Incognito | Interview

By: NoémiMon, 04/02/2018

We sat down with Incognito talk about them as a band and their evolution throughout the years. This interview is part of our exclusive coverage leading up the 2018 Sing Jazz festival.

Define jazz.

Music created to step out of the shadows of the blues and express joy and freedom through improvised rhythms, melodies, and harmony… Music for the mind, body, and soul! 

What are the characteristics of great music? Groundbreaking music?

Great music is down to the individual’s taste. What is great to you and I may not be for another person or persons. Music that speaks to your soul and becomes the soundtrack of your life determines what is great to you at a personal level. Groundbreaking music comes in so many forms, with artists and composers that take their genre to another level…  In blues, I would consider Robert Johnson as ground-breaking, in jazz I would say, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis as groundbreaking. In rock, folk, and pop I’d say, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix were all groundbreakers. In soul and funk, you would have to put James Brown, Sly Stone, Shuggie Otis, and Michael Jackson at the top of the ground-breaking list. In more recent times, I would consider D’Angelo, Jaco Pastorius, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, and Hiatus Kaiyote as groundbreaking.  

What other genres and styles would you like to combine? What is your music-making process?

 Whatever excites your senses when exposing yourself to it will influence your creativity. When I travel, when I listen, when I read, what I taste, will manifest itself in my music in some form or another; genders and styles are too varied and cross-fertilized to single out. The way I approach music is to nurture whatever you see, hear or feel a song at any given moment. Let me give you an example: “Colibri” from our Incognito album, Tribe, Vibes & Scribes, was instigated by me seeing a hummingbird on the television hovering from flower to flower. The bass line was played by the extraordinary programmer Richard Bull based on a melody I sang to him. We both improvised chords; he came up with the beat and I sang a top line melody scat that depicts the bird’s passage from one flower to another. Some of my creations are with the band or individuals that I feel might expand on a basic and original idea. Sometimes I get on a roll and feel that I have to complete an idea by myself. A high percentage of Incognito songs comes from an initial bass riff.

Tell us more about your instruments i.e. are you subject to brand loyalty or will you play with whatever’s available? What made you choose the instruments you have now? Was it cost or was it style/model/brand/ color preference?

I have a wide collection of guitars, basses, keyboards, drums and percussion in my studio. I mess around with most things, but the guitar is my main instrument. I am primarily a self-taught guitarist. My forte is rhythm guitar and over the years I have developed my own original vibe based on the playing of varied influential guitar players that I listened to or played with over the years. I am endorsed by Atelier Z (Guitar makers from Tokyo Japan as is Incognito’s Bass player Francis Hylton). I choose to play their instrument because they suit my style perfectly and make instruments that look great but more importantly sound great and are a dream to play.  There is no substitute for good quality, attention to detail, back up service. Atelier Z provides me with guitars and support I need as a worldwide touring musician.

Are you excited about performing at SING JAZZ? What’s your favorite aspect of this festival?

My band and I are delighted to have played at all the SING JAZZ Festivals so far. We love the atmosphere where we can interact with so many musical giants in such a wonderful location. Great music, tasty food, and the superbly organized SING JAZZ team make for memorable times!  

What can the SING JAZZ audience expect from you this year?

We always look forward to bringing something new to the occasion.  Having had such guests as Chaka Khan and Ray Parker Jnr, we are delighted to have UK’s legends Omar and Leee John of Imagination as our special guests. A party down atmosphere is guaranteed!

Any artists you look forward to seeing this year?

Having loved her music but never seen her live, I am looking forward to completing my miseducation by seeing Ms. Lauryn Hill.  

You’ve probably heard of the shortest jazz poem ever written, which is “Listen”. Do you agree? How does one achieve musical connection in your opinion?

Do you mean “Manhattan" by George Russell?

Think you can lick it, get to the wicket, buy you a ticket, go!

Go by bus, by plane, by car, by train

New York, New York - what they call a somethin' else town

A city of more than 8 million people with a million people passing through every day

Some come just to visit and some come to stay

If you scuffle hard enough then you ain't no dunce

You can always get by in New York City, I heard somebody say once

Yeah if you can't make it in New York City, man, you can't make it nowhere

So where do people come to scuffle? Right here!

Think you can lick it, get to the wicket, buy you a ticket, go!


New York, New York, a city so nice they had to name it twice

It may seem like a cold town, but man, let me tell you, it's a soul town

And it ain't a bit hard to find someone who's lonesome or forlorn here

But it's like a needle in a haystack to find someone who was born here

New York, New York, a somethin' else town alright

East Side, West Side, uptown, downtown, there's one thing all of New York City has:

And that's jazz!

A while ago there were cats reading while cats played jazz behind them

There was nothing happenin' so the musicians cooked right on like they didn't even mind 'em

I wrote the shortest jazz poem ever heard

Nothing 'bout huggin', kissin' - one word:


Musical connections are achieved by allowing yourself to share in musical conversations on and off stage, opening yourself to possibilities and to recognizing those who, like you, have been following their dreams with the focus and the vigor they felt when they first fell in love with music.

Who are your music icons/influences? And why?

 Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Banda Black Rio, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, George Duke. Their music speaks for itself. One’s record collection is one’s lesson in music, language, humanities, geography, history and rhythmic mathematics… All the names above were integral to my sonic graduation!

How do you assimilate the influence of the various people in your band? And in your work? Do you pull from various traditions of jazz?

Jazz is the red three that runs through our varied musical paths, it is the history and the story that bonds us. Sometimes the Soul, the Funk, the Rock, the Fusion, but always the Jazz!

How has jazz transformed your lives?

By simply existing! It has brought a greater understanding of history, a deeper thinking and sophistication, and freedom of expression through music!

Is there any particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?

Sarah Vaughan’s "The Mystery of Man”. Written by Pope John Paul II, and musically adapted by Francy Boland and Gene Lees. Conducted by Lalo Schifrin in 1984.

We come from a distant past that we've forgotten

And now we look up and aspire to the stars

We are the mystery that even we can't desipher

The mystery of man


The story is told in stone and broken arrows

In traces of cities unknown lost in sand

In colours and castle walls silent and unseen statues

The mystery of man


The wind stirs in the trees likes voices in dreams

And then just when it seems we know what it means

Simply its gone


The miracle is the mind asking the questions

Seeking to find it'self if it can

Only to see it'self endlessly echoed in mirrors

The mystery of man


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