Featured Artist Archives

June 13, 2010

Brian Culbertson—Can You Say "Funk on Steroids?"

Batten down the hatches! If we could name a hurricane after this groove, it might be Funkenstein.  Who could possibly have that kind of effect on funk? Do you have to ask?  Since the '90s, the music of keys wiz Brian Culberston has been roaring as loudly as King Kong and growling as feriously as The Werewolf, as well as being as sweet and sensuous as some of time's most exotic seductresses. Let's examine this phenom.

Culbertson began his quest in music at the age of 8 on piano, adding drums at 9, trombone at 10 then bass at 12. He grew up loving genre-crossing jazz-pop artists such as Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Tower of Power, The Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Yellowjackets, Earth, Wind & Fire and Maynard Ferguson. So passionate and naturally gifted was Culbertson that his 7th grade piano recital consisted of all original pieces. He flourished in high school bands with his father, Jim Culbertson, as the school’s award-winning jazz band director, then spent two years at DePaul University before going on to compose commercial jingles for clients such as United Airlines, Oldsmobile, Sears and McDonald’s in Chicago’s competitive advertising community.

In 1994, at age 20, Culbertson donned the producer hat and self-produced his debut, Long Night Out, followed in short order by Modern Life (1995 - his first album to top R&R and Gavin’s Contemporary Jazz charts, driven by the hit single “Come To Me”) and After Hours (1996). With 1997’s Secrets, the hits kept coming’ with “So Good” and “On My Mind.” His 1999 follow-up album, Somethin’ Bout Love, also sat high on the CJ Top 20 for nearly a year with the two #1 singles “Back In The Day” and “Do You Really Love Me?”  Read more...

May 30, 2010

Joe McBride – Always “All In”

Not even blindness can stop vocalist/keyboardist Joe McBride. His status as one of today’s most popular contemporary jazz musicians is rooted in a solid foundation of talent. Born in 1963 in Fulton, Missouri, he began playing piano at age four and started singing in high school. As a teenager, McBride contracted a degenerative eye disease and eventually lost his eyesight, but his passion for music was never impaired. He continued his studies at the Missouri School for the Blind and at Webster University in suburban St. Louis. McBride traveled to San Diego, CA, for a while before enrolling at North Texas State University to study jazz and performance.

When McBride finally stepped out as a leader in 1992 with Grace, his first CD for Heads Up International, he quickly became a favorite in the contemporary jazz genre. His next recordings – A Gift for Tomorrow (1994), Keys to Your Heart (1996) and Double Take (1998) – featured some of the giants of contemporary jazz, including Grover Washington Jr., Peter White, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Larry Carlton, and others. His 2000 release, Texas Rhythm Club, included Dallas musicians and was a loving tribute to the Lone Star State’s underappreciated jazz scene. Among McBride’s many credits that year was a major supporting role in The Riff, a feature film about the New Orleans jazz scene (directed by Mark Allen and produced by Bernie Pollack).

Refusing to confine himself to any particular style, McBride’s recordings are full of songs that merge his many talents and interests. “There are times when I find myself starting to float back to the old ideas,” he says. “I have to tell myself, ‘No, I don’t want to do that again,’ because I’ve already been there. I’m always looking for new opportunities to move forward.”  Read more...

May 23, 2010

Brian Bromberg – Defining the BASSics

As we said here last year in reviewing his latest release, It Is What It Is, bassist Brian Bromberg never ceases to amaze with his repertoire of diverse stylings and compositions. Let’s examine the career of this masterful bassist.

Born December 5, 1960, in Tucson Arizona, Bromberg grew up in a family of musicians and artists. His father and brother played the drums. With all that music around the house, and drums all over the place, it was natural for Bromberg to start playing the drums, as well.  He was 2 ½ years old, beating up the furniture and banging on anything that didn't move. After some years of playing and practicing, Bromberg began his professional career as a drummer at the age of 13.

In elementary and junior high school, Bromberg also played the cello. That was one instrument that Bromberg did not feel very comfortable playing. One day in orchestra class at junior high, the orchestra director came over to Bromberg and said, “Hey Brian, you see that big bass over there in the corner? You know that nobody is playing it. Don't you want to play that big cool bass over there?” That orchestra director had a plan. He thought that having one bad bass player was better than not having one at all. That was his way of getting Bromberg to stop trying to saw his cello in half!  Read more...

May 16, 2010

Rick Braun -- Giving All It Takes

Even those who have followed contemporary jazz trumpeter Rick Braun and his rise as a solo artist since the release of 1993’s Intimate Secrets are sometimes surprised by the diversity of the Allentown, PA, native’s résumé before he found his niche in contemporary jazz. While attending the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, Braun and some classmates formed the jazz-fusion combo Auracle, which released two albums. His path toward solo stardom (“I also wrote my share of Rick Springfield-like songs because I was also a good singer,” he laughs) led him to some prestigious behind-the-scenes roles, first as a pop songwriter ("Here With Me" was a Top 20 hit for REO Speedwagon in 1988), then as a touring sideman with Rickie Lee Jones, Tina Turner, Glenn Frey, Natalie Cole, Crowded House, Tom Petty and War.

Nobody on today’s contemporary urban jazz scene knows more about the power of perfect, timely partnerships—or what it takes to keep the #1 hits coming—than Braun. His most recent release, the stylistically eclectic, envelope-pushing debut on Artistry Music, All It Takes, definitely found the groove with his friends and fellow greats.

After teaming up with saxman Boney James to bring in the millennium with the aptly-titled Shake It Up release and later joining saxman Kirk Whalum and guitarist Norman Brown as BWB, Braun reached even greater heights in 2007 when he and saxman Richard Elliot—who were partners at the time in the independent label ARTizen Music Group—teamed up for the album RnR. Their duet project hit #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart immediately upon its release, and its catchy title track single was an instant smash, staying at #1 on Radio and Records’ (R&R) Contemporary Jazz airplay chart for over two months. After touring as part of Jazz Attack with guitarists Peter White and Jonathan Butler in 2005 and 2007, Braun and Elliot teamed up for the genre’s biggest tour in 2008.  Read more...

May 9, 2010

Nick Colionne – Cool Presence, Hot Licks

Charging onto the national contemporary jazz scene from Chicago in 2003 (though there were a couple of less heralded projects in the 90s), the career of guitarist Nick Colionne has been meteoric, making the title of his hugely successful breakthrough single, "High Flyin'," have all the more meaning for this meticulously skilled artist.  That tune, by the way, hit #2 on the Radio & Records airplay chart and was one of the genre’s Top Ten songs of that year. After hitting further pay dirt with his follow-up Top 20 single “It’s Been Too Long,” he kept up this chart-busting rhythm with “Always Thinking Of You,” the single from Keepin’ It Cool (a Top Ten Billboard Contemporary Jazz hit) that stayed on the R&R chart for an incredible 45 weeks and was also a Top Ten single of the year at radio, as well as the Number One global internet radio jazz single of the year. His latest release, No Limits, has produced two Top 10 hits, the title tune and "The Big Windy Cat."  His third single, "Headin' Wes Before Dawn" has just been released to enthusiastic response.  At the 2007 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, Nick succeeded Chris Botti as “International Instrumental Artist of the Year.”  He was nominated again in this category for 2009.  In 2010, Nick has been honored by the American Smooth Jazz Awards with two nominations, that of Guitarist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year.

One of most compelling headliners in urban jazz, the suave, charismatic, and always nattily dressed guitarist has kept up an insanely busy schedule of over 100 live dates a year while exciting  audiences into a frenzy with his bluesy jamming, heartfelt singing (his soulful take on “Rainy Night In Georgia” is a long time fan favorite), and blazing jazz licks.

WGN-TV and Radio may have proclaimed him “Wes with a new millennium twist,” a reference to Colionne’s primary guitar influence Wes Montgomery, but this legendary connection is only one part of Colionne’s musical evolution. Coming of age on Chicago’s West Side, he played in rock bands for years and performed and toured with some of the legendary R&B icons of our time, including Natalie Cole, Al Green, The Chi-lites, The Impressions, Curtis Mayfield and The Staples Singers. Likewise, Colionne’s blues edge comes from years of honing his chops at clubs throughout the city. When asked about the connections between genres, he likes to quote one of jazz’s premier legends: “In the words of Miles Davis, if you can’t play blues, you can’t play jazz.”  That deserves a huge “amen.”  Read more...

May 2, 2010

Marcus Johnson – Just Doin' It

During the past decade, smooth jazz keyboardist/producer/composer/entrepreneur Marcus Johnson has developed a reputation as a stellar showman, wowing audiences with his emotive displays of keyboard dexterity, while mixing his jazzy beats with R&B, go-go, Latin funk, a taste of salsa and a sip of hip hop. It’s an unbridled genre that has allowed him to cultivate both mature smooth jazz fans as well as the younger urban-contemporary audiences.

Born in Ohio, Johnson was raised in Washington, D.C. and grew up sampling a cornucopia of musical styles. His mother was a classical pianist, and his father purveyed the funk. After Johnson witnessed his first live show – Earth, Wind and Fire – with his father, his musical journey began in earnest.  His stepfather bought Johnson his first keyboard, and, with private lessons from an aunt and direction from his high school music director, Johnson’s keyboard fetish flared into a passion, particularly knowing he couldn’t sing nor rap.

The young mogul soon began studying both contemporary and traditional jazz and cites Thelonius Monk and Joe Sample as early influences through high school and his undergraduate studies at Howard University. While pursuing both a JD and MBA at Georgetown University, Johnson decided to independently produce and distribute his own album. The product, Lessons in Love (1997), went on to sell 40,000 units, a phenomenal success for an unknown artist’s debut release. It also helped him launch his career as a jazz musician and chief executive of Marimelj Entertainment Group LLC (MEG).  Read more...

Apr. 25, 2010

Doc Powell – Smooth Jazz With the Right Rx

For the past seven years, Grammy-nominated guitarist Doc Powell has been the featured guitarist for the BET Awards and the record-breaking Celebration of Gospel show.  It is no surprise that Powell’s signature guitar sound has now become a staple on another ground breaking BET project, The Mo’Nique Show.  This weekly late night show hosted by Oscar Winning actress Mo’Nique, is rapidly building a global audience that tunes in to see the guest and hear the cast of all-star musicians.

Powell’s signature guitar sound has contributed to over 140 recordings of some of the premier recording stars in Pop, R&B, jazz, and gospel music, as well as a critically acclaimed gospel project and 10 top-charting contemporary jazz solo projects with guest appearances by such greats as Luther Vandross, Earth Wind & Fire vocalist Philip Bailey, Howard Hewitt, Dave Koz, Sheila E, George Duke, Boney James, and countless others.

The guitarist’s musical journey started in Spring Valley, NY over twenty years ago. At age six, he began playing guitar and continued in high school where he formed a band and played at school dances and bar mitzvahs.  He later studied at the University of Charleston, WV. After a couple years in, he decided to try his hand at session work in New York City.  Read more...

Apr. 18, 2010

Ronny Jordan – Ambassador of Acid Jazz

Down Beat magazine has called Ronny Jordan "one of acid jazz's early instrumental heroes." Jordan was one of the first guitarists in the early ‘90s to fuse open jazz improvisations with funk and hip hop rhythms. Of course, such a move offended jazz purists, but the resulting "acid jazz," spread quickly from London to New York, San Francisco, and across the United States. Although the record industry was slow to catch on to the movement, Jordan's 1992 debut album The Antidote, became one of the most popular records to emerge from London's acid jazz scene. "I'm not a hard-nosed jazz purist," Jordan once told Guitar Player magazine. Talk about understatements!
Jordan was born in London, England. His parents were of Jamaican descent. He, like so many guitarists, is self-taught.  He first picked up the instrument at the age of four and was playing live shows by age 15. He was exposed to gospel groups like the Soul Stirrers and Andrae Crouch. In fact, Jordan's first public performances were with gospel acts in and around London.

The outbreak of British funk during the ‘80s inspired Jordan to start exploring different types of music beyond his gospel roots. At some point, he developed a fascination with jazz. His influences included Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Grant Green. Although Jordan loved jazz, he was also fond of ‘70s funk groups like Sly & The Family Stone, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Tower of Power. "I was split down the middle," he told Guitar PlayerRead more...

Apr. 11, 2010

Chieli Minucci — Effective...With and Without EFX

Chieli Minucci
is the leader of the Grammy-nominated contemporary jazz group Special EFX, which formed in 1982. Minucci & Special EFX have recorded a combined 25 CDs, eight of those being solo releases. In addition Minucci has recorded and performed with such artists as Celine Dion, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Lopez, Jewel, Mark Anthony, Bobby Caldwell, Marion Meadows, Jay Beckenstein, Kim Waters, Alex Bugnon, Gerald Veasley, Lao Tizer, Nestor Torez, Bob Baldwin, and countless others.

Also known as a composer for television and film, Minucci was nominated for 10 Daytime Emmy Awards and has won three, in 1998, 2007, and, most recently in 2008, for his eclectic compositional work on CBS's The Guiding Light. He has written music for well-known programs such as Good Morning America (theme), Bloomberg Radio (theme), Access Hollywood, The 700 Club, and others. He also contributed music to the soundtracks of "Bowfinger" (1999), "Legally Blonde" (2001). and "Panic" (2000), as well as most recently to "Lifted" (2007).

Minucci composed and produced the soundtrack for the Broadway Across America/Nickelodeon live stage productions of the hit TV series, Dora the Explorer ("Dora's Pirate Adventure," "The City of Lost Toys,." and, currently, "Return to the City of Lost Toys"), currently touring internationally. He also wrote and recorded original songs for the live stage production of Thomas & Friends Live™, (both "Thomas Saves The Day!" and, most currently, "A Circus Comes to Town").  Read more...

Apr. 4, 2010

George Benson – Smooth Jazz's Storyteller

George Benson, at various points during the 40 years of his magnificent career, has been heralded as a jazz guitarist of unparalleled chops, a vocalist with great emotional range and sophistication or a combination of both. However, he regards himself as an entertainer in the broadest sense of the word – a singer of songs, a spinner of tales.

“It’s a very simple equation,” the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master says of the longevity of his career and the ten Grammy Awards that have punctuated it along the way. “In the end, it’s about the songs and the stories. That’s what keeps the music fresh for me. That’s what keeps me coming back. If you come up with a great melody and put the right lyrics to it, I’m immediately excited.”  Thus, his latest release, Songs and Stories.

For Benson, a great song has the capacity to actually alter reality – not just for the listener but for the performer as well. “When I play a song like Christopher Cross’ ‘Sailing,’ which you hear at the very end of Songs and Stories, it actually puts me out on the ocean,” he says. “And I’d like to think the song can do the same for the people who hear it. That’s why people like Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole were so successful. When they started singing, they would actually take you to another place. And for a few moments, at least, you could actually feel the atmosphere of that place and that story all around you. Nobody did it better than those guys, but that’s a little of what I try to do – not just on this record but on all of my records. I try to take the listener to another place.”  Read more... 

Mar. 28, 2010

George Duke -- The Duke of Funk, The Master of Smooth

Let me preface this profile by saying that, in order to chronicle the incredibly prolific and illustrious career of producer/keyboardist/composer and doer-of-everything-else-music George Duke, I would need to occupy several pages of this site. To keep it all within reasonable limits, I shall attempt to do what may be a most difficult task and truncate the adventures and accomplishments of a man who has embodied all that jazz (and any other genre, for that matter) could possibly have to offer.

O.k., here are the facts. Duke is a California native who discovered at age 4 the genius that was Duke Ellington when his mother took him to see that Duke in concert. "I don't remember it too well," says Duke, "but my mother told me I went crazy. I ran around saying 'Get me a piano, get me a piano!'" He began his piano studies at age seven, absorbing the roots of Black music in his local Baptist church. "That's where I first began to play funky. I really learned a lot about music from the church. I saw how music could trigger emotions in a cause-and-effect relationship."

By age sixteen, Duke had played with a number of high school jazz groups. He was heavily influenced by Miles Davis and the soul-jazz sound of Les McCann and Cal Tjader. Attending the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and majoring in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass, he received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1967.  Read more...

Mar. 21, 2010

Nestor Torres -- Flute With Flair

Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, flutist/composer Nestor Torres has played music all his life. His parents gave him a set of drums at age 5, and he later took up the flute at age twelve. He moved to NYC with his family in his teenage years and went on to study at Mannes School of Music and later at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. At that time, he was also able to learn to improvise in a style of Cuban Dance music called Charanga, which helped to shape and develop Torres’ melodic and danceable sound.

In 1981, Torres joined a Latin act known as Hansel and Raul and moved to Miami, FL, where he's been based ever since. Torres was immediately accepted into the city's vibrant salsa scene, and he's spent much of his time since then lecturing and performing on the college circuit in south Florida, as well as performing regularly at festivals and clubs in and around Miami, not to mention tours all over the world. He has also performed and recorded with the likes of Ricky Martin, Tito Puente, Herbie Hancock, Gloria Estefan, to name a few.

Torres has recorded 13 CDs to date. My personal favorite is his 2004 release, Sin Palabras. Hot is so inadequate a description of so powerful a release. 

Mar. 14, 2010

Jesse Cook – Flamenco Rico

As evidenced in many of the interviews we’ve conducted, musicians often speak of influences. For Juno award-winning guitarist Jesse Cook, it’s not so much an individual who comes to mind but a region in southern France known as the Camargue.  It's where Cook spent many summers, wandering the streets among the Gypsies who inhabit the area, soaking up the atmosphere and listening to the likes of Nicolas Reyes, lead singer of the flamenco group Gipsy Kings, who actually  lived next door.
Born in Paris in 1964, Cook first picked up a toy guitar at the age of three desperately trying to mimic the sounds of guitarist Manitas de Plata who lived in the Camargue. This Gypsy guitar legend, made famous by his friendship with Picasso, would have an enormous impact on Cook from a very young age.
After his parents separated, Cook accompanied his mother and sister to Canada, his mother's birthplace.  Recognizing a precocious musical aptitude in her son, music lessons followed at Toronto's esteemed Eli Kassner Guitar Academy. Kassner's other famous pupil was classical guitarist Liona Boyd. 

Mar. 7, 2010

Nils -- Always Ready to Play

Fully living up to the title of a popular instructional book he once wrote called “How To Make Your Guitar Talk,” Nils was the smooth jazz story of 2005, breaking through to audiences across the country with the energetic title track from his debut release, Pacific Coast Highway. Hitting #1 on the Radio & Records airplay chart, “Pacific Coast Highway” became the soundtrack of the summer, staying at #1 for seven weeks on its way to being named the most played song in the format in the U.S. and Canada for the year. The guitarist’s follow-up single “Summer Nights” remained in the Top 5 for six months on the same chart and became his 2nd #1 hit.

Inspired by this success, Nils entered 2007 once again with an exciting new collection of tunes that he aptly dubbed Ready to Play.  That CD kept his crisp and edgy electric guitar front and center while expanding his pop, jazz and R&B driven musical palette even further.  He states, ”The most important thing was to make sure Ready To Play featured my best writing and playing from start to finish. I love the fact that it incorporates all of my favorite styles.”  He has since followed that with the comely Up Close and Personal, a ripe combination of funk and blues that’s most effective.

Born and raised in Munich Germany, Nils picked up his first guitar as teenager. While his first
inclinations were to follow the lead of his idols Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, it wasn’t until later when he was introduced to funk music that he became  hooked on that vibe.  He spent “endless nights” learning and copying rhythm players like Nile Rogers, Al McKay, and Paul Jackson, Jr. “But growing up in Germany,” he says, “the chances to become a full time musician were rather slim, unless you wanted to play Top 40 or polkas. The schooling options were either a strictly classical Conservatory or a small private music school.”   Read more...

Feb. 28, 2010

Wayman Tisdale -- The Golden Style & Smile That Wooed Smooth Jazz

Undoubtedly one of the most beloved performers in the world of smooth jazz, bass player Wayman Tisdale first dazzled the world with his basketball skills, playing twelve years in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a power forward before turning his undivided attention to his first love: music.  Let’s take a ride along the Wayman Tisdale route to stardom.

Releasing his first solo album in 1995 while still playing in the NBA, the smiling six-foot, nine-inch tall, 240-pound giant had released his sixth album by 2004. His first four albums reached Billboard's top ten chart and included the number-one hit "Can't Hide Love." He also
contributed to other recordings as a writer and a producer.

The youngest of six children, Wayman was born on June 8, 1964, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his father, the late Rev. Louis Tisdale served as the pastor of Tulsa's Friendship Baptist Church for over 20 years. When Wayman was young, his father bought each of his three sons a Mickey Mouse guitar, hoping at least one of them would take an interest in music. Wayman, who loved to watch the bass players at his father's church, was instantly enthralled and began to teach himself to play guitar and bass. 

Feb. 21, 2010

Joe Zawinul -- The Always-Sunny Forecast

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the fantastic October 2005 live project from Joe Zawinul with the WDR Big Band in tribute to Joe’s former supergroup, Weather Report . The live performance was captured in a CD released in 2007 entitled Brown Street.  Simply put, it was both riveting and breathtaking. It spelled a description of what Joe and Weather Report had hoped to leave as a legacy.  It certainly served as a description for part of that legacy.  The loss of this profoundly talented musician who’d been named as Best Keyboardist by Downbeat magazine more times than I care to count  will be felt for countless years to come. Let’s now recount Joe’s illustrious and prolific journey and again enjoy that which he defined and can be seen as some of the finest in fusion jazz.
Needless to say, Joe Zawinul was one of the most influential jazz musicians of the twentieth century. He was a pioneer in the use of electronic musical instruments, bringing the electric piano into the mainstream, and possessed an unparalleled ability to make the synthesizer an expressive musical instrument. He composed some of the best-known standards in jazz, including “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and “Birdland.” With Wayne Shorter, Joe founded and led Weather Report, arguably the most successful band of post-sixties jazz. His unique ability to combine jazz with ethnic music from around the world blazed the trail for what would later be called “world music.” Ultimately, Joe carved out a unique musical voice that is immediately identifiable and defies categorization.

The Austrian-born artist’s musical talent was apparent at an early age, and after his grandfather gave him an accordion, young Joe was often called upon to perform at family gatherings. At the age of seven, Joe was selected for enrollment in the prestigious Vienna Conservatory, where he studied classical piano, clarinet and violin. 

Feb. 14, 2010

Art Porter Jr. -- Energy Done Right

It was often said that the music of the late saxophonist Art Porter Jr. was the music preferred by those who wanted their smooth jazz “not too smooth.” Well, if that meant infusing huge doses of funk and thick, telling bass lines, they certainly got what they wanted with this young man with energy to burn. To see Art Porter Jr. live—or just to listen to one of his albums--was to truly witness a soul-stirring experience through a prism of vivid colors of sound.

Art Porter Jr. was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on August 3, 1961, to an extraordinary musical family.  His father, Art Porter Sr., was an outstanding musician and jazz pianist, much in demand in the local music venue.  Starting off on drums and becoming part of his father's band, Art Jr. was drawn to the sax after noticing the melodic proficiency of his father and another band member, Leonard Johnson, who was his high school band director. He decided to drop the drums and get into the harmonics of music. The saxophone intrigued him with it being so close to the human voice. Porter picked up the sax and found that he had a natural affinity with the instrument.  Needless to say, he became a premier saxophone player and composer.

The death of Art Porter Sr. in 1993 was a great loss for Little Rock and the jazz community. Many recall hearing Art Jr. playing a poignant “Amazing Grace” on saxophone at his father’s funeral in 1993. Reminiscent of that, Eric Struthers, a good friend of the artist, offered a heartfelt performance of that song on electric guitar at Art Jr.'s funeral service. 

Feb. 7, 2010

Grover Washington, Jr. – The Loss Hurts, but the Love Heals

When we at TSJR first discussed doing this short series, I was incredibly excited and driven. Once I began this first piece, a piece on the innovator, the cornerstone of what we know now as smooth jazz, I found that I was not only driven and excited to do it, but quite saddened by the thought that the grandchildren of our baby boomers
will never really know this master saxophonist who owned smooth jazz in every way imaginable, Grover Washington Jr.  It was a sobering moment when I first sat down to this labor of love, and I wondered if I could do it justice by presenting a worthy, though perhaps poignant, dedication to the man who defined all of this for us…and I found that I must. I owe that to him and to all who ever experienced him. Most importantly, I owe it to those who never knew the magic of the man, “Mr. Magic."  His website offers a very concise statement that is so jarring and exact.  It simply states:

For Grover Washington Jr., making music was always more than just recording hits, touring and selling records. It was about personal choices within a personal journey, the continual evolution of an artist creating a sound, a niche, and a style that became undeniably his own. There will never be another like him and we miss him dearly.

That alone gave me pause, made me take a huge breath before proceeding as I was stopped dead in my tracks by my sorrow, as well as my happiness at having experienced Grover.
It is certainly no secret that Grover Washington Jr, was one of the most popular saxophonists of all time.  He was long the pacesetter in his field. His roots were in R&B and soul-jazz organ combos, but he also fared very well on the infrequent occasions when he played straight-ahead jazz. A highly influential player, Grover pushed himself with the spontaneity and risk-taking of a masterful jazz musician. 

Jan. 31, 2010

Candy Dulfer – Goin’ Dutch Has Never Felt So Right

Performing since age seven, becoming an international recording artist at age nineteen, and touring the world since age twenty, Dutch sax sensation Candy Dulfer has been grabbing and holding on to the bull’s horns for one long glorious ride into smooth jazz bliss.

Having recorded and/or performed with such artists as the inimitable and prolific Prince, the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, Van Morrison, Maceo Parker, Sheila E., Mavis Staples, Lionel Richie, Beyoncé, Pink Floyd (yes, Pink Floyd!), Chaka Khan, David Sanborn, Larry Graham, Marcus Miller, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Cliff, George Duke, Blondie, Jonathan Butler, and countless others, this sexy and energetic saxtress has compiled quite the impressive resume, to say the very least.
Her seduction of funk began in the smooth jazz world with “Lily was here,” her first collaboration with former Eurythmics Dave Stewart, in 1989. It was, besides being one of my (still-standing) all-time favs, a Number 1 hit all over Europe.  In 1999, the two worked together on the soundtrack of the Robert Altman motion picture Cookie’s Fortune, and in 2002 they toured Europe with a new project, Da Univerzal Playaz, featuring reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. 

Jan. 3, 2010

Paul Jackson, Jr. – Layin’ It Back, Kickin’ It Out

It’s quite the norm nowadays to turn on a TV music special or series and see renowned guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr. offering his sterling riffs and chords to some other artist or contestant.  Considering his remarkable talent and the fact that he has performed on more than 1,000 records, it is truly heartening to see this man stand in the shadows humbly and serve up some of the sharpest guitar work ever to complement—and compliment—artists of every walk of music—and that’s without talking about his jamming, funky solo work.  You know what I think? He’d probably rather not boast about it, either. That’s just the quiet giant he appears to be. Why shout to the heavens about how great thou art when you’ve demonstrated it time and again and have the fans to prove it?
Jackson was born in Los Angeles, where he continues to live today. You can spot him or hear that telling guitar in the American Idol band, where he’s played since its inception, and will once again take his place on that stage in the upcoming season. He has also performed in the bands for the TV shows, Don’t Forget the Lyrics, America’s Got Talent, and Grease: You’re the One That I Want.

Jackson debuted as a solo artist in 1988 with the album I Came To Play. His sixth CD, Still Small Voice, included the smooth jazz singles “Walkin” and “It’s a Shame.” His latest CD, Lay It Back, featured the hit single “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” which has been a force on the Smooth Jazz Top 20 chart for quite some time.  Read more... 

Dec. 27, 2009

Norman Brown -- Smooth Jazz's Stormin' Personality

Smooth jazz guitarist Norman Brown, who just celebrated a birthday on Dec. 18, has been having a torrid love affair with music since he was eight years old, after his family had relocated to Kansas City, MO, from Brown's birthplace of Shreveport, LA.  It was in Kansas City that Brown first heard the mind-blowing brilliance of the late guitar icon and legend Jimi Hendrix, and he then became determined to make the guitar his life. The obligatory garage rock apprenticeship followed, but it was Brown's steelworker father who eventually introduced his son to the equally life-changing influence of the great, equally iconic Wes Montgomery and turned his talents toward jazz.

After graduating high school, Brown headed west to study at the renowned Musician's Institute in Los Angeles, eventually landing a teaching job at the school even as he put together his first jazz combo and began playing on the city's thriving club scene. Adding George Benson to his list of seminal influences, Brown had already garnered a small but fanatical following when he landed his first recording contract with Motown Records. Over the course of the next four years, he released three critically acclaimed albums, Just Between Us (1992), the gold-selling After The Storm (1994), and Better Days Ahead (1996). The decade drew to a close with a new label, Warner Bros. Records, and one of his most accomplished and assured offerings, Celebration, which marked the beginning of his fruitful collaboration with ace producer Paul Brown.

was followed, two years later, by the Grammy winning Just Chillin', spotlighting an altogether more laid-back sound and an array of top-tier supporting vocalists that included Michael McDonald, Chante Moore, Miki Howard, and others.  Read more...

Dec. 20, 2009

Gerald Albright -- "The Musician's Musician"

The contemporary and straight-ahead collections of saxophonist Gerald Albright have established the Los Angeles-based musician as one of the most prominent artists around. Indeed, Albright was one of the ten featured saxophonists who performed at President Clinton’s inauguration. He was also featured at the Presidential Summit, as well as several private functions for the President.

Having sold well in the neighborhood of 1.5 million albums in the U.S. alone, Albright’s self-produced music features him on bass guitar, keyboards, flutes, drum programming, and background vocals. Gerald has definitely earned the reputation as the “musician’s musician.”   His latest effort, “Sax for Stax,” has been nominated for a 2009 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. While congrats are definitely in order, when will we start recognizing these efforts as contemporary/smooth jazz??

Whether he is playing contemporary or straight-ahead jazz, Albright stands in a class all by himself.  As one who approaches his music with love and fun, he is as much a very serious artist who obviously thrives on perfection.  He is known for his swiftness on stage, his unique round sound, which is percussive yet soulful. He has the ability to surprise the audience with something out of the ordinary and always  gives his audience what they come for - a great show. 

Dec. 13, 2009

The Rippingtons -- Modern Art Since the `80s

The Rippingtons, under the guidance of the one consistent member and founder, guitarist/producer/composer Russ Freeman, have dazzled the smooth jazz masses since 1986.  In the early to mid-90s, the group, which is known for a lot of theme-based recordings, was considered by many to be more of a jazz/rock instrumental band, but since 1999, they have been received into the Smooth Jazz embrace with much zeal.  Let’s explore the prolific and rewarding ventures and discography of this contemporary wonder.

The band's recording career began in 1986 with the recording of Moonlighting. The album was well-received by critics and consumers and featured the song "She Likes to Watch," which has gone on to become a staple of the band's live set and one of their signature tunes. In January 1988, the Rippingtons released Kilimanjaro and began to tour more extensively. Mark Portmann, Steve Bailey (replacing Bill Lanphier), and Jeff Kashiwa joined the band.  They then released Tourist in Paradise. The tour for this album featured the group's first visit to Japan with David Benoit in 1989, where they joined the special summer concert series in Tokyo produced by Japanese saxophonist, Sadao Watanabe.

In August 1990, the album, Welcome to the St. James' Club, was released and became the band's first CD to debut at #1 in the Billboard Charts.

In 1991, Freeman relocated to Colorado and opened Cheyenne Mountain Ranch studios. The move influenced the group's next album, Curves Ahead, which featured songs based on the ski atmosphere in Colorado. 

Dec. 5, 2009

Michael Lington--Vividly Off the Hook

Since the late 90s, saxophonist Michael Lington has produced hit after Top Ten hit while dazzling fans with his charismatic and electric live performances.  After securing a success, A Song for You, his dynamic, critically acclaimed collection of 70s pop covers featuring lush arrangements and a full orchestra, Lington, who became a U.S. citizen in March 2008 (18 years after emigrating from Denmark) dove right back into the smooth jazz mix, his obviously comfortable niche, and produced a smoker appropriately titled Heat, his latest, on the NuGroove label.

The upper echelons of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and Radio & Records’ Jazz Chart are familiar territory for Lington, whose 2000 breakthrough album, Vivid, featured the #2 hit “Twice In A Lifetime,” and “Sunset (Por Do Sol),” which reached #4.  Lington’s third release, Everything Must Change, was chosen as one of 2002’s top contemporary jazz recordings by Jazziz Magazine and spawned the Top 5 radio single, “Still Thinking Of You” and Top 30 hit “Off The Hook.”

2004’s Stay With Me, his first release on fellow sax superstar Dave Koz’s Rendezvous Music label, remained on Billboards Contemporary Jazz Chart for 24 weeks and yielded three major radio hits with “Show Me” (#2), “Two Of A Kind” (#2) and “Pacifica” (#6).  A Song For You included two popular singles, “It’s Too Late” and “Tell Me All About It,” a duet with Koz.  Read more...