The first emotion John Beasley experienced upon winning a Grammy was relief — after nine nominations he had at last clinched a golden megaphone of recognition for his band, his label, and his dedicated teachers and supporters.
John Beasley is a Samohi grad, Venice resident, and multi-talented jazz pianist, composer and arranger, who has played with a number of musical icons including Miles Davis, Barbra Streisand, and Queen Latifah.
He’s worked on the scores for many famous movies, including “Skyfall”, “Austin Powers”, “Finding Nemo” and most recently Steven Soderbergh’s “Let Them All Talk” . Beasley has toured all over the world both as a performer and as the conductor of his 15-piece brass band MONK’estra.
To top it all off he received not one, nor two, nor three, but four Grammy nominations this year, placing him in the top nomination ranks tied with Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish. Ultimately, it was his arrangement of “Donna Lee” played by MONK’estra that clinched him the win for best arrangement, instrumental and-or a cappella.
The Grammy award is an immense honor and for Beasley it represents not just the culmination of his hard work, but that of the many artists and individuals who inspired and supported him along the way.
“I literally felt like a hundred pound brick had been released off my shoulders,” said Beasley. “I wanted to win it for my band, for my manager, my wife, my record company Mack Avenue records, for all my friends, my family, and my music teachers from way back.”
Those “way back” music teachers include staff members at Santa Monica High School, where Beasley was a dedicated member of the orchestra. Having been raised by music teachers, he said he owes an enormous debt of gratitude to music educators and used his acceptance speech to call for more arts fundings in public schools.
While Santa Monica-Malibu schools continue to offer some of the highest quality music education in the state, they are the acceptance to the rule and not the norm. Beasley graduated from Samohi in 1977, just one year before Proposition 13 passed, which slashed property taxes and resulted in enduring budget cuts for public schools across California.
“So they got their lower property tax, but the first thing that got defunded was arts programs in public education, and it was much worse in public schools in underserved communities,” said Beasley.
While not every public school art student will go on to be a Grammy winning musician, Beasley said the benefits of arts education are enormous and include a sense of community, improved math scores, better concentration, teamwork skills, and learning to see the world in a new way.
Beasley also used his acceptance speech to acknowledge and thank the many Black artists who inspired him and the genres of Black music that are central to his career.
Beasley’s Grammy winning jazz arrangement of “Donna Lee” was originally written by Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. One of the twists Beasley put on the piece was incorporating an Afro-Cuban style rhythmic introduction.
“The whole reason why I’m here is being inspired by Black American music and loving it. I was nurtured and taught by the Black community,” said Beasley. “It always struck me that the Black community after all this abuse, always had this open heart in sharing music, being friends, and being much more open in society.”
African American jazz pianist Thelonious Monk served as the inspiration for Beasley’s band MONK’estra, which received a Grammy nomination this year for best large jazz ensemble album for “Monk’estra Plays John Beasley”.
With a Grammy award in his grasp at last, Beasley does not plan on revving down his career anytime soon. He has numerous projects in the works and can’t wait for the day he’s performing in front of a live audience again.