"As a musician, there is always something new that I want to share with my audience," admits Najee, the multi-Platinum selling contemporary jazz pioneer who has made a career of reinventing himself, sparking trends and never resting on his laurels. "The ability to collaborate with different musicians and to continually find fresh approaches to my music is what keeps me inspired."
The multiple Grammy-Award nominated instrumentalist, composer and quadruple threat who is equally adept on soprano, tenor and alto saxophones and flute, recently celebrated his 30th anniversary as a recording artist. Najee, who has collaborated with iconic figures Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and George Duke, will release his seventeenth album as a leader, Poetry In Motion, August 25, 2017.
The anticipated CD is dedicated to two ground-breaking musicians who Najee has had the distinction of working with - Prince and Al Jarreau. "Both artists in their own way have changed the culture of music forever," shares the saxophonist. "Whenever I have worked with people of their caliber of artistry, I have always walked away with something that helps to shape my musical conversation." Poetry In Motion finds Najee nothing short of inspiration, as he calls upon a few all-star friends to create a dialogue well worth remembering. Najee's fourth recording for Shanachie unites him with such dynamic musicians as Will Downing, Maysa, Eric Roberson, Bluey of Incognito, Barry Eastmond, Bobby Lyle, Blake Aaron and Randy Bowland.
Najee is a master storyteller. Whether the debonair multi-instrumentalist is engaged in a verbal or musical conversation, his alluring charisma has a way of seducing you into his world. His technical agility, grace, compositional prowess, unbridled passion and fearless genre bending have made him one of the most sought after musicians of his generation. Poetry In Motion is a riveting sonic journey that finds the saxman doing what he does best - shape-shifting through diverse musical terrain and fusing the best elements of all the music that is close to his heart. "As a youngster growing up in New York City I was exposed to a multi-cultural musical environment," reflects the saxophonist. "It was through these interactions that I was able to benefit from playing with people who played Latin music, Jazz but mostly R&B. This has become a part of my musical personality. I must admit at times I struggle to stay focused with one genre!" Lucky for us Najee does not have to choose and the result on Poetry In Motion is a beautiful expression of his musical curiosity and identity.
Poetry In Motion opens with the buoyant and luminescent "Stratosphere," showcasing Najee's soaring, warm and supple soprano saxophone. Najee penned the intoxicating and inviting original with Barry Eastmond who lends his piano and compositional skills to several tracks on the CD. Eastmond has produced and collaborated with everyone from Al Jarreau and Anita Baker to Freddie Jackson and Brandy. "I've known Barry for a very long time and working with him was one of the greatest joys of recording this album," shares Najee. The irresistible and fun loving "Is It The Way," features singer Eric Roberson. "Eric is one of the brightest young R&B vocalists, producer, songwriter and performer in our industry and it was an absolute pleasure to have him contribute his gift on this record," shares Najee. Roberson's soulful vocals gel perfectly with Najee's bluesy soprano and Eastmond's buttery keys.
Poetry In Motion also finds Najee collaborating with the brilliant producer, multi-instrumentalist and Incognito mastermind Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick. "Bluey is one of the greatest people to work with in the studio," shares Najee. "He is unique in his approach to getting the work done." Indeed Najee, Bluey and Incognito get the work done on the tour-de-force dance-floor number "Let's Take It Back." Najee changes the pace with the seductive and Latin-tinged "Noche Romantica," the perfect platform for the saxophonist to shine a spotlight on his gorgeous tone and impeccable phrasing. The syncopated intro with Najee on his flute calls to mind Chick Corea's "Spain," while his passionate and emotive tenor saxophone at times is reminiscent of the longing tenor of Gato Barbieri. Najee enlists the "Prince Of Sophisticated Soul," Will Downing for the moving "We'll Be Missing You." He shares, "Over the years we have worked together on several records and have performed around the world. I could not have made a better choice to write and perform a song that honors Al Jarreau and Prince."
Downing also came up with the title of the album. The song "Poetry In Motion," is a memorable number that showcases Najee's agile flute and Bobby Lyle's funky and groove-heavy piano. "Song For The Ladies," will no doubt delight Najee's female devotees. The sweet R&B flavored ditty with a new jack swing is hard to resist. The Grammy-nominated and dynamic vocalist Maysa adds her sultry and honey-toned alto to "Don't Make Me Wait" which she co-wrote with Najee. The chemistry that Maysa and Najee share is undeniable. "Maysa is my sister musically speaking," shares Najee. "She is truly one of the best and most versatile vocalists in the music industry." A highlight on Poetry In Motion is the song "Running Away." It's air-tight groove, synergistic interplay and boundless joy make for one of the album's defining moments as Najee is joined by guitarist Blake Aaron and guitarist Randy Bowland, who penned the tune originally for Jill Scott. The album comes to the perfect close with the gorgeous flight of fancy "Duology."
In a business where trends and artists come and go, Najee's name is synonymous with innovation, consistency and the best in contemporary jazz. With two Platinum and four Gold albums under his belt, Najee has enjoyed a career spanning three decades and he is proving that the best is yet to come! An alum of the New England Conservatory of Music, Najee was mentored by jazz giants Frank Foster and Jimmy Heath as well as classical maven and flutist Harold Jones of the New York Philharmonic. Najee has also had the distinction to perform for Presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela and made appearances on The Tonight Show and Good Morning America. "I have always tried to maintain consistency when it comes to music I've recorded throughout the years," confides Najee. "As an artist I have been fortunate to attract an audience very early in my career that has followed and grown with me. My challenge has always been to record music that I enjoy playing while at the same time meeting the requirements that I believe my audience would like to hear. I am always looking for something to help me continue to grow as a musician."
Born in the Greenwich Village section of New York City and raised in Jamaica, Queens, Najee's musical pursuits began in grade school. "As a kid I was into the R&B and Jazz music of my time," he shares. "I familiarized myself with different kinds of music all the time." As I began to develop on my instrument, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Yusef Lateef and Hubert Laws on flute were some of the artists that inspired me. As an industrious and hungry young musician, Najee had the good fortune of coming through Dr. Billy Taylor's now legendary Jazzmobile program. While a student at the New England Conservatory (where both Najee and his brother attended) he studied jazz with George Russell and Jaki Byard. When he finished school Najee returned to New York in the early 80s and was lucky to land a gig with Chaka Khan along with his brother and guitarist Fareed (who is now his manager). In 1987 Najee's Theme was released and the saxophonist earned a slot on tour with singer Freddie Jackson.
The following year, Day By Day was released, and in 1991, Tokyo Blue, which is one of Najee's most successful and enduring recordings. Tokyo Blue (which was producedby Najee's brother Fareed) and Day By Day both went Gold and led to two Soul Train Awards for Najee (Best Jazz Artist in 1991 and 1993). Just An Illusion came in 1992 and around this time he collaborated with such iconic figures as Quincy Jones and a collaboration with jazz greats Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham and Larry Carlton resulted in the album Live At The Greek. Share My World came in 1994 and was followed in 1995 by a critically acclaimed tribute to Stevie Wonder's 1976 classic, Songs In The Key Of Life. The CD was produced by George Duke and featured Herbie Hancock and Sheila E. among others. His CD Morning Tenderness, released in 1998, went to #1 on the contemporary jazz charts.
For Najee, the late '90s were marked by extraordinary international experiences, from performing at Nelson Mandela's birthday celebration in South Africa to playing as a special guest of President Clinton at the White House at an event honoring President Jerry Rawlings of the Republic of Ghana. Najee also spent two years of touring (2001-2003) with Prince and appears on Prince's albums Rainbow Children and One Night Alone. In 2003 Najee released Embrace, featuring special guests Roy Ayers and BeBe Winans. My Point Of View was his follow up in 2005 featuring his good friend and vocalist Will Downing. 2007's Rising Sun joined Najee with Phil Perry and Mind Over Matter from 2009 paired Najee with singer Eric Benét. The Smooth Side Of Soul followed in 2012, successfully covering such diverse terrain as Jimmy Heath and Ne-Yo and the follow-up, The Morning After, arrived in 2013 debuting at #1 on the Billboard charts and exploring the many sides of love. You, Me & Forever was released in 2015 and united Najee with the likes of James Lloyd and Frank McComb among others.
Najee concludes, "As an artist and a musician I am always striving to evolve and grow. Most of all I try to maintain a unique identity in the music industry." With the release of Poetry In Motion, Najee confirms that he is still the King Of Contemporary Jazz and that his evolution is not done yet!