Young, Gifted and Oh so Soulful: A Conversation with Jackiem Joyner

Written by The Jazz Gypsy
Photographs courtesy of Jackiem Joyner

jackiem_1068.jpgPerhaps it�s no coincidence that Jackiem Joyner, the 2007 Smooth Jazz News Debut artist of the year, shares the same birth month and day (February 7th) with two pioneers in music, saxophonists� King Curtis and composer, lyricist and pianist, Eubie Blake and that he was born in the same city (Norfolk, VA) as two well-known saxophonists, Ernie Watts and Clarence Clemmons (Bruce Springsteen�s E Street Band). However, coincidence has nothing to do with Joyner�s extraordinary talent.

In a recent conversation with this multi-talented musician I asked Jackiem, �What percentage of his musical talent could be attributed to nature vs. nurture?� The self-taught saxophonist, flutist, pianist, drummer, composer, and arranger thoughtfully replied, �It is a 100 percent gift that I had to tap into. So, here is the math�God gives me a talent that is 90% ready. The 10% is nurture or being obedient with the talent and nurturing it�.

In hearing Jackiem�s story, one might concur with Joyner that his talent and success has been orchestrated by a higher power. However, evenly weaved between the events of his life, emerges a clear picture of an artist who has not taken his divinely endowed gift for granted but has invested time to find his own voice and take his natural ability to the next level.

Jackiem Charvez Joyner was raised by his mother in Syracuse, NY, along with his sister and three brothers. At around age eleven, Joyner was so inspired by his church�s choir and their drummer that he would wait until after church service concluded to go up and play the drum set. Soon, without any formal training, Joyner was playing the drums and singing regularly at local churches.

Joyner made a major transition about four years later when he was a junior in high school. When Joyner wanted to join his high school band as a drummer, his band teacher asked him to switch to the tenor saxophone to round out the other instruments in the band. Without hesitation, Joyner picked up and began to play the sax with only a few quick instructions from his band teacher on how to position his fingers. After three weeks of playing the sax, Joyner�s music teacher had the principle and other teachers come to hear me play in the band room. It was during this time that Joyner fell in love with the sax and shortly thereafter formed a band called Inkrees. The band consisted of his two brothers who played bass and trombone, a good friend who played keyboard, a drummer, and Joyner on saxophone.

Inkrees performed at local talent shows and school recreational centers like the Boys and Girls Club until 1999 when Joyner won the local and state NAACP�s �Act-So Competitions and placed second in the nationals. Joyner participated in Act-So for three consecutive years and performed with the United States Band of Liberty in 1997 and 1999. Since then, Joyner has performed as a solo artist.

Jazz Gypsy: What makes your sound different?

Joyner: I am able to get into a zone that is engulfed by music and people can tell that I'm playing from the heart and soul.

Jazz Gypsy: Is that where jazz improvisation comes from?

Joyner: It�s not really jazz improv because that�s more technical. What I do is more soulful because it�s based on feelings.

Jazz Gypsy: How do you classify yourself as an artist?

Joyner: I don't really know were to start. Some say I'm a smooth jazz artist. Some say I'm Just a funky player. I tend to classify myself as funky R&B Instrumentalist.


Jazz Gypsy: Musically, who were you influenced by?

Joyner: Michael Jackson along with Stevie Wonder. Stevie had a huge impact on my approach to writing. I think my musical style is like Ne-Yo or Chris Brown. I also like old song chords like �Can�t Hide Love� and the work of Anita Baker and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Jazz Gypsy: Do you have any formal music training or education and which contemporary and traditional jazz artist have you been influenced by?

Joyner: I was self taught and strongly influenced by contemporary artists like Najee, Boney James, Kenny G, Kirk Whalum and Gerald Alright. As a matter of fact, the first time I heard Gerald play �My, My, My�, I was amazed. Also, Candy Dulfur was the first saxophonists� I tried to copy or pattern myself after. When I first started playing the sax, I kept replaying a cover song she did or a month or two. I also spent two years studying the work of Charlie Parker.

Jazz Gypsy: I read that you toured with Keiko Matsui and went to Johannesburg, South Africa. What was that like?

Joyner: I�ve been to Africa three times and now I have friends there. Africa has an amazing spirit and now I know that is where rhythm comes from. I just returned from performing in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 29th, at the Joy of Jazz Theatre as part of Keiko�s band. Previously, I toured with Keiko in Jo�berg when she produced her Moyo cd. "Moyo" means heart and soul in the Swahili language. My first trip to Africa was in 2002 when I traveled on a United Nations plane to The Republic of Sudan which is in northeast Africa. I accompanied the pastor of my church to play the sax on that missionary journey where we were greeted by 1,000 children from a nearby refugee camp when we landed.

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Another interesting experience I had on tour with Keiko was a tour to Eastern Europe where we played in Istanbul, Turkey, Bucharest, Rumania, Kaliningrad, Russia, Lugansk, Ukraine, Odessa, Ukraine, Kiev, Ukraine, Donetsk, Ukraine and Lviv, Ukraine. On this tour the architecture was amazing but it was very, very cold and depressing because of frigid temperature, gray skies and the fact that there were no leaves on the trees. But surprisingly, this is where I did some of my best composing while on a 12-hour train ride. The environment was so different that it makes me want to get out of the States and travel more.

Jazz Gypsy: Tell me about your debut Babysoul cd.

Joyner: I wrote the songs on Babysoul after I came back from touring with Ronnie Laws. That tour was my first major tour and it is where I gained my �soldier boots� because it was very tiring going from city to city. I took about a year to write all the songs and each one has a special meaning. The first song I wrote was �Stay With Me�. �This Time Around� is about starting something new. The title song, �Babysoul�, is about my introduction into the world as an artist. �Elevation� is an inspirational song I wrote to keep me motivated and inspired to succeed despite some challenging experiences I had with people in the industry. And, �Share My Tears� is an early song I wrote about my grand aunt who died that I was very close to, having spent every summer with her when I was younger. During the writing process for Babysoul, I needed to block things out, like the television and the internet, because I wanted to make a statement about direct reflection and how I had matured and grown on the outside.

Jazz Gypsy: How do you approach your work and what are you working on now?

Joyner: I�m working on a new cd that I hope to release in early 2009. This cd with be funky. I have to map out songs and determine what message I want to convey. It�s a challenging thought process that takes weeks of listening and incorporating my experiences.

Jazz Gypsy: Tell me about the greatest obstacle you�ve had to face as a musician.

Joyner: Well, there are many obstacles and sometimes the worse enemy if self, so to speak. There is always something present�.always obstacles when you�re trying to move ahead. And, sometimes getting past self can be the hardest thing to do which includes things like procrastinating or worrying that things won�t go right with my band.

People don�t realize the many hours of work required for each show. And, I�m still growing and learning how to deal with circumstances and how to respond on the spot. A good example is when I had a reed brake at a show in Las Vegas and I had to quickly toss the lead to the band or when one of my sax screws came loose and had to be fixed right before I had to play a very important part when the audience was absolutely quiet. Although I spend a lot of time preparing for a show, I�m learning the how to respond in the moment.

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Jazz Gypsy: What advice do you have for young musicians?

Joyner: To keep practicing and be open to learning other instruments. Also, I hope to start offering clinics and concerts for high school students to give them an opportunity to talk, play and perform. I�d like to work with kids who are in band that love it. I would like to spark the flame that�s within then and help them find the hidden treasure within. That is how other musicians inspired me and I�d like to do the same for others. I want to share my approach to practicing that will help them maintain what they�ve learned in practice.

Jazz Gypsy: You recently played in Denver at the Democratic National Convention. How was that?

Joyner: I�ve performed in Denver three times and I�ve co-hosted a radio show with Denver�s on-air smooth jazz personality Becky Taylor so I have a lot of fans there. I didn�t perform at the Pepsi Center or INVESCO Field but I was a headliner at the week-long Jazz and Blues Festival which was the premier music event during the Democratic National Convention.

Jazz Gypsy: That was a major festival with a lot of music heavyweights.

Joyner: Yes. It was great to be included in such an awesome line-up that included Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Hugh Masekela, George Duke, Walter Beasley, Arturo Sandoval, Pieces of A Dream, Eric Darius, Pamela Williams, The Blackbyrds, Poncho Sanchez, Bobby Lyle, Warren Hill, Nick Colionne, Maysa, Jonathan Butler, Marion Meadows, Kevin Toney, and Jeffery Osborne among others.

Jazz Gypsy: There have been a lot of advances in technology. How are you using technology in your career?

Joyner: I use technology a lot. There are so many avenues of technology that didn�t exist before that are now available like Myspace, You Tube and Facebook. I use those avenues for online marketing. My music production is also facilitated by computer technology, since there�s been a huge leap forward in software sounds. I can record new sounds on my hard drive, master and mix sounds on my laptop and do mixing and performing with a keyboard attached to a lap top. The advances in technology have been great.

Jazz Gypsy: Not too long ago, I heard Richard Elliott & Rick Braun talking about what an amazingly dedicated and hard-working artist you are and that was why they chose to sign you to their R&R label. Tell me about that.

Joyner: My brother and I used to play Richard Elliott�s Chill Factor all the time. We played it in church and when we were in the high school band. I never thought I would be signed by Elliott years later. From the very beginning, I�ve taken the work of being a musician seriously. I always study the material because I�m dedicated to being an artist. As a result of my strong work ethic, sometimes I am very hard on my band.

Jazz Gypsy: You�re represented by Steve Chapman, right?

Joyner: Yes. Steve Chapman is the only English person I know. At first, I felt intimidated because he has such an impressive artist roster. I thought I was expected to act a certain way. But, I quickly found out that Chapman is a really cool, down-to-earth, regular guy. And, he�s also very funny. I�ve learned the thing that makes the best manager is having a good personal relationship based on friendship.

Jazz Gypsy: Outside of the musical arena, what are some of your other accomplishments?

Joyner: In high school I played a lot of sports. I was a strong forward or center on the basketball team and I loved to dunk. I was a distance runner on the track team and ran the 800 meter, 55 meter hurdle and the 400 meter. I�ve worked as a barber, growing up cutting the hair for my three brothers and I done my own hair for the past eight years. I also design websites like my own Myspace page and I play around with flash and html on my website

Jazz Gypsy: So, with all those talents, if you weren�t working as a musician, what would you be doing?

Joyner: If I was not working as a musician I would completing studies to major in Chemical Engineering. I've completed 2 years so far.

Jazz Gypsy: Now, for an odd question. If you were stranded on a desert island and could have take five cd�s with you, which would they be?

Joyner: [laughing] Can I take my own?

Jazz Gypsy: Sure.

Joyner: In that case I�d take my first release, Babysoul, my upcoming cd, a cd by Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum�s Babyface cd and one by Yolanda Adams.

Jazz Gypsy: Thanks, Jackiem. This was a great conversation.

Joyner: You�re welcome.

Jackiem's Tour Schedule
September, 20 2008 - 08:00 PM - Green Valley Casino - Las Vegas, NV, w/Keiko Matsui
September, 25 2008 - The Grape � Charlotte, North Carolina
September, 27 2008 - 06:00 PM - Mable Amphitheatre, Atlanta, GA
September, 28 2008 - 08:00 PM - Oceanside Pier Amphitheatre-San Diego, CA, San Diego, CA
October, 4, 2008 -12:00 PM - Catalina Island Jazz Festival - Catalina Island, CA, Catalina Island, CA
October, 11 2008 -12:00 PM - Catalina Island Jazz Fest - Catalina Island, CA, Catalina Island, CA
October, 19 2008 - 12:00 PM - Catalina Island Jazz Festival -Catalina Island, CA