“While we play jazz, we were raised in the hip-hop and pop culture,” says Drew Tucker. “So we play the music we grew up with — Police, Tears for Fears, Prince.”
That’s why he called his band the New Standard and more than likely why his upcoming album is titled The Future is What It Used to Be. The music boasts a big band sound, improvisational in nature, but the material takes a decidedly pop approach, adding imaginative embellishment to familiar pop melodies and helping bring a genre some find too out there back down to earth.
And now that they’re represented by Royal Artist Group, the same company that manages such artists as Snarky Puppy, Ghost Note, Shaun Martin, and Cory Henry, the band is more than ready to open up its style to a larger audience.
“It helps increase our footprint and makes us part of the conversation in the music industry,” Tucker says of their signing. With influences spanning everyone from J Dilla, Prince, and Michael Jackson to Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and Stevie Wonder, the music is both approachable and alluring — not at all stuffy.
“We have a strong jazz influence, but equally strong immersion in the hip-hop culture,” he suggests. “So it blends into something totally new and unique.” A music educator at his day job, Tucker has made it his mission to bring jazz into the musical mainstream.
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Chances are, many in his audiences might not have ever even heard of Tucker’s instrument of choice, the vibraphone, much less have any knowledge of one of its pioneering players, jazz musician Gary Burton. For his part, Tucker insists that he’s out to change the instrument’s image by using it to reinterpret material that even the staunchest pop purists can embrace. He describes the band’s approach as “jazz and old school hip-hop with a touch of Top 40.” It’s “the heart of Miles Davis wrapped in the groove of Prince and J Dilla.”
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Quite simply, Tucker boils it down, the New Standard is “really good music.” A bold claim maybe, but he has the cred to back it up. Having contributed both his skills and inspiration to his various student ensembles, Tucker’s earned kudos from both community leaders and those with whom he’s worked. He also points with pride to the fact that a remarkable 100 percent of his students pass their entrance auditions for university and embark on a path toward higher education.
He’s also an outreach activist, helping revitalize depressed neighborhoods throughout Florida by establishing arts education centers, places for students living in underserved communities. Joined by fellow genre-bending classical hip-hop duo Black Violin and Delray Beach rapper/producer Eric Biddines, vibes virtuoso Drew Tucker and his New Standard band will perform at the FLIFF world premiere of “The Future is What It Used to Be,” a musical documentary by filmmaker Robert Madrid.
Ultimately, Tucker is doing what he does to provide an example to those who consider jazz an elusive entity. “We play that music,” he says of the classics the New Standard reinterprets, “but we make it our own.”
Drew Tucker & the New Standard
With Black Violin and Eric Biddines. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19 at the Vinnette Carroll Theater at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE 6th St., Fort Lauderdale 33301. Tickets cost $25. Visit fliff.com.