Chris Botti sparkled during a gig at the Jazz Alley.
Smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti is a musical superstar who has successfully crossed over in the pop and jazz worlds on the strength of his new album, When I Fall in Love. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Oprah Winfrey sang his praises on a show on which he performed, or that Gotham City’s tabloid newspapers now report every sighting between New York-based Botti and his girlfriend, Today show co-host Katie Couric.
The world is opening up a little more for Botti now as he opens for Josh Groban, the phenomenally popular young singer whose fans of all ages swoon over his classically inspired music.
But none of all of this seemed to matter recently when Botti performed at the intimate Jazz Alley in Seattle with his crack band, keyboardist Frederico Pena; bassist Jon Ossman; guitarist Marc Shulman; and drummer Billy Kilson. Botti was the focus of the show, of course, but he also gave bandmembers plenty of time to share in the glory.
Botti opened the show with a quiet version of the new album’s title song, a gorgeous ballad by Edward Heyman and Victor Young. He then neatly segued into the more contemporary sounds of “Streets Ahead,” a groovy trip thanks to Pena’s extended organ solo. Botti later dipped into to the past for a spirited reading of “Miami Overnight,” using the muted trumpet and letting Schulman take off on a long improvisation guitar jam.
He tuned it down for a mellow reading “My Funny Valentine,” which featured only the accompaniment of Pena’s piano. On this song, Botti likes to perform very personally in front of a young audience member. This is no doubt due to his devotion to his idol, Miles Davis, with whom – as luck would have it – he shared a brownstone with on West 77th in New York City during his formative days. He dedicates that song to Davis. It was included on Botti’s A Thousand Kisses Deep CD and foreshadowed his desire to remake the classics.
Of course, the contented and well-fed crowd at Seattle’s premier jazz club wanted to hear more of Botti’s new classics. He only did two, however, adding Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” to the title track he opened with. Since Paula Cole was nowhere in sight, he substituted her vocals from the CD with the expressive “vocals” of Pena’s keyboards. It worked wonderfully.
Botti only played seven songs over the course of the 75-minute set (ending with “Why Not?” from Slowing Down the World), but that seemed to be OK since all songs came packed with extended jams. It’s a good bet no one at Jazz Alley felt cheated.
At one point, the handsome trumpeter joked that many of his former girlfriends are starting to appear at his shows. Only one hasn’t shown up, he explained – the one who turned him down at the senior prom.
What was she thinking?
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.
Some artists in the field of pop are strictly studio creations. They ramp up the record sales but when it comes to performing live they just can’t cut it. Smooth jazz performers tend not to be like that. Their backgrounds typically mean that they were performing to audiences well before their first record deals were ever thought of. Consequently live performances tend to add to their stature rather than detract from it. Pre-eminate in this is ex Tower of Power horn player Euge Groove who was an absolute sensation throughout the week of the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise (WHSJC) 2005.
Euge just seems to have it all. A radio ready sound from the production genius of Paul Brown, three successful albums to date, another one on the way, high profile touring engagements with some of the icons of modern pop and a unique ability to connect with his audience.
It didn’t take long on board the MS Zuiderdam for Euge Groove to make his mark. Mid way through Peter White's set, during the second evening late show, he joined White to play along on ‘Turn It Out’, the track on which he also appears on Whites 2001 CD Glow. His appearance was sensational. As those who have seen him live before will know, Euge doesn’t just walk on stage, he is welcomed like a gladiator by his fans who yell out his hallmark ‘Euuuuuuuuge’ at first sight. Euge starts to play, waves one arm in the air and immediately the entire audience are waving their arms in the air. He simply sets the place alight and that was exactly what he did playing in front of WHSJC enthusiasts who were really up for a party.
So, how did all this happen? Steven Eugene Grove, aka Euge Groove, began playing piano in the second grade and turned to the saxophone at the age of nine or ten. His teacher gave him a classical education on the instrument, which he followed at the University of Miami’s School of Music. It was at this time that he cultivated an interest in jazz. After graduation, he initially remained in Miami where he did session work and played in bands such as Expose. He can be heard on the group’s #1 1987 single ‘Seasons Change’.
He then moved to Los Angeles. A roommate during his early time there was James Slater and together they co-wrote a song, ‘Hearts On Fire’ that caught the attention of Richard Elliot who included it on his release Power Of Suggestion. When Elliot moved on from his spell with Tower of Power he recommended Grove as his replacement. He remained with them for about four years while continuing to tour with various major acts.
Following this experience, he freelanced, reverting to session work and providing backing for such artists as Joe Cocker, The Eurythmics, The Gap Band, Huey Lewis and the News, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt and Aaron Neville. In 1991 he appeared on Richard Marx’s top 20 pop and #1 adult contemporary hit ‘Keep Coming Back’. It is interesting to note that Grove succeeded Dave Koz as the saxophonist in Marx’s touring band.
It was at the end of the nineties that Grove developed the persona of Euge Groove. He had struck up a writing and producing partnership with Mike Egizi and together they compiled a set of tracks. At first they experienced real difficulty generating any interest from record companies and sought the help of Paul Brown. He was interested but fully committed to other projects. In the interim period Euge Groove decided to go for it and launch his music via mp3.com. This approach took off in a major way and, as he peeked at 2000 hits a day, climbed to number one in the site’s jazz chart and number six in the entire site, Paul Brown finally became available.
Brown mixed eight tracks and offered them up to the industry. Warner Jazz quickly picked up on the project and a deal was signed. His debut album on Warner Bros. Records, in May 2000, was Euge Groove. When Euge stepped out for the WHSJC Tuesday show, with the ship anchored in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, partly as a scheduled stop and partly to facilitate the arrival and departure of Dave Koz who flew in to play the show, it was a track from that first album that he played, ‘Another Sad Love Song’, the Babyface / Simmons composition that was a huge hit for Toni Braxton in 1993. Predictably it got the crowd all singing along. The year 2000 also found Euge touring with Tina Turner’s backing band. His second album, Playdate, followed in 2002.
Euge Grooves main slot on the WHSJC was the late show on the Monday and the early show on the Thursday where he majored on selections from Playdate and his latest album to date, the 2004 Livin Large. This latter release was a standout of the year with a faultless line up of tracks. Still he was not done and when Rick Braun finally made it off his sickbed to play the Friday night late show there was Euge Groove once more to duet with him on the Bill Withers classic ‘Use Me’. As they had been throughout the week, whenever Euge walked on stage, the audience were singing all over again.
To make the WHSJC, Euge Groove had actually taken a break from touring with Joe Cocker. That break was a short one as only two days after arrival back in Fort Lauderdale he was on the road again, this time in Tallahassee, FL, with the Joe Cocker Heart & Soul Tour where he opens the show and performs with Cocker. That tour will play thirty more dates between then and March 19 when it concludes at the Orleans, in Las Vegas NV. With the stage presence that Euge Groove possesses he will always be in demand on the live stage.
Read more about the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 right here in the coming days and weeks.
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.
Read more about the cruise at smooth-jazz.de.
Jem, born in Wales, has become incredibly successfully behind the bubbly, bass-heavy goodness of “They” from her CD Finally Woken. It’s a great song for the dance floor and a great choice for a chill-down session.
Weird, but true.
Her angelic vocals (love those ba-bah-da’s) combined with her obvious affinity with the downtempo/chill groove, have fast made her a favorite of the club scene.
You can catch Jem on Late Show With Conan O’Brien in the States on Feb. 4.
Tom Grant's new project, like his last, will be a jazz record -- with a familiar voice from the 1980s.
Smooth jazz pianist and Oregon native Tom Grant has finished work on a new album, his 21st, which features jazz singer Valerie Day and is called Side By Side. In her previous pop life, Day was a member of the Portland, Oregon-based band Nu Shooz in the 1980s and sang on the band’s hit single “I Can’t Wait.”
Grant's 13-song album spotlights mostly jazz and pop standards from the 20th century American songbook and features just Tom’s piano and Valerie’s vocals. The album, to be released in March on Grant’s Nu-Wrinkle label, is his follow-up to Nice Work If You Can Get It, an album of jazz standards that showcased his vocals.
Meanwhile, Grant will return to his roots when he performs in a reunion concert this summer with his original band from the 1980s that performed on his early albums called Take Me to Your Dream, Night Charade and Mango Tango. Those band members included Dan Balmer on guitar, Carlton Jackson on drums and Jeff Leonard on bass.
The reunion show is Aug. 13th in Portland, Ore.
Anita Baker is finally preparing a new tour to support her first album in 10 years, My Everything.
Nearly four months after Anita Baker's long-awaited new solo album My Everything arrived in stores, the soulful diva and her management team are now gearing up for a live show to promote the album.
Baker's design team is at this point creating the live show. Although no official dates have been confirmed, it is expected that Baker will return to the road this summer.
Even though the singer's Grammy-nominated album has sold more than 500,000 copies, she has kept a low profile because she wanted to make sure she was at home for her two young boys while they’re in school.
The first single from the new album – her first in 10 years – is called “You’re My Everything.”
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.
Imagine the scene. It’s Wednesday January 19 and the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 (WHSJC) has just left Tortola, British Virgin Islands on the next leg of its journey to Nassau, Bahamas. Norman Brown and Peter White are already sharing the billing on the early evening show and Oleta Adams and Rick Braun are lined up to appear later. But there’s a problem. Rick Braun is laid low in his cabin, struck down with the sea sickness that has haunted him all week. He wants to perform but simply can’t.
This was the scenario that was playing out when the event organizers turned to a performer who was about to get them out of trouble yet again. The first time had been a few weeks earlier when Marc Antoine, home in Spain and afflicted by a neck injury, found he would be unable to travel and take his place with the other twelve confirmed artists for the WHSJC. They called Paul Brown, the man with a veritable string of production credits that includes Boney James, Euge Groove, Peter White among many others and who is perhaps most responsible for the way that smooth jazz sounds today. But they didn’t call on him as a producer. They needed the new look Paul Brown who, with his run away debut release Up Front, was one of the smooth jazz success stories of 2004. He joined the ship and then, with Rick Braun indisposed, responded to the call and, at extremely short notice, played his set that had originally been scheduled for Friday.
Brown followed Oleta Adams who, by this time, was turning out to be one of the major delights of the entire week with her incredible vocals, sparky personality and huge stage presence. It was a hard act to follow and when he started out with ‘West Coast Swing’ it seemed the occasion might be too much and, as a result, he seemed just a little ragged around the edges. Thankfully he quickly found his stride and his groove as he regaled the audience with a selection from the Up Front CD. Memorable among these was ‘My Funny Valentine’ with a spine chilling solo on muted trumpet from Don Harris who, by this stage of the week, was growing in stature and confidence. Don, together with his brother Bill are the Harris Brothers who worked as the house horn section for the nine principal shows that formed the center piece of the cruise. They got better and better as the week went on.
The audience warmed to Brown a little more slowly than had been the case with some of his fellow performers but warm to him they did as they began to enjoy his between tune banter and his dry sense of humor.
Warren Hill, on the day on which he renewed his wedding vows of ten years to his wife Tamara, came out to duet with Brown then Euge Groove entered to his usual tumultuous audience acclaim to do the same. Euge also took time out to pay tribute to Brown and the contribution he has made to his success, landing him his first record deal and producing what will soon be all four of his CD’s to date.
Paul continued with two, as yet not fully named, selections from his up coming second CD. One track, provisionally titled ‘Las Vegas’, brim full with many Paul Brown production hallmarks, promised much. Another, with no title, but described by Brown himself as a ‘kind of Jefferson Airplane / San Francisco kind of a groove’, might just turn out to be one of the big hits of smooth jazz in 2005. Perhaps under the circumstances he could do worse than to name the song ‘Deep Sea Rescue’.
Overall he was excellent and the glimpses he gave of what is in the pipeline made a conclusive statement that Paul Brown will be no smooth jazz one CD wonder.
As a footnote it should be said that Rick Braun did finally recover and was able to play his set to the late audience as part of the Friday show.
Read more about the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 right here in the coming days and weeks.
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
Brenda Russell's first show after getting a diagnosis of diabetes will be on April 7 in California.
Vocalist Brenda Russell is now working on a comeback of sorts. She was forced to cancel her starring role in the Dave Koz & Friends Smooth Jazz Christmas tour in December after getting a diagnosis of diabetes. Now, with her health improving and her diabetes under control, Russell says she’s planning to tour this spring and summer.
She has confirmed one show, to be held April 7 in El Cajon, California, with producer and keyboardist George Duke. Other U.S. dates will be announced soon and plans are in the making for her long-awaited return to Europe. Meanwhile, Brenda’s first new album in four years, Between the Sun and the Moon, was released last year. It features the single, “I Know You By Heart.”
Did Sting derail a performance by Chris Botti at the presidential inauguration?
Chris Botti had been invited to perform during President George W. Bush’s inauguration festivities, but had to decline due to shows that were already scheduled.
However, an upcoming book claims that Sting, whom Botti has performed with, had a hand in the matter. Toby Rogers, in his book on Bush called The Blue And The Red, claims that Sting – who is no fan of Bush – forcibly convinced Botti not to perform at the inauguration because it could ruin the trumpeter’s career.
However, Botti’s management says the account in the book is simply untrue. "The information published is completely and totally inaccurate,” says Botti manager Marc Silag. “The author and his publisher went to press without corroborating the facts. Beyond that, I have no comment."
Botti, who opens for vocalist Josh Groban beginning Jan. 25th, performed in Oakland, California, on Jan. 18 and Jan. 19 and began a four-day run in Seattle on Jan. 20.
By Val Vaccaro
This year marks the momentous celebration of the 15th annual Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania. The FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, runs March 11-20, 2005. Once again, there will be an impressive talent lineup featuring top music stars in contemporary jazz, traditional jazz, blues and more! There will be close to 120 events which take place at major venues, restaurants and clubs throughout Berks County. Some of this year’s top artists include Manhattan Transfer, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Chris Botti, Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, Spyro Gyra, Jeff Golub, Peter White, Boney James, Fourplay, Pieces of a Dream, Jeff Lorber, The Joyce Cooling Group, Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, Gerald Veasley, the Heads Up Super Band, Jason Miles, the Yellowjackets, Bob Mintzer Big Band, The B-3 Summit featuring Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Papa John DeFrancesco, the John Pizzarelli Trio, Steve Smith and Buddy’s Buddies, Tom Grant, Shemekia Copeland, and more!!!
According to Connie Leinbach, Executive Director of the Berks Arts Council, "This is a great milestone for us turning fifteen. The FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest has put Berks County on the national map. We've seen tremendous growth and popularity of the festival since we expanded to a 10-day festival in 2000, which was our 10th anniversary." John Ernesto, FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest General Manager said "Our goal is to not to grow the festival, but to maintain it and do it well. We want to make sure we maintain the quality of music in those ten days. We try to challenge the artists to do different things and put together different packages. So even when artists return, it's not the same thing."
This year, Berks Jazz Fest and Heads Up International are both celebrating their 15th anniversaries. In honor of this occasion, Dave Love - President and Founder of Heads Up International, and John Ernesto - General Manager of the Berks Jazz Fest, have put together a commemorative CD 15 Years of Heads Up at the Berks Jazz Fest. According to Dave Love, “We have enjoyed a very special relationship with the Berks Jazz Fest the last 15 years. It’s like we have grown up together. The festival... has always been willing to give our artists a chance to be showcased... So producing a commemorative CD... was an easy decision to make.” The CD features Heads Up musicians who have performed at the festival over the years. This wonderful CD includes 15 songs from these 15 artists: the Heads Up Super Band, Spyro Gyra, Pieces of a Dream, Hiroshima, Gerald Veasley, The Caribbean Jazz Project,the Yellowjackets, Joe McBride, Marion Meadows, Jaco Pastorius Big Band, Andy Narell, Kenny Blake, Joyce Cooling, Pamela Williams, and Paquito D’Rivera. All proceeds from the CD will go to benefit the Berks Arts Council and the Berks Jazz Fest. The CD cover and booklet were designed by Mike Anderson of The Anderson Group, who fittingly, 15 years ago designed the renowned pink neon Berks Jazz Fest logo. The photo on the CD cover is by Steve Shane. Anderson has also recently produced radio shows that will air weekly on a local Pennsylvania radio station (WEEU –AM) featuring interviews and music from artists performing at this year’s Fest (see the news section of www.theandersongroup.com).
Back to the Fest - last year, over 45,000 jazz fans attended from nearly 40 states in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, England and other countries in Europe. The Fest is an important yearly happening in Berks County with jazz fans spending about $5 million. Why is this jazz festival such a success? Returning jazz fans know there is definitely something special about this Fest which makes it a unique experience. Jazz fans new to the Fest will find out for themselves that it’s a real treat. There are lots of wonderful, exciting musical shows, where the supportive Fest atmosphere and enthusiastic fans help bring out the best in the performers. Many favorite artists greet fans when they participate in after-show autograph signings. In addition to great music, there’s also a strong sense of camaraderie and a sense of shared community among jazz fans who convene in this relatively small town, which welcomes you with open arms. The people who run the Fest and the many hundreds of local volunteers exude a hospitality and genuine friendliness that contribute to visitors’ enjoyment. There’s also a special quality to each of the venues. Each major venue has its own personality and is an enjoyable experience. There’s the excitement of the ballrooms with live video screens at the Sheraton Reading and Wyndham Reading hotels. There’s also the upscale grandeur of the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, the formal beauty of the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the cool nightclub vibe of Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base and the classy intimacy at the Inn at Reading Ballroom, along with the special ambience at the other Fest venues.
Here’s an overview of the 2005 Berks Jazz Fest shows:
The 2005 FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest starts off on March 11th with legendary vocal group Manhattan Transfer. Manhattan Transfer has won 12 Grammy Awards since the ensemble’s 1975 debut. In 2003, the group signed with Telarc Jazz. Last year, Manhattan Transfer released the diverse CD Vibrate which has been on the Billboard Top (Traditional) Jazz Albums chart for over three months.
Singing sensation Al Jarreau performs on Friday, March 18th. This year, Al Jarreau's Accentuate The Positive received a Grammy nomination for best jazz vocal album, to add to five previous Grammy awards in jazz, pop and R & B and various international music awards. Audiences will delight in hearing dozens of Jarreau’s hits, such as “We’re In This Love Together” from the platinum selling CD Breakin’ Away, the upbeat “Mornin’” from the CD Al Jarreau and the popular “Moonlighting” TV show theme.
On Saturday March 12th, legendary saxophonist David Sanborn, the key innovator of the contemporary jazz alto sax sound, will perform with his group. A six-time Grammy winner, Sanborn has released over 20 solo albums since his 1975 debut Taking Off. Sanborn’s been a sideman for jazz artists such as Miles Davis, Gil Evans, John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius, the Brecker Brothers, Chicago blues legend Albert King, the Butterfield Blues Band (at Woodstock), and pop stars Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, and The Who. Sanborn has also played solos on a plethora of radio hits for many pop superstars . Sanborn’s recording success continues with his current CD Timeagain (Verve 2003) includes funky, bright covers of “Comin' Home Baby” and “Tequila,” as well as a number of bluesy, soulful tunes. Recently, the CD Essentials (Rhino Records 2002) was released that includes many of Sanborn’s top hits such as “Chicago Song,” “This Masquerade,” “Neither One of Us” and “Bang Bang” (probably the only contemporary jazz song with a music video played on VH1). All time Sanborn favorites include the inspirational “The Dream” from A Change of Heart (Warner Bros. 1990) and the blues-drenched “Benny” on Upfront (Electra1992).
Opening for Sanborn will be amazing trumpet virtuoso Chris Botti. Botti’s current CD, When I Fall In Love, covers jazz standards and current love songs. Since it was released in September 2004, the CD has been #1 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz charts for months, and is the No. 12 best-seller for all musical genres on Amazon.com. In addition to the title track, the CD has other lush romantic tunes such as “What'll I Do?,” “No Ordinary Love,” “My Romance,” “Let's Fall in Love,” “The Nearness of You,” and “One For My Baby And One More For The Road.” The CD also includes “Someone to Watch Over Me" which Botti played last December with a full orchestra at the Noble Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway (telecast worldwide and hosted by Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey). Back In 1998, Botti and his band played at the Berks Jazz Fest. It was evident then that Botti has a breathtakingly beautiful, often ethereal sound and his style lends itself to a graceful performance. Botti’s debut solo album First Wish (1995) was followed by Midnight Without You (1997) and Slowing Down the World (1999). In 2002, Night Sessions went to #2 on the Top Contemporary Jazz chart and his holiday CD December reached #7. Botti’s 2003 CD A Thousand Kisses Deep has been on Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz chart for over a year. That CD includes original, pretty, melodic “mood” songs like “Indian Summer,” a romantic cover of the “The Look of Love” and a beautiful, sparse, poignant version of the classic “My Funny Valentine.” Botti continues to have an illustrious and multi-talented career. He’s composed movie scores and was co-host of a TV talk show. Recently, Botti was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People." A few months ago, Botti introduced a syndicated radio show on smooth jazz stations featuring his picks for “chill” music. In addition to Botti’s solo career, he’s toured with Josh Groban and Dave Koz and is a successful sideman for pop stars Sting (since 1999), Paul Simon (from 1990-95), Joni Mitchell and Natalie Merchant.
On Friday, March 18th, the Heads Up Super Band is reuniting (after five years) to celebrate the 15th anniversaries of the Heads Up record label and the Berks Jazz Fest. The Heads Up Super Band features multi-talented keyboardist/vocalist Joe McBride, bass superstar Gerald Veasley, talented saxman Kenny Blake and dynamic drummer Keith Carlock. Appearing with the Heads Up Super Band as special guests are the Berks Jazz Fest Horns (Mike Anderson on alto and tenor saxophones, Bill Miller on trombone, Rob Diener on trumpet, and guest Chris Heslop on baritone sax). The Heads Up Super Band and its guest artists will perform two shows as part of A Tribute to Ray Charles. On Saturday, March 19th, the Heads Up Super Band will also headline an afternoon show and evening concert of their own music.
Joe McBride is one of the most lively, multi-talented pianists around – playing everything from contemporary jazz to jazz standards, mixed with funky boogaloo, gospel, and the blues. Whatever music McBride plays, it’s always a joyful experience for audiences, especially when he sings his heart out. McBride’s most recent CD, Keepin’ it Real (Heads Up) includes funky, blues-tinged vocal and instrumental versions of "Woke Up This Morning," the theme to the HBO TV hit The Sopranos. McBride has been part of Heads Up’s South African music recordings and live shows and is a big star at the jazz festival scene there since 1999. He recorded the song “11 K’s to Freedom,” a tribute to Nelson Mandela for the 2000 all-star CD Smooth Africa. McBride’s other CDs on Heads Up including Grace (1992), A Gift for Tomorrow (1994), Keys to Your Heart (1996) and Double Take (1998) which had guests Dave Koz, Peter White, Rick Braun and Larry Carlton.
Gerald Veasley’s goal is “making music that touches people in a voice that is authentically my own.” Veasley’s achieved this objective with his collection of contemporary jazz CDs on the Heads Up label including: Look Ahead (1992), Signs (1994), Soul Control (1997), Love Letters (1999), On The Fast Track (2001) and Velvet (2003). Some favorite Veasley tunes include his energizing covers of “Do I Do” and “the In Crowd” from the 2001 release, and “Sarah’s Song,” Do you Remember” and “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” from the CD Velvet. In September 2004, Veasley opened up Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base club at the Sheraton Reading Hotel. Last November, Veasley interviewed legendary pianist Joe Sample at World Café Live (www.worldcafelive.com) for a cable TV series called “Music Lab.” Music Lab will be shown at schools and will feature the lives and art of great musicians. Veasley also plays an important role as a music educator with workshops. This year, Veasley continues his Bass Bootcamp at the Berks Jazz Fest on March 11-13 at The Institute of Arts for bass players of all levels “to inform and inspire... in a challenging yet supportive environment.” Veasley also has released a Solo Bass Techniques Video. Veasley has been named “Best Electric Bassist” by Jazziz magazine. Downbeat Magazine Critics' poll voted Veasley in the category of "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition." Veasley has worked with the late Grover Washington Jr., Joe Zawinul, Special EFX, Pieces of a Dream, McCoy Tyner, Gerald Levert, Teddy Pendergrass, Nnenna Freelon, Philip Bailey, the Dixie Hummingbirds, John Blake and Phil Perry, as well as fellow Heads Up Super Band members.
Kenny Blake was a local jazz great in Pittsburgh for twenty years before his Heads Up albums Interior Design (1991), Rumor Has It (1992), Since You Asked (1993), and An Intimate Affair (1996). Blake’s clear, bright and melodic alto saxophone has often been heard on smooth jazz radio with a fabulous version of the classic “Harlem Nocturne.” Blake started playing clarinet at age 10 and began on saxophone at 12. Blake says he was drawn to jazz because "within its parameters, I could forge my own style. My soul hybrid sound came from playing both genres, which were never mutually exclusive anyway. The strong grooves of R&B engage your heart, while jazz makes sure you don't deny your brain intellectual stimulation... Once you master the basics of the horn, it's up to the artist to find his own little spin on things."
Keith Carlock has played with the Heads Up Super Band for many years and is featured on the group’s 1998 CD Live at the Berks Jazz Fest. Carlock also played the snare drum on Steely Dan’s 2000 hit album Two Against Nature, and played drums on the album’s DVD audio release. He also joined Walter Becker and Donald Fagan for the next Steely Dan project, Everything Must Go. He’s also worked on a number of pop and jazz CDs, including guitarist Leni Stern’s CDs Finally The Rain Has Come and When Evening Falls and Freddy Cole’s In The Name of Love.
The Berks Jazz Fest 15th Anniversary Celebration Concert takes place in the early evening on Saturday, March 19th. This fantastic lineup has musical director keyboardist Jason Miles with his band Maximum Grooves. Maximum Grooves’ debut CD, Coast to Coast, (Telarc) was released last year. Jason Miles, Russ Freeman, James Genus and Gene Lake recently received a Grammy nomination for best pop instrumental performance for "Chasing Shadows," a tune on Maximum Grooves: Coast to Coast. Jason Miles has worked with artists like Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, David Sanborn and Michael Jackson. Miles recently produced Gato Barbieri’s CD The Shadow of the Cat, which won Billboard's 2003 award for "Best Latin Jazz Album.” Miles also did a tribute CD to the late, great saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. To Grover With Love (nominated for “Record of the Year” at the National Smooth Jazz Awards in 2002). In 2001 Miles won a Grammy for producing the CD A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins. Miles has also had two acclaimed jazz albums of his own - World Tour and Mr. X. Performing with keyboardist Jason Miles at the Berks Jazz 15th Anniversary Celebration Concert are: renowned multi-saxophonist and vocalist Walter Beasley, acclaimed saxophonist Kim Waters; legendary guitarist and Rippingtons founder/leader Russ Freeman; charismatic soprano saxman Marion Meadows; keyboardist/arranger extraordinaire Deodato (known for the "2001: A Space Odyssey" soundtrack); sideman guitarist/session player and Grammy-nominated solo artist Paul Jackson Jr.; saxophonist Andy Snitzer, who performs and records with top pop stars; tenor saxman David Mann of Tower of Power fame, who performs with superstars and plays on movie soundtracks and TV themes/jingles; up-and-coming saxophonist Jaared who tours with Peter White; and the ever-great muliti-saxophonist Spyro Gyra founder/leader Jay Beckenstein.
Groovin' for Grover is a tribute to legendary saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. which features top saxophonists Gerald Albright (alto sax), Richard Elliot (tenor sax), Paul Taylor (soprano sax) and renowned keyboardist Jeff Lorber on Friday, March 18th. Albright’s most recent CD Kickin’ It Up (GRP) epitomizes his high-energy music. Before releasing eight CDs on his own, Albright performed with Anita Baker, and for over 20 years has been a highly in-demand session player for his soulful, bluesy playing and amazing altissimo high notes.
On Richard Elliot‘s latest CD Ricochet (2003), Elliot worked with top producers Rex Rideout and Jeff Lorber and had a number of hits including the catchy “Corner Pocket.” He’s also many other hits with the help of co-producer Steven Dubin on Chill Factor (1999) and Crush (2001). Fans always enjoy Elliot’s trademark, dramatic version of “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which he plays at every show, usually accompanied by his touring band (one of the best in the business). It’s been a great career from the time of Elliot’s debut album Initial Approach in 1986, to his stints with Motown and Tower of Power to super-success as a smooth jazz artist. Currently, Elliot is working with Rick Braun to introduce their new record label ARTizen Records, which will release a new CD by Elliot later this year.
Paul Taylor has released five CDs: On the Horn (1995), Pleasure Seeker (1997) (the title track was in heavy radio rotation at smooth jazz stations), Undercover (2000), Hypnotic (2001) and his most recent CD Steppin’ Out (2003) which was on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart. Taylor recorded and toured with pianist Keiko Matsui and her husband Kazu for two years before Kazu produced Taylor’s debut On The Horn. Taylor also worked with Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons and keyboardist Jeff Lorber.
Jeff Lorber, who Dave Koz has called “the Godfather of Smooth Jazz,” played a significant role in developing the late 70’s, early 80s R&B-jazz hybrid sound that later evolved into today’s contemporary jazz. Lorber recorded his first album Jeff Lorber Fusion in 1976. Fast-forward to February 2005 - Lorber’s new CD Flipside (Narada Jazz) was released with the first single "Ooh La La." Lorber worked with longtime co-writer/producer Steve Dubin and keyboard player Nelson Jackson to take his music in new directions. Flipside is a creative collection of swing rhythms, R & B, Latin, Jamaican, modal jazz, and hip-hop production, with lots of improvisation; the CD also includes classic Jeff Lorber sounds. Lorber’s recent popular smooth jazz CDs were Kickin’ It (2001) (with a spirited hit cover version of Chaka Kahn’s “Ain’t Nobody”) and Philly Style (2003), an ode to his hometown. Lorber has also been a top producer for many artists such as Dave Koz, Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright, Jeff Golub, Rick Braun, Wayman Tisdale, Paul Jackson Jr., Al Jarreau, Chris Botti, Russ Freeman, Paul Taylor, Michael Franks, Herb Alpert, Eric Marienthal, and of course, Kenny G (who was originally in Lorber’s band in the ‘80s before launching his solo career). On the Dave Koz CD Saxophonic, Lorber produced the hot radio single "Honey-Dipped" which received this year’s Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Lorber (like just about every top smooth jazz star these days) was recently featured on Cameron Smith’s Smooth Jazz TV. Lorber also has his own satellite radio show at 9:00 PM (EST) on Saturdays and Sundays on www.Sirius.com called Planet Jazz.
Supremely popular trumpeter Rick Braun will be joined by acclaimed guitarist Chuck Loeb and his Quartet to perform a unique combination of An Evening of Standards, Ballads and Blues on Wednesday, March 16th. Braun, a veritable icon as artist, producer and composer in the contemporary jazz music world, and Loeb, the acclaimed guitarist who’s also a producer, arranger and composer should make for a great show. Braun’s classic recording Beat Street (1995) established his Miles Davis/Chet Baker influenced trumpet as a major artist in smooth jazz. In 2003 Braun’s CD Esperanto featured the funky, upbeat party hit, “Green Tomatoes.” In 2002, Braun was part of the super-group BWB with Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown. BWB drew upon classic 60’s and 70s soul, jazz and funk and had the No. 1 radio hit cover tune “Groovin’.” On BWB’s CD, Braun also recorded a magnificently poignant version of “Povo,” a traditional jazz tune by legendary trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. “Povo” is a preview of what the special upcoming Berks Jazz Fest show will bring to audiences on March 16th. In 2004, Braun released his first independent CD Sessions, Volume I, a collection of 11 of Braun’s “greatest hits” (“Cadillac Slim,” “Notorious,” “Philadelphia,” “Grazin’ in the Grass,” “Missing in Venice,” “Love Will Find a Way,” “Groovis,” “TGIF,” “Nightwalk,” “Marty’s Party,” and “Coolsville,” and a new song “RSVP”). The CD was recorded as an informal, live in-the-studio date with his longtime band (and is currently available exclusively via Rick’s website and at shows). Also this year Braun, Richard Elliot, their manager Steve Chapman and Braun’s attorney Al Evers launched their new independent label recently named ARTizen Music. Braun also has plans to tour with Elliot, Peter White and Jonathan Butler, and is hosting a Smooth Jazz Cruise in November.
Last year, Chuck Loeb and his group of East Coast All Stars performed to a standing-room only crowd as the Fest finale. Also at last year’s Berks’ Jazz Fest Jam, Loeb was musical director for an all-star cast (including Rick Braun) who interpreted traditional jazz songs by Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. That’s a long way off from Loeb’s recent reputation as a cool, smooth jazz artist with many cheerful, happy-go-lucky, catchy radio hits. Loeb’s solo career as a smooth jazz artist on the Shanachie label includes a great collection of CDs: The Music Inside (1996), The Moon, The Stars and the Setting Sun (1998), Listen (2000), In a Heartbeat (2001) and Ebop (2003). Loeb has also been a producer for Larry Coryell, Nelson Rangell, Warren Bernhardt, Donald Harrison, Jon Lucien, Sergio Salvatore, Eddie Daniels, George Garzone, his wife Carmen Cuesta, Kim Waters and Bob James. In 1979, Loeb landed a high-profile gig with saxophone star Stan Getz and remained a vital part of his band through the early ‘80s. Loeb was also part of the fusion band Steps Ahead. Loeb has also written the theme songs for CNN, The Montel Williams Show, Nightline, ESPN, One Life To Live, CBS News Up To The Minute, the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. Singer/songwriter Carmen Cuesta (Loeb's wife) will be opening the show for Loeb and Braun. Cuesta's unique style and mellifluous voice blend her love and knowledge of many musical flavors.
Peter White featuring Jaared will perform on Saturday, March 12th, for an afternoon show, and a late night concert. Superstar acoustic guitarist White’s sweet-sounding melodies and smooth grooves have earned him the title “Guitarist of the Year” four years in a row from National Smooth Jazz Awards. White’s had twelve No. 1 smooth jazz radio hit songs including “Talkin’ Bout Love,” from his current CD Confidential. In May 2004, the Mediabase 24-7 radio airplay tracking service found that White is the most played artist in the entire smooth jazz format. Jaared is a charismatic saxophonist who draws upon soulful R & B roots that have made him a powerful player in contemporary jazz. Jaared is an exciting performer, who also is a talented vocalist. Jaared was a nominee for Best New Artist at the third annual National Smooth Jazz Awards. Jaared’s current CD Hang Time continues to exude the cool vibe which smooth jazz audiences first got to hear on the radio with his cover of “Baby Come Back.” His popular CD Foreward (2001), had the song “Love Takes Over” reach No. 1 and was the most-added tune its first week on U.S. radio (it was also No. 5 in Japan and No. 1 in England).
A smooth jazz fan's dream show is the Boney James and Pieces of a Dream double bill on Sunday, March 13th. Enthusiastic crowds at past Berks Jazz Fests have often chanted “Go Boney, go Boney” and are delighted with his shows. James, the superstar saxman with the smooth and funky sounds has had numerous best-selling CDs (500,000 units) for Seduction (1995), Sweet Thing (1997) and Body Language (1999). James, in collaboration with Rick Braun, also reached No. 1 with the cover of “Grazin’ in the Grass” on the CD Shake It Up (2000). In 2003, Ride earned James his first Grammy nomination for best pop instrumental album. This year, Boney James' Pure (James’ first self-produced CD) is nominated for best pop instrumental album. Pieces of a Dream has defined the smooth jazz format for nearly three decades. In the 1970s, the group was discovered as teenagers by the late sax legend Grover Washington, Jr. After touring with Grover, Pieces of a Dream -- pianist James Lloyd, drummer Curtis Harmon, along with other musicians have become of the most popular touring groups in contemporary jazz. In 2001, Pieces of a Dream signed with Heads Up International and celebrated their 25th anniversary with the top CD, Acquainted with the Night. The next CD in 2002, Love's Silhouette also scored big on radio and in the top 10 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. Their 14th record is the current No Assembly Required (2004).
Jeff Golub is a favorite artist for many smooth jazz fans - one of the most talented, dynamic, diverse, creative, and funky smooth jazz guitarists around. Golub bring his unique style of contemporary jazz influenced by R&B, blues, latin and pop to the Fest on Thursday, March 17th. A much-anticipated new CD for Golub (his debut on Narada Jazz/Higher Octave) with award-winning producer/guitarist Paul Brown will be ready this summer. Golub brings amazing, sounds and high-energy performances to his live shows (like those on the “Guitars & Saxes” tours). Golub’s shows usually include crowd-pleasers such as the boisterous original tune “Boom Boom” (from the CD Soul Sessions 2003), and upbeat, funky, bluesy hit versions of Average White Band’s “Cut the Cake” (from Golub’s brilliant 2002 CD Do It Again of cover songs), and the classic “Pick Up the Pieces” (from the 1994 Avenue Blue featuring Jeff Golub CD). On the more sensitive side, Golub performs smoldering originals such as “Naked City” or “Stockholm” both of which show the incredible range and intensity of sounds that Golub can pull out of his musical bag of tricks (sort of like baby-boomer cartoon hero Felix the Cat). Golub fantastic song catalog also includes the #1 hit title track from the CD NightLife (1997). One of the songs from NightLife which would be great to hear live is the catchy, upbeat “Seventh Heaven;” other tunes on the live wish list include the funky radio hit “Cold Duck Time” and the sultry “On the Beach” (from the 2002 CD Do It Again), and the unexpected, fun version of Smash Mouth’s “Walking on the Sun” (from Dangerous Curves 2000) which had airplay with the Golub-Peter White duet “No Two Ways About It”). Golub’s music - often influenced by cool 1960’s tunes (like his Nightlife CD cover of Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd”) - should be recruited someday for a new Austin Powers movie! In 1997, Golub also toured with keyboardist Bob James and saxophonist Kirk Whalum on their Grammy-nominated CD Joined at the Hip. Before Golub launched his contemporary jazz career, he toured with Billy Squier and from 1988-1995 was Rod Stewart’s lead guitarist (alongside Rick Braun with whom he later collaborated with on various records). Recently, Golub was back on tour with Rod Stewart for the singer’s jazz standards tour. In January, Golub, along with many other smooth jazz stars (Warren Hill, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Euge Groove, etc.) also appeared on Warren Hill’s Smooth Jazz Cruise.
On March 17th later that night will be the much-anticipated Berks All-Star Jazz Jam – an exciting festival favorite. Getting everyone into the groove will be bassist Gerald Veasley, guitarists Jeff Golub and Chuck Loeb, trumpeter Rick Braun, pianists Joe McBride and Tom Grant, saxophonists Jeff Kashiwa and Kenny Blake, drummer Keith Carlock ...and more.
The Joyce Cooling Group performs Friday night, March 18th. Cooling is one of contemporary jazz's most dynamic guitarists. The songwriting duo of guitarist Joyce Cooling and keyboardist/producer Jay Wagner gives the group an exhilarating repertoire of original tunes and a uniquely innovative sound which combines smooth jazz, funky R & B, dance rhythms and Brazilian influences. The Group’s current CD is This Girl’s Got To Play (their Narada Jazz debut), has recently been at the top of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts. The first single “Expression” was in the top ten on the Radio & Records chart for over six months. In 2003, Cooling also had the hit “Mm, Mm Good” with guest Al Jarreau on scatting vocals from the Third Wish CD (GRP/Verve). Cooling’s first hit radio single “South of Market” was No. 1 on the Radio & Records airplay charts for five weeks in 1997 on her debut CD Playing It Cool (on Heads Up), Following in the popular tracks was Keeping Cool (Heads Up). Joyce Cooling’s very first CD Cameo from 1988 which originally garnered very positive feedback from the press is now available on her website. It’s great to see The Joyce Cooling Group back at the Berks Jazz Fest!
The Sax Pack featuring Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters and Steve Cole figures to be a great show on Saturday afternoon, March 19th. Kashiwa has been a popular solo artist since 1999, after a decade with The Rippingtons. Waters has a gift for composing and playing a catchy combination of jazz, R&B, funk and pop. Cole has had a bunch of hit singles on the radio and a busy touring schedule. Also on the bill with The Sax Pack is the Chuck Loeb Band.
The phenomenal Spyro Gyra performs a late night show on Saturday, March 19th. Spyro Gyra's charm is the band's incredible musicianship and exhilarating shows which make the group one of the most exciting, entertaining groups touring today. Spyro Gyra includes founder and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, longtime members guitarist Julio Fernandez, keyboardist Tom Schuman, bassist Scott Ambush, and newcomer drummer Ludwig Afonso. The group recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and has earned the devotion of fans with over 10 million albums sold. Spyro Gyra’s musical influences range from contemporary to traditional jazz, latin, and instrumental pop which brilliantly fuse together like a classic Ferrari in top speed. Since being signed to Heads Up in 2001, Spyro Gyra has recorded a number of exceptional CDs, including the current The Deep End (2004). Original Cinema (2003) (on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart for about a year) and In Modern Times (2001) (which was on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Album chart for 64 weeks and went to No. 2). Since the late 1970’s when the group was formed, Spyro Gyra has become a legendary force in the contemporary jazz scene. In 1979, Spyro Gyra had a huge Top 40 pop radio hit “Morning Dance” – the title track to their best-selling album (before there was a smooth jazz radio format and before there were compact discs)! That tune is still a fan favorite, and is part of the group’s classic trademark sound. Since then, the band continues to produce some of the most innovative music in contemporary jazz.
If you dig the soulful sounds of the B-3 hammond organ, and tasty jazz, blues, and Latin riffs, you’ll have a great time at The B-3 Summit. The show features B-3 masters Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Papa John DeFrancesco with guest saxophonist Tim Warfield on Saturday night, March 19th. Joey DeFrancesco is a B-3 jazz legend and his father Papa John, is the proud patriarch of the musical DeFrancesco family. The super-cool turbanator (he wears that trademark turban) Dr. Lonnie Smith, is an inspired representative of soul jazz. Smith has played on over 70 albums, with artists such as guitarist George Benson, saxophonists ‘Papa’ Lou Donaldson, Joe Lovano, David “Fathead” Newman and organist Jimmy Smith. Back in 1969, Smith was named Top Organist by Downbeat Magazine.
The Yellowjackets and the Bob Mintzer Big Band perform a late night show on Friday, March 11th. The Yellowjackets feature keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip, saxophonist Bob Mintzer and drummer Marcus Baylor. The group’s music has continued to progress while keeping their special sound. The group signed with Heads Up International in 2003, and released Time Squared, their first CD date in five years, which has a live vibe. In response to fans’ requests, the Yellowjackets released their first Christmas album, Peace Round in 2004. Mintzer, a talented composer/arranger brings a modern edge to the big band format. The Bob Mintzer Big Band received five Grammy Award nominations (and won a Grammy in 2002 for Homage to Count Basie). The latest CD is Bob Mintzer Big Band Live at MCG with special guest Kurt Elling (2004).
The Miles to Miles Project on Sunday, March 13th, is a stirring account of legendary trumpeter/composer/bandleader Miles Davis - who garnered fame with modal improvisation rather than standard chord changes. Renowned producer/keyboardist Jason Miles’ body of work includes the classic Miles Davis album Tutu. Performing with Jason Miles (on keyboards), are Tom Harrell on trumpet, James Genus on bass, Gene Lake on drums, Dean Brown on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keys, DJ Logic on electronics/TT, and David Sanchez on saxophone (whose CD Coral recently received a Grammy nomination for best large jazz ensemble). This January, Narada Jazz, in collaboration with Rendezvous Entertainment, released the Jason Miles CD, Miles to Miles: Music in the Spirit of Miles Davis.
Percussion lovers will enjoy the show on Monday, March 14th, when Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies (the Buddy Rich alumni quintet) perform a dynamic percussion salute to drummer Buddy Rich. Smith gained his reputation as superstar drummer of the pop-rock group Journey. He then began leading his own jazz fusion band, Vital Information. Smith and Buddy's Buddies released two CDs in 2003 at the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott's.
On Tuesday evening March 15th extraordinary master guitarist Stanley Jordan will perform. Jordan’s unparalleled musicianship and creativity includes his special "tapping" technique which brings a rich, orchestral sound that combines classical expertise and jazz sensibilities. Back in 1985, Jordan jump-started his career with the smooth jazz radio hit cover of “The Lady in My Life” on his Blue Note records debut Stanley Jordan (which also featured elegant versions of songs such as “Eleanor Rigby,” “Freddie Freeloader,” “Round Midnight”).
On Friday, March 18th there will also be a show with Victor Wooten, one of the most celebrated electric bassists with his outstanding technique and down-to-earth grooves. Wooten is an accomplished solo artist and his performances as a member Bela Fleck and The Flecktones have gained him global recognition.
The John Pizzarelli Trio and the Reading Pops Orchestra headline the sixth annual Skip Norcott Memorial Concert early Saturday evening March 19th. Pizzarelli is an accomplished guitarist and vocalist. Pizzarelli’s vocals and presence are reminiscent of a suave young Frank Sinatra (both are from New Jersey) with the coolness of contemporary Harry Connick Jr. Pizzarelli established an impressive reputation for interpreting jazz standards (ballad and uptempo swing) and the Great American Songbook. John Pizzarelli usually performs with brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass and Ray Kennedy on piano. John Pizzarelli began playing guitar at age 6, following in his father’s (guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli) footsteps. At 20, John went on the road with the elder statesman, before starting his solo career (father Bucky has sometimes played on his son’s records). John Pizzarelli’s debut CD was I'm Hip — Please Don't Tell My Father (1983). In 1999, Pizzarelli signed with Telarc and has since released Kisses in the Rain (1999), Let There Be Love (2000), The Rare Delight of You with veteran pianist George Shearing (2002), Live at Birdland (2003) to celebrate his trio’s 10th anniversary and the recent Bossa Nova (2004) bringing Brazilian sounds to a new generation. So far, Pizzarelli has recorded 19 albums. Some of his earlier CDS include: My Blue Heaven (1990 Chesky), All of Me (1991- RCA) Dear Mr. Cole (1994 RCA - a tribute to Nat “King” Cole), One Night With You (1996 Chesky), After Hours (1996), Our Love is Here to Stay (1997), Let's Share Christmas (1997) and John Pizzarelli Meets the Beatles (1998 RCA). In addition to his ‘regular’ gigs, back in 1993, Pizzarelli opened for Frank Sinatra and later performed at Sinatra’s 80th birthday at Carnegie Hall. Also, in 1997 Pizzarelli played a lead role in Dream, a Broadway show of Johnny Mercer songs. Pizzarelli and his trio also appeared in the 1999 Goldie Hawn/Steve Martin The Out of Towners, performing “That Old Black Magic.” In 2004, Pizzarelli led a 40-member live orchestra at Radio City Music Hall in “Sinatra: His Voice, His World, His Way.”
Superstar vocalist, Harlem-born Shemekia Copeland (daughter of the late blues legend Johnny Clyde Copeland) performs on Saturday night, March 19th. Copeland's alto exudes powerful energy and emotions. Since 1997, her recording debut at age 18, Copeland has established an impressive reputation earning W.C. Handy Awards and Living Blues Awards, as well as a Grammy nomination. Copeland has received national TV exposure on Austin City Limits, Late Night With Conan O’Brien (twice), the CBS Saturday Early Show, and National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and has been featured in many magazine and newspaper articles and reviews. Rock legend Robert Plant described Copeland as “the next Tina Turner.” In recent years, Copeland released CDs such Wicked (which received a Grammy nomination) and Talking To Strangers, a blues-soul-rock combination produced by Dr. John.
From one teenage sensation to another, The Eric Steckel Band will open for Copeland. Steckel is originally from Allentown, PA (also hometown to trumpeter Rick Braun). Last year, Steckl’s spirited and soulful guitar playing made him the youngest person to perform on stage with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, when Steckl appeared in Sweden, Norway and Denmark as a special guest of Mayall and his band during their Scandinavian Tour. The Eric Steckel Band's debut CD, A Few Degrees Warmer, was recorded live in April 2002 when Eric was only 11 years old! Steckl delivers a Freddy-BB-Albert King influenced performance with an intensity and skill of someone decades older than his current tender age of 14. Steckel’s band includes the multi-talented Wayne Smith on drums and "The Bassplayer," Nick Franclik, often with Steve Patterson on B-3 Hammond organ. In November 2003, Steckel was presented with The Lehigh Valley Music Award for Outstanding Electric Guitar. In 2004, The Band released its first full studio CD High Action.
The Tim Warfield Sextet performs a traditional jazz Saturday afternoon, March 19th with Tim Warfield on saxophone and an all-star band with Stefon Harris on vibes, Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Clarence Penn on drums and Rodney Whitaker on bass. Opening for them will be teenage singer Sonya Kitchell, known for her warm vocals and songwriting.
Chicago blues explosion Magic Slim & The Teardrops plus opening act Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials perform a late night jam on Friday, March 18th. Magic Slim is considered one of the greatest living proponents of the intense, electrified Mississippi-to-Chicago blues style that created modern blues. Magic Slim & The Teardrops is one of the busiest and best-loved blues bands on the road today. From smokin’ slide guitar riffs to duck walking to flying leaps to raw-boned Chicago shuffles to the deepest blues, the 5-foot, 1-inch Lil' Ed Williams and The Blues Imperials perform a wild and crazy show.
On Wednesday, March 16th, the Ladies of Jazz featuring Sharon Bailey, Suzie Ernesto, Toni Lynne will bring their wonderful vocal finesse to traditional jazz standards, including ballads, swing, Bossa Nova, Latin and blues. Also, there will be a show with Michael Manring & David Cullen on March 14th. In 2001, Berks County guitarist David Cullen teamed up with California-based electric bass legend Michael Manring to produce the CD Equilibré. Cullen also tours the U.S. with Windham Hill’s Winter Solstice tour. He also recently was nominated for a Grammy Award for his role in a Henry Mancini tribute CD that’s been nominated for best instrumental pop record. Manring was Bass Player Magazine's 1994 "Bassist of the Year", a Bammy and Grammy-nominee, and recipient of Berklee College of Music's "Distinguished Alumni Award." Another concert includes John Doughten with the Brooks Tegler Trio. On Thursday, March 17th, listeners can hear Jazz French horn with the Erwin Chandler Band.
From Wednesday, March 16th through Saturday, March 19th, smooth jazz pianist/vocalist/composer Tom Grant will perform four dinner shows at the Wyndham Reading Hotel. Grant released his debut album in 1976, and has since recorded twenty CDs for a number of labels (e.g., Verve, Shanachie and Windham Hill). Grant’s most recent CDs are on his own label, nu-wrinkle, and include a traditional jazz CD Nice Work If You Can Get It (2004) and Solo Piano (2003). Before embarking on his solo career, Grant worked with jazz greats Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Charles Lloyd and Tony Williams (1979-81). In 1997, Grant was named a Steinway pianist, the only non-classical pianist in the U.S. to receive that honorary title in the Pacific Northwest. Grant’s had numerous hits at the top of the Smooth Jazz charts. Radio-friendly favorites by Grant include beautiful original tunes from the CD Lip Service (Shanachie 1997) such as the title track and “Love and Desire” and great covers of songs like Earth Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” from Grant’s Instinct CD (Shanachie 1996). Grant brings catchy, upbeat melodies, R & B grooves, and his trademark gorgeously lush sophisticated, uplifting improvisations to the acoustic piano. Grant will also participate at the Berks Jazz Fest Jam.
Every year, Berks Jazz Fest also offers community concerts. This year's special event offers the U.S. Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble featuring trumpet master Terell Stafford on Tuesday, March 15th, and Wednesday, March 16th. Stafford trumpet-playing combines lyricism and melody with a vibrant excitement. He has performed with Jon Faddis' Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band and the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Also, on Wednesday, March 16th, talented young local musicians will perform in the Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band and the University of the Arts Jazz Singers.
This year’s Fest also has three different brunch shows. The Blues Brunch & Jam happens on Saturday, March 19th. Mike Guldin and Rollin' & Tumblin' will host and perform at the jam with players from all over the region. Guldin, a guitarist and singer, has been influenced by blues legends Muddy Waters and B.B. King; bluesy rockers Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughn and the Rolling Stones; R&B/soul icons Sam and Dave, and Booker T. and the MGs; and southern-rock’s Lynyrd Skynyrd. Guldin’s stinging guitar and soulful vocals are backed by the raucous sounds of Rollin' & Tumblin.' The WJJZ Smooth Jazz Brunch is an annual festival highlight, and this year's morning and early afternoon shows on Sunday, March 20th will be a culinary delight and musical treat with smooth jazz saxophonist Michael Lington. Lington will bring his trademark soulful, romantic music in celebration of life and love. There is also the Sunday Jazz Brunch on March 20th which showcases the lush alto of Amy Banks and the Steve Rudolph Trio. Banks melds jazz, folk pop and mellow gospel influences in a silky, sultry way. Steve Rudolph, from nearby Harrisburg, PA is a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator who has helped establish the thriving jazz scene in central Pennsylvania.
The festival’s grand finale An Evening with Fourplay takes place in the early evening on Sunday, March 20th. Fourplay includes four of the world's most revered and accomplished individual recording and performing artists: keyboardist Bob James, drummer Harvey Mason, bassist Nathan East and guitarist Larry Carlton. The group will bring their popular brand of contemporary jazz which combines R&B, pop, rock, blues, classical and jazz. This year, Fourplay's CD Journey received a Grammy nomination for best contemporary jazz album. Also, the song "Speak Like A Child" from Mason's All My Heart CD received a Grammy nomination for best jazz instrumental solo.
Hope to see you and your friends in March at the 2005 Berks Jazz Fest – one of the best contemporary jazz festivals in the world! It may be cold outside, but inside, the shows will be hot!
Detailed information on concert schedules, tickets, hotel and other visitor information for this year’s festival is available at www.berksjazzfest.com. Tickets can be purchased online at the website, or by phone: 1-610-898-7298. Ticket orders can also be placed by fax by downloading the official order form from the website and faxing back the completed form to 1-610-898-7297. Tickets can also be obtained by calling Ticketmaster at 1-215-336-2000 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com. Also when you arrive, read through the excellent free Reading Eagle Berks Jazz Fest newspaper supplement for details on all of the artists, shows and visitor information.
In addition to all of the great ticketed events, Berks Jazz Fest always includes a number of entertaining free non-ticketed shows. This year, the town is once again brimming over with lots of talented musicians who will perform at brunch, lunch, dinner and after-dinner, and late-night events, from jazz, to blues, to rock and Sunday jazz worship services at various venues. Check the website www.berksjazzfest.com for details on times and places of non-ticketed events.
Here is a list of the artists who will perform at the non-ticketed events: Gerald Veasley & Friends (Base Boot Camp Jam II); Tom Grant; Sax Summit featuring Larry McKenna, Tim Price, Chris Heslop and Tom Strohman; The Groovemasters; Sharon Bailey Quartet; Neil Wright; Bill Bower & Ray Allen; Chuck Cahoe; Relatively Speaking; Sharon Bailey & Mike Moran; Josh Taylor Trio; VIH Band featuring Smokin’ Charlie Paplosky and Slim Tim Risbon; John King's Dance Band; Burning House; Dave Mell Blues Band; Steve Katzenmoyer Trio featuring Cathy Williamson; Ken Gehret & Steve Rudolph; Erwin Chandler Trio; Tony Sands; Bluebone; Rob Diener & Anomaly; Robbi K & Friends; The Duo; Ken Gehret & Al Seifarth plus special guest Andy Roberts; Bill Bower & Peter Valencia; Pretzel City Dixieland Jazz Band; David Cullen; Acoustic Roadshow hosted by Butch Imhoff; the Kutztown University Alumni Jazz Band; Alligator Zydeco; Bones of Contention featuring Doc Mulligan; Chuck Dressler; Jim Smale; Jennifer Kinder & Erich Cawala; Berks Jazz Project with Gerry Werner, Gary Wentzel, and others; Cabana Boys; Third Stream; Frank Guido; Duck Soup & The Fowl Mouth Horns; Bunchafunk; Groove Dawgs; D3 & Company; Burning House; Royal Scam; Ken Brader; The Crosswinds Trio; and Rhett Tyler.
If the abundance of great music is not enough, Berks County is also known for its shopping. Reading, Pennsylvania is center for many shopping outlet stores. There will also be a Humane Society of Berks County Local Artists Art Auction.
The Berks Jazz Fest has a terrific management team, which includes Connie Leinbach - Executive Director; Chuck Koch - President of the board and Chairperson of the event; John Ernesto – Festival General Manager & Talent coordination/booking manager; Gary Spencer – Production Manager; Mike Anderson – Marketing Director; Mike Zielinski – Publicity Director; Catharine Catanach and Jim Connors – Sponsorship Development; Transportation Coordinator – John Graff; Merchandise: BAC Staff; Workshops/Youth Activities team: Tom Brown, Mike Eben, Doc Mulligan, Al Seifarth, John Rozum and Carl Zeplin; and Ticketing by SMG.
The Berks Arts Council includes: Connie Leinbach, Gary Spencer, Bob Coleman, Brenda Hartman and David Edgar Guest. There are also hundreds of dedicated volunteers for the Berks Arts Council and throughout the Berks County community and surrounding Philadelphia area. The Berks Arts Council is the premier arts organization in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Its mission is to encourage and promote all the arts, to develop an appreciation of the arts and to enrich and enhance the quality of life in Berks County. Formally organized as a nonprofit organization in 1971, the Berks Arts Council’s offices are located in the Pagoda, Reading’s most visible landmark and tourist attraction.
NOTE: The author, Val Vaccaro, would like to thank Mike Zielinski - Publicity Director for the Berks Jazz Fest, and Peter Boehi - SmoothVibes.com Publisher for their valuable assistance in making this article possible.
Smokey Robinson's classic "Quiet Storm" will be remixed by the host of The Groove Boutique radio show.
In 1975, classic Motown soul singer Smokey Robinson released an album called A Quiet Storm that actually helped to create a new musical format of sensual R&B ballads.
Twenty years later, Rafe Gomez – the host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Groove Boutique – will give Smokey’s classic song a chill-music face lift. The remix, performed with a live band that includes vibraphonist Roy Ayers and using Smokey’s original lyrics, will be included as a bonus track in an anthology of Smokey’s music to be released in February.
A longer version of the song will be available March 29 on an album called Motown Remixed.
“I heard Smokey’s vocal and was so stunned by its beauty and purity that I decided to not touch it," Gomez says. "There is no processing, no effects, nothing, on this vocal. For curiosity’s sake, I put it through this computer program called an auto tuner. You can see on the screen what the notes that the vocalist sang and compare them with the notes that are the right notes. They were perfect. There was no difference.”
Gomez’s original song called “Icy” from the album The Groove Boutique: Volume One is being played on numerous smooth jazz radio stations.
Smooth jazz vocalist Basia will tour this year after a long hiatus.
A smooth jazz voice from the past will soon be touring in the United States with a nine-piece band. Basia, whose solo smooth jazz hits include “Promises,” “New Day For You” and “Cruising For A Bruising,” is expected to announce several dates for a tour with the band Matt Bianco. The tour is expected to begin on April 5, but will include a date on March 8 in New York to coincide with the release on the new Matt Bianco album called Matt's Mood on the Decca label.
The band, once the most popular in England, released their debut album in 1982 with Basia, vocalist Mark Reilly and keyboardist Danny White, among others. Danny White is the brother of smooth jazz guitarist Peter White. The American tour, marking the first time the original line-up has ever toured together as a band.
Matt’s Mood features Basia with the original group, as well as several guests appearances by Peter White. The album was released in Europe and Japan in March 2004.
Matt's Mood marks the first time that Basia’s vocals have appeared on an album in 11 years. Singles that have been played overseas include "La Luna," "I Never Meant To" and "Ronnie's Samba."
Like Simply Red’s “Sunrise” from last year, which sampled Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” former child singer Donny Osmond scores in 2005 with “Breeze On By.” The song, which Osmond wrote lyrics to, samples George Benson’s magnificent “Breezin’” throughout.
It’s an unlikely pairing – one of smooth jazz’s iconic figures and a singer who’s unfairly or not is too often portrayed as anti-cool. But with this track, from his new CD What I Meant to Say, Donny Osmond is officially one cool dude. Put in on and watch your worries slip away.
Those who read my column know that many of my articles contain the same two words in the form of one composer/artist’s name: Chieli Minucci. I’ll admit there’s a reason for this. He simply happens to be the favorite of my favorite artists in contemporary jazz. Hearing "My Girl Sunday" from his Sweet On You CD a few years ago led me to not only his music and that of Special EFX, but also coincided with my own gradual discovery that the music I love best is actually in a jazz category.
By the time I discovered Minucci, I had already become familiar with many of the saxophone players on the scene, and I concluded that the saxophone was the instrument of choice to best underscore the jazz in jazz music. It took a little time for me to notice what the guitarists were doing. Once as I stood in line at a concert, I overheard a lively debate over which instrument – the guitar or the saxophone – best captured the essence of jazz. I wondered how there could be much of a debate about it, but as time went on it was guitarists like Minucci who made me have a new understanding of such a debate. Now I know why there is some controversy, and I remember smiling to myself at the debut of a group in recent years with the name Guitars and Saxes. A perfect solution, and a great way to make the point that not only do both instruments work well in this genre, but they complement each other very well. At this stage of my jazz listening, I enjoy when both instruments are present in a song or at a live show. I almost expect this to be the case, wondering with the release of each new CD, what guitarists are featured on the saxophonist’s CD, or which saxophone players are guests of the guitarist. However, there was one night when I found myself at a show with one guitar and no sax.
Like others who fall into the category of what I call a megafan with regard to an artist’s music, I try to get to any show within a reasonable distance that features my favorite artists. In September, a relatively short two-hour drive put me just south of Baltimore near Jessup, Maryland, at a venue called Rapture Live that was hosting two shows for Special EFX. The two shows were combined into one, and to make up for the change, we were promised a very special one-show performance.
The Rapture Live venue must be the best-kept secret in Maryland! The ticket price included a wonderful buffet, and the crowd turned out to be intimate groupings of four to eight people at a table, all with a great view of the band. It had a private party atmosphere and our hostess Chris (pictured here with Chieli) was terrific and quite personable, giving meticulous attention to the guests. This gal has been working hard to book some accomplished artists, so all you jazz aficionados should definitely keep an eye on the rapturelive.net website.
Getting back to the ‘no sax’ in this show, earlier Special EFX shows I’ve attended always featured a saxophone player. And the saxophone players that I have heard play with Chieli have been the best – players like David Mann and Jeff Kashiwa – I’ve seen them with Special EFX and also at their own shows, and in both cases, these are shows I don’t want to miss! But this show was minus a saxophone, and I was eager to experience the difference.
In a word, I learned something about Chieli Minucci in Jessup that night. He is dynamite when he’s up there at center stage and stays there! I say that to point out how extremely, totally talented he is, and not to take away from the talent of sax players with whom he’s shared the spotlight. In fact, it was Jeff Kashiwa, playing with Special EFX at Berks Jazz Fest, who made the statement, “I am so lucky when I’m asked to play with a band like this – it’s like someone asking me to take a ride in his Jaguar.” And it’s true! Notwithstanding that Jeff Kashiwa is quite a passenger to have on board, Chieli and Special EFX certainly provide a most sought-after, top-of-the-line musical framework within which to showcase an artist’s talent.
And who were the members of Special EFX for this show? Jay Rowe, keyboardist; Jerry Brooks, bass player; percussionist Philip Hamilton; and drummer Brian Dunne – each of whom was an integral part of everything played and each one prominently featured. I have seen each of them play so well in past shows, but I must admit, I saw each of them rise to new heights at this show under Chieli’s masterful leading.
If you are an avid Chieli/Special EFX fan and you were not there in Jessup, I almost feel I should send you my condolences when I think of what you missed. Simply put, I never saw Chieli more ON and I never saw his band more super-charged in their playing and in their response to him. He’s really very comfortable in center stage, pulling the band together, reminding them of what’s coming next and giving the nod of affirmation (which they seek) when things go well or when they’re making a transition. Chieli is a perfectionist. He led perfectly and they followed perfectly, each one of them playing with more skill and together showing more synergy than I’ve ever seen before.
It was hard to believe what Chieli did with the guitar. I couldn’t even begin to explain the sheer amount of skill, heart and soul that accompanied this performance. And the more intricate his solos became, the more the band responded with moments of equally stellar performance. Jerry Brooks, who usually remains somewhere in the background of the placement on stage, had one of those synchronized sort of ‘duels’ with Chieli, and he was so far into it during his playing that I was sure he was going to jump out in front and give us a solo show on the bass – he was more expressive and funky and into it than I’ve ever seen him, what fun to watch! And if you could have on film those expressions of the drummer as he orchestrated his sound and the effect he knew Chieli was after, well, it was like the most intense form of excruciating, exquisite effort and it met with great success. I could tell Chieli was well pleased with Brian Dunne.
Chieli began with ‘Courageous Cats’ from Jewels, then followed with ‘Speak to Me’ from Masterpiece, ‘Daybreak’ from Global Village, ‘Dreams’ from It’s Gonna Be Good, ‘Body Beat’ from Body Language. Later he launched into a medley, starting with ‘Beginnings’ (It’s Gonna Be Good), moving on to ‘Waiting’ (Special EFX), which included a beautiful lead in to ‘My Girl Sunday’ (Sweet On You) with Jay Rowe on the piano. ‘Cruise Control’ (Butterfly) was a most awesome arrangement, you had to be there, but it went on and on and we could have kept cruising all night, no problem! Chieli varied some of the songs, changing the arrangements somewhat (after all, he’s a master composer) and I’d say the changes worked very well. Philip Hamilton was featured with his great work on percussion and his astounding ability to sing vocals. Wow, he’s got his own CDs, no surprise there; check him out at philiphamilton.com. It goes without saying that Jay Rowe always makes the show so much fun; his expressions are priceless as he responds to the crowd responding to him! And he’s another very talented artist with his own CDs and website, don’t miss jayrowemusic.com.
Chieli, relaxed and with a ready sense of humor throughout the evening, played his heart out, and yes, this has always been true of him, yet somehow during this night he seemed to crank it up to a different level and let it all happen. I’m so glad he did. I can still see the ease with which he carried himself and the band to new heights on this incredible night. What a memory it is!
Now in the studio working on his next solo CD to be released in March of this year, Chieli will feature a fantastic line-up of artists, including regular Special EFX players Lionel Cordew, Jerry Brooks, Jay Rowe and Philip Hamilton, along with David Mann, Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters, Steve Oliver, and Gerald Veasley. Aptly titled, Got It Goin’ On, any serious listener will certainly agree that he and these artists will have it goin’ on for many years to come! Visit his website at chielimusic.com to get a sneak peek at the song titles for the new CD, as well as learn more about him and his music.
As always, happy jazzin'
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo credits: Michael Packard
Jazz flutist Alexander Zonjic has been nominated for three awards and will host the first-ever Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards to be held April 10 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts near Toronto. Zonjic’s diverse nominations are for Album of the Year for Seldom Blues, for Best Wind Instrumentalist and for Broadcaster of the Year.
Zonjic was raised and still lives in Windsor, Ontario. He is also host of a popular daily morning show on Detroit’s Smooth Jazz V98.7 (WVMV-FM).
"Canadian Smooth Jazz musicians finally have an awards program to recognize their artistry," said Zonjic. The event was created by Doug and Mary Kirk, owners of The Wave (radio) in Hamilton, Ontario, and Smooth Jazz Now (on-line magazine) editor John Beaudin. Fans will determine the winners via an on-line poll. To vote, fans should visit www.canadiansmoothjazzawards.com. Voting is now open to an international audience.
Top nominees for the inaugural ceremony include Diana Krall, Eddie Bullen, Brian Hughes, Marc Jordan and Alexander Zonjic all with three. Confirmed to perform are guitarist Brian Hughes, vocalist Carol Welsman, who is a double nominee, and Warren Hill who is up for Saxophonist Of The Year.
The first Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards will also pay tribute to on of the biggest trailblazers in the genre - George Benson. The guitar legend will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement prize appropriately titled The Benson Award. Each year a different trendsetter in the world of Smooth Jazz will receive The Benson. International Smooth Jazz artists have also been recognized. Marc Antoine, Anita Baker, Euge Groove, Dave Koz and Peter White are the nominees.
Anyone visiting here at smoothvibes can see that my focus is different from that of my esteemed co-writers on this site. I say esteemed with utmost sincerity because I am truly in awe of the musical knowledge, grasp of terminology and the ability to pull so much good information together in such interesting ways as they demonstrate here time and again. It’s quite a learning experience for me to be here and simply read what they have written. In a sense I’m the grateful little sister tagging along!
My emphasis, far from grading music or giving the history of the origin of a CD, is on the person of the performer. I suppose this column could be called ‘The Concert Experience.’ I’m interested in things like audience connection and using word pictures to capture the artist for the readers. I have a genuine liking and enthusiasm for this music, so you will rarely hear me bringing up the negatives, though I suppose they exist, as in every facet of life.
In contemporary jazz, there is so much about which to write, so much that can be said. One of the things I’ve noticed within the community of jazz artists is how they flow into and out of each others’ CDs. As I have gotten to know many artists (if not by face and by sound, then at least by name), I enjoy the huge system of support they have for each other. They may record one or more numbers on a CD together and they may perform a limited tour of concerts together. Artists who experience major success often 'paid their dues' over the years on the CDs and in the concerts of other influential artists/bands. One of my favorite things to do when acquiring a new CD is to see ‘who’ played on each song. Sometimes there are many artists on just one CD, and it's challenging to figure out my ‘known artists’ on the CD, take some educated guesses about the rest of the artists, then check it out on the liner notes.
One gets to know the distinctive, signature sounds of individual artists such as Warren Hill, Paul Taylor, Richard Elliot, Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole, and Dave Koz on the saxophone. As for guitar, I’ve got the differences down between Jeff Golub, Russ Freeman, Chieli Minucci, Marc Antoine, Earl Klugh, Peter White (usually), with Steve Oliver, Doc Powell, and Brian Tarquin not far behind. On keyboard, I can spot Brian Culbertson, David Benoit and Pieces of a Dream player James Lloyd . And the differences I mention are not tied to recognizing a song the artist plays, but rather,it's the style of playing that I’m often able to place. I feel so ‘with it’ when I’m right! And I’m certain I’m not alone in this little game I play!
By the way, can some of you pick out the style of Gil Parris on guitar? Or Amedeo Bianchi on saxophone? Or Tom Grant on piano? These are three artists you should get to know if you haven’t already done so! Watch for my interviews with each of them in the Jazz Personality column. Next up in Berks Jazz Vibes is a piece on that favorite of all my favorite artists; I’ll keep you guessing as to who that could be. Following that will be a summary of the star-studded line-up of the 15th Annual Berks Jazz Fest, coming up March 11, 2005!
And now, to imitate my musical brothers here, I'll list what’s in my CD player this week:
John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra
Eric Byak’s Journey of the Heart (so glad he decided to record one of his own!)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays T-Square
Quintana and Speer Shades of Shadow
Crusaders' Scratch (can’t say enough about that rendition of Carole King’s ‘So Far Away,’ oh my!)
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Readers 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. Dropping into the Secret Garden mailbox this week was news that Dave Koz will be smooth jazz cruising this year. His Dave Koz & Friends At Sea show will depart from San Diego on November 5 2005 on the Holland America Lines cruise ship Oosterdam for seven days sailing to the Mexican ports of Mazatlan, Cabo San Luca and Puerto Vallarta. His line up of special guest artists will be announced shortly on his website www.davekozcruise.com
In fact Dave is warming up for the cruise in the near future. He has been booked as an additional special guest for the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz cruise departing from Fort Lauderdale this very week. He will play two back to back gigs on the evening of January 18 aboard the Holland America Lines cruise ship the Zuiderdam while in port at St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. This show was originally scheduled as an outdoor event on the island for the same night but was moved onto the ship as part of a last minute change.
Dave joins a host of smooth jazz stars in St Thomas including Peter White, Euge Groove, Kim Waters, Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Jeff Golub, Jonathan Butler, Wayman Tisdale, Warren Hill and Oleta Adams.
Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com
Dave Koz is working on a follow-up to his Saxophonic CD.
Smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz is now working on a follow-up album to 2003’s Grammy-nominated Saxophonic that will be unlike anything he’s done before.
The album will be Koz’s interpretations of his favorite songs and themes from the movies and will have symphonic and orchestral elements.
“One of the things that I love is all the classic movie scores, the romantic movie scores," Koz says. "You think of your favorite films over the last 40 to 50 years and you can think of so many fantastic melodies. I'm sifting through all these great melodies to come up with the 10 or 12 that really, really say what I want to say.”
The CD, which is untitled at this point, will be released later this year.
Koz's current smooth jazz hit is “Let It Free."
Rafe Gomez, a DJ and mixer who produces a nationally syndicated show called The Groove Boutique, has a single himself that is getting some airplay on Smooth Jazz radio. “Icy” is a sprightly ditty that clocks in at just under three minutes and features a can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head melody, trumpet by Glenn Kaye , unobtrusive vocalese and chants of "Icy."
This is the cool stuff, baby. Gomez says the song has “a sound that’s best described as Herb Alpert meets Bob James in Brazil, with Praful mixing the drinks.”
The happy track is one of 15 that Gomez compiled for The Groove Boutique: Volume One on Tommy Boy Records. The CD is available at the usual outlets, including for a discount at Dusty Groove America at www.dustygroove.com.
Guitarist Peter White was in his element at several shows in Seattle.
In front of large festival crowds – where often the music is secondary anyway – clinking wine classes and friendly chatter can drown out the many charms of Peter White. White strums mostly romantic, classy acoustic guitar pop songs best served in an intimate, acoustically friendly setting.
White glowed in such an environment during a four-day run at Seattle’s Jazz Alley – his third trip to the venue – where packed houses chowed on good food and happily took in White’s melodic sounds. Playing two sets a night, White projected energy and gave the audiences its just desserts.
He played his former No. 1 song, “Talkin’ Bout Love,” from his most recent CD, Confidential, and also naturally his current hit, “How Does It Feel.” On that song, memorably mixing in what White calls the “weird guitar” of producer Matthew Hager, bassist Donald Patterson stepped in a few times to handle the weird guitar lines.
One of White’s upfront appeals is his good-natured camaraderie with his audience, which was in full display in Seattle. He took side trips to the sounds that have inspired him – Motown and soul classic such as “Who’s That Lady,” “My Cherie Amour” and “I Can See Clearly Now.” He invited the audience to sing along with the songs, and they managed capably.
Since White is an instrumentalist, he wisely uses the many talents of bandmember David Sparkman, a keyboardist and vocalist. His vocals on several songs provided a welcome change. Saxophonist Michael Paulo kept the groove spicy, drawing whoops and hollers for his sax solos. He can dance, too.
Perhaps because he had visited Seattle’s Experience Music Project and its large number of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, White frequently switched his music box to the electric guitar mode and showed that he could probably sustain a career as a rock guitarist. He’d have to grow his hair out a bit, though.
For an encore, White returned to the Motown era with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” sprinkling in a few “Get On Up” riffs from funk master James Brown.
It was a perfect ending to a great show, with one of smooth jazz’s most influential players in his element.
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.
White soul doesn’t come by everyday and when it does it tends to disappoint. However this is not the case with the latest project from Texas based MichauX (pronounced Mi-show). His soulful, funky, R&B sound that has been compared in vocal style to Maxwell, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and The Isley Brothers delivers a mixture of modern R&B and funky 70’s soul on his interesting eleven track release, Just MichauX.
Backed by fourteen musicians from the Austin area the multi-talented MichauX produced, arranged, performed, recorded and mixed this debut album in his own professional project recording studio in Bastrop, TX. He also wrote most of the music. It was mastered by Tom Coyne at Sterling Studios New York, NY.
The album opens with the smooth soul ‘All I Need’. It has the same laid back yet compelling groove running through it that proves to be the hallmark of the entire collection and vocal inflections that immediately evoke the sound of Ronald Isley. Track #2, ‘Hey Girl / Hey Playa’ flirts with urban hip hop, has a rap intro and an anxious beat yet still manages to incorporate MichauX’s smooth vocals. The same relaxed yet infectious urban grooves are evident on track #3, ‘Anything’, and when we reach the next track we gather a true insight into the theme and the message of the entire recording.
Four of the eleven tracks, starting with ‘Toni’ and following on with ‘He Paid It All’, ‘Love You The Right Way’ and ‘Necessary Truth’ are all overtly religious songs and it will remain to be seen if this aspect of MichauX’s music alienates him to the extent that he is prevented from making the true commercial breakthrough that his sound deserves. His own promotional material makes a solid stand on this describing him as ‘taking a very honest approach to songwriting and tackling tough issues that face our generation.’ It goes on to say that ‘the music carries a positive message in a language that anyone can relate to. He connects with today’s generation in a very personal way, sharing his own life experience and how he overcame many obstacles. He boldly presses forward unafraid to disturb the ‘sacred cows’ of mixing traditionally spiritual messages with a decidedly ‘secular’ medium, claiming the necessity to reach those who would otherwise not hear this message.’
When asked where his inspiration comes from he says, ‘what motivates me is working with ‘at risk’ youth. I want to bring them a positive message of hope that will help keep them in school, away from drugs and a life of crime. Knowing their lives are being affected by the message in the music is the highest achievement. In this post 9/11 age, we are focusing more on spiritual growth, an introspective look at our lifestyle, and what is truly important. The record stimulates this kind of thinking. We need much more than the shallowness of ‘booty shaking’ R&B but we still want to feel the rhythm, to love, move, and be stirred by the soul of great music. You can also sing about love without being obscene or trashy. It is a beautiful thing between married couples who love each other unconditionally.’
MichauX was the Director of Sound at Bastrop Christian Outreach Center, the largest church in Bastrop County, and served as a worship leader for Sunday morning services and special events. Since the beginning of 2002 he has been a volunteer Chaplain for the Texas Youth Commission, a State Juvenile Corrections Agency. He has used this position to set up a powerful halfway house ministry for teenage young men through weekly bible studies and monthly musical concerts with various Christian artists. He also gives the youth a chance to show their skills by hosting freestyle rap contests.
Potential listeners should not be turned off by the religious positioning of much of the recording. After all it worked for the Staple Singers. The vibe is compelling throughout and with track #8 ‘Resti 2 tion’ he works in a great piece of funk and R & B. In fact MichauX reprises this with track #10, ‘Payment’, that revisits the riff threaded through ‘Resti 2 tion’ and, with the exception of a cool background vocal, turns it into a nice play out instrumental.
MichauX states his ultimate goal is to work full time with youth in halfway houses and prisons all over the world. He cites the quantity of negative music and images that bombards our youth today as a driver for him to provide an alternative positive message. This being the case he may well have some tough decisions coming up. He has already caught the eye of promoter, Malika Smith, of Club Praize Magazine who sent him to perform for ‘Showtime at the Apollo’ in New York City. This in turn led to the chance to open for award wining Gospel group, Trin-i-tee 5:7. If, the beat, pace, and rhythm of the music that MichauX has created with Just MichauX begins to take off then his career could well be moving in a whole new direction.
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.
Sometimes I wonder where the industry is going to with Warner having dropped their smooth jazz artists and radio stations switching formats to other genres than smooth jazz. Luckily our favorite brand of music still is available on independent labels offering a surprising level of quality and musicianship with CDBaby.com at the center of the action.
I have the habit to sift through the list of new releases there. Admittedly much material on display there is not worth our attention but when you are persistent you are rewarded with some top-notch stuff - like the CD Bayside by keyboard player Bobby Wells. Guest artists on the album include Eric Marienthal (sax), Michael O'Neill (guitar), Bryan Savage (flute), Mel Brown (bass), Darren Rahn (sax), Bobby Wells (keyboards, vocals) and Brandy Wells (vocals) - talk about smooth jazz heaven! The album contains definitely Bobby Wells' best work and offers a nice selection of grooves and moods with first-rate playing by all involved. This album should not be missed - check it out at CDBaby.com!
Steely Dan member Donald Fagen hopes to release a new CD this year, his first since Kamakiriad in 1993.
Donald Fagen is now working on a new solo album that would be his first in 12 years. It is expected to be released this year.
Fagen, a pianist and vocalist who along with Walter Becker comprise the seminal pop group Steely Dan, released his solo debut in 1982 with The Nightfly, which featured the hit single “I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World).” Eleven years later, he released Kamakiriad, which had the single called "Tomorrow's Girls."
After disbanding in the early 1980s, Fagen and Becker reunited as Steely Dan to release the albums Two Against Nature in 2000 and Everything Must Go in 2003.
Fagen celebrates his 57th birthday on January 10th.
The new album by vocalist Kiki Ebsen, produced by Paul Brown, will feature a song written by the vocalist's father -- the late actor Buddy Ebsen.
Famed Hollywood actor Buddy Ebsen, an iconic American figure who starred in the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones and who died in 2003 at age 95, was also a dancer on Broadway who wrote songs for musicals. One of the songs he wrote has been interpreted by his singer-songwriter daughter, Kiki Ebsen, in a tune she’s calling “Missing You.”
It’s one of several original and cover songs on a new album called Kiki that’s produced by smooth jazz producer and guitarist Paul Brown. The album features Kiki’s vocals and a trio consisting of Brown on guitar, Roberto Vally on upright bass and Dave Beyer on drums.
It was 12 years ago that Ebsen released a CD called Red, which featured backing instrumentals by saxophonist Boney James, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. and Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip. Brown produced that album, as well.
Cover songs include “Tears Of A Clown” by Smokey Robinson, “I Say A Little Prayer,” which was written by Burt Bacharach and made into a hit by Dionne Warwick, and “Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys,” performed by Steve Winwood and Traffic.
The album is expected to be released early this year, and you can hear samples of it at www.kikiebsen.com.
Brown's current smooth jazz single is called "Moment By Moment."
Saxophonist Dave Koz will help raise funds for the American Red Cross on Jan. 10 in Southern California.
On Jan. 10, saxophonist Dave Koz will perform at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, California, as part of a benefit for victims affected by the deadly tsunami in Asia.
The Southern California Tsunami Money Drive, sponsored by several Los Angeles radio and television stations, will raise money on behalf of the American Red Cross. After Knott’s temporarily closes its doors earlier than usual on Monday, the park will reopen from 7 to 10 p.m. to the general public, with a minimum donation of $20 requested.
Koz, the host of the popular Dave Koz Radio Show, will perform at 7:30 p.m. at Knott’s Charles Schultz Theatre. The first 2,000 people will be allowed in free, but inside will be encouraged to again donate as much as they’d like.
At the show, Koz will play songs from his Grammy-nominated album Saxophonic, which includes the single “Let It Free,” currently No. 13 on Radio & Records' smooth jazz charts.
Written by Rene Taniguchi, San Francisco, California, USA
Romantic British saxophonist James Vargas captivated Catalina audiences with his intoxicating blend of smooth grooves, funky rhythms and soulful singing during his American debut at the 18th Annual Catalina Island Jazztrax Festival, October 10 and 16, 2004, being only one of two artists to play twice during the three-weekend festival.
Vargas' performances, which were also broadcast live via streaming on Jazztrax Internet Radio, played to sold-out crowds of 1,450 in the beautiful Art Deco-styled Avalon Casino Ballroom on balmy October evenings on Catalina Island, opening for sax legend David Sanborn on October 10th and British funk band Down To The Bone, on October 16th. (His performances, along with the 29 other artists featured during the festival, was rebroadcast as part of a compilation on Jazztrax' syndicated 5-hour program Thanksgiving weekend, November 28, and is still available to listen to as Art Good's Jazztrax Radio Show On Demand. Go to www.jazztrax.com for more info.)
Good prides himself on showcasing new talent on the island, making virtual unknowns into Smooth Jazz favorites: The Rippingtons and David Benoit in 1987, Acoustic Alchemy in 1988, Mindi Abair in 1995, Paul Brown and Praful in 2003. The buzz in the audience this year was about the two new saxmen making their Catalina debut, who had catapulted onto the scene in June and July of 2004. Both James Vargas and Eric Darius were first introduced to American audiences by Good, who featured cuts off of Vargas' self-titled album and Darius' Night On The Town on his Internet Radio. With Catalina audiences used to such high-caliber performances, the underlying question of the weekend was: Would they wow or would they disappoint?
Both men were clearly in their element on an island that comes alive every October for the past 17 years with fabulous music and a great time. It was an incredible final weekend of performances, beginning with Rendezvous Entertainment saxman Michael Lington and ending with the all-star supergroup Groovin' for Grover, consisting of veteran artists Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright, Paul Taylor and Jeff Lorber. Both Vargas and Darius fit the bill for all things smooth; Vargas played up the more romantic side with his virtuoso performances on soprano, alto and tenor saxes while adding his warm voice to the mix, moving effortlessly from sax to vocals like a well-tuned car changing gears. Darius was the 'new kid on the block,' but at 21 years of age, performed like a seasoned veteran, not only with his fiery R&B sound and technique but with his showmanship, which surprised not only this reporter but some industry people spoken to after the show. We can only expect amazing things in the future from both performers, this 'next generation of Smooth Jazz artists,' who were both gracious, charming and thrilled to play such a prestigious show on their first time out to the West Coast.
Vargas clearly had his work cut out for him, opening for the legendary Sanborn his first weekend, but easily won over the jazz crowd with his killer chops, charisma and his ability to paint amazing audio landscapes with his sax. This reporter experienced the second of the two shows on October 16th and has to say that James Vargas had the crowd eating from the palm of his hand from the very first note. Wearing a caramel suit with black pinstriped shirt, Vargas was in command of the Saturday night 'British Invasion' at the Avalon Casino Ballroom, opening for Down To The Bone. He easily could've been headliner material with his fancy improv work and 'sound,' reminscent of the talents of Steve Cole or Walter Beasley in tone and sweetness. But that's where the similarities ended, with Vargas' fast-paced show taking the audience to higher highs ("Push Da Button" and "Speakeasy"), poignant reminisces of first love and romance ("Galveston Bay", "Won't Be A Fool", "Say You Will", "One Fine Day", "Lasting Impression") and everywhere in between ("Curtain Call", "Sitting Pretty", "Portmeadow"). The ease in which he took to the mic, lending his voice on the tender "Galveston Bay" and helping out on "Won't Be A Fool" with Kimberly Brewer, then playing a few lines on sax, proved his versatility and musical prowess. His encore was a tribute to Luther Vandross, performing a sprited and sassy rendition of "You're The Sweetest One," the perfect dessert to a fabulous musical feast. The audiences responded in kind, giving him standing ovations and cheers, each lasting longer than the last.
Rounding out Vargas' band were keyboardist extraordinaire and writing partner Oli Silk, whose band, Sugar & Silk, featured Vargas prominently on their second release entitled Duality, guitarist Allen Hinds (who did triple duty that final Saturday, playing with Dan Siegel in the afternoon, with Vargas Saturday evening and finally with his bandmates, Down to the Bone, Saturday night!), Keith Jones on bass, who had played with Grover Washington, Jr. (a fitting addition to the month-long tribute to Grover during the festival), with the talented Kimberly Brewer and Fred White on backing vocals.
Vargas, who makes his home in Wimbledon, England, was truly honored to be considered to be a part of the lineup, saying that to play Catalina was a long-held dream that had finally come true. He knows of the magic and the impact the festival has on Smooth Jazz as well as the success that usually follows once having played there. By the thunderous applause Vargas received on both evenings, it appears that this talented artist's time has come.
2005 promises to be an exciting year for Vargas, who is now setting his sights on taking America by storm and touring extensively around the country. If you get the chance to see this incredible performer live, by all means, GO! His affable charm and disarming good looks will immediately draw you in, but it is his grace and his impeccable showmanship that will make a 'lasting impression' in your soul.
Art Good, creator and host of the top syndicated radio show JazzTrax, has named the Benoit Freeman Project 2 album of the year in his Top 10 countdown of the best smooth jazz albums of 2004.
The JazzTrax top 10 albums of 2004:
2. DOWN TO THE BONE, CELLAR FUNK
3. GRP TRIBUTE TO LUTHER VANDROSS,
FOREVER F0R ALWAYS FOR LUTHER
4. GERALD ALBRIGHT, KICKIN' IT UP
5. NORMAN BROWN, WEST COAST COOLIN
6. MINDI ABAIR, COME AS YOU ARE
7. GEORGE BENSON, IRREPLACEABLE
8. PAUL BROWN, UP FRONT
9. JAMES VARGAS, JAMES VARGAS
VARIOUS ARTISTS, RENDEZVOUS LOUNGE
VARIOUS ARTISTS, THE GROOVE BOUTIQUE VOLUME 1
In addition, 2005 marks the launch of the JazzTrax Top 10 Weekly Countdown, to be announced every week on the syndicated radio show. JazzTrax is distributed by United Stations to 40 markets.
In addition to creating and producing the syndicated radio show JazzTrax, Good also founded and produces the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival, entering its 19th year, as well as the 24/7 Internet JazzTrax radio show.
And to kick off the first week of this year we've got chartbusting, smooth jazz guitarist Norman Brown performing at the Suncoast Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, this Friday and Saturday, January 7th and 8th.
She embodies seductive soul with one of the most recognizable voices that ever topped a pop chart. Taylor Dane brings her blend of R & B, pop, and jazz to the Railhead Showroom at the Boulder Station Hotel-Casino, Saturday, January 22th.
The following Saturday, January 29th in the same venue will be the funky smooth sounds of bassist and former NBA star, Wayman Tisdale.
Native Language, the smooth jazz record label with top-rated smooth jazz saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa, has lost two prime artists from its roster during last year with guitarist Steve Oliver moving over to Koch Records for his latest release, 3D, produced by Tom Schumann(Spyro Gyra); and keyboardist Scott Wilkie leaving as well for a new label.
It's evident that it will take a lot more promotion to get artists like keyboardist Theo Bishop off the ground, who happens to co-own Native Language with Joe Sherbanee, a keyboardist as well. Theo's latest release, Newport Nights, has yet to hit stride in the smooth jazz world, despite his fine writing, as well as production assistance from the likes of Brian Bromberg.
They both started the label not too long ago in the '90s, and have struggled to achieve the stature of labels like Peak and Shanachie. In Fact, right now Jeff Kashiwa is the lead horse, and the only runner capable of keeping the indie afloat.
The first-ever Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards will be held April 10 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts near Toronto. Leading the way with three nominations each are flutist Alexander Zonjic, guitarist Brian Hughes and vocalist Diana Krall.
Zonjic, a disc jockey for Detroit’s Smooth Jazz V98.7, was raised and still lives in Windsor, Ontario. He’s nominated for Broadcaster Of The Year, Album Of The Year for Seldom Blues and for Best Wind Instrumentalist.
Hughes, who hails from Toronto but now lives in Southern California, is nominated for Guitarist Of The Year, Album Of The Year for Along The Way and Best Original Composition for “Wherever You Are.”
Krall, who was born and raised in British Columbia and now lives in New York, is nominated for Female Vocalist, Album Of The Year for The Girl In The Other Room and Best Original Composition for “Narrow Daylight.” Krall is nominated for that song along with her husband and co-writer, Elvis Costello.
Receiving International Artist awards are vocalist Anita Baker, who lives in Michigan; guitarist Marc Antoine, who lives in Spain; and guitarist Peter White and saxophonists Dave Koz and Euge Groove, who all live in Southern California.
Among the many other artists receiving awards are saxophonist Warren Hill, guitarist Jesse Cook and the group Four80East. In addition, a lifetime achievement award will be given to New Jersey resident and guitarist George Benson.
Here is a complete list of nominees.
Chill music, downtempo, nu-lounge – whatever you call it, more and more cool radio stations such as CD 101.9 in New York are including the music of smooth jazz’s younger, more adventurous sibling every day. Alex Cortiz is one of the genre’s brightest stars and his “Schmooz” from his most recent CD, Mesmerizing (Kriztal Entertainment), is intoxicatingly sophisticated, mellow and sexy.
Cortiz, a Holland producer whose real name is Aad de Mooy, programs repetitious, bass heavy beats to lull you into his clutches. He then sprinkles dashes of guitar, organ and assorted sounds on top of the lower end. “Schmooz” would make a great addition to any playlist currently playing music from Praful or from the groundbreaking Rendezvous Lounge series.
Unlike the realm of pop music where The Who’s credo “Hope I Die Before I Get Old” can translate these days to being a has-been once you hit the big 2-5, smooth jazz thrives on the grooves of veteran artists making it hip to be any age. A quick glance at the charts at any given time shows a preponderance of artists past 40 (Rick Braun, Russ Freeman, Boney James, Dave Koz), even 50 (Jeff Lorber, David Sanborn, three fourths of Fourplay) — all making music as relevant as they did as wide-eyed twentysomethings. This is good news reflecting our culture’s belief that “40 is the new 30” and so on, but it doesn’t leave a lot of airplay openings and festival slots for young up and comers determined to join their ranks.
Judging from the critical, consumer and radio response to their 2004 releases, Eric Darius, a 21-year old saxman and senior at Florida State University, and the just over 30 Grady Nichols, an alto playing local hero in his adopted hometown of Tulsa for ten years, are ready for prime time, the most likely to spearhead the next generation of great genre artists.
“Night On The Town,” the brisk, funky title cut from Eric Darius’ Higher Octave debut Night On The Town (an instant shoo-in for this critic’s Top Ten), had (according to the Radio & Records’ indicator) close to 70 spins a week nationally in September, when the song re-entered the R&R Smooth Jazz New & Active chart at #7. He also gave rousing performances at two high profile West Coast events — 94.7 The Wave’s weekly jazz series at the Garden of Eden in Hollywood and the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival.
Grady Nichols headlined at the Newport Beach Jazz Festival last spring and in December opened for Vanessa Williams in Baltimore, while also getting bookings in several new markets — Memphis, St. Louis and Kansas City. “Allright,” the breezy and ultra-sleek first single from his Lorber produced Sophistication release (Compendia Records) broke through to the Top 15 on R&R’s prestigious main smooth jazz airplay chart, competing strongly with the big boys (and girls like Joyce Cooling).
Despite these inroads, both are keenly aware of the challenges they face. “For me, it’s about keeping my ideas fresh, coming up with new songs that take me to the next level,” says Eric Darius. “I have the gift of being creative and have been doing this since I was a kid, so it’ll just be on a larger level now. When I graduate from college next year, I’ll have more time to devote to my career, also. I’m already learning about the ups and downs, the reality that you can think your song is the best in the world and some stations still won’t play it. I’m always learning about patience and persistence, and I’m trying to learn from the veterans I’m sharing the stage with. My minor is in business, so I’m well aware of the importance of marketing and exposure. I have to get out there and do my best to communicate with the audience, and hope that the label and promoters do a good job, too. My music has elements of R&B, pop and gospel, so I’m also dedicated to building on my success in smooth jazz and reaching a wider audience.”
In recording his label debut (he released Cruisin’, a self-promoted indie CD locally in 2001), Darius had the advantage of being taken under the wing of veteran guitarist Ken Navarro, with whom he’d shared a bill at an event for Tampa’s 94.1 WSJT. Impressed with the kid’s wild potential, Navarro not only championed the “youngster,” but also invited him up to his home studio in Maryland to record the album with his regular touring band.
Grady Nichols had a great reputation in Tulsa as an opening act for passer - throughs like The O’Jays, Temptations and Ray Charles, but knew that it would take a few bucks to get to the next level as a recording artist. “I knew I’d have to go to L.A. and meet with the big guys who could help me get my music to where it needed to be,” he says. “I met with Rick Braun and Gregg Karukas as potential producers, but had the best chemistry with Jeff. Getting Jeff Lorber and Chris Botti was not cheap, but I had the belief that all this would pay off, and it is. My goal is to keep improving as a musician and artist, learn from the best, and use some of my marketing background to understand the demographics and how to get my music out there. I had released a few albums on my own before and sold them locally, but this time, once I got over the ‘wow’ factor of working with one of my idols, I had to reign in that raw energy to have any chance in this format. I’ve also been pro-active, calling program directors on my own. Some are open, some aren’t, but I keep trying. There are so many pieces of the puzzle to consider.”
Both Darius and Nichols have unique biographical points which will further endear them to their target audience. For two years, Darius was a member of America’s Youngest Jazz Band (ages 5-12), led by trumpeter Sonny LaRosa; he played Ellington and Basie, and even hit the stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Traveling to New York as a member of the Blake High School Jazz Ensemble, he jammed with no less than Wynton Marsalis and Paquito D’Rivera. And as a member of the USF Jazztet, he’s played festivals in Italy and France.
Nichols, a small town boy from the Mayberry-like, dirt road dominated Siloam, Arkansas, is less worldly, but no less interesting. Siloam was out of earshot of any jazz station, but thank goodness for cable. He loved the background music he heard on The Weather Channel so much that he called the station and asked for a set list. “They were playing David Sanborn, the Yellowjackets and Spyro Gyra, and I became a big fan of them all,” he says. “Later, while studying broadcasting at John Brown University, I would tape Sanborn on David Letterman and freeze frame him, so I could imitate his moves and technique. That was the beginning of the journey.”
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO:
1) George Collichio – The veteran performer and founder of Rochester, NY’s Collichio School of Music breaks through to the genre with gale force, mixing a Larry Carlton bluesy-rock sensibility with stylistic joyrides into samba, flamenco and brassy soul territory.
2) Brenda Russell, Between the Sun and The Moon (Narada Jazz)
3) Barry Manilow, Manilow Scores (Concord)
4) Norman Brown, West Coast Coolin’ (Warner Bros.)
5) Ronnie Milsap, Just For A Thrill (Image Music Group)