Jeff Bhasker’s Amazing Year

Mar 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Bud Scoppa


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Jeff Bhasker

In 2012, producer/songwriter Jeff Bhasker turned over a new leaf, as his run of hits with top R&B/hip hop artists—including Alicia Keys’ “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart,” Jay-Z’s “Run This Town,” Drake’s “Find Your Love,” Beyoncé’s “Rather Die Young” and Kanye West’s “All of the Lights”—led to projects with top acts in far different genres, including the Rolling Stones’ “Doom and Gloom,” Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die and Some Nights, his wildly successful collaboration with the previously obscure band fun. The latter resulted in sales of close to a million albums and more than 10 million tracks between “We Are Young” and the title song, according to SoundScan, leading to a Best New Artist Grammy for the band and a Song of the Year gramophone for “We Are Young,” shared by the co-writers—the three band members and Bhasker.

But long before those awards, he got a call from Taylor Swift, resulting in his producing two tracks on her massively successful album Red. He then undertook what is rapidly becoming his signature move, merging two distinct genres in the pairing of Dido and Kendrick Lamar on her current single “Let Us Move On.” His contributions to Keys’ Girl on Fire and Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox, including both albums’ lead singles, topped off Bhasker’s remarkably diverse breakout year.

That a white kid from a small town in the middle of nowhere would earn the distinction of being the go-to guy for Kanye, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Keys, Drake, Kid Cudi and other stars of contemporary black music is surprising, to say the least, but for Bhasker, it was just a matter of connecting the dots.

The Socorro, N.M., native cut his teeth on Hendrix, Santana, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Kiss before becoming transfixed by jazz when his piano teacher gave him a cassette with Oscar Peterson’s Night Train on one side and Chick Corea’s Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy on the other. “I was 12 or 13, and it was exactly what I’d been looking for,” he recalls. “The texture of those jazz chords was magical. Then I got heavily into Miles Davis and imagined myself in the jazz tradition where you’d practice playing and a bandleader like Miles would pick you up and you’d go to school under him.”

The notion of following in the footsteps of the jazz greats continued to motivate Bhasker, as he started writing charts for his own satisfaction on his PowerBook 520 using Overture, which also gave him his first taste of programming. Some friends then introduced him to the craft of making beats for rappers to freestyle over, and he came to view rapping as an extension of jazz improvisation. Making beats led Bhasker to try his hand at songwriting, and after graduating from Berklee College of Music, he moved to L.A. and got a job doing demos for renowned pop songsmith Diane Warren. “The experience helped me to appreciate the power of a great, well-written song,” he says. “That got me away from the mental masturbation that serious music can lead to, and I started trying to condense an idea into a digestible message.”

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