September 30, 2004

Roger Smith Is Here There And Everywhere

RogerSmith.jpgWelcome 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.

Sometimes everything just come right and that is exactly what we find with the latest release from key board player Roger Smith, a veteran of a 30-year career, that has seen him play for such diverse artists as Jeff Beck, Gladys Knight and Willie Nelson. Now a solo artist for just eight years, he continues to write, produce and play on albums for other artists, and, most notably continues a grueling schedule on tour with R&B legends Tower of Power.

The 14-track Just Enough, places Roger squarely back on the Billboard charts and it’s the link with Tower Of Power, an array of guest artists and an infectious groove that defines this album as something special.

That incredible horn-driven band Tower of Power has been serving up their special brand of music since the early '70s and has been a launching pad for more than one of today’s smooth jazz superstars.

The group's engine room since the beginning, tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo, was born in Detroit, but opted to pursue his musical adventure in Oakland, CA. It was in Oakland that Castillo put together a group called the Motowns. It was a band that specialized in '60s-era soul and even today the band never miss a chance to put their own stamp on soulful sounds that could easily be sampled from that golden era of thirty years ago.

TOP_vintage.jpgCastillo teamed up with a baritone sax player, and Motowns fan, Doc Kupka, and soon the Motowns had transformed into Tower of Power. Remarkably one of the first tunes that Castillo and Kupka penned together was ‘You're Still a Young Man’, a track that would evolve as one of the bands signature compositions. Tower of Power played regularly in the Bay Area throughout the late '60s, its line-up often changing both by name and by number. They included such mainstays as Greg Adams on trumpet and vocals and Rocco Prestia on bass.

By 1970, they had cut a recording contract with San Francisco Records that led, in the same year, to the group's debut album East Bay Grease. It failed to make an impression on the charts and Tower of Power was left very much trying to find their own sound. Their difficulties grew into a crisis when, in 1972, then lead singer Rick Stevens was convicted of murder. The band needed a replacement and fast. They turned to Lenny Williams who had previously been signed to Atlantic and had the misfortune to record ‘People Make The World Go Round’ only for the Stylistics version to be released first.

Tower of Power definitely saw Williams as the man for the job and his three years with them turned out to be a great success for all concerned.

As well as establishing Williams as a big name in R&B and funk, the collaboration also touched off a string of classic hit releases for the band. These included the 1972 Bump City and the 1973 self-titled release that included another one of the group's most enduring tunes, ‘What Is Hip’. 1974 brought Back To Oakland with the following year giving up Urban Renewal and In The Slot. Tower of Power has always been regarded as a must-see live act but in the late seventies their record releases became erratic in quality. Despite this they still came up with gems in Aint Nothin Stoppin Us Now and Live and in Living Color.

Tower of Power has always been in high demand as a backing group for some of rock music’s biggest names. A proverbial who’s who’ of stars they have supported include Rod Stewart, Elton John, Santana, Michael Bolton, Billy Preston, Huey Lewis, Bonnie Raitt and Paula Abdul. All these and more have benefited from the bands musical mastery. So has David Sanborn, a name that is not the only link between Tower of Power and the smooth jazz world.

Although called a smooth jazz artist, saxophonist Richard Elliot is equally at home with most rock & roll and the kind of classic R&B performed by Tower of Power. This is not surprising as for five years, in the 1980s, he was a big part of the classic R&B band's horn-based sound.

Another ex Tower of Power horn player is now on the A list of smooth jazz artists. Steven Eugene Grove, aka Euge Groove, had moved to Los Angeles where he co-wrote a song, ‘Hearts On Fire’, that caught the attention of Richard Elliot. When Elliot moved on from his spell with the band he recommended Grove as his replacement. He remained with them for about four years while continuing to tour with various major acts.

As well as serving as the proving ground for some of today’s smooth jazz talents Tower of Power remain very active in their own right. Their CD Oakland Zone is the band’s first to feature Roger Smith on keyboards and has sold briskly since its release in April 2003.

In addition to the Tower of Power CD, Roger is working with fellow Tower Of Power rhythm section artists Rocco Prestia on bass, Jeff Tamelier on guitar and David Garibaldi on drums for their own album, which Roger is co-writing and co-producing. Roger is also producing a new CD for Tower of Power’s high-energy lead vocalist, Larry Braggs.

Smith, 54, has the pedigree to manage his many projects. He started playing jazz at the age of 12, and by the time he was 18 he was playing in his hometown of Sacramento's club scene. By the early 1970s, Smith was a sideman on the road and in the studio with a range of notable musicians that included Joe Cocker but it was not until the late 90’s Smith landed the keyboard slot in Tower of Power.

His solo career took off in 1999 with the release of his album Both Sides. One of the album's singles, ‘Off the Hook’, topped Billboard's contemporary jazz singles charts and stayed in the top 10 for seventeen weeks. He was nominated for three Oasis Awards for outstanding achievement in the Smooth Jazz genre for Best Keyboardist, Best New Artist and Song of the Year and won the ‘breakout artist of the year’ award from the trade publication Radio and Records. In addition his single was No. 7 on Radio & Records top 100 songs of the year.

His follow-up album in 2001 Consider This hit trouble when his record company went bankrupt. As a result the album lacked promotion and is now out of print.

Now he is back with Just Enough and, in Smiths own words, ‘this one has more of an urban feel. We were trying to give more of a groove via the drums. I still want that smooth edge, but I also wanted to cross over into the urban adult-contemporary market’ he says. Smith worked on the album sporadically for about a year and a half in his home studio and was aided in songwriting and production by Derek Allen who has previously worked with Janet Jackson.

Although there is barely a weak link in the entire collection there are nevertheless four real standouts. Tower of Power's horn section sends shivers down the spine as it lends its brass to the excellent ‘Friday’ and, when Smith reprises the tune in ‘unplugged’ style with the last track on the album, the voice of featured artist Terrell Carter does very much the same. It could be said that if you want the best you should get the best and that is exactly what Smith has done on the track ‘I'll Always Love You’, with the Temptations on vocals and Dave Koz, on sax. Perhaps best of all is the Peter White showcase ‘Workin' It’ which is good beyond belief.

On top of all that the opening track, an instrumental titled ‘Rough Cut’, is anything but rough, featuring an infectious yet funky melody. On ‘Just Enough’ Roger has explored several jazz styles and come up with a really outstanding piece of work.

But that’s still not enough. Roger is currently developing projects with gospel music giant John P. Kee, and, in addition, was the featured artist on the recent No. 1 smooth jazz hit, ‘Cruise Control’, from the Special EFX CD Butterfly. He was even part of the musical writing team on several songs for the NBC soap opera, Passions.

These projects follow his appearance as featured artist on two tracks of the contemporary jazz tribute to Steely Dan, No Static At All and on three tracks on jazz guitarist Thom Rotella’s CD, Day In the Life.

jazzrosco.jpgMeanwhile, Smith’s pure jazz organ project, Jazz Rosco, gives him the flexibility to play with a blissful, earthy touch. Unlike the carefully constructed compositions of his solo work, Jazz Rosco is a celebration of all that's off the cuff. Rosco’s Place, the album that comes from it, features guitarist Ray Obiedo and Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi. Smith wrote the tunes on the spot. The album was recorded in a whirlwind two days, and is now available at Tower of Power shows and online at and ‘Jazz Rosco is my alter ego’, says Smith. ‘I just needed to vent and get together and play. It's not too heady, and that's the whole idea. We just wanted to let it rip. I like the record, and it's been a lot of fun’.

Just Enough is the fourth studio CD for Roger despite the fact that his crammed calendar doesn't leave much room for solo pursuits. ‘The touring schedule with Tower of Power is pretty arduous’ he explains ‘and doesn't leave me much time to promote, produce or write CDs on my own’. But a gig with Tower of Power, for a musician to play in a band like that, it's great. I'm grateful for the work and to be that busy’.

Possibly the biggest challenge surrounding Just Enough lies in how much Smith will be able to promote it. His contract allows him to take time out from Tower of Power to support his solo career yet Smith is waiting to see how radio embraces the album, which in turn will dictate the demand for his solo gigs.

‘I have a great relationship with Emilio Castillo’, he says, ‘and if I need to take six months off, the job is still mine when I come back’. One thing is for sure. If Roger Smith keeps producing music of the quality of Just Enough he will be asked to come back over and over.

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:16 PM

September 23, 2004

Andre Ward - A Contemporary Classic

AndreWard_bw.jpgWelcome 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.

Driving through New York City on a steamy Sunday afternoon with 107.5 pumping out some classic soul tunes, a surprising interloper that quickly caught the attention was a smooth jazz cover by the up and coming Andre Ward. It was a track that would normally not have the vintage to be a classed as a smooth soul survivor but which is sure to get there some time soon. It takes someone of the statue of R Kelly to record a track that can become a classic in its own lifetime and that is what he has done with ‘Step In The Name Of Love’ a cut that is already proving to be fertile ground in the field of smooth jazz covers. Here we have a story of Chicago, the highs and lows of the music industry and a whole dance style that, in the windy city, goes by the name of Steppin.

Smooth jazz saxophonist Andre Ward was born and raised in Chicago. His first instrument, which he took up at age eight, was the snare drum. He later moved to trumpet and tenor saxophone before settling on alto saxophone and becoming sufficiently proficient to earn a music-performing scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. His session credentials includes work for Freddie Jackson. He was signed to Orpheus Music and released his debut solo album, Feelin You in October 2001. It reached number four on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. His second album, Steppin Up, released in March 2004, is proving to be just as successful.

It’s a fact of smooth jazz life that for a record to succeed it needs radio airplay and its clearly a challenge for any new and young smooth jazz saxman to stay true to his influences while blending the tracks with the sort of covers that can catch the listening ear of radio station musical directors. The question is, on this second release, has Andre Ward made a solid enough case for being different and inventive or has he given in to the allure of the cover version. Certainly, ‘Every Time I Open My Eyes’, the easy-grooving first single from the album, the cool hip-hop-oriented ‘Warm Passion’ and the harder-edged funk of ‘City Vibe’ are all checks marks in the right box for Ward. He balances this sort of pocket grooving with the sweet soprano ballad ‘Heaven in My Life’.

Now to the covers and it can be argued that three of them are way too many. We have the Simply Red classic ‘Holding Back the Years’ with Maurice Jacobs' on vocals. Its fine, but one of those tracks where the origin really cannot be surpassed. The cover of Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is unmemorable and that leaves us with the one that Ward probably should have stuck with had he limited the CD to just one cover, his energetic take on R Kelly’s ‘Step in the Name of Love’. It could be said that 2004 is not the greatest of years to cover this particular track as it can be found on recent releases from both Kim Waters and Bobby Lyle but Andre Ward gives it a buzz and a drive that makes it worthy of inclusion.

‘Step in the Name of Love’ is a treasure, an R Kelly classic. It’s his take on a whole musical subset of the soul genre, the music that comes after the dance. Its what can be heard late in the evening when the mood becomes more languorous, more intimate. The DJ reaches for that special crate of old favorites, those mid tempo grooves that everyone loves. They are not the slowest of ballads; they are not the fastest of jams. These are the tunes that keep you moving in a mellow swing. Never alone, always with a partner. They have a variety of names depending upon where they are played. In Detroit they will be hailed as ballroom tunes. On the west coast they are Cha-Cha but in Chicago these mid tempo R & B hits are known as Steppers. Typically from the eighties notable examples are ‘Risin To The Top’ by Keni Burke and ‘Gotta Get You Home Tonight’ by Eugene Wild and with ‘Step In The Name Of Love’ R Kelly recreated the genre for a new fan base right there in 2003.

R_Kelly.jpgR Kelly, born in Chicago in 1969, and his supporting band Public Announcement began recording in 1992 leveraging off the tail end of the new jack swing era. His smooth, professional mixture of hip-hop beats, soul and funk has always been inters pursed with what critics have branded as ‘explicit carnality’. Hits like ‘Sex Me’, ‘Bump n' Grind’, ‘Your Body's Callin', and ‘Feelin' on Yo Booty’ had production that was seductive enough to sell such blatant come-ons. Kelly also developed a flair for pop ballads that cemented his status as one of the biggest-selling male artists of the '90s.

Seduction on the edge has been both a career move and a curse for Kelly and has attracted unwanted publicity regarding is private life, a facet that showed up as early as 1994.

Kelly and Public Announcement had an instant R & B smash with their debut album Born Into The 90’s. Both’ ‘Honey Love’ and ‘Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)’ were number one R&B hits, while ‘Dedicated’ made it to number 31 in the pop charts. 12 Play, released in the fall of 1993, established Kelly as an R&B superstar. It eventually sold over five million copies. The second single from the album, ‘Bump n' Grind’, hit number one on both the pop and R&B charts in 1994. Also in 1994, he produced Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, the hit debut album for then 15-year-old Detroit R&B singer Aaliyah. Late in the year, it was revealed that Kelly and Aaliyah had wed in August only to get an annulment shortly thereafter. The news sparked a small storm of controversy in the media, yet it didn't hurt the careers of either singer.

Kelly next wrote and co-produced ‘You Are Not Alone’, the second single from Michael Jackson’s History album. It was released in the summer of 1995.

Kelly consolidated his crossover success with the 1996 single ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, recorded for the Michael Jordan movie Space Jam. Setting to one side Kelly's prior sexed-up image, the song reached number two on the pop charts and won Grammy Awards for Best Male R & B Vocal Performance, Best R & B Song, and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television. Kelly remained in the public eye in 1997 with another Top Ten soundtrack tune, Batman & Robin's ‘Gotham City’. When he released his ambitious two-disc R in 1998, it went platinum seven times over and its first single, a duet with Celine Dion, ‘I'm Your Angel’, became Kelly's second number one pop hit with a six-week run on top. Even though subsequent singles ‘When a Woman's Fed Up’ and ‘If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time’ were more successful on the R&B charts, Kelly was well on his way to landing more Top 40 hits in the '90s than any other male solo artist.

The intrusions into his private life that had first surfaced back in 1994 re-emerged in February 2002, when the Chicago Sun-Times reported that it had been given a videotape showing Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. When the scandal broke, other reports surfaced that Kelly had settled a civil suit in 1998 involving a sexual relationship with a then-underage girl, and that he was in the process of settling another suit brought by an Epic Records intern making similar allegations. Copies of the tape in question were sold as bootlegs and on the Internet, and while there was some question as to whether the man was really Kelly, and whether the girl really was underage, Kelly's past history seemed to lend credence to the charge. Some radio stations dropped him from their play lists, and anti-Kelly protests were staged in Chicago.

Following the initial sex-tape scandal, numerous civil suits dogged Kelly, and in June, Chicago police officially charged Kelly with 21 counts of child pornography-related offenses, all related to the original tape. Kelly pleaded not guilty and released a new song, ‘Heaven, I Need a Hug’, which got extensive airplay for a brief period.

If all this were not enough Kelly was plagued by his music being copied or bootlegged and work on his next album, Loveland, came to a halt amid more pirating of the tracks. Kelly eventually scrapped some of the most abused tracks, recorded some new songs, and reassembled the album as Chocolate Factory It is on this great album that ‘Step In The Name Of Love’ appears and now Andre Ward among others is making his own contribution in making this track a genuine and enduring Smooth Soul Survivor.

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:14 PM

September 22, 2004

Dave Koz and Rod Stewart Together Again

Dave Koz will return to Rod Stewart’s American Songbook album series.

Smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz will make a return appearance with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Rod Stewart as the vocalist comes out with the third volume of his interpretations of the Great American Songbook.

You may recall that Koz performed on Stewart’s It Had to Be You...The Great American Songbook, the first in the series released in October of 2002. Koz also made an appearance with Stewart onstage on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. Koz didn’t perform on Stewart’s second in the series from 2003, As Time Goes By, but will definitely be featured on the upcoming Stardust ... The Great American Songbook: Volume III, to be released by J Records.

The first two albums, debuting at No. 4 and No. 2, respectively, on the Billboard charts, have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Also dueting with Stewart will be Stevie Wonder, Dave Grusin, Eric Clapton, Arturo Sandoval, Bette Midler and Dolly Parton.

Songs include "What A Wonderful World," "For Sentimental Reasons," "Embraceable You," "S'Wonderful," "But Not For Me," "Stardust," "I Can't Get Started," "Isn't It Romantic," "Night And Day," "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Manhattan," and "Blue Moon."

Stardust ... The Great American Songbook: Volume II will be released on Oct. 19.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:51 AM

Peter Max Designing New Yellowjackets CD

The Yellowjackets' new CD will be available in March 2005.

Legendary jazz-fusion band the Yellowjackets have completed their next album, which will have 11 all-new songs. According to keyboardist Russ Ferrante, the CD doesn't have a title yet, but the cover art will be designed by world-famous artist Peter Max.

Max was a painter for four former U.S. presidents: Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. He also created posters for President Bill Clinton's inauguration. Max has created stamps and has been the official artist for the Emmys, Woodstock, five Super Bowls and the U.S. Tennis Open, among others.

The CD is expected to be released in March 2005 on the Heads Up label, which is also releasing a Yellowjackets holiday CD called Peace Round on Sept. 28. The CD was released last year exclusively on and at the band's concerts.

In addition to keyboardist Ferrante, the Yellowjackets feature Bob Mintzer on sax, Jimmy Haslip on bass and Marcus Baylor on drums. The band's last album, released in 2003 by Heads Up, is called TimeSquared.

Song titles for upcoming Yellowjackets CD

1. Hunter's Point
2. Suite Fifteen
3. March Majestic
4. The Hope
5. Mother Earth
6. Cross Current
7. Youth Eternal
8. Aha
9. 57 Chevy
10. Free Day
11. Unity

Posted by Brian Soergel at 1:11 AM

September 21, 2004

Chris Botti Free Song Offer

Those who order Chris Botti's new CD in advance can get a free download of a song not on the upcoming project.

chrisbotti3.jpgOn Sept. 28 you can pick up trumpeter Chris Botti’s highly anticipated 13-song album of love songs, When I Fall In Love, in stores and through online retailers. But those who pre-order the album now through will receive an extra song and a limited-edition booklet autographed by Botti.

The free digital song download is the song “But Beautiful,” which Botti recorded during the When I Fall In Love sessions. “But Beautiful” was written by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen and has been performed numerous jazz and pop artists over the years.

If you can't get enough of the sexy trumpeter, you can catch him in the States on September 25 during the CBS Early Saturday show. Vocalist Paula Cole will join Botti on one song. Cole and Botti duet on two songs on the album – “What’ll I Do” and “How Love Should Be.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 12:11 AM

September 15, 2004

Welcome to Jazz Personality

MinucciAxes.jpgHaving the opportunity to talk at length with artists is one of the most rewarding things about being a music fan, no matter what the genre. Here at Jazz Personality, you can look forward to seeing interviews with artists who've given me more of an inside look at their music and their lives.

I hope you enjoy the first of these monthly interviews, and I hope you'll write to me with your comments or suggestions for other interviews!

Beverly Packard
Berks Vibes Columnist
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 5:36 PM

Minucci & Minucci: An interview with talented guitarist/composer Chieli Minucci & son Gianluca

The resemblance between father and son is striking. One look at 14-year-old Gianluca Minucci tells you who his father is. And if you look a little closer, you’ll see that Gianluca resembles his father not only in looks, but the resemblance is broadening to include the heart and soul of his dad, the musician.

Chieli-Gianluca2.jpgThat Chieli Minucci is a multi-talented figure on the music scene today is not news to anyone paying attention to instrumental music. He’s a gifted composer and guitarist, both in Special EFX since the early 80s and on his own solo CDs more recently; he’s an Emmy award winner and consistent nominee for his musical contributions to daytime drama; and his talent reaches to the hearts of children with his Latin score written for Dora the Explorer, recently on Broadway. That his son, Gianluca, has already begun his own musical career, not only playing, but also composing, may not be so well known, however. He’s already a working musical artist!

When Chieli agreed to an interview featuring father and son, I was thrilled. As Chieli explains, “I’m not one to do this kind of interview often.” In the two years that I’ve known Chieli, I’ve found that he is, indeed, a private person who knows how to stay focused on the things in his life that are most important. Not one to seek ‘stardom’ and all that goes with it, he’s still getting accustomed to the fan/star phenomenon. And so I feel very privileged to have spent time with both of them to bring others an inside look at this musically talented father and son.

Gianluca1.jpgI first met Gianluca at a Connecticut show Chieli was playing. Gianluca responded enthusiastically to the interview, and I was struck immediately by his articulate and professional manner. He began his study of music at the piano at age seven, taking lessons until about ten years old, when he became interested in the bass guitar. Says Gianluca, “ I was in my Dad’s studio and took the bass guitar home to try it. I didn’t even know what it was.” But the bass guitar captivated young Gianluca and he began lessons right away. “I really liked how the bass sounded after a couple of days of playing it. I quickly found myself playing pretty well, and I enjoyed learning bass lines. I do see myself playing bass in the future... for a career, I'm not sure.” By age 13 he was clamoring to be in a band of his own. And by now, at age 14, his ‘ska band,’ The Malibu Boyscouts has recorded its first CD!

Gianluca’s friendly personality and warm smile shine through as he talks about his experiences, his eyes twinkling with the excitement and enjoyment of his life and music. One of the first times I saw the fun part of his personality was when Gianluca suddenly showed up on his dad’s website, posting his own message which said, in effect, “Move over, Dad, I’m going to challenge you with my awesome talent on bass guitar.”

Gianluca3.jpgA bright, personable, and serious-minded young man with a good sense of his values, Gianluca already seems to understand the challenges that go along with a career in music. He knows there are compromises that must be made in order to be successful. As he said, “Besides talent, you must sense what is going to be popular, which means there might be some compromise in what you would really rather do.” Gianluca shows a grasp of this way beyond his years, even forming his own opinions of which of his father’s creative ideas he would prefer to be chosen by the record company for a new CD.

But let’s back up to the beginning of Gianluca’s musical career. I asked Chieli if he assumed Gianluca would become involved in music. Though Chieli did not pre-plan a musical path for Gianluca, he was, of course, responsive to Gianluca’s interest in music, and provided him with learning opportunities. As he put it, “I introduced Gianluca to music as I would a new sport, or any other subject. His regular, daily schooling hasn't really included a diversified music program, so I started him with classical piano lessons when he was around 7 years old, much like my own father did for me. It hasn't ever been too much of a concern of mine if he chooses music as a long as it is he who wants it, then I am all for it, and will provide the education, if I long as his interest is truly genuine.”

Gianluca4members.jpgHaving grown up with a father (Ulpio Minucci) who wrote songs for the likes of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, Chieli had certain opportunities himself, and passed these on to Gianluca. Among them were the opportunity to record the music of The Malibu Boyscouts, and also the chance to accompany Chieli on a cruise where Gianluca played bass on one of his dad’s songs.

How does Chieli view Gianluca’s choice of the bass guitar? “I feel the same as I would about any other instrument. I am not picky, or prejudiced regarding instruments....even though I am a fanatical guitarist... it was his choice to try the bass, and once I saw his interest was genuine, I followed through. I've seen enough cases where a person received an expensive instrument and never really pursued it. With Gianluca we started at the bottom. He wants an electric guitar now, but we're going to wait a bit...”

GianlucaDrums.jpgChieli added, “So far, apart from 'regular' schooling, he's studied piano for 2 years, and electric bass, going on 3+ years. His lessons also include a jazz combo and Big Band. During the summer he's played bass for the big band at his summer camp, here in Long Island. All in all, Gianluca has saturated himself with music! I regularly provide him with rides to rehearsals & gigs, as well as do all the maintenance on his instruments and gear...I am a good roadie/tech! I have shared with him the same 'basic' exercises for the fingers which I have done all my life...the rudiments of playing stringed instruments.”

What does Chieli think it will take for Gianluca and other young musical artists to ‘make it’ in today’s music scene? He answered, “Strong perseverance, and as much background as possible. The more musical styles one listens to, the more books young people read, the more plays they attend, the more ballets they watch, the more of everything they observe....all these things will give them a varied foundation, which is a must in today's world...”

GianlucaGuitar.jpgAnd how is the world of music different for Gianluca now than it was for Chieli at his age? “It's very different, “ says Chieli. “New styles exist, and there are more demands on the musician, in general. There are more musicians around nowadays who can play, record, write, engineer, edit, etc..... In other words, most folks today wear many hats. It's very competitive. In general there are simply more people, which means more musicians ... also, it seems to me that the standards of musicianship have dropped sharply in the realm of stardom. There are indeed many fantastic, versatile musicians and writers out there, but the industry has permitted the bar to be dropped a lot, so that nowadays there are a lot of well known artists out there who are really not musicians at all, but have benefited directly from technological advances in music production. It is alarming.”

In addition to piano and bass guitar, the saxophone also held Gianluca’s interest, though he hasn’t had lessons on that instrument, at least, not yet! Gianluca is not sure whether he will continue mainly with bass guitar, or even in the field of music (in the ‘not too distant’ past, he considered becoming a lawyer), but these days, he loves playing and composing. His greatest thrill is to see others listening to his music and enjoying themselves, especially by dancing. He loves the fun aspect of music and wants others to have fun. And just by listening to him, it’s obvious that he knows how to have fun and bring fun into the lives of others.

GianlucaKeyboard.jpgEver since I heard from Chieli that Gianluca is in a ‘ska band,’ I have wondered about the full meaning of that word, ‘ska.’ Chieli demonstrated it to me once, feigning the holding of a guitar, strumming vigorously for a while and singing along with no words, then, slowing it down slightly with a less intense beat for awhile before returning to the vigorous pace. It reminded me of Frank Zappa, which, interestingly, is one of Gianluca’s favorite artists from the past. When I asked Gianluca more about the meaning of this ‘ska’ term for his band, he had no trouble explaining it. This music, dubbed ‘ska music,’ he says, “is simply dancing music.” Hence his band is a ‘ska band.’ A band that plays music to which people can dance. Ahhhhhh, now I get it, being a dancer myself!

Starting out as a band called the Epic Skankers, the band evolved over a period of time to its present name and members. They began playing together in June of 2003, but became officially The Malibu Boyscouts in September of that year. The name appealed to them with its easy tie-in to costume ideas. With Gianluca on bass guitar, the other band members are Theo Padouvas and Vinny Campanele on trumpets, Ruben Marinbach on trombone, Alex Somer on guitar, Christian Madera on keyboard/sax and Phil Padouvas on drums. Gianluca praised the talent and contributions made by each member of the band, some of whom he met at music school and music camp.

GianlucaSax.jpgThe band went through growing pains, of course, refining its membership and coping with having no one show up during its first performance. But subsequent performances brought gradually more guests. Gianluca says, “We play best and enjoy it most when there are a bunch of people there dancing.” Currently the band plays once a month at the Red Zone, located on the border of Forest Hills and Ridgewood in Queens, New York. Other venues include The Knitting Factory and Arlenes Grocery in New York, and other venues on Long Island and in New York.

Music brings Gianluca a lot of joy and in addition to being a dedicated musician, he has a lot of favorite bands and musicians, both past and present. Included in his list are Reel Big Fish, Catch 22, The Aquabats, Return to Forever, Jaco Pastorious, Frank Zappa, Kemuri, Sum 41, ASOB.

GianlucaTru001.jpgAnd music isn’t the only area that brings out Gianluca’s dedication and joy. He is also quite serious about his studies. He is studying at a different school this fall, and is determined to do well in these next years of high school. In addition to music, he is interested in English and loves to write, especially mysteries. He spoke excitedly about writing a piece that was a final in a competition. He likes Stephen King, thriller kinds of books. It seems nearly certain that Gianluca will be writing, whether words or music, or both, in his future career.

I asked Chieli what it was like for him to have Gianluca on board and especially on stage with him during the Smooth Jazz Cruise 2004. He replied, “That was one of the great experiences, for both of us! Not only was it a proud moment for me, but as just another musician, Gianluca really played well! He played on one song, Speak To Me, and he played it without hitting any 'wrong' notes...and...he took a blistering bass solo! Standing ovation! In the end though, his willingness to just get up on stage was the real pleasure for all!” Gianluca adds, “At first I was nervous, with everyone looking at me. But then after that it was a lot of fun!”

GianlucaTrombone.jpgRegarding musical talent, admiration goes both ways between father and son. Gianluca spoke about his realization of the talent of his dad, “I just grew up with Dad so I didn’t really know the talent he has until I was older and went to see him at one of his shows. Then I knew just how good he is.” Favorite songs of his are Cruise Control and My Girl Sunday. No argument there, with Cruise Control having topped the Radio & Records Smooth Jazz chart at #1 for 5 weeks, staying on the chart itself for 30 weeks, and My Girl Sunday (reaching #2 on the charts) being that first favorite of mine that led me to discover all the rest of the music of Special EFX and Chieli Minucci.

Likewise, Chieli is quite proud of the efforts of Gianluca and the Malibu Boyscouts in recording their first CD, entitled, Enlist Now! As he says, “Remember, these guys wrote it, sang it, arranged it, and started their own website ( as well as arrange for booking their own shows! All at 14 years old...”

Quite an accomplishment, indeed. Gianluca adds, “Our CD is doing fine. We have sold around 200 copies, and are in the process of making more.“

What would Gianluca like to say to all present and potential fans about the music of the Malibu Boyscouts? “It’s a fun performance – fun to watch! We have some songs, some great musicians! And a prodigy drummer (Philip)!”

Gianluca4.jpgWhen asked what he wants others to know about Gianluca and his music, Chieli answered, “Simply that they recognize his dedication...his attitude, which is that of someone who plays music out of a hobby, not a chore, but because it's genuinely FUN! This kind of musician is priceless because he is naturally dedicated, as if it's an extension of himself...”

Chieli’s use of the word ‘extension’ made me stop and think. The way I see it, music has become a significant thread that bonds the Minucci men to each other, from Ulpio to Chieli, and now from Chieli to Gianluca. No doubt music fans of the past were grateful for Ulpio. We know fans of the present are grateful for Chieli. And I have a feeling the fans of future years will be grateful for Gianluca!

That’s Gianluca Minucci, with The Malibu Boyscouts! Check them out! Find out what they’re up to, where they’re playing, and how to get your own copy of their CD, all at! It’s a neat site where you can sit around the campfire with them and become a skanker yourself!!

Beverly_MM.jpg©July, 2004
Beverly Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Photos: Michael Packard and courtesy of Chieli and Gianluca Minucci

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 6:39 AM

September 13, 2004

Dave Koz Christmas Tour Finalized

It looks like another strong lineup for Dave Koz's annual holiday show.

KozChristmasTour.jpgKeyboardist Brian Culbertson, guitarist Norman Brown and vocalist Brenda Russell will all join saxophonist Dave Koz for this year's Dave Koz and Friends Smooth Jazz Christmas tour.

In addition, trumpeter Chris Botti will join the tour in Los Angeles and other select dates.

The U.S.-only tour begins Nov. 26 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A list of shows is now posted on Koz's tour page at

Brown and Russell both have new CDs coming out. Brown's West Coast Coolin' will be released on Sept. 21. The current single is called "Up 'N' At 'Em." And Russell's first new album in four years, Between the Sun and the Moon, features the first single “I Know You By Heart.” The CD will be available on Oct. 5.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:30 AM

September 11, 2004

Artists Announced for Luther Vandross Tribute

Many of the artists who performed on a recent tribute album for Luther Vandross, who is recovering from a stoke, will perform at a tribute concert for him in October in New York. Tickets are now on sale.

LutherVandross_bw.gifTickets are now on sale for A Concert of Love, a tribute show for Luther Vandross featuring many of today’s top smooth jazz performers.

The majority of artists have now been announced for the show, which takes place Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. Those confirmed are saxophonists Dave Koz, Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot and Kirk Whalum, keyboardist Brian Culbertson, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. and vocalists Will Downing, Lalah Hathaway and Ledisi. All of these artists, except for Downing, performed on the tribute album Forever, For Always, For Luther, which was released in July by the Verve Music Group.

Musicians who may appear at the event, but are not yet confirmed, include trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonist Boney James and Def Soul recording artist Musiq. The host has yet to be announced, but it is expected to be Patti LaBelle.

Tickets for the show are priced from $59.50 to $99.50. Meanwhile, the first single from Forever, For Always, For Luther features Richard Elliot on “Your Secret Love.” The song is No. 15 on Radio & Records' smooth jazz charts.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:48 AM

September 9, 2004

Chris Standring Will Join Dad for a Good Cause

Chris Standring will help his father as he walks the length of the British Isles to raise awareness of prostate cancer.

ChrisStandring_bw.jpgSmooth jazz guitarist and England native Chris Standring, who now lives in Southern California, will soon be helping his father on the adventure of a lifetime. After Chris finishes the last of four performances in London on Sept. 28, he’ll join 70-year-old Alistair Standring for a few days on a 1,000-mile walk to help raise awareness of prostate cancer.

“My father turned 70 this year, and being the active sort of chap he is, he’s decided to take it upon himself to walk the length of the British Isles," says Standring. "It’s going to take him 10 weeks. He’ll be doing about 20 miles a day with his two dogs dressed in orange outfits.”

On Aug. 23, the grandfather and father of four left Land’s End in southwestern England and, if everything goes according to schedule, is expected to arrive in the town of John o’Groats on the northeastern tip of Scotland on Oct. 24th. The senior Standring was inspired to do the walk after he lost a friend to prostate cancer and discovered other friends who had been diagnosed with it. Alistair, a salesman from Oxfordshire in England, will also be joined by his partner, Yvette, on some of the route.

Local television and radio stations will document his progress, and more than 800 salesmen from Alistair’s company will be raising funds for Alistair across the U.K. If you want to donate or find out more information about the walk, you can go to

Meanwhile, Chris Standring’s tour dates are supporting his current album Groovalicious, which features the singles “Ain’t Mad Atcha” and “Miss Downtown Sugar Girl.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:52 AM

Warren Hill's Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005

It's coming sooner than you think. Smooth jazz's biggest stars will be sailing for a week in the Caribbean beginning Jan. 15. You could be there, too.

SmoothJazzCruise2005.jpgHow would you like to spend an entire week in the Caribbean on a ship solely dedicated to smooth jazz? You can this January during Warren Hill’s Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005.

When the cruise debuted in January 2004, the smooth jazz activities were limited to a certain part of the ship. For the next sailing, though, the entire Holland America Zuiderdam will be devoted to the more than 1,800 passengers expected to attend.

The lineup of artists for the cruise is impressive: Marc Antoine, Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Jonathan Butler, Jeff Golub, Euge Groove, Wayman Tisdale, Kim Waters, Kirk Whalum, Peter White, Oleta Adams and the Harris Brothers will all perform. Of course, Warren Hill will be on stage also. There will be three to four shows per night, midnight jam sessions and plenty of chances for fans to collect autographs.

This year’s cruise departs Jan. 15 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with ports of call in the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands at Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas, Tortola and Nassua. The cruise returns to Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 22.

For more information, log onto or call toll-free at 877-330-JAZZ.

Cruise director Hill, who is responsible for event coordination and artist booking, says passengers are in for some incredible shows.

“All these guys are incredible performers and they really love putting on a show and entertaining a crowd," Hill says. "They all play with passion."

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:35 AM

September 7, 2004

Smooth Sailing Sept. 7

There are so many smooth jazz, vocals and instrumental CDs released these days that it’s easy for many artists not named Boney, Mindi and Kenny to get lost in the shuffle.

Here’s a look at some CDs that are worth listening to:

James Hollihan
The Funky Misfit

You know by looking at the CD cover and title that this is going to have its “weird” moments. Surprisingly, though, this album has some of the best musical moments of the year. Guitarist Hollihan is influenced by cocktail composers such as Henri Mancini and Michel Legrand, but he also has a real ear for mellow jazz, such as on the “The Waltz of Leaves” and “The Hush of Love.” On “Cypress Shores,” his Wes Montgomery-like guitar makes this tune sound like it came gift-wrapped from the groovy 1960s.

A solid CD throughout, The Funky Misfit will appeal to those who enjoy jazzy guitar and piano work in songs that are easy to listen to. Think mellow jazz from a Clint Eastwood movie. This CD is destined to become one of the best CDs no one’s ever heard of.

Smooth grade: A

Various Artists
Unwrapped Vol. 3
(Hidden Beach)

Like hip-hop and R&B served with your smooth jazz? Hidden Beach Recordings has your cup of tea with Unwrapped Vol. 3, which features jazzy interpretations of some of today’s hottest urban and rap music from such contemporary musicians as guitarists Dennis Nelson, bassist Andrew Gouche, violinist Karen Briggs and saxophonist Mike Phillips.

Here are hits like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Outkast’s “The Way You Move.” The CD also honors three late rap stars, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and Jam Master Jay, with medleys of their songs. Keyboardist Jeff Lorber appears on three tracks: “P.I.M.P.,” “Tupac Tribute Medley” and “Doo Wop (That Thing).”

Smooth grade: B

Plan 9
(Plan 9)

Plan 9 is a quirky, fun band that on its new album offers 13 versions of songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s that have definitely stood the test of time. The first single is "Watcha Gonna Do," which features David Jenkins on vocals, who performed on the original 1977 version of the Top Ten hit with the '70s pop group Pablo Cruise.

The album, a combination of instrumentals and vocals, features vocalist Larry Hoppen on “Dance With Me” (an original member of the group Orleans, which had a big hit with the song) and Rick Melvern on “Blinded by the Light.” Other tracks on this delightfully fun CD include two – count ‘em – two version of the “Gilligan’s Island” theme, “You’ll Never Find,” “FM,” “Too Hot” and “Superfriction.”

Smooth grade: B

Various Artists
Windham Hill Chill 2
(Windham Hill)

Given today’s popularity of chill music, it’s not surprising that the original chill label, Windham Hill, has released another compilation of music from its ultra laid-back catalog. These songs may not get played in trendy New York clubs, but it’s worth a listen to hear the great, new age-ish compositions but such top artists as Jim Brickman, Patrick O’Hearn, Liz Story, Yanni, Shadowfax, Will Ackerman, Scott Cossu and many others. More than two hours of music makes this a great buy.

Smooth grade: B

Patrick Yandall
From the Ashes

Patrick Yandall is a San Diego-based guitarist who was forced to flee devastating fires in Southern California in 2003. He made it, and so did his house, but he was inspired enough by others’ show of courage that he used the experience to guide his latest CD. Yandall doesn’t get much airplay, but he writes memorable smooth jazz songs and has a sweet, Lee Ritenour style of guitar playing that goes down easy. “Heart Promise,” “Club Humphrey’s” and “Hope Springs Eternal” – the first three songs – could all find favor on radio if given a chance.

Although Yandall knows how to play smooth jazz, it’s obvious that there’s a rock star just dying to get out and show his stuff, which he does on the last song, “Firestorm.”

Yandall makes smooth, intelligent guitar-based instrumental music that draws from his rock, jazz and blues influences. It’s good stuff.

Smooth grade: B+

Alan Hewitt Project
Noche de Pasion
(215 Records)

Alan Hewitt is a keyboardist who biggest coup was gathering some pretty impressive players for this CD, including Euge Groove on the title track, Michael Lington on “Love Feeds the Fire,” Jonathan Butler on “Sweet Thing” and Mindi Abair on “U Touch Me.” The best songs on the album, though, don’t have the big stars. “Blue Sky” is a jazz ride with guitarist John Defaria and “Reminisce” is a gorgeous ballad with Gerald Spikes on saxophone.

This is a pretty typical smooth jazz album, but it’s also one that has its good-to-great moments.

Smooth grade: B

Rhian Benson
Gold Coast

Rhian Benson is a vocalist who is marketed to the smooth jazz audience much like Sade is. Benson obviously has a great voice, deep and jazzy, and she puts it to good use on 14 songs. Actually, there are only 13, but Benson is obviously the superstitious type, as track 13 is four seconds of silence. Track 14, “Spirit,” is the best one of the album – it has choruses are sung in the Ghanaian and Ashanti languages. It’s a very spiritual song.

If you like soulful vocals over a smooth-jazz/pop beat, you could do a lot worse that Gold Coast.

Smooth grade: B

Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo

Guitarist Ed Johnson’s third CD is a musical treat, a breezy slice of Latin rhythms featuring five vocal tracks sung in English, Portuguese and Spanish. But the CD has an overwhelming Brazilian presence, which is helped by a stunning cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “A Felicidade.” Johnson’s guitar takes most of the leads, of course, but there are plenty of horns, samba shuffles and beautiful vocalese. And, of course, Johnson has the kind of lilting, sing-song voice perfect for this kind of music.

Especially compelling is “For T,” which is the kind of dreamy ballad with wordless vocals that Pat Metheny would have done on his Brazilian-influenced CDs. Put it on and be transported to the beaches of Rio.

Smooth grade: B+

William Joseph
(143/Records Reprise)

Pianist William Joseph is a protégé of legendary composer David Foster, who leaves his classical and movie-theme imprint all over this CD than can for the most part be described as “beautiful music.” Joseph is best when accompanying sweet strings on the original and utterly gorgeous “Stella’s Theme” and on the album’s best track, Bach’s classic “Ave Maria.”

To show he’s a modern guy, Joseph interprets Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and Kansas’ oft-heard “Dust in the Wind,” which both break up the mood a bit. Overall, though, Within is the kind of CD that fits nicely on the shelf next to Jim Brickman, Yanni and John Tesh.

Smooth grade: B

Ron Fattorusso
Up All Night
(Secret Formula)

You don’t have to hear much of the first song on this CD to realize veteran session player and saxophonist Ron Fattorusso knows his way around a smooth jazz song. His throaty sax leads a memorable melody, and a guitar solo breaks things up nicely.

It’s hard to maintain that pace over 15 songs, however. “Up All Night” has some nice moments, but to make a more memorable CD Fattorusso has to concentrate more on the melodies and hooks.

Smooth grade: C

Here are some brief reviews of other CDs:

On Rare Requests Volume III (Liquid 8), the third installment of this popular series, you can find all in one place 12 songs that may be hard to find. They “Last Look” by Torcuato Mariano, “Passion Theme” by Warren Hill, “Always There” by Ronnie Laws, “Rise” by Leo Gandleman and “Tell It Like It Is” by Michael Lington and Bobby Caldwell. Smooth grade: B

Jazz trumpeter Vince Mai says his newest CD, Subte (Mai-Music) is inspired by Latin American music and the European club scene. This eclectic mix is a delightful combination, and while this is far from a smooth jazz CD it’s very listenable with some memorable songs. Highlights include the blues-samba of “U&I,” the Chris Botti-like horn lines in “El Castillo” and “For Carole” and the radio-friendly “Nova Bossa” and its dreamy vocalese. An impressive CD. Smooth grade: B+

The British musical funk and groove adventure known as Incognito, with lead man Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, returns with slamming instrumental grooves and soulful vocals with Adventures in Black Sunshine (Narada), the group’s 10th Cd. The 15-song album is inspired my soul music from the 1970s and features such songs as “Don’t Turn My Love Away,” “Autumn Song,” “Beyond the Clouds” and a cover of the Doobie Brothers’ classic “Listen to the Music.” Vocalist Maysa, who earned her chops with the band, returns to sing on the vocal tracks. Smooth grade: B

You’ve probably heard the work of guitarist Daryl Stuermer many times. He’s played on all of Phil Collins’ solo CDs and is currently touring on Collins’ slyly named First Final Farewell Tour. On Stuermer’s work, Retrofit (Urban Island), he offers nine original songs plus one, “The Least You Can Do,” that Collins co-wrote. Stuermer likes to rock with his electric axe, but he can also play pretty smooth jazz songs and even layers his guitar a la Craig Chaquico on “I Will Remember You.” That and “Promises” and “Midnight Traveler” are the smooth jazz highlights. Smooth grade: B

Alto saxophonist Tom Meston on Upside (Stir-Fry) offers 11 songs that combine fusion, funk, R&B all into one tidy package. Jazzy and meaty, it’s worth a listen for adventurous types. Smooth grade: B

Smooth jazz fans who like Brazilian music may be interested in In Your Dreams (Exit) by vocalist and acoustic guitarist Barry Wedgle. It’s easy listening, and Wedgle has a nice style that recalls Earl Klugh. Standout tracks are “Sea Level,” “Lluvia en Avila” and “Voce se Lembra.” Smooth grade: B+

To hear two of the best chill-music CDs around, check out the Higher Octave label’s Jazzy Chill Out (featuring Eric Jan Harmsen) and Bluesy Chill Out (featuring Dave “BK” Jeffs). You’ll understand what all the fuss is about on these eighth and ninth in an amazing series of music that relaxes, inspires and even make you want to dance. Many jazz and blues samples wrap around ambient grooves that are perfect for those after-party chill sessions. Smooth grade: A

Posted by Brian Soergel at 9:32 PM

September 6, 2004

Jeff Golub Signs With Higher Octave

Guitarist Jeff Golub has a new label and is now working on a brand-new album.

jeffgolub_bw.jpgGuitarist Jeff Golub has signed a record deal with Higher Octave, an imprint of the Narada label, and expects to release a new album in the spring of 2005. He has already started working on new material.

Jeff has previously record eight solo albums, including his last three for the GRP/Verve label: Dangerous Curves, Do It Again and his current Soul Sessions. That album features two hit singles: “Boom Boom” and “Pass It On.” Meanwhile, Jeff is currently on tour with Guitars and Saxes, which has Jeff on stage with Marc Antoine, Euge Groove and Warren Hill.

“It’s important, with the people you work with at a record label, that they understand what you want to do and what is different about you than another artist," says Golub. "So that everybody doesn’t just keep making the same records.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:26 PM

Art Porter Fund Established

Jeff Lorber's Shades Of Soul calls for donations to Art Porter fund.

artporter_bw.jpgAlthough the late, great smooth jazz saxophonist Art Porter died almost eight years ago, you can still hear his music on a new album by the group called Shades of Soul, which features keyboardist/composer Jeff Lorber, guitarist Marlon McClain and bassist Nathaniel Phillips.

Porter died tragically on November 23, 1996, after a boating accident off the coast of Thailand, two years after he laid down tracks for the Shades Of Soul project that wasn’t released until last month. Tragically, Art’s wife, Barbi, died a few years later from cancer, leaving two teenage boys, Art Porter III and Arrington Porter. Now, Shades Of Soul is asking for your help to support Art junior and Arrington. Those who want to contribute can do so by writing to:

Art Porter Jr. Children’s Education Fund
P.O. Box 166035
Little Rock, AR 72216

This isn’t the first time that Smooth Jazz artists and fans have helped the Porter kids. A couple of years ago, the smooth jazz community and friends of the late saxophonist pulled together to help them with a special benefit featuring Lorber, Brenda Russell, Kirk Whalum, Steve Cole and Peter White and others. They performed two special concerts in Chicago and raised about $20,000 for the Porter children’s college fund.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:21 PM

September 5, 2004

Contempo September 2004

Three weeks after overseeing production of the instrumental tracks with the likes of John Pizzarelli, Will Lee, Lew Soloff and Gil Goldstein for their new Telarc album Vibrate in late January at Sear Sound in New York, The Manhattan Transfer is out in rain soaked Sun Valley, California, laying down vocals and additional overdubs at the home studio (TGV Studios) of engineer (and former Sting guitarist) Thomas Baraka Di Candia.

Bad traffic up to horse property country caused by the heavy downpour sets the day’s session back a half hour or so, but within minutes of drying off, the no-nonsense vocal quartet of Janis Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne, Tim Hauser and Alan Paul is ready to do the thing that has endeared them to jazz and pop audiences (and won them 12 Grammy Awards) for more three decades—harmonize. “It’s easy to get into it quickly if we’ve lived with the song a while and understand the emotion of it,” says Bentyne later. “It’s shaped relative to that emotion. It’s like snapping into a zone.”

manhattantransfer04.jpgAlternately, rain touches gently and heavily on the roof of the studio building, but “Baraka” assures them it won’t affect the recording. They start with a series of slight tweaks to the chorus of Rufus Wainright’s “Greek Song.” It quickly becomes clear that Janis Siegel, dressed in ski cap, a yellow and red jersey and black rimmed glasses, is the group’s perfection police when it comes to perfect vocal harmony matching to the musical track. Bentyne says she traditionally gets frustrated when the voices don’t match correctly after eight or nine run throughs, but as the resident “pitch officer,” she tries to be patient. They spend some ten minutes going over a few lines that start sounding like a travelogue mantra after a while:

“All the pearls of China/Fade astride a Volta/Don't sew your beelines to anybody's hide…One way is Rome and the other way is Mecca…On either side, on either side of our motor bike.”

That tune and another clever Wainright song, the title track whose key line goes, “My phone’s on vibrate for you,” form the centerpiece of the very eclectic project, their first studio recording on Telarc after debuting on the label with last year’s live date Couldn’t Be Hotter. In tune with the CD title, Vibrate is also the Transfer’s first to be recorded in 5.1 Surround Sound, which requires each member to have an individual mic this time, rather than gather their harmonies around a single, larger mic.

Paul explains their basic song selection process pretty simply: “We all get together with wish lists of songs we want to do, then we discuss them. It’s all about good material.” This time out, that includes “Tutu,” the Marcus Miller tune that Miles made famous (with lyrics by Jon Hendricks), Brenda Russell’s “Walkin’ In New York,” John Yano’s “The Twelfth,” the early Beach Boys tune “Free Flows” and Gershwin’s “Embraceable You.”

Once they rehearse “Greek Song,” it’s lunchtime. Over Subway and egg salad (Bentyne) and sipping Starbucks (Siegel), they talk about the song they’re going to do overdubs on later, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s tune “Modhina.” They first heard it on his album Terra Brasilis, and whose original Portuguese lyrics by Vincicius De Moraes were translated into English by Paul close to 15 years ago.

“I felt inspired to take a stab at the lyrics and wanted to contain the phonetic shaping of De Moraes' original lyric but also convey an emotional perspective about finding joy and love,” says Paul. “Core of Sound is a reflection of the vibratory aspect of God, the Aum sound that permeates everything that exists and within us. We called Jobim in Brazil and sang him the lyrics, and he thought they were beautiful. But the song wasn’t appropriate for our Brasil album. Once we had compiled the set list for Vibrate, we remembered this one almost as an afterthought and figured better late than never.”

ManhattanTransferVibrate.jpgA bit later, sitting informally on chairs in front of “Baraka”’s monstrous console, the quartet begins vocalizing along with the haunting arrangement of “Modhina,” which features Pizzarelli on guitar. Bentyne’s getting in goosebump mode (always a good sign, she says) and Paul chimes in with an occasional, “Too Loud,” while shaking his head. He mentions another song once which required him to do an individual overdub because “I was singing ‘ma’ while they were singing ‘ba.’”

Later, Hauser goes into the adjacent iso booth (with one bright bulb illuminating the pitch black walls) to work on a specific few bar section of “Modhina.” Siegel in the main room focuses attentively and tries to match his timbre to notes on the keyboard. “Lay on that G flat, it’s a sad note,” she says over and over like a mantra. “Yeah, baby,” she says finally, “you got it!” Hauser looks up above and says, “I hope the sound of the rain doesn’t interfere.” Paul thinks it’s too claustrophobic.

After telling me how she warmed up for this session by exercising her vocal cords en route to Sun Valley, Bentyne comments, “We’re always working on different areas with our voice, sometimes the chest, sometimes falsetto or pronunciation. Tongue placement is important. It’s about getting a balance and not being sterile. I’m not the technical one. I don’t always want everything to sound perfect. It gets pretty microscopic sometimes.”

Bentyne, wearing an oversized black sweater and jeans, also comments on the value of the proper attire: “Clothes make a difference, and should be worn based on the attitude of the song. These songs today have a casual feeling, so we’re dressed pretty down. Other times, Janice and I put on lipstick, do our hair and wear dresses. Alan wore suspenders when we did our swing album.”

While Siegel and Paul go over charts, Hauser chats about his marinara sauce business (“I Got Sauce”) and then, turning the conversation to business, laments, “The hardest adjustment we’ve had to make in our careers is being out of the era of huge recording budgets. We don’t have the same luxury of time that we used to have, that’s why everything seems so rushed. Companies were out of control years ago, spending too much money, so I understand. But I’d be happier with more days to get these vocals right. Where we could do a tune a day in the past, now we have to do one and a half. It’s stressful, but on the good side, we are forced to hone on important things quicker.”

Paul surveys the equipment in the studio’s main room and talks about the value of Pro Tools, focusing on his observation that “the 192 high definition sampling rate helps create a sound much closer to analog. He mentions that the four are friends outside the live and studio settings (and that some of their children are close, too) and the fact that he’s naturally a baritone but sings tenor. Siegel talks about all the major “shleppage” the Manhattan Transfer will experience in support of Vibrate and talks about trips to Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea.

Soon they’re ready to squeeze into the iso booth with the black walls, gather around the single mic hanging from the ceiling and commit “Greek Song” to digital “tape.” They appear cramped but relaxed, and listen to the rain. To quote one of their classic tunes, the “Trickle Trickle,” splash splash of the rain stops just as Baraka gets rolling. To the ear untrained in harmonic precision, the first run-through sounds great, but it’s only mid-afternoon. The harmony police will have plenty of time to listen before they work on the next song tomorrow.

FESTIVALS: The West Coast jazz festival season started strongly the last weekend in April with City of Lights in Las Vegas. Held for the second year at Desert Breeze Park, just a few miles off the Strip, the 11th annual event featured energetic performances by Brian Culbertson with Michael Lington (the saxman spotlighted his new single “Show Me” from his Rendezvous Music debut Stay With Me), BWB (an effective closer, though no match for last year’s Guitars & Saxes finale) and Bobby Lyle. The most memorable moments were the half hour set by Chicago guitarist Nick Colionne (who plays like a madman and also sang a soulful “Rainy Night in Georgia”) and the intense father-daughter horn fiesta of Mindi Abair and her dad (and chief musical inspiration) Lance.

Another great West Coast smooth jazz tradition is the annual KIFM Anniversary Party (held on the Saturday before Memorial Day) in the Gaslamp Quarter of Downtown San Diego. The usual suspects — Dave Koz, Peter White — were joined in the lineup by the more legendary Fourplay (even two blocks away, Larry Carlton crackles) and David Sanborn. Many opted to forgo Sanborn to hear Dutch world groove sax master Praful weave his seductive body magic in the more intimate confines of the outdoor courtyard of the Horton Grand Hotel.

What I’m Listening To:

1) Pieces of a Dream, No Assembly Required (Heads Up) – Still grooving after nearly 30 years, the ensemble, driven by founding members Curtis Harmon (drums) and melodic master James Lloyd (keyboardist) serve it up funkier than usual with a variety of vibrant saxmen
2) Wilson Phillips, California (Columbia)
3) Sergio Lara, Con La Lluvia (Fusion Acustica)
4) Torcuato Mariano, Diary (215 Records)
5) Avril Lavigne, Under My Skin (Arista)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 8:01 AM

September 4, 2004

Chris Botti Chill Show Debuts

Let's Chill With Chris Botti has its first airing on Saturday, Sept. 4. You can listen to it on San Diego radio station KiFM, which will stream it live.

chrisbotti3.jpgLet's Chill With Chris Botti, the new syndicated radio show hosted by Chris Botti, will air in six markets beginning this Saturday, Sept. 4. The two-hour show begins in six cities in the United States: Dallas; Atlanta; San Diego; Las Vegas; Dayton, Ohio; and Reno.

KOAI, Dallas - 8-10 p.m.
WJZZ, Atlanta - 10 p.m.-midnight
KIFM, San Diego - 10 p.m.-midnight
KOAS, Las Vegas - 8-10 p.m.
WDSJ, Dayton - 8-10 p.m.
WJZS, Reno - 10-midnight

You can also listen via the Internet on KiFM ( in San Diego, which will stream live audio. The show will air in San Diego every Saturday evening, beginning September 4, from 10 p.m. to midnight Pacific time.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:57 AM

Guitarist Peter White to entertain U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay on Labor Day

Peter White No.1.jpgSmooth jazz guitarist Peter White is set to depart for Cuba this holiday weekend where he’ll spend Labor Day performing for over 6,000 members of the U.S. armed forces and their families stationed at the Guantanamo Bay military base.  The British recording artist, who resides in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California, will perform as part of the 2nd Annual Guantanamo Bay Jazz Festival.  The base is home to all five branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. 

“It’s quite an honor to be able to perform for the men and women who are proudly serving and devoting their lives to protecting our freedom,” said an excited White.  “I’m looking forward to the adventure.”    

White released his ninth solo album on Columbia Records in March.  The first single from Confidential, “Talkin’ Bout Love,” was his twelfth #1 radio hit.  His new single, “How Does It Feel,” entered the national radio chart this week and has begun its march to the top.  In May, the Mediabase 24-7 radio airplay tracking service revealed that White is the most played artist in the entire smooth jazz radio format.  For more than a decade, his distinctive acoustic guitar melodies combined with R&B, jazz, pop and Latin rhythms have helped shape and define the musical genre.  A four-time consecutive winner of the National Smooth Jazz Awards Guitarist of the Year honor, White has formed a lasting bond with fans through passionate and energetic concert performances.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:34 AM

September 1, 2004

New Dates And Updates

Joel-Rosenblatt-5.jpgFirst off, let me say that after 13 years as the drumming powerhouse for the contemporary jazz group Spyro Gyra, Joel Rosenblatt has left the band to pursue other endeavors. He still can be heard on seven of the eleven tracks of the new CD, The Deep End. He is replaced by newcomer Ludwig Afonso, a 25 year old Cuban drummer, who originates from Havana. Ludwig was fortunate enough to play on one track of the new CD that's out right now. I look forward to hearing more from him as he develops his own "voice" with the group.

The Henderson Pavillion in Henderson, Nevada, hosts another event per the Michelob Concert Series on Tuesday, September 7th, with special guest, the very talented guitarist, Doc Powell.

September 11th, Jazz Under The Stars #3 brings the special edition of Guitars And Saxes to the Spring Mountain State Park, featuring top-line artists of the Smooth Jazz radiowaves. Guitarists Jeff Golub and Mark Antoine, along with saxophonists Euge Groove and Warren Hill kick the event.

Chris Botti has launched a new syndicated radio show called Chill. It's a two-hour program featuring the best of smooth jazz to "chill" and sooth the listening spirits. Check for listings on your local smooth jazz radio station for day and time.

Posted by Danny Desart at 4:15 PM