B E V E R L Y * P A C K A R D
Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen, 1997. I saw their name often enough but never listened until I was caught off guard and realized how much I enjoyed the vocalist and the piano. The tongue-in-cheek introduction of the care they took in producing this CD had me laughing; lyrics are thought-provoking and reminiscent of some common painful themes of human existence. Vocals include capable harmonizing and the piano leaves a lasting impression on a number of tracks. In spots I'm reminded of the Beatles and Steely Dan and that's always a good thing.
The New York Rock and Soul Revue, Live at the Beacon, 1991. Libby Titus produced this great show featuring Donald Fagan, Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs, Phoebe Snow and other familiar names, with tunes from Steely Dan, The Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere/Eddie Brigati, Gamble and Huff, to name a few. So much of this so perfectly done (in addition to the raw talent of the performers, Donald Fagan would have it no other way, I realize). ‘Drowning In the Sea of Love’ with Boz Scaggs on the vocals is amazing.
B R I A N * S O E R G E L
Various Artists, 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas: A little early for Christmas, perhaps, but this powerhouse smooth jazz CD produced by David Benoit also has one of the year’s best songs: guitarist Norman Brown’s “Skating.”
Chris Botti, To Love Again: It sounds a lot like his last one, but there are nine vocals, including those by Michael Buble, Renee Olstead and Steven Tyler from – gulp – Aerosmith. One quibble – Rosa Passos should have sung in her native Portuguese since her accent is too distracting.
Will Downing, Soul Symphony: The man with the golden voice returns with nine new classics, including the irresistible “Put Me On.”
Kyle Eastwood, Paris Blue: Some jazz, some funk and two groovy dance-floor remixes that defy expectations. Bravo to Eastwood for not painting himself into a jazz corner. Check out proud papa Clint whistling on “Big Noise (From Winnetka).”
Bob Baldwin, All in a Day’s Work: Another stellar CD by an underrated pianist. One of the best CDs of the year, including some great Brazilian stuff.
P E T E R * B O E H I
Bob Baldwin, All In A Day's Work (2005)
Well rounded smooth jazz album by underrated keyboard player Bob Baldwin hitting bull's eye again.
Lynn Cannon , Walk In The Park (2001)
I am a big fan of this keyboard player and like each one of his releases, this on included. Great keyboard playing and catchy compositions lead to a satisfying result, very recommended.
U-Nam , The Past Builds The Future (2005)
Debut album by guitarist U-Nam offering a great mix of soul/r&b tunes and smooth jazz boasting guests like Rahsaan Patterson, Phil Perry, Gary Meek and Jeff Lorber among others.
Vincent Lars - Inner Search (2005)
Warm smooth saxophone over contemporary grooves emanating an urban/r&b feeling, laid-back, steamy and sensuous.
D E N I S * P O O L E
'Embraceable You' by Chris Botti from the CD To Love Again. His sublime trumpet solo of this timeless Gershwin classic sets a high standard for the entire album.
'Soul Steppin' by Will Downing from his CD Soul Symphony. Everyone loves to 'step' and Rex Rideouts production on this one really gets in the groove.
'When Loves Comes To Town' by Herbie Hancock featuring Joss Stone and Jonny Lang from the CD Possibilities. Best track of an interesting and eclectic album.
'Charmed' by Najee from the CD My Point Of View. One of the best of a very good bunch.
'Get Em Goin' by Euge Groove from the CD Just Feels Right. This one is not #3 in the top thirty most played for nothing.
J O N A T H A N * W I D R A N
Bona Fide, Soul Lounge (Heads Up)
Euge Groove, Just Feels Right (Narada Jazz)
Def Jazz (GRP)
Earl Klugh, Naked Guitar (Koch Records)
The talented 19-year-old daughter of smooth jazz star Paul Hardcastle is now creating original material.
Maxine Hardcastle, whose sublime vocals made their debut on this summer’s Hardcastle 4 CD by her father, Paul Hardcastle, is now getting some excellent career guidance.
The 19-year-old budding singer and songwriter is now working on demo songs with Simon Fuller, who just so happened to create Pop Idol in Britain and its version in the U.S., American Idol. If you’ve heard Maxine’s vocals on the new CD, on which she sings three songs, you know she’s got talent galore. But she’s still able to take advantage of the fact that Fuller is Maxine’s godfather and was Paul’s best man at his wedding. Also, Fuller named his entertainment and talent management company, 19 Entertainment, after Paul’s worldwide hit from 1985 called “19.” Since then, Fuller – who created the Spice Girls and manages Annie Lennox – has been involved in the creation of 106 #1 singles and 83 #1 albums in the UK, along with 281 Top 40 albums and 430 Top 40 singles.
Proud Paul – whose “Serene” has been No. 1 on Radio & Records' smooth jazz singles chart for five consecutive weeks – calls Maxine’s original songs a cross between Norah Jones and the Corrs.
Hardcastle says he auditioned Maxine for a song called “Smooth Jazz Is Bumpin” on his new CD and says she definitely passed the test.
"You know when it’s your own daughter you have to be hyper-critical. And I was almost thinking, no, she wouldn’t suit it. But when I heard the way that she approached the song and sung it, I was really surprised. That’s why I got her involved in three tracks. My good old friend Simon Fuller’s helping me out to look after her so there’s no rush. But she will be looked after I think she’s got a great future ahead."
Major League Baseball calls on hot, hot, hot trumpeter Chris Botti to perform "God Bless America."
Smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti will have a national audience on Sunday, Oct. 23, when he performs "God Bless America" in Chicago at U.S. Cellular Field for Game 2 of the World Series. The Chicago White Sox are playing the Houston Astros.
Botti is only too happy to be in the national spotlight. Last year, he was scheuled to perform “God Bless America” during Game 5 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. But the Red Sox, of course, swept the Series in four games to capture their first championship in 86 years and deny Botti his chance.
"Me and my manager decided that it would be best for our schedule to play Game Five," he recalls. "Who would have ever thought that the St. Louis Cardinals would get swept in four? I think that was the lowest part of my career. We flew into St. Louis and landed during the seventh inning of Game Four and realized that they weren’t going pull it out and go to Game Five. You know, having to sit there in the hotel in St. Louis, which was by then a ghost town with sadness because the Cardinals had lost, was no fun. But that’s the way it goes. And those are the choices you make. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
Botti has a brand-new CD out this week called To Love Again.
Our site has a new logo. It has been expertly done by Mike Anderson from the Anderson Group which specializes in advertising, marketing & brand communications. We are proud and happy to have our own professionally designed logo. Mike did an outstanding job and we will now use the logo in all endeavors of our site. Hope you like it!
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. Everyone who has seen Wayman Tisdale perform live more than once knows that he always does the same show. With some artists that might be a problem but in the case of Tisdale that one show is so dynamic, so full of energy and so enjoyable that fans would gladly pay to see him every day of the week. Consequently on October 9 2005, when he opened for Norman Brown at the KIFM 98.1 Jazz On The Beach show at Oceanside CA, a packed audience was there to see him.
No man better spans the divide or better makes the connection between ‘Old School’ soul and Smooth Jazz than bass supremo and former NBA star Wayman Tisdale. His current release Hang Time is testimony to that and for an audience of a certain age, energized by the warm sunshine that flooded the Oceanside Auditorium and all ready to party, Wayman Tisdale was, as they say, just what the doctor ordered.
As he opened with the aptly titled ‘Ready To Hang’ from the CD Hang Time, the crowd was immediately where he wanted them to be, right in the groove. He tested out their old school credentials by sending out the opening of ‘Joy and Pain’ only to have them holler back ‘Like Sunshine And Rain’ with no encouragement all. He started them off with the chant from the Gap Bands ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ and it came reverberating back with passion. Having got the assembled throng all checked out and warmed up he kicked right into the Smokey Robinson classic ‘Cruisin’, also from Hang Time, and audience participation was guaranteed.
With guitarist Mark Harper leading the line and the Rendezvous recording artist Tom Braxton on saxophones the backing was as tight as could be. Braxton has been Tisdale's right hand man both live and in the studio from the beginning and he has his own CD Bounce just out. Tisdale took a back seat while he played the title track and it proved to be one of the high spots of the entire afternoon. On this showing Braxton is clearly destined for major solo success.
Another highlight of the show was ‘Gabrielle’ a number from Tisdale's 1995 release Power Forward and named after his daughter. She was a baby when he composed the tune and when Tisdale brought the now ten-year-old Gabrielle to the front of the stage the audience loved it.
He also revisited his back catalog to reinforce the old school vibe with the Isley Brothers ‘Summer Breeze’, taken from his 1996 release In The Zone. He made a simply awesome job of it and in what was rapidly becoming an out and out soul fest there was no better track to end on than the McFadden and Whitehead classic, also from Hang Time, ‘Ain't No Stoppin Us Now’. Of course Tisdale being Tisdale he again involved the audience with a segway into a Bob Marley tribute and in so doing confirmed himself as the consummate entertainer.
Check his up coming tour schedule at www.waymantisdale.com
Many fans of smooth jazz saxophonist Euge Groove knew that he and wife Bane were expecting their fourth child last month, in September. Euge now wants to let his fans know that Bane suffered a miscarriage earlier in the year.
The saxophonist says he decided to go public with this personal matter because so many of his fans had been asking. "I want to thank all of my fans who expressed their concern and have wished us well," he says.
Meanwhile, Groove and his wife will celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary next month and enjoy the time they spend with their three children; 15-year-old Dax, 14-year-old Canyon and 8-year-old Lilah Belle. In fact, they will be taking the kids with them on Warren Hill's Smooth Jazz Cruise in January 2006.
Groove's first single from his new album called Just Feels Right, a song called "Get Em Goin'," moved up to #4 on Radio & Records' smooth jazz chart this week.
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. Readers of these pages may not instantly recognize the name of Dyann Woody but lovers of country music most certainly will. Dyann, with her husband Michael, is part of the Country Music group The Woodys, a band that enjoyed early success when their debut album on Rounder Records climbed to first place on the Americana Charts. They followed this up with a number of other critically acclaimed releases but now Dyann has a solo CD, My Softer Side. It represents a considerable shift for her both in genre and in style.
Inspired by the emergence of Norah Jones, Dyann began to compose a set of tracks that formed the basis for My Softer Side. In fact she writes or co-writes eleven of the tunes that make up this collection and complements her own work by the selection of two choice covers.
All this said My Softer Side is not a smooth jazz recording as such. It reaches across many genres and includes snippets of jazz, pop and blues. With the consistent thread of carefully crafted lyrics she never fail to tell a story and in so doing confirms her true country origins.
With My Softer Side, Dyann covers the whole musical spectrum. Spanning romantic tunes like ‘That’s When I Saw Stars’, ‘Broken Hearts Make Beautiful Songs’ and ‘Crazy Round Here’ (where Barry Walsh contributes delightful piano) through to out ands out cabaret numbers such as ‘My Softer Side’ she makes every track a surprise. As one would expect, on the memorable ‘All That Love Can Do’ Dyann proves she is a great country rocker and she reprises these country vibes with ‘All You Gotta Say’.
One of the albums notables is ‘Will You Ever Come Home’ with a bluesy backing and a Van Morrison ‘Moondance’ kind of thing going on. It shows a more soulful side of Dyann but just as good is ‘On The Horizon’, held together with a good chorus and strong backing it is reminiscent of 70’s Joni Mitchell but with Woodys hallmark crystal clear sound. Best track on the CD is ‘To Get Over Me’, a romantic mid temp tune that benefits from a cool Hammond organ solo.
Dyann Woody has a voice with a tone and a resonance that is as clear as a bell and perfect for the live stage. With My Softer Side she has created a vehicle capable of taking in her in whatever direction she chooses to go.
For more on The Woodys, and where to see them perform check out www.thewoodysmusic.com.
“Runaway” with the third album from the critically-praised jazzman
Emerging as the Pied Piper of jazz-funk, alto flutist Bradley Leighton’s third album, Back To The Funk, will be released by the Pacific Coast Jazz record label on January 17th. Leighton co-wrote five songs for the collection of R&B, funk, jazz and pop jams, which were produced and arranged by Allan Phillips. Heading to radio first will be “Runaway,” a vintage blast from the past with a modern twist that takes flight with an aggressive rhythmic groove, a cinematic chorus, and fierce alto flute and sweltering sax soloing. The radio add date for the smooth jazz format will be January 9th.
After releasing two critically acclaimed albums that veered from traditional and Latin jazz to a flirtation with R&B, Leighton decided to fully explore his passion for jazz-funk. His early influences - the Brecker Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower Of Power – are apparent on Back To The Funk’s robust horn arrangements that ricochet off of slamming funk beats while his alto flute angelically rises above the gritty grooves on tracks like “Runaway,” “Clear Blue Skies” and the title cut. Leighton chills on sensual mid-tempo trysts such as “Midnight Affairs” and “Soul Moon.” Strolling back in time, Leighton dusted off three gems to revisit: Stevie Wonder’s “Love Light In Flight,” Ray, Goodman & Brown’s “Special Lady” and Bread’s soulful “Make It With You,” which were deep fried in a vat of funk. Real guitar, bass, drums, and plenty of sax, trumpet and trombone help give the record an authentic, warm feel.
“With today’s contemporary jazz scene dominated by guitars and saxes, this (album) was sort of a proof of concept project in that I wanted to integrate the flute into the (contemporary jazz) format and make it funky. One of the key elements was to play the seldom used alto flute, which sounds larger, richer and mellower in tone,” explained the Seattle native who presently resides in the San Diego area. “Simple, catchy melodies, hip urban grooves, and a full horn section resulted in an album that will hopefully prove pleasing to fans and open the minds of those who have been resistant to music that features the flute.”
To help whet the public’s thirst for the new album, those traveling on United Airlines in November and December can preview a couple tracks from Back To The Funk as part of the in-flight music programming. Meanwhile, Leighton won the opportunity to perform live with his band at the Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica at the end of January.
Leighton debuted in 2003 with Groove Yard, a beautiful collection of jazz standards. Released earlier this year, Doin’ Our Own Thang is comprised of inventive arrangements of standards and four original compositions in a traditional jazz setting that finds Leighton backed by a Hammond B3 organ trio. The album has received critical praise from such respected outlets as JazzTimes, Audiophile, All About Jazz, All Music Guide, L.A. Jazz Scene, and the San Diego Reader, and it was recently nominated for “Best Jazz Album of the Year” by the San Diego Music Awards.
Pacific Coast Jazz is distributed in the U.S. by Big Daddy Music and in the United Kingdom by The Woods.
Back To The Funk contains the following tracks:
“Back To The Funk”
“Clear Blue Skies”
“Sunday In San Diego”
“Make It With You”
“Ready For You”
“Love Light In Flight”
Possibilities is an apt name for Herbie Hancock ’s latest project, a wide-ranging collection of studio collaborations between the jazz legend and a multigenerational lineup of artists, from household names like John Mayer, Sting, Annie Lennox, Christina Aguilera, Paul Simon, Carlos Santana and Trey Anastasio, to serious up-and-comers like Damien Rice, Joss Stone and Raul Midón . For Hancock, whose four-decades-plus career has been a model of fearless boundary stretching, this yearlong effort was an opportunity to interact, improvise, freely experiment and simply jam with a few famous old friends and many new artistic acquaintances. It wasn’t conceived as a string of high-tech hookups, with performers phoning in their contributions from separate ivory towers. Making the album was about old-school, anything-goes, face-to-face sessions—real time, real music, real emotions, real thrills.
“I was trying to make something truly collaborative,” Hancock emphasizes. “ Possibilities is not just the result of interacting with the artists on a musical level, but on a life level. For example, during the Annie Lennox sessions, we talked for a couple of hours before we even played a note. We talked about everything from politics to humanism to religion, all sorts of things. And saw eye to eye on very much of it, especially on social issues. This was the kind of thing I wanted to air out so that when we finally sat down to make music there was a common ground on which we as people felt connected.”
Unlike Hancock’s 1998 GRAMMY® Award-winning Gershwin’s World, in which he was joined by vocalist friends Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder on interpretations of the George Gershwin repertoire, or the 1996 The New Standard, in which Hancock re-imagined contemporary rock material, Possibilities was a more open-ended undertaking. Hancock didn’t have in mind a specific composer whose work he wanted to explore or an overall concept he hoped to realize when he enlisted his many guest stars. He just had the desire for each of them to join him in leaving behind familiar territory, abandoning preconceptions and making a creative leap of faith.
“My taste is pretty broad, and my interest in exploration is pretty broad, too,” Hancock explains. “There are areas that I don’t know a lot about, but that I’m curious about. I decided to ask some artists who I think are quality artists in their area and see if they were interested in doing a project with me. I said, ‘Let’s make a wish list of artists and see what happens.’ My feeling was, if there was some interest, they would have something of their own to bring to the table and I would have my experience to bring to the table. My foundation is in jazz, which is probably the strongest background you can have if you want to expand and interact with other genres. Playing jazz gives you a lot of tools to play with.”
Sting, for example, suggested redoing “Sister Moon,” from his Nothing Like the Sun album. Hancock knew that a few other cover versions already existed, so he suggested enlisting a young African guitar prodigy, Lionel Loueke, as the arranger in an effort to take the song in a new direction. A Benin native Hancock has been mentoring, Loueke is part of the new lineup of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters '05, which also includes John Mayer, Roy Hargrove, and Marcus Miller. As Hancock recalls, “ I knew Lionel has a great talent for arranging and I wondered if he could do something that would have an African spice to it but would not be so foreign to American taste that it would jar the audience that’s attracted to Sting’s music. Lionel knew exactly what I was talking about. He brought a real fresh sound to the guitar. And Sting, I never heard him sing like that before. His delivery was out of the park, a home run.”
On the other hand, John Mayer arrived at his studio session eager to create something new on the spot: “He had an idea when he came into the studio — some fragment or phrase — and we immediately started jumping on that, moving it around and developing it. We came up with a track and he did a kind of scratch vocal. He didn’t have any lyrics at first, so we really collaborated and put that song together. What he came up with could be a very strong single.”
At the end of the session with Mayer, Hancock not only had an ingratiating track, “Stitched Up,” but he’d found a new friend. Observes Hancock, “He’s a strong rhythm guitar player and a wonderful singer, a great voice. He’s really smart and very self-assured yet humble at the same time. But he has strong convictions about things, which is rare at that age.”
Mayer wasn’t the only young artist to impress Hancock, who was in for another surprise when he arrived to play acoustic piano on top of a rhythm track he’d already cut for Christina Aguilera’s rendition of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You.” When Aguilera stepped up to the mic, Hancock recalls, “She did about six takes of the song, and each one sounded like a final take. They were fantastic. I was floored. I knew she could sing, but I didn’t know she could sing like that. Wow. She said, ‘I’m just trying different things,’ and I said, ‘That doesn’t sound like a try, that sounds like a done.’ Her intonation was incredible.”
Hancock is understandably enthusiastic about all of the collaborations on the album. He quickly put together a session with Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice and his vocal foil, Lisa Hannigan, when Rice came to L.A. in May, 2004 for a pair of dates at the Troubadour. In between gigs, they managed to cut a devastatingly melancholy take on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” (Rice got on so well with Hancock that he invited him to sit in at the Troubadour the night after the recording.) Hancock and Trey Anastasio, the former Phish guitarist, completely improvised a four-movement instrumental suite. He and Paul Simon recast Simon’s tender “I Do It For You Love,” from Still Crazy After All These Years, in a sensual, understated arrangement for piano, guitar and gentle percussion, lending it an almost bossa nova feel. It turned out, Hancock says, to be “one of the most jazz-like arrangements on the record.”
An updating of U2’s “When Love Comes To Town,” originally recorded as a duet between Bono and B.B. King, features blues guitarist Jonny Lang, young R&B powerhouse Joss Stone and Hancock himself in an arrangement that is “a bit of country, a bit of rock, then I come in and pretty much play a jazz solo on top of it.” Raul Midón, the soulful, young New York City singer-songwriter who has drawn more than a few Stevie Wonder comparisons, fronts a version of “I Just Called To Say I Love You” that Hancock and producer-keyboardist Greg Phillinganes originally created for Wonder’s appearance at the Kennedy Center Honors. Wonder plays harmonica on the track, which Hancock and Phillanganes cut in L.A.
And, as the hip swiveling rhythms of Carlos Santana/Angelique Kidjo track “Safiatou” unequivocally prove, that session was nothing less than sizzling: “When Carlos got there, he grabbed the ball and made everything happen. He gave me 200 percent, 500 percent, and then Angelique, this ball of fire, came in and completely delivered. It was just wonderful being in that environment.”
It’s a testimony to the far-reaching effects of Hancock’s talents that he has been named the first official Artist in Residence at the 2005 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee this summer. His legacy in jazz would be enough. He has been an extraordinary accomplished solo recording artist, a member of Miles Davis’s most revered quintet, part of V.S.O.P., and a score composer for such prestigious films as Blow Up and 'Round Midnight, for which he won an Academy Award®.
But he has also been a major influence on hip-hop’s best deejays, thanks to his groundbreaking collaboration with Grandmaster D.S.T. on the 1983 platinum-selling Future Shock disc, which featured the GRAMMY®-winning “Rockit.” (The hugely popular single also inspired an MTV Video Award-winning clip by directors Kevin Godley and Lol Crème.) Sample-hungry deejays and mixers have relentlessly scoured his sixties-era solo albums for inspiration: Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” was the basis for US3’s 1993 hit “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia),” and Hancock’s score for Blow Up served as the foundation for Deee-Lite’s worldwide hit “Groove Is in the Heart.” Hancock’s own forays into funk, as well as his remarkable legacy in acoustic and electric jazz, have now attracted fans crossing over from the jam-band world.
It’s not surprising, then, that when Hancock put together a wish list for potential collaborators, all his wishes would come true. Hancock and friends have found musical connections and personal bonds, created new songs and revitalized familiar ones. Most of all, they considered the possibilities.
Lake Las Vegas, just outside of Vegas on the way to the official lake, Lake Mead, has set a tradition of bringing smooth jazz to Montelago Village all summer long with local entertainment. This month showcased a couple of national artists, keyboardist Greg Karukas on Sunday, October 9th, and guitarist Blake Aaron for the Saturday show on October 15th.
Tom Schuman, who recently produced some songs for guitarist Steve Oliver and saxophonist Rocky Gordon, has a new album coming out that has already received airplay from the advance submissions to radio stations around the country. Deep Chill should garner a solid place on the Billboard list for Tom as a solo artist, which has been long overdue for the Spyro Gyra co-founder.
Kudos to Michael Franks, who brought the house down at the Suncoast showroom at the Suncoast Hotel all three days of his performance, October 7th-9th.
Euge Groove performed Thursday, October 6th, at the Henderson Pavillion in Henderson-Las Vegas.
Santa Fe blows the roof off the Trax showroom at the Palace Station Hotel every Monday night, headed up by guitarist/vocalist, Jerry Lopez, best known as Ricky Martin's guitarist a few years back.
The legendary keyboard sounds of Ronnie Foster, along with his band, can be heard every Friday and Saturday night at the Sedona restaurant, starting at 10pm.
Special congrats goes out to Rocky Gordon and his wife, Sherry, who became the proud parents of a newborn baby on September 25th.
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. My Point Of View is the new release from smooth jazz veteran Najee and, as one would expect from this consistently excellent performer, he has again hit all the right buttons with his special blend of edgy smooth jazz and soul. Najee, a native of New York City, was one of the best-selling instrumentalists from the late '80s through to the mid-'90s and in every respect a true pioneer of smooth jazz.
He enjoyed his first big break in 1983 when, with his brother Fareed, he toured with Chaka Khan. This in turn brought him to the attention of producer Charles Huggins and it was through Huggins production company HUSH that Najee cut his debut long player for EMI, Najees Theme, in 1986. The album went platinum and two years later this success was repeated with the follow up Day By Day. Since then Najee has added six more releases, four of them going ‘gold’, plus one ‘best of’ collection in a career that with My Point Of View shows no signs of slowing down.
My Point Of View is smooth jazz very much in the mid tempo laid back style that Najee has made his own. It’s a collection for grown ups that is controlled, never off the chain but always soulful sensuous and moving. The ten-track set exudes quality throughout and features a number of notable collaborations especially those in which Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Davies plays a part. His influence is on show right from the first track ‘Sidewayz’ where he writes, produces and plays keyboards. The tune is a sophisticated slice of smooth jazz with the pleasant surprise of Najee featuring on flute.
In fact Chris Davies features four more times. Both of the Davies compositions ‘How Lovely You Are’ and the title track of the CD are reflective melodic tunes that Najee handles with great feeling while ‘Fallin In Love With You’, showcasing the vocals of the up and coming Lomon, is smoky urban soul given a romantic feel by the keyboards of Davies and the lightest of touches by Najee. Contender for best track on the CD is the Chris Davies composition ‘3 AM’. With the silky smooth vocals of Will Downing, the soprano sax of Najee and stellar production by Davies this is where quiet storm meets smooth jazz and wins.
The cut slated for radio play and currently active just below the thirty most played is ‘2nd 2 None’. Tight and funky, this mid tempo tune written by keyboard player James Lloyd is spiced with horns and is one to nod your head to while stuck in the morning traffic.
‘Back In The Day’ finds Najee partnering with the smooth jazz savvy of composer, producer and keyboard player Rex Rideout for a track that evokes images of a glittering New York skyline at midnight. Atmospheric in the extreme Najee makes the most of the moment with the sweetest of playing. Even better is the second Najee Rideout composition ‘Charmed’ which is quite simply one of the best tracks on the album and stand out smooth jazz of the highest order.
Not content with introducing the listening public to the vocal skills of Lomon, Najee does it again on ‘Emotional’ where he includes new female vocalist Sisaundra. On this showing she should do well. Handling the complexities of the composition with some style she generates both soul and feeling before giving way to Najee who threatens to cut loose with some soulful playing. The final track on the CD, ‘Miyuki’, has an aura all its own with an atmospheric yet infectious rhythm and playing from Najee that is typical of what has made him a smooth jazz superstar over two decades.
Go out and buy My Point Of View. You will not be disappointed. Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
Listen in as Rick Braun explains why he chose the songs he did for his upcoming cover album.
Rick Braun’s new CD of cover songs called Yours Truly won’t be released until Oct. 25, but right now you can hear song samples in addition to Rick’s explanation as to why he chose the specific songs that he did. You can listen in by going to www.artizenmusic.com to hear a streamcast, or you download it to listen to at whenever you want.
Braun says the nine-minute audio is one of many interactive features that will be unveiled at the home of the ARTizen Music Group, which was co-founded by Rick and saxophonist Richard Elliot. During the five-minute audio, Rick explains that the upcoming CD is a love letter to his fans, which is why he chose Yours Truly as the title.
Among the interesting things you’ll hear what song inspired him when he fell in love for the first time, what songs he grooved to while driving from his home to Pennsylvania to L.A. to embark on his musical career, and what track he couldn’t stop listening to after it came out.
"I’ve been lucky to have a pretty successful career in smooth jazz," Braun says. "I’ve got a lot of very loyal fans. So I decided to record a CD that was a compilation of some of my favorite songs and dedicate it to all of my fans who have given me this incredible career. On the liner notes, you'll see that I I sign it off as, 'Yours truly, Rick Braun.' "
Walter Beasley jokes that back when he was a student circa early 80s at the Berklee College of Music, he was so serious about his jazz studies that he was like “an old man, never going out and having fun, just practicing, doing research and writing.” On the rare occasions when he did socialize, the California native took the opportunity to learn from some of the genre’s future greats who were fellow students at the time — Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby, Rachelle Ferrell, Mark Ledford and Kevin Eubanks. In fact, the restless saxophonist — who was in love with traditional jazz but wanted to study more contemporary, R&B influenced styles as well — says that he gained more insight from his peers than any of his professors during his time there.
“The teachers there were good, but we were coming of age at a time when the market for bebop and older forms of jazz was dying, and the curriculum was too focused on the ways of old,” Beasley says. “As much as I appreciated the past, I didn’t want to graduate and try my luck at a genre that wasn’t viable, so I chose to educate myself and ultimately found the perfect balance.”
Tapping into the groove oriented pulse of the emerging genre that came to be known as smooth jazz, Beasley has amassed a solid catalog of hit albums since his self-titled Polydor debut in 1987. After a four disc stint from 1997-2002 at Shanachie and a single disc (Go With The Flow) on N-Coded Music, he’s still at the top of his game both creatively and commercially on his Heads Up debut For Her. While he claims to be one of smooth jazz’s top selling saxmen since the late 90s, he’d probably be even more famous if he wasn’t still so busy teaching at — where else? — his alma mater, where he joined the faculty in 1984.
His first classes were rhythm section ensembles and jazz improvisation, and as the school accepted more vocal students, Beasley — whose recordings often feature a few of his own lead vocals — became a voice coach as well. Currently, he divides his time between vocal rhythm section ensembles, saxophone classes and private horn lessons. This year, he joined the brigade of teacher/musicians with instructional DVDs as well, releasing Hip Hop Improvisation and Sound Production for Saxophone on Warner Bros. The second of these addresses the fine art of “embouchere,” or proper mouth and lip placement around the reed.
These projects are simply the latest extracurricular outgrowths of a mission he felt called to shortly after he graduated. “A lot of what initially drew me into education was culturally based,” he says. “All the other black sax students were leaving, and I felt compelled to stay in Boston because there was no one else there to help younger black musicians who needed the right guidance. I felt that a curriculum that was good for the development of black youth is good for all young people. The struggle is still continuing, but I’m excited about being involved in Berklee’s new Presidential Scholarship program, which offers a free education (20 this year, 25 next) to kids who are extremely talented but don’t have the financial wherewithal to attend otherwise.
“I’m also on the board of the Association of Faculty of African Descent, whose mission is to increase the number of African-American faculty members and students,” he says. “While I’ve loved making records, my goal has never been to be the highest selling saxman. It’s more important that I am honest and balanced, and make a difference in people’s lives.”
Beasley is only too happy to plug some of his student success stories, from singers Lalah Hathaway and Tim Owens to saxophonists Walter Smith and Ian Rypien, the latter of which is, in the teacher’s eyes, potentially the next Joshua Redman. Well aware of the commercial marketplace based on his career as an artist, he’s committed to preparing them for the future, even as they study jazz forms of the past. Beasley believes that 60% of the instruction for modern music students should be business related, and he’s grateful that while Berklee dictates the overall curriculum, he is also free on occasion to create his own. Current tensions regarding the instruction of hip-hop related styles led him to embark on the instructional video venture.
“I feel that music did not die with Miles Davis, and my responsibility is to teach students to survive in the world they live in, rather than the one I live in,” he says. “I’ve always tried to remain current, and my recording career has helped a great deal. As hip-hop has progressed and become more popular, I’ve incorporated it more into the agenda. If you teach groove related material appropriately, students will be prepared for anything.”
Although Beasley himself enjoys the double blessing of a loyal fan base and 20 years of tenure to support his outside musical endeavors, he’s constantly concerned that a shrinking marketplace may hurt his students’ chances to succeed as he has in the real world. “What gives me hope is that I get these great, eager students every year, and I know they’ll go out and make some noise,” he says. “But as recording opportunities become more limited, it becomes my job to help them break the barrier of self-expression and give them the fundamentals they need to deal with what’s out there. My advice is always that they create a market for themselves. My responsibility is to educate, focusing not on what I’ve accomplished, but what they’re going to accomplish.”
After six successful albums on Heads Up, bassist Gerald Veasley celebrates the bustling jazz/funk energy of his ever-evolving live show on At The Jazz Base!, a recording culled from two nights of performances in November 2004 at the intimate nightclub named for him (Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base) at the Sheraton Reading near Reading, Pennsylvania. “One of the most elusive qualities of studio recordings is the sense of being in the moment, being spontaneous,” says the Philly based musician. “It’s much more fun to let these tunes breathe and see what develops naturally in front of a live audience, with an approach of no redo, no undo, just do. Going on the ledge a little bit creates an exciting end result.”
Every March during the Berks Jazz Festival, Veasley’s Jazz Base also hosts a show put on by select students of all ages who participate in his annual Bass Boot Camp — an intense 30-plus hour program held the first weekend of the festival and open to amateurs and accomplished musicians alike. Among its 300 alumni are kids who just got their first bass for Christmas, professionals who let their hair down playing in bands on weekends, and even a retired coal miner.
Veasley, who also holds the title of “Master Lecturer” at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts — where he began teaching in 1992 — launched the program in 2002 as a way to encourage breakthroughs for developing bassists who hit creative plateaus. “Our goal is to help them get unstuck by giving them concrete information and hands-on guidance,” he says. Boasting a ratio of no more than 15 students per teacher, classes are held at the Institute of the Arts near Reading; students can also take individual lessons in the evening. Past instructors read like an all-star “who’s who” in contemporary jazz/fusion: Victor Wooten, Gary Willis, Brian Bromberg, Michael Manring, Jimmy Haslip and Doug Wimbish of Living Colour. The next Bass Boot Camp will be held March 17-19, 2006. Information is available at www.geraldveasley.com.
1) Turning Point, Matador (Native Language) – Celebrating over a decade as a dominant force on the Phoenix club scene, the five piece band’s Latin-fired, ethnically eclectic breakthrough project brilliantly captures its crackling evolution into a jazz/rock instrumental powerhouse.
2) Ringo Starr, Choose Love (Koch International)
3) Bo Bice, Inside Your Heaven/Vehicle (RCA)
4) Daniel Rodriguez, In the Presence (Blix Street)
5) Alison Moyet, Voice (Sanctuary)
New and Noteworthy
1) Andre Delano, Full Circle (7th Note)
2) Warren Hill, Pop Jazz (Pop Jazz/Native Language)
3) Najee, My Point of View (Heads Up)
4) Paul Hardcastle, 4 (Trippin’ N Rhythm)
5) Brian Culbertson, It’s On Tonight (GRP)
Veteran Florida guitarist Richy Kicklighter returns with a welcome CD.
You may never have heard of Florida guitarist Richy Kicklighter, but over the course of seven albums he’s made some of the most mellow and gorgeous smooth jazz on the planet.
Kighlighter's King’s Highway and Myakka CDs from 1993 and 1994, respectively, are two of his best. It may conjure up overworked images, but his best songs on those and all of his CDs have been the ones that’d be kissin' cousins for the warm breezes of tropical nights.
Kicklighter – and you have to love that name – returns with 12 new songs on Moving Skies, released on his Midnight Pass Music. There are many memorable moments here, but the one song that jumps out as one of the guitarist’s new classics is the title track. It’s simple, elegant and the perfect chill-out tune after a hot day at the beach. “Bahia Vista” and “Indian Shores” would work also.
A perfect way to iron out stresses, Moving Skies is a muy bueno guilty pleasure, better than therapy.
Russ Freeman of the Rippingtons and his wife of more than seven years, Rona, have gone their separate ways.
Rippingtons leader Russ Freeman is now officially divorced from his wife of seven-and-a-half years, Rona Freeman. While Russ remains in South Florida, Rona has decided to move to Los Angeles. In fact, Rona – a model and actress – is starting a new life in the motion picture industry.
Rona, whose maiden name is Lewis but says she will remain as Rona Freeman for the time being, has landed a role in new horror movie. Its title and release date is still not confirmed. Rona is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and has already acted in such movies as Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You and the TV shows Law And Order and Homicide: Life On The Street.
Rona has also found new love in her relationship with Hollywood-based personal trainer Mike Torchia, also known as Mr. California. Torchia's clients have included actors Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Matt Damon and Kim Cattrall. Rona says she wants Russ' fans to know that she only wish him good things.
As for Russ, he is dating again as well. He told JazzTimes recently that he had a Latin girfriend. The guitarist and the Rippingtons, whose new CD is called Wild Card, will return to the road soon as he and the Rippingtons perform at the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival.
Bob James is finishing new project called The Angels of Shanghai.
Veteran pianist Bob James' ambitious vision to fuse smooth jazz with music from the Far East and share it with his fans worldwide will shortly become a reality. James has just inked a deal with the Japanese division of Sony Music to release a CD called The Angels of Shanghai.
In January 2005, James made his third trip in two years to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music to record music with a talented group of five young Chinese musicians who attend the prestigious university. The result, when released later this year in Asia, will be a new Bob James CD with a decidedly Asian bent featuring exotic violins, harps and flutes and traditional Chinese melodies adapted to his own style.
Included will be a original songs, including one composed with Fourplay bandmember Nathan East called “Endless Time.” The CD will first be released in Japan and then Europe, and later next year in the U.S. to not conflict with a solo CD called Urban Flamingo that’s scheduled to be offered this February. U.S. audiences can get a taste of the music, however, since James plans to add “Endless Time” to Urban Flamingo.
The pianist will debut the music of Angels of Shanghai at a live performance on Dec. 17 at the Bangkok Jazz Festival. In addition to James and five musicians from Shanghai, the band will include East on bass and vocals, Jack Lee on guitar and Louis Pragasam on drums.