*R&B legend Stokley, the singer and drummer of the iconic, self-contained ensemble Mint Condition, will be among the tremendous line-up of performers at the 2022 Jazz In The Gardens kicking off this weekend n South Florida. The event annually features a variety of acts, from funk to R&B to Neo-Soul and more. This year’s line-up features The Isley Brothers, H.E.R., Mary J. Blige, Rick Ross, SWV, The Roots with special guest T-Pain and Stokley’s amazing new ensemble.
Each year, since 2005, Jazz In The Gardens (JITG) a musical extravaganza, has taken place in Miami Gardens, a city in north-central Miami-Dade County Florida. Stokley, one of the featured acts on stage in the highly touted JITG concert is, shall we say, “stoked” about performing for the outdoor event.
“My favorite shows are outside,” said Stokley, when asked about performing outdoors in Miami. “The sound resonates to whoever can hear it. There’s nothing for the sound to bounce off of, so everybody can hear everything like crystal clear. As many people that can get in the Garden the better. This will be the second time I’m performing at Jazz In the Garden, the first was with Mint Condition. I’m excited for two reasons- as a soloist second, but first I’m just excited to get out because of 2020, so I’m glad to be out to play in front of people, spectators are glad to be out to enjoy the music, so that’s first and foremost.”
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Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Stokley, born Stokley Williams, has his roots deeply embedded in his hometown. When asked how is it living and growing up there, he had quite the candid answer: “Cold,” laughed Stokley, “But it’s a great place to raise a family. The school system is great, the housing is great, there’s job opportunities-a lot of arts and a lot of bands and a lot of music and stuff going on. I think maybe the cold helped us out that way because all we did was stayed in and practice.”
Although widely known as a sensational singer and vocalist, Stokley is a terrific drummer and session musician that plays 28 instruments. As a session musician and vocalist, the silky-voiced performer has graced stages and projects with Janet Jackson, The Sounds of Blackness, Johnny Gill, Karyn White, New Edition, Elton John, Brian Culbertson and Jill Scott among many others. When asked about his influences, the range of his talent has crossed several musical boundaries. He listened to many African and cultural percussion icons, including Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and Cuban sensations Mongo Santamaria and Chano Pozo. His drumming influences included Art Blakey, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Dennis Chambers and Tony Williams among others.
“That pretty much cemented me in my earlier days as I was coming up, percussion first and then moving to trap drums,” said Stokley. “That’s was the beginning for me.”
His beginnings of music began in Minneapolis, a rich musical town that featured the likes of Mind & Matter, Jimmy Jam’s group and Grand Central, Prince’s group. An instructor from Trinidad and Tobago was also instrumental in his musical development. “His tutelage helped me to learn the little bit of music theory I do know,” he said. But how did he start singing? After all, he was known as a drummer in Minneapolis.
“At one point I was playing in ten different bands at one time on drums, so that was my thing, and I came out as a drummer, a percussionist, that kind of thing,” he said. “So when I started singing it was like ‘he sings? What’s going on?” He started singing in high school, singing background for groups, but was inspired by artists like Al Green. “He was like 15 people inside one person,” he laughed. After performing with a singer that, well, wasn’t a good singer, it was decided that he was a better vocalist than the singer. He never looked back. He now finds it strange when people are surprised he plays drums. “We thought you were a singer, we didn’t know you play drums,” he laughed, a comment he gets all the time.
Later, with Mint Condition, Stokley was able to establish a tradition of self-contained, dynamic vocal and musical ensembles.
“We recorded and played and performed with a lot of our musical heroes. We’ve been on tour with Prince and it’s been an amazing experience- getting those head nods from Gladys Knight and Rick James and the people we grew up with,” said Stokley of Mint Condition. “We have done our work, and signed the name.”
Stokley has an album, Sankofa, due for release in September. “Sankofa is a Ghanian word, and it means to go back and get it,” said Stokley. “I’ve always been exploring myself- who I am through art- the biggest questions, who I am, where I am, what am I about, that sort of thing. You hear reflections of my past, reflections of everything that brought me to who I am, where I am now, sounds of the 70s, sounds of the 80s, sounds of the 90’s. I just did what I felt, things that I miss in the current marketplace.”
The project, through a partnership with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’ Flyte/Tyme/Perspective Records and Bluraffe Entertainment, features H.E.R., Wale, Shakespeare!, The Bonfyre, KiDi, his father Mahmoud El-Kati and Snoop Dogg on a track called “Vibrant.”
“Working with him was exactly what you think it would be, like with one of your best friends, just real chill,” said Stokley of working with Snoop. “He came through, laid the track in the studio, then when it was time for the video, same thing, he was just dancing out there, having a good time, having fun. His character is amazing, just to be around him. His spirit-he’s got this light about him, and that’s why you see him everywhere- he’s spreading that joy, that love, that vibrations. He knows both ends. He’s seen the dark side and now he’s on the light side.”
He also had a track on the Coming 2 America soundtrack: “Soul Gro,” a project he’s immensely proud of.
“It’s an iconic movie that we all know, it’s part of American culture,” he said. “I was trying to get through the song, but every line I was cracking up, this is so hilarious. It was huge and exciting to be a part of it.”
One of Stokley’s band members appearing at JITG with him is guitarist and vocalist Jesse Larson, who was featured on the TV show, “The Voice.”
“He’s an amazing guitarist and vocalist as well,” said Stokley. Much of his band is comprised of a local Minneapolis group, MPLS. “Most of my group is comprised of them, Ashley and Brandy Commodore, a brother and sister team, David Dillingsley on keys, Johannes on bass (among others.) We have a lot of fun spreading love.”
If you’re in South Florida, be sure to catch Stokley at Jazz In The Gardens this weekend, beginning Friday, March 11.
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