This hip-hop-loving Toronto jazz trio has jammed with Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator and been flown to the U.K. at the behest of BBC legend Gilles Peterson—and they’re barely old enough to drink legally.
Who: Badbadnotgood is a trio of hyper-talented young jazz musicians who’ve played just seven live shows to date. Already, the world is watching.
Ranging in age from 19 to 21, Badbadnotgood’s Matthew Tavares (piano, synths), Alex Sowinski (drums, pig’s head) and Chester Hansen (bass) met in the Music Performance program at Humber College. The three bonded through a shared love of jazz musicians including John Coltrane and Robert Glasper and rappers like Lil B and Waka Flocka Flame. The influences may sound incongruous, but not to these avid hip-hop fans who originally began jamming as The Odd Trio.
“We all come from different musical beginnings and tastes, but we share a lot of common musical interests,” offers Hansen. “More importantly, we share an open-mindedness towards all types of music. We believe it’s hugely important for musicians to keep all avenues open, and try to understand all types of music, even if they don’t play them often, or at all. We show each other music all the time that we wouldn’t have come across on our own.”
They’re doing the same for generations of music fans, turning hip-hop heads on to post-bop jazz while opening other ears through gifted playing. Badbadnotgood first made waves last spring and summer by posting a series of YouTube videos in which they performed tight jazz interpretations of songs by Odd Future, A Tribe Called Quest, Flying Lotus and others. Regular uploads of well-crafted clips has resulted in almost two million views through their YouTube channel.
What: “We try and take the best aspects of jazz—the soul, improvisation and interaction that make it great —and combine that with the raw emotion and energy of rap, punk and TheBasedGod [i.e., Lil B]—basically, music that doesn’t give a fuck,” Hansen says. “We put out a lot of energy on stage, investing as much of ourselves as possible in the music. We make music honestly, and sincerely.”
Badbadnotgood blends a bitchin’ brew. The band’s recordings feature shockingly deep jazz re-thinks of hip-hop and rock favourites alongside a smattering of strong originals. Their debut Badbadnotgood EP, released in June 2011, featured two medleys of Odd Future covers, a crowd-pleasing rendition of Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard In The Paint” and their own “Salmonella” original.
September brought the fantastic, 12-song BBNG mixtape, which boasted a beautiful interpretation of Slum Village’s “Fall in Love,” back-to-back covers of Gang Starr‘s “Mass Appeal” and Joy Division‘s “Transmission,” tributes to The Legend of Zelda video games, and a host of originals. Also in September, Badbadnotgood recorded their debut show—a jam-packed affair at The Red Light—and shared it online soon after as BBNG Live1.
The band followed it with December’s BBNGSINGLE and last month’s BBNG Live2, recorded inside London, England’s Club Koko on January 21.
Badbadnotgood’s digital releases are also available for free download. This is a band that’s confident, enthusiastic and mad stoked that people are listening. They’re also aware that kids who pogo at Badbadnotgood shows may explore more jazz as a direct result.
“We’re very happy that people check out other jazz because of us,” says Hansen. “One of our goals is to make people realize that the word ‘jazz,’ in our minds at least, has a very broad definition. Jazz should be music that pushes boundaries, has a lot of energy, and is original and creative—not derivative.
“Unfortunately, many musicians today are obsessed with trying to sound exactly like the great artists of the past, and thus are not staying true to the real spirit of what jazz should be. To be crystal clear, we all love many jazz artists from the ‘Golden Era,’ but there’s a difference between having influences and clinging to the music of 40-to-60 years ago.”
Why: Badbadnotgood may stay true to the jazz tradition of performing covers alongside originals, but the band’s reference points are very much of the now. Their playing is also inspired, creating a heat that’s caught on like wildfire. First, Odd Future’s charismatic, but contentious, front man Tyler, The Creator saw Badbadnotgood’s video tributes and tweeted about them, bringing in a couple hundred thousand new views. This also led to an invite for the band to jam with Tyler. The resulting one-take versions of Odd Future songs were, of course, caught on video.
Since then, Badbadnotgood has received heaps of attention from a variety of blogs and publications, including Respect, Prefix, Hypebeast and Exclaim!, whose writer David Dacks called the band “2011′s gateway drug into deeper states of consciousness.”
Hell, Badbadnotgood even made the VICE squad cop to the fact that not all jazz sucks, when their writer described the trio as “a hip-hop jazz band from Toronto who’s doing a pretty admirable job of kicking the jazz world’s ass back into relevancy.”
But the number of “Likes” on Badbadnotgood’s Facebook page really began to climb after influential BBC DJ and host Gilles Peterson became one of the band’s biggest champions. Not only did Peterson play BBNG on his Worldwide radio program, he also flew the threesome to London to perform at his highly publicized Worldwide Awards shows in January and record at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios.
“It was a really crazy weekend,” Hansen shares. “Playing the Awards was probably the highlight—the crowd was bigger by far then anywhere else we’ve played—and we got to meet some really talented and cool artists, like Thundercat and his band, SBTRKT, and the xx. We owe a lot to Gilles for showing so many people our music, and bringing us out there to play. He’s a really great guy.”
Badbadnotgood has received much praise for their live performances, but this one from UK magazine Jazzwise speaks volumes:
“Not yet graduated from their course at Canada’s Humber College, the band have done what so many others have tried and failed at: they’ve brought jazz improvisation to a new and young audience. The reasons for their success are simple: they play songs that today’s youth know, their music is for the dance floor rather than seated venues and finally and perhaps most importantly they give away all their music for free.”
What’s Next: Badbadnotgood is finishing up new, self-produced album BBNG2, which is said to feature more original material.
“It’s the first thing we’ve recorded in a professional studio, so it’s going to sound exponentially better than anything we’ve put out so far,” says Hansen. “It’s going to come out at the end of this month so keep an eye out.”
The band’s summer schedule is also filling up with dates, no doubt including a number of high-profile festivals.
“We just want to play as much as possible, and collaborate with a wide range of artists. We also want to move into the production side of things; that’s equally as interesting to us as playing live. And we’ll always follow the number one rule: Change the game!”
Where & When: Badbadnotgood performs as part of the Union Events CMW showcase at Wrongbar (1279 Queen St. W.) on March 23. Also on the bill are Lunice, Ango, Zodiac, Mymanhenri, Humans and Voltaire Twins. $15.
Fun fact: “We all just dropped out of school, and we’re thinking about legally changing our names to have no vowels.”