November 30, 2004

Jennifer Johns - Redefining A Genre

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.

Innovative, driven, compassionate, and powerful are all words that have been used by publicists and critics alike to describe Oakland, CA born singer, songwriter, and spoken word artist Jennifer Johns. Now, with the release of her album Heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop, the listening public is getting the chance to have an opinion too. That might in fact be the problem as those people, who tend to buy records not only on commendation but also on impulse and instinct, may dismiss this CD on the basis of the title alone. Yet those who choose to do so will really be missing a musical experience from an artist who knows where she is going but has yet to signpost that direction through effective marketing.

JenniferJohns.jpgSince birth, Jennifer has been making this world, in her words, ‘just a little bit more melodic’ with her some times boisterous, some times soft, but always powerful voice. If you were to ask her when she started singing she would say, ‘I don't remember a day that I didn't.’ Her first experience on stage was at church at the tender age of 3 and she hasn't really stopped performing since then. Growing up she gained her influences from Earth, Wind and Fire, Phoebe Snow, and Sade, through to Paul Simon and Whitney Houston. All these and more plus distinctive West Indian rhythms filled her home as a youngster. And then there was hip-hop.....

Jennifer says it was somewhere between Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh's ‘The Show’, Rakim's ‘Know What's on Your Mind’, and Queen Latifah's ‘Ladies First’ that she first fell in love with hip-hop music. She sums this up when she says ‘just as I am music, I am hip hop’. At 13 Jennifer pursued her love of music by joining the award winning Oakland Youth Chorus where she studied music in numerous languages under the tutelage of nationally revered conductors Trente Morante, Elizabeth Seja Minn, and Grammy nominee Melonie DeMore. Performing with the OYC's professional a capella ensemble, Vocal Motion, Jennifer got the chance to work and perform with such musical luminaries as Nancy Wilson, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Melissa Manchester, and James Ingram.

At 17, Jennifer began to look deeper into a professional career in music and began performing locally in Oakland. Three years later she decided it was time to move to Los Angeles where she quickly built a name for herself and began recording with Goodvibe Recordings artists The Anonymous and BIG DRO.

During her time in Los Angeles, Jennifer became a member of both SAG and AFTRA, securing voiceover work for commercials with the LA Weekly, Macy's, and Pacific Bell. She also stayed busy building the entertainment and media company Pure Love that she founded in 2001. It produced live music and spoken word events that quickly became a staple in the rapidly growing Los Angeles spoken-soul community. In 2003, having built her fan base through Pure Love, Jennifer made the decision to isolate herself in Seattle to record songs for the upcoming project, Heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop.

Heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop is co-produced by Grammy nominee Spontaneous and on her own label, Nayo Movement Music. Her publicity suggests that Jennifer is set to give the world a taste of her ‘Electric Soul.’, stating that ‘listeners can expect some of what you love about Sade, a lot of what we needed from Lauryn, the warmth and conversational energy of Jill and the mystery of Dido.’ That’s quite a build up but how does it play out in reality?

JenniferJohns2.jpgFirst impressions confirm preconceptions formulated through the title with ‘Heavy’ a track stripped down to the basics of drum and bass with an underlining beat that seems to come all the way from Marakesh but then comes track #2 and everything changes. Rap, or spoken word music using a telephone conversation as its centrepiece is not new. One only needs to go back to Judie Clay and William Bell's ‘Private Number’ or the smooth sax version of the outstanding ‘What Becomes Of A Broken Heart’ by RJ’s Latest Arrival to confirm this. However with ‘Do You Believe In Love’ we find an exquisitely poetic rap from Johns that really tells a story and lives in the memory.

Track #3 is different again and really begins to confirm that Jennifer Johns has the ability to transcend traditional genre definitions. The haunting ‘Beautiful’ is reminiscent of an old Miracles number with ‘Swept By You’ from the 1966 Away We a Go-Go album seemingly in there somewhere. This haunting quality is retained in the next track ‘Fallen’ but this time with the injection of a background with a real jungle feel. This jungle flavor reoccurs on track #6 ‘The Truth’ where Johns is found at her melodic best and track #9 ‘Fire’, a number that suffers through over production.

Two gems are ‘Never Give Up’, a truly outstanding piece of mid temp R & B and ‘Cherish The Day’ a competent cover of the cut from Sade’s album Love Deluxe.

Finally on the album is that strangest of modern music phenomena, the ‘hidden track’. Buried deep within the recording, and identified as track #24, ‘Afraid Of Me’, features Ayinde Howell and is a fantastic example of deep R & B. Its sexy, sensuous rap and minimalistic production, all held together with a solid bass line is quite simply too good to be hidden away.

Heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop is an interesting showcase for the talents of Jennifer Johns. What is now crucial to her success will be the musical direction she opts to take. There might well be an opening for a new Sade or for a fresh voice on the contemporary soul scene. Whatever route Jennifer Johns chooses to take she is an artist who is likely to be with us for some time to come.

Recently, Jennifer has performed around the USA with artists such as Common, KRS-1, De La Soul, John Legend, Medusa, Gift of Gab, Souls of Mischief, and Mystic. In addition Ms. Johns just spent her summer on a 6 week tour through Europe with Blackalicious.

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 12:33 PM

November 22, 2004

Smooth Jazz Radio Station Adding Chill Music To Its Mix

CD 101.9 in New York is chilling out.

Beginning today, smooth-jazz radio station WQCD (101.9 FM) in New York is incorporating more chill music into its mix.

It's now known as New York Chill. The station is including about 30 percent of the music into its smooth jazz rotation.

Chill music - also known as "downtempo" - incorporates elements of pop, jazz, electronica and world music. The genre's stars include Tosca, Thievery Corporation, Air, Charles Afton and Zero 7.

In the United States, the first full-time radio station playing chill music is KLBU, Blue 102.9, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The show is streamed live on the Internet at In addition, smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti has a weekly radio show called Chill With Chris Botti that debuted Sept. 4 and is now heard on numerous radio stations. Another popular syndicated show that CD 101.9 already airs is The Groove Boutique with host and mixer Rafe Gomez.

This year, the Rendezvous Music label, which is co-owned by saxophonist Dave Koz, released an album called Rendezvous Lounge. It features stars of the chill music genre and featured the smooth jazz single "Time to Lounge" by Alkemx. In February 2005, it will re-release a CD called Les Seigneurs by the chill music duo of Adani & Wolf. The label has just released a song by the group, "Daylight," to smooth jazz radio.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 9:42 PM

November 19, 2004

TV Appearances Boost Sales For Chris Botti

Chris Botti sees a spike in album sales after performing on TV.

As expected, two appearances this week on highly rated television shows have helped push sales of trumpeter Chris Botti’s new album, When I Fall In Love, through the roof.

On Nov. 12, Botti performed “Someone To Watch Over Me” and was interviewed by Al Roker on the Today show. And on Nov. 16, Botti struck gold in a starring role with Oprah Winfrey on Oprah, where he performed the song “When I Fall In Love” during a wedding and also in Oprah’s studio. Oprah told her audience that she bought all of Botti's ablums after she heard him play for the first time. After Botti's performance, Oprah jumped out of her seat to give the trumpeter a big hug.

Although sales figures for this week haven't been released yet for Botti's big week, When I Fall In Love right now has the distinction of being the No. 1 album in sales for all musical genres on The album also nailed down the No. 1 position on Billboard’s Jazz charts for several weeks after being released in late September.

In addition, it’s been a steady performer on Billboard’s Heatseeker chart, reaching a high of No. 3 so far. The Heatseeker chart lists the best-selling titles by new and developing artists, defined as those who have never appeared in the top 100 of the Billboard 200 chart. When a CD reaches this level, the CD and the artist's subsequent ones are ineligible to appear on the Heatseeker chart.

In other words, Botti is a big star now.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:47 AM

Paul Brown Producing New Jeff Golub CD

Guitarist Jeff Golub has enlisted smooth jazz's premier producer for his upcoming CD on Higher Octave.

jeffgolub_bw.jpgThis month, guitarist Jeff Golub begins recording his new album. Golub has a new label, Higher Octave, and a new producer – Paul Brown, the most sought-after producer in smooth jazz.

Golub, who lives in New York, will be bicoastal for a while as he works on the album in Brown's Funky Joint studio in Southern California. According to Brown, the two musicians already have a couple of original songs finished, including one called “Simple Pleasures,” and are now deciding on one or more cover songs. Brown – who has produced music for Boney James, Euge Groove, Rick Braun, Norman Brown and Richard Elliot, among many others – says some of Jeff’s new songs will be funkier, more urban and more orchestrated than his previous works.

“Jeff’s a excellent musician, and I really like his style," says Brown. "I think he’s one of the more recognizable guitarists out there. He doesn’t sound like Wes Montgomery or George Benson. He’s got this Southern blues thing that he does so well. I'm trying to put him into some different environments for him to play in so he stands out even more.”

The CD, expected to be released in the spring of 2005, is the follow-up to Golub’s Soul Sessions, which was released in August 2003 by the GRP label. In addition to producing, Brown of course is now a solo artist in his own right. His debut album, Up Front, features the smash single “24/7,” which went all the way to No. 2 on the smooth jazz charts. His current single is called “Moment By Moment," a catchy number that displays Brown's vocalese skills.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:34 AM

November 18, 2004

Tony Adamo & Ernie Watts Record at Cherokee Studios

Tony_Adamo_bw.jpgTwo-time Grammy winner Ernie Watts layed down horn tracks for contemporary jazz vocalist, Tony Adamo’s new Soul Jazz CD at the legendary Cherokee Recording Studios, Los Angeles, California. This is the second time Watts has recorded with Adamo. Their first recording was on Adamo’s CD, Dance Of Love on Rhombus Records. Dance Of Love is currently receiving airplay in the US and Canada.

Jerry Stucker is again producing Adamo’s new Soul Jazz CD to be released early in 2005. (The buzz on this new CD started when Al Schmitt, Capitol Studios recently mixed three of Adamo’s songs for this new CD). The Robb brothers, owners of Cherokee have always been knocked out by Watts’ soulful playing and were delighted to have him record at their studio. Ernie began the recording session with War’s, “The World is a Ghetto.” Adamo’s vocals and Stucker’s arrangement might make this a jazz radio staple. The next song up, an original, “Wouldn’t You Like to Know” could generate a Nora Jones like response. The groove train was really hitting the tracks hard as Ernie stretched out and worked his magic on the Grover Washington Jr. tune, “Winelight,” with lyrics by Kurt Elling. Together, the magic vibe of Adamo’s silky smooth vocals and Watts’ mighty tenor wrapped itself around “Winelight,” and may just break this new artist to the public and get Watts nominated for another Grammy. Let the magic begin!

For more on Tony Adamo go to

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:15 AM

November 17, 2004

American Idol Finalist, Latoya London, Signs Record Deal With Peak Records

Latoya_London.jpgFans of Latoya London, who won the hearts of audiences across the United States with her stunning and powerful performances on the 2004 season of American Idol, need wait no longer for her debut CD. The 25-year old singer today signed her first record deal with independent label Peak Records (

Latoya was widely considered an odds-on favorite to win this year’s American Idol competition on FOX- TV. Her elimination in one of the final rounds of the series stunned fans nationwide, while the studio erupted into boos and jeers. As testament to her popularity, the singer has been much in demand since she departed the show, touring with the other contestants over the summer and making numerous public appearances.

Peak Records President Andi Howard, has grand plans for her newest artist. “Latoya will follow in the footsteps of Whitney Houston and the other great female R&B singers that shaped the genre. She’s smart, beautiful, witty and incredibly talented. When I saw her perform on American Idol, I was simply blown away. I am absolutely delighted that she has now joined our family.”

The Beverly Hills-based label is partnered with Concord Records (, which recently scored a multi-platinum hit with Genius Loves Company, the final recording from music legend Ray Charles. The company’s roster has included some of the biggest artists in R&B and contemporary jazz, such as Regina Belle, Glenn Jones, Phil Perry, David Benoit, The Rippingtons, and Paul Taylor. Latoya is currently working with the Peak team on material for her debut release, which will primarily feature R&B originals, although the diminutive singer promises to also bring fans a number of genre favorites. The CD is expected in summer of 2005 with recording to begin in January.

Latoya London, a native of Oakland, CA, has a busy holiday season ahead with appearances as the Grand Marshal of the Amazing Kids Parade in Orlando, FL (11/26), the Oakland Holiday Parade (12/4) and the San Jose Holiday Parade (12/5). Also on December 5th, Latoya performs for the Richmond / Ermet AIDS Foundation in San Francisco, and on December 11, she appears at the 16th Annual “100 Black Men of the Bay Area” gala which raises funds for youth mentoring and education.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 10:29 PM

November 15, 2004

Secret Garden Snippet - Fernanda Cunha

fernandacunha_doiscoracoes.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet brings another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. This time we have news of a new release from Brazilian vocalist Fernanda Cunha (

A tribute album to the compositions of Sueli Costa and Johnny Alf, Dois Coracoes (‘Two Hearts’) is a late night moody collection for lovers that sees Cunha weave her vocal magic. She is right up there as a worthy contemporary of Brazilian music notables Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto and if we needed further proof, post Gilberto, that music is an international language then this is the confirmation that we seek. It’s the sounds of the words, not their meaning in Portuguese, that holds the listener and makes this a very atmospheric piece of work.

This is the second album for Fernanda Cunha, the niece of Sueli Costa and daughter of singer Telma Costa. Her first release, O Tempo E O Lugar, was recorded June 2002 in Cleveland Ohio. She is now based in Rio De Janerio where she is busy performing with her quartet and promoting the album. Catch her in Belo Horizonte on November 12 and in Rio on November 19. Come January 2005 she can be found at Mistura Fina in Rio (, and in March 2005 she goes on the road for her first tour in Canada. See her at the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton on the 4th (

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:38 PM

November 14, 2004

Contempo November 2004

jasonmiles.jpgBased on Jason Miles’ incredible track record producing all-star tribute recordings these past few years, fans picking up a copy of the cleverly titled, star-studded Miles to Miles (due in January from Narada Jazz) are bound to think it’s the keyboardist’s latest homage to another deserving legend — his old friend Miles Davis. He started the current decade inviting top fusion, smooth jazz and R&B names (Brecker Brothers, Joe Sample, Chaka Khan, Dave Koz) to record the classics of Weather Report (Celebrating The Music of Weather Report, 2000) and the late Grover Washington, Jr. (To Grover With Love, 2001). In 2001, Miles received a Grammy Award certificate in conjunction with Sting’s Best Male Pop Vocal win for “She Walks This Earth Alone,” part of A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins, ode to the famed Brazilian singer-songwriter.

Miles insists, however, that his current project is not a tribute at all, but rather a multi-faceted, rhythmically diverse musical chronicle, telling the never-a-dull-moment tale of his five and a half year professional relationship with Davis from the mid-80s till the trumpeter’s death in 1991. Although there’s a lush update on Kind of Blue’s “Flamenco Sketches” featuring Keiko Matsui’s ambient keys and Marc Antoine’s Spanish guitar, the album is “new music, my music, not Miles music. It’s about him and the great influence he’s had on me, almost like a poem that captures different moments we shared together. Each song is a single impression of the overall experience.”

Miles entered the sacred realm in the mid-80s as synth programmer for Marcus Miller, who produced from 1986-89 Tutu, Music From Siesta and Amandla, Davis’ first three Warner Bros. recordings after decades with Columbia. At their first encounter, Davis told the young keyboardist in his inimitable rasp, “Hey, kid, I like your name.” Later that session, the legend was about to toss a sketch of a stick figure woman in the trash. When Miles asked for it as a souvenir, Davis doodled a small trumpet and wrote on it, “Miles To Miles”; the framed piece has long been on proud display in Miles’ home.

“It wasn’t just being a kid around a famous icon,” says Miles. “He honestly had a glow and an aura that came out. He had this incredible, powerful spirit that lived up to the myth. The original approach was, Marcus is the artist and I am the paint. Miles thought I had my own air of mystery because he didn’t know how I used my synths to get all these sounds he was hearing. We were trying to bring a new edge to his music, and he treated us well. On my website (, I even have a rare photo of him with me, smiling. He’d always say, ‘Make the music you feel you have to make.’ I always took that to heart.”

The joy of Miles to Miles is the personal scrapbook of anecdotes the living Miles brings to the party. This personal touch makes the collection far more than a breakneck journey through a lot of wild funk, ambience and hardcore fusion with cats like Gerald Albright (whose blistering sax on the bubbling blues funk of “Butter Pecan” has more punch than most of his smooth jazz output), Michael Brecker (the hip-hop scratch jam “Ferrari”), Randy Brecker (the strutting, similarly scratch happy “King of the Bling”) and Nicholas Payton (trumpeting gently over a lilting African flavored seduction of “Love Code”). There’s also a three song “Street Vibe Suite” inspired by the New York neighborhood around The Bottom Line, where Miles saw Miles play organ for an hour before switching to the horn in 1975; Bernie Worrell’s descending organ line on “Voices on the Corner” reflects this experience. “Guerilla Jazz,” featuring the late Bob Berg and cool-throbbing bass of Me’shell Ndegeocello, reflects the danger and adventure Miles felt Davis always brought to his music.

The New Yorker’s stories just keep coming: “I was in L.A. working with Luther Vandross and had the day off. Miles was at his house in Malibu and invited me out for a ride in his ‘Ferrari’. He drove like a wildman on Pacific Coast Highway, and the song captures that energy. ‘Butter Pecan’ is totally crazy, but so was the ice cream story that inspired it. In 1988, I brought over an Alesis drum machine and we were working out tunes and beats on it. He was afraid to shut it off for two days before my next visit. We’re busy and all of a sudden he calls my wife Kathy and asks her to pick up some bread, milk and Haagen Daas Butter Pecan ice cream. I reminded him that he was diabetic, but he didn’t care. The tune has something of a James Brown beat, and that’s the kind of stuff we were working on that day.”

Miles believes the secret to Davis’ success was that the trumpeter always surrounded himself with the “best of the best, which offered him the chance to reach new creative heights.” Taking a cue from the master, and building on the success of his tribute albums, Miles earlier this year masterminded, co-wrote and produced Coast To Coast, a eclectic, melodic and groove-intensive session under the name Maximum Grooves on Telarc Jazz. Despite the presence of both the fusion and smooth jazz elite (Albright, Michael Brecker, Andy Snitzer, Russ Freeman, Jay Beckenstein, Jeff Kashiwa), the disc — truly one of the most dynamic contempo releases of the year - has been hard pressed to get mainstream airplay in the format. Miles is excited about alternative outlets like Satellite XM radio’s Watercolors station (where he first heard Kashiwa’s solo work), but like many others, laments the lack of true jazz creativity in increasingly corporate controlled, demographically driven program choices.

“I like music with a real pulse, and I think commercial melodies and individuality can both be part of the smooth jazz radio experience,” says Miles, who’s had slightly better airplay luck with his recent projects by Gato Barbieri, Eric Marienthal and vocalist Cassandra Reed. “I think listeners are open to taking more chances than the powers that be give them credit for. I’m tired of albums that sound the same from cut to cut. To me, the spirit of America is that of individual expression, not a corporate culture that takes that away. Sometimes, it’s as if an a new release can’t fall beyond the 100% safety net, and that mindset does little to encourage real innovation from up and comers who have something significant to say. Miles blazed trails in his time because he was slightly dangerous and unpredictable. I love catchy grooves and melodies, but I’m never going to abandon the spirit of uniqueness that I experienced with him and which continues to inspire me.”

In a cynical time like ours, it’s always good to have a musical pied piper who looks beyond today’s headlines and reminds us that in America, we can still partake of The Good Life — the title of pianist David Lanz’s second disc for Decca (after 2002’s similarly upbeat Finding Paradise). A new age icon in the 80s and 90s — his 1988 hit Cristofori’s Dream was #1 for 27 weeks and sold platinum — Lanz has shifted to smooth jazz in recent years. Finding Paradise had just enough of the old Lanz vibe for him to refer to it as “smooth age,” but on The Good Life, he surrounds his catchy, to the point melodies with thick, soulful grooves and occasional dashes of brass, courtesy of the usual smoothie suspects — Paul Jackson, Jr., Michael Paul, Eric Marienthal, Jeff Lorber, Rick Braun, the Jerry Hey horns and producer Steven Dubin. Amidst the radio friendliness, the most compelling cut is the Vince Guaraldi-inspired “Sorry Charlie” and for fans of the Lanz of yore, there’s the orchestral grandeur of “A Song For Helen.”

Pieces of a Dream, the R&B driven Philly pop-jazz ensemble led by keyboardist James Lloyd and drummer Curtis Harmon, celebrated its 25th anniversary as a unit on 2001’s Heads Up debut Acquainted With The Night. As teenagers, they were discovered and originally signed to a production deal by Grover Washington, Jr. and they since evolved into one of smooth jazz’s most enduring units. Their latest, No Assembly Required, is cheery, light in the pocket light funk at its finest, with Lloyd writing or co-writing every track. In the jubilant tradition of labelmate Joe McBride (who makes a cameo on background vocals on the Earth, Wind & Fire cover “Devotion”), “Swerve” and “On Her Wings” are bright showcases for his playful keyboard persona, but the project is generally sax dominated. The best of these sax tracks are “It’s Go Time” (Eddie Baccus, Jr. and Jeff Robbins) and “Who U Wit?” with Jason Davis.

Like his first two R&B influenced hit albums Power Forward (1995) and In The Zone (1996), Hang Time, the title of bassist Wayman Tisdale’s debut on Dave Koz’s Rendezvous Music, is a fond glance back at his previous career as an NBA All-Star from 1986-97 with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. His 1998 album Decisions reflected his choice to retire from the hoops and focus on music full time, and after a three year hiatus from smooth jazz recording, he was back fully in the limelight last summer as part of Dave Koz’s A Smooth Summer Night Tour. Show highlights included the 6’9” Tisdale picking up and carrying the petite saxman around, and a crowdpleasing run through the disco classic “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” which is also Hang Time’s first single. Other highlights are the bouncy retro-soul flavored opening tracks “Ready To Hang” and “Creative Juices” (the latter featuring the Rhodes shimmer of Jeff Lorber) and the moody romance “Better Days” which features a gentle soprano sax-bass conversation by Tisdale and Koz.


1) Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company (Concord) – Just months before he passed, Brother Ray left us a tremendous, musically diverse gift with this vibrant, Phil Ramone produced, blues and jazz oriented collection of duets with legends from all genres—Elton John, Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, BB King, Van Morrison, et al.
2) Shades of Soul (Narada Jazz)
3) Forever, For Always, For Luther (GRP)
4) Dotsero, Fresh Pants (Cinderblock)
5) Eva Cassidy, Wonderful World (Blix Street)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 6:13 PM

November 13, 2004

Love Letter for Gato Barbieri – Tenor Saxman with the Big Sound of Amor

By Vallynda Voz

In 1976, I heard the amazing sounds of “Europa” on the radio (probably on WRVR FM - a jazz/R&B station in New York City at that time) from a tenor saxophonist named Gato Barbieri. Barbieri’s album (vinyl back then) Caliente! (“HOT” in Spanish for those who don’t know) had the debonaire saxophone hero in a dramatic stance wearing his trademark black fedora hat, with multi-colored flames in the background of the cover art (on Herb Alpert’s A & M label). The album became a favorite of mine, with many joyful latin-jazz pop tunes, from “Fiesta” to “I Want You.” That music still sounds as powerful and as fresh today as it did almost three decades ago. It is music that nourishes the soul, is emotionally-sustaining and life-affirming – in other words timeless.

Caliente! became a classic, best-selling recording pre-dating the smooth jazz radio genre. The tune “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile” (written by Carlos Santana) would become Gato Barbieri’s ultimate “theme” – an anthem that his adoring fans would expect to hear at every show – and he wouldn’t disappoint them. Gato’s intense, passionate and warm playing was partly my inspiration to learn to play saxophone. I learned from his biography that we had in common starting out on clarinet in our pre-teen years. Gato also played alto saxophone, until he switched to tenor, where he found his unique, passionate, growling tone.

At that time, little did I realize, that Gato Barbieri had a long career before his popularity beginning in the 1970s. Gato, (born Leandro Barbieri in Argentina), had played as a young adult in Lalo Schifrin’s orchestra in the 1950s. He started out playing traditional Latin music, and then went on to become a renowned avant-garde player of free jazz in the 1960s, performing with Don Cherry in Paris, as well as with Mike Mantler’s Jazz Composers’ Orchestra. In early 1970s, Gato returned to playing music influenced by Latin American melodies and rhythms and received recognition from the jazz world and with college audiences around the United States. Most traditional jazz critics view Gato’s earlier work as powerful contributions to jazz. In 1972, Gato achieved unexpected widespread acclaim for his playing on the soundtrack to the controversial Bernardo Bertolucci Last Tango in Paris film. Gato then toured at festivals around the world. He also became a successful composer for numerous international films in Europe, South America and the United States.

Gato.jpgThe first time I saw Gato play live was in April 1984 at S.O.B.’s (Sounds of Brazil) – a club that is still around today in Manhattan. It was a very special time – it was my birthday and I went to see Gato with my saxophone teacher, Fred Reiter (who in the early 80s had played with guitarist Stanley Jordan in college, and currently tours the world with a ska-jazz band called The Toasters). The funny thing was, I remember seeing all of these Gato look-alikes wearing the Gato-style hat and suave suits, waiting in a long line around the corner from the S.O.B.’s venue.

Twelve years later, in 1996 I saw Gato play at the legendary Blue Note club in NYC. I was thrilled to see him, but I sensed a deep sadness – something was wrong. Not long after, I heard that his beloved first wife, the Italian-born Michelle, who had been instrumental in his life and his career, had passed on, and then Gato had triple-bypass heart surgery.

The next year, in 1997, I heard this incredible tune “Into the Sunrise” from Gato’s new CD Que Pasa on the radio on CD101.9FM – the smooth jazz station in the New York City area. The big Gato sound, the passion – was back! It was Gato’s comeback! I was thrilled that Gato returned to his music and his audience in top form. I was also happy to hear that Gato had found new love in his life with his second wife Laura and then had a new baby son Christian.

The intensity of emotional playing of the beautiful songs on Gato’s Que Pasa CD, represented hope and made me realize that new love and a new start in life are possible anytime, if one looks deep within one’s soul and has faith. I’m sure Gato’s music has been inspirational to many fans. I’m just one that happens to be a jazz journalist and a musician who’s had the privilege to have Gato’s music play an important role in my life.

In 1997, the year that Que Pasa was released, Gato returned to play at the Blue Note. I saw him perform at least two nights that week. One memorable evening John Travolta and his entourage sat at the table behind me, dancing by his seat, and digging the music. Gato’s big sound enveloped the room and was wonderful; his piano player Bill O’Connell (who finally released his own solo CD recently), and the other members in Gato’s band were terrific. I had the pleasure and honor to talk with Gato backstage at the Blue Note, and tried to explain to him in English and in Spanish what his music meant to me. That same year, I also had a Gato “sighting” in the audience at Bea Smith’s Café in NYC at a Philippe Saisse show (the smooth jazz pianist who had a radio hit with “Moanin’”). Saisse had produced Que Pasa (on Columbia Records), which became the fourth highest selling Contemporary Jazz album that year.

Fast forward and it’s now 2004. Gato Barbieri’s current CD is called The Shadow of the Cat, (his debut on Peak/Concord Records and his 50th album). Last year, The Shadow of the Cat won Billboard's award for "Best Latin Jazz Album.” Barbieri dedicated The Shadow of the Cat to his beloved mother, who passed away in 1991. In his liner notes, Gato wrote, “If not for you and the spark you lit in me, I would not be who I am today. There would be no [The] Shadow of the Cat.” Barbieri grew up poor in Rosario, Argentina, but felt enriched by his mother’s teachings about life, love and music. “She understood me and encouraged my musical dreams…She was an incredible woman.”

The CD continues Gato Barbieri’s legacy by combining soulful Latin sensibilities with a seductive, contemporary jazz flavor. The first tune,“El Chico” is a festive, percussive Latin swing tune with a boisterous brass section. The title track is a beautiful, Latin romantic tune with the trademark Gato sound, that has the sweet, melodious complement of Peter White on acoustic guitar and Sheila E. on percussion. “Para Todos (For Everyone),” is a groove-oriented samba. “Tierra Del Fuego” (Land of Fire)” is a funky tune with rock and gospel influences that features Russ Freeman’s powerful electric guitar. There’s also the laid back, mellow finesse of “Blue Habanera” as well as a mid-tempo, neo-soul version of Barbieri’s classic hit song “Last Tango.” The CD finishes with a Spanish language rendering of “If I Was Your Woman“ called ”Si Tu Me Quisieras.”

The Shadow of the Cat was produced by Grammy winning Jason Miles. Jason Miles has worked with jazz and pop legends from Miles Davis to Luther Vandross and recently produced a tribute CD to the late Grover Washington Jr. Other special guest artists on Gato Barbieri’s new CD include vocalist Cassandra Reed, bassist Mark Egan, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, pianist Oscar Hernandez, drummer Richie Morales, percussionist Marc Quinones, bassist Will Lee and guitarist Romero Lumambo. The best surprise guest is the legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert, who plays on three songs.

Gato_Barbieri.jpgIn the next few months, Gato is doing some touring in select cities (check out dates on During the second week in November, Gato is playing at the Iridium jazz club in New York City. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing the one, the only Gato Barbieri with the big, unique tone on the tenor saxophone and those special vocal chants – emotional exclamations of simple words such as “Hey” that punctuate between his gorgeous melodic lines on the horn. Gato Barbieri’s music is simply the sound of Amor. To me, Gato, your music is the epitome of the beauty of love and the precious gift of how wonderful life can be. Your music will always have a special place in my heart.

Gato recently said: “It’s exciting that people are still moved when I play, and I consider myself blessed to have had fans that have listened to me for such a long time. They still do, and I’m still having fun. When I start recording, I am playing for me, but when I play a concert, I play for me and them. It is not a “show”, but it is a musical message. They understand where I am coming from.”

Yes Gato, we do understand. So to Gato Barbieri the legendary one-of-a-kind saxophonist with the glorious sound - still the cool cat in the hat - best wishes for a healthy, Happy 72th Birthday this November 28th!! Muchas gracias, for bringing your wonderful music with such joy to jazz fans throughout the world.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:31 AM

November 10, 2004

Jazz Base Journey: No Luggage Needed

Pieces2.jpgOn September 16th, Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base opened in Reading, Pennsylvania, home of the Berks Jazz Fest, amid a scene perhaps reminiscent of bygone days when jazz clubs were small, intimate spaces. Against the backdrop of an artist’s rendition of the city skyline, an inviting atmosphere beckoned, complete with white cloths adorning round tables for two, shimmering candles, and larger seating areas sprinkled throughout the two level club. From any vantage point, friends could gather for quiet conversation and serious appreciation of the music. Excitement grew as we came closer to the moment Veasley would be in front of us, welcoming us to the first night of his artistic venture, Gerald Veasley’s JAZZ BASE!

Stepping up to the microphone for the very first time on this very first night, Veasley’s face spoke volumes, his banner and logo for the club looming large behind him. Yes, there was understandable pride and happiness and excitement in this moment, yet it was Veasley as usual, simply glad to see all of us! In the audience were friends and family members that he mentioned by name. His daughter Taylor (TJ) and nephews Robert and Dmitri were there to share in the celebration and their faces were beaming. (Be sure to see them in pictures below.)

As the chatter at each table quieted and the silver ball above us continued to slowly spin, Veasley encouraged us to sit back and relax, to open our hearts and our minds, to go on a journey with the band. “However,” he said, “You’ll have to leave your luggage behind.” He wanted us to forget about the stressful day we may have had, our problems, our jobs. “So clap your hands,” he added. And we did.

JazzBase2.jpgThe music began and soon Veasley’s head was bobbing up and down, back and forth -- his signature sign of bliss with the bass, I call it, having seen this phenomenon many times before. Wearing his characteristically debonair beret (only later did I discover his shoes exactly matched that striped beret he wore) and swinging the end of the bass guitar up and down to the beat in an exaggerated motion, his winning smile and continued clapping made it easy to want to hop on board for the start of this journey.

JazzBase4.jpgThe music was everything we hoped for. With a nod of his head, Veasley featured a few of his players during the first song, moving from the trumpet player, Rob Diener, to keyboard player Will Brock, to trombone player Bill Miller, then to the soprano sax player, Paul Cox.

By this time, the band had launched into ‘Do You Remember,’from Veasley’s Velvet CD. Peter Kuzma took it away on keyboard, but after a time there was the unmistakable presence of Veasley’s bass creeping back in. The drummer made his presence known, and we were off to faraway places. And we found it easy to leave the luggage behind.

JazzBase3.jpgThe stage was filled with talented musicians throughout the night, along with familiar, well loved tunes, plenty of jamming, and a surprise guest in the form of accomplished guitarist Ed Hamilton. Band member Will Brock, keyboardist, virtually exercised his way through the songs, jumping up and down to the beat. He was enthusiasm personified throughout the evening. Eric Green, a superbly talented drummer, at one point lost a stick and Veasley, while happy to oblige by picking it up, held it only teasingly close. Veasley always puts fun first, to the crowd’s delight. But it made no real difference to this drummer, amazingly, as he continued his intricate drumwork almost as if he originally planned to play with just one stick! It didn’t matter at all! And he played with so much gusto when he got it back, what a dynamite song that was!

The keyboardist, who had just gotten back from California, Peter Kuzma, was awesome and it was obvious Veasley so much appreciated his being here. Percussionist Pablo Baptiste often simply closed his eyes and went to a place where he could accentuate, punctuate and exacerbate with every sound available in his repertoire. He was great! Paul Cox continued to play a key role in many songs and he was quite a solid and masterful saxophonist.

JazzBase5.jpgVeasley also had fun with the Berks Jazz Fest Horns, whom he seems to have affectionately renamed the Shiny Horns, consisting of Mike Anderson on saxophone, Rob Diener on trumpet, and Bill Miller on trombone. No doubt Veasley has been one of the first well-known artists playing Berks who has decided to feature local talent right up there with him on stage.

Will Brock rocked the house just before the break with a great song, called, “The House Called Home.” We loved watching him as he sang his story with the recurring theme “I’m so glad I’m back home.” At one point he was no longer playing the keyboard, but his fingers were still moving up in the air in front of him as if he were playing. He had a bit of calisthenics going on there with the fingers in the air -- they just had to express the frenzy he was in over being back home!

After a particularly long stretch of some great jamming on this same song, “Home,” players were in another world, singing along with the solo. Veasley had so beautifully set the stage this evening, and when the song came to an end, even he was moved to declare “Lord have MERCY….and it ain’t over yet!!”

JazzBase6.jpgGerald Veasley and his expressiveness surely will go down in history. From the expressions while he’s playing to the one-liners he shares with us, he is truly entertaining! He really does ‘go somewhere else’ when he’s playing; his expressions mirror both the effort involved in playing it ‘just right’ and the thoughts which must come and go when he’s playing – some of these must be pretty comical to him because he’s not just smiling, he’s actually laughing. And his laughter has always been so infectious. Everyone who’s ever watched him play will tell you.

Intermission brought more laughs as Veasley promised us, “We’re all coming back…it’s MY CLUB!”

JazzBase7.jpgDuring the second set, friend and fellow Philadelphian Ed Hamilton walked onto the stage and the crowd eagerly entered into his version of ‘Fly Like An Eagle,’ a recent hit which had a lot of airplay. What a fluid guitarist whose playing makes it looks so very effortless. And Hamilton had another treat in store for us: he told the story of his treasured association with the late George Howard, and moved right into ‘Gray Day’ from his Planet Jazz CD, which he dedicated to George. ‘Gray Day’ stretched out for a long time, thankfully, as this was a real highlight of the show, and by the time it ended, the crowd had relaxed into a very mellow state.

Hamilton was a great choice for this opening night. Another passionate player with facial expressions to match; on his face you can watch the agony and the ecstasy of both the intense effort it takes to play well and the beautiful result of that effort. At times he’s referred to himself as a ‘hermit,’ so we are grateful if he came out of his ‘cave’ to be part of this night, which was made even more special by his presence.

JazzBase8.jpgThis show was high energy and full of surprises. But at one point, Veasley slowed things down a bit with a song dedicated to his wife, Roxanne. Looking and playing rather soulful, and every once in a while searching the crowd for her, he admitted that somehow he had forgotten to save her a seat. And so he wasn’t sure where to look for her, but soon he found her. I have learned when an artist not only plays but also composes his own music, there is great opportunity to reach into the depths of his soul and share a portion of that with us. How moving it is when someone like Veasley, then, after composing a song with Roxanne in mind, finds her and gazes at her while playing that song. A song of meaning that only the two of them can fathom. One of my favorite moments during an artist’s performance is when he shares something of the special person(s) in his life who has motivated and inspired his work.

The most poignant moment of the night, however, had to be when Veasley played ‘Sarah’s Song,’ also from the Velvet CD. He told us about a daughter who, as he explained, almost made it here, but not quite. The song, so beautiful, seemed to portray the love of a parent for the essence of his child. To follow the music was both sweet and intense, perhaps especially for those of us who are parents. The end of the song was quite uplifting, making me think the audience could feel Sarah, triumphant, dancing in the heavens, almost as if to say, “I’m just fine and I’ll see you later, Mommy and Daddy.” Extremely moving for me, and yet another example of the way Gerald Veasley shares his heart and soul with us through his music and his friendship.

Having the Jazz Base right here in Reading allows us to get to know Gerald Veasley better, and what we've learned is that he makes everything fun! Everything about this night speaks of his dedication to music and his desire to use it to bring happiness into the lives of others.

JazzBaseOpeningSo thanks for opening this artistic base, Gerald! Thanks for delivering on your promise of a journey, for opening your heart with music and words and facial expressions, for sharing your love and stage with specially talented band members, and finally, for your genuine joy in being with us, the fans.

Footnote: Opening Night of Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base has been followed by consecutive Thursday nights of jazz music by local and regional artists. Veasley himself has visited now and then and, in fact, put in a guest appearance with local talent Chris Heslop and his Nasty Nine band two weeks ago. A real team player, Veasley can either be in charge or he can follow, it seems to make no difference to him, as long as he is playing and making people happy.

If you haven’t yet made it to the Jazz Base, this would be a choice week to venture out and see what you’re missing. This week will be a live CD recording session! So come on out and have some fun, Gerald Veasley style!!

Happy Jazzin’

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

Photo Credits: Michael C. Packard

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 5:36 AM

November 8, 2004

Smooth Sailing Nov. 8

Reviews of new CDs by Steve Oliver, Craig Chaquico, Shades of Soul and others.

Steve Oliver

Five years ago, it’s unlikely that a veteran session player for Steve Reid’s Bamboo Forest named Steve Oliver just up and decided that he just had to be one of the top crafters of smooth jazz guitar songs. With the release of First View, though, he did just that and quickly joined pickers like Peter White and Marc Antoine as experts of an often elusive beast – the catchy instrumental pop song. The album boasted three hit radio singles, and Smooth Jazz News named Oliver the Debut Artist of the Year.

His new CD, the follow-up to the equally compelling Positive Energy from 2002, is Oliver’s first for New York-based Koch Records. 3D offers nine instrumental songs in addition to several cuts where Oliver proves yet again why his vocals are considered one of the best going in any genre. Whether with straight vocals on “You Rescued Me” or dabbling in joyous vocalese on the first single, “Chips and Salsa,” Oliver’s vocal chops are always welcome.

The CD, co-produced by Spyro Gyra’s Tom Schuman, showcases Steve’s first-ever cover song, John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which is both heartbreaking and inspiring as an instrumental tune. With soft background vocalese, strings and a sweet layer of guitar work, it just shows you can never interpret a classic enough times if done in new and exciting ways.

What really drives the album, though, are the hook-filled original instrumentals, especially the CD’s opener, “Magic World.” On that and others like “3-D,” “In the Shade of Cool” and “She’s Got the Way-O,” Oliver’s “positive energy” is never more evident. He even likes to spread the joy around: The song “Funhouse” features guest hoops and handclaps by his neighbors in his hometown of Banning, California. Fun stuff.

Smooth grade: A

Shades of Soul
Shades of Soul
(Narada Jazz)

Nine years ago, keyboardist and composer Jeff Lorber got together with guitarist Marlon McClain and bassist Nathaniel Phillips, who both founded a jazz and R&B group in Portland, Oregon, called Pleasure, and began working on a new album. It was one of those projects that was never released. But Lorber kept it in the back of his mind, and in 2000, Lorber recruited smooth jazz trumpet player and Oregon native Chris Botti to help write and perform on several of the tracks, including “San Vicente” and the catchy “Gazpacho.” Now, partly because of the strength of Lorber and Botti’s name, the CD found a home on the Narada label and has now been released.

As you would expect, the music sounds very modern while still reaching back to the ‘70s and ‘80s for its soul-funk influences on songs such as “Enjoy Yourself,” with its funky Cameo-like vocals and Ohio Players-like guitar riffs. In addition to Botti, guest musicians include saxophonist Patrick Lamb, vocalist Terry Stanton and saxophonist Art Porter, who died shortly after the original recording session in a boating accident. For Porter fans, the album gives them a chance to hear the saxophonist play on songs that have never been released.

Titles include a rousing cover of Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Love Come Down” and original tunes such as “All Night Long,” “Enjoy Yourself” and “We Got to Live Together.” There’s plenty for smooth jazz fans to grab onto, including Botti’s “Gazpacho" and “Then and Now,” with Porter’s beefy sax lead and Phillips’ plucky bass lines. Shades of Soul is an interesting one-off project for Lorber which should find plenty of fans.

Smooth grade: B

Craig Chaquico
Midnight Noon
(Higher Octave)

There’s no mistaking the guitar sound – and artistry – coming from Craig Chaquico on his seventh solo CD. He uses 50 guitars on the CD, and their sound comes in and out the speakers, stack up on one another to provide some amazing sounds and provide an aurally satisfying listen. Why 50 guitars? Chaquico says he wanted to use exactly 50 since he turned 50 this year.

As the title suggests, the CD reflects the theme of opposites. Musically, this is translated through light moments that can quickly morph into rock-hero guitar runs. The song titles also tell a story, which begin with the first single, “Her Boyfriend’s Wedding,” and continue through the sexy and sassy sax-and-guitar combo in “Dream Date,” the bluesy rock-guitar licks of “Jazz Noon” and the positive and bouncy “Outlaw in the City,” among others.

There are several nods to Chaquico’s guitar heroes. On “Always With You,” one of the CD’s strongest cuts, vocalist April Hendrix – who has sung with the band 3rd Force – lends a refrain of “my love, is always with you, my love, so strong” that adds a haunting quality to the song’s texture. On that song, Chaquico’s guitar often has a trippy, psychedelic sound to it. On “Girls Night Out,” he uses the TalkBox to recall Peter Frampton.

In a departure from recent CDs, Chaquico sticks with the session band that’s played with him for years. That includes longtime co-writer and composer Ozzie Ahlers, saxophonist Kevin Paladini, bassist Jim Reitzel, drummer Wade Olson and percussionist Marquinho Brasil. It all combines for another strong effort for the former guitarist for Jefferson Starship.

Smooth grade: B

Vernon Neilly & G-Fire (With Mark Whitfield)
G-Fire II

Vernon Neilly is a Southern California guitarist who runs his own label from the Inland Empire town of Rialto. He’s one of the growing numbers of smooth jazz musicians who use their own wile and pluck to get their music heard, and his music is worth hearing. He may not be heard too often on commercial radio, but he’s a favorite at Internet radio stations and makes music as palatable and enjoyable as the top musicians in the genre.

His first CD was marketed simply as G-Fire and featured him and other longtime studio and touring guitarists Miguel Mega, Kevin Chokan and Morris O’Connor. All wrote four songs each for the album. On G-Fire II, Neilly gets more credit, Mega and Chokan play on a few tunes but O’Connor is gone and in his place is respected jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield. Whitfield really leaves his mark on this project as some songs feature him exclusively while Neilly gets the spotlight on others. They don’t play on the same songs.

It’s a nice mix of guitar styles. Whitfield, for example, lays down some Benson-like lines in the CD’s opener, “LFO,” while Neilly comes back on the next track with the easy-listening “Por Mi Amor.” This song is so lounge-y it’s cool. Imagine you’re in a bar in the 1960s with a martini. Neilly also play keyboards here, and layers both that and his guitar over each other so they often play the same notes at the same time. The rest of the CD lives up to those two songs, which by the way are included on the CD as longer, non-radio cuts.

While it stays firmly rooted in easy-listening smooth jazz (none better than “Smoov Soul”), there are several musical styles that come into play. For example, both “Sweat” and “Twinkle Toes” (with Chokan) give a shout-out to reggae and are so infectiously upbeat it’s hard to grin while playing them. On “Lumi’s Song,” Neilly hands the guitar over to Mena, who plays a funky guitar on the album’s most rock-ish tune. With the marvelous “Afternoon Drive,” Neilly gets to show his vocalese skills a la Benson while programming some wonderfully quirky, 1960s-type drum sounds.

G-Fire II really shows a grasp of smooth jazz. This may be the album of the year for someone you’ve never heard of before, but deserves much wider recognition.

Smooth grade: A

Jon Lucien
A Time For Love
(Sugar Apple)

If you listened to smooth, romantic vocal jazz back in the 1970s, there’s a good chance that somewhere along the way you grooved to a sexy baritone belonging to Jon Lucien, one of the creators of the “Quiet Storm” genre. After a period of musical inactivity, Lucien resurfaced in 1991 with a comeback album called Listen Love that went straight to the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts. After a few projects with the Shanachie label – which features many smooth jazz artists – Lucien is back on the Sugar Apple label with another stunning CD of sentimental songs. Lucien, now 62, is unabashed in his offering of sweetness that’s sure to warm hearts coast to coast.

On this 12-song collection, Lucien chose to cover songs from some of America’s finest composers with his primary musical partner and song arranger, pianist Bill O’Connell. Lucien is thoughtful enough to actually hip you to the musical style of each song in the liner notes, so you’ll hear bossa nova, swing, six-eight rhythms and swing-funk, which he calls “swunk.” He also includes an original song called “Mi Bolero,” a Spanish ballad with a soft accompaniment of congas.

On much of the CD, Lucien sings with such a determined mellowness that he almost lulls you to sleep. But on the best moments – on the swing songs “They Way You Look Tonight” and “Speak Low,” as well as the samba-ish “This Is All I Ask” – Lucien stretches his vocal chops and you can picture his energetic band smiling as they get a jazz workout.

Smooth grade: B+

Posted by Brian Soergel at 7:37 PM

November 7, 2004

Allon Sams With Peter White In London

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.

Peter White No.1.jpgWhen the leaves start to fall in the parks of London and the days become ever shorter, when the waters of the Thames are swollen with autumn rain it can mean only one thing, that Peter White is back in town for his now regular October appearance at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho. This time he played five nights and seven shows at this most intimate and rare of venues and although ostensibly he was there to promote his latest CD release Confidential he brought so much more besides.

The Secret Garden caught the Thursday night show, the third of his run there and, as Peter explained, the set had already been changed somewhat by requests from the early audiences to play more of the ‘old stuff’ and not treat the event entirely as a showcase for the new album. He duly obliged and, in a performance that lasted in excess of two hours, presented us with the equivalent of the Peter White anthology, reaching back through the years for awesome musical memories while mixing it up with the best from Confidential. The quality was truly outstanding and bursting with energy throughout. Perhaps given the caliber of musicians assembled to play with him this was not surprising. With Acoustic Alchemy’s Frank Felix on bass and Ami Rothenberg on drums the foundation was brilliantly established. With DC based Jaared on sax and Florida’s own Allon Sams on keyboards the combination was truly outstanding.

coverConfidential is perhaps the smooth jazz CD of 2004. It has already produced incredible sales and radio play in the USA and as such has received acclaim from reviewers both on this site and elsewhere. Consequently the purpose here is not to critique Confidential one more time. Suffice to say, tracks from this most groove driven of releases gave White an excellent core of material with which to perform live and, as they say, really rock the joint. Memorable in this respect was track #2 ‘Talking Bout Love’ that was co-written by White, his producer Paul Brown and long time Boney James collaborator Rex Rideout. Just as good was #5 from the CD, ‘Are You Mine’, which on the recording features Mindi Abair. Here Jaared covered Abair’s part on sax with great style. Indeed Jaared played a considerable part in the proceedings throughout. When White played track #4 from the album, the Brenda Russell number ‘She’s In Love’, Jareed stepped up with the vocals sang on the recording by Christopher Cross and made a wonderful job of it. Jaared also contributed with his own ‘C’est La Vie’ from the recent compilation, Maximum Grooves Coast To Coast. Look out for a Secret Garden Snippet on Jaared soon.

When White widened the scope of his offerings beyond tracks from Confidential, Perfect Moment, ‘Midnight In Manhattan’ (with Jaared excelling on saxophone), ‘Who’s That Lady’ and ‘Caravan Of Dreams’ were all standouts on this most special of nights. This latter track was taken from White’s 1996 album of the same name, a recording that includes the cut ‘Together Again’, lifted from it as a single’ and co-written by Peter and Allon Sams. It marked a collaboration that would transcend their time together on tour. Indeed one of the highlights of this evening in London, in front of a packed Pizza Express audience, was the White – Sams composition ‘Time Alone’ from Allon's 2001 release A Place In Time.

Allon_Sams.jpgAllon Sams is little known to British audiences, yet A Place In Time is quite simply a fantastic record. Sams started life in the world of music playing the trumpet and french horn in his hometown of Tampa, Florida. He began to concentrate on keyboards and learned his craft traveling throughout the USA, the Caribbean, Jamaica and Mexico with cover bands as well as 3 months of solo performances on the very receptive Japanese circuit.

A graduate of Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts he moved to Los Angeles to take up an internship with Joe Zawinul that provided invaluable experience as a studio technician. He polished up his technical expertise as an engineer at studios such as Westlake Audio where he worked with Vanessa Williams, Michael Jackson, and Richard Marx among others. His urge to perform saw him start playing with local bands in the Los Angeles area. These included his own band as well as The Boxing Ghandis and a band comprised of former members of Tower of Power.

Once the music started, Allon found success recording jingles for radio, television and film trailers and album projects from record companies such as Def Jam where Allon played keyboards for Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It.

Perhaps his smooth jazz breakthrough came while working as an assistant engineer on an HBO film project. Allon met producer/engineer Paul Brown. It wasn’t long before Paul called on Allon to collaborate with artists such as, Boney James, David Sanborn, Doug Cameron, John Klemmer, Gabriela Anders and, of course Peter White. The desire to both start a family and create his own music led Allon to move back to his hometown of Tampa Bay where he continues to be based.

In 1998, and following rave reviews of his music from his loyal fans, he undertook to write, produce and release his debut album Bayshore. This he did without the assistance of an agent, a manager or a record company. It was released only in the Tampa area yet sold over 3000 copies in this small demographic. His next album A Place In Time began its marketing campaign in the summer of 2001 and moved Sams to a higher level. He wanted to share his music with a larger audience than had been exposed to Bayshore so lifted and remixed two of the tracks from it for the new album, ‘Dusk To Dawn’ and ‘Distant Rain’. These are two of many standouts. As well as the incredible ‘Time Alone’, which, by the way, can be found on the 2002 CD Sampler Vol. 5 from WSJT 94.1, he also collaborates with Peter White on the track ‘Feelin It’. Perhaps the real show stopper is ‘The Sun Will Shine’, voted by the much lamented ex Jazz FM presenter Steve Quirk as his number one pick for 2001. Quirk also added to the exposure this track got in the United Kingdom by including it on the Jazz FM smooth jazz compilation Dreamin’.

As well as fronting his own band and touring regularly with Peter White he has performed as an opening act for many artists including George Benson, Boney James, Rick Braun, Peter White, Regina Belle, Special EFX, Paul Taylor, Richard Elliot, Patti Austin and Najee. Now he is back with his new CD Music and Laughter which releases in mid November. Sams describes it as containing ‘some very funky new originals with only one slow jam on it’. He has added two new horn players, Mic Smith on trumpet and Bob Chisholm on trombone to his live band in order to compliment Gene Cannon on sax and give full justice to live renditions of tracks from the album.

His thriving Tampa studio, Studio A, specializes in producing original talent, background music tracks for live performers, talent competitions, music on hold and commercial jingles. In the pipeline are CD releases by Gene Cannon and TFOXX and an Artist Compilation CD project which features Peter White, Mike Scaglione, Les Sabler, Joe Ruiz and Allon Sams himself. Local Tampa songwriter Munir Doumet has written all of the songs on this project.

One way or another there is a lot going on for Allon Sams. He is already planning a UK tour for early in 2005 and the glimpse that the Pizza Express audience saw of him will make them hungry for more. Special thanks to Peter White for putting him there and for providing such a memorable Pizza Express experience.

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 10:41 PM

November 6, 2004

Smooth Jazz Goddess Keiko Matsui To Perform Holiday Concert at Bowers Museum on Dec. 12

World renowned pianist highlights fund-raising event for children’s education programs at Kidseum, the Bowers’ acclaimed children’s art center.

keiko-matsui_child.jpgSmooth jazz goddess Keiko Matsui will perform a special holiday concert in the spectacular setting of the Bowers Museum picturesque courtyard on December 12, 2004, from 5-9:30 p.m.

Holiday Concert featuring Keiko Matsui and Special Guests will benefit the Bowers' education programs at its acclaimed children’s art center, Kidseum, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in December. 

The event, which is sponsored by Good Neighbor Pharmacy, will feature a reception and buffet dinner prepared by the world-class, award-winning restaurant, Tangata.

Tickets are $75 and are available at the Bowers Museum box office or by visiting or by calling Ticketmaster at (877) 250-8999.

Keiko Matsui has recorded 17 CDs and albums, and has been honored as the Top Indie Contemporary Jazz Artist of The Year by Billboard Magazine. She has also earned accolades with the American Society Essence Award, the National Smooth Jazz Award and Best Female Artist.

“We’re ecstatic to have a musician as great as Keiko Matsui perform at our annual children’s education program fundraiser,” says Bowers Museum Executive Vice President Vickie Byrd. “She’s not only a marvelously talented and dynamic jazz artist, she is also a wonderful human being who is always giving of herself to the community.”

Music, art and education are at the forefront of Keiko’s life, along with her family. She creates music that helps heal a world in turmoil. Her music communicates messages of peace, compassion, and humanity to listeners around the world.

Keiko draws inspiration from the power struggles depicted in classic literature and opera, and hopes that "if people listen to the music for just a moment, they might stop thinking of the power struggles they have day-to-day with family, neighbors, or co-workers.” Her hope is that “music can give us all a sense of balance and peace in our lives – peace and a sense of responsibility to carry that message in our hearts wherever we go and to whomever we meet."

From her debut album in 1987 A Drop Of Water and subsequent recordings such as Under Northern Lights (1990), Cherry Blossom (1992), Sapphire (1995), Dream Walk (1996), Full Moon (1998) and The Ring (2002), Keiko has cemented her reputation and increased her popularity throughout the world

Kidseum, one of the most unique children’s art and education centers in the country, offers a wide variety of art and educational events and programs, and presents an array of fun-filled activities. “We open new worlds to children and families,” says Genevieve Southgate, manager of Kidseum.

Kidseum is an outlet for children to explore and expand on fresh ideas nourished by the hands-on atmosphere at the facility. The facility encourages children to use their imagination. For instance, Kidseum has costumes and masks from all different countries for the kids to try on, an excavation site for archeological digs, an electronic language center, dozens of instruments, a table where children can write their names in different languages, a book nook, and puppets from all over the world.   

Kidseum has such a powerful impact that, according to a teachers survey, 92 percent of the children who participate in events improve behaviorally, 90 percent improve academically, 83 percent produce completed homework and 88 percent improve attendance.

The Bowers Museum, located at 2002 N. Main Street in historic Santa Ana, is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The museum features six exhibitions, including Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality, Bridges to Understanding: Portraits by Phil Borges, Vision of the Shaman, and California: The Golden Years. The Bowers also offers a world-class dining and shopping experience with its restaurant Tangata and two eclectic gallery stores.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:00 AM

November 4, 2004

Longtime Pat Metheny Group Member Dies After Heart Attack

Mark Ledford, whose wordless vocals on the Pat Metheny Group's classic "Last Train Home" song help define their sound, has died after a heart attack.

Mark_Ledford.jpgSmooth Jazz Vibes can now confirm that Mark Ledford, a frequent vocalist with the Pat Metheny Group and a regular contributor to smooth jazz albums, died on Nov. 1. His family has confirmed that he suffered a heart attack. He was 44.

Ledford, known for sporting a shaved head, was not scheduled to perform on the Pat Metheny Group’s upcoming album called The Way Up. Ledford was raised in Detroit and studied at Berklee School of Music. In addition to performing on numerous albums with Metheny, the prolific Ledford - who played the trumpet - appeared appeared on albums by Special EFX, Walter Beasley, Doc Powell, Brenda Russell, Alex Bugnon, Najee, the Rippingtons and Club 1600 with Rex Rideout. He also performed with Kevin Eubanks, Hugh Masekela, Bobby McFerrin, Mary J. Blige and many other artists in various musical genres.

Ledford’s most recent appearances on a smooth jazz album was on Brenda Russell’s Between The Sun And The Moon, which was released Oct. 5. He sang background vocals on the song “It’s A Jazz Day.” In addition, Ledford’s trumpet can heard on the current smooth jazz single by guitarist Doc Powell called “Listen Up.”

Ledford’s only solo album, Miles 2 Go from 1996, featured contributions from Metheny and Najee.

Ledford will be missed by Pat Metheny Group fans who remember his passionate and beautiful vocalese, both on record an in concert. His work on perhaps Metheny's best-loved album, Still Life (Talking), along with vocalists Armando Marcal and David Blamires, was nothing short of heavenly. Ledford vocals helped make the song "Last Train Home" one of the goup's most popular songs and a radio standard even today.

But perhaps Ledford's range was best expressed on the 10-minute song "Finding and Believing" on Metheny's classic Secret Story CD from 10 years ago. Up and down it went, like a manic, tribal ritual. Glorious.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 3:44 AM

November 2, 2004

Heads Up Celebrates 15th Anniversary

Founded by musician/entrepreneur Dave Love in 1990, Heads Up International celebrates its 15th anniversary as one of the world’s premier crossover jazz labels with debut releases from saxophonists Najee, Walter Beasley and Michael Brecker, among others.

Having signed “the most influential tenor stylist of the last 25 years” (Jazziz Magazine), Heads Up has much to celebrate in 2005. “I’m delighted to join an organization which is fast becoming a force in contemporary instrumental music,” says Brecker. “Congratulations to Dave Love and Heads Up on their first 15 years!”

Heads Up will be honored in March with concerts at the Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania, and the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town, South Africa.

In 2005, the company also releases exciting new recordings by jazz fusion pioneers Yellowjackets and Hiroshima, steel pan master Andy Narell with his French-Caribbean band Sakésho, and label veterans pianist/vocalist Joe McBride and bassist Gerald Veasley.

“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of the Heads Up family since 1992 and have watched its remarkable evolution,” Veasley says. “Through the determination of its hard-working president, Dave Love, and his great staff, Heads Up has grown in stature and influence in the jazz community. It’s especially gratifying to me, since they believed in me at a time when there were precious few bassists who were solo recording artists. Now, six recordings later, I credit Heads Up with making it possible for me to have shared my music with listeners around the world.”

The Heads Up Africa series, a critically acclaimed collection that spotlights some of Southern Africa’s finest vocalists and instrumentalists, continues with captivating new releases from trumpeter Hugh Masekela, singer/songwriter Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe and the legendary Zulu vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

“When we first met the people at Heads Up International, they said they loved our singing,” says Joseph Shabalala, leader and founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. “Since that time we’ve worked very hard together and because of Heads Up, not only do they love our singing but thousands in America love our singing.”

With over 90 albums in its catalog to date, Heads Up has a short but rich history, winning numerous awards including the AFIM’s Independent Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year for Pieces of a Dream's Love’s Silhouette and a Grammy nomination in 2004 for YellowjacketsTime Squared, and producing some of the world's most critically-acclaimed releases of the past fifteen years, including the Jaco Pastorius Big Band’s Word of Mouth Revisited and Paquito D’Rivera’s 100 Years of Latin Love Songs with strings.

The Heads Up roster has also been the home to some of the past 15 years’ biggest contemporary jazz artists, including Spyro Gyra, Nestor Torres, Earth Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey, Marion Meadows, Doc Powell, The Caribbean Jazz Project, Joyce Cooling, Richie Cole, Roberto Perera, and Alexander Zonjic, among others.

For the last nine years, Heads Up has offered enhanced CDs with videos, artist bios and other bonus material. The label was also among the first to release in the Super Audio CD 5.1 Surround Sound (SACD) format.

Born in Kearny, New Jersey, Dave Love started playing trumpet when he was in the fifth grade. Although he was classically trained, by his freshman year of high school he had discovered the music of John Coltrane and Lee Morgan. Love studied composition and arranging with the late Dr. Tom Boras during his high school years and studied at the renowned Chautauqua Institution during the summer months. Love later attended North Texas State, graduating in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in jazz trumpet performance. The young trumpeter/arranger won several scholarships, including the Lloyd Akridge Memorial Arranging Scholarship for two years in a row and the first ever Louis Hubert Memorial Scholarship presented by the Dallas Jazz Society, which he also won a second year. During his final years in school, Love became the musical director for trumpeter/educator Donald Byrd. In 1982, Love formed a jazz quintet called Heads Up and was soon playing gigs throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He launched the Heads Up label in Seattle, Washington, in 1990 with the release of The Energy of the Chance by Love and saxophonist Dave Liebman. Heads Up struck a distribution deal with Telarc International Corporation in 1996, and four years later, when the two companies merged, Love moved to Cleveland, Ohio. In 2004, the influential jazz executive made JazzTimes Magazine’s “Top 25 Power Index.”

“It is such an honor to be representing the groups currently with Heads Up,” adds Love. “Musicians like these have kept me motivated for 15 years. It is so wonderful to present their art to the world as our company grows. How time flies when you’re having fun.”

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:18 AM

November 1, 2004

Holiday Smooth Jazz Kickoff

November is kicking off the first weekend with the legendary funk sounds of Tower Of Power at the Suncoast Hotel in Las Vegas, November 6th and 7th.

Then there's a stretch in weeks until November 22nd and 23rd, when the same five hundred seat showroom will host guitar legend, session great, and member of the popular smooth jazz group, Fourplay, the one and only Larry Carlton.

The best selling instrumentalist of all time as a recording artist, Kenny G, brightens up the stage at the Paris Hotel in Vegas for a special two night engagement, November 28th and 29th.

Blues legend, and Rock'n Roll Hall Of Famer B.B. King will be spending three nights in the Wayne Newton Showroom November 28th, 29th, and 30th.

December 8th the Boulder Station Hotel will host the Sixth Annual McJazz Holiday Concert, featuring new up and coming contemporary jazz recording acts, including the founder of the event, saxophonist Rocky Gordon. The event helps to raise donations each year for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The McJazz Holiday Concert is the only sanctioned jazz event by McDonalds.

Posted by Danny Desart at 11:55 PM

Jeff Lorber's Wife To Donate Kidney For His Transplant

Jeff Lorber will get a kidney transplant later this month.

JeffLorber.jpgKeyboardist and producer Jeff Lorber, who suffers from a kidney disease, will enter a hospital this month to undergo a kidney transplant. Luckily for Jeff, he didn’t have to go far to find a match – his wife, Mink, turned out to be a perfect match. “I’m very fortunate that my wife was found to be a match,” says Jeff, who turns 52 on Nov. 4. “I’m feeling very positive about the operation.”

The disease Lorber has, Polycystic Kidney Disease, is genetic and runs in his family. It is one of the most common genetic and life-threatening diseases, affecting more than 600,000 Americans and an estimated 12.5 million people worldwide – regardless of sex, age, race or ethnic origin. With the disease, cysts grow and multiply over time, causing the kidney to shut down. Dialysis and kidney transplants are the only forms of treatment.

For more information, you can go to, which Lorber references on his website at and on all of his albums. You can make donations online, by phone or through the mail.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 7:39 PM

Secret Garden Snippet - Vlad Hits The Charts

Vlad.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this new Secret Garden Snippet feature brings sound bites from the adult contemporary scene as they happen. This time news of Vlad.

Reported this week from New York, NY, Vlad's first single from his Vladosphere CD, ‘Little Star’, made its debut at #32 on the New Music Weekly Charts. It climbed in above other debut songs by such artists as Amy Grant, John Mayer and Ryan Cabbera. According to Masika Swain, associate editor at New Music Weekly Magazine: ‘Vlad has made quite an impact with 'Little Star.' A lot of people are talking about it and listening to it.’

His debut also coincides with his presence this week in Sound & Vision Magazine and Billboard Monitor. Look out for an in depth review of Vladosphere in an up coming edition of The Secret Garden.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:05 PM

Jazz Newz

Welcome to BERKS JAZZ VIBES, where more concert reviews are on the way momentarily, but first a station break for some important JAZZ NEWZ:

Guitarist/composer Chieli Minucci is on a mission for the perfect title for his new solo CD. If your title is chosen, you can count on your own (I’m sure very specially- autographed) CD, to be released in spring of 2005. Please visit and click on his message board to see tentative titles for the songs in order to get a feeling for what he’s after in a title. The CD promises to be a hit with guests Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Oliver, Gerald Veasley, and David Mann, as well as faces we know from Special EFX, including Lionel Cordew, Jerry Brooks, Jay Rowe, and Philip Hamilton.

For those of you who like to visit many sites in your quest to find out what’s new in the world of smooth jazz, watch for the debut of on November 1st, where you can read even more concert and CD reviews, as well as artist interviews and lots of other miscellaneous information about this genre of music. And while you’re over there, say hi to Mary, a smooth jazz buddy of mine!

Ok, so I’m a little behind other smooth jazz aficionados who’ve already spent years listening to some great groups that are ‘new’ to me. But if, like me, you enjoy the work it takes when you finally stumble down the path leading to a gem of a band who’s been around a few years, you’ll do just what I did today, which is run out to find at least one CD of a group called 3rd Force. Why? Read on....

ThirdForce.jpgScanning webradio stations on a peaceful Sunday morning, it was the horn section that first caught my attention, then the guitar and sax coming in, then the full sound of keyboards and other effects rounding it out. Checking the artist, I thought, ‘Where have they been??’ After some research on my part, that question quickly became ‘Where have I been?’ It seems there is never a shortage of great music to discover in this ever expanding world of what we call contemporary and smooth jazz, yet I’m still so surprised to realize I have missed the entire earlier career of some of my now favorite artists. I hope I will be forgiven in light of children’s soccer games and swim meets.

That first song I heard was '7th Heaven,' from the Force Field CD, and besides the horns drawing me in, what I noticed immediately about the music is the way the song transforms into smaller pieces – ending one tempo and beginning another, each piece with its own identity yet fitting into the song in its entirety, something that takes a lot of skill in order to keep the listener moving comfortably along throughout. Not a problem for this band, and as I later listened to and watched a video on their site, (from their first concert) I heard the same technique in the skillful composition of yet another song. Quite amazing.

What I quickly learned after poking around a bit is that this group formed about ten years before their first live concert in 2002. The main players, (hence, 3rd force), William Aura, Craig Dobbin, and Alain Eskinasi, who individually have plenty of musical background and talent, join together with others to produce music that is, in a word, soul-reaching. And that’s addressing merely one aspect of music that is enriching, uplifting, and evidence of talent in so many ways. They have been busy producing CDs for every kind of force there is, and so far CD titles include Vital Force, Gentle Force, Force Field, Force of Nature, and Collective Force. To further whet your appetite, players who’ve appeared on 3rd Force CDs have included Craig Chaquico, Tom Scott, Rick Braun, Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale of Acoustic Alchemy, and Jimmy Sommers, to name a few.

My words here couldn’t possibly do justice to the unique characteristics of the music of 3rd Force, but if you haven’t yet given them a listen, I encourage you to look them up on Listen to some song clips and read the reviews, which you’ll find include only the most complimentary of musical descriptions, and then join me on this journey into their music to see where it will lead us.

A new CD is scheduled for release in February, 2005, and proves to be, as its title implies, the next Driving Force that will no doubt keep this band in the forefront of contemporary music.

Happy jazzin’ and …. may the Force be with you!

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

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 6:27 AM