October 31, 2004

Gwen Laster - I Hear You Smiling

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.

When one associates instruments with smooth and contemporary jazz, the normal starting point is the saxophone, both the guitar and keyboards loom large, the trumpet tends to make a cameo appearance and then that’s just about it. Well, that was then and this is now with an up and coming artist on the scene who is about to change all of that. Her name is Gwen Laster and she plays, of all things, the violin.

GwenLaster_bw.jpgThe violin is, of course, not completely new to jazz, hip-hop and R & B. For example Karen Briggs has featured on some outstanding pieces of work but with Gwen Laster, and her CD I Hear You Smiling, we now have a spectacular success in using the violin coupled with Laster’s own soulful vocals to capture the essence of smooth and sensuous rhythms.

In fact it could be said that Gwen Laster has led a double life. First the stunning contemporary jazz electric violinist who’s own group won the Cognac Hennessy Best of Detroit Jazz Search and the other, more sedate, Gwen Laster, who holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan, and played the acoustic violin in the Dearborn and Warren Symphonies and has performed with the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Chicago Civic Orchestra. Gwen began her Classical training on violin in the public schools of Detroit and was surrounded by her mother’s love for blues, jazz and R&B. She was inspired through a progressive high school teacher who introduced her to the electric violin, improvisation, and recording sessions for artists’ whose music represented the Motown Sound.

Her relocation from Detroit to New York in 1993 expanded greatly to her performance experience. Credits from Broadway Shows have included Miss Saigon, Carousel, Beauty and the Beast and her opportunities have continued to flourish through television performances for Brian McKnight, Aretha Franklin, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. Her discography has built impressively and includes appearances with Angie Stone on the track ‘Bottles and Cans’ from her Mahogany Soul release, Toni Braxton on the tracks ‘Ghost Trance’ and ‘Shala’, Patti LaBelle on ‘Crazy Love’ and Kyle Eastwood on his ‘Eastwood After Hours’.

Commenting on her work with Shaggy on the track ‘It Wasn’t Me’ from his album Hot Shot, she says, ‘recording with Shaggy and his co-producer Sting was spontaneous, refreshing yet specific and detail oriented about the melodic figures and lines they hear for the violin parts. I always felt free and relaxed when we were in the studio’.

She has also worked with Alicia Keys on The Diary of Alicia Keys and ‘Fallin’ from the soundtrack of the highly acclaimed movie Ali. ‘Alicia Keys is stunning in her interpretation of communicating how she wants the sound and timbre of the violin to be recorded’, says Laster, ‘she is centered, grounded and grateful for all the artists who contribute their music to her recordings’.

Gwen also finds time to teach privately at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights. Her string ensemble music Jazz and Pop Arrangements for Strings was released in June 2002. These arrangements were inspired through her work as former Director of Jazz Strings at the Harlem School of the Arts.

Her first CD, Sneak Preview, was a great piece of work comprising six very tight tracks. It was released in January 2000 and features Laster as violinist and vocalist. Produced by Damon Banks, musicians on the project include vocalist Karen Bernod plus instrumentalists Damon Banks, Carlton Holmes, Tony Lewis, Joe Scott, David Gilmore, Felix Sanabria and Abdou Mboup.

GwenLaster_HearYouSmiling.jpgHer latest release, I Hear You Smiling, again features Gwen on violin and vocals and is again produced by Damon Banks. Musicians from the project include vocalist Bitte Strauchn whose credits include work with Tears for Fears, instrumentalists Carlton Holmes (Regina Bell and Freddie Hubbard), Joe Scott (the Lauryn Hill Band), Herbie Maitlandt (Chico DeBarge), Wali Muhammad (Stanley Turrentine and Peter Tosh), Tony Lewis, Aubrey Dayle and Neil Clarke. It’s a stunning high-class ensemble with a pedigree that is evident on each one of the nine superbly crafted tracks.

Right from track #1, ‘Rasputins Running’, the hypnotic groove is established and it just keeps on running. The music draws you in and takes you to another world. It’s compelling, fresh and totally original. A real standout is the soulful track #5 ‘Send Love To The Equation’ with vocals by Bitte Strauchn and haunting violin from Laster.

Perhaps only track #8, where Gwen moves us into semi classical mode, fails to live up to the standard that she herself has created by all that has gone on before but, come track #9 and the reprise of ‘Before The Summer’, the listener is left in no doubt that this is a refreshingly different and exciting album that lives in the memory. Because it is so different it’s almost impossible to do justice to in a few short and inadequate words. Yet The Secret Garden cannot recommend this piece of work highly enough and whatever it takes, steps should be taken to check it out.

Gwen Laster has also another exciting project in the making. Just a few weeks ago she recorded a piece entitled ‘The Darkest Child’ in midtown Manhattan with a seventeen piece string ensemble and an array of top class musicians including Billy Pierce on soprano saxophone and the composer of the piece, Cecilia Smith, on vibraphone.

This musical work traces the life of an African American Senior citizen who has led an unusual life of service. The work can best be compared to a piece called A Lincoln Portrait written by American composer Aaron Copeland that used orchestration and narration to highlight Lincoln's life. The work that Cecilia Smith has composed, utilizes both jazz and classical composing devices as well as some sampling. Gwen refers to it as ‘ a very unusual and exciting piece’. News is still awaited on the release date for ‘The Darkest Child’.

One way or another the eclectic Gwen Laster looks to have lots to offer. Fortunately the world of adult contemporary smooth jazz seems particularly well served by her abundant talents.

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.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:59 PM

Najee Signs With Heads Up Label

Veteran saxophonist Najee is the latest artist with the Cleveland-based Heads Up label, joining recent signee and saxophonist Walter Beasley.

Najee_bw.jpgVeteran saxophonist Najee has just signed a contract with the Heads Up record label and is currently working on new songs for first album on the label. The album is expected to be released next August.

The new album will be the follow-up to Embrace from 2003, which was on the N-Coded label. Before that, Najee’s albums included Morning Tenderness and Songs From The Key Of Life, a tribute to Stevie Wonder.

Najee is the recipient of many music awards, including the Soul Train Music Award for Best Jazz Artist in 1991 and 1993. Over the years, he has worked with artists such as Quincy Jones, Patti LaBelle, George Duke, Lionel Richie and Jonathan Butler. Most recently, Najee performed with Prince.

Najee is joining a Heads Up roster that is also home to, among others, Pieces of a Dream, Nestor Torres, Hiroshima, Spyro Gyra, Doc Powell and newcomer Walter Beasley.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 1:21 AM

October 29, 2004

Brenda Russell Diagnosed With Diabetes, Will Skip Dave Koz Christmas Tour

Vocalist Brenda Russell, who has been diagnosed with diabetes, will not perform as part of Dave Koz's annual Christmas tour under advice from her doctors.

BrendaRussell.jpgVocalist Brenda Russell has been diagnosed with diabetes. Because of concerns for her health, her doctors have advised her to cancel her participation in the eighth annual Dave Koz & Friends: A Smooth Jazz Christmas Tour.

Patti Austin, a good friend of Russell's, with replace her on the 22-city tour, which begins Nov. 26 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. On her website, Brenda says she was looking forward to the tour this year to connect with the loyal fans of the holiday show, in which she has performed several time. She adds that she’s disappointed but felt that getting healthy was the best choice for her now so she will be able to get back on the road soon.

In a note to her fans on her website, Brenda says: “With all of the good things that are happening in my life right now, being diagnosed with diabetes was definitely a shocking turn of events. However, I have learned that so many people have this disease and lead normal lives with proper medication, diet and exercise. We are actually having an epidemic in this country, particularly among African-Americans, so I would like to encourage those of you who think you might be at risk or have diabetes in your family, to please go and get tested. It is a preventable disease if you catch the signs early enough. I'm sorry I'm going to miss doing some of my new material on the road with my buddy Dave Koz and friends this Christmas, but I promise to be back out next year to do some live gigs for you. I guess this is just God's way of getting me to lay down for a minute while I become adjusted to a new lifestyle. I'm wishing everyone a happy and blessed holiday season."

On Oct. 5, Russell released her first album in four years, Between The Sun And The Moon, which features the single “I Know You By Heart.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 8:22 PM

Chris Botti Dating Katie Couric

Chris Botti, about to embark on a worldwide tour with Sting, will have to spend some time away from his new beau, Today show co-host Katie Couric.

KatieCouric.jpgKatie Couric isn't wasting any time. A couple of weeks after breaking up with TV producer Tom Werner, the co-host of NBC's Today show only has eyes for one of smooth jazz's biggest stars: trumpeter Chris Botti.

People reports that Couric, 47, and Botti, 42 are now dating. Couric, who has co-hosted Today since 1991 and also reports for NBC's Dateline, lost husband Jay Monahan to colon cancer five years ago.

Couric and Botti might not be seeing much of each other. Botti is schuduled to fly to Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on Nov. 2 to perform as the opening act for Sting's European leg of his Sacred Love tour.

Although not as big of a star as Couric, Botti is getting there. He was recently named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People and performed "God Bless America" during the National League baseball playoff series. He was also scheduled to perform the song if there were to be a fifth game of the World Series. But that didn't happen when the Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals four-games-to-one in the best-of-seven series.

Botti's most recent album of love song, When I Fall In Love, is also helping to put the trumpeter in the national spotlight. It's current No. 1 on Billboard's jazz charts.

Botti's previous album, A Thousand Kisses Deep, features the No. 6 song on Radio & Records' smooth jazz charts, “Back Into My Heart.” At the same time, he now has a single from When I Fall in Love called “No Ordinary Love,” a cover of the Sade classic.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:06 AM

October 24, 2004

Pat Metheny Group's Upcoming CD Features One Song

The Way Up by the Pat Metheny Group has just one song. But it's more than an hour long.

Metheny.jpgSixteen-time Grammy Award winner and guitarist Pat Metheny has confirmed that the name of the new Pat Metheny Group album will be called The Way Up. The recording, the first from Metheny’s group since 2002’s Speaking Of Now, promises to be a little different – the album is a single, continuous 68-minute composition written by Metheny and longtime collaborator and pianist Lyle Mays.

The Pat Metheny Group also features Steve Rodby on acoustic and electric bass and cello, Cuong Vu on trumpet and vocals, Gregoire Maret on harmonica and Antonio Sanchez on drums.

Says Metheny: “This is our most ambitious undertaking ever as a group – and we have never been so excited about a project. This record takes every aspect of the band to a new level.”

The Way Up will be released on Jan. 11, 2005.

In addition, Metheny has finalized several dates for a world tour, which begins Feb. 18 in Toronto and continues through early April. He then begins a tour of Japan and South Korea, with European dates to follow.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:55 AM

Duets highlight new Kenny G CD

Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Daryl Hall and LeAnn Rimes will all be featured on Kenny G's new CD, At Last ... The Duets Album.

Kenny G, the top-selling instrumentalist of all time, will be joined by such well-known singers as Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Daryl Hall and LeAnn Rimes on his new CD, At Last ... The Duets Album.

There will be some intrumentals. The saxophonist enlisted pianist Jim Brickman for a duet on Norah Jones“Don’t Know Why,” trumpeter Arturo Sandoval for the title track, “At Last,” and composer and pianist Burt Bacharach for "Alfie."

The album will also feature Kenny G on an instrumental version of the popular rap song by Outkast, “The Way You Move.”

At Last … The Duets Album will be released on Nov. 23.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:49 AM

Dave Koz's Art on 7-Up Cans

7 Up enlists saxophonist Dave Koz and vocalist Michael McDonald for a promotion.

In a promotional campaign for February’s 47th annual Grammy Awards, more than 145 million specially designed 7 Up cans will hit stores nationwide on Oct. 25 in the U.S.

The cans – available only in 12-packs – feature artwork from participating musicians and their renditions of the Grammys' famed gramophone logo. The signed, collectible cans, which will be available through the end of the year, include several 7 Up brands and feature artwork by saxophonist Dave Koz (Canada Dry Ginger Ale) and vocalist Michael McDonald (7 Up). Koz’s art has a saxophone inside the gramophone logo, with the words “Unity” and “Music” underneath. McDonald, on the other hand, has the words “Music Makes Us More Human” make up the shape of the gramophone.

In conjunction with the promotion, 7 Up contributed $60,000 donation to the Grammy Foundation's Signature Schools program. Signature Schools supports music and arts education and recognizes high-school music programs nationwide. "With the decline in music programs offered in public schools,” says Koz, who has mentored students in the Grammy Foundation program for several years, “there has never been a more important time to raise funds and awareness to get kids back into music."

Other artists who designed labels are Brian McKnight (Sunkist), Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik (Diet 7 Up), Wynonna Judd (Cherry 7 Up) and Randy Travis (A&W Root Beer).

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:39 AM

October 22, 2004

Do you have a song in your head? Tom Grant is interested

Tom Grant is calling on his fans for help with a new CD.

TomGrant_bw.jpgIf you've got some lyrics that you think are worth publishing, smooth jazz pianist Tom Grant might be interested in seeing what you’ve got. Grant, who has performed instrumental music for the majority of his career, freely admits that writing lyrics isn’t his strong point. So, although he knows he’s sticking his neck out a bit, he’s calling on fans to send any potential song lyrics that they’ve been working on to him.

If Grant does select your lyrics for an upcoming album, he’ll send you a copy of the album along with his latest project called Nice Work If You Can Get It. So it you have a great song, send it to Tom as an e-mail attachment to tom@tomgrant.com.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:00 AM

Gabriela Anders Co-Stars In Online Movie Thriller

Gabriela Anders appears as a sexy lounge singer in a new Internet movie.

GabrielaAnders_LastTangoInRio.jpgSmooth jazz vocalist Gabriela Anders has had her music used in numerous commercials, including those for Crest and Tropicana. Now you can hear and see the sexy Argentine native, who now lives in New York, in a 13-minute commercial by Mercedes-Benz being marketed online as a thriller with an all-star cast.

Debuting this week is a mini-movie called The Porter, which you can see at www.the-porter.com. In it, Gabriela sings a song in a bar where a pivotal scene of the movie takes place. The movie tells the story of a porter at a five-star hotel in Budapest who becomes wrapped-up in a diamond smuggling operation.

Bryan Ferry of the group Roxy Music plays a jewel smuggler, English singer and actor Max Beesley is the porter and Dannii Minogue – the sister of pop star Kylie Minogue – is the seductive nightclub owner. You can see more of Anders in a link that takes you to an interview, which also shows more of her performance. You can also download her song “The Wave” at the site.

Of course, also at the heart of the movie is Mercedes-Benz’s new CLS class four-door coupe. It’s a unique advertisement, featuring the equally unique music of Anders, who is now promoting her brand-new album, Last Tango In Rio.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:54 AM

Fund Established For Injured Smooth Jazz Saxophonist Hollis Gentry

A fund has been set up to help saxophonist Hollis Gentry, who was seriously injured in a car crash.

Hollis_Playing.jpgSaxophonist Hollis Gentry, a founding member of the veteran Smooth Jazz group Fattburger who was seriously injured in a car crash in San Diego, is now out of intensive care. After more than a month, Hollis has been moved to his own room.

Members of Fattburger, assisted by local smooth jazz radio station KiFM, held a benefit concert for Hollis on Oct. 10 that helped raise more than $12,000. All of the money will go toward Hollis’ hospital bills and recovery. Fans can now send donations to a fund established by Hollis’ family:

Hollis Gentry III Fund
P.O. Box 740441
San Diego, CA 92174

According to Fattburger guitarist Carl Evans Jr., Gentry was driving his SUV to a show on Interstate 805 in La Jolla when the vehicle veered off the road and flipped over several times. Hollis’ injuries included a broken leg, foot, jaw and severe facial injuries that required reconstructive surgery.

Alhough Hollis has a long road to recovery, you can hear his saxophone on five songs on Fattburger’s new album, Work To Do! The title track, which features Hollis, is the first single.

Evans says Gentry is showing signs of encouragement in the hospital.

“He has a long way to go, but I think he’ll be OK. He’s out of a coma, and he’s aware of what has happened to him and that he’s recovering. He was really pleased to see some footage on the news about the benefit concert for him, and he was just really touched by all of that. I heard he was in a wheelchair and they took him out of intensive care for a little while. He found a piano, in one of the little conference rooms, and played it for 45 minutes.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:47 AM

October 20, 2004

Guitarist Peter White warms up his sleigh

Second smooth jazz Christmas concert tour to visit 18 U.S. cities, features Braun and Abair

The svelte Englishman in the oversized jolly red suit preparing to slide down the chimney of all the good little smooth jazz fans is guitar sensation Peter White.  This year, he’s bringing a couple of special elves with him on his musical mission of holiday merrymaking.  Trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Mindi Abair are loading up White’s musical sleigh as they prepare to embark on an 18-city U.S. concert journey kicking off in San Diego, California on November 26th.  White, Braun and Abair will deck the halls with jazzy versions of seasonal classics, a few original holiday songs and some of their best known hits.  A Peter White Christmas is a holiday treat loaded with only the finest ingredients - fun, funk, jazz and pop - and is guaranteed to enchant even the meanest of Scrooges.                 

All three artists have previously released holiday CDs, which is one of the things that inspired White to launch the tour, now in its second year.  “My earliest memories of Christmas were probably not much different from many other people: snowflakes, tinsel, Santa Claus, reindeer and the opening of presents surrounded by family.  As a child, my father taught me to play Christmas music on my first instrument, the recorder, and my love for holiday music has endured throughout the years.  I hope this tour will be an opportunity for fans to enjoy their favorite Christmas songs in a family setting.  Perhaps I’ll even bring my recorder.” 

Over the past decade, White’s intimate way with acoustic guitar melodies has scored twelve #1 singles that have helped define the smooth jazz radio format.  Earlier this year, MediaBase 24-7’s research revealed that White’s music is the most played on the entire radio format.  The four-time consecutive winner of the National Smooth Jazz Awards “Guitarist of the Year” honors is currently supporting his ninth solo album, Confidential, which was released in March.  The first single from the album, “Talkin’ Bout Love,” spent seven weeks at #1, and the new single from the collection, “How Does It Feel,” just entered the Top 20 on its ascent to the peak position.  His guitar sound has become his signature, a sensitive and emotive voice of melody, which sings eloquently over R&B, jazz, pop and Latin rhythms.  White, who first made his mark as a teenager while playing with singer-songwriter Al Stewart, with whom he wrote the hit “Time Passages,” has recorded and/or toured with Abair, Basia, Dave Koz, Richard Elliot, Boney James, David Benoit, Gato Barbieri, Euge Groove, Craig Chaquico, and Braun.

Braun is also regarded as one of the top artists in all of smooth jazz, a format that he fell into after a stint in the pop world, where he co-penned the hit, “Here With Me,” while playing with REO Speedwagon.  He went on to play in Sade’s band, which helped him hone his own sound as a solo artist.  The trumpeter consistently delivers #1 hit singles and his albums often camp out at the top of the national charts for months on end.  Braun has released ten solo albums, including a new live collection, Sessions Volume 1, released on the newly launched Artisan Records label, which he owns with saxophonist Richard Elliot.  Twice named “Smooth Jazz Artist of the Year” by the Gavin Report, Braun is also recognized as an ace in the studio, where he has produced records for White, Benoit, Marc Antoine, Jeff Golub, Eric Marienthal, Willie & Lobo, amongst others.  On the concert stage and on record, Braun is a soulful and dynamic funkster, who has recorded and toured behind collaborative duo and trio album projects with Boney James and Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown (BWB).

Abair was last year’s breakthrough new artist of the year in smooth jazz.  She shared the stage on White’s inaugural Christmas concert tour last year and she’s back for another trek, this time in support of her recently released sophomore album, Come As You Are.  Abair is an instrumentalist and a vocalist who incorporates rock and pop into her soul-jazz selections and she has already started her own collection of #1s.  The sassy saxophonist’s crossover appeal landed her an opening slot on tour this past summer with Josh Groban.  Before emerging as a solo artist, Abair toured with The Backstreet Boys, Mandy Moore, Duran Duran and Jonathan Butler.  It takes a strong talent to share the stage with two luminaries like White and Braun; Abair is a radiant and gifted musician who is more than up to the task.     

The itinerary for A Peter White Christmas concert tour is below (additional dates may be added):

November 26          San Diego, CA                        Spreckles

November 27          Incline Village, NV                    Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe at Incline Village

November 28          Fresno, CA                              Tower Theatre

December 1             Jacksonville, FL                       Florida Theatre

December 2             Clearwater, FL                        Ruth Eckerd Hall

December 3             Destin, FL                                Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort

December 4             Atlanta, GA                               Robert Ferst Center for the Arts

December 6             Stuart, FL                 Lyric Theatre

December 7             Annapolis, MD                         Rams Head Tavern

December 8             Alexandria, VA                        The Birchmere

December 9             West Reading, PA                    Scottish Rite Cathedral

December 10           Huntington, NY                        IMAC

December 11           New Haven, CT                      John Lyman Center/S. Connecticut State College

December 12           St. Charles, IL                          Norris Arts Center

December 13           Milwaukee, WI                         Northern Lights Theatre/Potawatomi Bingo Casino

December 15           Cleveland, OH                         Playhouse Square Center Allen Theatre

December 18           Huntington Beach, CA             Huntington Beach Cultural Center (Mindi Abair will not appear)


Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:33 PM

October 19, 2004

Innovative jazz-hip hop trumpeter Russell Gunn to receive SESAC Award in NYC

Inventive jazz-hip hop trumpeter Russell Gunn will receive a national performance activity award from performing rights organization SESAC in New York City at a luncheon on Monday, October 25.  The award honors airplay over the past year on jazz radio.  The timing is perfect as Gunn’s latest disc, Ethnomusicology Volume 4, will be released on October 26th by Justin Time Records.  The album was recorded live in Atlanta and brings to a close Gunn’s Ethnomusicology series.  Two of the albums in the cutting-edge series received Grammy nominations.  The artist has received critical acclaim for his ability to deftly incorporate the rhythms and the rhymes of the streets into unique sonicscapes, which crash, clash and collide with classical jazz, R&B, blues, rock, dance and a variety of ethnic music

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:07 AM

Legendary songwriter Leon Ware to make rare L.A. concert appearance

Legendary songwriter/producer/recording artist Leon Ware will make a rare Los Angeles concert appearance on Tuesday, October 19 at 8:30 pm at the Catalina Bar & Grill as part of the launch of the next phase of his extraordinary career.  Early next year, Ware will release the lovingly produced A Kiss in the Sand, a generous 15-song collection comprised of original songs performed in a Brazilian jazz setting.  All those in attendance at the show will receive a free copy of the album as part of the admission price.  Ware, who wrote hits for Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Minnie Ripperton, and Maxwell, amongst many, many others, has found his music to be a favorite amongst hip-hop artists as his songs have formed the basis of cuts by G-Unit, Ice Cube, Tupac, Xzibit, Aaliyah, and many more.  The new album was produced by Ware, who wrote or co-wrote the compositions.  His voice is in fine form, silky and smooth, revealing a sensitive and sensual romantic, while the tracks set an exotic jazzy tone.  Usually a reclusive studio cat, the release of the new project marks an emergence and a new day in the spotlight for Ware. 

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:05 AM

October 17, 2004

Bryan Lubeck - Acoustic Vineyard

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 around The Secret Garden brings news of an artist who is putting his own particular take on the place where smooth jazz, Latin and pop styles merge. Described by former editor of Billboard, JR Reynolds, as a player whose music has an alluring hook, the performer is Chicago based Bryan Lubeck and the CD is Acoustic Vineyard.

lg1.jpgLubeck has become recognized as an artist of mass appeal with a hefty dose of talent and charisma. Although the newspaper and radio recognition he receives labels him as a ‘Smooth Jazz guitarist’ he considers that he is more than that. He calls himself a Smooth Jazz/Flamenco Guitarist because as a child he began a lifelong love affair with finger-style Latin (Flamenco) guitar yet, during frequent trips to Chicago, he came to identify strongly with the newly popular Smooth Jazz genre. He recognizes that over the last couple of years these styles have started to merge, a fact that has enhanced his popularity with Latin and Jazz enthusiasts alike as well as pop and adult contemporary fans.

His more distant past has seen him perform with Red Skelton, be part of the the University Singers who were voted Americas number one collegiate entertainment group and perform for both Nancy Regan and Barbara Bush. He was ‘Best Guitarist’ at the 1985 Elmhurst Jazz Festival and for a time was a performer and Assistant Director/Choreographer for Six Flags Show Productions.

Lubeck can normally to be found performing in the mid west through north eastern Illinois, northern Indiana and Michigan. He is a regular on Chicago’s Navy Pier, has appeared as part of WNUA 95.5 promotional events and has been featured artist on COSY 101.3 and WSJM News Talk radio. However he is now branching out in his quest to promote Acoustic Vineyard. He opened for Richard Elliot at a sell out concert in July and also opened the bill this year for 13 time Grammy Award nominee songwriter and guitarist Craig Chaquico.

BryanLubeckAcousticVineyard.jpgWith Acoustic Vineyard, Lubeck is an artist who is writing and performing his own material and shunning the seemingly obligatory covers that are too often used to engender radio play and pad out track listings. Track #1, ‘Harlequin’, already identified as the primary single cut from the CD, is really what the album is all about, mellow, restful and melodic but with a nice groove and top notch arrangement. The sax playing of Tim King adds depth and texture to Lubeck’s smooth guitar. Next up ‘Take Me’ is a cool number with a Latin beat enhanced by nice Hammond organ from Dave Maki while track #3, ‘My Desire’ is a smooth mover that is just full of California sunshine.

‘Port Adventura’ is more of the same yet seems faintly reminiscent of a soundtrack to a sixties movie while the groove based ‘Flamenco Island’, the only track not written by Lubeck, has also been identified as a possibility for a single. The collection goes on with smooth Latin rhythms and a smattering of single options. ‘Rhetts Island’ with a real flamenco feel is one such number as is ‘You’ve Got This Way’ a very warm, feel good number that is probably the album stand out. That said, all eleven tracks of Acoustic Vineyard fit together beautifully into a tapestry of smooth jazz and Latin music that will enhance the majority of record collections.

An interesting facet of the album is its title. The cover photographs have been shot at the Tabor Hill Winery and the title is obviously inspired by it. The executive producer on the project is Paul Landreck, also of the Tabor Hill Winery and The Secret Garden was interested to find that the winery is not located in the smooth jazz and wine haven of southern California but in the town of Buchanan, tucked away in the corner of south west Michigan. The winters certainly get cold there but apparently this does not effect the production of the wine that is reputed to be as smooth as Bryan Lubeck's music.

Check him out at www.bryanlubeck.com

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.

Posted by Denis Poole at 1:43 PM

October 16, 2004

Jason Miles "Cozmopolitan" now available

JasonMilesCosmopolitan.jpgThis vintage fusion album by keyboard player Jason Miles now eventually sees the light of day after having been on the shelf for almost 25 years. It features an all-star band consisting of Marcus Miller, Michael Brecker, Ricardo Silveira, Claudio Roditi and others. Check out the liner notes to read more about this restored project and buy it on Jason Miles' website.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:34 AM

October 15, 2004

Chris Botti A Smash on Late-Night TV

Smooth jazz trumpet player Chris Botti gave an amazing peformance Thursday night on late-night TV.

chrisbotti3.jpgChris Botti may have gained many fans while opening for Sting, but he no doubt scored thousands more after a performance Thursday on The Late Late Show.

Botti performed his gorgeous song "What'll I Do?" from his brand-new CD of love songs, When I Fall in Love. Backing him up were Billy Kilson on drums, Jon Ossman on bass and Billy Childs on keyboards. A highlight came midway through the song when Paula Cole gracefully entered on stage and began her vocals as she does on the CD. It was great to see Botti joining her a brief vocal duet.

An added bonus: During an interview with actress Famke Janssen, guest host Craig Ferguson frequently joked with the actress about her sexy name while reaching behind the anchor desk to switch on a few snippets of "What'll I Do?"

Another bonus for Botti fans was a commercial for the new album, which aired before his performance and was shot during the CD's cover shot.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 8:32 PM

Ronny Jordan Calls On George Benson's Son For New CD

Gutarist Ronny Jordan's new CD will be released on Nov. 2.

RonnyJordan.jpgGuitarist and New York City resident Ronny Jordan has finished his seventh solo album, which he’s calling After 8. It will be released on Nov. 2 by the N-Coded label, which also released Jordan’s At Last from 2003, which featured the smooth jazz hit of the same name.

Jordan’s new album, which features his longtime band and which he produced, strives for a cohesive live sound. The all-instrumental project features 10 songs, with seven originals and three covers. He wrote five of the songs himself, and co-wrote the title song with Rob Benson, the son of legendary guitarist George Benson. Another song, "Bahia Magic," was written by keyboardist Dario Boente, an Argentinean who now lives in New York City. The cover songs include "Caught Up," which is based on the song from R&B star Usher's multi-million selling album Confessions.

"I Remember You" is the Johnny Mercer jazz classic song which Jordan puts his own spin on, and "Lighthouse" was originally performed by the late reggae star Peter Tosh. Ronny describes After 8 as featuring elements of smooth jazz and acid jazz, with some hip-hop and R&B influences.

"You'll hear snippets of all of my major guitar influences, from Wes Montgomery to George Benson to Kenny Burrell and Grant Green," Jordan says. "There's even a little Jimi Hendrix thrown in, too. But there's also some of me in there as well. As soon as you hear the melodic playing, you can tell it's me right away."

On the CD, Jordan says he tried not to overdo or rely too much on playing octaves - a technique that is closely associated with the late smooth-jazz guitar pioneer Montgomery.

"That style is copied by virtually every smooth jazz guitarist you hear on the radio," Jordan says. "For me right now, it's overkill. On After 8, I just wanted to take a less-is-more approach in regards to playing the octaves and not entirely depend on them to carry a melody. I'm constantly trying to forge my own sound and style. Bottom line, there'll never be another Wes or George."

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:40 AM

Candy Dulfer Appears In Controversial Prince Video

Saxophonist Candy Dulfer plays tambourine in the controversial new video by Prince.

PrinceDulfer.jpgAlthough she is only seen a couple of times, saxophonist Candy Dulfer is featured in a controversial new video by Prince that will get nationwide exposure the week of Oct. 18 on MTV.

Dulfer sings background vocals and plays tambourine in the video called “Cinnamon Girl,” a song from Prince’s Musicology album. The video, which can now be seen on the Internet, focuses on a teen-ager Arab girl who experiences prejudice following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The girl, played by New Zealand actress Keisha Castle-Hughes from the movie Whale Rider, imagines herself blowing up a crowed airport terminal in a suicide attack. At the end of the video, however, with a tears tumbling down her cheeks, it’s clear that she had only imagined the horror.

Dulfer also appeared in another Prince video, “Call My Name,” which was in regular rotation on VH1 and BET earlier this year. Candy also sang and played the saxophone and other instruments throughout the Musicology album, and performed with Prince on his recent tour of the United States.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:26 AM

October 11, 2004

Contempo October 2004

For most jazz fans, the festival experience means spending a few days and nights hanging with friends, sipping a little wine or champagne and grooving to the sounds of favorite artists, hopefully discovering a new musical treasure here and there. But more and more festivals are moving beyond just fun in the sun or under the stars, developing rich educational agendas designed to cultivate the jazz we’ll be listening to tomorrow. Among the major fests that go heavy on the learning in between or after the jamming are the First Energy Berks Jazz Festival in Reading, Pennsylvania and Utah’s Park City Jazz Festival, as well as Jazz Aspen Snowmass, whose events are held at the base of lush green ski slopes in tourist friendly Aspen and Snowmass, Colorado.

JazzAspenSnowmass_Logo.gifNow in its 14th year, JAS features two major musical weekend events in late June and over Labor Day sandwiched around the heart of the festival, the JAS Academy Summer Sessions, held this year in Snowmass from July 19-26. Advertised as the nation’s only all-scholarship jazz residency program, the ninth annual Summer Sessions featured master classes by jazz masters Russell Malone, Benny Green, Eddie Palmieri and Tierney Sutton, joining Program Director Loren Schoenberg and Artistic Director Christian McBride, who has held the chair since 2000. Previous participants ranged from the late Rosemary Clooney and Ray Brown to Arturo Sandoval, Herbie Hancock and Branford Marsalis.

This year, for the first time since the program’s inception, JAS selected a group of five bands, instead of individuals, to participate in four categories—Mainstream with vocalist (the U.K. Bradley Webb Trio and California’s Gerald Clayton Trio); Soul-Jazz Groove (the East-West Quintet, with members from New York and L.A.); Latin Jazz (Insight, from Connecticut); and New Orleans (Adonis Rose Quintet).

“It’s a very intense program, and the level of playing from the individual musicians we selected in the past has always been incredible,” says JAS Founder and Executive Producer Jim Horowitz. “But it never seemed long enough for each person to receive enough quality time from our masters, so we decided to try the group approach. The plan was to create a lab setting where these ensembles from different backgrounds could listen, interact and be challenged to move out of their comfort zones. The ongoing hope is that exposure to other styles and genres will broaden these student’s musical horizons.”

For Horowitz, the early years of JAS — which he patterned after the “European village oriented festival” concept of the 26 year old French event Jazz Marciac — were focused on survival, but once the event was established, the educational element began taking shape. “This was not part of my original vision for the festival, but it has become a vital part of Jazz Aspen Snowmass and an important way to keep the traditions of jazz alive for the next generation,” he says. “At some point the idea of starting a jazz school, devoted solely to performance and education, became a logical next step. We received an initial $100,000 grant from the Danny & Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation, and then began an association with the Thelonius Monk Institute. We’ve hosted 20-25 students each year who match our main criteria — that they be not only exceedingly gifted but also have demonstrated a commitment to pursuing jazz performance as a career.”

ParkCityJazz_Logo.gifThe JAS Academy Summer Sessions have a regular structure of activities allowing for practice, reflection and performance. McBride and Schoenberg host a series of morning jazz seminars, combo rehearsals and instrument sectionals, while afternoons include master classes taught by the attending artist faculty (including sectionals broken up by instrument) and later, performances by student bands in the JAS Sessions tent. In the evening, the students take to the local club scene, where they apply what they’ve learned (and, in the spirit of true jazz, hopefully stretch beyond these concepts) in public performances.

Horowitz draws upon his dual background as a pianist/vocalist and agent and manager for such artists as Monty Alexander and the late Ray Brown to teach a seminar on the nuts and bolts of the biz — including how to get gigs, and the importance of a positive and humble attitude. “I talk about smiling, getting the chip off your shoulder, the facts about getting work, all the things that make you realize it’s not enough to simply be a great musician,” he says. “The purpose here is to create a great experience for the potential jazz legends of tomorrow. It’s really an art form learned by experience, and our program has the feel of the passing of a torch and a real sense of legacy. It’s really all about sustaining the music and finding new ways for it to survive and thrive.”

Lew Fine, co-founder with his wife Arlene of the seven year old Park City Jazz Festival - whose musical events are held over a late August weekend (August 26-29 this year) at the Deer Valley Resort about 36 miles east of Salt Lake City — echoes Horowitz when speaking of the educational aspects of his own event. “The idea is to continue keeping our minds open to new and worthy talent,” he says. “The most gratifying thing is watching young children performing with expertise and talent, and know that you may be helping influence decisions they may make in their lives.”

While the Park City shows run from the afternoon through the night, the late mornings are devoted to one hour clinics (for both young students and interested adults) by visiting musicians at the local high school; past participants include T.S. Monk, Phil Woods, Arturo Sandoval, Rick Braun and Larry Carlton. This year’s slate included three members of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and guitarists Gennaro Cannelora and Jeff Linsky. According to Fine, some 3,000 students have attended these sessions over the years.

BerksJazzFest_Logo.gifEvery March in Reading, some 70 miles west of Philly, the town plays host to the First Energy Berks Jazz Festival a ten day extravaganza featuring a wide slate of superstars from all jazz denominations. The festival is also a community based event which provides numerous opportunities for young aspiring jazz musicians to hone their crafts. Some of the educational events this past year: a small combo contest held at Reading High School for high school and college students and a free jazz concert and clinic featuring Berks County saxman Tim Price and pianist Rachel Z’s trio. Berks also has played host three years running to Gerald Veasley’s “Bass Boot Camp,” which offers a unique weekend of workshops, performances and master classes taught this year by its host along with Gary Willis, Victor Wooten and Adam Nitti.

JAZZ ASPEN SNOWMASS: Held for the second year under a massive, triangular white tent in Aspen’s Rio Grande Park, JAS’ late June festival (24-27) featured a lineup so wonderfully diverse that the fist time attender might have wondered why they stick with the jazz moniker. The Thursday night opening act, Wynton Marsalis, whose fiery straight ahead set featured the frenetic tenor work of Walter Blanding and a Dixieland/gospel closing medley of “The Old Rugged Cross/Down By The Riverside,” got things off to a true jazz start. For more adventurous fusion fans, the wild and densely percussive organ-bass-drum machinations of Medeski, Martin & Wood filled the jazz bill on Sunday. But the greatest enjoyment — and most enthusiastic reponses — came from headliners who reflect Horowitz’s take on his event as “an American music festival with a jazz heart.” Natalie Cole wowed ‘em with an eclectic set of her Unforgettable era standards and her old 70’s R&B hits, plus an encore version of the U2/B.B. King classic “When Love Comes To Town”; Saturday night featured soul and gospel legend Al Green throwing roses and kisses to the crowd while musically preaching “Love and Happiness” and conducting a singalong “Amazing Grace” as if he was using the tent for revival purposes. The spiritual element continued at noon on Sunday with a rousing performance by gospel legends Mighty Clouds of Joy. Green’s opening act Shelby Lynne did country rock, while Cole’s opener Curtis Stigers performed his trademark compelling acoustic jazz twists on classic pop tunes.

Another notable aspect of the festival was its impressive slate of afternoon and late night performances, in a smaller tent among the shops of Aspen and at several five star hotels. Among the best of these were The Soul Survivors (Cannonball Adderly styled soul-jazz by Ernie Watts, Cornell Dupree and Les McCann), the sexy and exotic, acoustic jazz driven vocal stylings of San Francisco based Jenna Mammina and the scorching Latin fusion of Yerba Buena.

DocPowell_CoolLikeThat.jpg** More smooth jazz artists should take the lead of veteran R&B influenced guitarist Doc Powell, whose latest Heads Up release Cool Like That combines the funky sizzle and easy grooving of his previous hits with colorful ventures that take risks beyond mainstream radio readiness. Before becoming a solo artist, he jammed it up with soul legends like Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin and Grover Washington, Jr. and established himself as a grooving presence on the smooth scene with his 1994 album named after a Grover hit, Inner City Blues. His 1996 disc Laid Back pretty much defines the cool side of what he does, and remains his biggest radio success to date. The new collection has its share of instantly likeable potential singles, from the Kirk Whalum punched “Push” to the gently lyrical “Sweet 6.” But it’s his other demonstrated influences that push it over the top — his affinity for classic rock (a gospel-tinged “Let It Be”) and African rhythms (the soundscape and percussion dense “Hatujambo (We Are Well).” Powell continues to be inspired by the New York jazz scene where he cut his teeth in the 80s. His label debut 97th and Columbus was named after the classic Manhattan haunt Mikell’s and featured tributes to Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, et al.

The new album’s “To The East” takes us uptown for more snazzy, strutting Big Apple fusion. To quote another of his album titles, Don’t Let The Smooth Jazz Fool Ya! There’s more to Powell than first meets the ear.

1) Daryl Stuermer, Retrofit (Urban Island Music) – A mix of blistering funk and cool, laid back soulful electric guitar originals from Phil Collins and Genesis’ veteran right hand man.
2) Eric Darius, Night on the Town (Higher Octave Music) – Guitarist Ken Navarro not only championed this twentysomething, classic soul driven saxman, he also produced his impressive debut and co-wrote two tracks.
3) Dances With Wolves (Sony Music Soundtrax) – This beautifully packaged reissue of the Oscar winning John Barry score includes previously unreleased film versions of two new tracks.
4) A Star Is Born (Sony Music Soundtrax) – Numerous classic cuts (three never before released) by Judy Garland are the highlight of this expanded and remastered film soundtrack, featuring a score by Ray Heindorf.
5) Fantasia, I Believe (J Records) – Even those who take pleasure scoffing at the American Idol phenomenon will be hard pressed to extend that to the astounding R&B/gospel vocal talent of this year’s winner.

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 6:58 PM

October 9, 2004

"A Concert For Love... An All-Star Tribute Benefiting the American Diabetes Association" Featuring the Music of Luther Vandross

On Tuesday, July 27, 2004, GRP released the all-star project Forever, For Always, For Luther, a warm and resoundingly respectful tribute to singer/songwriter Luther Vandross. Produced by Rex Rideout and Bud Harner, the best seller features eleven smooth jazz and R&B artists interpreting 10 timeless Vandross classics, including "Never Too Much," "Any Love," "Your Secret Love" and the Grammy-winning "Dance With My Father." The tribute's first single, "Forever, For Always, For Love," sung by Lalah Hathaway, is Top 20 at Urban AC radio and climbing fast.

On Wednesday, October 27, 2004, the spirit and magic of that recording will be rekindled on the stage of historical Theater at Madison Square Garden for an incomparable, once in a lifetime evening of music, love and charity. Co-produced by New York radio stations CD 101.9 WQCD ("Smooth Jazz") and 98.7 WRKS ("KISS-FM: The Best Variety of Old School and Today's R&B"), the concert will reunite stars from the project, including singers Lalah Hathaway and Ledisi, saxophonists Kirk Whalum, Dave Koz, Richard Elliot and Mindi Abair, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., and keyboardist Brian Culbertson. Singing sensation Patti LaBelle and GRP recording artists Will Downing and Gerald Albright will also be among an array of friends and special guests lovingly saluting Mr. Vandross, who is recovering from a diabetes-induced stroke he suffered in April of 2003 that left him in a coma for several weeks. Since regaining consciousness, his condition has steadily improved.

In the spirit of support for Luther Vandross and public awareness about the deadly disease, the sponsors and producers of the program are proudly donating profits from ticket sales to the American Diabetes Association on his behalf. Founded in 1940, the mission of the ADA is to prevent and cure diabetes, and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. Fans of the singer will be encouraged to make further donations to the organization at all points throughout this gala event and campaign.

Verve Music Group President and CEO Ron Goldstein states, "The Verve Music Group, through its GRP label, is proud to join Luther and his family in trying to raise the level of awareness of this prevalent disease."

Please join Luther and The Verve Music Group in sending a contribution to:

The American Diabetes Association
Forever, For Always, For Luther Fund
1701 North Beauregard
Alexandria, VA 22311

All donations are tax deductible. For more information call 1-800-DIABETES or visit www.diabetes.org.

"A Concert For Love... An All-Star Tribute Benefiting the American Diabetes Association" Featuring the Music of Luther Vandross

Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Theater at Madison Square Garden
New York City

Tickets are on sale at the Madison Square Garden box office and Ticketmaster.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 1:00 PM

October 5, 2004

Berks Jazz Vibes Welcomes You!

This column is designed to keep your finger on the pulse of jazz in Reading, Pennsylvania, home of the annual Berks Jazz Fest! I'm excited about sharing my impressions of artists who visit us during this ten-day event every March as well as other shows I attend which take me out of Reading.

My own passion has become attending shows and then writing about what I have seen, heard, and learned! I have found artists to be accessible with a real dedication to their fans! My impressions will be of the artists and his/her stage performance from the perspective of an avid fan. I come from a large family and so to me, this big family of jazz artists and fans provides a wonderful opportunity to be part of something that is both significant and uplifting in the lives of so many of us!

There's a bond between avid fans of jazz music, and this is my way of staying connected to you and helping you be connected to Berks all during the year! So for now, I'll get back to finishing my review of opening night at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base in Reading and another great show I attended featuring Chieli Minucci and Special EFX!! Stay tuned....and check back often to see what's new!

A special thank you to Peter Boehi, host of this site!

Beverly Packard
Berks Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 2:52 PM

October 4, 2004

The Oliver Twist

SteveOliverFrontPic.jpgIt seems the name Oliver is destined to speak of significance. Oliver, broadway musical; Oliver Cromwell of British history; Oliver, portrayed by Ryan O’Neal in the movie Love Story; and finally, Oliver Twist, the unforgettable main character in the Charles Dickens novel of the same name.

So when a guitar player named Steve Oliver burst into my corner of the smooth jazz music scene all at once not too long ago, it may be that I listened just a little more closely than if his name had been a different one. But it wouldn’t have mattered in the end, because the music itself was enough to cause me to sit up and take notice. From the first phrase of his guitar on the first song I heard, I knew I was going to like Steve Oliver’s music.

Positive Energy is a fitting name for that first CD I heard of Steve Oliver’s – the music is clean, fresh, energetic, positive, simply put together in a way that makes you want it to go on and on in your CD player. And I’ve done just that: listened from the first track to the last, then back to the beginning, more than one time through until I finally realize, gee, I’ll wear out this CD at the rate I’m going! It was merely living up to its name, bestowing on me a seemingly endless supply of positive energy.

So when the double billing of Chris Botti and Steve Oliver was listed on the schedule of the Berks Jazz Fest in March, it took only a second to know I wanted to hear Oliver’s music up close. The solid guitar playing, the compositions, the fact that nearly every song on the CD was worth listening to every time I popped it in -- all of this was impressive enough as I thought about the upcoming show. But once in the audience, it was the person of Steve Oliver, along with his music, that convinced me he is, indeed, the latest addition to an illustrious group of Olivers.

SteveOliver2Berks2004.jpgCasual. Relaxed. Happy. No, more than happy -- ecstatic. These are the qualities of a performer who put you at ease right from the start. It was obvious that he genuinely loves music and people. And it was equally obvious that he was going to have a great time, and was determined to take us along. With plenty of plans up his sleeve, it wasn’t long before he mesmerized the audience with his skill. He was more than a guitar player, more than a musician; his unique style caused me to later think of it as The Oliver Twist. He took what would easily be, by itself, a superb guitarist’s performance and made it even more memorable by giving it a whole new ‘twist.’

Standing as far front and center on the stage as he could get, eager to begin playing, he played a number of the songs I was hoping he would play from Positive Energy and his first CD entitled First View, and one of the new songs from his new CD, entitled 3-D, later released in August. He explained that he is always eager to try out new music on his fans before he puts them on a CD. We were happy to give our stamp of approval to 'Chips and Salsa' from the new CD.

SteveOliver4Berks2004.jpgHe worked his way through a number of songs from First View, among them ‘West End,’ the title track ‘First View,’ ‘I Know,’ and ‘Sunrise Celebration.’ It was during ‘Sunrise Celebration,’ with all its great vocal and percussion effects, that I noticed he was adding these various sound effects to his guitar playing! Of course I had heard these effects on the CD, but didn’t realize he was the one responsible for so many of these little gems placed like pearls in the spaces between his guitar lines. The effects became more and more intricate until I wasn’t sure how all these sounds could possibly be coming from him, but they were! He was totally engulfed in the experience of bringing us not only the sound of his guitar, but percussion effects, vocals, you name it, he was like a ‘one man band.’ I had to look to be sure there was a drummer or anyone else up there with him!

He’s a powerhouse of energy and special effects on stage! And as if that isn’t enough, beyond all of this talent with percussion and vocal effects, Oliver also has been blessed with a wonderful singing voice, so that hearing him sing “I Know” from beginnng to end was surely one of the highlights of the show for me. What a great song, and what a great tribute to the love he has found with his wife, as he shared with us in his typical unabashed style. We couldn’t help but sing along to help him celebrate, and to celebrate the love in our own lives. Highlighted from the Positive Energy CD were ‘High Noon,’ title track ‘Positive Energy,’ and ‘Right Direction.’

SteveOliver5Berks2004.jpgIt seemed that Oliver could have played well into the night. He never seemed to tire of connecting with his audience with music that just filled each of us with more and more of the Oliver blend of positive energy! But the show eventually had to end, despite continued protests of an appreciative crowd.

I remember thinking after the show, surely he will be a bit tired now and we won’t expect him to maintain that same upbeat manner he had nonstop on stage. But guess what? The positive energy was still flowing, in fact, maybe even stronger as he got excited over meeting every one of his fans, asking about them, responding to their questions. I don’t know how he did it, even I was tired! But he is a tireless, appreciative musician and it's obvious no amount of interacting is too much trouble or effort for him to give.

Since the Berks Jazz Fest, I've had the opportunity to ask Steve Oliver a couple of questions. First, I wanted to know what had contributed to his genuine love for people. He explained, “I have always had a love for talking with people since I can remember. That's why I love doing concerts, so I can meet and talk to the fans.”

SteveOliverBerks2004.jpgI knew he had worked with Tom Schuman of Spyro Gyra in recording his latest CD, and I wondered what was the highlight of that experience. “Working with Tom Schuman was a dream; not only is he such an amazing player, but he is such a wonderful person to work with. He's very focused and gives 120% in everything he does. We would put in 15 hour days and he would still have energy to keep going, I love that about Tom!!!"

How does Steve Oliver see himself evolving in the future given his huge success at this point in his career – what are the goals he has yet to accomplish? He answered, “I am such a music guru, I eat, drink, and sleep music and I always feel like I am just getting started. I love writing music and I am always looking for new and creative ways of putting sounds together, I just want to keep on writing, recording and touring, it is my passion!!!!!”

There are so many things to say about Steve Oliver. To sum it up, I'd say 'positive energy’ is a good name for him, not just for the CD. His enthusiasm and the flow of his energy really do send out a steady, positive stream that is infectious to those around him.

In case you’re wondering, Oliver’s debut CD, First View, released in 1999, is definitely worth adding to your collection. And I, for one, would never want to be without the Positive Energy CD! The new CD entitled 3-D, released in late August, promises to grab its share of attention in my CD player. In fact, it’s time to open this gem I have in my hands and pop it in!

By now you should be ready to head out for some CDs, attend one of the following shows, or both:

October 5 Henderson Pavillion, Henderson, Nevada
October 9 Thornton Winery, Temecula, California
October 14 Gardel’s, Baltimore, Maryland
October 16 Rehoboth Beach Autumn Jazz Festival, Rehoboth, Delaware

To learn more about Steve Oliver and where to purchase his CDs, go to www.steveolivermusic.com. And be forewarned: you can expect positive energy to flow as soon as you click onto his home page!

SteveOliver6Berks2004.jpgHappy Jazzin'

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Photo credits: Michael Packard

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 4:47 AM

October 2, 2004

Listen To Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival Live From Your Computer

The 18th annual Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival is now in full swing for three weekends in October.

Cat04cover.jpgIf you aren’t one of the lucky ones able to attend Art Good’s 18th annual Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival in Southern California, you can listen live to all 30 shows spread out over three weekends in webcasts airing live on www.jazztrax.com.

Look for such legendary groups as Pieces of a Dream and Fourplay to vocalist Lalah Hathaway and the legendary David Sanborn. New faces on the scene include guitarist Nick Colionne and saxophonist James Vargas, who are making their first-ever live appearances on the island. Other artists include Kim Waters, Everette Harp, Michael Lington, Steve Oliver, Ronnie Laws, Euge Groove and the entire crew of the Groovin' for Grover tour featuring Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, Jeff Lorber and Paul Taylor.

Although she will not be performing, saxophonist Mindi Abair will be on the island as Art Good’s co-host.

"Catalina is a great place to relax and an even better place to play music," says Down to the Bone's Stuart Wade. His band plays Oct. 16 at noon.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 8:31 PM

Fattburger's Hollis Gentry Seriously Injured In Car Crash

A benefit concert is scheduled Oct. 10 in San Diego for Fattburger saxophonis Hollis Gentry, who was seriously injured in a car crash.

Hollis_Playing.jpgSaxophonist Hollis Gentry, who helped found the San Diego-based group Fattburger 20 years ago, was involved in a serious car accident about three weeks ago in San Diego. He is reportedly still in the hospital in intensive care.

The current members of Fattburger – guitarist Evan Marks, keyboardist Carl Evans Jr., bassist Mark Hunter, drummer Kevin Koch and percussionist Tommy Aros – have announced that a benefit concert for Hollis will be held Oct. 10 at Humphrey's By The Bay in San Diego. It will be from 3 to 6 p.m., and there is a $25 cover charge.

Musicians scheduled to perform include Fattburger, Nathan East, and Hollis' teachers, Daniel Jackson and Charles McPherson. In addition, members of San Diego smooth jazz station KiFM will be on hand.

Hollis performs on five songs on Fattburger’s new album, Work To Do!, which was released last week. Among the songs is the title track, a cover of the Isley Brothers hit, which is the first smooth jazz single.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 8:02 PM

October 1, 2004

Octoberfest Of Smooth Jazz

Chartbusting smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James will be performing at the Boulder Station Hotel in Las Vegas, Friday October 8th, in the Railhead Showroom.

Saturday morning, October 9th, the North Las Vegas Northern Exposure 10K Run welcomes back recording artist / saxophonist Rocky Gordon and his Killer Groove Band for the third year in a row. His performance commences after the race.

The Second Annual Spring Mountain Jazzfest takes place October 16th at the Spring Mountain State Park just outside Las Vegas. This year's line up are saxtress / vocalist Mindi Abair, along with the ever popular guitar and vocal sounds of Joyce Cooling. Rounding up the evening will be the smooth sounds of alto saxophonist Michael Lington.

hollis_gentry.jpgDue to a recent severe auto accident that injured former Fattburger saxophonist Hollis Gentry, San Diego smooth jazz radio station KIFM will be hosting a benefit on October 10th at Humphrey's from 3pm to 6pm in San Diego. Scheduled to appear, but not confirmed, are jazz greats Nathan East, Charles McPherson, James Moody, and Kirk Whalum.

Posted by Danny Desart at 6:28 PM