J O N A T H A N * W I D R A N
Eric Darius, Just Getting Started (Narada jazz)
Jason Miles, What's Going On? (Narada Jazz)
Bob James, Urban Flamingo (Koch Records)
Incognito, Eleven (Narada Jazz)
B E V E R L Y * P A C K A R D
Harry Hmura, Face to the Sun (soon to be released!)
Carpenters, 35th Anniversary Collection
The Richard Smith Unit, Puma Creek
Paul Jackson, Jr., Never Alone
B R I A N * S O E R G E L
Various Artists, Unwrapped Vol. 4 (Hidden Beach): The fourth installment of Unwrapped features a Latin-y read of the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” If that doesn't sound good to you, you probably won't dig this jazz-meets-hip-hop collection.
Maysa, Sweet Classic Soul (Shanachie): The husky vocalist crafts beautiful music from some of her favorite artists. Howabout these? “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” “Betcha By Golly Wow” and “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.”
Willie and Lobo, Zambra (Narada): More of the best Gypsy smooth jazz on the planet, produced by trumpeter Rick Braun. Braun also wrote a song dedicated to victims of last year’s devastating hurricane called “Balada Para Katrina.”
Victor Fields, Victor (Regina Records): Nothing harsh, very mellow. In addition to originals, the soulful vocalist tackles Vince Gill’s “Colder Than Winter,” Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady” and the jazz standards “Lush Life” and “Night and Day.”
Tom Shuman, Deep Chill (JazzBridge Music/Monogram Records): The Spryo Gyra keyboardist steps out with his fourth solo CD with help from saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa, guitarists Peter White and Chuck Loeb.
P E T E R * B O E H I
The Clients - Red Lounge (2004)
Jazz-Funk band from Switzerland offer a nice selection of danceable instrumentals with great sax and trombone playing sometimes reminding me of the Crusaders. Check them out at www.theclients.ch
TFOXX - Now Can U Feel Me (2005)
Guitar player TFOXX joined forces with keyboard player Allon Sams to deliver this beautiful slice of smooth jazz in the spirit of Norman Brown. Don't miss it.
Michael Ross - Reloaded (2005)
Guitar player Michael Ross comes up with a new album full of memorable melodies and top notch guitar playing. Just love it!
Michael Manson - Just Feelin' It (2005)
Polished smooth jazz album by noted bass player Michael Manson with many of the genre's best players (Paul Jackson, Jr, Kirk Whalum and the like) guesting. Exclusively available at his website.
D E N I S * P O O L E
'Gimme Your Groove' by Gail Jhonson from her excellent CD Keep The Music Playing. This is a real piece of buried treasure from Norman Browns musical director and keyboard player.
'Hold On' by Tony Whitfield from his current release Pleasure Sensitive 2. One of the smoothest racks you will hear this year.
'Third Times The Charm' by Bob Baldwin from All In A Days Work. A wonderful top notch tune that is vintage Baldwin.
'Love TKO' by Hall and Oates from Our Kind Of Soul. These guys had a radio resurgence in 2005 and tracks like this explain why.
'Summer Nights' from Nils from his hugely succesful album Pacific Coast Highway. Its nice to see this one riding high in the radio play list charts after tipping it last year as the best track on the CD.
Weekly Radio Program Will Get Fans in the ‘Groove’ for the 16th Annual FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest
Here's a look at the latest press release from the home of the Berks Jazz Fest, targeting our local radio station's broadcast of "Berks Jazz Fest Groove" to be aired Sundays at 6 PM. The shows are hosted by Mike Anderson, Berks Jazz Fest Marketing Director. A friend with whom I've had the privilege of sharing the interview experience, I can tell you he's an upbeat, capable interviewer who gets to the heart of our favorite artists. Tune in and learn more as we head into the final weeks before the Berks Jazz Fest!
READING, PA – Jan. 26, 2006 – For the second consecutive year, jazz enthusiasts can get a sneak preview of the 2006 FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest on WEEU 830 AM in Reading.
“Berks Jazz Fest Groove” will air on WEEU at 6 p.m. Sunday nights beginning Feb. 26 and running through March 19. The 16th annual FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest is scheduled March 17-26 at various locations throughout Greater Reading.
“Once again, we will have a stellar group of jazz musicians on the radio program,” said host Mike Anderson. “This is a great opportunity for people to get jazzed about the festival.”
This year’s radio program will feature interviews with Mindi Abair, Brian Culbertson, Chieli Minucci of Special EFX, Bob Mintzer of The Yellowjackets and Greg Carmichael of Acoustic Alchemy as well as local and regional artists and new, rising stars of jazz.
In addition to interviews, the one-hour program will include musical clips and other highlights of the phenomenally successful FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest. The festival, featuring more than 130 events, is one of the top five smooth jazz events in the world, according to BBC Radio’s smooth jazz personality Steve Quirk.
Anderson, a talented saxophonist in his own right and the general partner of The Anderson Group, Sinking Spring, PA, has spent more than a dozen years planning, promoting, playing and producing events at the FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest. He has served as festival marketing coordinator since 1991.
Working with other artists at The Anderson Group, he designed the original festival logo, which has developed a powerful brand association. He also directs the merchandising design efforts that bring in thousands of dollars annually to the festival.
For more information about Berks Jazz Fest Groove and this year’s FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest, visit www.berksjazzfest.com.
. Visit the Sovereign Performing Arts Center Box Office, 136 N. Sixth St., Reading, to place your order in person.
. Visit the Sovereign Center Box Office, Seventh and Penn streets, Reading, to place your order in person.
. Call Ticketmaster at 215-336-2000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. Have a credit card ready.
. Visit www.berksjazzfest.com and order directly online.
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
The guitarist says she's dedicated to awareness and research.
Smooth jazz guitarist Joyce Cooling has announced that all proceeds for her upcoming CD, which she is now completing, will be donated to two mental-health organizations: the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.
In addition, Joyce will be performing at a benefit for the National Alliance on Mental Illness on June 3 at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco during the organization's annual walkathon.
Cooling says she wants to raise awareness and help with research of mental illness because her brother has been diagnosed as being schizophrenic. Joyce is calling her new album Revolving Door. Cooling and her writing partner Jay Wagner have already named several songs, including the title track and “Come and Get It,” “At the Modern,” “Mildred’s Attraction” and “Jesse’s Bench.”
Revolving Door will be released by Narada Jazz this spring.
To hear Chris Botti's new song on Andrea Bocelli's new CD, you have to buy the whole CD from iTunes.
Chris Botti is contributing to a new Andrea Bocelli song, but you won't find it on Bocelli's Amore when it's released on Jan. 31. The only way you can hear the song, “Estate,” will be to pre-order the entire CD on iTunes. The bonus song is included with orders.
The 14-song CD, without Botti’s tune, does include a song featuring saxophonist Kenny G called “Mi Manchi.” Pop stars Stevie Wonder and Christina Aguilera are also featured.
You knew this had to come. Botti is now so popular he's being used as a bargaining chip.
The trumpeter will be in the national spotlight during the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers.
This Sunday, Jan. 22, smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti will perform the National Anthem in Denver at the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers. Chris will be joined by four French horn players from the Colorado Symphony at Denver’s Invesco Field.
It’s Botti’s first performance in the national spotlight at a sporting event since he did his version of “God Bless America” in October 2005 during a World Series games between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros.
Sunday’s game will be televised live at 3 p.m. ET on CBS.
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. Writer, producer and keyboard player Gail Jhonson is someone for whom the accolades of multi talented and multi faceted hardly seem adequate. Currently dividing her time between her staff position at the Musician's Institute in Hollywood, CA, and her role as musical director and touring keyboard playing for smooth jazz superstar Norman Brown, Jhonson also has her very own CD, Keep the Music Playing, on release. This follow up to her debut album It’s About Time came out in 2004 and is a wonderful collection of edgy smooth jazz tunes that deserves to make her stand out from the crowd.
Born and raised in the city of Philadelphia, Gail Denise Johnson, who now records under the name of Gail Jhonson, began playing piano at the age of ten. By age fourteen she had played her first gig and went on to study at Berklee College of Music where she received a BA in composition. In 1985 she left her Germantown PA home and headed west to audition for Morris Day and the Time. Johnson got the gig and made her home in L.A. where she now remains. She has toured, performed and recorded with many soul and smooth jazz greats, a list that includes Vanessa Williams, Mindy Abair, Jermaine Jackson, Bobby Womack, Ray Parker jr., Howard Hewitt, Bobby Lyle, Brian Culbertson, OC Smith, Paul Jackson jr., Pamela Williams, Phil Perry and, believe it or not, Milli Vanilli. Her various television performances include: BET on Jazz, MTV, Soul Train, The Arsenio Hall Show and The Tonight Show. If that wasn’t enough she has also written two books, "Funk Keyboards - The Complete Method: A Contemporary Guide to Chords, Rhythms and Licks" and "Dictionary of Keyboard Grooves: The Complete Source for Loops, Patterns & Sequences in All Popular Styles."
Gail also has a love for theatre, particularly, Gospel Musicals. Her first professional experience was as a piano substitute in the stage play ‘Eubie’ at the Ivar Theatre, Hollywood and she went on to play for the Langston Hughes play, ‘Tambourines To Glory’ at the Bradley Theatre in Los Angeles. She was also the director music for the gospel performances ‘Saving Grace’ and ‘Reason For The Season’ which were both written by Dennis Rowe.
Now, with Keep the Music Playing, she is stepping up front and center to embrace the spotlight with a performance the quality of which suggests she is on the way to becoming a major player in the ultra competitive world of smooth jazz keyboard. Following a twenty one second intro with the message of practice will make perfect, the tone of the album is immediately set with the first track, ‘Just For Kicks’. It is super tight, has just a hint of a Latin vibe and is a fine example of smooth jazz piano at its very smoothest. Smooth with attitude would be a nice way of describing the entire CD and this is again demonstrated on the tune ‘Soleh’. One of three tracks featuring guitarist Norman Brown, Jhonson is able to make it sound melodic, mellow and funky all at the same time.
Sensitivity is never neglected and Gail’s playing on the timeless and evocative Legrand – Bergman composition ‘How Do You Keep The Music Playing’ is simply awesome. Equally beautiful is ‘Goodnight’, a piece of romantic smooth jazz at its very best to which Jhonson applies the lightest of touches. The first cut from the album to be identified for radio play is ‘Heaven’ where excellent smooth jazz piano from Jhonson is infused with urgent backing vocals courtesy of Charlia Boyer, Michael Thompson and Calvin Perry. Boyer also steps up, this time on both lead and backing vocals, for ‘I Wanna Luv U’, an infectious chunk of smooth R & B that is afforded a sparkling backdrop by Jhonson’s tight playing.
The Norman Whitfield composition ‘Sunrise’, from the soundtrack of the movie ‘Car Wash’, is included as a tribute to the late Brandi Wells. Jhonson played her first tour with Wells and this rendition, blessed by the vocals of Vidais Lovette and the saxophone of fellow Philly native Pamela Williams, is a track that feels as good as a warm summer day. Also from the vaults comes the Detroit Spinners classic ‘I’ll Be Around’. This ultra tight production proves the point that when done this well ‘covers’ can be a distinctly good thing. Pamela Williams also features on the superb smooth jazz tune ‘Tropical Island’ while the big groove driven ‘Take What You Need’ is a number with excellent melodic playing from Jhonson and a great beat. It has ‘radio ready’ written all over it.
Arguably the best track on the album is the mega funky ‘Gimme Your Groove’. With more superb sax from Pamela Williams and a rock solid beat this is a blockbuster of the highest order.
For me the music of Gail Jhonson was one of the finds of 2005. For more information go to www.gailjhonson.com
Accomplished jazz bassist Kyle Eastwood is the latest marquee addition to the 16th annual FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest.
The Berks Jazz Fest runs March 17-26 at multiple venues throughout Berks County and is presented by the Berks Arts Council.
The festival already has a bright constellation of stars such as Dianne Reeves, Joe Sample, Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Ramsey Lewis, David Benoit, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Gerald Veasley, Kurt Elling and the Robert Cray Band, among many others. In addition, three spectacular ensemble shows -- The Music of Marvin Gaye & Motown; Ivan Lins & Friends; and a Tribute to Wes Montgomery -- punctuate the lineup.
Eastwood and his band will perform on Sunday, March 19th, at 4 p.m. at the new GoggleWorks Center for the Arts theater, 2nd and Washington streets in downtown Reading.
In addition, the classic movie "Bird," which is about the life of bebop legend Charlie Parker and was produced by Clint Eastwood, will be appearing at the GoggleWorks Film Theater on Sunday, March 19th, following the concert.
Clint, a jazz lover, introduced his son to the genre at an early age.
Kyle, who is a physical dead ringer for his famous actor and director dad, grew up Caramel, California and remembers hearing Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and the Stan Kenton Big Band as a child.
"Dad made sure I heard jazz," Kyle said. "He took us every year to the Monterey Jazz Festival. He introduced me to Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis and other jazz legends. And at home, music was always there."
Kyle played the guitar as a child, then picked up the electric bass at the age of 18 and got serious. His father arranged for Kyle to study with the distinguished French bassist, Bunny Brunel. At age 23, Kyle formed his own band, West Quintet.
In the ensuing years Eastwood worked as a studio musician, backed pop singers and played film scores -- one of them his father's composition for "Unforgiven." Kyle became versed in a variety of styles.
But his roots remain in jazz.
After years of gigging around New York and Los Angeles, Kyle in 1998 released his first CD From There to Here, an upbeat collection of jazz standards and original music that features the vocals of Joni Mitchell.
Kyle also wrote a few tracks for his father's blockbuster film, "Million Dollar Baby," which starred Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman along with Clint.
Kyle's second CD, Paris Blue, was released in 2004. He worked on the album while living in Paris with his own family. The album is a lot more personal with contributions from his father and his daughter, Graylen, who wore and recorded the introduction to the title track when she was only 9 years old.
Eastwood also has been causing quite a stir in the London jazz scene.
He promises to do the same at the Berks Jazz Fest.
Concert tickets can be purchased by:
Stopping by the Sovereign Center Box Office, Seventh and Penn streets, Reading, to place your order in person.
Box Office hours
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Stopping by the Sovereign Performing Arts Center Box Office, 136 N. Sixth St., Reading, to place your order in person.
Box Office hours
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday
Ordering online at www.berksjazzfest.com
Call Ticketmaster at 215.336.2000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. Have a credit card ready.
For more information on the festival, click on www.berksjazzfest.com
For more information on the Berks Arts Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes all the arts in an effort to enrich the quality of life in Berks County, click on www.berksarts.org
Third album from the critically-acclaimed alto flutist hits record stores
One of the coolest things to come out of the 1970’s was groove-heavy jazz-funk. Alto flutist Bradley Leighton fondly recalls the halcyon days of bellbottoms, platform shoes, fur coats, big hats and lots of gold jewelry on Back to the Funk, which was released yesterday by Pacific Coast Jazz. Leighton’s third album features booty-bumping funk, seductive R&B, chill jazz nuances, and lilting pop hooks produced by Allan Phillips. Presently collecting adds at radio is “Runaway,” a driving feel-good joint boasting a full horn section and a fiery exchange between Leighton’s scorching alto flute and a sweaty, bellowing sax.
Having previously released two critically-acclaimed albums that delved into straight-ahead jazz with occasional splashes of Latin rhythms or R&B grooves, Leighton wanted to fully indulge his love of jazz-funk. He co-penned five tracks for Back to the Funk that reveal some of his musical influences: the Brecker Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Tower of Power. Leighton also set out to prove that in the contemporary jazz world dominated by guitars and saxes, the flute can also be soulful and funky. Real guitar, piano, bass, drums, sax, trumpet and trombone give the production an organic sound. Leighton’s alto flute gracefully leaps above the muscular horn arrangements and rhythmic R&B base to deliver eloquent jazz-pop statements. In addition to the original material, the artist covers three classics: Stevie Wonder’s “Love Light In Flight,” Ray, Goodman & Brown’s “Special Lady” and Bread’s “Make It With You.”
Although the album was just released, the critics are already taking notice. L.A. Jazz Scene wrote, “Mesmerizing backbeats, programmed drum rhythms, wah-wah synthesizers and flowing horn melodies weave with the leader's deep-throated alto flute for a significantly vibrant effect. Leighton's horn section works well with him in a spot-on performance that features expertly synchronized melodic lines…These songs carry powerful memories, and Leighton's soulful flute brings them around clearly…it succeeds in reminding us that music remains the lifeblood of what inspires us every day.” Smoothjazz.com enthused, “The album’s a knockout, and should do extremely well for the talented artist. This Seattle native, in San Diego since 2001, once again shows us why jazz flute is one of the most sensual instruments around…Bradley Leighton’s Back to the Funk is loaded with inventive, inspired playing…”
During the month of February, “Runaway” will be heard in select movie theatre chains across the U.S., including United Artists, Regal, Edwards and Hoyt. Plans are underway for Leighton to mark the album release with intimate club performances with his band in Renton, Washington and in San Diego, California. Last week, he participated at the International Association of Jazz Education conference in New York City.
Leighton debuted in 2003 with a collection of jazz standards on the Groove Yard CD. Last year’s Just Doin’ Our Thang straddles the line between traditional and contemporary jazz. It consists of fresh interpretations of standards along with four original compositions that find Leighton backed by a Hammond B3 organ trio. The album has been hailed by such respected outlets as JazzTimes, Audiophile, All About Jazz, All Music Guide, and the San Diego Reader and was 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. Additional information about Leighton can be found at www.fluteguy.com.
Mindi Abair's follow-up to Come As You Are will be released in May.
Saxophonist Mindi Abair has completed a new, highly anticipated CD she's titled Life Less Ordinary. The 10-song CD, recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angles and which will be released by the GRP record label, features nine original songs written by Abair and her writing partners Matthew Hager and Tyrone Stevens.
The CD also includes one cover song: “It Must Be Love,” which singer and songwriter Rickie Lee Jones recorded in 1984. Abair says she doesn’t normally do cover songs, but adds that she’s a huge of fan of Jones and the song holds a special meaning to her. In addition to singing on the song, Abair enlisted good friend Lalah Hathaway to provide background vocals.
Original songs include “Rain,” that she’s dedicating to the people of New Orleans; “Far Away,” which features a string section directed by Julie Rogers; and “Slinky,” which Mindi calls a fun and sexy, Euro-inspired tune. Also making the cut are “Bloom,” “Do You Miss Me?” “Long Ride Home,” “The Joint,” “True Blue” and “Ordinary Love.”
Mindi will be conducting a photo shoot for the CD early in February. Life Less Ordinary is expected to be released May 24.
Dave Koz's label will release the second installment of the Rendezvous Lounge compilation on Jan. 24.
Rendezvous Entertainment, co-founded by smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, has just wrapped production on the second installment of its chill music series called Rendezvous Lounge. The new 13-song CD, Rendezvous Lounge 2, is once again compiled by DJ Mark Gorbulew and features a mix of jazz, downtempo and world beat songs by Rendezvous artists Marc Antoine, Praful, Adani & Wolf and Camiel, in addition to European chill groups such as Afterlife and Montefiori Cocktail. Also, Gorbulew created a new song called “Manhattan Groove.”
As a preview, Rendezvous is offering a free download of Praful’s “Wishful Walk,” which is included on the CD. To get your copy, go to the Rendezvous Afterparty website.
Rendezvous Lounge 2 will be available on Jan. 24.
Is smooth jazz alive and well?
For years now, many of the genre’s artists and its most ardent fans (known as P-1’s by radio station program directors in the format) have been complaining that sales are down and playlists are too limiting. Veteran artists with vibrant new releases often have to compete with their classic material as they contend with the “greatest hits” mentality dictated to many stations by the demographic research firm Broadcast Architecture. Among these “hits” are an endless stream of pop and soul oldies that bore listeners waiting to hear new tracks from Dave Koz, Praful, Bona Fide, Euge Groove, etc.
Now for the good news: 2005 yielded a bumper crop of so many great releases that narrowing down to a Top 10 list was difficult; it was painful to leave off winners like Paul Brown’s The City, Bona Fide’s Soul Lounge, Brian Simpson’s It’s All Good and Gregg Karukas’ Looking Up. On the West Coast, winery series and festivals — from the Catalina Island Jazz Trax event (which hits its 20th anniversary this year) to the Old Pasadena Jazz Fest — were packed with boisterous crowds as always.
Package tours have never been more popular, with three major traveling ensembles — Jazz Attack (Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Peter White, Jonathan Butler), Dave Koz & Friends and the perennial Guitars & Saxes — sizzling all summer. And “smoothies” seem to have enough enthusiasm and cash to now support a total of three annual genre specific cruises. Braun and Elliot’s gamble in rejecting major label deals to create their own indie label, ARTizen Records, is paying dividends already; Elliot’s single “People Make The World Go Round” tied a record by spending 11 weeks at #1 on Radio & Records smooth jazz airplay chart.
But don’t take the critic’s word for it — let’s ask the folks that make the music. More specifically, a newcomer (saxman Andre Delano) whose debut (Full Circle) on an upstart label (7th Note) is one of the year’s best (it includes a single, “Night Riders,” which was remixed by Jeff Lorber); and a veteran “founding father” (David Benoit), who took a sharp but inspiring left turn, putting radio friendliness on hold to pursue his lifelong passion for Orchestral Stories on his first effort for Peak Records.
“Where I’m at on the ground level, I see a revolution going on, and a lot of frustration among the musicians who are not getting an opportunity to make a difference,” says Andre Delano, a veteran sideman who has played with R&B icon Maxwell as well as Jeff Lorber, Peter White and Chieli Minucci. “When enough artists are upset, things will start shifting. My album is receiving airplay on 50 so called secondary markets, including many college stations, and many of the major outlets say they’re dying to play my stuff, but they have to get the OK from B.A. Just like in any other industry where there’s this kind of monopoly for so long, an underground movement starts to build.
“How do you change the face of smooth jazz?” he adds. “By bringing in new faces and being bold enough to take a chance. I’m very optimistic because I love creating music and I’m making new friends and fans all the time who enjoy what I do and can help me get to the next level. I don’t think the genre is sick, but it could be healthier. If you’ve got to give people more choices and there’s quality in the diversity, people will respond.”
Most longtime David Benoit fans are aware that even as he has amassed one of the most consistently successful catalogs in smooth jazz, he’s also scored films and conducted orchestras around the world; he took over the California-based Asia America Symphony Orchestra in 2001, and also founded the Asia America Youth Orchestra. Orchestral Stories, on which Benoit conducts the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, is a culmination of this long developing side of his artistry; the collection includes an elegiac tribute to “9/11” (featuring Dave Koz), a six part symphonic tone poem (Kobe) and a piano concerto in six movements (The Centaur and The Sphinx).
“Everyone’s been asking me, so does this mean you’re done with smooth jazz?” says Benoit, who was one of the artists played by 94.7 The Wave Los Angeles in its very first hour on the air back in 1987. “And the answer is no. Though I’ve considered moving on various times, I’m currently talking to different producers about my next genre project. It’s a different world now, the format is more competitive and they’re playing less new music. After branching out into what some might call more serious composing, the challenge is coming back with something fresh and current. But I really do still love playing smooth jazz and it’s still what pays my bills! If Bob James could do a straight ahead record and then come back and make more pop-oriented hits with Fourplay, I know I can do it.”
From the artist’s perspective, Benoit says the reason he and his peers stick with smooth jazz in the face of any potential economic struggles is simple: “We get to feel like superstars, even for a brief moment. When we play wineries and festivals and get the fans going, they treat us like we’re The Beatles or the Stones! It’s really incredible that instrumental artists can achieve that sort of stature, and we owe it all to the radio format that has exposed what we do. Commercials stations playing traditional jazz and classical music are all but extinct, so smooth jazz is one of the few outlets for instrumental music. We have to keep that going.
“Sure, it’s going through a lot of changes,” he says. “From bebop, to the cool jazz of the 60’s to jazz fusion, every genre has its heyday in a sense, and you never know how long anything will last. But it’s still fun, the fans are great, the camaraderie among musicians is wonderful and smooth jazz has the nicest people of any genre I’ve ever met. It may sound corny, but that’s the kind of magic you want to call home. I’ve enjoyed my little sojourns but here I am again. I always come back.”
1) David Lanz & Gary Stroutsos, Spirit Romance (Narada) – After a few successful jaunts into smooth jazz, new age maverick David Lanz teams with longtime friend and fellow genre icon Gary Stroutsos to create a lush and elegant set that beautifully blends melodic and rhythmic simplicity with spacious, soothing ambience.
2) So Amazing, An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross (J Records)
3) 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas (Peak)
4) The Jones Gang, Any Day Now (AAO Music)
5) Neal Schon, Beyond The Thunder (Higher Octave)
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
1) Michael O’Neill, Funky Fiesta (Green Bean Records)
2) George Benson, Live (GRP)
3) Rick Braun, Yours Truly (ARTizen)
4) Ramsey Lewis, With One Voice (Narada Jazz)
5) Boy Katindig, Groovin’ High (Kool Kat Productions)
January artists performing will have a chance to really draw some crowds since the quantity of shows are going to kick off a slow month in the desert of the Las Vegas valley for 2006.
Kenny Rankin, who over the years has built a loyal following since his debut in the '70s as a smooth vocalist-songwriter, discovered by the late comedian, Flip Wilson, will be performing Saturday, January 14th, in the Railhead showroom at the Boulder Station Hotel. The fabulous guitar duo of Strunz & Farah will follow exactly two weeks later in the same venue on January 28th.
Brazilian jazz legend Sergio Mendes brings his signature sound to the showroom at the Suncoast Hotel for two big nights, January 27 and 28.
Probably the most remembered American Idol Season 4 finalist outside of Bo and Carrie, Mikalah Gordon, (also daughter of jazz musician Rocky Gordon), turns 18 years old this month on Saturday January 14. She lives in L.A. and is performing occasional jazz benefits while pursuing an acting career under the guidance of the Mosaic Media Group, a top management firm in Hollywood (Jim Carrey, Ellen, Will Ferrell, Sarah Silverman).
Special thanks to all those respondants of my editorial last month "Where Have All The Solos Gone?". There will be a follow up as to my observation of the state of smooth jazz transitioning into the "Chill" format soon. So keep checking back to this site.
One of the most popular musicians in smooth jazz lands with a new label.
Saxophonist Boney James has signed a contract with the Concord Music Group and is now working on a brand-new CD to be released this summer. Concord is also home to Peak Records, co-founded by Russ Freeman of the Rippingtons, and the Heads Up label, which works with many smooth jazz musicians.
It was inevitable that James would end his decade-long association with Warner Bros. when the label shuttered its jazz division in 2004. James released eight albums with Warner Bros., including a Christmas album and a duets project with trumpeter Rick Braun in 2000 called Shake It Up.
James' final CD with Warners wasn't too shabby. Released in August 2004, Pure entered the Billboard 200 charts at No. 66 and sold 17,000 copies in its first week, his best debut ever. It was nominated for a Grammy and featured two No. 1 smooth jazz singles, “Here She Comes” and “Stone Groove.” The third single, “2:01 AM,” is still on the charts.
"I’m thrilled and excited to be starting fresh with such a cool, forward-thinking company," says James. "I’m hard at work as we speak. Still hooking up some collaborations, but I already have George Duke and Wah Wah Watson on a track."
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. The new CD from versatile keyboard player Bob Baldwin is All In A Days Work. It is his first on 215 Records and his tenth overall. Released this fall, and following on from his work as Executive Director of the hugely successful Croton Point Park Music Fest in Croton NY, it comes at a busy time for Baldwin as he juggles performing and recording with his duties as DJ on the morning show at KJAZ 98.1 in Bermuda. The album is a fresh mix of Latin, R & B and smooth jazz rhythms all enhanced by Baldwin’s stylish production and the collaboration of top notch guest performers.
Bob Baldwin was born in Mount Vernon, NY and grew up in Westchester County. He learned to play piano from his father, the accomplished jazz pianist Robert Baldwin Sr. who shared the stage with the likes of Max Roach and Stevie Wonder. During his development Baldwin Jr. studied both classical and jazz standards. Bob worked at MCI and Sprint Communications and while with them attended Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA where he earned a degree in Business Administration.
In 1986 he formed the The Bob Baldwin/Al Orlo Project and it was their performances at the legendary Bottom Line in New York City that led to his first production with trumpeter Tom Browne. This opportunity was also the route to his first album, The Dream Featuring Bob Baldwin. It was released on Malaco Jazz Records in 1988. In 1989 Roberta Flack selected Baldwin as the winner of a Sony Innovators award for that album and during the ceremony in Beverly Hills he got the chance to meet Herbie Hancock who had been one of his major influences in his formative years.
Securing a two-album deal with Atlantic Jazz Records Baldwin released Rejoice in 1990. Reflections of Love followed in 1992 and climbed to #7 on the contemporary jazz chart but the association came to an abrupt end when the label folded in 1994.
As Bobs career progressed he did not let his business training go to waste. He independently produced his 2000 creation Bob Baldwin.com that was subsequently distributed through the Virgin/EMI Network. It sold an impressive 60,000 copies and made #17 on the Billboard contemporary chart. He also used his business skills to develop and negotiate his recording deal with Narada Jazz where he released the CD Standing Tall in 2002. He later negotiated a deal with the now defunct A440 label to release Brazil Chill in 2004. Prior to the cessation of that labels trading he had to again rely on his business acumen by purchasing the masters of Brazil Chill. This proved to be a shrewd move as subsequently the majority of A440’s material was auctioned off in an Illinois bankruptcy court.
The Latin rhythms that were a center piece of Brazil Chill are again in evidence on All In A Days Work. This is apparent as early as the first track, the sophisticated, Latin laced ‘New York Minute’ where rippling keyboards from Baldwin and excellent flute from Ragan Whiteside makes this smooth as smooth can be. A similar vibe permeates ‘The Very Last Night In Rio’. Big, brassy and funky too, if ever there was a last night in Rio this is surely how it would feel. Also Latin tinged is the wonderfully laid back ‘Day-O’ with an intro inspired by the Earth Wind and Fire classic ‘Sun Goddess’ and Mo White style backing vocals from Zolea.
Zolea moves center stage on ‘Sunrise’ and makes a nice job of this gentle piece of smooth R & B whereas with the second vocal track on the album, ‘Can You Feel It’, Tonni Smith makes this urban soulful roller sound like a modern day dance classic in the making. In fact it’s so memorable that Baldwin takes a one minute snippet of the same number and uses it as the CD’s play out track.
The album is of a consistently high standard throughout and Baldwin’s production skills in developing the full sound of Dave Mann on sax and Barry Danielian on trumpet is a major feature of the recording. These excellent horns combined with a memorable smooth jazz melody from Baldwin really light up the slightly retro sounding ‘Steamy’. It’s a track that could well be defined as mid tempo chill and when later in the album Bob chooses to reprise it as a cool 51 second interlude the chill factor is even more pronounced. Chill is also on the agenda with ‘Don’t Get Twisted’. Penned by Baldwin ten years ago this slice of top notch late night smooth jazz is moody, jazzy, subtle and a full seven minutes and forty four seconds long.
The first track to be identified for radio play is the title cut where infectious backing vocals and the horns of Mann and Danielian provide ‘smooth jazz with body’ while at the other end of the spectrum is the dreamy and delightful ‘Quality Time’. Cool flute from Ragan Whiteside and the tinkling keys of Baldwin blend to evoke the sounds of a gently running mountain stream.
‘Quirky’ could be better titled as ‘bouncy’ as this, combined with tight and funky, is what it is. Phil Hamilton’s guitar work is notable as is the way Bob glides his keyboard melodies in and out to make this a real foot tapper. A genuine piece of quality smooth jazz and perhaps the best track on the album is the hugely catchy ‘Third Time’s The Charm’. The horns, again great but this time understated so that less is definitely more, should help this one finds its way to radio.
I have previously summed up the music of Bob Baldwin as being simply great to listen to and All In A Days Work continues to re-enforce that opinion. His move to 215 Records will mean that both Bob Baldwin.com and Brazil Chill will be re-issued early in 2006 but, for now, with All In A Days Work, smooth jazz fans everywhere have a listening delight in store.
New CDs from Brian Simpson, Euge Groove, Paul Hardcastle, Paul Brown, Kyle Eastwood, Paul Taylor and Earl Klugh.
It’s All Good
If you were listening to smooth jazz radio 10 years ago, you probably heard a little gem of a ditty called “Closer Still” by a pianist named Brian Simpson. You can still hear the song today, but Simpson hasn’t been heard on the airwaves since. Until now that is, with the release of It’s All Good. Simpson has a good excuse for the delay as the veteran session player for Norman Brown, Everette Harp, Michael Paulo, Najee and many others took on the weighty responsibilities as saxophonist Dave Koz’s music director.
When Simpson decided it was time to record another CD, he conveniently had an in with Koz, who just so happens to be the co-founder and senior VP for creative development at Rendezvous Entertainment. Koz liked Simpson’s demos, and the result is a 10-track CD of laid-back piano jazz that rates as one of the year’s best examples of subgenre. Simpson may have had an advantage as Koz’s musical director, but It’s All Good certainly works as a title. Like David Benoit CDs of years past, it’s a project of all original compositions written or co-written by Simpson that focus on the acoustic piano.
Simpson draws on the talents of Rendezvous labelmates Koz, guitarist Marc Antoine and saxophonist Michael Lington, but it’s the pianist’s knack for melody and the hook that drive the CD. With the title track and “It Could Happen,” he shows that a decade behind the scenes hasn’t dulled his knack for bright and uptempo grooves. And with “Here With You” and “Waiting,” he shows he knows a thing or two about ballads. In fact, the first eight songs are picture-perfect smooth jazz. Simpson draws on his love for straight-ahead jazz on the CD’s last two tracks, but smooth jazz fans will enjoy these as well: “Blues for Scott” is an original song Simpson wrote for his son, but it expresses the enjoyable melody of jazz classics you’ve heard and loved before. Finally, “Au Contraire” is a swinging bopper with a running bass line and Perry Hughes’ funky electric guitar soloing.
Just Feels Right
Many artists say their latest CD is unlike anything they’ve done before when in fact it’s hard to tell the difference. So while saxophonist Euge Groove’s fourth does sound a little different while still maintaining his smooth jazz groove, much of what is really different about the CD occurred behind the scenes. To get a true feel for the musical era that influenced him most – the early 1970s – Euge for the most part decided to use only instruments and recording equipment made before 1976, including saxophones. To record the album, which was co-produced by Paul Brown, Groove used analog machines and analog tape, which were widely used before today’s digital era.
In addition, instead of calling on today’s most popular smooth jazz players to help him out musically, the saxophonist recruited old-school musicians Clarence McDonald on keyboards, Freddie Washington on bass, Ray Parker Jr. and David T. Walker on guitar, Lenny Castro on percussion and James Gadson on drums.
The result of all this is sublime smooth jazz that rocks, grooves and succeeds at recalling an earlier era. Although the CD features 11 songs, three are simply interludes that he calls “gimmealilclick,” “gonnatakeyouhigher” and “cantstopthefunk.” The interludes are included since Groove decided to, in another nod to the past, make a complete CD from beginning to end, a rarity in today’s 99-cent downloads. After the first interlude, the CD kicks off with the first single, the raucous “Get ‘Em Goin’,” a bold and brassy musical statement. McDonald’s keyboard solo at the song’s end definitely recalls the groovy ‘70s. And although the next track, “Chillaxin,” is Groove in a modern mood, the rest of the music is definitely old-school in nature. The one cover, “Just My Imagination,” features finger snaps and will put a sunny smile on your face, while “12:08 AM” will do the same.
“Straight Up” is the funkiest tune and is driven by a blues bass line. “This Must Be for Real” and “Just Feels Right” are bookends, catchy singles with a sunny disposition like some of the most memorable songs from the ‘70s. The former features light strings and is even a tad corny in an endearing way, while the latter is a masterful ballad. The CD closes with “Ballerina Girl,” where Groove keeps it simple with his sax over light synth work and some beautiful Spanish guitar.
(Trippin ‘n’ Rhythm)
British smooth jazzer Paul Hardcastle alternates between his Jazzmasters and Hardcastle CDs, so fans may be wondering – what’s the difference? Well, Hardcastle himself says the Hardcastle CDs are a bit more experimental, while Jazzmasters ones are more controlled. What I’ve discovered, though, is that Hardcastle projects – like the latest one – feature more instrumental selections. And while the Jazzmasters CDs feature the sublime vocals of Helen Rogers, Hardcastle 4 didn’t have to look far for a brand-new singer – Hardcastle’s 19-year-old daughter Maxine. (That’s n-n-n-n-nineteen to all you who remember Hardcastle’s anti-Vietnam War dance anthem from 20 years ago).
Hardcastle fans may recall that he once wrote a song dedicated to his daughter, appropriately enough called “Maxine,” that remains one of his fans’ favorites. Now she’s all grown up and adds her breathy and sexy chops to three songs on the new CD, which she also co-wrote. Her voice sounds much like Rogers’, and does justice to “Was It Love,” “Where Are You Now” and especially on the sublime “Smooth Jazz Is Bumpin'." (The CD closes with an untitled track of a 6-year-old Maxine singing like a rock star as only kids can. Very cute.)
The remaining nine instrumentals are among the best Hardcastle has ever done, beginning with the CD’s first single, “Serene.” As its title suggest, the tune is simple and melodic and features electric guitar from Adam Drake, who also returns with some rock stylings in “Straight Ahead.” Everyone’s using drum machines these days, but Hardcastle of course was a pioneer and the in-the-groove percussion throughout the CD is always a highlight of any Hardcastle project. But Snake Davis and Scott Brooker do add some real saxophone sounds.
Each Hardcastle CD features semi-mystical tracks, and the selections here are “Eastern Winds” and “Journey of the Lost Tribes” with their sampled flutes, strings, vocals and assorted jungles noises. Whether the songs are mystical, mellow or driving, they are all the epitome of smooth and polished music, easy to listen to over and over again.
Paul Brown should no longer be known as “just” a super-producer hitmaker for Smooth Jazz artists. As his second CD proves, in addition to being smooth jazz’s primary architecture of sound over the past 15 years, he’s also now becoming one of its leading hitmakers. His debut, Up Front, featured two hit singles, “24/7” and “Moment by Moment.”
“Cosmic Monkey,” a trippy track that loops along with the sublime scatting of Jeffrey Osborne. Brown is a guitarist, but he’s also been known to scat on his songs and he does here on “Food for the Moon.” The whole album has a vibe that’s typified by these two songs, a kind of past meets the future. Brown’s ‘60s and ‘70s influences are clear, but they are ushered into modern times by his superb production values – natch – and those of Croatian native D.C., who bring a subtle chill vibe to some of the tunes. The title song speaks to Brown’s fond look back at his favorite music, as here he chooses a slightly obscure 12-minute song by the Mark-Almond Band. Anyone over 35 or so may recognize the song when hearing Brown’s take on it – for those who don’t, he adds an instrumental version of it you’ll probably dig.
The CD’s best moment comes on “Real Mutha For Ya,” where Brown delves into downright funkiness on the Johnny “Guitar” Watson blues classic. Brown picks up a talkbox for maximum trippiness a la Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel (Like We Do)” from 30 years ago. It just may be first smooth jazz song ever to use the talkbox exclusively throughout. But Brown’s bread-and-butter tunes are the midtempo slow burns such as “Side Steppin’,” with Wendy Moten’s summery vocalese, and the Wes Montgomery-inspired moments like Brown’s “Hello Again” and the Chuck Loeb co-written “Las Vegas.” Throw in a few memorable ballads and a peppy guitar version of Grover Washington Jr.’s “Winelight” and it’s clear that Brown has found his niche as a solo player.
It’s not surprising that one of the first things you hear on Kyle Eastwood’s sophomore CD is the whistling of his famous dad, Mr. Clint Eastwood. The senior Eastwood is one of the country’s best-known fans of straight-ahead jazz and obviously has left his mark on the junior Eastwood. Now, the 37-year-old bass player has the distinction of being the first mainstream jazz artist signed to Dave Koz’s Rendezvous Entertainment, which has concentrated on recruiting smooth jazz and chill artists.
Koz shows his musical savvy with this signing. Don’t get the idea that Paris Blue is a traditional jazz record, as Eastwood finally becomes one of the first artists to fuse jazz, smooth jazz and chill music. And much more. What recent jazz record has not one but two dance-hall remixes? Mostly recorded in Paris, where Eastwood lives (he also spends a lot of time in London), the CD has some jazzy moments but probably won’t be the kind of CD jazz purists give their thumbs-up to. But their loss is the smooth jazz fan’s gain, as the CD fuses jazz, chill music, world and – as mentioned – dance.
Clint’s whistling comes on the opening track, “Big Noise (From Winnetka),” a swinging tune originally recorded by the late jazz bassist Bob Haggart. It’s a romp, with spiraling bass lines, record scratches and some jazzy playing by bandmembers Doug Webb on saxophone and Jim Rotondi on trumpet. It’s followed by “Marrakech,” which as you might expect evokes images of the exotic and haunting city and has a chillish vibe. Those first two are remixed later on the CD and are worthy of your feet’s attention, as the reggae grooves, staccato drum loops and Eastwood’s in-your-face electric bass make these infectious listening.
“Muse” would fit on smooth jazz radio, with its muted trumpet lead and midtempo rhythm section, while “Le Pont Royal” and “Solferino” play around with the kind of smoky jazz that’s a joy to listen to. And while the title track harkens back to the jazz-fusion of the 1970s, “Cosmo” recalls the big, bold and brassy funk tunes of the same era. Paris Blue is a bold statement by an artist who uses traditional jazz as simply a starting point. No boundaries here.
Saxophonist Paul Taylor’s sixth solo album in 10 years since leaving the Rippingtons isn’t too much of a departure from his polished and sexy sound, which probably suits his many fans just fine. One thing you’ll notice, however, is that Taylor plays more songs on the lower-sounding alto saxophone, which is a change from his previous reliance on the Kenny G-like soprano. Still remaining are plenty of memorable melodies, inspired playing and the overall urban vibe Taylor’s known for.
The first single, the title track, picks up where Taylor’s big called “Steppin’ Out” from his previous album of the same name, left off. There’s the deep bass lines driving the song along, a disco beat in the background and a mélange of saxophones and horns. Elsewhere, there are bits of reggae, bits of funk, bits of Latin, bits of pop and jazz, all providing an up-to-date smooth jazz listening experience.
Taylor reached way back for the CD’s one cover song, the Terry Lewis/Jimmy Jam song from the 1980s called “Tender Love,” a hit for the group Force MD’s. Handling the vocals here is reggae star Maxi Priest (“Close To You”), whose vocal chops only improve with age.
The album utilizes three producers – Rex Rideout, Barry J. Eastmond and Dino Esposito – and features guest appearances by keyboardist Jeff Lorber, guitarist Dwight Sills, bassist Alex Al and drummer Ricky Lawson, among others. Romantic and energetic as ever, Paul Taylor is another one who seems to improve with each outing.
There’s no doubt that Earl Klugh, one of the founders of the smooth jazz format, plays some of the prettiest acoustic guitar around. He’s done if for years, on both smooth jazz and traditional jazz projects. His latest CD is his first since 1999’s Peculiar Situation, which was one of his best smooth jazz efforts, if not the best. But those expecting something similar to that classic will not find it here as – and you probably guessed this from the title – Naked Guitar is simply Klugh playing solo guitar.
As he did on his first solo guitar CD from 1989 called, not surprisingly, Solo Guitar, Klugh goes out of his way to make sure his fans know what they’re in for, even placing a disclaimer on the back of the CD that reads, “This CD contains solo guitar performances.” All that said, Naked Guitar is perfect for background listening – it maintains Klugh’s “pretty” touch – and features mostly recognizable jazz and pop songs that most fans will recognize as Klugh interprets them. Among the titles? You’ll hear new versions of “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” “The Summer Knows,” “Moon River” and even the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And you’ll be smiling when you hear Klugh take a stroll through “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Thirteen of the 14 songs on the CD have never been recorded by Klugh, who spontaneously takes different approaches with most of the songs’ melodies. The one song that many fans will recognize is one of the guitarist’s best and most famous: “Angelina.” The acoustic, simple version of that classic is by itself worth the cost of the CD. But, in a way, it just further serves to whet the appetite for some new and original smooth jazz or even a more mainstream jazz. There may be some hope on the horizon, as Klugh has said that he’s also writing songs for a CD of melodic music.
Saxophonist gets transfusion of daughter's "good cells."
Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Michael Brecker, who has a rare blood disorder, has received a stem-cell transplant from his 16-year-old daughter, Jessica. The musician who has played on many popular smooth jazz recordings was diagnosed last year with myelodysplastic syndrome, known as MDS.
Brecker, who is 56, has been checked out of the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York City and is being monitored by doctors.
Brecker has had a storied career, and has collaborated in the studio with artists such as David Benoit, George Benson, Larry Carlton, Bob James, Earl Klugh, Chuck Loeb, David Sanborn, Diana Krall and many others. In May 2004, Michael signed with the Heads Up recording label – home to Spyro Gyra, Marion Meadows, Pieces of a Dream, Nestor Torres and others – and was due to release a new album sometime in 2006.
That CD, of course, has been delayed, but Michael will be featured on Some Skunk Funk, a live album recorded in 2003 with his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker. Heads Up will release the CD in July.
Chris Botti fans will have more reasons to love the trumpeter in March.
In December 2005, a film crew from PBS shot footage from trumpeter Chris Botti’s two star-studded shows at the Wilshire Theater in Los Angeles for an upcoming one-hour television special. The special will air the weekend of March 3 on PBS stations nationwide.
In addition, those who want to watch the show over and over again will be able to purchase a DVD that will be available at the same time that PBS will be promoting during a pledge drive. It will feature an extended drum solo by Botti bandmember Billy Kilson that will not be shown on the PBS special. The still-untitled DVD will be Botti’s second – in 2002 he released one called Chris Botti & Friends: Night Sessions.
At the Los Angeles shows Botti performed songs from his new album of duets called To Love Again. Joining Chris on stage were Sting, Burt Bacharach, Paula Cole, Renee Olstead, Paul Buchanan and Gladys Knight, to name a few. Gil Goldstein is the orchestra conductor.