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Interview: Charlie Ballantine
Posted February 19, 2018 by Seth Johnson
WRITTEN BY
Seth Johnson
ON
February 19, 2018
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Photo of Charlie Ballantine at Postal Recording by Mark Sheldon

Charlie Ballantine has been a staple of the Indianapolis scene and frequently plays at The Jazz Kitchen and Chatterbox. Just back from a tour of the Midwest, you can expect to hear even more, as Ballantine’s latest project, a collection of Bob Dylan classics entitled Life is Brief, is due out this spring.

Recently, Ballantine was kind enough to answer some questions about his work and the upcoming Dylan album.

 

Brett Alderman: How many projects do you have going right now?

Charlie Ballantine: Right now, I've really been focusing on the Bob Dylan project, but in the Indy music scene I've been really lucky to play with so many amazing players and be part of a ton of amazing projects such as Mina & the Wondrous Flying Machine, Jeff Kelly and the Graveyard Shift, It's Just Craig and countless jazz groups at the Chatterbox and Jazz Kitchen. 

BA: What made you decide to work with the music of Bob Dylan?

CB: I really just love everything about Bob Dylan. Everything from the music, to his politics, his mysterious nature, and his eternal skepticism. He was the first person I can really remember trying to imitate when I was younger. I also can't help but listen to his songs and draw so many parallels between the civil rights era and today. I think they are a constant reminder that we still have a ways to go.

Album art by Daniel Arthur Jacobsen

BA: How long did you spend on arranging and rehearsing the material for this album?

CB:  I spent about six months arranging the music for Life Is Brief.  I really tried to take my time during the process because I love all the music so much, and I just wanted to do it justice.  After I had it all arranged, we had one rehearsal.  Some of the featured artists like Brandon Whyde, Mina Keohane and Rob Dixon had never played the music before we got to the studio.  The end result is really a testament to how great these musicians are and how virtuosic they are at their craft.  

BA: I’ve seen a few pictures of you on the Postal Recording Facebook page. Is that a preferred spot for recording your music?

CB: Yes, absolutely. I love recording at Postal.  The first time I walked in there a few years back, it was still being built and was just a skeleton of what it would become, and I just remember thinking, "I have to do an album here.” I'm so glad that I did.  Also, the engineers, Tyler Watkins and Alex Kercheval, are top-notch and both really great musicians themselves. It's always a great hang, which, in my experience, is the most important part of making good music.

BA: How many Dylan songs did you record and are they all from his earlier catalog, like The Times They Are a-Changin’?

CB: We recorded 12 Dylan songs for this record and most of them are from his earlier works, like “The Times Are a-Changin’,” “Masters Of War” and “Don't Think Twice, It’s All Right.”  But, I did try to spread it out across a wide range of albums, so we did some songs from The Basement Tapes, Desire and Highway 61 Revisited, as well as his early LPs

BA: Who else played on Life is Brief?

CB: The core band was a trio: me, Jesse Wittman on bass , and Chris Parker on drums. Featured artists were Mina Keohane on vocals, Rob Dixon on tenor sax, Amanda Gardier on alto sax, Shawn McGowan on organ and Brandon Whyde on vocals and acoustic guitar.

BA: What can people expect at the album release show at The Jazz Kitchen in April?

CB: All the musicians who recorded on the album will be playing on the release show on April 14.  We will be playing the album all the way through, but much like the studio session, we haven't planned too much.  I like to think that's how Dylan would've done it.  But really, the beauty of playing with amazing musicians like this is that if you give them very little direction, stay out of their way, and let them do what they do best, amazing things usually happen. 

BA: You’re about to head out on tour. Are these venues familiar rooms or are you playing in new spots?

CB: We just finished a tour, and we hit some familiar spots like the Golden Mean in Cincinnati and Gibraltar in Milwaukee but also had the pleasure of playing some really incredible new clubs like The Bop Stop in Cleveland and Cliff Bell's in Detroit.  We're planning a pretty extensive vinyl release tour for Life Is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan, where we will be returning to some of the same clubs but also hitting some new clubs and some international jazz festivals. Very excited for that!

BA: Musically speaking, what are your goals for this year?

CB: I don't necessarily have any goals for this year. But, being in Indianapolis, I'm constantly being motivated by the incredible musicians of this city like the Tucker Brothers, Premium Blend, Rob Dixon, Sleepy Floyd and so many others.  So if I had to name a goal for this year, it would simply be to try and keep up.  

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