The members of Solea first got together at a co-op party last year.
The jazz band comprises current and former UCLA students – Sean Lee, Hunter Mee-Lee, Lancelot Chu, Jordan Avesar and Kyle Frankhuizen. The members have been playing together since May and will now perform jazz fusion music at the Fowler Museum at UCLA on Wednesday for a Fowler Out Loud event. Drawing on their knowledge and background in jazz music, the band also plays live backup for other genres, such as hip-hop and rock, said Mee-Lee, a third-year gender studies student.
“What I like about jazz is that it gives you the baseline,” Mee-Lee said. “And I think just having all of us with this kind of synergy is what makes the band work.”
All of the band members have a strong connection to jazz through listening, studying and playing the genre, said Lee, an alumnus. And while they are listed as a jazz band, they still perform more than just the single style, having performed several other genres. Though the band is rooted in jazz, Lee said, they now often play hip-hop due to a partnership with the hip-hop collective Adobe House.
Adobe House was founded in Tucson, Arizona, and creates music videos, graphic art and YouTube content. Musically focused on hip-hop and R&B, Adobe House shifted their operation to Los Angeles last year, where they connected with Solea. Jonathan Benn, one of the founders of Adobe House, said he has been friends with Lee since kindergarten. They now collaborate to create music that combines jazz and other styles, mainly hip-hop, which Benn said fits well with their original hip-hop direction.
“The band guides the directions of the main artists because it is so good,” Benn said. “They’re all talented musicians by themselves, and when they get together as a group, it’s just ridiculous.”
Mee-Lee said the connection among genres makes jazz adaptable to styles like R&B and soul, making the transition between music styles more natural. Despite jazz and hip-hop sounding like two different styles, Lee said the band members see a clear connection between the genres. He said jazz provides the musical foundation for hip-hop, which originally used many jazz and soul samples. Sampling is the reuse of existing music, which is common in hip-hop and necessary to understand for bands that play the genre. Nowadays, chords and instrumentation in hip-hop often come from jazz.
“If you can play jazz, you can play any genre that is a modern Western genre,” Lee said.
He added because many modern musical genres are rooted in jazz, mastering that foundation allows the band to play other genres, such as hip-hop and rock.
Though he said jazz music helps with learning other genres, from the players’ point of view, there has to be some adjustment based on what genre they are performing, Lee said. This adjustment can be made by changing the number of chords being played within a song, for example, since hip-hop is loop-oriented, musicians play one chord for a long time. In contrast, jazz musicians might play several chords in a very short span of time.
Lee said being able to play hip-hop music is important to the band because much of their audience grew up listening to the genre. He also said there is a common misconception that anyone can play hip-hop music, but hip-hop has the musical tradition of sampling music, which you have to learn about in order to play well.
“It’s kind of nice not having to play just jazz all the time,” Lee said. “I guess you could say it’s still jazz but with a twist.”