B R I A N * S O E R G E L
Randy Crawford & Joe Sample, Feeling Good (PRA): In stores on February 20th, this recording is a must-have.
Mel Davis, It's About Time (TomTom): Funky organ music from an underrated player.
Chuck Loeb, Presence (Heads Up): One of Loeb's best in years. Choice cuts: "Llevame" with Carmen Cuesta, Chuck's wife, and the grand "The Western Sky."
Michael Brecker: Anything by the late, great saxophonist.
P E T E R * B O E H I
Billy Cobham - Drum 'n' Voice 2 (2006)
Legendary drummer Billy Cobham assembles an all-star cast (Brian Auger, Buddy Miles, Jeff Berlin, Airto Moreira, Jan Hammer and others) and revisits his fusion roots. Funk, Jazz and Fusion is the deal here, the artistry is on the highest level, so this great album is not to be missed!
Matt Otten - Secret Combination (2006)
Smooth, cool, groovy guitar album featuring the leader on guitar playing memorable melodies over contemporary grooves. An album full of great music which is very satisfying. A gem!
Kevin Kooyumjian - Monterey Breeze! (2006)
This keyboarder hails from San Francisco and has a knack of playing catchy melodies over uptempo grooves making you feel good. I have a soft spot for his music and this - his third album - delivers more of the good stuff!
Michael Lington - A Song For You (2006)
This one is a beauty! Sax player Michael Lington offers us the luxury of a full orchestra and a world class band to accompany his silky sax featuring classic compositions like "You've Got A Friend" and "It's Too Late". Simply georgeous!
Patrice Rushen - Shout It Out (1977)
This one is a classic fusion album from the 70ies which I bought on record. After a hiatus of 15 years I eventually gave in and bought a record player to enjoy my favorite music of my youth with hasn't been re-released on CD. I am currently enjoying lots of music from the past which makes me realize how great those times actually were. Sheer bliss!
J E F F * D A N I E L S
Brian Culbertson, It's On Tonight (Grp Records)
Peter White, Playin' Favorites (Sony)
Ronnie Laws, Pressure Sensitive (Blue Note Records)
Marion Meadows, Dressed To Chill (Heads Up)
D E N I S * P O O L E
‘My Beautiful Girls' from the Ken Navarro CD The Meeting Place. The album hits record stores on January 23 and is one to watch.
'I Like The Way' by veteran trumpet player Bill McGee from his current album Chase The Sunset. This is a classy cover of the Outkast original.
'Thru D Nite' by Park Lane from the CD Check It Out. A delicious slice slice of smooth sophisticated R & B.
'Somebody Else's Guy' by Jocelyn Brown from her 1984 album of the same name. Revisit this one if you can.
'The Real Story' by Jeanne Newhall from the CD Wild Blue. A nice tune with great sax from Jaared.
B E V E R L Y * P A C K A R D
Chris Korblein, Love Notes, 2006
Jeff Golub, Soul Sessions, 2003
Doc Powell, Doc Powell, 2006
Josh Groban, Closer, 2003
A new organization has been created in the name of one of the most respected guitarists in the entire music industry. The Metheny Music Foundation, named after the family of Grammy Award winner Pat Metheny, will aim to boost the music education and profile of Lee’s Summit, Mo., where Metheny was born 52 years ago.
The foundation will offer music scholarships and work toward the creation of a state music museum in Lee's Summit. Also planned is a sculpture honoring the Metheny family featuring an intertwined trumpet, guitar and phonograph.
The Metheny musical line began in 1915 when Harrison Metheny, a musician, arrived in Lee's Summit. Pat Metheny and his brother Mike Metheny, a trumpeter, grew up in the town and are members of the Lee's Summit High School Music Hall of Fame.
Metheny has just announced that he will release a new quartet CD in March with jazz pianist Brad Mehldau. Metheny and Meldau begin a nationwide tour of the U.S. in March, and Metheny will return with his trio in October.
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. Greg Chambers is a young man in a hurry. This former student of classical saxophone at San Jose State University has attended UCLA on a scholarship awarded by the American Youth Symphony and has been one of the winners of the Atwater-Kent All-Star Concerto Competition. In the process he has studied with some of the countries premier classical saxophonists, recorded at Capitol Records, participated in the Idyllwild Arts Summer Festival and taught music in Compton with the Music Partnership Program. If that wasn’t enough he has just received his B.A. in Saxophone Performance from UCLA and is currently working towards his Masters in Music Performance. Despite these classical leanings he cites David Sanborn, Dave Koz, Michael Lington, Steve Cole, Warren Hill, and Gerald Albright as some of his major influences. It’s therefore not surprising that his debut release, City Lights is a rarified blend of the classical and the contemporary.
Truth to tell Greg Chambers ‘doesn’t do funky’, he simply doesn’t need to. With City Lights he has created an album that is so different it breaks new ground into a sub genre perhaps best summed up as ‘smooth classical jazz’. The opening track, ‘This Friday’, the first of ten original compositions, is a great example of the panache Chambers has for music that, in the main, is both melodic and tranquil. In similar vein are ‘Midnight Rendezvous’ and ‘I Burn for You’ while with ‘Chelsea’s Song’ he shifts emotions into something altogether more moody and atmospheric. The tune ripples with the classical vibe that Chambers calls his own and this special sound he seeks to produce also manifests itself in his selection of backing musicians. Isaac Melamed on cello is a case in point. This, the most melancholy of instruments, is rarely found in contemporary jazz yet here in Melamed’s skilled hands it takes the music to another dimension. His playing has a huge impact on the relatively up tempo title track and is a good illustration of how prepared Chambers often is to hand the spotlight to his fellow performers.
Hide Mercury takes center stage for the albums raunchiest track, the full on ‘Full Throttle’. His electric guitar is evocative of Jeff Golub at his wildest yet, in complete contrast, Chambers turns to the classically pure vocals of Karen Vuong for ‘I’ve Let You Down’. Her haunting tones gel delightfully with Chambers stunning sax and another delicious, although this time instrumental, blend is created with ‘Promenade’. This Gaelic tinged mid tempo melody is blessed with more sensational cello from Isaac Melamed and excellent guitar from Hide Mercury. It’s one of the albums better tracks and equally good is ‘Coming Home’. Melamed and Mercury again make outstanding contributions and Chambers turns this luscious mid tempo tune into a real ensemble piece by the subtle addition of Elizabeth Morgan on keyboards. In fact the CD’s best track also features Morgan. Her playing on ‘In Springtime’ is nothing short of beauty personified.
City Lights by Greg Chambers is an album different enough to get him noticed. For more on Greg and for details on how to buy the CD go to www.gregchambersmusic.com
Smooth jazz guitarist Marc Antoine has signed a contract with Peak Records and is scheduled to release his first CD with the label in July. Peak was co-founded by Russ Freeman of the Rippingtons and recently signed another smooth jazz superstar, Paul Brown, who releases a new CD titled White Sand next month.
As a solo artist, Antoine has released eight recordings, including his last two with Rendezvous Entertainment, co-founded by saxophonist Dave Koz. His many smooth jazz singles have included four No. 1 Smooth Jazz hits: “Mediterraneo,” "On the Strip," "Mas Que Nada" and "Sunland."
Peak is also home to David Benoit, Eric Marienthal, the Braxton Brothers, Lee Ritenour, Paul Taylor, Norman Brown and Will Downing.
Yes, you can find Parris in New York. Not Paris, the city, of course, but rather Gil Parris, virtuoso guitarist who's here in New York City -- tonight. Not only here, but surrounded by an impressive group. Check out the cover of what will be a Live CD that is going to be made from Wednesday evening's 8:00 PM performance with GIL PARRIS AND FRIENDS at the Irvington Town Hall Theatre. Friends are none other than Paul Shaffer of the David Letterman Show, David Mann, Grammy nominated saxophone player, Randy Brecker, Grammy nominated trumpet player, along with vocalists Vanesse Thomas, Tommy "Pipes" McDonnell , and Master of Ceremonies Carolyn Kepcher of Apprentice.. There will even be an appearance by Bernie Williams of the New York Yankees. The show and the DVD will be dedicated to the late Michael Brecker, talented musician and brother of Randy Brecker.
So now you know the name Gil Parris, but I wonder if you know him? There’s really no way for a music writer like me to introduce and get you excited about someone whose guitar playing and composing you may be missing so unnecessarily. Better to let those who know not only the music business, but also a great guitar sound when they hear it, help get the point across. Prepare yourself, then, to read what people like Chuck Loeb, Jeff Golub, David Clayton-Thomas (of Blood, Sweat and Tears), and a few well-respected magazine guitar gurus have to say. Here we go:
"Gil Parris is without a doubt one of the rising stars of the guitar at this time. His command of many techniques and styles has dazzled me since I first heard him play a few years back, and with his new project, he brings all of that
and more to the small jazz group setting. I can't wait to hear what he'll do next." - Chuck Loeb
"Gil's a very talented player. He fit right into the band the first night he played with us and made the guitar chair his own." - David Clayton-Thomas to the "New York Times" about Gil's work with Blood, Sweat & Tears.
"While most players his age tend to get carried away with effects and distortion, Gil's playing is clean and precise, especially considering the difficulty and speed of some of his lines." - Mike Varney, "Guitar Player" Spotlight
"Gil Parris shines through as the brightest new star in the genre since Larry Carlton." - Guitar Magazine
"A dazzling mixture of jazz, light funk, and even country, Parris' playing is so hot it avoids any cliches from those styles." - Vintage Guitar Magazine
"Gil never fails to impress me with his excellent command of the guitar. This cat can really play!" - Jeff Golub
All those quotes are intended to get, and hold, your attention, so that you can discover this gifted artist. Because Gil Parris has released albums in over four different genres: R&B, smooth jazz, traditional jazz and blues, he doesn’t fit neatly into any mold within the contemporary jazz genre. And his philosophy demands that he doesn’t fit into a mold. He’s also done an instructional video entitled, Modern Blues Guitar, and has been part of the national video, “Masters of the Stratocaster.”
For the contemporary 'smooth jazz' music fan, at least two of his albums fall into the category of potentially your most beloved CDs. That first album, titled simply Gil Parris, is a masterpiece of playing and includes original compositions as well as cover songs ‘Rainy Day in Georgia’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.’ The original compositions as well as the cover songs are compelling, powerful tunes. Players on this CD include Will Lee, David Sanborn, Bob James, Mark Egan, Harvey Mason, Larry Goldings.
Those of us who heard and loved the first one have long-awaited the second one, entitled Strength, released this past August. One of the songs from the first CD, ‘When Love Was New,’ reappears on the newly released CD, this time with a slightly faster tempo and some new solo guitar lines. Once again, Parris has given us a stunning example of his composing and his playing. The CD is filled with tunes you want to hear over and over. Strength, produced by talented saxophone player/composer/arranger David Mann, also features Bob Baldwin and Randy Brecker.
In addition to playing with people like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Dr.John, Syndicate of Soul, Bill Doggett, and David Mann, Gil appears regularly in concert around the New York City area. He has been featured at the Catalina Jazz Trax Festival and the Berks Jazz Festival. And he also has a number of other CDs. One is billed as his 'sonic smorgasbord' recorded in front of a live audience, one is a tribute to Wes Montgomery, and of course there are his instructional videos, as well.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Parris play a number of times, most recently at his CD release party, held in August of 2006. With David Mann on saxophone, Thierry Arpino on drums (Thierry is quite a drummer who tours with Jean Luc Ponty) , Matt King on keyboard, and Kip Sophos on bass, it was quite a memorable night. Each artist had solo performances over the course of two sets, and even the management of the Metropolitan Café didn’t want to miss one minute of Parris working his guitar magic or the rest of the band mesmerizing all of us.
I had a chance to talk with Gil Parris and also David Mann about the production of this CD and what it means in the career path that Parris is taking these days. They're both excited about the way the CD turned out and hope it places Gil Parris where he belongs -- squarely in front of a new and wider audience who, up until now, may not realize the unique talent that he is.
In addition to the new CD, Gil has also finished shooting an infomercial which features the romantic side of him (note the rose on his guitar.) This infomercial, according to Gil, will be aired in 60 and 90 second spots along with the DVD release on television stations around the country.
Of the show for this evening, Gil says it will be a great night and he's excited to have others be a part of it. In case you're wondering, it's true the Master of Ceremonies, Carolyn Kepcher, is Donald Trump's right hand girl, and she'll be there simply because she loves Gil's music!
To learn more about Gil Parris, please visit:
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Chillout Productions have confirmed the presence of the scruffy, self-taught British pianist/singer/songwriter, Jamie Cullum, at the 5th edition of the Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival 2007.
Jamie can create music to which both seasoned jazz fans and young pop fanatics have responded earnestly. Jamie is not just another music fad. His major label debut, Twentysomething, has not only made Jamie a star, but has set the records as the fastest-selling jazz debut in UK history, where it was certified Platinum in just six weeks!
“To categorize Jamie’s music as Jazz is doing him injustice because to some, Jazz is now considered largely mired in the past. However, at the same time, Cullum is not even one of those sort of a fad, glittery bubble gum wanna-be musicians. He doesn’t even fall between any styles. This HYPER LAD simply laces his original jazzy tunes with modern hip-hop, rock or even folk accents, leaving you in a relaxed and comfortable state of mind where you’d feel more secure to the future of music where piano men will be as exciting as lead guitar players!”
Jamie celebrates jazz through his original material and retrofits standards to accommodate elements of the music he grew up with, from rock to rap to drum & bass.
And in one of his interviews Jamie said: "I'm pulling in loads of elements from all these different areas, and then making my own sound out of them all. I'm not interested in being some kind of museum piece, and I don't want to present my music in a way that's old fashioned. I'm not wearing a suit, and I don't stand still when I'm singing. I'm jumping off the piano."
“We’re looking forward to see Jamie treating his piano well as a prop, hammering it with rock 'n' roll fervor, and slapping every inch of it’s body, all the while coaxing sonorous and echoing tones from its keys. No doubt, the 26-year-old phenomenon is coming to Dubai with one thing in his mind, and that is to set the stage and crowd on fire. “ Said Anthony Younes Managing Director Of Chillout Productions, the founders and Organizers of the Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival.
Two big names have been confirmed till now, Toto, the rock legends on the 9th of March 2007 and Jamie Cullum on the 10th of March 2007 will be rocking the city of Dubai with Jazz at Dubai Media City “outdoor amphitheater” during the 5th edition of the 2007 Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival.
Critically acclaimed soul singer Bettye LaVette will join Frank Bey & The Swing City Blues Band for a rousing blues show during the 17th annual FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest.
Detroit native LaVette, lauded as one of the greatest soul singers in American music history, will bring her powerfully expressive voice and stage presence on Friday, March 23, at the Inn at Reading at 9:30 p.m. She will be replacing Tab Benoit, who developed a scheduling conflict. Tickets are $28.
Frank Bey, aka The Southern Gentleman of the Blues, is a natural at crowd pleasing. His rich and exquisite style is presented with such feeling that each member of the audience can relate to his or her own experience. He’s renowned for taking his audience on a trip down memory lane with a repertoire that includes such Blues and R&B classics as “Down Home Blues,” “The Blues is All Right,” “Tore Down,” “Ain’t That Loving’ You,” “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” and “A Change is Gonna Come.”
The Berks Jazz Fest runs March 16-25 at multiple venues throughout Berks County, and is presented by the Berks Arts Council.
The festival already features amazing star power in urban jazz saxophonist Boney James; legendary saxophonist David Sanborn; the ever-popular Guitars & Saxes featuring saxophonists Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum and guitarists Jeff Golub and Tim Bowman; esteemed pianist/composer/bandleader Dave Brubeck; saxophonist Nelson Rangell; keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Philippe Saisse; guitarist Joyce Cooling; guitarist Pat Martino; saxophonist Mindi Abair; guitarist Chuck Loeb; singer/songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway; the Denis DiBlasio Quintet; bassist Gerald Veasley’s Electric Mingus Project with special guest violinist John Blake Jr.; vocalist Kevin Mahogany; saxophonist David Liebman; the Sax Pack featuring Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters and Steve Cole; saxophonist Warren Hill; guitarist Nick Colionne; mix master Rafe Gomez; Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band; and the Berks All-Star Jazz Jam featuring Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, Gerald Veasley, Richard Elliot, Nick Colionne, Warren Hill, Joe McBride, Steve Oliver and Rayford Griffin.
Bettye LaVette has spent most the last four decades as a performer as something of a secret among soul aficionados. She's had minor hits: "My Man -- He's a Loving Man" in the '60s and "Right in the Middle of Falling in Love" in the early '80s -- but never reached the level of acclaim of Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross. But that may be changing.
The release of her 2005 album, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, a collection of 10 covers by an eclectic range of contemporary female singer/songwriters, has garnered her praise for her soul-jarring vocal ability.
Recently nominated for two WC Handy Blues Awards in 2007, for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year, she was previously honored with a WC Handy Blues Award in 2004 for A Woman Like Me as Blues Comeback Album of the Year.
LaVette may be from Detroit, but the singers she most closely resembles are Southerners such as James Carr or Otis Redding -- powerful yet tender, and a little rough around the edges. She's aided by her four-piece band, which provides her with perfectly understated backup.
To order tickets:
Visit the Sovereign Center Box Office, 7th & Penn streets, Reading
Visit the Sovereign Performing Arts Center Box Office, 136 N. 6th St., Reading
Call Ticketmaster at 215-336-2000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com
Order online at berksjazzfest.com
For more information on the festival, including artist bios, 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
Contrary to rumors that have been posted online, Kenny G wants to dispel any myths about forming a supergroup with Michael Bolton, John Tesh and Yanni. On his website, he admits he has no idea where the rumor came from.
The saxophonist, who recently returned from a tour of China and Thailand, says he's in the middle of promoting his new CD, I’m in the Mood For Love … The Most Romantic Melodies of All Time, and his smooth jazz single “You’re Beautiful.” He adds that he has no intention of being part of any type of group – super or otherwise, with the exception of the great musicians that have been part of his band for the past 15 years.
The FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest and Heads Up International have been associated throughout the festival's run. Riding in tandem has produced a remarkable journey, one that reaches its zenith this year.
The 17th annual Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, runs March 16-25 and features the best in contemporary jazz, traditional jazz, big band and blues at more than 130 events at venues, large and small, throughout Reading and Berks County.
An incredible day and night during that magical 10-day riff transpires on Saturday, March 17, with both An Afternoon and An Evening of Heads Up featuring Pieces of a Dream, Bobby Lyle, Marion Meadows, Alexander Zonjic, Gerald Veasley and Doc Powell. There will be two shows that Saturday at 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. at the Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom. Tickets are $38 and $33.
Doc Powell, a gifted guitarist, is the latest addition to this star-studded concert, rearranging his schedule to add even more juice to a high-energy endeavor. Powell also will be performing in the festival’s special tribute concert to Luther Vandross on Sunday, March 18, at 7 p.m. at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center.
Heads Up label president Dave Love is excited about showcasing a number of his high-profile artists in one spectacular Saturday setting at the Sheraton. "These are artists who rarely perform together in any other context, which promises an eclectic and exciting afternoon and evening of jazz," Love said. "The Berks Jazz Fest has provided the Heads Up label with the creative platform -- and the programming latitude -- to experiment with various styles and shades of the rich and multi-dimensional jazz spectrum."
And what Heads Up artists Love has to work with at the Berks Jazz Fest.
Doc Powell, a member of Luther Vandross' touring and recording band for many years, recently released his third CD project on Heads Up. Over the years he has traversed from one genre to another without losing a beat. He has contributed to over 125 recordings with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Teddy Pendergrass. He also has performed with such jazz greats as Lonnie Liston-Smith, Bob James, Grover Washington Jr. and Stanley Clark and with such gospel superstars as Shirley Caesar, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Ce Ce Winans, Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin and Kirk Franklin.
Pieces of a Dream is one of the most popular and enduring recording and touring ensembles in contemporary jazz. Its 15th and most recent album is 2006's Pillow Talk.
Pianist Bobby Lyle is a versatile songwriter, producer, arranger, musical director, music publisher, bandleader, sideman and tops all of that off by being a world-class performer. Lyle made jazz history with 2004's Straight and Smooth, the first CD ever to chart on Billboard's Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts at the same time. He made his Heads Up debut in 2006 with Hands On.
Flutist Alexander Zonjic performs in over 100 shows a year and still finds the time to be a part owner of a Detroit nightclub and host of a popular five-day-a-week morning show on Detroit's Smooth Jazz V98.7. His latest Heads Up CD is 2004's star-studded Seldom Blues.
Saxophonist Marion Meadows has one of smooth jazz's hottest solo careers and also has been a celebrated sideman with Brook Benton, Eartha Kitt, Phyllis Hyman, The Temptations, Michael Bolton and Will Downing. His latest Heads Up work is 2006's Dressed To Chill.
Gerald Veasley, one of contemporary's jazz's most prolific and versatile bassists, founded Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Sheraton Reading Hotel. He launched his career with the late, legendary Grover Washington Jr. and has recorded for Heads Up since 1992's Look Ahead. He recorded At The Jazz Base! at the club in November 2004.
Among the other headliners at this year's festival are Boney James; David Sanborn; Guitars & Saxes featuring Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Golub and Tim Bowman; Dave Brubeck; Nelson Rangell; Philippe Saisse; Joyce Cooling; Pat Martino; Mindi Abair; Chuck Loeb; Ann Hampton Callaway; Denis DiBlasio Quintet; Gerald Veasley’s Electric Mingus Project with John Blake Jr.; Kevin Mahogany; David Liebman; the Sax Pack featuring Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters and Steve Cole; Warren Hill; Nick Colionne; Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band; and the Berks All-Star Jazz Jam.
Two very special ensemble concerts being produced for the festival by music director and keyboardist Jason Miles are:
Celebrating the Life and Music of Luther Vandross, the late, multi-talented singer/songwriter, will be Jason Miles, Doc Powell, co-music director Nat Adderley Jr., Dionne Warwick, Kirk Whalum, Walter Beasley, James "D Train" Williams, Cissy Houston, Lisa Fischer; Paulette McWilliams, Buddy Williams, Tinker Barfield and Cindy Mizell.
The world premiere Soul Summit concert, with a rousing tribute finale to the late James Brown, features Jason Miles along with Susan Tedeschi, Maysa Leak, Richard Elliot, Mike Mattison, Karl Denson, Barry Danielian, Steve Ferrone, Bob Babbitt, Reggie Young, Sherrod Barnes, David Mann and turntablist DJ Logic.
Another major ensemble event is the 17th Anniversary Concert, Rick Braun & Friends, featuring Richard Elliot, Jonathan Butler, Jackiem Joyner and Rayford Griffin.
Blues headliners include the Keb' Mo' Band, Bettye LaVette, Frank Bey & The Swing City Blues Band, Smokin' Joe Kubek, Bnois King, Billy Price and Deanna Bogart.
Indeed, the FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest has something special for everybody.
More infos at the Berks Jazz Fest site.
Eleven-time Grammy Award winning saxophonist Michael Brecker has lost his battle with leukemia. Brecker died on Jan. 13 at a hospital in New York City at age 57. In 2005, Brecker was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disorder which can progress to leukemia. Last year, he received an experimental, partial-match stem-cell transplant from his daughter, but the procedure didn’t have the expected results.
Brecker, whose brother is trumpeter Randy Brecker, had a storied career, and has collaborated in the studio with smooth jazz artists such as David Benoit, George Benson, Larry Carlton, Bob James, Earl Klugh, Chuck Loeb, David Sanborn and Diana Krall. Brecker’s record label, Heads Up, is scheduled to release his final CD this spring. It features collaborations with guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Herbie Hancock and others.
Producer and keyboardist Jason Miles, who in 2006 released the CD What’s Going On: The Music of Marvin Gaye, has recorded extensively with Brecker. "There are very few people out there, and I don’t even know of anybody – and if I can find that person, I wanna know – that could go and play stone pop music one minute and convince you that that’s what he does, and then play the most difficult, intense jazz the next minute and convince you that that’s what he does," he says. " That is an art that a lot of people can’t do."
Brecker is survived by his wife, Susan, and two children: Jessica and Sam. Memorial services are being planned.
In 1994, when Peter White told people he was recording an album of his favorite pop classics from the 60’s and 70’s, he remembers the powers that be at smooth jazz radio telling him he was nuts — an album of reinterpretations, no matter how sincere, just won’t sell. Turns out he was just ahead of his time. Fast-forward 12 years, and “The Closer I Get To You” is still in classic rotation, played more today than it was in its original release.
Only now, it’s competing for airplay with his version of “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” which broke an all-time record recently by spending 16 weeks at #1 on the Radio & Records airplay chart. “At least no one can accuse me of jumping on the bandwagon this time, because this is a sequel I’ve always wanted to make” he says of his latest album, Playing Favorites, one of the many all-cover albums by genre artists that has hit pay dirt over the past year. “If artists are redoing great songs in a fresh and new way, I think there’s always room for that.”
To the delight of some fans that can’t get enough of the old school and the dismay of others who think their favorite artists should be creating standards of their own, that room is getting increasingly crowded. Whether it’s just a passing trend — i.e. musical comfort food during a disquieting post 9/11 period - or a phenomenon that will define smooth jazz for years to come, the cover album craze, for better or worse, was the defining story for the genre in 2006.
Aside from White, artists who have taken a breather from albums of original material over the past year and a half include Eric Marienthal (Got You Covered!), Kirk Whalum (The Babyface Songbook), Rick Braun (Yours Truly), Jason Miles (What’s Going On? The Songs of Marvin Gaye), Philippe Saisse Trio (The Body And Soul Sessions) and Michael Lington (A Song For You). Even core artists like Richard Elliot (“People Make The World Go Round”), Doc Powell (“It’s Too Late”) and Wayman Tisdale (“Get Down On It”) are scoring big radio hits with cover songs on albums of otherwise original material.
So what gives? All indications are that actual disc sales are down these past years despite the overall success of the format and annual all-star tours. Are artists simply taking dictation from their labels that want to score sure-fire commercial hits in mercurial times? Allen Kepler, the President of Broadcast Architecture, the world’s leading researching and consulting firm for the format (having worked with over 60 stations over the last 20 years), certainly hopes not. His firm has helped the format achieve its success by conducting tireless research on what listeners want and sharing its findings with its client stations. But he doesn’t want statistics to supersede passion.
“Frankly, I don’t know what facilitates an artist to want to do cover tunes, but I hope 100% it would have nothing to do with us,” he says. “An artist should create music they have a true love for, like Ramsey Lewis doing his With One Voice gospel album. He did that purely because his soul is in gospel and those are his roots. When an artist records an old song from the heart rather than strictly for commerce’s sake, that translates to an enthusiastic performance listeners will respond to.”
Saxman Michael Lington, who bills his beautifully rendered, orchestra-sweetened A Song For You as “songs from the New Great American Songbook,” says his decision to record his batch of 70s classics was less commercially than artistically motivated. “I’m not just doing cover songs for their own sake, because that would be unimaginative,” he says. “These are songs of inspiration and emotion, and I put a lot of thought into making my performances very compelling and believable. There’s nothing safe about the approach I took, with a live band, strings and newly composed intros. If anything, these elements make it a more challenging album to promote to a smooth jazz audience. My motive was to create a timeless recording and I took that task very seriously.”
Bud Harner, former VP of A&R for Verve who is now A&R consultant for Rendezvous Entertainment, has heard from some radio programmers that they’re starting to tire of the cover craze, even if the familiarity of those songs rings well with listeners. But he’s still a fan of what he calls the “unexpected” covers, like Gerald Albright doing John Mayer’s “Why Georgia” or Jeff Golub and David Benoit recording Smash Mouth tunes on albums released when he was with GRP/Verve. “Before everyone started doing these albums,” he says, “I was always trying to get my artists to consider doing a cover here and there that might raise eyebrows. If it’s unique, there’s a better chance listeners won’t get tired of it.”
One of Harner’s last projects before leaving Verve was Mindi Abair’s Life Less Ordinary, whose infectious hit radio single “True Blue” has the potential to become a genre classic in the tradition of her breakthrough hit “Lucy’s.” Abair includes a vocal of Rickie Lee Jones’ “It Must Be Love” (“because the song speaks to me, not because I was aiming for a radio hit”) but adamantly resisted the label’s strong suggestion (multiple times, she says) that she put some instrumental covers on the collection.
“Maybe this whole cover thing is just smooth jazz’s growing pains, but I think radio stations and record labels are really underestimating their audience,” she says. “It’s clear to me that people want new music, and I think we’re missing the boat and hurting the format by overdoing the covers. I’m afraid we’ve been led astray by all the testing that goes on in terms of figuring out what people want to listen to. If it doesn’t stop, I’m scared that a format built on great original melodies will just become an oldies or muzak format.
“I had to tell Verve that this is not the artist I am, that I’m someone who expresses herself through writing a song as much as playing it,” Abair adds. “I came up through the ranks of musicians who made their living playing covers at clubs and weddings, but when I became an artist, I believed I had the opportunity to rise to a different level of expression. Now I intend to stay there.”
Being both a bestselling artist and a co-owner of Rendezvous (whose roster includes Whalum, Saisse, Lington and Tisdale), Dave Koz has a unique perspective on the issue. The saxophonist, who this month is releasing At The Movies, a collection of beloved film themes produced by Phil Ramone, is not shy about addressing the economic component: “We’re living in a time in this business where even established artists have to do something unique to keep their sales figures strong. In this type of climate, it’s somewhat imperative that we give listeners event records, theme records, projects that our fans feel they must have. Creating that event mentality gives us all a better chance for success.
“Finding ways to interpret beloved songs is an opportunity to be creative in a whole new way, finding liberation in being able to focus solely on the task of playing the tune well,” he adds. “I always say that if you remain true to the songs, they will never let you down. But if you somehow get it wrong, people will criticize that so you have to bring everything you have to that performance. The genre is doing well with covers for the same reason that we love hearing Christmas songs year after year. It’s like putting on an old sweater, or a warm comfortable blanket. A classic song reminds us of another time, stirring memories of the last time or maybe the first time you ever heard it. The feelings you associate with the song have everything to do with how you respond to it.”
1) Forever, For Always, For Luther, Vol. II – Legendary soul singer Luther Vandross’ passing in 2005 makes this compelling second volume of heartfelt and funky smooth jazz interpretations of his songs by an eclectic group of inspired genre all-stars even more poignant than the first.
2) Diana Krall, From This Moment On (Verve)
3) Miki Howard, Pillow Talk: Miki Sings The Classics (Shanachie)
4) Elton John, The Captain and The Kid (Interscope Records)
5) John Legend, Once Again (Sony)
New and Noteworthy
1) Jim Brickman, Escape (SLG)
2) George Benson & Al Jarreau, Givin’ It Up (Concord)
3) Alan Hewitt, Metropolis (215 Records)
4) Michael Manson, Just Feelin’ It (215 Records)
5) Steve Cole, True (Narada Jazz)
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. Bill McGee is a special kind of guy with a biography just waiting to be written. It’s an account that starts in the late 1960’s with a group of young African Americans who, despite all the odds, believed they could be anything they wanted to be. It goes on to chronicle the evolution of black music over the last forty plus years and, in addition, reveals the remarkable story of a man who, for twenty years, gave up the music industry in order to teach in the public school system. In fact Bill is currently a school administrator with Richmond Public Schools, Richmond, VA. However, since 2002, and the release of his first solo CD This Ones 4U, this talented trumpet and flugelhorn player who at one time was musical director for Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King and has recorded with the likes of McFadden and Whitehead, The O’Jays, The Stylistics and Leon Huff has again been making his mark. With his very own project 804 Jazz Records he is harnessing the talents of some of the best musicians and singers that Virginia has to offer. He calls these special friends the 804 Jazz All-Stars and they are very much to the fore on his latest CD, the brand new for 2007, Chase The Sunset.
The album is a choice blend of five cool originals and seven classic covers that without exception are played with a quality and finesse that sets them apart. This is immediately evident with the slick production and execution of The Stylistics 1971 smash ‘Stop Look And Listen’. McGee’s mellow and reflective playing gels delightfully with the sax of James Holden while the vocal chorus that comes courtesy of Wanda McGee, Thomasine Johnson and Joshua Hodari is quite sublime. The picture perfect vocals of Hodari are again put to good use on the Marvin Gaye standout ‘What’s Going On’. McGee finds a vibe that is just right and partners with the great sax of James Gates to serve up as good a cover as you will hear all year. Gates is back, this time combining with McGee and Hannon Lane, to co-write and perform ‘The Groove’. The mellow product of this rarified mixture of sax, trumpet and guitar is an outstanding piece of contemporary jazz that, from the get go, is right in the pocket while in the same smooth jazz vein is ‘Chill’. With McGee joined on the track by guitarist Jim Adkins, the wonderful fabric that is woven by piano, flute and guitar makes this one very special indeed.
McGee builds a real masterpiece with his interpretation of Earth Wind and Fire’s 1973 hit ‘Keep Your Head To The Sky’. He turns to his long time horn section partners Hannon Lane and Lynwood Jones to set the mood, has Brandon Lane holding it down on bass and brings in the classy vocal of Shawn Chappelle to complete the picture. It’s a super track but perhaps even better is McGee’s six plus minute take on ‘Go Outside In The Rain’. Originally from the Dramatics 1972 LP Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, this quiet storm version is blessed by soulful vocals from Chyp Greene.
Retro jazz fusion that is both tight and funky would be an apt way to describe ‘Gold Baby’. It’s McGee’s tribute to his father Bill McGee Sr. who was given the nickname of Gold Baby at birth by virtue of the gold coins with which his mother paid the hospital bill. The gold actually came from her husband, Bishop F W McGee, who was a noted pioneer of gospel music in Chicago and beyond. The title track, also penned by McGee, features nice interplay with guitarist Tom Reaves and engenders a mellow late night vibe while another McGee composition, ‘Kickin And Screamin’ finds co-writer Debo Dabney in fine form on jazzy piano. That said McGee’s playing is even jazzier and the whole piece is topped off with a horn riff reminiscent of Tower of Power. Also big and brassy is Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish’ and although it is played out primarily as an instrumental, ex Trussel vocalist Mike Spratley pops up for the final chorus.
The familiar tones of ‘Sway’, the Latin tune given a new lease of life when it was featured in the movie ‘Shall We Dance’, provides another platform from which McGee shows off his multi instrumental talents. With the exception of flute from Joe Taylor McGee handles everything else and he is at it again, providing all the rhythm tracks and brass work on his classy controlled cover of the Outkast song ‘I Like The Way’. Here Gates is again huge on sax, Tom Reaves contributes on guitar and the familiar chorus is delivered in terrific style by Virginia based vocal group Bak N Da Day.
The life of Bill McGee is about achievement and dedication. It’s also about wonderful music and Chase The Sunset is a great example of his art. Currently there is a vast and under served audience out there who enjoy contemporary jazz but not so secretly hark back to the soul music of the seventies. They need smooth jazz with soulful attitude and Bill McGee might be just the guy to provide it.
For more on Bill McGee go to www.billmcgeemusic.com
Santa Fe & the Fat City Horns are probably the most soulful, unique band in Las Vegas. Jerry Lopez, founder, guitarist, and vocalist, gained a solid reputation years ago working for everyone from Tom Scott, George Benson, to latin pop star, Ricky Martin.
The band has been tearing it up in town for years, most recently with a 2007 annual agreement with the Palms Hotel Casino to perform on Monday nights. A top front horn line, along with a tight groove from the rhythm section with Jerry at the helm sparks what Jerry calls "a night of healing".
Sunday, January 7th, the Las Vegas Jazz Society will host a special concert by Santa Fe & The FCH at the Summerlin Library at 2pm. Visit their website at www.SantaFeAndTheFatCityHorns.com.
The unique sounds of guitarists Strunz & Farah return to the Boulder Station Hotel Casino on Friday, January 19th.
Kenny Rankin, who garnered a few top 40 hits with his smooth sound, and who actually precipated the works of Michael Franks back in the '70s, will perform on Saturday, January 27th.
March 6th album release previewed by “Hello Betty,” spring/summer tour planned
With a spirit, energy and diversity that are uniquely New York City, guitarist Jeff Golub will open the doors to Grand Central, his seventh solo album, on March 6th. Golub produced most of the Narada Jazz/Blue Note Label Group collection of electric and acoustic blues, contemporary jazz, rock and pop with Steven Miller, with a few tracks produced by Rick Braun and Paul Brown. Roaring out of the station first is “Hello Betty,” which is engineered by Golub’s cool-toned electric riffing and powered by an incendiary horn section. Conductors will begin punching tickets for the track at smooth jazz radio on February 5th.
Golub has a natural flare for delivering raw and honest recordings. Grand Central was primarily recorded with a live band in a New York studio by musicians Golub jams and improvises with at small, informal club gigs around the city that they do for the love of playing when they’re off the road. Golub deftly deployed a clean blues sound to his guitar that took on more of a lyrical, vocal-like quality on the new record. The New York City dweller wrote or co-wrote nine new songs for the disc in addition to selecting a few classics to record, including Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me To Stay,” George Harrison’s “Something,” and the soulful “Ain’t No Woman,” on which saxophonist Richard Elliot shines. Other luminaries contributing were Rick Braun (trumpet, flugelhorn), Kirk Whalum (sax), Philippe Saisse (piano), Stephen Ferrone (drums), Mitchell Foreman (keyboards) and Luis Conte (percussion).
“Part of being a New Yorker is that you’re in a state of constant communication with people. Sometimes words are spoken. Sometimes the communication is just a glance or an unspoken acknowledgement on a subway train, while in line at a newsstand or as you brush past someone in a corner grocer. I wanted this album to capture the constant communication between musicians: the sometimes overt dialogue as well as the subtle exchanges. I embrace living in New York City and I think Grand Central has got a real New York vibe to it,” explained Golub.
To support the release, Golub will again be co-headlining the perennial fan-favorite “Guitars & Saxes” tour with concert dates starting in the spring that will run through summer. On the national trek, he’ll be sharing the stage with Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright and Tim Bowman. Dates and cities will soon be announced.
A native of Akron, Ohio, Golub initially made his name as an in-demand sideman during long-term gigs backing rock stars Rod Stewart and Billy Squire. He released his solo debut in 1988, but then recorded several successful albums in the mid-1990s under his band name, Avenue Blue, which established him as a core artist in contemporary jazz. Golub returned to recording under is own name in 1999 and he has continued to consistently deliver bluesy jazz albums and radio hits ever since. Additional information can be found at www.jeffgolub.com.
Golub’s Grand Central contains the following songs:
“If You Want Me To Stay”
“Ain’t No Woman”
“The Way I Feel Tonight”
Bonus Tracks: “Brooklyn Dreams” and “Let’s Stay Together”