April 12, 2012

Violinist Ken Ford: Out of the Woodwork

By Joncier “Ms. Boogie” Rienecker with additional reporting by Tamone Bacon

Ken Ford

Ken Ford

Having created a niche in the jazz world with his unorthodox and alluring sound, Ken Ford has certainly earned his title as the “King of Strings.” For over 10 years, the celebrated violinist has bowed his way into the hearts and souls of many music lovers. His most recent release, State of Mind, solidifies his place as a jazz phenomenon. Taking a break from the studio, Ford phoned in to chat about his latest album, working with other legendary music artists, and the greatest lesson he has learned in his career. Read on for the details and a look at his music video for “State of Mind.”

You have opened for, shared the stage with, and been in the studio with some extraordinary artists, such as Jill Scott, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, and Chaka Khan. How did you get the opportunity to work with them?

You know, from doing what I love to do. A lot of musicians ask me that, too. The way I ended up on the stage with Maze and Frankie Beverly was that I was at the Blue Room in Stockbridge and I was just doing my thing, giving it 100%. One of the people there was Frankie Beverly’s manager. Next thing you know, I’m on the stage with them. It’s just about doing what you love. Just go out there and do your thing and doors will open for you.

In regards to your career, what has been the greatest lesson you have learned thus far?

That you can do it yourself. You have to do it yourself, before you hire people. Until you get on the grind yourself and learn the process, don’t be so quick to hire people for you. Learn how to sell yourself before you hire someone to sell you. Do it because you love it and not because you want the money or the CD or the popularity.

Do you feel like an anomaly, playing violin for artists in the urban genre?

No, because there are so many [violinists] – now – coming out the woodwork. I can’t even call myself the pioneer, because there were people before me. I’m glad that there are other young violinists coming up. They help my CD sales and vice-versa. There’s enough work for everybody, especially for violinists, because there’s not that much competition. Besides, I entertain.

Have you had to change anything about your playing/production technique to fit in with the urban style?

It wasn’t forced. It happened naturally. I keep myself current with what’s going on, anyway. I think you have to move with technology, move with music, move with what’s going on. I change, not just because of what’s going on, but because I like it. I’m going to do what I like to do.

Do you think that more urban artists/producers could stand to learn something about traditional acoustic instruments and instrumentation?

Totally, yes. I’m not knocking what that audience is doing now. I would just advise them to get some music theory under their belts.

As an artist, how do you aim to differentiate each recording session?

One of things you want to do is make each song different, but most of that stuff you do before you go into the studio. My advice is to have some kind of structure in your head, so you don’t waste your time or money. And you have to be able to take criticism. You have to have someone around you who is going to tell you the truth. Sometimes, you are going to sound similar to your last session, CD, or song. You have to constantly make an effort to make it different. You’re going to have a signature sound in every song. Like for example, Beyoncé. She has a signature sound. Michael Jackson – he has a signature sound.

Tell us about your latest album, State of Mind.

I try to stay current. I came up with that title during the time of the recession. This was an attempt to put on a CD what I do live. And it’s got a vintage feel to it with a hip-hop edge. It’s not smooth jazz. I did not want to do a smooth jazz album, because I am not a smooth jazz artist. Can I do smooth jazz? Yes. But I am a painter and the CD has to reflect that. You can almost see me, if you close your eyes, if you’ve ever been to one of my shows.

What are you working on currently?

I’m always working on getting the next show. You’re always working on the next thing, the next show. I work on music, almost every night, but it doesn’t mean I’m working on the next album. Like Tupac. He was just working on music. So, you’re constantly working on music, every night, for inspiration. It has nothing to do with, “Oh, I’m working on the next CD.” It’s just about getting inspiration and writing music for the passion. You want to build up your repertoire. It’s a release for you.

Fill in the blank: If I could go anywhere in the world and play a song for one person right now, I would play for _____.

Stevie Wonder.

Find out more about Ken Ford: www.kenford.net

Follow Ken Ford on Twitter: @kenfordmusic