It all began on this island awash in Caribbean vibration, waves of Carnival interspersed with the drum beat of skin on skin. The teenager looking across the ocean lets his headphones flood with the pulse of the music from the islands around and rock and roll from a nearby continent. Here, he begins collecting: testimony from the horizon, breath from the four corners of the world, and echoes from distant shores all gather in his mind’s ear.
This is the story of JC Maillard (aka Mbutu, aka Grand Baton), French composer, guitarist and pianist, singer/songwriter and arranger native of Pointe-à-Pître, Guadeloupe. Such atypical circumstances: early classical piano studies, sunday performances at church from the age of 9, first in choirs then in the local band of the small church of Saint-Claude on the slope of the Soufriere volcano, Carnival parades and a few travels to the nearby American continent would naturally reflect along his creative development.
Naturally, the work of JC Maillard first reflected his roots: in various collaborations with the members of the great ‘zouk’ ensemble Kassav, and especially with singer Patrick Saint-Eloi (with whom he created, over the course of 3 albums, a particular acoustic sound in souk music, so influential to this day); in the audacious and unprecedented ethnic, percussion driven caribbean pop album “Mi” he composed and produced for Tanya Saint-Val in 1995 (including his hit song “Two Piti”); in recordings with pianist Mario Canonge from Martinique, or Haitian singers Beethova Obas, Emeline Michel, and countless others.
His precocious professional career really kicked off in Paris, France at the age of 20, touring and recording with Grammy Award-wining artist Angelique Kidjo (1987-1988), touring, recording, producing and composing the lyrical, “chamber music-like” jazz of world-renown and Victoires de la Musique Award-winner accordionist Daniel Mille (four albums and worldwide tours from 1987 to 2004), being the musical director for famous french singer/songwriter Michel Fugain (two albums recorded, tours and countless TV shows from 1989 to 1993).
An inborn aptitude for understanding the complexity of the rhythms of african music led him to become the number one choice for guitar alongside african stars: after Kidjo, he toured Europe with world music pioneers Toure Kunda from Senegal in 1993-1994, recorded with congolese star singer Koffi Olomide and Ivory Coast’s diva Monique Seka, arranged and recorded (one of his favorite productions to mention) the album called “Myamba” with legendary voice of Dakar’s« Super Diamono », Omar Pene.
Simultaneously, Mr. Maillard co-owned “Sous La Ville” recording studio in Paris, Le Marais, with jazz accordionist Marc Berthoumieux, welcoming there the best of the french jazz scene, but also international artists in the like of Diane Reeves, Chis Minh Doky, UK pop icon Linda Lewis, and producers like Golden Globe Nominated filmmaker and writer Pierre Barouh from 1992 to 1999.
In 1996 encouraged by two guitar masters Leo Brouwer and Sergio Assad, Mr. Maillard started working on new compositions for the classical guitar based on the codes and the rhythms of the traditional hand drum from the Guadeloupe, the Ka drum, which led to the release of his first solo album “Ka Suite” in early 2000; fourteen pieces of overwhelming instrumental prowesses in a unique ethno-contemporary writing approach that established Mr. Maillard as a visionary solo artist and a groundbreaking composer. It gathered praise from all over the world, has been taught in conservatory classes and has also been performed by various guitar players including argentinian master Ricardo Moyano.
In 2000, Mr. Maillard teamed up with famous Django d’Or Award-winner french guitarist Louis Winsberg in the making of the flamenco fusion project Jaleo (a Sunnyside Records release in the USA) and then started touring alternately with Jaleo and Daniel Mille around the world (Japan, Africa, China, South America, USA…).The Jaleo project featured him impressively mastering a custom-made new 8-strings instrument made for him, for the first time in 2002, the SazBass.
In 2004, while concurrently recording and touring with renowned bass player Etienne Mappe, and through 2004-2008 with Michel Jonasz, one of the most esteemed french singer/songwriters expressly known for always hiring the best international musicians (Larry Carlton, Steve Gadd…). JC Maillard started recording a second solo project called “Grand Baton” that set to extend the vocabulary of the traditional music from Guadeloupe through a deep reflection on rhythm pattern combinations, melody lines, sound experimentations and modern recording production, as well as a focused attention on the use of genuine creole language.
Released in 2007, the “Rude Ka” music of Grand Baton, an innovative mix of rock music with Ka drums, received warm accolades and praiseful reviews from the progressive/alternative rock world, allowing Mr. Maillard to achieve an international stature now as a band leader, lead singer and electro-rock music producer, and definitely a creative solo artist following a path of his own.
Following the interest for Grand Baton specifically coming from the USA, JC Maillard relocated to New York City, in 2009, and started touring around the world with Grammy nominated artist Richard Bona, leading him to perform internationally renowned venues and festivals (Lincoln Center, NY Winter Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival…). In the meantime in New York, Mr Maillard started collaborations with various artist from the jazz and world music scene such as percussionist Mino Cinelu, harmonica player extraordinaire Gregoire Maret, drummer Harry Hoenig and an ongoing collaboration with argentinian singer Sofia Rei. A new duet project with Sofia, featuring the SazBass is to release this year a recording of inventive arrangements of avant garde saxophonist John Zorn’s new compositions. It was first performed in March 2014, for the John Zorn’s “Masada Book 3” world premiere at the Town Hall in NYC.
Following in 2013 the vision of manager and producer Linda Goldstein, Grand Baton, after touring in North America from venues like House Of Blues, Brooklyn Academy Of Music, to outdoor big stages like Louisiana International Festival, teamed up to create a new entity with Grammy Award and Academy Award winner, singer Lisa Fischer (of the Rolling Stones and Twenty Feet From Stardom). They are now touring the USA together, performing a mix of original music and new arrangements “a la Grand Baton” of songs from major artists Ms Fischer had been working with, with JC Maillard as musical director. As a part of this collaboration,and among other projects, JC Maillard has arranged the music for the performance of the US national anthem by the four women of Twenty Feet From Stardom (Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Mary Clayton, Darlene Love) at the Rose Bowl 2014.
Also in 2014, Grand Baton released a second album called “Carnal Carnival“, expanding their vocabulary with elements of electronic music and dubstep, opening new doors to a culturally conscious music rooted in a land of drums, trance and danse.
The Mrs. Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton act has been touring continuously through 2014, 2015 and 2016 in the USA, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, UK, Spain, Sweden. and more to come in 2017.
In the fall of 2015, JC Maillard and Lisa Fischer created and performed the music for the “ The Propelled Heart” with the Alonzo King Lines Ballet in San Francisco.