I just returned from another year of smooth jazz cruising with jovial, big-hearted bassist Wayman Tisdale and a heavenly lineup of other artists, all bent on providing us with the best in smooth jazz entertainment.
I was, as usual, taken by the personable and gracious nature of most of the artists. These are the folks with whom you sense a kinship and friendship so uncanny that it all can seem so surreal at times. Artists like Wayman, Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler, Marcus Miller, and surprise guest Dave Koz all seem to be so much more than smiles designed to drum up future business or patronage. The feeling of well-being that exuded from them was all too genuine.
From the engaging talent of Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler, and Dave Koz to the riveting journey through Marcus Miller’s career, told via his irresistible music and Q&A session held jointly with Wayman, this array of personalities made this cruise something over which those who missed it might moan and groan for some time!
Not a moment of electric, pulsating funk or silky, mesmerizing smoothness was lost on me--or any other cruiser, I’ll bet. Each sun-baked day and each star-filled night was enveloped by the sweet ambience of music made to move. Add to that the very special accommodations that were arranged for those of us who still wanted to part of our new president’s inauguration (big screen TV displays in the concert lounges), an event that was swollen with jubilation, and we, quite simply, had it all.
When I think about what motivates me to sign on for yet another year of this spectacular and never-disappointing outing, I am often at a loss for any one motivator. Of course, the music and artists would top the list, but there’s more. Coming in as a close second is the camaraderie among fellow fans, camaraderie that says all’s just so right with the world--at least for one entire week of some of the most blissful vacations this side of a dream.
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Just Enough from Tower of Power keyboard player Roger Smith was one of the best contemporary jazz albums of 2004. It perfectly fulfilled his intention to cross over into a more overtly urban adult-contemporary market and in doing so delivered some memorable tunes. Now after four years, and following his battle to overcome prostate cancer, Smith is back with his 2008 offering Sittin' In.
Smith’s solo career took off in 1999 with the release of the CD Both Sides. One of the album's singles, ‘Off the Hook’, topped Billboard's contemporary jazz singles charts and stayed in the top 10 for seventeen weeks. He was nominated for three Oasis Awards for outstanding achievement in the Smooth Jazz genre for Best Keyboardist, Best New Artist and Song of the Year. In addition he won the ‘breakout artist of the year’ award from the trade publication Radio and Records. The 2001 follow-up, Consider This, hit trouble when Smith’s recording company went bankrupt and, as a result, the album lacked promotion. However, the advent of Just Enough enabled him to make up lost ground and, in turn, increased anticipation for the new release.
The jazzy, self penned title track features edgy sax from Darius Babazadeh. This keyboard driven smoker demonstrates the more jazzy side of Smith’s nature while ‘Bad Sneakers’ is as good a piece of sax driven contemporary jazz as will be found anywhere. Eddie M (who at one time was Acoustic Alchemy’s ‘go to’ sax man) is outstanding and with predictably excellent keys from Smith this one turns out to be an absolute joy. Eddie M returns to lend a hand with the happy vibe of ‘Thinkin Bout You’. With vocals from Bobby G it’s a track that shows off the knack Smith has for matching a voice with a song and for ‘Just Friends’ he does so again. With a knockout vocal chorus from Monet and LB Braggs as its centerpiece this sumptuous mid tempo concoction has just the right blend of rhythm and melody. Of course Smith’s playing is, as ever, right on the money and elsewhere he delivers a picture perfect interpretation of the New Edition hit ‘Can You Stand The Rain’. It is taken to new heights by sensitive vocals from Lynne Fiddmont and Phil Ingram yet in complete contrast is the heavily gospel influenced ‘Jesus Brought Me Out’. As uplifting as it is different the number is a measure of the versatility for which Smith knows no bounds and this is further reinforced by ‘Isn’t It Love’ which is built around a soulful duet from La Jon Walker and Carol J Toca.
When Walker is summoned back to handle lead vocals on the sun soaked ‘Fiesta’, the effusive horns of Adolpho Acosta and Mic Gillette really blow up a tropical storm while equally compelling is the tight and funky ‘D-Man’s Groove’. In the pocket from the get-go, and with just a splash of sax from Babazadeh, it’s a tune built entirely around Smith’s edgy playing and Babazadeh is back yet again to add a silky touch to the ultra smooth ‘Searchin’. From mellow beginnings Smith, who is colossal throughout, picks up the tempo to take it home in glorious style.
That said the albums best cut by some distance is ‘Sweet Lady’. This slinky slice of sumptuous R & B shimmers with the understated vocals of Derek Allen and Connie Law, wonderful sax from the superb Norbert Stachel and an unmistakable sample from Shuggie Otis’s seminal ‘Strawberry Letter 23’. One is left to ponder whether or not, if smooth jazz radio was playing more tracks like this. would it really be in the trouble it is today?
Sittin In is a breathtaking collection and comes highly recommended. For more go to www.rogersmith.net
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
We all know that saxophonist Kenny G is just as popular overseas as he is in the U.S., as evidenced by his more than 75 million albums sold worldwide. Although he has frequently toured Asia in the past few years, Kenny has not been to the United Kingdom in 12 years. That ends in April, as he has announced four shows there, including one in Scotland and three in England, including at London’s Albert Hall.
The tour is called An Evening with Kenny G. Kenny’s latest CD, Rhythm & Romance, features the former No. 1 smooth jazz single “Sax-O-Loco,” as well as the current “Tango.”
by Val Vaccaro
On Monday, January 19, 2009, America celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (actual date of birth - January 15, 1929) the late, great civil rights activist (who was also a Baptist minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner). It is fitting that it was also the day before the world watched the momentous inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America on January 20, 2009 of Barack Obama (former Senator from Illinois), now the first African-American President in U.S. history, who is also a baby-boomer.
Speaking of baby-boomers, most smooth jazz fans - who are a microcosm of racial diversity - are also part of this age group (born between 1946 and 1964). Like many smooth jazz fans and artists, guitarist Matt Marshak holds the values of baby boomers who grew up sharing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the world as a better place, promoting equality among races and peaceful resistance to discrimination.
According to Matt Marshak, “In my opinion, jazz, smooth jazz, embodies so much of the essence of what Dr. King envisioned. Folks of all backgrounds join together on stage and in the audience to enjoy a truly American art form. The power is in the diversity, friendship, and belief (that) we as a community are a fine example of this unity.”
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is represented in part by his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which he gave on August 28, 1963 in Washington D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King’s speech was a defining moment in the civil rights movement in the U.S., and as part of the promise of being able to fulfill the American Dream. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was given as part of the1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” to over a quarter of a million people. Dr. King’s dream was for people to “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
In 1999, the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. was honored by being named to the top of the list of the “100 best political speeches of the 20th century” (http://www.news.wisc.edu/releases/3504.html).
It is fitting then, that someone from the smooth jazz community would have the idea to combine the joy of gospel-influenced, smooth jazz/instrumental pop music with the great message of the civil rights movement. That’s what songwriter, producer and guitarist Matt Marshak does in his newly remixed single “Brotherhood – featuring Martin Luther King Jr.” This new single, released officially January 5, 2009 on www.mattmarshak.com, features guitarist Matt Marshak’s upbeat, smooth jazz/instrumental pop song, mixed with the original soundtrack of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream.”
Matt Marshak says “Since I was child, I’ve always been inspired and deeply touched by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His words and message…ring with a timeless importance to me. His incredible bravery, belief in non-violence, and brilliantly executed speeches will forever influence me as a human being and a musician…. The whole idea of this song was to pay tribute to a great American who I admire like no other, and to help spread and continue his message and legacy.”
Here’s how it happened. According to Marshak, “About a year ago, I recorded a jazz/gospel/R&B tune called "Brotherhood.” It was a dream and mission of mine to somehow pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I envisioned somehow being able to use parts of the "I Have a Dream Speech" in this song called "Brotherhood." This is where my journey began.
Marshak says it took about twelve months to get the rights to Dr. King’s audio clips – he originally contacted the King estate last year, hoping to release the single in January 2008. Being persistent finally worked, and he received permission in December 2008. Marshak says “They thankfully loved the song, approved it, and granted me full permission and license to release this song nationally to every jazz, gospel, and urban a/c station (R&B). Yes, it also cost a fair amount to get the license, but to me it was the best money I ever spent.”
In his January 18, 2009 online newsletter, Marshak wrote that the “Brotherhood-featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” song is available for download for 99 cents. 100% of the proceeds of this song will be donated to the Martin Luther King Jr. Estate.” The song’s download link is: http://web.me.com/nuancemusicgroup/Brotherhood/Brotherhood.html
Also, Marshak says that he made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. co-writer of this song “to help raise money for the King Estate… It will (also) put Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the charts as an artist.”
The original instrumental version of the “Brotherhood” song by smooth jazz guitarist Matt Marshak (without Dr. King’s speech) is featured on Marshak’s current CD (his 4th CD released in 2008) called On the Rocks. The artists on the song include the song’s writer and producer Matt Marshak on guitar (and drum programming), New York gospel music greats Willard Meeks and Robert Meeks on keyboards, and Jack Knight on bass.
Marshak’s CD On the Rocks is available at Amazon.com and at CDbaby.com. A review by Brian Soergel for Jazz Times magazine called On the Rocks “One of the year’s best guitar smooth-jazz CDs.”
Recently, the title track song “On the Rocks” was on both of the Top 30 charts for smooth jazz in Radio & Records, and in U.S.A. Today for smooth adult contemporary music, alongside smooth jazz and pop music artists such as Dave Koz, Jeff Lorber, Fourplay, Warren Hill, Brian Culbertson, Seal, Beyoncé and John Legend.
Also, as a talented producer and songwriter, Matt Marshak was recognized when the CD he produced, Friday Afternoon with trumpeter David Wells, was selected as a nomination entry for Best Pop Instrumental Album for the 2009 Grammy Awards.
In Matt Marshak’s December 18, 2008 online newsletter, he wrote: “I want to congratulate our soon-to-be President Barack Obama. I was so impressed by the future President's statement that jazz and classical music will have a central part in the White House. Bands/performers of both genres will be regularly invited to perform. To me this is inspiring, as art and culture are such a(n) (important) part of this country, and it's heartwarming to hear that our new leader will create more gigs for us! Thank you President Obama!”
The new “Brotherhood - featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” single, as mentioned before, is available for download - see the link via www.mattmarshak.com or go directly to: http://web.me.com/nuancemusicgroup/Brotherhood/Brotherhood.html
Also, Marshak is hoping to get fans to request airplay of the single “Brotherhood – featuring Martin Luther King Jr.” on jazz, gospel, and R&B station starting in January 2009. Music fans who enjoy smooth jazz, R&B, and gospel, and those who share Dr. King’s vision will appreciate the new single “Brotherhood – featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Matt Marshak’s new single is positively inspirational and filled with (as one of the book titles by President Barack Obama says) the audacity of hope!
Let’s hope 2009 is a year of peace, progress, and happiness for everyone, including the smooth jazz community and its artists, who help bring joy and celebration to the world. [Note: In 2009, guitarist Matt Marshak will be performing shows in the U.S. in places such as California, New York, Iowa, Florida, and Pennsylvania (at the Berks Jazz Fest Jam). For more information on Matt Marshak, including specific tour dates and venue information – please visit www.mattmarshak.com.]
From Beth Renfro, Marketing/Public Relations DIrector of the Berks Arts Council in Reading, Pennsylvania, comes this press release regarding the addition of the Tierney Sutton Band to the 19th annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest.
READING, PA -- JANUARY 19 -- One of the most acclaimed jazz vocalists of her time, Tierney Sutton will be celebrating her latest release, Desire, at the 19th annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest.
The Tierney Sutton Band will perform two shows on Friday, March 27, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. in Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Reading Crowne Hotel (formerly the Sheraton Reading Hotel).
Desire, on the Telarc label, is an album of mostly jazz standards, but with a very unusual twist: within the album, Sutton and her band of 15 years explore the obsession and desire for fame and fortune that seems to be a societal phenomenon.
"To me, this record is about stepping back and recognizing the difference between the voices we hear that are not our own and the ones that are truly within us, and discovering that the material things that we want or desire are not usually a path to happiness, and are not usually a path to ourselves," Sutton said.
Sutton will be joined by pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Ray Brinker, who collectively have worked with such artists as Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Ray Charles and Randy Brecker.
Wisconsin-born Sutton has enjoyed success and critical acclaim since her first solo CD, Introducing Tierney Sutton, debuted in 1999. Since signing with Telarc Jazz, The Tierney Sutton Band has released popular and critically acclaimed recordings: Unsung Heroes (2000), Blue in Green (2001), Something Cool (2002), Dancing in the Dark (2004), I’m with the Band (2005) and On the Other Side (2007). I’m with the Band was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album and earned her JazzWeek’s Vocalist of the Year Award.
An active educator, Sutton has served in the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Southern California, and has led workshops and clinics throughout the world.
The 19th annual Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, runs March 27 through April 5 and features an expansive array of musical styles, including contemporary and traditional jazz, blues, big band, gospel and bluegrass. Shows are held at major venues, clubs and restaurants throughout Reading and Berks County, making it a truly unique festival. For more information on the festival, including ticketing, artist bios and archived releases, visit 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, visit www.berksarts.org.
Thanks to Beth for keeping us up to date on all the latest Berks Jazz Fest information.
We hope to see you throughout the week during the festival.
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Jazz legend David ‘Fathead’ Newman transcended peacefully at a hospital near his home in upstate New York on January 20, 2009, after a long battle with cancer. David, as he preferred to be called, attained international stardom over a long career. Born in Corsicana, Texas on February 24, 1933 and graduating from Lincoln High School in Dallas, Texas, he went on to study theology and music on scholarship at Jarvis Christian College. In 1954 he began his twelve year association with Ray Charles and was Ray’s lead tenor, band leader, and closest ‘side kick’ during those years. After leaving Ray’s band to make his own name, David performed live and recorded with many greats, including Cedar Walton, Buster Williams, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Crawford and another Texas Tenor, the late James Clay. He appeared in Dallas a number of times over the years, collaborating with other great local artists, including the late Shirley McFatter, and his son Cadino Newman, who recently accompanied David to a special performance recently in Austin, Texas. Back in New York, David had often shared the stage with Cynthia Scott, ex-‘Raylette’, in their tributes to Ray. His television appearances included Saturday Night Live, David Letterman and many others. David’s most recent recording endeavors were his CD’s Diamondhead, Life, Mr. Gentle, Mr. Cool, a tribute to Duke Ellington, and I Remember Ray which was the “#1 Most Played Jazz Album” in the country. David Newman’s music bridged many styles with uncanny ability. His music embraced living with his deep sense of spirituality and unfettered positivity. He leaves behind his Wife-- Karen Newman, Aunt Freda Mae Jefferson, Uncle Curtis Cavanaugh, his children--Andre Newman I, Cadino Newman, Terry Walker, and Benji Newman as well as his eight beautiful grandchildren.
Later this month, Grammy Award-winning guitarist Pat Metheny will see the debut of a new score for a theatrical production as he’s written the music for Eugene O’Neill’s epic Mourning Becomes Electra. The drama, starring veteran actresses Lili Taylor and Jena Malone, will play a limited Off-Broadway run Jan. 27 through April 18 at the Acorn Theatre in New York. Metheny composed and performed the solo guitar score on an instrument from the 1860s, which is the same period as the play.
It’s Metheny’s first score for a theatrical production since 1986’s Orphans, which played in Chicago, New York and London. Metheny also has scored the music for numerous motion pictures, including A Map of the World, Twice in a Lifetime and The Falcon and the Snowman. The latter produced the hit single “Chris.”
While we’re awaiting the rush of hot new 2009 releases, I thought I’d reach back in 2008 and highlight an artist whose contribution was more than noteworthy. The beautiful and talented pianist/keyboardist Gail Jhonson released a real piece de resistance entitled Pearls. Truly, this is a suave, steady, and most melodic album.
Jhonson is joined here by such wonderful masters as Pieces of a Dream’s keyboard genius James Lloyd, the Braxton Brothers’ multi-talented Nelson Braxton, guitarist extraordinaire Norman Brown (for whom Jhonson serves as musical director), sax great Marion Meadows (ask this guy about which artists have influenced him the most, and you’ll undoubtedly be quite impressed!), and guitarist Paul Brown, who stayed out of public sight for many years, opting to work behind the scenes producing and doing the whole studio thing before finally deciding to publicly strut his stuff just a few short years back, much to smooth jazzers’ delight.
Back to Pearls, this project is so heavily laden with well-composed, clearly exotic selections that it’s quite easy to discern how she arrived at the album title. I honestly can’t pick a favorite here because each tune is a gem in and of itself. Each piece clearly shows how much energy and love she and those like Lloyd (who composed quite a few here) placed into composing it. Nothing is a “filler” or “fluff.” Most cuts here could be a showstopper at any concert, in my opinion.
So, we’re now in 2009, and what a great year I expect it to be from a musical standpoint. However, if Gail Jhonson doesn’t release an album this year, Pearls will stand on its own to compete with the newest of new smooth jazz releases. I personally promise it.
Shanachie sent me a review copy of the upcoming Norman Connors CD called Star Power, to be released in February 2009. I have been a fan and follower of Norman Connors career since its beginning, equally enjoying his jazz albums like Dance Of Magic or Love From The Sun to his more soul/r&b inclined LPs Romantic Journey or This Is My Life. A Norman Connors album always has provided reliable musical enjoyment, so I was very eager to hear how this great artist sounds these days.
To get to the conclusion first: This CD has its moments, it definitely is good, but in my opinion could have been a lot better. Unfortunately, on smashing hip hop tracks like "Used To Be" and "Thinkin'", Norman Connors felt that he had to sacrifice some of his trademark qualities in order to reach today's younger audience. Additionally, to play it safe, we get our share of covers like Sade's "Sweetest Taboo", Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By" (both stripped of their orginal magic with their uptempo renditions), Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" or Norman Connors' own "You Are My Starship" (at least Peabo Bryson's powerful performance does it justice). To my ears, most of these covers don't seem to add any real value to the album. Certainly the musicianship is on a high level with artists like Bobby Lyle, Christopher Williams, Ray Parker Jr., Peabo Bryson, Marion Meadows, Norman Brown and others, but the old magic shines through for me in only a few moments.
I always enjoyed the combination of jazz sensibilities and deep soul in Norman Connors music; he paired jazz players like Pharoah Sanders and Gary Bartz with singers like Jean Carn or Michael Henderson, who sang their hearts out in an "old school" way rarely heard these days. These hallmark qualities have gone on this current release, which is professional and polished, but could have gone a lot deeper. Anyway, if you like Norman Connors, go for this CD, just don't put it next to one of his classics like This Is Your Life or You Are My Starship. This album offers solid craftsmanship, but not the soul touching magic we have to come to expect from this artist.
It looks like Chris Botti wants to be homeless no more, as he is currently searching for the perfect home in Los Angeles. Botti says he had his heart set on one, but talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel eventually put together the winning offer. For years, Botti has essentially lived out of a large suitcase while he’s been touring nonstop for nine years. His home base has been New York, but he’s lived in hotels there and occupied the one home he did own for a grand total of 10 days. In Los Angeles, Botti likes to stay at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, just minutes from famed Rodeo Drive.
Since he’s looking for a base while in Los Angeles, the trumpeter recently also purchased a Porsche 911 convertible. Botti wants a home in Los Angeles because he records his albums at the famed Columbia Studios. In addition, he says, many of the New York studios are closing down.
Bajo el Sol (translation” Under the Sun”), the debut album from guitarist Russ Hewitt is an offering that contains some of the most colorful, vibrant, and exotic Latin/flamenco-style smooth jazz found on any shore. Hewitt, an obviously brilliant and skilled guitarist whose touch is quite reminiscent of the brilliance of the renowned world fusion/flamenco/jazz guitar duo Strunz and Farah, has a very fluid technique that takes charge early on and serenades us exotically and seductively throughout with catchy tunes like, among others, the opening and title track, “Lydia,” “Palma De Mallorca,” “Simatai” (“View From the Great Wall”), and “Ojos Bonito” – one of my favorites. This young man clearly has a love affair with effective hooks, substantive scale work, and overall well-conceived compositions, all of which he handles magnificently.
Being one who is quite partial to well-played and well-produced Latin music, this project does no harm whatsoever to my perception of where and how this type of Latin music fits into the scheme of smooth jazz. Home is where the heart is, and many a smooth jazz heart will surely welcome this album.
The artist took great care to isolate and accentuate each note of a riff or chord in a crystal clear manner that beckons you to the shores of whatever island or Latin American country may happen to call to you with the enveloping embrace of each selection.
Hewitt has surrounded himself with very competent support, as well, to help polish Bajo el Sol. For example, there are members from Santana, Strunz and Farah—which is evident—Miami Sound Machine, Ricky Martin, and Shakira. Combined with Hewitt’s full sense of what he’s creating here, the added flair of this talent goes a very long way in buffing this production to a fine sheen.
After a single listen, you could very easily find yourself agreeing that this album is one of the finer Latin jazz projects bajo el sol.