Featured Smooth Jazz Artist Archives (2015)

Our archives of previously profiled smooth jazz artists of the month

Dec. 2015

Bob James – Jazz’s Synonym for Legendary Sophistication

There are moments in a person’s life when things change. For me, growing up in a suburban town thirty miles outside of LoBob James picndon, that change happened when I discovered the joy of the nightclub. Back then there was limited access to soul, jazz and reggae music. You had to seek it out. I found it and developed a lifelong love for it at a nightspot above an old coach house on the outskirts of London. A place called the Lacy Lady. It was a great venue and always played the latest soul, funk and dance imports form the states. The warm up DJ, Tom Holland, would specialise in the jazz funk cuts. One track in particular used to tear the place up. It was a quiet little number. Started out with just five notes on an electric piano then built up into an awesome groove that just had the steppers moving. That track was “Westchester Lady.” It was the first time I had heard of this guy Bob James, and it was a track that started me on a quest for more of his music. Read full article


Nov. 2015

Lee Ritenour – The 6 String Theorist Extraordinaire

Renowned guitarist Lee Ritenour’s latest album, A Twist of Rit, was released a little earlier this year. It’s his 39th solo album in a career spanning more than 5 decades.Lee Ritenour pic

Since the beginning of his career, Ritenour has maintained a delicate balance between the individual creative vision and the group dynamic. As a teenager, he studied with the legendary Joe Pass, playing his first session when he was 16 with the Mamas & the Papas. He was given the moniker, “Captain Fingers,” because of his manual dexterity on the guitar.

By the mid-1970s, his fame was growing and he was becoming a sought-after session guitarist. He won Guitar Player magazine’s Best Studio Guitarist twice in the 1970s.

Ritenour’s solo career began in 1975 with the recording of his album First Course. Released in 1976, the album gave a strong representation of the mid-1970s L.A. Jazz/Funk sound. The followup, Captain Fingers, was a strong cross-over album in response to the critic’s complaints that the debut album was “lightweight.” Read full article


Oct. 2015

Warren Hill – Creative Rocker-Turned-Jazzer-Turned-Jazz/Rocker

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Warren Hill began his music career at age 7. He studied guitar, and his early influenWarren Hill picces came from classic rock such as Led Zeppelin, Rush, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton. At age 12, he started to play saxophone, and it became the focal point of his life while studying jazz at the Eastman School of Music. There, his musical life changed forever, and he retired his childhood dreams of becoming a rock star, strapped a saxophone around his neck, and the rest has been history which is still in the making.

For Hill, his music is as passionate as he is: “If you want to grow as an artist, sometimes you have to take risks to go forward. I want that challenge.” Not surprisingly then, Shelter (Discovery Records), his fourth album, is the first to feature his own vocals and the first he’s produced. Backed by an all-star lineup of players from sessions in Los Angeles and Atlanta, Shelter satisfies fans of pop, instrumentals, Smooth Jazz and New Jazz, while showing a new side of Hill. “I like albums that have more than one vibe,” he says. Read full article


Sept. 2015

Ken Navarro – A Quarter Century of Seamless Creativity

Over the past 25 years, Ken Navarro has performed in every major U.S. city and has had numerous Top 5 hits at national radio. His music is distributed throughout the world from Japan to Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Britain, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and even in China. His 2010 release Dreaming of Trains was pre-nominated for the Ken Navarro22011 Grammy awards in 2 categories, and his 2014 album Ruby Lane release spent 4 months in the Top 10 at contemporary/smooth jazz radio, iTunes, and Amazon. His impressive and extensive discography of 22 top-charting albums showcases his appeal to a wide range of listeners with inspiring compositions and superb guitar performances.

Navarro’s distinctive style and sound prior to 2012 have a definite seat at the table of notable smooth jazz contributions. Adding to that appeal, in 2012, Navarro released The Test Of Time on his own music label, Positive Music Records. This album marked a landmark in the guitarist’s musical direction. It is expressly and exclusively solo guitar like you never heard on any of his previous work. In each of the 12 songs that make up the album, Navarro delivered a genuine, flawless performance, where all of the melodies, bass lines, harmonies, and even percussion were masterfully played simultaneously on just one guitar without any overdubbing. Some of the contemporary classics included are The Police’s “Message In A Bottle,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” Pat Metheny’s “Letter From Home,” and Santana’s “Europa.” The album’s style clearly displayed how the artist, via his colorful imagination and innovativeness, can reinvent himself whenever he chooses. Read full article


August 2015

Ben Tankard – Always Running on a Full Tank of Inspiration

Without ever taking a lesson or learning to read a note, composer and keyboardist Ben Tankard has, over the course of 18 years and 16 bestselling recordings, used his God-given musical talent to share the hope of the Gospel that changed his life. Ben Tankard pic2Widely renowned by his millions of fans as the “Godfather of Gospel Jazz” and “The Quincy Jones Of Gospel” for his three-time Grammy-nominated work as a producer, Tankard, who, along with his wife Jewel, pastors the Destiny Center, a rapidly growing church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The artist/pastor has also earned numerous gold and platinum albums, Stellar Awards, Dove nominations, and Gospel Music Hall of Fame Awards. Accomplished? I’d say so.

As recounted in his inspirational bestselling book Faith It Till You Make It, Ben Tankard’s incredible and humble journey of faith began in various small towns in Florida, where he grew up in poverty with a minister father and missionary mother. He began playing drums in church at age three, then graduated to tuba and was offered several music scholarships out of high school before accepting a basketball scholarship to Wallace State in Alabama. After a short time in Canada with a minor league team, Tankard got his chance with the National Basketball Association (NBA) but suffered a knee injury in training camp and was unfortunately released from the team. Read full article


July 2015

Michael Franks – Charity & Song Make The Man

All he ever thought he would be was a songwriter; however his musical career opened up to so much more. Franks is a proficient songwriter and vocalist. He plays several string instruments such as the guitar, banjo and mandolin. Along with the strings, he plays thMichael Frankse cabasa, which is a metal shaker/scraper in the percussion family. Michael Franks’ musical style is understatedly cool, yet he has an incredibly powerful demeanor in his ability to rhyme with reason. He has an eclectic genre which consists of jazz, pop, rhythm & blues, samba, Brazilian bossa nova, folk, and anything else that might strike his imagination.

Franks has such phenomenal control of the English language. He uses various double entendres in his music where he uses a word that will have one interpretation, and then switches it into another context. The lyrics in his songs are ingenious and usually risqué; that’s what makes his fans come back for more. One of his entendres is in his most popular song, Popsicle Toes, with the lyrics “We oughta have a birthday party, and you can wear you birthday clothes, we can hit the floor, and go explore those popsicle toes. You got the nicest North America this sailor ever saw. I’d like to feel your warm Brazil and touch your Panama.” How risqué and captivating is that? Read full article


June 2015

Greg Adams – A Phenomenal Jazz Orchestrator

Everyone has a story to tell, and legendary trumpeter Greg Adams has a whirlwind of a musical career to depict. His story of where his musiGreg Adams piccal journey began will let you know how appreciative he is on where his journey is taking him. Adams is a trumpeter, flugelhornist, phenomenal music arranger, composer, conductor, and consummate performer. His diverse genre includes jazz, pop, rock, R&B, soul,and funk. The Funkologist is renowned for his awesome horn arrangements, and playing the trumpet in the explosive horn section of the funk band, Tower of Power.

Adams was raised in Daly City, CA, which is located in the San Francisco Bay area. He grew up in a musical family (his mother played the piano and trombone, and his father played cornet). Adams got the music bug when he was just five years old. He was enamored by his father’s glistening brass instrument; however, he didn’t start playing the cornet until he was about ten. His parents were missionaries for the Salvation Army; so, during his adolescent years, he attended the Salvation Army music camp every summer. During camp, he learned about music theory, and the playing just came natural. Read full article


May 2015

Patti Austin – The Consummate Entertainer

When a child is born into a world filled with musical vitality from the day they are born, has a father who is a jazz trPatti Austin picombonist, and godparents who are two musical legends: Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington, you can say that blessings truly abound. The incomparable Patti Austin can certainly lay claim to such a sense of musical entitlement. The charming and astute musical icon crosses all musical genres. She is a vocalist, songwriter, storyteller, standup comedienne, and brilliant impersonator. Yes, she is the ultimate all-around entertainer.

Austin was born in Harlem, NY on August 10, 1950, and grew up in Bay Shore, Long Island. The musical protégé made her stage debut at Harlem’s illustrious Apollo Theatre at the age of four with her famous godmother vocalist Dinah Washington. Washington and Austin sang “Teach Me Tonight.” Before they even started singing, young Austin told the band they were playing in the wrong key. How adorable is that? Read full article


Apr. 2015

Brian Simpson – A Musical Chameleon

The sky’s the limit for the ever-evolving keyboardist, composer, songwriter and producer Brian Simpson. He is such a musical powerhouse and has graced the stage with notable performers such as Sheena Easton, Janet Jackson, Teena Marie, Najee, Marc Antoine, NormanBrian Simpsin pic Brown, Maysa, Maurice Brown among others, and legends like the late great keyboardist George Duke. Simpson is also a sought-after studio musician who fuses jazz, pop, R&B, and blues. Additionally, for the past 15 years he has been the illustrious musical director for jazz saxophonist and longtime friend Dave Koz.

Simpson was born and raised in Gurnee, Illinois, which is a northern suburb of Chicago. The keyboardist always knew music would play a pivotal part in his life. His father was a jazz aficionado; so, he grew up listening to great musicians like pianist (and the younger Simpson’s idol) Oscar Peterson.

When Simpson was 10, his father bought him a piano, and he started taking lessons. His siblings were also musically inclined, he says. “Our house was filled with music. My older brother and sister both played instruments, and my brother’s rock band rehearsed in our living room every weekend. I never really considered any other lifestyle.” Read full article


March 2015

Phil Perry – A Better Man — Always

I recently read somewhere that, because of the timing of balladeer extraordinaire Phil Perry’s debut release, The Heart of a Man, which coincided with the industry’s love affair with the youth market, the singer isn’t considered a mainstream success. Huh?? Was that written just Phil Perry picafter that release?? It must have been. While that particular album may not have charted well and had only marginal success, since that time, those who have recognized the talents of Curtis Mayfield, Ronald Isley, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, BeBe Winans, Will Downing, and so many others who stroked and caressed the genius of soul/R&B/contemporary jazz certainly place this major vocalist in their mainstream.  Mention the name Phil Perry to those who really know music and true vocals, and you’ll certainly get a nod of recognition and respect, if not a full and excited conversation on the man’s talents. There. With that off my chest, let’s examine why I feel so strongly about this. Just who is Phil Perry (a question perhaps better asked by the youth who don’t know him but a question already answered by his followers)?

Born and raised in East St. Louis, IL, Phil Perry has spent most of his career as one of the most sought-after vocalists in the music business.  His crystalline, multi-octave falsetto has been regarded by those with whom he has worked over the years (Anita Baker, The Rippingtons, Boz Scaggs, Rod Stewart, Peabo Bryson, and George Duke) as simply spectacular.  In addition to being a strong session or support vocalist, this mighty voice has romanced and seduced many through a series of strong solo albums that have highlighted both his ability to interpret classic soul songs as well as his own songwriting skills. Read full article


Feb. 2015

Joe Sample – His Mighty Presence Lives On

For more than four decades, pianist and composer Joe Sample was an integral, innovative and bestselling part of jazz history. We jazz lovers and historians benefitted immensely from the enormous Joe Sample pic2and virtually infinite well of wisdom that defined the man and his music.

A founding member of the influential jazz funk combo The Crusaders (originally the Jazz Crusaders) and a pioneer of contemporary jazz piano, Sample reached back to the primary sources of jazz and soul music to create his personal interpretations of classics by such esteemed composers as Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, the Gershwins, Al Jolson, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and others. While exploring these rich expressions of Americana, the world-renowned artist acknowledged his own key role in carrying on these powerful legacies by including distinct reworkings of two of his own classics, “Soul Shadows” (which originally appeared on The Crusaders’ Midnight Triangle in 1976) and “Spellbound.”

He once recalled, “As a young musician I wondered, where did our music come from?…I’ve become a bit of a historian of jazz and all African American music, and recently discovered a biography of James Reese Europe. Reading that biography has given me a clearer understanding of why he has been so important not only to me, but to all of us.” Read full article


Jan. 2015

Kenny G  - Soprano Never Sounded So Good

The world famous soprano sax wielding Kenny G (aka  Kenneth Bruce Gorelick) is certainly no stranger to the Grammys, having won for a number of contributions to adult contemporary and smooth jazz. 2008 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year Awards - ShowWith melodies as sweet as honey and as free-flowing as crystal water, he is also no stranger to worldwide adoration as he maintains a solid and massive following.  He still ranks as the world’s best- selling instrumentalist, a distinction of no small proportion.

As his upcoming album Brazilian Nights demonstrates, he enjoys one of the most eclectic and dominant careers the music biz has ever seen. He’s maintained a high level of creative excellence through decades of unprecedented commercial success by never allowing himself to stay in one place too long. Always striving to be innovative, he has a discography that is as exotic as it is prolific.

Kenny G’s career started with a job as a sideman for Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1973 while just 17 and still in high school. He continued to play professionally while studying for a major in accounting at the University of Washington. Read full article