Jazz Album of the Week: Music with the Transformative Power to Encourage People In Difficult Times
March 9, 2021. Kendrah Butler-Waters' love for jazz, composition, arranging, and performative musicality shines throughout her debut solo album, Faith Walk."I always say that [this album] was a labor of love because it took me a really long time to release it," Kendrah said as she wrapped up a day with students. "I recorded Faith Walk three years ago when I was pregnant with my first son."
Kendrah recalled that she asked her still unborn son, while sitting with her mother, if he liked the title. " 'Sabastian, if you think mommy should name it, Faith Walk, kick,' and lo and behold, he kicked, and that's how the title was born...I wanted to name it for my faith in God because my relationship with the Lord is something that's very important to me and informs the other areas in my life, with all of the different hats that I wear."
Kendrah's musical identity as an acclaimed pianist, composer, violinist, vocalist, and educator is evident in her packed schedule. Not only has she taught various masterclasses at multiple universities (including The History of Jazz at the University of Pennsylvania), she provided live musical accompaniment for the popular LeVar Burton Reads podcast series.
"Ironically, I didn't realize that when I released the album, it would be amid a pandemic. The experience of what we're going through, the fact that we're isolated, having to face ourselves, and delving deep into self-discovery—this is a walk of faith. It's a walk of trusting and believing that there's going to be a time after this pandemic, and are you exiting the same way you entered? The album's point is really about encouragement, and for people to think deeply in terms of their spirituality and faith and be encouraged by it because times have been incredibly difficult. Music has that transformative power to encourage people in the midst of very difficult times.”
The album's 14 original compositions and arrangements sparkle with musical contributors from longtime collaborators Nimrod Speaks, Jeff Scull, Justin Sekelewski, Darryl Jackson, Gusten Rudolph, and V. Shayne Frederick.
"The album has kind of this pendulum that goes from faith to storytelling," Kendrah explained. "Each song is kind of tailored in a different type of way. For example, 'Butterfly/Precious Lord' is a contrafact of Herbie Hancock's 'Butterfly,' but I changed up the song's meter and transformed it to the focus on 'Precious Lord,' from a very standard gospel tradition."
Kendrah's faith-based music also sheds light on the struggles of the African American experience in the United States.
"You have to look back at history to be informed for your future because history repeats itself: the same things that happened, the aftershock of that terrorism [of enslavemnt] are still reverberating through today. And, you know, much of the wisdom and the essence of the Negro spiritual and these hymns are the foundation of who we are as a people, especially as we relate to Black people in America. I always like to reference Negro spiritual and hymns because that's a large part of the experience of Black life in America—and I think it's always important for us to acknowledge that and to continue that legacy."