Jean and Marcus Baylor have been playing music for most of their lives. Married for more than two decades, they’ve only been playing music together for the last nine years, leading a band they call The Baylor Project, heavily steeped in their jazz and gospel roots. In his review of their most recent album Generations, which featured collaborations with Dianne Reeves, Jazzmeia Horn, Kenny Garrett, Jamison Ross and Sullivan Fortner, Martin Johnson of JazzTimes wrote that, “The married duo of vocalist Jean Baylor and drummer Marcus Baylor are a little too young to have hosted jazz parties in the ’60s, but their records highlight the spirit, vibe, and substance of that milieu.” That album was nominated for a Grammy, their fourth nomination, a remarkable accomplishment for music all released on their own little label Be a Light.
Jean Baylor was born and raised the daughter of a pastor in New Jersey and grew up immersed in the music of church as well as the R&B of the time. She was introduced to jazz while a Vocal Performance major at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she met singer Renée Neufville. The two went on to form the popular R&B group Zhané. Born and bred in St Louis also as the offspring of a pastor, Marcus had a different path to jazz, having played both gospel and jazz from a very young age. He studied jazz at the New School in NYC and was quickly swept up in the NYC jazz scene, playing with Cassandra Wilson, John Scofield and Kenny Garrett. His stint as the drummer in the jazz fusion band Yellowjackets brought him to a wider audience.
With a love of jazz and gospel in common, the two met in 2000 when Jean was looking for a drummer for a gig in NYC. They were married two years later and subsequently started to share musical ideas more and more, eventually forming The Baylor Project around 2013 or so, though their creative collaboration had been happening for several years before that. “We started playing concerts and waking up with purpose,” Jean told writer Cynde Cerf. “Since both of us had the experience to go on, we started setting goals and managing our expectations. We have exceeded what we thought was possible.” They released their debut album Journey in 2017 and it received two Grammy nominations. Combining their common influences for a jazz sound infused with gospel, The Baylor Project soon became a favorite of jazz festivals and presenters all over the world. “After a performance, we want people to walk away feeling uplifted,” Marcus said. “They come to a show and we want them to leave their burdens behind.” Jean added, “We want them to be lifted, inspired. Feeling better about life. There is hope.” And anyone who has ever seen them on or offstage can confirm that the two not only have real chemistry but also share warmth and spontaneity that is inspiring.
“We are really looking forward to performing on the Blue Note at Sea in 2023,” they said. “After being home for so long, we are excited to hang out with friends and fellow musicians and greet all of the wonderful guests who are there to listen, support and just have a good ole’ time!”
(This note was written by Lee Mergner, who serves as a Jazz Consultant for Jazz Cruises. Feel free to share your thoughts about his article by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org)