By Zachary Corsa
Our city’s blues and rock n’ roll mythology is such that one might be pleasantly surprised by the other genre representatives flourishing in the Memphis musical ecosystem. One fine example of this is Frog Squad, the cosmic jazz assemblage that’s quickly earned a fine reputation for sonic daring and captivating live improvisations. WAMM was lucky to put forth these five burning questions to David Collins, Frog Squad lead guitarist and mastermind.
We’ll start with the heaviest question imaginable: why is jazz still relevant in 2023, and what does jazz still have to say that folks need to be listening for?
I think music that relies heavily on improvisation will always be relevant. There are so many things happening today to react to and communicate through music and sometimes the truest expression of that comes from creating off the cuff. Art helps connect us, excites our imagination, and helps broaden our perspective, and to quote the great Herbie Hancock, “Jazz has always been about expanding boundaries. Inspiring musicians towards the future and its infinite possibilities.”
Tell us a little bit about how Frog Squad came together, and perhaps what everyone individually brings to the table in terms of strengths and different perspectives.
I believe the first show I billed as Frog Squad was in 2018. It was an outlet for some compositions and arrangements I had. The lineup has evolved some over the years but I now prefer to keep it a 7-9 piece with Khari Wynn on bass, Jon Harrison on drums, Cedric Taylor on keys, Paul Mullikin on keys, Hector Diaz on congas and bongos, Hope Clayburn on alto/soprano sax and flute, Franko Coleman on tenor sax, Aaron Phillips on bari sax, and Chad Fowler on saxello and stritch. The talent in the band blows me away.
Khari Wynn also goes by aliases Misterioso Africano, Captain Africa, and James Equinox. He is the guitarist and musical director for Public Enemy. He has original music under the names Equinox Frequency Wavelength Consortium, New Saturn Collective, Misterioso Africano, and Solstice.
Jon Harrison is one of the most sought after drummers in Memphis. He has an Instagram Kickdrumstairs_ with some crazy drum and synth videos.
Cedric Taylor is one of the hardest working sidemen I know. He writes and sings great music though I don’t think hes released any yet.
Paul Mullikin moved here from Denver over the pandemic. He is an exceptional multi-instrumentalist and has original music under his own name on streaming platforms.
Hector Diaz plays with lots of different groups around Memphis and in addition to being a percussionist, is also a great singer.
Hope Clayburn leads her own group Hope Clayburn and Soul Scrimmage and also plays with lots of different groups around town.
Franko Coleman is a senior at UofM and a brilliant composer. He has written music for films and also plays piano.
Aaron Phillips is a scientist at St. Jude and somehow finds time to play with us and other groups. He also plays guitar and sings.
Chad Fowler is a software developer, author, public speaker, and manages the music label Mahakala records. He has lots of collaborations under his name on streaming platforms.
What is your experience of working with jazz, especially experimental jazz, in Memphis like? How does this city inspire and inform what you do in Frog Squad?
Frog Squad has never been open to compromises. There are not too many good paying gigs for something like that here so I have shifted our focus more towards recording and grants.
What’s the Frog Squad-specific accomplishment you’re most proud of having achieved?
In 2019, Khari Wynn and I were commissioned by the UAC to write experimental music in response to Yvonne Bobo’s space themed statues in Peabody Park. We made an album titled Solar System in Peabody and there is a live video of the performance on Youtube.
Lastly, what’s next for Frog Squad, both in 2023 and beyond?
I have 3 sessions of Horace Silver tunes I need to mix and will release later this year. Other than that I am hoping to receive more grants and festival slots.