Right on the beat

Funk band headlines outdoor concert at Lied Center

Thursday, August 24, 2000

Jesse Jackson will appear at Kansas University's Lied Center Friday evening, and he's bringing a few of his friends along for the show.

Only this Mr. Jackson is not the famous politician-slash-reverend, instead he's the front man for the Jesse Jackson Five, an eclectic mix of musicians that groove on their own original sounds.

Mixing jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop and Latino into playful rhythmic fusion helps to get the crowd on its feet and sets the band apart from other area funksters. And they prefer it that way.

"Every song is different, and I've not heard any group yet that sounds like us," Bill Pile said.

Pile works as the group's DJ, keeping the groove moving on his turntable. Jackson is the vocalist and the emcee. Other members include Mike Warren, drums; David Gray, bass; Michael Hamm, guitar; and Rich Bologna, keyboards.

Part of the band's charm is its musical diversity, which is boosted by the experience that the different members bring to the group.

Warren has played extensively in the Kansas City jazz scene, and has toured with such legends as Winton Marsalis. David Gray recently toured with the '70s soul group Bloodstone and regularly backs up soul-gospel vocalist Oleta Adams.

Bologna works as lyricist and songwriter, while Jackson is heavy into musical arrangements.

And when the group jams together, they all bring something to the session to add to what Jackson and Bologna have created.

"It's collectively done. Rich (Bologna) and Jesse (Jackson) are very much into the arrangements, but everyone plays their own part in the process," Pile said.

Because of their musical pedigrees, the band is able to separate for other ventures and then reconnect without missing a beat. Literally.

"We probably don't practice as much as other bands, but these guys play with a high level of skill and are so on point that it's a very tight group," Pile added.

The Jesse Jackson Five definitely doesn't want to limit itself with one musical genre, and its music and lyrics embrace a cross-section of styles.

On "Be-bop to hip-hop," for example, the tune celebrates the connection between old-time jazz and new hip-hop, and points out the influence jazz has had on its young musical sibling.

The group plans a tour that will start out in the Midwest and then take them east to venues in Washington, D.C., and New York City before heading back to the Kansas City area.

The band has a demo tape that is available at concerts, and is laboring to have a completed CD by the time the tour starts.

"We've been recording for the last year and a half. The album never ends," Pile said with a laugh.

Sharing the stage

The Jesse Jackson Five is sharing the stage Friday night with two other area bands as part of the Lied Center's Fifth Annual Free Outdoor Concert.

Coyote Project takes the stage at 6:45 p.m., the Michael Beers Band follows at 7:45 p.m. and Jesse Jackson Five closes out the night at 9:15 p.m.

Coyote Project won Pitch Weekly's 2000 Klammie Award for best folk act. Based in Lawrence, the six-piece band focuses on original material, with four vocalists contributing collectively and individually to the band's sound.

The Michael Beers Band is a four-piece ensemble that has played the area for nearly 20 years and has earned a reputation as a premiere dance band. The band plays tunes from the '60s and '70s along with modern pop and rock hits.

The event will start at 6 p.m. and will include an information fair in the courtyard. Free balloons, face painting and information on local arts organizations, businesses and clubs will be available.