Steve Belvilus: ‘Without Jazz you would not have had RnB and Hip Hop’

One of the strongest streams in contemporary urban music – particularly in the US – is focusing on blending the sounds and traditions of soul, R’n’B and pop with jazz and improvisation. You might already know this. But what you may not know is that few bands in the world can do this as well – or as thoughtfully, at least – as SUM (pronounced ‘soom’ – it’s Latin for ‘I am’). Led by the brilliant drummer Steve Belvilus and featuring the captivating vocals of Patryce Williams, the New York based band has developed a unique hybrid jazz/pop/soul/funk sound and they’re presenting it in Australia these days. Here’s what their leader has to say about it.
Steve Belvilus and Patryce Williams

What is the SUM story?

I used to tour a lot with different artists and it came to a point where I wanted to show my writing and composing skills. I sent some tracks to the artist that I was working with at that time; she never took the time to even listen to my compositions. I understood I was underrated and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to start my own band. In addition to that, I did not want to always depend on sideman gigs to work as a musician; I knew I was more than just a drummer. I am a drummer, composer, arranger and producer. Late 2015, I had the opportunity in Harlem to have a weekly gig in a restaurant . That’s when we started playing.

What does ‘Sum’ mean to you?

SUM is me, who I am as an artist and human being; it has my flaws and strength.

How would you describe your music to someone not familiar with it?

My music is a hybrid. SUM is a sum of my influences, that’s how I develop my sound. I can’t say frankly I have found my sound. I am not even sure that I am necessarily trying to find a specific sound. I just write what I feel in the moment and I am always evolving. One thing I do hope to reach with my music is the audience. That’s all I hope and care about.

What are you going to present in your Australian tour?

We are going to present our first album as well as some new tunes I wrote recently that will be part of our new album. I hope the audience will embrace us like we fell in love with Australia last year.

Jazz in the US is becoming more and more influenced by RnB and Hip Hop; what is your take on this?

Well, without Jazz you would not have had RnB and Hip Hop… those genres are a part of Jazz and I don’t see it as different. Good music is good music. A groove is a groove whether it is based on triplets or sixteen notes.

What does jazz mean to you?

Good music.

How has your own journey into music been so far?

Lot of ups and downs in my musical journey. When you are a young kid, you have no idea what it is to really be a musician. I have to constantly remind myself why I wanted to be a musician to stay in course.

Who are your heroes?

Roy Hargrove, Kirk Franklin, Michel Camilo, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, The Grateful Dead, Keith Jarrett Trio.

If you could invite any artist to join SUM who would that be?

Ruban Nielson from Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

‘Test The Waters’ because of it is a song about following your dreams and calling.

Every time I feel discouraged, I listen to it to remind myself that I must trust my guts and not let fear govern my decisions.

SUM will perform ‘The Welcome Tour’ at The Newsagency, Sydney on Thursday 18 April and at the Paris Cat Jazz Club in Melbourne on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 April.