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BWW Interview: Derrick Baskin on His Solo Club Act Debut at Feinstein's/54 Below on June 29th

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"If it doesn't bring me peace or excitement, I'm just not going to do it."

BWW Interview: Derrick Baskin on His Solo Club Act Debut at Feinstein's/54 Below on June 29th

Remember all those memes and social media posts, urging you to not get down on yourself if you didn't learn to speak two languages, re-paint your house, digitize four decades of family photos, and write two novels during the pandemic? Remember how those memes told you that it was ok to just exist during the pandemic? Well, Derrick Baskin didn't need those memes to know that the one and only project he wanted to work on in quarantine was himself. The recent Tony Award nominee spent the entire lockdown and shutdown, unplugged, meditating, reflecting... and playing with his dog. The result of that downtime and that decision is that Derrick has a clearer picture in his head, in his heart, in his soul, of who he is, what his artistic mission should be, and how deep his worth goes.

The pandemic over and his lessons learned, Derrick Baskin declared the next year to be his Year of Yes, and he is starting that year by saying No to fear, and Yes to 54 Below.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Derrick Baskin welcome to Broadway World!

Thanks for having me, man! Happy to be here!

These are exciting times for you. You just did the "Guys Who Like Musicals" podcast, didn't you?

I did. Yeah. It was really good talking to those guys. I've been in hermit mode for a few months, so I haven't talked about myself to anyone in quite some time, or talked about the business... I've just been here, just dealing with myself and dealing with the effects of Broadway and the effects of the show that I just left, and healing and dealing, and trying to get to know myself a little bit better. That's what I've been doing: a lot of self-evaluation throughout this last year. So talking with them, I was like, "Oh right. This is what I used to do." You used to do things, right? And so I was like, great, let's talk about the business. It was refreshing and those guys are really cool.

So for 14 months, you just hung around barefoot playing with the dog and enjoying life, and now you have to put yourself back into the business mindset.

BWW Interview: Derrick Baskin on His Solo Club Act Debut at Feinstein's/54 Below on June 29th Yeah. I was, to be very honest with you, very grateful to take myself out of the business mind. I have friends who worked a lot during the pandemic, building up their brand and their followers on social media, interviews, and films. I did the exact opposite. I wanted to just get more in touch with myself because during the pre-pandemic that's what I was doing, I was building my brand. I was doing social media. I was doing a ton of press and just thought this gave me the opportunity to just let all of that fall off, and look at how far I've come as an artist, look how far I've come as a man, as a brother, as a friend, as a lover, all of those things, I was (this year) looking at like all those types of relationships - and if I'm the common denominator with all the relationships, I was grateful to just sit with myself. The show that I was in, Ain't Too Proud, that was three years of my life - I had to look at that and let that fall off of me because I left the show a week before the pandemic happened. It was, for sure, time to leave but life continues. Sometimes even though you leave a project and that project continues without you, it feels like it is also moving on without you. So when everything shut down, it gave me the time to process my time and everything that it took personally and professionally to get through that show: my first lead, my first Tony nomination, and everything that that came with. I really took this time to look at every type of relationship that I've been in - my family relationship (I come from a great family) and taking stock of the love around me, my friendships... I really dove deep within myself and did that work... and the professional work will come back when it's supposed to, but I have the opportunity to deal with myself and look at myself and evaluate. So that's what I ended up calling. So now I'm getting back to working, I'm coming back with a different energy. I'm coming back with a lot more gratitude. I'm coming back with a lot more peace. I'm a little more grounded. I'm realizing what's really important in life. When 54 Below asked me to do a show... and I'm telling you I've been running from doing a show like this for years. (Laughing) I was like, "It's time to step into this and do your own thing". I'm grateful to step into working in this fashion with music, which is my first love. I'm really excited about it.

Ok, let's talk about this. You said you've been running from this for a long time. Why were you running from it?

Several reasons... (Laughing)

I'm listening.

Okay, good. I got an answer. I always had an excuse, right? When 54 Below first opened they had been asking me to do stuff - periodically they asked me, "Hey, do you want to do something?" because I would go visit my friend's shows, or I would sing a song in someone's show, and I did that for a long time. I think for me it was just fear-based - I think I was just scared to do it if I'm honest with you. I didn't know if I could carry a show by myself. And I think after carrying a (Broadway) show, it made me realize that I actually can do it.

Also, a lot of times it's just the convenience factor behind it - I was always doing something. There's no way, in the three years that I was working with Ain't Too Proud, that I could have done it - I would've killed myself, singing an hour there, and then doing a show where you, literally, don't leave the stage for two and a half hours. - logistically, the odds are I would have hurt myself, I would have hurt my voice. I think now I feel a little bit more in tune with my artistry, more in tune with my love of what we do... I think I might have taken for granted some of the things that I have been afforded to do. Ain't Too Proud was my fourth Broadway show, it was my fourth lead, it was my fourth original cast. And that's rare. Stepping into that gratitude with my love of music - I think I lost that love for what we do as musicians, and finding that love throughout this year allowed me to love myself a little bit differently, a little bit better. I can actually do things that I love, and the thing that I love, that brings me joy, is singing. That brings me life, man. I think because I'm in touch more with myself, I can be in touch more with my art, so when someone asks you to do something like this, share your art.

When I perform, I don't want to do it from a place of ego. I feel like I have something to share, and I would love for everyone to see it, but if no one comes to see it, I will still do it. I'm in that space; I just want to share my art. I don't want to say, "Come to hear me sing beautiful, I'll hit this high note for you or hit this riff for you". I don't necessarily care about that - I care about sharing my art, and being in that place is why I said, "Now I can do a show". There is no fear anymore. It's Like, "Let's step into your calling" and dinging is my calling, it's my gift. I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn't use the gifts that I have.

What do you think is the main thing that you discovered about yourself during these last 15 months that said, "I'm not afraid anymore - I'm ready to do this now".

BWW Interview: Derrick Baskin on His Solo Club Act Debut at Feinstein's/54 Below on June 29th I think I minimized the effect that my art has in the pieces that I create. For instance, the last two roles I did on Broadway ... Ain't Too Proud was the lead but he's also the anti lead - he's the person that says, "Don't necessarily look at me, look at everyone else, everything else -I'm just going to tell you the story". And the show before that, Memphis, I played a mute. I had no lines the entire first act, and if you look at it from one standpoint, it seems very minimal, but if you look at it from the standpoint as to the effect that particular character has on the piece, I think there were times where I minimized my contribution to the art I was in. I minimized myself and I'm not going to do that now. I'm not going to minimize my artistry, I'm not going to minimize the effect that I have on people who come and see the shows that I'm in, and the inspiration that younger black artists can see by my portrayal of a character that they can maybe see themselves in. I think I did that quite often in a lot of the pieces that I was in, where I didn't realize the effect that I had or the effect that part had on people. That's the biggest change and because of that, that gives me more gratitude to do it as if I can touch anyone through my art - that actually is what motivates me more to keep doing what I'm doing. That part of the business I have to be more in touch with, as opposed to the commercial or critical success of something - how my art touches the actual people who come to see it. A 54 Below show is a very intimate setting - there's an energy exchange that I will have with people who come to see the show. , and I actually missed it! I've missed that live exchange and I get to get back in touch with that! But it's different for me now because I have more love and more gratitude. I'm doing it, not having not done it for a year. I'm just so grateful to be able to do what I love, which is singing and being surrounded by music.

Now we're not talking about just one show, you've actually booked a run of shows. How do you feel, knowing that you're going to be filling that house all, just yourself for five nights?

You know, I'm really excited! (Laughing) It's funny because we're used to doing eight shows a week, right? But if you haven't done eight shows a week in a while, it's like, "Oh my God, can I do that again?" (Laughing) You know what I mean? So it kinda feels a bit daunting but at the same time, I'm really excited about it. I remember everything that I did to maintain my health before. So, I got my vitamins! (Laughing) I went onto my Google drive and I looked up all my old warm-ups and started working out and getting everything ready. I'm just really excited to fill those houses! Five shows - that's pretty major for me! (Laughing) I'm excited for the challenge of it, excited to get out there and do it again - god willing it's like riding a bike. (Laughing)

So here we are, you're getting ready to do your very first solo show. Where do you start from, when you sit down to say, "This is what my show is going to be" and you write it: what's your jumping-off place?

I said, "Well, what do you want to say?" Right? That's the first thing. For me, music is literally the soundtrack of my life. So: "Ok, let's go through your life - let's take moments, cause every huge moment for me, there's always been a song or an artist that reflects that time. So I started there. I said, "Ok, let's talk about these moments, let's talk about Ain't Too Proud - there's some songs there. Let's talk about when you first moved to New York, what were you listening to? That's Stevie Wonder - BOOM - let's put some Stevie Wonder in it. Remember when you fell in love with that girl, what were you listening to?. Oh, that song... and when you got your heart broken? Oh, there was that song." The moments when it comes to people, Black people, MY people, how we use music to heal, how we use music to deal with the turbulence of racism in this country, what types of songs were sung at that point. Let's reflect that because that is your history, these are your ancestors, so let's honor that. So you honor every big moment in my life and it just wrote itself for me, and it didn't take that long, I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to say here's my life in moments, and reflect it through music.

You are not just embarking on this new adventure. You had another adventure recently, you recorded a single.

I DID!!!

This is an exciting time of life for you, isn't it?

It really is! I've been waiting for this type of year to present itself: I say this is my year of yes. I was commissioned with a really good friend of mine Daniel Watts - we were commissioned with a couple of other artists to talk about Louis Armstrong's effect on us and our lives. When we think about Louis Armstrong, how does that make us feel? How did that inspire us to be artists? We did this piece like last summer and it came out in December, and one of the pieces was part of What a Wonderful World I mixed with another song.

BWW Interview: Derrick Baskin on His Solo Club Act Debut at Feinstein's/54 Below on June 29th I was contacted by the people who own the publishing of that song, and they said, "Do you have a clean version of just What a Wonderful World?" and I was like, no, they were like, "Would you mind recording that?" Yeah! Sure! It literally came out of nowhere. I didn't plan it. She was like, "If you can get that to me, that would be amazing." So, my friend, he's a musician, a producer, a composer, his name is Michael Thurber, I called him up, "Hey man, you wanna put a spin on a song?" He was like, "Absolutely, let's do it." Around my birthday, which is in November, we got in touch with them and I was like, "Man, I wish we had time to maybe release a Christmas song" and he was just like, "Let's just do this one." "Can we do it that fast?" "Yeah, I know what I'm doing." And it just fell together - we recorded it in his studio, he edited it, I followed his lead on it, and he helped me get that thing out in record time. He and the people who own their publishing of it, Amy Birnbaum is the lady's name, both helped me get that song out and we were able to release it before Christmas. I was like, "This is amazing, how it fell into place" all because someone just asked me to do it, and I, instead of shying away from it because I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to musical producing - I'm just a singer, that's what I do, man. If you ask, a lot of times when you put that energy out, it comes back as a yes. That's how that came about, and now I have a single out! It's crazy, and I love it! We'll be singing it at 54 Below.

Do you think this could lead to an album?

This will absolutely lead to an album. I just need to, now that the world is opening back up, find the time. I absolutely want to do an album, I actually want to do a few albums, but definitely, there's one on the way, for sure.

We talked about your spiritual experience, during the pandemic, of becoming one with yourself again. At what point do you think you're going to have to start being a business person again? And are you going to be ready to do it?

BWW Interview: Derrick Baskin on His Solo Club Act Debut at Feinstein's/54 Below on June 29th I think I'm ready now, honestly. I think it'll be a ramp-up. The situation will probably present itself but because I feel more grounded and more peaceful within myself, I can handle the business because if you're not grounded, this business can really eat you up, man. If you don't have a really good sense of worth, a sense of value, a sense to not need to be validated by anyone outside of what you're doing and your love of what you do, this business can really beat you up. I feel like I have a really good handle on that now. For me, because I've done the work on myself spiritually and emotionally, jumping back into the business side of it won't be that hard. If it doesn't bring me peace or excitement, I'm just not going to do it. The challenge is just to be a better artist now. I just want to do very, very good art. I know that you gotta pay the bills, and you should be paid your worth, so that comes into play for sure, but the first thing that comes into play is: what is this piece going to do for you spiritually and emotionally? Is that going to feed you first - then let's talk about dollars and cents and getting your name out there and how you do that with press and how you do that with social media: all that stuff comes later. I have a different priority now. My business is a lower priority than my love for what I do.

What is your current motto for life?

Just say yes. (Laughing) Just say yes and also allow life to unfold. You don't have to know the answers, and be okay when you don't know the answers, allow life to show you the way allow life to unfold, and be okay with not knowing

How much of your daily peace and happiness comes from your dog, Noble?

BWW Interview: Derrick Baskin on His Solo Club Act Debut at Feinstein's/54 Below on June 29th Oh, man!!! Listen! First of all, having a dog is the best. During the pandemic, we were all over the place, right? When you have a pet, you're on a schedule. So I had a regiment, I had to wake up, I had to walk that baby, and before I went to bed, I had to walk him again. He gave me a focus on something other than myself to take care of. He was such a comfort to me, throughout this year. He is three this month, I got him when we were on the road, so I got him before the pandemic and I don't know what my life would have been like without him - just this past year, he was such a comfort. Whenever I was having a little moment, he knew it and he'd just come over and nestle, he's just such a good boy. He loves people. He loves other dogs. He's just a gentle energy, and so his energy is contagious. Him being calm and collected allows me to be calm and collected. He's my world. He's my baby.


Dogs make everything better.

They do, man! And he's VERY handsome. He's a handsome man! We walk down the street and he gets all the attention from everybody - I'm so proud of him!

I follow him on Instagram. He's a gorgeous one.

(Laughing) He's my baby, man! He needs some more shots, I need to get on that!

You're lagging. You're falling behind.

(Laughing) I AM, man! I'm slacking!

Derrick Baskin plays Feinstein's/54 Below June 29th through July 3rd. For information and tickets visit the 54 Below website HERE.

Learn more about Derrick Baskin at the Derrick Baskin website HERE.

Find Noble Bernard on Instagram @iamnoblebernard and his Dad on Instagram at @derrick.baskin

All photos provided by Derrick Baskin


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