Tag: Jazz

Boney James Delivers ‘The Beat’

The BeatThere are so many different influences in musical style these days that artists sometimes find the need to blend them together in order to make music that’s sonically appealing. But saxophonist Boney James believes there are really just two kinds of music: good and bad. His latest album, “The Beat” falls into the former category by cleverly combining the elements of R&B and Latin, and is already my choice for album of the year, in any genre.

From the moment I first heard this album, it immediately became clear that it would become the default soundtrack in my car wherever I went. It has elements of sound that make you want to move your feet, while others are best absorbed in the evening twilight, perhaps with a fine glass of wine. From the fresh version of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” that kicks off the album to the smoothness of “You Can Count On Me” and everything in between, the album is nothing short of brilliant. Repeated listenings find you choosing a different favorite song, something unheard of for an album in the day and age of instant gratification.

James pulls no punches in bringing out the heavy hitters for “The Beat”, including Rick Braun (“Batucada, The Beat”), Raheem DeVaughn (“Maker of Love”) and U.K. poet/musician The Floacist on “The Midas (This Is Why).”

James once envisioned himself in another career role, even having achieved a degree in History from UCLA. But that was before he decided that music was going to become his life. After four gold albums, three Grammy nominations and sales totaling more than 3 million records, it’s hard to argue that he’s made the right choice. With “The Beat”, he is certain to add to that total.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Boney James about the new album and more.

What was the spark that ignited “The Beat”?

I’ve always played around with the idea of one day doing a full-on Latin record. I began by thinking about how I could pull it off and decided to try working on an arrangement of one of my favorite Latin songs, Batucada (The Beat); which Sergio Mendes recorded. I’ve always loved the song and as I was working on it, I decided to try and take out the samba beat and put on more of an R&B back beat. It was so fresh sounding that it became an a-ha moment where I discovered that if I combined the Latin with my R&B groove, it would become this whole new thing. That’s what sparked the whole record.

BoneyJames1Your fresh take on Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” follows a similar formula.

Stevie had done a similar thing with his version by mixing the Latin with the R&B. He’s an R&B singer, but he incorporated a lot of Latin percussion into that song.  So I figured I would do my version of his version of that, and it became this whole third thing.

Tell me about how you connected with Raheem DeVaughn for the track “Maker of Love”.

I had written the music for that song and needed a vocal. Raheem was someone who was on the top of my list of artists I was hoping to work with someday. So just as I’m having that thought, I get an email from Twitter saying that Raheem DeVaughn had started following me. Out of the blue, he  just followed me. I emailed him and asked if he’d like to do a collaboration. I wound up sending him the track and a few days later, he sends me back this whole finished thing. I thought I was just going to get a demo, but he wrote and sang it it all in one night. It was pretty awesome.

What’s your process for songwriting?

It happens in many different ways. Usually though, I’ll be sitting in my studio practicing my saxophone when I’ll get an idea. A little shred of melody or rhythm will pop into my head and I’ll go over to the keyboard and pound out a few measures of the idea. I’ll put it down and save the file and then later on, I’ll go back to it and it starts me on this incredible journey of taking a little nugget of an idea and turning it into a song. It’s a great experience and one of the best parts of what I do. Taking something that once didn’t exist and turning it into something real. I love it.

Where do you get your song titles?

What I like to do is listen to the song many times, close my eyes and try to imagine what kind of feeling I’m getting from it and then see if there’s some kind of poetic, clever way I can communicate that in a song title. ‘Mari’s Song’ is named for my wife. Her real name is Lily, but the family calls her Mari. It’s an old nickname she has.

For ‘Sunset Boulevard’ I was thinking about driving. It’s a great street in LA that goes from downtown all the way to the beach and I thought that was an apt title.

For “Acalento (Lullaby)”, I was already thinking lullaby, but since the album had a Latin element I thought to myself, “How do you say “Lullaby” in Portuguese?” I looked it up online and luckily, it was poetic sounding. [laughs]

How would you classify your style of music?

I don’t feel like I belong to any certain style of music. I just try to do my own thing and people respond to it. It’s really gratifying.

BoneyJames2Growing up, you started out playing clarinet and then switched over to sax. What prompted the change?

There were so many clarinets in the band at the time and the teacher needed a sax player. I was one of the better clarinet players and my teacher thought it would be easier for me to transition over, so he sort of leaned on me to do it. Right away I loved it. It opened up more of a Pop and R&B repertoire for me, as opposed to the classical style that the clarinet had been.

Who were some of your influences?

I grew up listening to a lot of Motown: Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. As I picked up the horn, I started listening to more fusion like Grover Washington Jr., Weather Report and Chick Corea.

You have a history degree from UCLA. Was there a time where you considered pursuing another career?

I was very interested in history and originally thought I was going to be a lawyer. I thought it would be a good pre-law degree to have. About a year into college was when I discovered that music was my true love and decided to pursue it as a living.  But since I had already started college, I figured I’d finish it.

What’s next for you?

I’m so proud of this new record that I’m going to dedicate the next 18 months of my life to getting out there and letting people know that it exists and making some noise.

For more on Boney James check out his official website by clicking here.

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Guitar World Interview: Chuck Loeb Discusses New Fourplay Album and The Allure of Smooth Jazz

Chuck Loeb is more than just a guitarist, he’s the consummate musician. In a career that spans four decades, he’s proven himself to be a versatile composer, arranger and producer in a wide range of musical styles. In 2010, Loeb joined the smooth jazz super-group, Fourplay where he joined other musical giants Nathan East (bass), Bob James (keyboards) and Harvey Mason (drums). Fourplay’s latest release, ‘Esprit De Four’ continues the trend of beautiful arrangements and tasty guitar licks that has made the smooth jazz super group world renowned.

I spoke with Loeb about the new album and his creative process as well as what he thinks makes smooth jazz so appealing. He also gives advice on the best way to approach the instrument when it comes to improvisation.
You can read the rest of my Guitar World interview with Chuck Loeb by Clicking Here!

Women Who Rock: Lisa McClowry Sings Acoustic Alchemy

Lisa McClowry is one of a kind! The beautiful songstress has performed on more than 25 albums with a singing style that intertwines the best elements soul, jazz, rock and pop have to offer.

Lisa’s resume includes writing the song, ‘Through the Eyes of a Child‘ for the movie, ‘The Adventures Of Rocky and Bullwinkle’ (with Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo). She was also the singing voice of the princess in the movie, ‘Rug Rats in Paris’.

Now Lisa gets to flex her vocal muscles in a truly unique and fascinating way. Together with songwriter/producer Jim Peterik (Eye of The Tiger, The Search is Over), the duo has joined forces with the guitar inspired sounds of Acoustic Alchemy’s Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale to bring us, “Lisa McClowry Sings Acoustic Alchemy”.

Peterik’s lyrics to ten existing Acoustic Alchemy smooth jazz instrumentals have given the songs a new life and a fresh sound. (Lisa herself joins Peterik in songwriting duties for the track, Visions Of Marrakesh). It’s the combination of  lyric, melody and most of all, Lisa’s sensual voice that makes the partnership with Acoustic Alchemy so musically satisfying!

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Lisa and get her thoughts on the Acoustic Alchemy album. We also discuss her new Christmas release and her Christmas show at The Montrose Room in Rosemont, IL on December 14th.

LM: I had opened up for Acoustic Alchemy about a year prior to the album coming out. That’s when I first met them. Jim Peterik also came to the show and we were all behind stage when Jim told the manager that he’d always wanted to try to put a lyric to one of the Acoustic Alchemy songs. So the manager said to him, “Well, have a go at it, mate!” [laughs]

So, Jim wrote lyrics to one of the songs and we all liked it so much that we decided to do an entire albums’ worth of songs! Jim picked out his favorites and wrote lyrics for all of the tracks except for ‘Visions of Marrakesh’; which was a song that he and I sat at a Starbucks and wrote together.

gJg: What is it like to sit and write a song with Jim Peterik?

LM: The first time I wrote with Jim was actually nine years ago. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. For Jim to sit at the piano and play ‘The Search is Over’ and then pull out his guitar and play ‘Eye of The  Tiger’ was unbelievable; almost like an explosion.

 I remember driving to his house and I was very nervous, as you can imagine. Here was a man I grew up with listening to on the radio and now I was going to be writing with him in his house. What happened was, I’d say something and then he’d have something to react to (and vice-versa). I don’t even know how the song was written. It was almost as if there was a third-party in the room that took over. The song was ‘These Open Arms’ which later was released on an album of mine.

From there, it then grew in to Jim becoming my producer and we’ve been dear friends ever since.

gJg: What was the recording process like for the Acoustic Alchemy record?

We actually never met with them during the process of recording. They were in London, and we were in Chicago. We’d have our band in Chicago lay down some tracks and then send them to Greg and Miles, who would lay down some guitar parts over what we did. It was a unique, wonderful experience recording back and forth. We definitely wanted to make sure we kept the original wonderful quality of Acoustic Alchemy.

gJg: How has the reaction been to the album?

LM: Fantastic! It’s a real treat to perform these songs live. As a singer, you really get to sink your teeth into them. The melodies allow you to show many colors in the voice. Our guitarist, Mike Aquino also enjoys the songs as well, because he can really let loose.

From left: Miles Gilderdale & Greg Carmichael (Acoustic Alchemy), Lisa McClowry, Jim Peterik , Michael Jeffers (Publisher of Chicago Jazz Magazine) – Photo: Gene Steinman

gJg: You also have a new Christmas EP that was recently released. Tell me about the beautiful song from that album, “Before The Tree Comes Down”.

LM: ‘Before The Tree Comes Down’ was originally written by Christa Wells and about three years ago, I released her version of the song. For this re-recorded version, Jim added a new chorus and produced it. So it went from a good song to a really, really good song with Jim’s touches.

gJg: The message of the song is so powerful.

LM: The military is a big part of me. I’m not from a military family, but am very empathic because I have friends who are in the military and live through them what it’s like to not being home for the holidays. It’s a song close to my heart because I think we can all understand family. I’m donating part of the proceeds from the song to Stars For Stripes so that we can help entertain the troops.

gJg: Tell me about how you first got into music.

LM: When I was 2 my mom said that’s when it really began. I would go up to the radio and just start singing  and dancing. At 7, I started playing piano by ear. I never had a lesson at the time, but was just eager to play melodies.

By the time I was 15, I was in a rock band called ‘Mischief’ as one of the keyboard players. Somehow, I found my way to the front and became the lead singer of the band and we eventually started playing in the clubs.

Because I wasn’t trained vocally (and because rock music was hard on the voice) I started taking classical lessons. I remember fighting with it at first but my teacher (who I’ve been with now for over 20 years) told me that this type of training was going to get me through five nights of singing. Through her teaching, I was able to apply a lot of those classical techniques and keep my voice healthy.

gJg: Who were some of your musical influences growing up?

LM: I remember listening to Olivia Newton John’s records. I loved the innocence of her voice. I listened to Pat Benatar, Heart and Journey as well, but I also loved my Dads’ collection of music: Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Doris Day.

gJg: What are you working on now?

LM:  This past year, I was involved as the emcee for a special needs talent show called “Special Talents America”. It’s very much like American Idol but for special needs kids. It’s one of the biggest highlights of my career; being involved with these wonderful, gifted children. 

I’m also gearing up for a December 14th Christmas show at the Montrose Room in Rosemont, Illinois. It’s a 300 seat intimate room and I love the location. One of the winners from the talent show will be performing with me that night as well. Her name is Mia Strayer, and she plays harp. She has such a wonderful spirit and I want everyone to hear her!

When I did the show last year, it was one of the first of my shows mixing the Acoustic Alchemy album along with traditional Christmas music. That went over extremely well. This year, I’ll be doing a lot of the same songs but with a string section. It will be a little twist to the music that people are familiar with. I’m excited about it.

Keep Up with Lisa McClowry by checking out her official website and Facebook pages!

Article first published as Women Who Rock: Lisa McClowry Sings Acoustic Alchemy on Technorati.

Guitar World Interview Russ Freeman and The Rippingtons Are ‘Built To Last’

In the early 1980s, a few years before Russ Freeman gathered a bunch of his L.A. musician friends together to create the groundbreaking Rippingtons debut Moonlighting, the multi-talented guitarist and composer spent time on TV sound stages listening to orchestras play. On the band’s new album Built To Last,  Freeman pays homage to those days, working with orchestral textures for the first time in addition to opening up new realms of creativity that transcend expectation.

Built To Last also celebrates one of contemporary jazz’s most enduring legacies; a twenty-five year journey that spans nearly twenty albums. The album has universal appeal, with elements of jazz, rock, pop and country combined into one eclectic mix of sonic art.

But Freeman and the Ripps really go for broke on the metal world with the music mash “Monument Monolith,” a freewheeling blast of intensity on which Freeman complements his acoustic guitar with a little of everything you’ve never heard before: “angry cannibals with boiling pots” on percussion, orchestra, solo violin and a blistering solo by heavy metal great Zakk Wylde for good measure!

I spoke with Freeman to get his thoughts on the new Rippingtons album and on celebrating a quarter century of great music!

Read the rest of my article and interview with Russ Freeman by clicking here.

Guitar World Interview: Guitarist Lee Ritenour Delivers ‘Rhythm Sessions’

In a career that spans five decades and more than forty albums, guitarist Lee Ritenour has developed a unique balance between the wisdom of experience and the enthusiasm of youth. Ritenour’s 2010 album, “6 String Theory” focused primarily on guitar and featured the winners of his 2009 guitar competition alongside guest appearances by guitar greats BB King, Steve Lukather and Slash among others.

For his new album, “Rhythm Sessions” Ritenour has added the winners of his 2012 Rhythm Section Competition which includes aspiring keyboardists, bassists and percussionists as well. The result is an album of sonic euphoria. From catchy songs like “The Village” and “LA By Bike” to the hypnotic vocal of Zamajobe on a remake of Stereophonics “Maybe Tomorrow”, there are elements that will appeal to both guitar and jazz fans alike.

I had the chance to speak with Ritenour about Rhythm Sessions, the competition and a really cool story about his days as a session player.

Check out the rest of my Guitar World interview with Lee Ritneour Here!

NEXT Collective’s Cover Art : An Album Worth Checking Out

Fans of contemporary jazz, r&b, hip hop and alternative rock have reason to celebrate. On February 26, Concord Jazz will release Cover Art, a new recording by NEXT Collective; an ensemble recording by the next generation of jazz greats that features saxophonists Logan Richardson and Walter Smith III, guitarist Matthew Stevens, keyboardists Gerald Clayton and Kris Bowers, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Jamire Williams, and special guest trumpeter, Christian Scott.

The album, produced by Chris Dunn and NEXT Collective, features jazz interpretations of contemporary pop, hip-hop and R&B songs by such artists as Bon Iver, Drake, N.E.R.D, Little Dragon, Pearl Jam and Jay Z and Kanye West.

The range and feel of the music on Cover Art speaks both to the arranging talents of the members and also to the diversity of their collective tastes. Hip-hop and punk-funk, singer-songwriter, guitar-pop, electro-R&B and alt-rock are all integrated and explored by these jazz innovators.

Fans can get a sneak peak of the full album with an iTunes’ 3-track exclusive that exemplifies the diversity and daringness of the musicians involved. Included are covers of Jay Z and Kanye West’s “No Church In the Wild,” D’Angelo’s “Africa,” and Pearl Jam’s “Oceans.” Cover Art is definitely an album worth checking out!

You can listen to samples and purchase the preview release by clicking here

Complete Album Listing:

1. Twice (Little Dragon)

2. No Church In The Wild (Jay Z and Kanye West)

3. Africa (D’Angelo)

4. Fly Or Die (N.E.R.D)

5. Oceans (Pearl Jam)

6. Refractions In The Plastic Pulse (Stereolab)

7. Marvins Room (Drake)

8. Come Smoke My Herb (Meshell Ndegeocello)

9. Perth (Bon Iver)

10. Thank You (Dido)