Josh Rawlings’ music taking flight with ‘The Teaching’

May 11, 2014

By Neil Pierson

New: May 11, 3:51 p.m.

Josh Rawlings has had a solid foothold in the Seattle music scene for several years, but the past year has seen his stock soar to unprecedented levels.
Rawlings, a 2001 graduate of Skyline High School, is an accomplished pianist who dabbles in a rainbow of genres, from classic jazz and rock to hip-hop and soul.
A serendipitous connection shot Rawlings into the national limelight. His jazz trio, The Teaching – which includes bassist Evan Flory-Barnes and drummer Jeremy Jones – earned a 2014 Grammy Award nomination for their collaboration on “BomBom,” part of rapper Macklemore’s and producer Ryan Lewis’ award-winning album, “The Heist.”
The members of The Teaching sat down last week for an interview at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, where they were preparing for a private performance.

Sammamish Review: When did you realize music could be a profession rather than just a hobby?
Rawlings: Growing up, music was a passion of mine, but I didn’t really have a clear idea if I was going to go into the arts for a career. It was all for fun – jam bands, playing with my friends, copying whatever I heard on the radio and dazzling people.
The definitive moment that pretty much sold me on studying piano was hearing a wonderful gospel pianist named Louise Rose. What she did, singing and playing just beautiful, gospel-style jazz piano, it struck me deeply.
Jones: There were a few different points I remember specifically: In fifth grade, deciding I wanted to play drums in the band. Seventh grade, I got my first drum set. The other turning point was in ninth grade when I had the option to do marching band, symphonic band and jazz band, or stick with basketball and soccer. And I thought, “I think I can do this music thing for life. But I think sports are only for high school.”

SR: How did the connection happen with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis?
Rawlings: There’s a trumpet player who plays with Macklemore named Owuor Arunga. He’s been a close friend of all of ours, just being a fellow jazz musician in the Seattle scene.
Long story short, he was working with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and Ryan had a specific vision for a jazz trio to play on “BomBom.” Knowing Owuor has a jazz background, Ryan asked, “Do you know any guys in the (Seattle) scene that could do this and just knock it out of the park?” And he said, “I know these guys called The Teaching. Look them up.”
I didn’t know how big they really were, so we just went in the studio and did our thing. We crushed it. And I remember Ben Haggerty (Macklemore’s real name) and Ryan Lewis just bobbing their heads. They were so into what we were doing.

SR: What was the trip to January’s Grammy Awards ceremony like?
Flory-Barnes: It’s like part media circus party, part show. We were sitting in the audience and you see Beyonce. There’s kind of a surreal quality. There’s Stevie Wonder – he’s performing.
We walked the red carpet twice. The first time was for the pre-awards show, and that felt good. That was easy-going. But then the telecast show, that was the circus, people just getting herded through kind of quickly.

SR: The Teaching released its fourth album, “Birds in Flight,” this week. Is there anything new in terms of the sound you’re producing?
Jones: We have several songs on there – “Unsheathed Sword,” “Authenticity,” “Get ‘Em Blues” – where Josh basically functions as the lead vocalist. That was something we didn’t have at all on our first couple CDs.
Rawlings: The vocals on the CD are definitely a unique thing, and then the title track is written for a dear friend of ours named Matt Hebermehl, who did all of the artwork for our CDs. He had an art installation in Savannah, Ga., where he resides, called Birds in Flight. It’s kind of a CD that pays homage to him.
SR: Who are your biggest musical influences, both individually and as a group?
Flory-Barnes: We sat next to one of them at the Grammys – a great bassist, Christian McBride, who’s a phenomenal player. I’d also say the early ‘60s blue-note recordings, particularly Wayne Shorter and the Bill Evans Trio.
Jones: In high school, my biggest influence was the drummer for the Dave Matthews Band, Carter Beauford.
Robert Glasper, a pianist in New York, is one that kind of tied The Teaching together, because I think at the time we started playing, he had just released his second album, “Canvas,” and we were all listening to it. It had these lush chords that would bring kind of a devotional, spiritual mood, and then also use the backbeat of the hip-hop, and that’s kind of the spirit of our group.
Rawlings: Growing up, my parents listened to a lot of Billy Joel and Elton John, and those were the guys that were making the piano like this rock-star, superstar, iconic thing.
Groups that I think are kind of in line with what we’ve been trying to do with our sound are Medeski, Martin and Wood; the Oscar Peterson Trio; the Brad Mehldau Trio.

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