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The gospel according to Q

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Slouched at a table at a coffee shop on West McGee Street wearing a “Greensboro Sportsplex” T-shirt and a sideways cap, with a light beard scarcely concealing his youth, Larry Q. Draughn Jr. does not exactly project the image of a bandleader, though composer might spring to mind.

He carries the dual roles of iconoclast and leader with a comfortable equilibrium. His intellectual curiosity and keen passion draw other musicians to him. He admits to nostalgia for the time when he was too young to drink, but sat in with players in their thirties and forties as a young prodigy.

“My concept is to grab stuff that doesn’t fit,” he says. “That’s why I get in trouble with gigs.” He reconsiders, and adds, “I’ve been blessed in that the majority of the gigs I get now, the other musicians are okay because I’ve proven that I can play enough of the traditional stuff. The thing about jazz is it’s such a rich tradition, if you aren’t fluent in the language there’s a question of authenticity.”

Draughn, who goes by Q, graduates from NC A&T University in May. He’ll present his senior project, a suite with seven movements informed in equal measure by John Coltrane, Beethoven and Duke Ellington, at Stallings Ballroom on Wednesday. At 22, he’s already earned the respect of veteran players such as saxophonist Scott Adair, proven himself a capable sideman with musicians such as Winston-Salem trumpeter Joe Robinson and created a buzz with his own group after a run of appearances at the Press Wine Café.

The inspiration for the composition came from a sermon by the Rev. Steve Munsey on the Biblical significance of the number seven at the Morris Cerullo World Evangelism Conference that Q watched on webcast in January 2007.

“The majority of the messages he has, he has this thing with the significance of the number seven,” Q says. “He’s always explaining, talking about the role numbers play in the Bible. I always knew that seven was the number of completion. The Sabbath is the seventh day. There’s an example of seven feasts of the Lord in the Book of Joshua with Jericho. And when Jesus was crucified, he made seven statements, and the final one was, ‘It is finished.'”

He started hearing the music for the first movement soon after, and wrote the piece in 7/4 time. Originally, the suite was to hold four movements, but following a renewed burst of inspiration after ordering the sermon on DVD, Q added another three movements, bringing the total to seven.

The first movement features a serene prayer-vocal by Rashonda McNeil of “Lord, give me the right spirit…. Lord, I thank you for the right spirit.” Q also tweaks the jazz idiom by including a second keyboard with effects and congas to the septet that will perform the “Completion Suite.”

The piece incorporates Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige,” along with the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which draws inspiration from a poem by Friedrich Schiller.

“Beethoven’s story is so similar,” Q says. “His friend, the poet Schiller, wrote ‘Ode to Joy.’ After reading the poem, that’s what made [Beethoven] want to write, ‘Ode to Joy.’ That’s kind of like how I heard this sermon, and wrote my piece from that. Beethoven, he was the cat who was known for exhausting themes. He was going to run it into the ground…. Beethoven was a bad cat. The way he interweaves the voices is so masterful. I wanted to emulate some of that.”

Being a musician who embraces the adventurous jazz spirit of the 1960s – Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, to name a few – Q’s overt religiosity might come across as somewhat of contradiction. Of course, such a presumption would neglect the fact that Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” released in 1965, marked a high point in both spiritual expression and creative ferment.

Growing up with two minister-evangelist parents in a household where the Beatles, Motown and Steely Dan were in frequent rotation, Q remained happily ignorant of any perceived conflict between the two drives.

“I’ve transcribed every lick of Keith Moon; I know the Who backwards and forwards,” he says. “My dad said he’ll listen to any music as long as it’s anointed, whether it’s spiritual or otherwise. Anointed, that means you can discern the power of God.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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