Smooth Jazz artist Ken Navarro and Positive Music Records are preparing to launch a new and unique type of marketing plan in conjunction with Ken’s upcoming Positive Music CD Love Coloured Soul. The plan involves attracting people to the guitarist’s website (www.kennavarro.com) to experience the new CD as it is being recorded and mixed and the album art is being created.
Visitors to the website will be given free access to a changing array of samples ranging from audio interviews with Navarro and the other musicians, to streaming video and photos of the actual recording sessions taking place, early versions of the cover art and graphics, audio clips of the song demos and samples of rough mixes as the recording process progresses. Every week, until the finished CD is released, a new group of streaming samples will be made available for free audition at Ken’s website. This exciting and innovative concept is designed to attract smooth jazz music fans to www.kennavarro.com by inviting them to be a “fly on the wall” for the creation of a new smooth jazz work by one of smooth jazz’s most established artists.
Beginning December 1, one full month prior to the official January 10 retail release date of Love Coloured Soul, visitors to the website will be given the opportunity to purchase one of three (3) special packages which will be offered exclusively at www.kennavarro.com. Each package will be tailored to appeal to different types of smooth jazz fans and will include full-length audio, photo albums, video movies and PDF graphics in addition to the finished CD itself. These packages will be available only at www.kennavarro.com and will be available for purchase on CDs or as downloads with a major credit card. Secure purchases will be easily executed via the new “Ken Navarro” store. The store will be coming online in early October as part of www.kennavarro.com.
The online campaign will begin approximately September 15 and continue right up to the December 1 website release date. Work is currently under way at www.kennavarro.com on a complete make over and extensive web store created by Visible Image. An extensive web advertising campaign is also planned, which will involve some of the leading smooth jazz websites and online radio stations.
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.
As the year rolls along its natural for followers of the format to identify releases that each of them define as their ‘best of the year’. Some are easy to spot. For example Peter White's Confidential, Freeman Benoit Project 2 or perhaps the latest from Boney James, Pure. It's usually the established artists who make such listings but this time around The Secret Garden is showcasing a really outstanding piece of work from a performer who is not as yet in the smooth jazz superstar category but who has just released a CD that we consider to be easily one of the top five albums so far of 2004. The album is Unsolicited Material and the artist is Larry White.
Singer-songwriter Larry White’s promotional material describes him as being long recognized as one of the top talents in the music business and indeed his pedigree of arranging conducting and performing for film, television, Broadway and the recording industry certainly re-enforces that view. Larry has been round awhile. As a child he performed on TV variety shows as well as acting in over 300 dramatic shows. For a time he was also contracted to Paramount Films. He attended the famous High School of Performing Arts in New York City and attended college at U.C.L.A. From there he toured worldwide, performing with the vocal group ‘The Sandpipers’ who scored a hit with ‘Guantanamera’ in 1966.
After a few years on the road Larry, looking for an opportunity to use more of his musical skills, began a long and successful career in musical direction, first in television, and then arranging and conducting for some of the biggest stars in the industry. The names he worked with included Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick, The Carpenters, Johnny Mathis, Randy Travis, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdink. He also struck up a special and long-time relationship with Dusty Springfield as her musical director. Among the songs he orchestrated for her were ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ and ‘Wishing And Hoping’.
Looking for new challenges, Larry returned to his first love in 1998, singing and playing his own special brand of contemporary jazz. His appearances at some of the top jazz venues in Las Vegas led jazz great Buddy Grecco to refer to him on a live radio broadcast as ‘the best musician in Las Vegas’ and in 1999 he took time out to perform at San Francisco's famous Fairmont Hotel. Larry returned to Las Vegas for 2000 with a string of highly successful engagements. He performed at the prestigious grand opening engagements for the jazz rooms at both the Venetian and Paris Hotels, as well as being the first jazz artist to open at the Four Seasons Hotel. Other ongoing engagements include the House of Blues and the Blue Note. It’s also worth noting that Larry has conducted almost every major symphony orchestra throughout the United States and Canada.
Now, after relocating to Newport Beach, California and having just finished his 2nd CD, the all-instrumental Unsolicited Material, Larry is set to perform at various jazz festivals and corporate events throughout 2004.
Larry shared some of his earlier vocal cuts with The Secret Garden and indeed he has been compared vocally to Al Jarreau, Kenny Rankin and Michael Franks, although his style is uniquely his own. However it is the titles he has gathered together for Unsolicited Material that surely gives a glimpse of where his musical destiny might lay. The songs he writes along with his wife Margaret White are a unique blend of Jazz and R&B, with wonderful chord changes and interesting melodies. Their catalogue of original material has grown to over 200 songs. Despite that it was with no expectations whatsoever that The Secret Garden settled back to listen to Unsolicited Material, a state of mind that was destined to change after only the first few bars of track #1 ‘Morro Bay’, a lovely laid back track with a simple yet haunting hook and playing reminiscent of Joe McBride.
One could have been excused for thinking best track first but when track #2 kicked in with increased tempo, a nice groove and the infusion of horns that rolls right through ‘Joyride’ it was obvious this album was above the average. With the laid back ‘A Quarter To Two’ up at #3 the listener is immediately transported to deserted city streets, damp sidewalks and the flickering neon of a distant diner. It’s like being invited into the inner thoughts of an Edward Hopper painting.
Track #4 is the mellow and easy listening ‘Kickin Back’ and in the same vein comes #5 with the tongue in cheek title of ‘Can’t Get Past The Fifth Number’. Is this to be the case? Is this it for the stand out tracks of ‘Unsolicited Material’. The answer is thankfully not as track #6, ‘She’s A Mystery To Me’, brings a haunting evocative rhythm for lovers walking hand in hand down quiet summer streets.
And so it goes on. One classy track after another all the way to the eleventh and final number, ‘Cooling It’, that leaves a warm feeling deep inside.
Unsolicited Material is an excellent piece of work that deserves to bring Larry White increased success and increased airplay. Check him out at the Huntingdon Beach Hyatt Regency every Saturday night and visit www.larrywhite.com for news of upcoming performances elsewhere. It really will be worth the effort.
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
New reviews of Boney James, Soul Ballet, Rick Braun, Everette Harp, Al Jarreau and Theo Bishop.
Saxophonist Boney James is one of the few smooth jazz artists who is able to cross over into the R&B genre, which is one reason why his latest CD, the follow-up to 2001’s Ride, entered the Billboard Top 200 charts at No. 66. He’s able to do this because he picks either established or up-and-comers to sing on his vocal tracks. But James is also savvy enough to actually make sure that his vocal tracks are memorable, instead of throwaways. You can hear this on “Better With Time,” the first single to R&B radio featuring singer Bilal. It’s a righteous groove that’s “getting better baby, like a stone-soul record, baby.” On the equally good “Appreciate,” soulful Debi Nova adds a rapid vocal groove that harkens to radio soul songs of the ‘80s and has a killer hook, to boot.
Of course, no one does smooth sax songs better that Boney J. His first single, “Here She Comes,” is racing up the smooth jazz charts, and there are plenty more to follow. Hooks and unforgettable melodies abound. The title track, “Pure,” opens with groovy organ and seamlessly segues into James’ sensual and deep sax sound. “2:01 AM” is a slow burning ballad with Boney blowing long, long lines. And Joe Sample adds keys to “Stone Groove,” an uptempo groove. Perhaps the best number of the lot is “It’s On,” which is classic James material – gorgeous and bright sax lines leading into a head-boppin’ melody.
Smooth grade: A
The dreamy, sexy music that Soul Ballet offers comes courtesy of Rick Kelly, who imagines Soul Ballet as a conceptual process. What kind of process? Well, it you like downtempo instrumentals with elements of classical, rock, new age and smooth jazz music, Soul Ballet is your musical nirvana. This is the style of romantic of music that is huge in Europe and in “chill music” circles. Kelly plays keyboards and uses samples, beat boxes and all available modern musical technology to provide a saucy sound that’s unique to smooth jazz. Anyone who’s heard Kelly’s first single from the CD, the luscious “Cream,” will agree.
Not surprisingly, Kelly has a knack for music with a cinematic sweep. He’s a handsome guy who’s directed a few short films and during the last year has guest-starring roles in such hot TV series such as “Nip/Tuck” and “Cold Case.” Although cinematic, the Soul Ballet sound is also music you can dance to, even if it’s a late-night sway with someone special. The CD title is dead-on – just when is appears a musical lull looms, a percussive beat comes booming back.
Trina Dye and Sera Lynn add comely voice-overs throughout the CD, and Ken Ross blows many seductive horn lines. In fact, horns seem to be a central in many of Soul Ballet’s hits, including here on “Cream” and on earlier songs such as “Black Sun.”
A second CD included in the package, All the Pretty Lights, has extended remixes of three songs from Soul Ballet’s debut, self-titled album: The songs are “Love, Juliet,” “Man and Woman” and “Exotique.” The remix CD directs you to soulballet.com to get the rest of the remix project. This is the kind of stuff that Soul Ballet diehard fans will really groove to, as the selections are perfect for those special chill-out moments with your honey.
Smooth grade: A
Sessions Volume 1
Sessions Volume 1 is the debut CD from Artisan Records, an independent label co-founded by trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Richard Elliot. Although the label will release all new music beginning with Elliot next year, this project is a live-in-the-studio recording featuring many of Braun’s greatest hits. Braun calls it a gift to his fans, and it’s no denying that. They’ll hear new version of favorites such as “Cadillac Slim,” “Notorious,” “Missing in Venice,” “Groovis,” “Nightwalk” and “Marty’s Party,” among others.
Although saxophonist Boney James didn’t make it to the session, there are also two songs from Braun and James’ classic collaboration from 2000, Shake It Up: “RSVP” and “Grazing in the Grass.” Artists who did drop into the studio for the live recording include such established sessions players and longtime Braun cohorts Mitch Forman, Luis Conte, Jimmy Roberts, Andre Berry and Rayford Griffin. On “Notorious” from Braun’s Body and Soul CD, Elliot plays the saxophone lead originally played by James. An undeniable highlight is the only new song on the CD, a track called “TGIF” co-written by Braun, Dave Koz and Brian Culbertson. Koz and Culbertson also play on the brassy, upbeat party song, which was recorded in one take.
The real draw on this album is to hear these smooth jazz musicians getting a chance to let their hair down and do some serious jamming, something fans have seen many times in concert but rarely on studio CDs. And there’s more good news: Braun plans more Sessions CDs with other artists in the genre.
Smooth grade: B+
All For You
Sweet, sexy sax man Everette Harp makes a triumphant on his first CD in four years, on a new label and in charge of his musical direction, as he again returns as producer and the main songwriter. There’s no denying that Harp can play and perform memorable smooth jazz, which he shows on the instrument of choice, the alto saxophone. What you’d expect from Harp is what you get here among the 12 tasty, R&B songs infused with Harp’s passionate playing. There are undeniably catchy fast-tempo tunes such as the summery “Kisses Don’t Lie” and the first single, “Can You Hear Me,” the latter co-written by keyboardist and producer Rex Rideout, who contributes elsewhere on the CD as well.
There are unexpected delights sprinkled throughout, such as some groovy EWI (electronic wind instrument) runs on “Back in Your Arms,” spiced by Rhodes and Clavinet piano sounds that much welcome as you don’t hear those sounds much in smooth jazz anymore. It’s also a pleasure to hear Harp’s longtime collaborator and mentor, George Duke, laying down an inspired synth solo a la Pat Metheny on a groove-fest appropriately called “Groove Control.”
Harp can lay down the languid, cool-breeze sax groove as well as anyone, which he shows on “Hey Yah.” He also reinforces his fondness for genre-switching R&B vocal tunes such as “Time of Our Lives” and “I Like the Way,” the former showcasing his ample vocal chops. Harp tones it down for a cover of Babyface’s “When Can I See You Again,” in which he plays all the instruments, and “In the Blink of An Eye,” a beautifully jazzy respite featuring longtime collaborator George Duke on the Rhodes organ. On this tune, Harp changes sounds by switching to the soprano saxophone, and it’s one of the most emotional smooth jazz songs of the year.
Guitarists Earl Klugh and Norman Brown add their distinctive touches on “Just Like Ole Times” and “I Remember When,” respectively. On the latter tune, Harp switches to the deeper tenor saxophone a la Richard Elliot, which is the perfect counterpoint to Klugh’s plucky and pretty guitar work.
All For You is solid work from a seasoned professional that won’t disappoint his fans. For those who aren’t hip to Harp’s charms, this is a good starting point.
Smooth grade: B
Accentuate the Positive
The elastic vocals of Grammy winning Al Jarreau have never been as prominently displayed as they are in his new CD, the 18th in the 64-year-old singer’s career. The album, recorded live in the studio with a quartet, reflects Jarreau’s philosophy on life, as the album is his first purely straight-ahead jazz recording. The project also reunites him with producer Tommy LiPuma, who collaborated with him on his second and third albums. The album features such well-known standards as “Cold Duck” – the album’s first single – “The Nearness of You,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “My Foolish Heart,” “Waltz for Debby” and the title track. The quartet features pianist Larry Williams, bassist Christian McBride, drummer Peter Erskine and guitarist Anthony Wilson.
Jarreau’s many fans will buy anything he puts out, and this one is worthy for its jazz sensibilities. They’ll hear all of his vocal powers – his whispering, his vocal caresses, his growls and scats, his sighing, his crazy trips up and down the octaves. In fact, you can hear many of his styles on just one song, the raucous “Groovin’ High,” with music by the late, great Dizzy Gillespie and new lyrics by Jarreau. There are several new tracks as well, including “Betty Bebop’s Song,” written by Jarreau and pianist Freddie Ravel as a tribute to the late jazz singer Betty Carter.
Accentuate the Positive is Jarreau at his purest and best.
Smooth grade: B+
Theo Bishop, a smooth jazz producer and co-founder of the Native Language label, shows on his debut CD that he’s learned a thing or two in the business. It was Bishop who co-wrote Native Language star Jeff Kashiwa’s biggest hit, the No. 1 song “Hyde Park (The ‘Ah,’ ‘Ooh’ Song).” On the 10-song Newport Nights, Bishop plays keyboards and sings vocalese on the “Put the Top Down,” a sunny tune that seems lifted from the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
In fact, the entire CD is perfect while cruising down a beach road, or any road, for that matter. Named after the town of Newport Beach, the CD reflects Bishop’s sunny world view that is obviously inspired by living in Southern California’s Orange County. The result is a treat for smooth jazz fans, full of tight rhythms, hummable melodies and great playing by keyboardist Bishop. Helping out are Kashiwa, Juan Carlos Quintero, Jimmy Haslip, Jill Hennesey and Dave Hooper, among others. In addition, guitarist Brian Hughes works his magic on a song called “Too Kool for School.”
This CD might get lost among the sheer amount of music available these days, but that would be a shame. There’s nothing too fancy, no DJ scratches and no bombastic brass passages. It’s a quiet, engaging work and a perfect soundtrack to lazy summer days.
Smooth grade: B
The single "Hope Springs Eternal" is now being heard worldwide!
Brace yourself! Over the coming months, Concord Records will be releasing some of its biggest projects this year.
On August 24, Chick Corea returns with the original members of the Elektric Band for the first time since 1991 for To The Stars. Chick was inspired to write this CD after one of his favorite books, the L. Ron Hubbard novel of the same name. The Chick Corea Elektric Band begins its nationwide tour in September, making stops in LA, DC, NY and other key markets.
Just one week later, on August 31, the final album from Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company, hits the stores. The CD was recorded live and completed in March 2004, just months before the legends’ passing. Featured artists include Norah Jones (“Here We Go Again”), Willie Nelson (“It Was A Very Good Year”), Elton John (“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”), Van Morrison (“Crazy Love”) and Natalie Cole (“Fever”). In total, the artists featured on the CD have won a combined 79 GRAMMY Awards! It’s one of the most anticipated CDs of the year!
In September, Concord has the sophomore release from pop/jazz sensation Peter Cincotti. On The Moon is funkier than his chart-topping, record-breaking debut CD and includes his contemporary and undeniably infectious twists on such classics as “I Love Paris,” “St. Louis Blues,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.” The CD also showcases Peter’s talents as composer, featuring 5 Cincotti-penned tracks! Peter will be on tour throughout the fall and into 2005. Later this year he makes his film debut in Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea.
To round out the month, Concord has a new recording from mega popular pop superstar Barry Manilow. Scores features new recordings of Barry’s favorite tunes from his two Broadway musicals, Copacabana and Harmony. Rumor has it that the CD will include a remix version of Copacabana. Watch this space for more information coming very, very shortly!
Playboy Jazz: In A Smooth Groove (2-CD set with today’s most popular smooth jazz artists, including Boney James, The Rippingtons, Dave Koz, Regina Belle, Grover Washington Jr and more) will be due in September.
Gerald Veasley feels very much at home in Reading, Pennsylvania. So much so, that he’s adopted Reading as his ‘home away from home,' with the creation of his Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base club in collaboration with the Sheraton Hotel in Reading. Already a regular and much respected performer at Berks Jazz Fest over its 14 year history, he’s woven himself into the fabric of the city and the hearts of those who live here. It seems everyone in town has gotten to know this talented, down to earth musician. And besides being a favorite to those of us living here, he is one of the most sought after musicians on the jazz music scene today. It will be exciting, indeed, to watch his new venture unfold right before our eyes!
I first met Gerald Veasley when he did a mini-show at Borders Book Store in February of 2002, in promotion of the Berks Jazz Fest and of his own Bass Boot Camp. At that time, he began putting down roots with his founding of the Bass Boot Camp at the Wyomissing Institute of the Arts. It's a place where he can train aspiring bassists, from younger players up through the university level. He also shares his knowledge of the history and fundamentals of bass playing with area educators.
Veasley is down to earth and personable with fans, and he's one of those people who, at first meeting, you feel you have known for years. He happily shares his passion for music and his zeal for teaching students of bass guitar to play this instrument on which he has become so accomplished. That day I won tickets to a number of shows, being the Grand Prize winner in a raffle. I was stunned, to say the least! But one of those sets of tickets enabled me to see him play during Berks Jazz Fest with Pieces of a Dream. I was so fortunate to have seen this show; the music was awesome and an education in itself for me, and Gerald Veasley added a special flavor to the performance. Even back then, I could sense his giving nature, and now, two years later, I can't say I'm surprised that he's giving something wonderful back to this community he has grown to love.
With the opening of Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base club at the Sheraton Reading Hotel, now Veasley is settling into an even more permanent connection to our community. And fans in the Berks County area couldn’t be more pleased. He plans to feature local, regional and national talent in two one-hour sets each Thursday evening, from 7 to 8 and then from 8:30 to 9:30 PM.
Grand Opening night will feature Veasley and his own incredible band, along with the Berks Jazz Fest Horns– Mike Anderson on saxophone, Bill Miller on trombone and Rob Diener on trumpet – and the addition of some surprise guests! Leave it to Veasley to make things fun and exciting that way!
Shows will continue every Thursday evening in the Goodnite’s Lounge of the Sheraton, an intimate venue, or the Sheraton Ballroom when a larger venue is needed. Many shows are already on the schedule, including Tower of Power on October 20th, to be held in the Sheraton Ballroom.
Stay tuned for a recap of Grand Opening night and of future Thursday evenings at the Sheraton from this exciting new venture, Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base club! Hope to see you there!
A schedule of shows and ticket information are each available at the Gerald Veasley Jazz Base website, www.geraldveasleysjazzbase.com.
And now I want to add my voice to those who welcome Gerald Veasley and the Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base club to Reading!
Happy Thursday Night Jazzin'
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
The 17th annual Long Beach Jazz Festival took place August 13-15 in Rainbow Lagoon Park in Long Beach, California. Sponsored by Bank of America and a host of others and organized by jazz drummer Al Williams, it included a wide selection of first rate artists. Also a part of the festival were winners of the "Jazz Talent Search" 2004 - an event Williams founded in 2002 with the goal of promoting new jazz talent giving the winners the opportunity to perform in front of thousands and help the genre throw. During the festival host Al Williams personally introduced the artists, most of whom he calls his friends.
Here are my impressions from this festival.
I opted to attend the festival in the VIP section that is located right in front of the stage and grants backstage access. Although you were not allowed to actually go backstage, you could at least stick around in this area where the chance of meeting artists is higher. Tickets for these seats included a separate entrance, seating at a table complete with food and wine, and a good view to the stage. It’s fun to meet those sharing the table with you. Behind the VIP section is the boxed seat area with numbered seats while the rest of the park is taken up with people setting up their umbrellas, blankets, picnic chairs etc. creating a cool festival atmosphere. The number of attendees over the weekend usually exceeds 30,000 people. The weather was just perfect with blue skies and a cool breeze from the ocean.
Friday evening at 7pm the festival was opened by newcomer Karina Nuvo, a Cuban-American singer who had quite a bit of smooth jazz talent in her band. On keyboards was Dan Siegel, on sax Jeff Kashiwa (replacing the originally scheduled Tom Scott) and trumpet player Johnny Britt from Impromp2. Nuvo’s material ranged from pop songs to songs with a Latin flavor, as in the rendition of EWF's "Shining Star.” Dan Siegel had the opportunity to play the title track from his current CD Inside Out, marking the only smooth jazz spot of this set. To learn more about her and her music, you can check out her work at her site at www.karinanuvo.com.
After the usual 30 minutes break one of the first highlights of the festival for me occurred: guitar player Peter White was on. I had bumped into Peter a short while before the concert and was able to talk to him briefly. He is a nice guy and very approachable person. His set was excellent, showcasing his ability to entertain a crowd with his acoustic guitar playing. He delighted fans with some covers of treasured soul classics like "My Cheri Amour", "The Closer I Get To You" and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" and possibly showing where his musical roots (and probably heart) may lie. This was appropriately followed by his own "Bueno Funk, " bringing the crowd to their feet. In between songs, he told funny stories, and the set ended much too soon after 60 minutes. I wondered where Peter would have taken us if he had had more time.
The evening ended with singer Al Jarreau who sang material from his new CD Accentuate The Positive, but it wasn’t long before he found himself performing his old hits. His top-notch band was led by Larry Williams on keys and saxophone. At the beginning of the concert he scatted jazzily, telling us that "this is called jazz" but later during the course of the show had to rely on his pop hits from the 80’s like "Sad And So Distracted" and finally "Roofgarden" to bring the crowd to their feet. I wish I could have heard him in a more intimate setting as he used during his early work. But times are changing and no matter what, in my opinion, Al Jarreau is a world class performer and unique talent.
Saturday the festival was opened at noon by the Donavan/Muradian Quintet, winner of the "Best Mainstream Band" category of the 2004 Jazz Talent Search. The quintet was fronted by sax player Chuck Manning and trumpet player Kye Palmer with Curtis Brengle on piano, Larry Muradian on bass and Jeff Donavan on drums. I wholly enjoyed their swinging and occasionally grooving straight-ahead playing. Despite having had only 30 minutes of playing time, they left a lasting impression and I enjoyed their set thoroughly.
The next 30 minutes were devoted to Julie Burrell, winner in the "Vocals" category of the 2004 Jazz Talent Search. Originally hailing from Austin, Texas, Burrell relocated to Long Beach in 1999 and currently performs in the local club scene. She possesses a strong voice and good phrasing, delivering supper-club jazz and blues. Check out her new CD JulieJazz at her site at www.julieburrell.com. I had a good time listening to her as well.
The first big name act to come up Saturday afternoon was Fattburger, the ever reliable and genre defining group from Southern California. Fattburger members are Carl Evans Jr. on keyboards, Mark Hunter on bass, Kevin Koch on drums, Tom Aros on percussion and Evan Marks on guitar. They opened the concert with the track "Sizzlin,” the title track from their CD of the same name which gave Evan Marks the first chance to stretch out. They played some classic songs like "Who Put That Meat In My Bed?" from their vast catalog and cool cover versions of "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va" showing their Latin inclination. Fattburger is a joy to listen to and for me represent my idea of laid back, easy going Southern Californian smooth jazz to the fullest.
Next were the Jazz Crusaders, whose name caused some confusion. After Wayne Henderson split with buddies Wilton Felder and Joe Sample, there was some arguing about the use of the "Crusaders" name. It appeared to be settled by having Wilton Felder/Joe Sample use the "Jazz Crusaders" name, with Wayne Henderson adding "and the Next Crusade" to his name. And so I was expecting to see Joe Sample and Wilton Felder but learned instead that Wayne Henderson and band was scheduled. I like Wayne Henderson, I just wish the name problem could be cleared up.
Wayne Henderson is a living legend, not only as a member of the original Crusaders, but also as a producer during the 80’s and 90’s (there even was a time I was collecting Wayne Henderson productions!). Wayne was dressed like a cook with an apron, claiming to have come to cook for us. He had a sax player in his band helping him to recreate the original Crusaders sound (but when soloing didn't reach the level of a Wilton Felder). Wayne played old Crusaders hits like "Buck Stomp Dance” and "Keep That Same Old Feeling," with the audience singing along. He finished his set by bringing Jean Carne to the stage singing "Street Life," a stellar performance. Wayne helped us all have a good time during this old school set.
During the later afternoon it was time for three classic soul singers to enter the stage. First it was Billy Paul, with his velvety voice, delivering his old classics like "This Is Your Life,” "Let Them In" and the beautiful "Me and Mrs Jones" to a very receptive crowd singing along to each of his songs. Next was the inimitable Jean Carne singing, among others of her classics, "Love Don't Love Nobody.” She put her heart and soul in every note she sang turning out to be an absolutely consummate performer. Despite being a mother of three she still continues to tour six months out of the year and is totally committed to her art. Last we heard Michael Henderson, who performed "Valentine Love", "You Are My Starship" and after having grabbed his bass "Wide Receiver" with some funky bass playing starting the party. I caught myself thinking that it’s a shame this type of music is not made anymore. The sheer class and soul of these performers was not only bringing memories but was also touching my soul in a way I had almost forgotten was possible. It was beautiful to have these at the festival. Thanks to Al Williams for inviting them.
At 7pm it was time for one of my all-time favorites: Brian Culbertson featuring Michael Lington on saxophone. I had never seen Brian Culbertson before and knew that I was in for a treat. They opened the show with a splash, being in a party mood right away. The camaraderie was obvious with them jamming together and having a good time. Michael Lington, who was born and raised in Denmark and moved to the US in 1990, has become a smooth jazz star himself. He played a hot sax and made a great team with Brian Culbertson who was grooving at the keyboards which were located at center stage. The dynamic showmanship of all involved provided a great show and when Brian picked up his trombone to join in with Michael Lington and his father Jim Culbertson on trumpet in a wild horn frenzy, at that point the music went trough the roof. Brian also was a perfect entertainer, talking to the crowd and providing lots of fun, also when playing soft romantic songs on his keys. His rendition of EWF's "Serpentine Fire" was a beauty as well and had the crowd on their feet. It was a great show and this hour went by too fast. I have to see this guy again and hope that he will be allowed to play at least two hours! Great stuff!
The evening was concluded by sax legend David Sanborn, who had his work cut out for him after the powerful performance of Brian Culbertson and Michael Lington. But his sound is unique and his style founded a whole new school of playing the saxophone with all current smooth jazz sax players indebted to him. So his performance was warmly received and people continued to dance in front of the stage. He gave us his classic songs like "Chicago Song", "As We Speak" and "Lisa" among others. He was expressively improvising over a heaving backbeat, showing his incredible class as sax player. He concluded the evening with "Coming Home Baby" from his current CD. It was truly a privilege to witness this artist.
Sunday at noon I was there again to check out the AC Timba Jazz Band, who won in the "Latin" category of the 2004 Jazz Talent Search. Unfortunately their longtime leader Juan Sanchez Oliva passed away a short time before the festival, which may have hampered demonstration of a performance up to their fullest ability. The band consists of a rhythm section, piano, sax and trombone out-front. Nevertheless they provided a solid Latin set which seemed to appeal to the gathering crowd.
The first big name act at 1:30pm was sax player Steve Cole and band, who flew in just for this concert from Chicago. They were here to have a good time and so were we. Steve Cole played with a lot of heart and expression delivering one great song after the other, backed by his great band who had their own solo spots in which to shine as well. With hit albums Between Us and NY LA under his belt, which are regularly played at smooth jazz radio, Steve Cole has become another one of smooth jazz finest artists. His set was full of energy and enthusiasm bringing the crowd to their feet and providing the first highlight. He even dared to ignore his time limit saying that he didn't come all the way from Chicago to leave now and gave us one more to our delight. I talked to him and part of the band after the concert. They all turned out to be nice and friendly guys. This concert was one of the highlights of the festival for me.
Next was the Al Williams Jazz Society, featuring Niki Harris on vocals. Al Williams is not only the founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival and promoter of new jazz talent, he is also a noted jazz drummer deeply rooted in the jazz community. His band consists of veteran musicians like music director Nolan Shaheed on trumpet, Dave Bradshaw on keyboards, Nedra Wheeler on bass, Charles Owens on saxophone and Tony Poingsett on percussion. Later during the concert singer Niki Harris joined the band. Niki Harris is the daughter of late jazz pianist Gene Harris and provided a lot of energy to the show. Also sitting in was Wayne Henderson on trombone. They played mostly mainstream jazz but in a groovy and accessible way. Among the tunes played was Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time" which I particularly enjoyed.
With Kem came a performer many had been waiting for. His first CD Kemistry just went gold and he is a very respected figure in the industry. Clad in white, he sat at his keyboards center stage singing songs which have a lot of meaning. As he pointed out during the concert, he went through his share of troubles with drug and alcohol addiction, but has now not only found his faith but also a successful way of living with his music. His voice and style are unique and his performance brought this special vibe over. He had a first class band with sax player Dave McMurray being the most notable one. Dave opened and closed the show with his sax playing and colored many songs with his horn. I was delighted to see him to be part of this band and met him after the concert, when he told me that some new material from him is coming soon. We will watch for that, Dave!
At 6pm it was time to welcome vibes maestro Roy Ayers to the stage. Right from the start, the band was grooving, causing us to be in the right party mood. During the first 10 minutes, Roy was just singing a little and hanging around at the stage, occasionally taking the place of one of his background singers while this one was allowed to show his soulful singing capabilities. Then the guitar player had his solo, then it was sax player Ray Gaskins who got his solo spot before Roy decided to involve himself a little more. A cool way to start things off. Then it was time for "Everybody Loves The Sunshine" - which was quite appropriate with the sun burning hot - and Roy playing some mean vibes. "Evolution" followed, as an extended party jam. Again time was up too soon and I wonder where Roy would have taken us had he had more time. This set was fun and a great part of the afternoon. By the way, Roy Ayers' latest CD is called Mahogany Vibe and is available at Tower Records.
Next was George Duke, who is one of the most important figures in the industry, not only as a jazz musician, but as a producer with a career spanning over 30 years. Seeing him is something I was looking forward to and knowing him as I do, I expected to see only musicians of the highest calibre in his band. On bass was Michael Manson, on guitar Ray "The Weeper" Fuller. The drummer was not familiar to me. He had two background vocalists, one of whom was the famous Lori Perry. George started out with some of his old fusion stuff from the era with Stanley Clarke, then gave us a beautiful rendition of "No Rhyme No Reason" with Lori Perry shining on vocals. He then delved deeply into his funk stuff with "Dukey Stick" giving Michael Manson a solo spot and bringing the crowd to its feet again. People were dancing in front of the stage and at the end of the show he even invited one member of the audience to the stage to sing with him. The guy was first a bit puzzled after the microphone was handed to him, but he soon took heart and started to improvise quite well, to the delight of George. The show - which had to stick to the hour which was available - ended far to soon!
As in every year since the inception of the festival, Poncho Sanchez concluded the festival. The conga player appeared with his sharp band and horn section delivering his mix of Latin jazz, Salsa and more. The receptive crowd kept on dancing in front of the stage and when he went funky with "Out Of Sight" he finished this great festival on a good note. At 10pm the festival was over.
This 17th issue of the Long Beach Jazz Fest was a great collection of sounds featuring artists from a broad spectrum of music. We heard some smooth jazz greats like Peter White, Brian Culbertson, Michael Lington, Fattburger and Steve Cole, we had vintage acts from the old school like Wayne Henderson, George Duke, Roy Ayers, Al Jarreau and David Sanborn, we got our share of soul and R&B from people like Billy Paul, Jean Carne, Michael Henderson and newcomer Kem, and there even was some mainstream, straight-ahead and Latin jazz thrown in for good measure like Al Williams, the Donavan/Muradian Quintet and Poncho Sanchez. All of this music fit together and the selection of artists made up a varied, interesting and stimulating program showing the desire of Al Williams to keep the artform viable, give older artists a chance to shine and new talent an opportunity to appear.
Looking back, personal highlights of the festival were the appearances by Brian Culbertson/Michael Lington and Peter White, both of which presented the most entertaining and crowd pleasing shows; singer Jean Carne who simply blew me away with her totally committed and heartfelt performance; George Duke for being such a consummate performer and artist who provided a good time; and finally the "Jazz Search 2004" winners who made it worthwhile for me to show up early on the days they performed.
I applaud Al Williams for his work and look forward to attending another Long Beach Jazz Festival in the future. I also send out my greetings to all the nice people I met at the festival (you know who you are) and the artists I met backstage. See you next time!
Smooth jazz guitarist Peter White‘s new radio single debuts on top
The second single released from guitarist Peter White’s latest Columbia Records album shared most added honors in the smooth jazz radio format this week, according to industry trade Radio & Records. The rousing “How Does It Feel” marks a departure for White and sounds different than anything else in the format. White showcases some nifty acoustic fretwork on the song he wrote on two guitars with producer Matthew Hager (Mindi Abair, Mandy Moore). The first single from White’s Confidential album, released last March, was the #1 hit, “Talkin’ Bout Love,” which held the top spot for seven weeks. It was White’s twelfth #1 single.
Plans for second Christmas concert tour take shape
A touring veteran that thrives on the concert stage interacting with audiences, the second annual A Peter White Christmas concert tour is set to commence on November 26th in San Diego. Sharing the marquee with White this year will be trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Mindi Abair. The artists will perform their best known hits along with seasonal holiday classics during the month-long trek. The complete concert itinerary will soon be revealed.
I am currently spending some time in Los Angeles attending a few smooth jazz concerts and meeting people. So far I have attended concerts by Chieli Minucci & Special EFX, Doc Powell with guest Gary Taylor, the Braxton Brothers, Hiroshima, Joyce Cooling and Norman Brown and was invited to the CD release party of The House Of Urban Groove masterminded by Tony Joseph. Let me give you some of my impressions of these concerts and my stay in the smooth jazz capital LA.
The concert by Chieli Minucci & Special EFX was held at the "Garden Of Eden" as part of the "Live Jazz Wednesday's at the Garden Of Eden" series of The Wave 94.7 radio station sponsored by Lincoln. The "Garden Of Eden" is an upscale club located in West Hollywood decorated with an oriental flair. The layout is a bit spread out with not every seat having an unobstructed view to the stage, which due to space restrictions had to be put right next to the main entrance. I felt a bit disturbed by people circulating in front of the stage during the concert, but obviously this didn't seem to pose much of a problem to others who were dancing in front of the stage. Chieli Minucci had David Mann on sax, Mitch Forman on keys, Dave Hooper on drums, a small Sizilian guy named Kevin Brandon on bass. Despite the aforementioned somewhat distracting factors they did a great job. Chieli played songs from his vast catalog and I was happy that he played one of my favorites, the Stevie Wonder cover of "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" with its rousing climax. Especially David Mann provided a few burning sax solos turning up the heat with the rest of the band delivering a solid background. During the intermission I talked briefly to Chieli and David who both are nice and down to earth guys. Despite their music seems to come straight out of Southern California they operate from Manhattan, NY.
Next evening it was Doc Powell and Gary Taylor at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. The concert was part of "Jazz By The Bay at the Queen Mary" series. Set outside right next to the huge Queen Mary ship which now has been turned into a hotel remaining stationary anchored in Long Beach on a nice summer night with a cool breeze from the ocean I was in for a great concert. Doc Powell delivered some phat grooves with his band consisting of two keyboard players (one playing occasionally with Eric Clapton), a great bass player and drummer. Doc Powell showed some considerable skills improvising on guitar with warm sounds out of the Wes Montgomery/George Benson school. He was stretching out and letting it go to the enjoyment of the capacity crowd.
For a few songs guest Gary Taylor stepped in on vocals. Among them was "No Love" and the Bill Withers classic "Ain't No Sunshine" delivered with great style and class despite Gary claiming not to be much of a live performer doing mainly studio work. During the talking between songs Doc Powell not only told us about Luther Vandross recovering from a stroke to be doing quite well (Doc was a member of his band for years and stays close to Luther's family), about his religious beliefs and the fact that he is grateful for his career and the way it has turned out so far. He finished the set with his version of Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess". A great concert and one of the highlights.
Next were the Braxton Brothers and Hiroshima at a very upscale event at the Hyatt Newporter in Newport Beach. The event was part of the Wave's "Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Jazz Series" with sponsor Volvo aiming at the affluent smooth jazz crowd. Included was dinner to be taken in the nice surroundings of the Newporter outdoors, then over to the concert with the stage set in the garden and chairs set up on the lawn. Again it was a beautiful evening and a great setting for the concert. The Braxton Brothers were opening the concert with a short 30 minutes set having them play live over a recorded playback accompaniment. They delivered on sax and bass creating a good mood and upbeat groove despite the lack of a full band.
Then came Hiroshima with longtime members June Kuramoto on koto, Kimo Cornwell on keyboards and leader Dan Kuramoto on keys and woodwinds next to the rest of the band. They delivered their trademark sound which owns a lot to the unique koto playing of June Kuramoto. With a flower in her hair and a fragile smile she brought a lot of flair to the evening. Bandleader Dan Kuramoto was communicating with the crowd while black singer Terry Steele brought the ladies to their feet. When he sang the Isley Brothers classic "Caravan Of Love" everybody was just loving it. Their set was varied running the gamut from asian flavored jazz to pop and soul. This beautiful evening found its end too soon but at 10pm sharp they had to wrap it up.
Sunday afternoon I drove down the Thornton Winery in Temecula where Joyce Cooling and Norman Brown were scheduled. The sun was burning hot and cold drinks were flowing. The show was opened by the Thorntons who welcomed the crowd and introduced the artists. First was guitarist Joyce Cooling with partner Jay Wagner on keys and a great drummer and bass player. She played a nice set but appeared to me lacking a bit of fire so the crowd stayed on their seats.
That changed when Norman Brown entered the stage. His fluid guitar playing blew us away. Having amassed quite a catalog by now he gave us the best from the past 10+ years showing us being a first rate artist. I fondly remember his fun medley featuring a Jimi Hendrix track, "This Masquerade" by George Benson and "Bumpin On Sunset" by Wes Montgomery just ending abruptly asking us if we came here to listen to his stuff or what! After solving some technical problems with a hum they kept the good vibe by playing Stevie's "Too High" and more having the crowd on its feet at the end of the concert. Apart from Doc Powell this was one of the best concerts I have attended this week. On the website of the Thornton Winery you can find out about more upcoming concerts to come.
The Wave 94.7 seems to be rather active in organizing concerts and events with smooth jazz artists which is great. Unfortunately this contrasts to their radio programming. The Wave has been instrumental in the development of the smooth jazz format being the first station on the west coast playing this type of music. When I came to LA I was looking forward to hear the Wave again and discover some new music but soon was a bit disappointed. One problem was the amount of advertising they have. After having heard the Volvo ad for the umpteenth time I was a bit tired wondering if I was listening to an ad or a music station. Second problem was their programming which could be tagged as "safe". I don't consider Kenny G's "Songbird" or Sade's "Smooth Operator" as very original programming (knowing how much good stuff is out there). Besides they mainly play music from non smooth jazz artists like Gladys Knight, Sade, Earth Wind & Fire, Natalie Cole, Vanessa Williams, Anita Baker etc. and throw a smooth jazz track in there only once in while. So after a short while I got fed up with it, got an iPod mini and now program my music myself - without the odd pop song and no ads.
Next will be the Long Beach Jazz Festival which starts tonight - more on that later so stay tuned!
Tony Joseph, creator of the hugely successful Unwrapped series on Hidden Beach Records released July 27th a new project - this time on Peak Records - called The House Of Urban Grooves featuring original compositions still retaining the "Unwrapped" style fusing elements of hip-hop, jazz and urban soul.
Tony told me that due to his work as a producer with rap artists it was a natural extension for him to build on that work by adding contemporary jazz artists to recapture the "Unwrapped" spirit. He did the record at his house inviting artists like keyboardist Patrice Rushen, violinist Karen Biggs, former Blackbyrds keyboardist Kevin Toney and many others to the sessions. The result is a creation that digs deep into street rhythms, free-form inspirations and futuristic sound melodies that make for a refreshing listening experience.
If you liked the "Unwrapped" series then The House of Urban Grooves is a must-have for your collection.
Praful may get a "cool" reception at a show in Greenland.
Tickets for saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Praful’s upcoming performance in Greenland may be hard to get.
The concert is a prank.
On his newly redesigned website at praful.nl, the musician features a map of the world, where you can click on a region to see where he’s scheduled to perform. When you click on Greenland, an Oct. 7 concert is listed as “Praful live at the annual polar bear convention.”
“It’s a joke,” Praful admits. “Is there such a thing as a polar bear convention?”
Truthfully, though, Praful does has some upcoming performances in the United States. His current hit is called “Let the Chips Fall,” the follow-up to his smash single called “Sigh” from his album One Day Deep.
Smooth jazz guitarist Craig Chaquico goes from contrasts on his new CD, Midnight Noon.
Guitarist Craig Chaquico has finished recording his seventh album, Midnight Noon, his seventh solo effort overall and the follow-up to 2002’s Shadow and Light, which produced the smooth jazz hit “Luminosa.”
The album features 10 songs with titles that Craig says all belong to the overall feeling of duality, time and contrast that he is trying to achieve. Titles include “Dream Date,” “Bobby Sox,” “Jazz Noon” and the first single, “Her Boyfriend’s Wedding.” Unlike previous albums, which have included numerous guest artists, Midnight Noon spotlights longtime band members – keyboardist and co-composer Ozzie Ahlers, saxophonist Kevin Paladini, bassist Jim Reitzel, drummer Wade Olson and percussionist Marquinho Brasil.
“The title of the album is based on an old jazz expression called 'jazz noon,' " says Chaqucio. " 'Jazz noon' is midnight, 12 a.m. I heard that years ago, and whenever I thought about it it was just so intriguing to me that that was jazz noon was midnight. Most people’s noon is noon. But in the jazz world some clubs don’t even open until 11 o’clock at night and the second set starts at 2 a.m. There was just something interesting about the other side of the clock.”
The two guests who are on the CD are keyboardist and producer Bill Heller, who has performed with the Rippingtons, and vocalist April Hendrix, who sings “Always With You” and has performed with the band 3rd Force.
1. Her Boyfriend’s Wedding
2. Dream Date
3. El Gato
4. Always With You
5. Bobby Sox
6. Dial Del Zorro
7. Jazz Noon
8. Girl’s Night Out
10. Outlaw in the City
Mindi Abair's upcoming album features a jazzy "hidden track" dedicated to the spirit of Cannonball Adderley.
When smooth jazz saxophonist Mindi Abair releases her new album called Come as You Are in September, it will contain a “hidden track” that clocks in at six minutes and nineteen seconds. On the song, “26 Hemenway,” Mindi displays her traditional jazz skills as she pays homage to one of her favorite players, the late Cannonball Adderley. The song gets its title from the address where Mindi lived while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston.
The rest of the album features 11 original songs with such titles as “Shine,” “Make a Wish,” “Head Over Heels,” “Sticks and Stones” and “High Five.” Mindi sings vocals on three songs: “Every Time,” “I Can Remember” and “You’ll Never Know,” which has a bossa-nova beat. The first single, the title track “Come as You Are,” will be shipped to radio stations on August 23rd.
Musicians include the album’s producer and co-writer Matthew Hager, Ricky Peterson, Russell Ferrante, Steve Ferrone, Luis Conte and others. In addition, Mindi’s father, Lance Abair, makes a guest appearance on tenor sax on the song “New Shoes.”
The much-anticipated album is the follow-up to Mindi’s major label debut in 2003, It Just Happens That Way, which has sold almost 100,000 copies and features the current hit “Save the Last Dance” as well as "Lucy's" and "Flirt."
Look for Come As You Are on Sept. 14.
Mindi is now on the cover of Windplayer magazine.
Come As You Are
1. Come as You Are
3. Every Time
4. Head Over Heels
5. Make a Wish
6. Sticks and Stones
7. I Can Remember
8. New Shoes
9. High Five
10. You'll Never Know
12. 26 Hemenway (hidden track)
The contemporary jazz sounds of the Pat Metheny Group will resurface in January 2005.
Sixteen-time Grammy Award winner and guitarist Pat Metheny has been reunited with one of his earliest collaborators as his albums will now be released by Nonesuch Records. The label is owned by Warner Bros., which has released Pat’s most recent albums.
Robert Hurwitz, the president of Nonesuch, was integral in Pat’s early career when he released several albums on the ECM label. As part of the new deal, the Pat Metheny Group will release a new album on January 11th.
Pat released a solo guitar album last year, One Quiet Night, but the music he creates with the Pat Metheny Group has much more of a smooth jazz influence. His last CD with the Pat Metheny Group, Speaking of Now from 2002, went to the top of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts and picked up a Grammy for the Best Contemporary Jazz Album. It featured the single “As It Is.”
In addition to presenting Metheny’s new music, the entire Metheny catalog from 1985 through the present – with the some of the music remastered and remixed – will become available on Nonesuch. The Pat Metheny Group will begin a world tour in February.
3rd Annual JAZZ AT SUNSET Fundraiser featuring guitarist Peter White with saxophonist Jaared and the Matt Marshak Band for the Long Island Multiple Sclerosis Society Saturday, August 21, 2004 (by Val Vaccaro)
If you’re looking for a chance to hear smooth jazz under the stars this summer in the New York area, you should check out the 3rd Annual JAZZ AT SUNSET Fundraiser to benefit the cure for Multiple Sclerosis on Saturday, August 21st (rain date August 22).
This year’s fundraiser event includes performances by a number of great smooth jazz artists. The show will feature the ever-popular Sony recording artist guitarist Peter White with Three Keys Music/Lightyear recording artist super saxophonist Jaared, and guitarist Matt Marshak with his band. Matt Marshak was the winner of the CD101.9/Absolut Vodka Smooth Jazz Artist Contest last summer. (For artist information, check out www.PeterWhite.com, www.Jaared.com and www.MattMarshak.com). Some other guest artists may also appear at this year’s benefit show.
The JAZZ AT SUNSET fundraiser concert is a very special, local event with a ‘friends and family’ appeal. The show is an exclusive garden party held outdoors in Huntington Station, Long Island with only about 200 lucky people attending the event. Last year, guitarist Peter White and saxophonist Jaared serenaded the happy crowd for over two hours, with a special guest appearance from vocalist Toni Robins, for a perfect, relaxed summer evening!
Proceeds from ticket sales go towards a great cause – helping those in need with Multiple Sclerosis in the Long Island area. Last year’s event raised over $10,000 from ticket sales and contributions. This year, help them to do even better! Tickets for this great “JAZZ AT SUNSET” event are $40 each which includes complimentary food and drinks!! There will also be raffles to win great prizes! Don’t miss this chance to see Peter White, Jaared and Matt Marshak up close on Saturday, August 21 starting 4PM (rain date August 22nd)!!
For details and tickets call (631) 547-0539 or (631) 379-6797.
You can also see http://www.nationalmssociety.org/NYH/event/event_page.asp?p=20813&e=6242 If you can’t attend the benefit show, but would like to make a donation, contributions can be mailed to: National Multiple Sclerosis Society L. I. Chapter 200 Parkway Drive South, Suite 101, Hauppauge, NY 11788.
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.
This time The Secret Garden is combining not one but two Smooth Jazz Survivors with notes on a smooth jazz artist who doesn’t always catch the headlines but who came to town and stole a show away from three major names of the genre. The classic tracks are ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘It’s A Shame’ and the artist is Paul Jackson Jr.
The event to which we refer was the WIFM 98.1 promoted Sax Pack event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Diego that starred Kim Waters, Jeff Kashawa and Steve Cole. In addition, and most fortunately, it also had smooth jazz guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. opening the show.
In case new readers are unsure what it takes for a recording to be classed by Secret Garden as a Smooth Soul Survivor, lets just say it must be a smooth jazz interpreted track that has its origins deep in soul music. The intention is to encourage you to get out there and search the racks of your favorite record store for these items of buried treasure.
But first back to the Hyatt Regency to get one thing straight. Waters, Kashiwa and Cole were not bad. In fact they were far from it and we will take more time in upcoming issues of The Secret Garden to explain more of what these three were all about. Its just that on June 27 2004, in the warmth of the San Diego sunshine, Jackson proved that he can play and entertain without resorting to some of the antics that certain current players tend to employ. He simply came, put on a show, and enabled the audience to have a party. They did just that.
Paul Milton Jackson Jr. was born December 30 1959 in Los Angeles CA and has become a musician sought after by many of the greats of soul and smooth jazz. His credits as side man and session player are numerous yet when in 1998 he released his solo recording Never Alone / Duets, an album that found him collaborating with Kirk Whalum, Joe Sample, Jeff Lorber and Gerald Albright, his smooth jazz career was not propelled forward in the way that had been expected. It took three years of touring with artists like Whitney Houston and the Backstreet Boys, and the time that afforded, to rethink his career and to come up with his next release, The Power Of The String, in 2001. When he looked around for a catchy radio ready cut for the album he did not have to go further than the Whispers classic of 1987 ‘Rock Steady’ and he promptly set about making this Smooth Soul Survivor one of the more memorable single releases of 2001.
It’s therefore surprising, given their status as a veteran R&B quintet with an impressive 23-year legacy of R&B hits, that in over three years of research, this is the first time The Whispers have been included as a provider of an original Smooth Soul Survivor.
The Whispers were formed in Los Angeles by twins Walter and Wallace Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutton and Gordy Harmon, although by 1973 Harmon had already left the band. The Whispers first appeared as far back as 1964 on the Dore label with ‘I Was Born When You Kissed Me’. In 1969, they climbed the soul charts for the first time with ‘The Time Has Come’, this time on Soul Clock, and they made it into the R&B top ten the following year with ‘Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong’. Ever since then, and variously on the Janus, Soul Train, and Solar label’s they have been making hit records. They struck big in 1980 with ‘And the Beat Goes On’ and it was in 1987 that they had yet another number one urban contemporary hit with ‘Rock Steady’. In 1993 founding members Walter and Wallace Scott took some time out to pursue solo work but remained with the band.
Jackson’s smooth yet funky guitar work brought out the very best that the rhythms of ‘Rock Steady’ had to offer so it was no surprise when working on his next (and latest) release Still Small Voices he again looked back into the archives for something radio stations could latch on to.
He found it in the Spinners classic ‘It’s A Shame’ that was originally included on their 1970 release Second Time Around. The Spinners were the greatest soul group of the early '70s, creating a body of work that defined the seductive sound of Philly soul. Ironically, the band's roots lay in Detroit, where they were originally, called the Domingoes. They formed in 1957 when the quintet were high school students in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. At the time, the group featured Bobbie Smith, Pervis Jackson, George W Dixon, Billy Henderson and Henry Fambrough. Four years later, they came to the attention of producer Harvey Fuqua, who began recording the group, by this time renamed as The Spinners, for his Tri-Phi Records. The band's first single, ‘That's What Girls Are Made For’, became a top ten R&B hit in 1961 and featured Smith on vocals but following its release, Dixon was replaced by Edgar ‘Chico’ Edwards. Over the next few years, the group released a series of failed singles, and when, in the mid sixties, Motown bought out Tri-Phi the Spinners became part of the larger company's roster. By this time G C Cameron had replaced Edwards but Motown never gave the group much consideration. ‘It's a Shame’ became a hit in 1970, but the label continued to ignore the group, and dropped them two years later’. It is the voice of G C Cameron that can be heard on ‘It’s a Shame’, which was at the time their first top ten R & B song since 1965. Cameron left the band when they signed to Atlantic preferring to stay in Detroit with the Motown stable. Phillipe Wynne stepped in and shortly after made everyone forget that Cameron had ever been around.
It was with Atlantic between 1972 and 1977, that they enjoyed their most productive period with a string of hits that included ‘I’ll Be Around’, ‘Mighty Love’, ‘Then Came You’, ‘The Rubberband Man’ and ’Could It Be I’m Falling In Love’
‘It’s A Shame’ is quite simply a classic. Opening with a nimble, intoxicating solo guitar hook and due, in no small part, to the Spinners gorgeous harmonies, this performance is effortlessly elegant, soaring from chorus to verse and back with ease. It’s perhaps because their performance on the record is so sublime that only a handful of artists have attempted to cover the song. Co-written by Stevie Wonder and Lee Garrett, the track doesn't really sound like a Wonder song, despite the fact that the melody is every bit as graceful as his best work. Wonder created the ideal pairing of song and production for the Spinners who, prior to the records release, had been struggling on Motown. The song changed the direction of the Spinners career, providing the foundation for the Gamble Huff productions to come. It was also important to Wonder. It revealed that ‘Little Stevie’, still only 20 when ‘It’s a Shame’ was released, had vision and talent that reached far beyond the Motown formula he had been using.
With ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘It’s A Shame’ Jackson has made two classic soul tracks his very own and made them accessible to a whole new audience. But Paul Jackson Jr. is about much more than that. Look out for future issues of the Secret Garden that will explore more of his work and the special smooth jazz heritage that he is creating.
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
That's Dave Koz and his Friends, of course!
June 25th brought a new venue to the city of Reading, Pennsylvania. The recently built Sovereign Center, home of the Reading Royals hockey team, was magically transformed for the Grand Opening of the Reading Eagle Theatre.
On this very rainy night, part of the arena seating was blocked off, reducing the arena to a more intimate space with the stage in the center, set against a backdrop of curtains so that every seat in the newly created U-shape had a good view of the stage area. The stage area was quite attractively featured in this new theatre, and I’m sure there will be many more concerts in this new venue.
So many people were still drying out when show time came that the MC of the night came out with an umbrella to do his rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain,’ before announcing the show. But it was a great show, and the rain was easily forgotten. With headliners Dave Koz, Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler and Rick Braun, how could it be any different? And one of the most interesting things about the night was that anyone who attended this Dave Koz and Friends concert has now learned the secret identities of Dave and these friends of his.
Dave’s secret identity is Koz the Koreographer. True to his style, Dave arranged the show so that musicians did not simply ‘appear on stage.’ Each one of them had a well-calculated role to play in addition to playing an instrument. Dave’s ability to orchestrate a show with such precision and timing of movements is amazing! I think if we’re not careful, the jazz world is going to lose him to a Broadway production company! I’ve seen Dave Koz a few times before this, and each time, he made optimum use of every artist, every moment and every note in the songs during the show.
As for Wayman Tisdale’s secret identity, well, he has two of them! One shows his softer side, dubbing him The Big Marshmallow, and the second one, which I’m pretty sure was totally spontaneous on this night, is Wayman the Conductor. He was standing nearby other players when all of a sudden he began conducting them! After that he tried to throw a kiss the way only Rick Braun can (you guessed it, Rick’s is The Kiss Thrower); somehow it didn’t work in the same way for Wayman. But that’s no problem, he can always fall back on the marshmallow or conductor identities! You may or may not know that Wayman was a basketball player of star quality in the NBA in his past life! Wayman had so much fun during this show, and he played very well. I didn’t realize you could go from tough basketball player to nimbled-fingered bass player, but it’s obvious he has done that and very successfully.
Jonathan Butler, who I thought was mainly a guitar player (where have I been?), has a secret identity as Singer of Headliner Quality, wow! He fell into Koz the Koreographer’s plans for him very, very nicely! Dave counted on him to foster a lot of audience participation, and that task seemed as easy as breathing for Jonathan. It was the first time I’ve seen him, and to say his performance in playing, singing, and just audience connection were memorable would not be doing him enough justice. The audience adores him and now I know why.
Back to Rick Braun, The Kiss Thrower. While I knew that Dave was a gifted choreographer, I had never picked up on the secret identify of Rick Braun before, even though I’ve seen him a number of times in concert! I mean, he was throwing BIG kisses, the kind you throw from a heart of gratitude and love for the recipient! The audience thought it was great, of course, as they were the object of his affection! I should point out that Rick was also a bit of a Secret Entrance Artist during the show. Now and then he disappeared for awhile and just when you began to wonder where he was, he would sneak in from the side of the audience onto the stage, or would end up playing to the front row without even getting on stage, or he would sit on the edge of the stage. He was all over the place during this show! I was struck, once again, not only by his talent, but also by his flexibility on stage. He can be serious or he can go along with the outrageous schemes of his band leader for the night.
And this is not all I saw of special abilities and secret identities! Dave had some other friends with him, including a keyboard, bass and guitar player and these three also had secret identities. Shhhhhh, these band members are actually DANCERS. They, too, played with great skill, and how were we to know they would land in center stage with some rather graceful, well-timed moves? I suppose they might end up with Dave in that Broadway production company!
There’s just one more thing I need to tell you before I continue: they all like to fight with each other on stage! Just like young boys! I was not always sure if Dave was running after or running away from the others, but there was a lot of running, pretend pushing and shoving, going on. I think when the event planners asked Dave to come here to play and to bring his friends, he took that literally!
Now that I’ve set the stage, you might also wonder about the music. Oh yes, the music!
The set list was an excellent one, I thought. It included Koz’s "Honey-Dipped," from his new album, Saxophonic, Wayman’s "Ain’t No Stopping Us Now," a real crowd pleaser, and "Gabrielle," written for his daughter; Braun’s "Notorious" and "TGIF" (this song features Dave Koz on Braun's new CD); and Jonathan Butler’s "Wake Up" and "No Woman, No Cry." The audience was enthralled and it kept getting better and better. The first set ended with "All I See Is You," "Sarah," and the ever popular "Grazing in the Grass." Still other highlights of the show were "Dancin," "Smile," and Dave’s "Faces of the Heart," the love theme for “General Hospital.” The crowd joined in enthusiastically with Butler’s "Do You Love Me," and the evening ended with "Lies" and Stevie Wonder’s "I Wish."
A fun addition to the show came when each artist contributed his expertise in playing themes of television commercials and programs of long ago, as well as nursery rhymes! They surprised us with renditions of songs like "London Bridge is Falling Down," themes from "The Brady Bunch," "The Jetsons," "Bonanza" and many others. It was a competition between the artists to see which one came up with the most recognizable crowd-pleasers in this category, and they kept topping each other!
A bonus of the evening for me and I’m sure many other fans was that one of our own writers on smoothvibes.com, Jonathan Widran (of the Contempo Column), wrote numerous articles in a small newspaper format given to all who attended the show. He wrote quite comprehensive articles on Dave and each of his Friends who performed that night. As far as I know, he didn’t have a ‘heads up,’ however, on quite all of the Secret Identities!
The music was captivating from beginning to end. It was so good that the performers would not have needed secret identities to hold our attention. But we did have fun watching all these antics, never knowing what they were going to do next! And to say they were having fun would be an understatement. They were all on a high and they seemed to genuinely love being in Reading, home to the Berks Jazz Fest.
I’m sure we all left the arena thinking it would be great fun to do it all over again!
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo credits: Michael Packard
The Las Vegas Mercury Jazz Festival, sponsored by the Clark County Parks And Recreation and the Las Vegas Mercury magazine, comes to life on August 14th at the Clark County Amphitheater in Las Vegas.
The event will feature some of the best smooth jazz artists today, from the veteran sounds of Russ Freeman and The Rippingtons, sax great Kim Waters, to the UK's top export, Down To The Bone. Be sure to check out one of the top rising smooth jazz groups in the last year, Praful, performing as well.
With six CDs and 200 dates per year, the ever popular band, Turning Point, will be kicking up their signature smooth sounds at The LV Mercury Jazz Festival in addition to newcomer Christian jazz group, Sacred Groove, performing as an added feature to this year's event. Tickets are $24.00 in advance, $30.00 the day of event. For more information go to lvmercury.com.
Up and coming events are Jazz Under The Stars #3 edition at Spring Mountain State Park, just out side of Las Vegas, in cool mountain hills. This third installment in the series, Guitars And Saxes features Jeff Golub, Mark Antoine, Warren Hill, and Euge Groove.
The Michelob Smooth Jazz Series, held at the Henderson Pavillion in the adjacent city of Henderson, Nevada, features Doc Powell on September 7th, followed by Steve Oliver the following month on October 5th.
Russ Freeman had to suppress a chuckle when his old compatriot and fellow smooth jazz pioneer David Benoit walked into one of the sessions for The Benoit/Freeman Project 2 wearing his shopworn satin Moonlighting jacket with the first stitched rendering of the Rippingtons’ famed jazz cat.
“I was amazed that I still had it,” Benoit says, “and it brought back so many good memories of the old days. Honestly, I can’t believe how long I’ve been doing this and how long Russ and I have known each other and worked together. I knew keeping the jacket on would help create the kind of casual, relaxed atmosphere and type of spontaneity we wanted on this new project. But it was also fun to reminisce about making the first Rippingtons album and the players who were on it.”
About ten years ago in this very column space, I declared 1986’s Moonlighting as the most influential smooth jazz recording of all time, not only for its Freeman penned genre classics like the title track, “Angela” and “She Likes To Watch,” but also for its roster of future genre superstars just starting to hit their creative stride — Russ Freeman (as leader of the ever-popular Ripps), David Benoit, Kenny G (who would soon achieve unparalleled instrumental superstardom beginning with “Songbird”), Dave Koz (then known as David, who played EWI), Gregg Karukas (a top genre keyboard artist/producer over the past 15 years) and bassist Jimmy Johnson, who scored early smooth hits with Flim & The BB’s.
Over ten years after their first all-out collaboration The Benoit/Freeman Project, and nearly two decades after first working together on Moonlighting, the piano great and guitar icon and Ripps mastermind composer/producer are still thriving in the genre they helped create. Perennial fixtures in the upper reaches of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart, David Benoit’s 2003 release Right Here, Right Now went Top Ten, while Let It Ripp!, Freeman’s latest project with The Rippingtons, hit the Top 5.
During breaks from the sessions of The Benoit/Freeman Project 2, as the two played golf, tennis and sipped martinis, they enjoyed reflecting on the phenomenon of smooth jazz and the roles they’ve played in its initial and ongoing success.
“Neither of us could have foreseen the way our music would be brought into the mainstream, or that there would come a time when the average man on the street would know us by sight,” says Benoit, who has parlayed his genre success into film and television scoring, as well as a budding career as a classical composer and conductor.
“When we did Moonlighting, in L.A. there was just one jazz station KKGO and people might see jazz artists at festivals,” he adds. “But the rise of The Wave (94.7 FM) and the smooth jazz format created a whole touring base for us and we went from obscurity to being famous. I think it’s been successful because the artists in the genre are some of the friendliest in the business, we are hands-on with our fans, and the music just feels good. It’s not over everyone’s head, but it appeals to mature adults. People can relax and enjoy it and have a great time at the shows. Everyone just has so much fun.”
Freeman mentions an epiphany he had recently flying home to Florida from a Palm Springs music conference: “They had Smooth Jazz TV on America West Airlines, and it hit me after all these years that the music of this genre had caught on to that extent and was finally popular enough to create such a demand. When I started The Ripps, I only wanted to bring together my loves for jazz and pop. Our timing was good, because there was a whole demographic of adults not being catered to. The heydays of classic rock bands were over, and grunge was a few years away. People needed something good to listen to. Now they relate to it in the context of their lives. It has a history, and it’s been a positive musical force which defies trends and doesn’t have to worry about negative lyrics. I like the urban element, but because I’m a guitarist, I hope it swings back to a rock/blues element.”
Once Freeman and Benoit found mutual openings in their schedules, the creative elements for the project fell into place and they quickly picked up where they left off. Perhaps in response to the format’s trend in recent years to play more oldies and make ultra-safe programming choices, The Benoit/Freeman Project 2 — Benoit’s first recording since finishing his longtime deal with GRP - was fueled by a desire to stretch beyond the confines of the typical music fans expect from their usual releases. As Freeman says, “The first project was very anthemic, with huge production values, but we’re going here for a greater sense of nuance and intimacy.”
Both love to stretch into Latin territory on their own projects, and thus enjoyed the intense percussive fire of “Club Havana,” which features Chris Botti, and the more sensual bossa-flavors on the tender vocal ballad whose title sums up the journey perfectly — “Two Survivors,” sung in a sweet understated way by Vince Gill. Benoit’s enormous success conducting major symphony orchestras and composing for film and television also influenced numerous tracks; many, in fact, were written specifically with a sensuous, harmonic orchestral sweetening in mind.
“David was on a real mission on this one, and everything was fueled by his desire to really expand his sensibilities and go deeper,” says Freeman. “Our fans had been asking about a follow-up album for years, and I’m glad we waited until each of us was at a place where we could make great music that could also surprise them. We’ve always been musically compatible, but the energy here was more incredible than we could have dreamed.”
LIVE RIT RETROSPECTIVE: “Captain Fingers” fans take heart, your fearless guitar god (aka Lee Ritenour) is releasing later this year what he considers one of his biggest, most exciting projects in ages — a high definition live in the studio DVD recorded in 5.1 Surroundsound which features three hours of the legend playing some of his best known classics with an all-star lineup comprising Rit associates from over the past three decades. The guest list includes Dave Grusin, Patrice Rushen, Ivan Lins, Harvey Mason, Ernie Watts, Anthony Jackson, Steve Forman, Eric Marienthal, Kenya Hathaway (Donny’s youngest daughter), Melvin Davis, Oscar Seaton Jr., Barnaby Finch and Alex Acuna.
Recorded over two nights in April at The Enterprise studio in North Hollywood in front of audiences ranging from 10 to 100 people, the as yet untitled recording will be released by Japan’s Video Arts, which has done three other Rit videos and released a Fourplay video when he was part of the group. It features material from 1974 to the present that draws from four jazz styles that Ritenour is best known for — acoustic jazz, Brazilian, 70s fusion and modern funk. The intimate five camera shoot was helmed by director Charlie Randazzo, whose bread and butter is pop music videos and commercials, but who was also the lead singer in high school of the band which became Toto.
“This is the 20th anniversary of Video Arts and coincidentally, my 30th as a recording artist, so the project is something of a mutual celebration where we’re looking both back and forward,” says Ritenour. “We’re hoping it will be sold for television in America, and that by crossing so many lines, will help increase awareness of the diversity of jazz. The greatest thing was being together with my old compadres and the new talent I’ve had the chance to work with in recent years, all in the same room. I was able to bring 30 years of experience to life in a few hours in a setting that was creative and really a lot of fun.”
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO:
1) Alan Hewitt Project, Noche De Pasion (215 Records) – Veteran pop writer, producer and keyboardist dives head first into smooth jazzland, enlisting an incredible array of genre stars (Euge Groove, Mindi Abair, Jonathan Butler, Michael Lington) to enhance his thumping grooves and graceful piano melodies.
2) Kimberley Locke, One Love (Curb Records)
3) Jim Brickman, Greatest Hits (Windham Hill)
4) Jamie Cullum, Twentysomething (Verve)
5) Diana Krall, The Girl In the Other Room (Verve)