Archived Conversations

Maysa -- Feb. 14, 2010

When we spoke to Maysa back in September 2009, her album, Metamorphosis, was still riding high. Little did we know that another hot album, A Woman in Love, was in the making.  Discovering that, and having so enjoyed our last chat with this charming songbird, we eagerly returned to chat again, and we were not disappointed. We’re sure you won’t be, either.

TSJR: When we last talked, you’d just knocked it out of the park with the self-portrait, Metamorphosis. Now, you’re back with another heavy-themed album, A Woman In Love, in large part, a nod to the classics (Maysa style) and with the firm statement that “Real Music is Back!” What do you mean by that?

Well, I mean that people are going for substance now. We’ve been bombarded with MTV and this attitude of “Let’s get a little woman and let’s show off our bodies and sell a million records.”  People are really getting tired of that now. There’s still the pop culture, kids going into puberty who are still impressed by that stuff, but even many of those kids, and those a little older, are turning to music that really touches their lives and touches their souls and are more mature about music now. Also, parents are exposing their children more to this music because they are tired of hearing women being called derogatory names in the music; so they’re trying to pay more attention to what their kids listen to and they just want better music for them.
TSJR: You chose some great tunes to honor, and honor them you did. What thought went into picking those tunes?
A few of them were suggested by the record label. Most are tunes that I cut my teeth on.  You know, I’m into a lot 70s music and I was into a lot of jazz singers when I was coming up, artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. I used to listen to them over and over. So, the songs that I chose were the songs that I love the most.

TSJR: Your love and respect for your peers and those who paved the way for you are so very commendable. You mentioned how Melba Moore was the influence that propelled you into music.  Now, Melba is on your Shanachie label. Have you met her?
No, not yet. Only online. She’s sent me some beautiful quotes, really encouraging things, online.  Just to be able to talk to her on MySpace and Facebook and all of those sites, it’s just beautiful and overwhelming, and it touches my heart every time she does it.  Read full conversation

Kim Waters -- Feb. 14, 2010

TSJR derives such pleasure from our exchanges with smooth jazz artists. When we settled down to chat with saxman Kim Waters, his laid-back, casual, and all-so-smooth aura was as pleasurable as a warm summer breeze.  Settle back and enjoy this enlightening conversation with the king of smooth and romantic urban jazz.

TSJR: First, I’d like to start by asking a couple of questions about Kim Waters, the artist, for those new fans who may not know.  Who or what serves as the biggest influence in your decision to pursue music in general and smooth jazz in particular?

Well, I would think my family was the one that got all of us started. As we grew, we just kept it alive.  In fact, my brother is still in my group.

TSJR: You have twin daughters. How old are they?

They’re 20.

TSJR: Do they show any interest in following in Daddy’s footsteps? 
KW:  Absolutely. One is a music major at Howard University, and the other is a fashion designer.

TSJR: What would you define as the most memorable event in your musical career?

Wow, I’ve had quite a few. I guess one would be when I received an award with Dizzy Gillespie for ASCAP Writers of the year. Then, I played with Ray Charles a few times and hung out with George Benson. I also did a lot of work with Isaac Hayes, and he taught me an awful lot about the business.  Read full conversation

Fourplay --
Dec. 19, 2009

We profiled this phenomenal and prolific quartet earlier as our Artist of the Week. In the world of contemporary jazz, they deserve a permanent label of Artists Extraordinaire. We caught up with master bassist for the group, the illustrious (and very active) Nathan East. In addition to being a most pleasant personality, he proved to hold a wealth of information that not only makes for good reading but for great understanding as to why Fourplay is and will be a frontrunner in jazz for as long as it cares to be.  Here now, for Fourplay, is Nathan East.

TSJR: We’ve always been interested in this answer: Tell us a little about Fourplay’s musical focus. Would you say that you’re more focused on reaching the smooth jazz audience, the fusion fans, or all of the above?

NE: Well, all of the above would be my first answer. However, I’d have to add that we try to have fun with our music and reach a non-denominational crowd (laughs). You don’t have to be a smooth jazz fan or an R&B or a fusion fan.  To me, that kinda locks you in to one thing and we like the universal approach.

TSJR: How do you make the decisions to play certain tunes at your concerts? Do you ever tailor your material to the audience or do you just do what feels right to Fourplay?

NE: Yes, well, we basically do what feels right. We have a certain set list of tunes, and we can swap one out for the other. Sometimes, we end up reading where we’re going to be, but a lot of times, we have a set that kinda flows from one tune into the next to establish a good pace and, if that’s working for us, then that ends up being the set for that tour.

TSJR: How do you guys write music together?  In other words, do you favor the traditional method of everyone physically getting together in the studio and working on a piece or do you prefer individually creating your respective parts and just sharing them with the others?

NE: Well, there’s no real one set way to do it. We’ve done it all ways, each guy working on his idea, but the thing that seems to be the most magical and gets the best result is when we’re all in the same room at the same time.  Read full conversation

Douyé -- Dec. 17, 2009

Songstresses. There are many. Some decent, some mediocre, and some who just defy classification; they just make you feel good. Douyé is such an artist. As I wrote here earlie
r when we featured this Nigerian princess as our Artist of the Week, she and her music have such a sultriness and a sense of belonging here. Speaking with her further proved that. Enjoy our conversation with this personable and charmingly gifted young lady.

TSJR: Welcome, Douyé.  First, let me congratulate you on such fine work on your debut CD,

Thank you very much.

TSJR: You grew up influenced by such jazz and R&B legends as Peggy Lee, Ray Charles, Billie Holliday, Stevie Wonder, and Sade. Having obviously been strongly influenced, enough to decide to launch your own musical career, please tell us how this journey of yours began.

Well, it started in Nigeria. I grew up in a home where my parents were big-time jazz fans, and they played Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, and all of the greats. I just took interest in it and decided to do this. In Nigeria, usually girls don’t tell their parents that they want to do jazz or do music. They usually expect you to be a teacher or a dancer (laughs). But my dad was very open and supportive of my doing what I wanted to do.  He would say, “If you’re going to do it, just do it right, and don’t do anything that would shame the family.” So, I took that blessing and ran with it. (laughs).

TSJR: Is your family musical?

No, they were just very much into listening and enjoying soul and jazz. They listened to James Brown and the like every Sunday (laughs). I lived with that music and became a product of it.  Read full conversatiom

Shaun Labelle
Dec. 5, 2009

The pride of Minneapolis, MN, has to be Shaun Labelle, the multi-instrumentalist composer/producer who, after years of producing records and backing others in superb fashion, finally struck gold by stepping out of the shadows and charming the smooth jazz world with his own offering, Desert Nights, which was released this past February on Innervision Records.  This fine product basically mirrors the man, a pleasant, insightful soul with a bullish determination to make his presence felt in this sphere we hold so near and dear to our hearts.  Here, then, is our chat with the charismatic musician.

TSJR: So, Shaun, let’s talk about who Shaun Labelle is, for the fans who have yet to become acquainted with you.  You’re quite the accomplished producer/musician.  I know that, at age five, you appeared in your first nationally televised commercial for the Lakeside Toys game called “Drop in the Bucket.” I understand also that is was around that time that you taught yourself to play drums, as well? Do you come from a musical or film-oriented family?

The pride of Minneapolis, MN, has to be Shaun Labelle, the multi-instrumentalist composer/producer who, after years of producing records and backing others in superb fashion, finally struck gold by stepping out of the shadows and charming the smooth jazz world with his own offering, , which was released this past February on Innervision Records.  This fine product basically mirrors the man, a pleasant, insightful soul with a bullish determination to make his presence felt in this sphere we hold so near and dear to our hearts.  Here, then, is our chat with the charismatic musician. So, Shaun, let’s talk about who Shaun Labelle is, for the fans who have yet to become acquainted with you.  You’re quite the accomplished producer/musician.  I know that, at age five, you appeared in your first nationally televised commercial for the Lakeside Toys game called “Drop in the Bucket.” I understand also that is was around that time that you taught yourself to play drums, as well? Do you come from a musical or film-oriented family?

SL: Well, you know, it’s interesting because I grew up in a household where my father was already a well-known television producer. He was the producer for the Milton Berle show, and he was also a fantastic musician. He wrote jingles, and he’s very well known for writing the jingle “From the Land of Sky Blue Water,” which is Hamms Beer, as probably everybody knows. So, growing up in that environment, with him and my older brother, who is still a phenomenal jazz piano player, and my mom who is a great jazz singer, it was just inevitable that I would end up in some facet of the entertainment business, either in television or in music, and, in my case, it’s been sort of all of the above.

TSJR: Who or what influenced you to pursue a full-time career in music?

SL: I would probably say Lance, my older brother. He was already a well-established musician, and he was just a great mentor and influence. So, when I got my first set of drums at 5, that’s all I wanted to do. I mean, after school, when all of the other kids wanted to go and play games and do their thing, I just wanted to go home and play drums. I would go home and put on George Benson’s “Breezin’” record and jam to that thing until my hands hurt.

TSJR: You’ve worked with such heavyweights in the music business like the late Ray Charles, saxman Everette Harp, with whom you still maintain strong ties, Paula Abdul, Jeff Kashiwa, Ambrosia, and Steve Reid of the Rippingtons, just to name a few.  How have all of these experiences affected you?

SL: Well, to be able to say, for example, that I was fortunate enough to co-produce with the legendary Richard Perry a Ray Charles record, is something I’m very proud of and will never forget. Everette Harp and I are very, very close, and we talk all the time.  You know, I just want to say that I think the beauty of this industry is-- of course, there’s the common thread of music--but the people you meet along the way and relationships you establish along the way, they’re forever.  Nobody can take that away from you. I cherish that very much. Whenever I get into a musical situation with people, it’s always more than the music to me, it’s the friendship and bonding and the whole emotional element, as well.  Read full conversation

Euge Groove -- Nov. 8, 2009

The man who brought us the groove from his very first album, who sneaked a peek inside the heads and hearts of smooth jazzers and just knew he had the formula for a long lasting relationship with us, has been one of the hardest working artists in our genre ever since. His style is infectious, his live performances are always on fire, and his music is never dull…much like the man himself. Check out our chat with the always personable saxman, Euge Groove.

TSJR: Let’s talk a bit about your latest CD, Sunday Morning. Can you give us a little insight into the making of it?  For example, what inspired it?

EG: Well, there were a couple of elements coming into play to make this CD. I was really very happy with the Born 2 Groove CD. I think, more than with any other CD, I was most happy with that one. I liked the live musicianship, and I took the elements that I liked most about that album and applied them to this one. So, I went into doing this record knowing that I wanted all 10 tracks to be played by live musicians. No programming, but I wanted it to be in a modern way. I wanted to stay with the HD recording and go into a nice studio and keep that level of detail.
That was kinda the foundation for doing this album. What threw me off was that I was out on tour with Tina Turner for almost a year, and I wrote all of the songs while out with her. At one point about halfway through the tour when we ended up over in Europe, I was very homesick. I felt kinda like a kindergartner on his first day in school. (chuckles) So, some of the tunes really reflect that homesickness, maybe a little on the melancholy side.
To occupy my (free) time, I just buried myself in writing about three albums worth of material (laughs). That was my outlet to bring myself back home, and Sunday morning was the time I was missing the most. I’ve always loved that time.

TSJR: Do you have a favorite song on the album, one that has special significance to you?
EG: To be honest, I was so emotionally attached to every song on the album for one reason or another. I can remember where I was when I write every one of those songs. “Sunday Morning,” the title track, just really typified what I was trying to go through and get done with the CD. “The Gospel Truth” probably expresses the saddest moment as I reflected on being away from home, and, at one point, I was literally on my knees begging God to make this time fly by and help me keep it together. I was really missing my family.   Read full conversation

Patrick Yandall -- Oct. 25, 2009

Call it determination. Call it a persistent love. Whatever it is, it has driven Patrick Yandall, a most esteemed and respected guitarist, for a decade (and counting) and has kept him hovering above the mist that often clouds the visions of good to great artists. In our eyes, from his very first CD to the proud new project, A New Day, Yandall has always kept his promise to never disappoint. Here now is our conversation with the man who has made thousands believe in the Laws of Groovity

TSJR: First of all let me Congratulations on A New Day. I understand it's doing well on Billboard.

PY:  Thanks. Yes, I can’t complain. The single, “Urban Flight” is really doing well for me.
TSJR: Let's talk about that CD. What does the title imply? Is it a new day or direction for Patrick?

PY: When I was writing a lot of the tunes, it was around the time Obama was running for president, and it looked like he was going to win; so, I just thought that the country was turning around and getting ready for a new day. That’s where the concept came from, trying to be upbeat with every tune and just reflect the whole vibe of the country and the world.
TSJR: What has been your most successful CD to date, and is it also your favorite?

PY: Right now, Laws of Groovity, but A New Day is catching up and selling quite well.  Read full conversation 

Roy Ayers -- Oct. 11, 2009

Jazz funk/fusion icon and master vibraphonist Roy Ayers has been a cornerstone of the smooth jazz movement for as long as I can recall. His robust and unstoppable zest for life has been his victory song since age 5. Now, at 69, one of the original kings of jazz fusion is just getting started as he relishes his travels and the people he’s touched and who have touched him. Here we are in an informative conversation with the giant.

TSJR: You are such a master on the vibraphone. Did you start out with a passion for that instrument?
 Oh yes. That and piano.
Let's go back a bit and relive some earlier years. I understand when you were 5 years old Lionel Hampton gave you a pair of mallets during a performance.  Years later, he would end up performing with you in your band. How did that come to be? Had you been in regular contact with him?

ROY AYERS: Well, my parents took me to see Lionel when I was 5 years old because they always believed in me and had a feeling that I would really be star someday.  My parents instilled in me a lot of pride and confidence. I remember my mother telling me that one day she would see my name in lights. They both actually had me thinking that I would somehow replace Lionel Hampton someday!

Anyway, in 1987, I was performing at the Village Gate in New York, and Lionel Hampton came down. We actually knew he was coming. He sat in with my band, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  My parents really instilled him into my life so early on. and I came to so respect him that it was such an honor to meet and even perform with him. He really was a huge influence in my life.

TSJR: Did you originally aspire to play in Big Bands like Lionel?

ROY AYERS: Yes, I eventually did play in bands like Gerald Wilson’s big band in Los Angeles, CA in my early years. I think it was around 1961 or ’62. I also played with groups like the Jack Wilson Quartet--and that was all after high school.  After that, in 1966, I left Los Angeles and went on to join Herbie Mann’s group, and I played with Herbie for four years.  Those were some great years. As a matter of fact, Herbie Mann produced my first solo album and helped produce three of my albums while I was with Atlantic RecordsRead full conversation

Najee -- Oct. 4, 2009

Najee has been a symbol of continuity in excellence since his emergence on the smooth jazz scene so many years ago.  His commitment to quality and his obvious respect for jazz in its many forms have established him firmly in the hearts and minds of fans and colleagues alike.  We chatted with the gifted artist recently.  As always, we hope you enjoy this conversation.

Najee has been a symbol of continuity in excellence since his emergence on the smooth jazz scene so many years ago.  His commitment to quality and his obvious respect for jazz in its many forms have established him firmly in the hearts and minds of fans and colleagues alike.  We chatted with the gifted artist recently.  As always, we hope you enjoy this conversation.

TSJR: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us for a few minutes.

NAJEE: My pleasure. Thank you.

What has made you come to embrace smooth jazz as opposed to some other genre, like R&B or straight-ahead jazz?

NAJEE: Well, I do all of that. It just so happens that when I first started, I came out of the R&B world, and also jazz. When I was a teenager I played in both R&B and jazz bands. When I was in college, I played in the big bands with George Russell, studied at the Jazzmobile in New York, and played with Jimmy Heath and Frank Foster.  But as a teen, R&B was how we basically established ourselves and made a little money, and, eventually, that led to building a career in the industry. I always say that my first 4 albums were really R&B records with the saxophone. Later on, the term “smooth jazz” became the term to basically identify what people like myself play.

TSJR: I understand that you also play flute and the keyboard. Do you favor one over the other? 

No, not at all. I approach each with the same amount of love.

TSJR: Do you come from a musical family?

Well, somewhat. My brother and I played together in Chaka Khan’s band in the early ‘80s and went to school together at the New England Conservatory of Music, but that’s pretty much it, aside from family members who have always just enjoyed listening to and being around music and encouraging us, especially as we were growing up.  Read full conversation

Peter White -- Sept. 27, 2009

Peter White has been one of the major cornerstones of smooth jazz culture since the 1990s and is showing no signs of diminishing in stature, relevance, or style.  The English gentleman always refreshes, soothes, and excites us with each and every release—his latest, Good Day, certainly being no exception.  We chatted with the icon on Sept. 26.  Here, with some marvelous accounts of his life, loves, adventures, some reflection on the state of smooth jazz, and, of course, his always-present charming wit, is that conversation.
TSJR: So, what’s the secret?  How have you managed to remain so popular over the years? Is there some hard and fast rule for success or at least a personal policy that you feel you must follow to remain where you are?
You know, I’ve always wanted someone to ask me that question. (laughs).  It’s a variation of “Why are you still here?” (laughter) I always say to myself "Why doesn’t anyone ever ask me that?"  That’s a hard one.  I think I play music that people like. No hard and fast rule. Then again, there are some things that can help you. For instance, you have to leave your house every now and again. In other words, you can’t be a closet guitar player and expect people to come to you.

TSJR:  What motivates Peter White from a music vantage point, and what specifically was the inspiration for Good Day?
PETER WHITE: Well, Good Day is a collection of songs which I had stockpiled over the last 15 years. There was a time, before I became a father, between 1998-2000, wherein I wrote a lot of songs. That’s all I did. I didn’t use most of them and just kept them on tape or CDs. I just didn’t know what to do with them. Over the years, I worked with other producers and wrote songs for them, and I did an album of all cover songs in 2006. Then when it came time to do this, I thought “Yeah, I’m going to get back into the ‘well,’ and I’m going to find these songs that I recorded back then and see if there is anything that still turns me on. I found a lot of music that I really liked, and I had fun back then. So, I said “I’ve got to use this.”  I read this once: We’re very miserly. (laughter) Whatever we come up with, we’re going to stockpile it to use at a later time because we all have a fear that one day we’re going to get up and it’s going to be gone. Whatever gift we have is going to go and we’re not going to have another good idea again. So, you’d better have some ideas in the bank, as it were. I just took the tunes that turned me on and started working on the album.  In fact, Good Day
was an idea started by a friend of mine, Michael Egizi, who wrote “Venice Beach” with me and “Midnight in Manhattan,” which were very big songs on the radio. So, I said, “Well, here’s another unfinished song that I can work on, and we ended up writing the title track together.
Now, what motivates me? When I started in music, it was the sound of the guitar. I just loved the sound, and I still do to this day. I wanted people to notice me as a kid, and playing the guitar was a great way to get a lot of attention.  What motivates me now is completely different, of course, having been a professional musician for over 30 years now. Today, I just love to bring joy to people’s hearts and, when I see the looks on people’s faces in the audience, or when they come up to me after a show and tell me how much this or that certain song has meant to them or impacted them in some way, that is fantastic. The love from the fans always serves as motivation for me.
  Read full conversation

Ray Gaskins -- Sept. 18, 2009

In interviewing personalities, one may sometimes encounter an artist who will posture for the microphone, put a little more “polish” on his or her career and life than is necessary. Then, there are the true-to-life, genuine conversationalists.  TSJR has been very fortunate to catch the latter so far each time. Saxophonist Ray Gaskins, an artist with whom you can truly envision yourself sitting back and chatting over a beer, is yet another such person.  His latest release, A Night in the Life, is a delight, and Gaskins matches that delight in his demeanor with experiences and stories to keep you as captivated as a child at storytime. He projects real in such a comforting manner. We chatted with Gaskins on September 18. Allow us to share.

TSJR: Hi Ray, and thanks so much for this opportunity to interview you.

Thank you!

TSJR: The new CD’s title, A Night in the Life, refers to the life of Ray Gaskins, I assume?

RAY GASKINS: Yes, it refers to a night in my life as experienced with and by a live audience who might come to see and hear me play. It refers to the interaction between that audience and me in such a simple and pure manner. It’s all about joint enjoyment. In a nutshell, it’s a joint experience. 

TSJR: You grew up in Baltimore, later moved to New York, and then moved on to London. We’re speaking with you in Baltimore tonight, but do you still maintain residence in London? 

RAY GASKINS: No, I lived in London for 10 years. I still travel there quite a bit while playing with Roy Ayers, and I have a pretty famous cousin there, Jocelyn Brown, with whom I visit whenever I’m able.

TSJR: So, how did Ray Gaskins get started in this business?

RAY GASKINS: Well, I started out with my own little label, and I was working directly with Jazz FM and a place called the Jazz FM music store. I eventually started working with a label called MT (Maxtrack) and later working as a producer with Corey Robbins and Brian Chin with Profile Records in New York. I was producing dance records until I later decided to pick up the sax again.  Read full conversation

Kloud 9 --
Sept. 13, 2009

Twin brothers Kendall and Kelvis Duffie (aka Kloud 9) flew somewhat under the American radar before the introduction of their smooth and hot release, Enjoy the Ride, but they have been seducing audiences in the U.K. for some time now.  Finally, American R&B and smooth jazz fans are starting to “get it,” and the duo has just signed with Shanachie Records and has re-released Enjoy the Ridea pearl of an album, under that label.  The sweet vocals and tight arrangements surely indicate that these guys will be around for years to come. We spoke with both Duffie brothers on September 11. Here’s what they shared with us.

First of all, congratulations on both releases of your latest project, Enjoy the Ride, as well as signing with Shanachie Records. I’ll bet the signing had to be a thrill and a milestone for you.


TSJR: You originally started out as members of a contemporary gospel outfit. Is that right?  

KENDALL: Yes, well, we’re originally from Chicago but we grew up in Denver, CO. It was there that we met our first producer by the name of Jerry Weaver. He’d moved to Denver from L.A. where he’d spent a majority of his career. He was a guitarist for Aretha Franklin, produced Janet Jackson’s first album, and had worked with various other artists. He moved to Denver because he wanted to do more Christian and inspirational music and that’s where he stumbled upon us. He worked with us for several years, giving us our name, Meekness. He gave us our first professional taste of music.

TSJR: Are you from a musical family?

KENDALL: Our mother was a church musician and a singer, and we grew up like many artists in any genre, getting our chops in church. We’d get around the piano and sing with her. Often, we didn’t even want to sing but she would call us up to sing, telling us that we had to give God the honor. Our mom was the musical genius behind what perpetuated us to do what we’re doing. In fact, when she was pregnant with us, she said that, every day during the nine months she carried us, she would play and sing to us. Hearing that hit me extremely hard and really served as a motivator for me.  Read full conversation

MAYSA -- Birchmere Music Hall, Sept. 4, 2009

If there were ever a metaphorical recipe for Maysa, it would be: A heaping helping of sweetness, kindness, warmth, honesty (oh-the-honesty!), and sheer vocal power. TSJR was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with this vocal phenom at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, on Sept. 4.  Sit back and enjoy this conversation.

TSJR: Greetings, Maysa, and thanks for this opportunity to interview you.

MAYSA: Thank you for doing this.

TSJR: So, first off, congratulations on the spectacular job you did on your latest release, Metamorphosis, which, according to Soul Patrol Newsletter, was ranked among the Best Black Music albums of 2008, and I’m sure it still ranks very highly today among all such sources.

MAYSA: Thank you. It’s my favorite album.

TSJR: I understand that you have classical training. With that in mind, did you set out to become a jazz vocalist, or was something in your sights more along classical lines?

MAYSA: I always wanted to be a jazz singer. I started out when I was about, well, between 6 and 12 years old.  I was into pop and R&B and, you know, all the usual things that were being played on the radio. When I was 12, my uncle called me one day—he's a big jazz fan—and he said “Maysa, why don’t you turn on PBS?” I turned it on, and Al Jarreau was scatting, and from that moment on, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I liked it because I knew it would make me stand out from being just a regular singer. I had the classical training at Morgan State University—in fact, that’s what my degree is in —so I had to do that, and I’m glad I did because it has helped me to sustain my voice over the last 18 years. It can be hard to sing with the big electric bands, especially Incognito; so, I’m really glad I had that training.

TSJR: Do you come from a musical family?

MAYSA: Well, my parents sing really well. My mother wanted to be a singer, but her family didn’t support her; so, she gave up her dream a long time ago. I would always hear my father singing around the house, and he always sounded great. We had music in the house all the time, waking up, going to sleep, at parties. My parents were also always having blue light basement parties, and so music was all around us all the time.  Read full conversation