Antonio Fargas & The New Jump Blues
'Daddy Who? Daddy Cool!'
Based in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, The New Jump Blues is a tight combo of veteran musicians that bring new energy to a style that has its roots in the swing era. The New Jump Blues blends up-tempo elements of blues and jazz and adding touches of calypso to ensure that every listener, or perhaps even a casual passerby, will stop and have a great time.
The ensemble showcases dynamic front man Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas, who gained fame as an actor earning the nickname as the iconic street character from the mid-'70s television series Starsky & Hutch. He has also appeared in countless films such as 'I'm Gonna Get You, Sucka', 'Foxy Brown,' and played a recurring role on the hit TV show Everybody Hates Chris.
The New Jump Blues also features additional vocalists Adrian Battle and Airreal Watkins and is packaged as an exuberant revue-style stage show with dazzling choreography giving its audience an authentic dance hall experience reminiscent of the 40's and 50's.
Their debut self-titled album, set for release May 20th, and produced by Ahi-Nama label owner Jimmy Maslon, features 11 tracks arranged by the band’s musical director, tenor saxophonist Bill Ungerman. The tunes range from up-tempo dance numbers to soulful blues, and even the festive bounce of a second-line, New Orleans street parade in 'Mama’s Got to Have Two,' one of a pair of original compositions by Al Basile. "Daddy” Fargas makes his solo vocal debut on 'You Showed Me,' Basile’s cool jazz take on betrayal and payback.
Chatting recently with "Huggy Bear" himself Antonio Fargas, who has also just been named Brand Ambassador for NBC's COZI TV, I first wondered how he was feeling today? "I'm good. Smiling today! It's the second day on the job as Brand Ambassador for COZI TV and I've got other projects that I'm working on also. I'm working on a film, I've got another film that I may be doing this summer, and so life is good," he indeed smiles.
With regard your new musical project, The New Jump Blues, where did the idea originate for you? "Well, there's an era of music called The Jump Blues, that's sort of a transitioning between swing and jazz and blues. It's a combination of people like Louis Jordan, Louis Prima, Wynonie Harris, and other Jump Blues artists. And I discovered this all through partnering with my friend, and partner in The New Jump Blues. After putting our heads together we found that we needed something to express our love of music."
"Music has always been a part of my life and I've always loved the discipline, and so I was just trying to find a way to express that. I have a little experience with that by doing a musical. In fact, my history with music goes back to just loving music, in general. I was just coming back from Europe at 18 years old and whilst I was living in New York they were casting the Broadway company for 'Hair.' James Rado, one of the writers and producers of the play here were casting the role of Hud. I had come back from Europe with this Georgie Fame tune that I had heard, called 'Something,' and I delivered this song, in my own special kind of way, and they were so impressed that they actually hired me for the Broadway production."
It all sounds too good to be true! "Well, it was also the only show I was ever fired from, because during rehearsals they found out I really wasn't a singer! I wasn't a disciplined singer, but that disappointment only made me tell myself that I had to wait my turn a little longer and find my own voice. And I found my voice in The New Jump Blues, because it really comes from a character who is telling stories with his music. Along with a great, great band, of course. So it gives me the opportunity to do what I do best: which is acting as well as finding my lyrical and, I guess, my Rex Harrison voice. In terms of setting poetry and stories to music and so forth."
So there must be times, up there live on stage with The New Jump Blues, where singing and acting comes together and you feel like you're wearing a mask, per say? "I love the mask. I've made my living behind the mask," he laughs. "What I love about singers, and their abilities, is that every song is another story and another character. So definitely character working has been my stock in trade since forever. So when I found that I could deliver and I could be whoever I wanted to be up on stage, I knew it was the right fit for me."
"I consider myself the Flavor Flav of The New Jump Blues and the Ike Turner of The New Jump Blues! It's my generosity, my mentor ship, and about what I bring to the table. It's also about these two young singers, who really carry the load of the singing, but it's that I am the anchor. I am the anchor of The New Jump Blues and also the hook. It's just another character for me to be, "Daddy" Fargas of The New Jump Blues and to deliver that, and to have fun with these two lovely and talented players that I play with, plus the experienced band, it's just a steak dinner set for someone like me to come on in and feast and to allow people to do their thing."
"To quarterback The New Jump Blues is an honor. We got an opportunity to put that on the stage, particularity last summer when we played the Playboy Jazz Festival, which was the ultimate for us, to be in one of the meccas of music and to have people enjoy it. To have the support of the Playboy Jazz Festival folks that believed we had something exciting and different when they came to see us at another venue was very honoring. They were just so impressed with something that they hadn't seen on stage in a while: which was people having fun together, playing good music, having a great foundation, and that we had something fresh."
"And then the advancement of this was to be picked for my experience for COZI TV, which was amazing also. I was doing an interview about vintage television about Starsky & Hutch and I gave them a copy of our new CD, which was soon to be released, and they got so excited by what that whole personalty represented; and the history of the music and my persona, that it evolved into this wonderful relationship. So now I have this new appointment as Brand Ambassador for COZI TV, which is, in a sense, the best of vintage television of an era that I represented in television with Starsky & Hutch and all the other great shows of that time. It is just such an honor."
"But COZI TV is not just like all the other shows, like Nick At Nite and all the other television formats that use and display this content, because COZI TV has it's own context. It's warm and friendly, and it makes you feel that Antonio Fargas and The New Jump Blues was the perfect format for them to do their do their campaign. It highlights how cool COZI TV is and how Antonio Fargas is this cool cat from the seventies. Which is something that I've represented, not only in television, but also in the vintage and the historical moments that I've been blessed in 55 years of doing this. In film, in television, and of course, the theater, which is the mothership of where it all came from. It's where I actually started acting."
Watching the YouTube videos of The New Jump Blues band producing one heck of an exuberant revue-style stage show, complete with some dazzling choreography, just saying that exhausts me! How is it for you though actually doing it live? "I get exhausted myself," he laughs, "but I get so much energy built up inside me beforehand. I liken it to some football players who go out there and they spend that energy, even though you forget that your legs hurt! You just get into character, and then you realize, like a horse in the Derby, they may break a leg, but they keep on running. And that's how it is. You just have to be in shape and that's why all these athletes, whether it be mentally, spiritually or physically, you have to stay in shape, because it's very demanding."
"Because when you reach down, and you don't have it, you have to go into your bag of tricks," he laughs. "I mean, you look at Mick Jagger today. He's still got it, but he's definitely economized and that's how it is. As we get older we get more vintage. But for me to go up there with those youngsters and hold my own and also contribute, we put a lot of energy into it, because of the love."
So, just how much of those stage routines are choreographed? "It doesn't always look like it's choreographed, it just looks really natural, which is what I love. Because we don't all spend hours and hours training so that we look like Motown people doing all this wonderful choreography and all that," he laughs, "we just know how to play together. We know how to use the stage. I help pull focus and I help the others also so that through my experience those youngsters still pick up on that. We have a great time in re-enacting that, getting into the characters, and supporting each other."
"When someone is in the audience and they see that onstage they appreciate that. Looking out from where we do, or the Hollywood Bowl stage, I can imagine how powerful it must feel for rock bands to play stadiums and things. Or for a ballet artist to look out into the audience of Carnegie Hall. Or whoever it is and wherever it is. I get it, but doing this musically and trying to connect to the audience, to be breaking the third wall in a musical presentation, that feels good, man."
"It makes us all feel good and we're so excited because The New Jump Blues and Antonio Fargas will be in taxi cabs and on TV and on COZITV.com, because we're going to be presenting all this wonderful content for them that we've already discussed. We're going to be doing a lot of things in a lot of new areas. So it's an exciting time for Antonio Fargas and it's an exciting time for The New Jump Blues."
So, will The New Jump Blues be coming to Detroit to play live any time soon, perhaps? "I'm looking forward to playing live, and to Antonio Fargas being on COZI TV, but I am looking forward to playing jazz festivals and all those places that will welcome us. I think the ultimate thing I believe, is that I would like to see The New Jump Blues be the musical act on Saturday Night Live. That is my ultimate goal so we're working towards that. We're working in exposing what we do to as many places as possible. I still have a life, I still have other career opportunities, so I have to really pick my spots, but Detroit is very special to me as I have family there as well. I've played there in theaters and my son went to Michigan University - Big Blue. So I have a lot of fond memories of Michigan. So, yes, I would love to bring The New Jump Blues there. So, look out for us, because more than likely, at some point, we shall come to Detroit."
Finally, please sum Antonio Fargas up in just three words "Love, Spirit/God, and Giving."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'Rum And Coca Cola' by The New Jump Blues (featuring Antonio Fargas) @ Westside Jazz Fest 2013
NBC's COZI TV Official Trailer
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED The New Jump Blues CD from Antonio Fargas himself (and, possibly both Adrian Battle and Airreal Watkins also!), just answer this question about the great man: In 2008, Fargas acted in which-named British boxing film?
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win an AUTOGRAPHED The New Jump Blues CD from Antonio Fargas himself! Just send us an e:mail here before October 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: SIGNED THE NEW JUMP BLUES CDs to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out Part 2 of our BRAND NEW interview with ANTONIO FARGAS where he talks about 'Starsky & Hutch,' his other work on TV, his plays both on and Off-Broadway, and where he stands today, in life, as who he has discovered himself to be:
Antonio Fargas Interview - Part 2