This Thursday, ahead of GRAMMY weekend—ESSENCE will honor singer-songwriter Jill Scott at the 6th Annual Black Women in Music event. The celebration will feature live performances by Chaka Khan, Brandy, Lianne La Havas and MC Lyte. Each performer’s show will feature Music Direction from New Jersey native Adam Blackstone—who says honoree Jill Scott played a huge role in his career by giving him his big break.
Since getting his start in the early 2000s—the 32-year-old has worked with an impressive list of artists including Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Nicki Minaj, to name a few. Get to know the man behind the live production magic in his interview with ESSENCE.com as he discusses the advice that he received from honoree Jill Scott, his role as a Musical Director and how ESSENCE helped to make his dreams come true.
Tell us a little bit about what a Musical Director is and the role you’ll play during the Black Women in Music event on Feb 5.
Through ESSENCE, I was hired to oversee and supervise anything that has to do with the live production of the show. We have several amazing ladies singing with us on Thursday and they are all doing a plethora of different songs and it all falls on me to make their music sound great live—to basically make the live show sound like the album version of the song that they are performing—that’s what my band and I work on.
As a Musical Director, I connect directly with the artist and their team and discuss what type of show they want to put on for the allotted time that they have to perform. Normally, I give the artist my suggestion on what I think the crowd would like based on the event, they then tell me ‘yay ‘or ‘nay.’
After that—it’s a process of me putting together sketches of the medley for them to hear, then, I get it approved by the artist. Once the sound is approved I then teach it to my band and direct them on how to interpret the album version of the song and then execute that live on show day. I love my job and I’m excited to be working with ESSENCE.
How many band members do you have?
I have a 6-piece band and 3 singers.
You’ve worked with so many amazing artists, what have you learned from some of the great artists that you’ve worked with such as Janet Jackson and honoree Jill Scott?
One of the main things Jill has taught me is just to be myself and people will love me for who I am, there’s no need to change my sound or go with trends. I try to remain true to that. I’ve been able to learn from Jill and apply her advice as I went on to work with other artists such as Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson, Rihanna and more.
And man, Janet Jackson—I worked with Janet on her last two tours, she’s such a perfectionist, she knows her songs in and out—she taught me so much about paying attention to detail.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a Musical Director growing up? Because you know, when you’re young, not many kids know about the position of a Musical Director—did you have any influences?
It’s funny because growing up, I didn’t know what that position meant either, but my dad was a self-employed musician and at times he was a one-man band, in hindsight, I realize now that he was the epitome of a what a Musical Director was. He was his own boss, made his own set-lists, and hired musicians for his band.
In the year 2000, I moved to Philadelphia, I linked up with The Roots and Questlove took me under his wing. I paid attention to how he was working with his band and I learned from him at a young age.
Tell us about your big break.
My big break came from working with Jill Scott. I’ve worked with her since 2003—I met her through word-of-mouth—just being a Philly guy, being out and about and playing for every local artist that I could—every church, every jazz band. People eventually started saying, ‘hey that guy is everywhere!’ So opportunity eventually opened up and Jill brought me in, not as a Musical Director at first but just as a bass player—we eventually built a friendship and she started trusting my ideas musically and as time went on I became her Musical Director.
Finally, tell us which artist you’d love to work with that you have not already?
I have never worked with Brandy and this week will be the week I worked with her for the Black Women in Music event. I am so excited and I’m so thankful to ESSENCE for making my dream come true. I always wanted to work with Brandy, she has always been my favorite. I don’t normally keep a lot of music in my iPod—but anytime I get any new device, Brandy’s playlist is in there, for sure. Her music changed my life.