The Black Women In Jazz Association’s Flutist of the year is a big supporter of public school arts programs. Grammy nominated keyboardist Patrice Rushen is on her new CD “Quantum Drive”.
B.Seed : Thank you Ragan for being on Brightseedblog. A Flutist, vocalist, and songwriter. “She not only has THE silkiest and sweetest flute tone in the business, but her tenacity and desire to be recognized in Urban, New-Soul AND smooth jazz genres makes her a musical force to be reckoned with!! Mark my words!” – Bob Baldwin. It sounds simple. So what is, in not too technical terms, a flute tone?
Ragan : The flute tone is the core quality of the sound that is achieved by the combination of the instrument and the musician playing it. Like all instruments, the flute has many different colors when it comes to tone; some like it smokey, some like it rich and dark, some like it light and birdlike, etc.
B.Seed : Growing up was their anyone you listen to because you liked their flute tone/sound? Did/do you listen to flutist who were involved 70-80’s jazz fusion, say Bobby Humphery, Hubert Laws or someone like that?
Ragan : It’s funny – growing up, I mainly listened to artists like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Rick James, Ella Fitzgerald, and Kathleen Battle – not many flutists at all. I found out about Hubert Laws when he and Kathleen Battle did a show together called “Spirituals in Concert” and I was blown away by the sound he got out of that gold flute. However, I didn’t really get into jazz flute that heavily until after college, so classical flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal was in my CD player while I was learning classical pieces for auditions, etc.
B.Seed : Your bio says you began Your musical journey at age five. What were you doing back then that made your parents believe that you “had natural music talents”?
Ragan : My favorite toys were always the musical ones and while some 3 year olds were banging on the piano, I was trying to gently pick out a tune. When I was 4, they got me this little tinker piano (which I still have) and it was my favorite thing in the world. I basically wanted to play anything I could get my hands on. When I was 5, I was finally old enough to go to music camp, which I attended every summer through high school.
B.Seed : As a kid Jazz/classical Flutist Elena Pinderhughes, through the Young Musicians Program formerly the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra started by UC Berkeley, had an opportunity to take week-long seminars with many jazz greats including Patrice Rushin who appears on your new CD/album “Quantum Drive”. Were you involved with any youth programs/ensembles that stick out in your mind as being instrumental or helpful?
Ragan : There were a lot of programs that helped me – one of which was the music camp I mentioned earlier. Summer Creative Arts was a four-week program where kids from 5-17 could study music, art, dance, and theater and I played just about every instrument and performed in every play. In addition, I participated in various youth orchestras and competitions. The most memorable competition was NAACP’s ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics). I won the silver medal at Nationals for a classical flute duet I composed when I was 17.
B.Seed : A graduate of Mt. Vernon High School in Mt. Vernon, NY i believe. Some great NBA players went there. Ben Gordon, who won an NCAA championship, Scooter & Rodney McCray, Gus Williams, who won an NBA championship. Gus came all the way to the west coast to go to college(USC). You also left the state for college. Were there any schools you considered in New York such as The Julliard or The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music?
Ragan : Yup, I’m from “Money earnin’ Mt. Vernon”. I’ve always been a very independent, adventurous, free spirit, so going to college 20 minutes from home (even though they are world class schools) was very far from my mind. I wanted to get out and experience life outside of NY. As a matter of fact, I didn’t apply to any schools in NY.
B.Seed : The Cleveland Institute of Music. You also went to the Harid Conservatory with a criteria for admission, according to their webpage, including among other things: “A reasonable level and quality of prior ballet training .. A physique possessing the various attributes (structure, proportion, flexibility, line) that are generally considered requisite for professional accomplishment in ballet.” Was this ballet aspect of the qualification a concern for you or really that important? What did Lynn University, Conservatory offer that led you to enroll there?
Ragan : The Harid Conservatory was a very special place. When I was there, it was a music conservatory (college) and a ballet conservatory (high school). It was created and supported by an anonymous donor and only accepted enough students to form a chamber orchestra (around 80-90 students at a time). I was part of the last graduating class before the music division was annexed by Lynn University. I’m really glad that my audition did not involve any demi-pointes!
B.Seed : Jazz Publicist Lynne Lyons. Was she your first publicist? Are you still working with her?
Ragan : Lynne was not my first publicist, but yes, I’m still working with Lynne – she’s great.
B.Seed : Smooth jazz, jazz funk. “It was in this little jazz club in Scarsdale .. I’m sitting right up front and I’m blown away. I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do.” You were listening to jazz pianist, music composer, author, and producer Bob Baldwin who helped you get into jazz. You also have a record company, Randis music, started with producer/engineer Dennis Johnson. Are things going somewhat as you thought they would? Any tips for those who want to start this kind of business?
Ragan : Yes, Bob Baldwin has been a friend and mentor ever since that concert. I had *just* graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in classical music performance and no intention of going into classical music. It was the first time in my life where I had no idea what I was going to do with myself (I had always been very focused). That night was a huge turning point in my life – I even met my husband as a result of that night! As for Randis, Dennis and I started Randis Music because we are both firm believers in creating your own opportunities. When we recorded my first album, we shopped it everywhere but at the time, nobody was checking for female musicians and they DEFINITELY were not checking for flutists. Also, commercial smooth jazz radio was imploding; radio stations left and right were flipping to other formats. However, social media was really starting to jump off in a big way and there were websites popping up where you could sell your music independently, so we jumped at the chance to make our own rules in this crazy industry. There are always ups and downs, especially with an industry in a constant state of flux, but at the end of the day, if you don’t want to wait for someone to hand you an opportunity, you have to do it yourself.
B.Seed : Class Axe 2007, Evolve 2012, and Quantum Drive July 8, 2014 which I just bought – very nice. Singer-songwriter, pianist Frank McComb, rapper Bo Valentine, soul-jazz flautist Althea Rene, how did it feel to be working with these great artists?
Ragan : It’s always wonderful to work with such talented people. Each artist brought their own signature vibe and created something special. I’m definitely looking forward to working with them again, and hopefully other artists as well.
B.Seed : In an interview on Blogtalk radio with RevBarbara, you mention studio work on an in-between project, a “six-pack” I believe, to be released this year. Can you tell us a little more about it – who is involved?
Ragan : Without giving away too much, the “six-pack” will be remixes of some of my favorite tunes from my first 3 albums. The remixes will be in a completely different genre than the originals.
B.Seed : Porter Carroll Jr, original member of Atlantic Starr, does a vocal duet with you on your song “On the Dance Floor” from your second CD, “Evolve”. Former Norman Connors band member Marion Meadow’s newest project, called Whisper, was released March 2013. You were on one of the tracks(Bottoms Up). You have collaborated with Latin Jazz Grammy nominated percussionist, conga drummer Chembo Corniel and many others. Does anyone, you have not worked with, stick out in your mind that you can say “I would like to work on something with them”?
Ragan : I would love to work with Prince. I have been visualizing it for a while now so hopefully it will manifest soon…
B.Seed : So whats next on the live show calendar for you in 2015 – any big plans?
Ragan : My next show is March 19th, where I will be doing a concert in Atlanta to help raise funds for the How Big is Your Dream Foundation. The concert features Peabo Bryson, Bob Baldwin, myself, and more. The foundation is dedicated to keeping the Arts in the schools. Later in the year I have shows in NYC, San Francisco, and Martha’s Vineyard – stay tuned for more info on my website: http://www.raganwhiteside.com
B.Seed : Thanks for being here. Anything you would like to say to our readers?
Ragan : For those of you familiar with my music, thank you so much for your support! If you’re just discovering my projects, I hope you dig the tunes! For everyone: I know so many people who would not be here today if it were not for Arts in the schools. It’s more than just playing an instrument or being on stage – it provides a focus for kids where there might not otherwise be one. Please support the Arts programs in public schools.
Ragan Whiteside Brings the Flute