend rhythm and harmony like John Coltrane, so jazz wasn't breathing. My homeboys and I defibrillator it. Now, you have people like us screaming, 'Fuck it!' because opinion doesn't matter. These are times to respect and love people. Everybody needs to be heard.
OKP: Who are some of the biggest artists you’ve played with that help defines your history?
RB: I have had the opportunity to play with such greats as Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Prince, Kendrick Lamar and Al Jarreau, who recently passed. Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, Kenny Garrett, Stanley Clarke and many more as well. Kamasi and I shared the experience of having our first gig out of town together, which through the Thelonious Monk Institute, we played with the likes of Wayne Shorter and many more for then-Vice President Al Gore.
OKP: You haven't begun touring for this record yet, but will you sing and drum at the same time like Anderson .Paak?
RB: I am changing now that I am becoming an artist [myself]. I was a crazy motherfucker as a kid. A protégé dude that nobody could fuck with on drums. I was so secure in myself as a drummer. But this album has altered my whole personality. I have always used my drumming ability as a buffer. I was playing a gig and sang "Take The Time" in 2008. I was doing my thing and grooving. Then, at the end of last year, this cat wanted to meet me and it was Anderson .Paak. He said, 'Man, I was at your first show and you don't realize how much of an influence you are to me.' I was about to tell him how much I appreciated what he was doing for drummers! For the tour, though, I'll have two drummers. Some songs I want to get off on the drums and sing and I want people to interact with people.
OKP: Is your son, Ronald Bruner III, a musician? Talk about the music lineage of your family.
RB: My son is 10-years-old. He is a producer, rapper and beat maker. He's on the next record. That little boy is a genius and he's so used to expressive music. For him to get the same energy that I get when I hear music is so much easier and effortless for him. I love it. Each generation has an innate forwardness to the understanding of the past. It's wild. My actual dream is to unite us [Bruner's] all together to touch the next record. We're all chasing our dreams and aspirations, but I will forever continue to unify us and bring us all together. Love is power. Power is motion. Motion is forward. See you in Tomorrowland.
Bryan Kalbrosky is a Los Angeles-based writer and the editor of the Rams Wire for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. He has published words with L.A. Weekly, The Huffington Post, FOX Sports and Bleacher Report. Follow him (and us!) on Twitter @BryanKalbrosky.