Sharing a bed can be a kiss of death for bandmates, but not for Marcus and Jean Baylor. The married couple and duo known as The Baylor Project, who are nominated for Best Jazz Performance at this Sunday’s Grammys, have found the perfect balance.
“Music brought us together. I needed a drummer,” says Jean, who started her career as half of the ‘90s R&B group Zhané. At the time, she wasn’t familiar with Marcus’s resume and talents. “He was playing with The Yellowjackets when we met, and I wasn’t aware of him.”
“I wasn’t the first call,” Marcus jokes.
But she liked what she heard, hiring Marcus to back her at an ASCAP showcase. The preacher’s kids with eclectic ears connected immediately. They solidified that connection through matrimony in April 2002.
Marcus has always admired Jean’s versatility. He knew her platinum-earning R&B riffs but her ability to sing “straight ahead jazz” and pop as well impressed him. “She played me all these songs that she had written that really blew my mind,” he says. “When I met Jean, I was just like, wow, she’s a songwriter, a producer. I mean, I’ve seen her do all these things.”
He recognized her ability to “just hear music for what it is.” It echoed his own. “I admire Marcus’s very open approach to music,” she adds. “He’s not bound.”
Their appreciation for one another made them not only perfect for each other, but the perfect musical partnership as well. Marcus had the idea for The Baylor Project as the two were considering an authentic way to collaborate. “We were looking for some way to be able to express ourselves, musically, and completely, and individually, but together as a unit,” says Jean. Initially, she wasn’t sold on being a group. “I said it was a dumb idea,” she admits. Boy was she wrong.
The duo released their debut project, The Journey, in 2017 and earned their first two Grammy nominations together. The Baylor Project recently received their seventh Grammy nod for their collaboration with Adam Blackstone and Russell Ferranté on “Vulnerable (Live).” The success they’re having in music as a pair is possible because of the relationship they have outside of it.
“We’re real transparent with each other,” says Marcus. “You go to the stage and the wife is picking at your nose telling you, ‘Baby you need to go get a tissue.’”
That openness allows them to trust fully in one another, including in each other’s critiques. While Jean says other producers she’s worked with would “probably be a little bit more careful” in sharing their opinions with her, when it comes to Marcus, “He be would like, ‘ah, that was terrible. Do that again,’” she says.
They’ve also realized that as partners personally and professionally, it’s essential to their union that they have time to themselves. That means doing things like having separate hotel rooms on the road. Jean predicted the need for this early on. “She said, ‘Look here, babe, I’m telling you. We’re gonna need separate hotel rooms,’” Marcus recalls.
It was something he was initially reluctant to do. “It took me about a year, and I had to realize that the way we unwind is totally different,” he says. Marcus prefers catching ESPN highlights after being on stage. Jean would rather binge Billions and reread Greg McKeown’s self-help book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. “It’ll save your marriage on the road because you just need a certain kind of balance,” she advises.
But they also understand the importance of turning it off when it comes to business to focus on each other. It’s something Marcus is working on being better about after Jean wanted to chuck his phone into the ocean during a getaway in Puerto Rico.
“I wish there were boundaries. If somebody can come in and give him boundaries, that would be amazing,” she says, laughing.
It all works because the Baylors have a shared mission in life and in music. “The things that we write about, what we hope to accomplish when we get on stage and go before people, it’s not just like oh we want to play some music and sound good, but we want to impact the audience in some way,” Jean says.
Impact is the goal, but the Grammy nominations are always a welcomed perk. Marcus says to be nominated, after many years in the industry on their own and together, is something he hopes inspires other musicians. “There is no age limit on your success and on your passion,” he says. “It was the preparation and consistency and persistent process that led to seven nominations.”