Friday, December 08, 2023

Lisa Hilton | "Coincidental Moment"

"I love the way jazz tugs at our emotions in a way no other music can: it can calmly seduce your soul or prompt you to dance," states the award-winning composer and acclaimed pianist Lisa Hilton in the liner notes for her latest release, Coincidental Moment (Ruby Slippers Productions 1029), out December 1, 2023. “The music here reflects the cool energies and history of jazz, but definitely sounds like today.”

The nine original compositions and two cover tunes are laced throughout with rich blue tones augmented by modal flights all shimmering and swinging with Hilton's expressive touch on the piano. Coincidental Moment gracefully shares the spotlight with quartet mates Igmar Thomas on trumpet, Luques Curtis on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums and percussion.

Royston's drum mastery is evident throughout the album, but his delightful and catchy bongo rhythms are also featured on tracks Jagged Lil' Blues and Blue Tropics. Jazz traditionalists will enjoy the retro vibes of Happily Go Luckily and Anxiety Society with their cool grooves and snappy trumpet improvisations by Thomas. The entire quartet shines on the evocative Spanish-tinged Enigmatic Adventure and infuse Everyday Anthem with a stirring gospel energy.

The inclusion of the iconic Miles Davis/Bill Evans track Blue In Green shows the breadth of this band – Thomas's moody muted tones, contrasting but blending with Hilton's fluid piano, are underscored by Curtis's deep bass timbre and Royston's delicate touch on cymbals. An interesting choice was the inclusion of West Coast, written by singer/composer Lana Del Rey: the quartet easily turns this pop track into a darker and very expressive experience. Curtis is a vital contributor throughout, especially on the trio track Multiple Perspectives, which blends jazz rhythms and classical interludes with agility. Hilton's skill in composing intimate ballads is apparent on the title track - performed as a trio – and on Uncommon Poetry, which closes the album as an eloquent solo piano piece.

Saturated with lush harmonic ideas and brimming with textures and emotions, the album Coincidental Moment is jazz just right for any moment.

The music of Lisa Hilton draws on classic American jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, and Count Basie, as well as blues heroes Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. She is a prolific composer who records and performs with many of today's jazz luminaries. Her 27 albums sit regularly at the top of the Jazz Week and other radio/streaming charts for the last two decades, drawing millions of plays on streaming services and appearing regularly as an Amazon #1 New Jazz Release. Hilton has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Smithsonian Institution, UCLA's Royce Theatre, San Francisco Jazz, and Chicago's historic Green Mill. Hilton is also the creator and co-author of the popular children's book If Dinosaurs Were Alive Today (Price Stern Sloan), which she co-wrote with her sister, Sandra L. Kirkpatrick. The book was recently updated and published as a digital version by the same name. 

The Lisa Hilton Quartet 2024 Tour Dates:

  • March  6, 2024 Raitt Recital Hall 7:30 pm at Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA
  • March  7, 2024 SF Jazz 7 pm and 8:30 pm, San Francisco, CA
  • March 12, 2024 The Jazz Showcase 6:00 pm, Chicago, IL
  • March 13, 2024 Weinberg Center for the Arts/New Spire Arts 7:30 pm, Frederick, MD
  • March 14, 2024 Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall 8 pm, NYC, NY
  • March 15, 2024 Jazz Upstairs at Miller Symphony Hall, 7:30, Allentown, PA

Craft Recordings and Jazz Dispensary announce ‘Top Shelf’ reissue for Johnny Lytle’s ‘People & Love’

Craft Recordings and Jazz Dispensary are thrilled to announce the first-ever vinyl reissue of Johnny Lytle’s long-sought-after soul-jazz gem, People & Love. Full of soaring, funky jams and heady grooves, the latest release in Jazz Dispensary’s acclaimed Top Shelf series showcases the legendary vibraphonist’s talents as a songwriter, musician, and bandleader, as he guides his fellow musicians through five sublime tracks, including extended, soulful covers (“People Make the World Go ’Round,” “Where Is the Love?”) and groovy originals (“Libra,” “Tawhid,” “Family”). The 1973 session also boasts a stellar line-up of players, including Daahoud Hadi (formerly Butch Cornell) on the electric piano and organ, Bob Cranshaw on the electric bass, and harpist Betty Glamann.

As with all titles in the album-centric Top Shelf series—which reissues the highest-quality, hand-picked rarities—People & Love features (AAA) lacquers cut from the original tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and is pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI. Rounding out the package is a tip-on jacket, replicating the album’s original art. Out of print for half a century, People & Love makes its return on February 16th and is available for pre-order today—exclusively via

Touted by the great bandleader Lionel Hampton as “The Greatest Vibes Player in the World,” Johnny Lytle (1932 – 1995) began his career as a drummer, playing with the likes of Ray Charles, Gene Ammons, and Jimmy Witherspoon before switching to the vibraphone in the mid-’50s. By the end of the decade, he was leading his own group and caught the ears of producer/record executive Orrin Keepnews, who promptly signed the dexterous musician. A consummate showman, whose fast-paced performances earned him the title of “Fast Hands,” Lytle built a significant following in the ’60s—recording for Keepnews’ Jazzland, Riverside, and Milestone imprints, among others.

Brenda Russell returns with "What Will It Take"

In casual conversation reflecting upon Brenda Russell’s epic four-and-a-half- decade career as a multiple Grammy nominated singer/songwriter and Tony nominated and Grammy winning co-composer of The Color Purple musical, one of her songwriter friends casually uttered a phrase that captures the essence of her extraordinary multi-faceted artistry: Songpainter. Gearing up to record her highly anticipated first solo album in 20 years, Brenda knew that would be the perfect title – not only defining the impact her songs have had on the world over the years but forging a creative mission statement for all the dynamic works to come. 

The project’s first lead single “What Will It Take,” dropping November 17, is more than just another grand addition to her repertoire of infectious hit singles for herself and other iconic artists. Co-produced with Stephan Oberhoff, whose discography ranges from works with Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and Al Jarreau to Brenda’s 2000 release Paris Rain, the song is an uplifting and unifying, globally conscious anthem for our time. 

Driven by a sonic fusion of pop, R&B, a rhythmic world music aesthetic and a rousing gospel-flavored backing chorus, “What Will It Take” is a clarion call for humanity to reach a higher consciousness that boldly asks, “What will it take for us to be as one?. . .One human race under a mighty sun/What will it take to let the children grow?. . .Into a world where love is all they know?” In the second chorus, Brenda sings lines that ring like both a universal prayer and demand for concrete action: “Let’s take the hate, the war, the poverty. . .and give it up for all humanity.”

The 2023 release of “What Will It Take” is one of those serendipitous cases of a song truly meeting the perfect moment in this post-pandemic era, where political strife has left people more divided than ever, there is a collective anxiety about our future as a democracy and our news feeds are dominated by two horrifying wars. Ironically, though Brenda’s incisive but hopeful message seems tailor made for our time, she originally wrote the song in the mid-90s, a few years after she hit the Billboard Hot 100’s Top Ten with her breakthrough trademark hit “Piano In the Dark,” which earned Grammy nominations for Song of the Year, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Her album Get Here was also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female; in 1991, Oleta Adams’ 1991 recording of the title track “Get Here” was a massive global hit, reaching #5 in the U.S. and #4 in the UK.  

Despite Brenda’s great career momentum at the time – which also included hitting the Top 30 in the UK with her 1993 album Soul Talkin’ – a young publisher who heard her demo for “What Will It Take” failed to appreciate its potential at the time. As she does with many of her songs, the prolific Brenda filed it away but never forgot it. A few years ago, when Brenda began talking about recording again, her astute assistant suggested she revisit some of her older great songs that she had never recorded. When the singer revisited her original home demo of “What Will It Take,” she knew immediately she had to record it - and called Oberhoff to bring his studio magic and develop it with her. 

“Stephan’s a genius and heard everything I wanted to do, with the way he added strings and filled out the production with so many amazing details,” Brenda says. “I feel as though I wrote it for the whole world and so the world music vibe fits beautifully. It reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s big, powerful productions that I’ve found so inspiring over the years, just that grand, powerful feeling of hope and positivity. Having enjoyed long careers, when Stephan and I feel something, we don’t doubt ourselves. We just go for what we know and create it first for ourselves and our own joy, with the hope that it will then lift and excite others. I hope ‘What Will It Takes’ inspires and touches people. That’s what I always love to do with my music.”  

Almost like an on-cue blessing from the universe, the gospel children’s choir element of the song – which features Brenda’s 11-year-old granddaughter Kailah Walker and kids from Brenda’s neighborhood in the Austin TX area – reached fruition through a seemingly chance meeting. Attending a Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight concert, the singer struck up a conversation with the lady next to her, who told Brenda that she was a local music teacher who worked with kids. Brenda ultimately chose four of them to elevate the session, which was coordinated by Brenda’s daughter, singer Lindsay Walker, who has toured with Smokey Robinson and is a member of the local group The Country Worms.   

One of the unique and enduring blessings of Brenda’s professional life has been her Tony and Grammy Award winning collaboration (with fellow hit songwriters Stephen Bray and the late Allee Willis) on the musical The Color Purple. The musical, whose original Broadway production ran from 2005 to 2008 and earned eleven Tony nominations, is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1982 novel and its Steven Spielberg-directed 1985 film adaptation. Brenda earned a Tony nomination for Best Original Score. A critically acclaimed Broadway revival in 2015 earned two Tony Awards – including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical (Cynthia Erivo). Brenda won her first Grammy for Best Musical Theatre album in 2016. 

Brenda, Stephen Bray and Grammy winning, twice Oscar nominated songwriter Siedah Garrett (taking over for the departed Willis) recently joined forces to work on updated versions of several songs (including “Shug Avery Coming ToTown”) for the upcoming musical film adaptation of The Color Purple. The film, set for a Christmas 2023 release, is directed by Blitz Bazawule and produced by Spielberg, Quincy Jones and the stage musical producers Scott Sanders and Oprah Winfrey. The film’s stars include Taraji P. Henson, H.E.R. and Fantasia Barrino, who is reprising the role she played on Broadway in 2007-2008. 

“Thirty-five years ago, in the middle of me doing my thing as a pop singer and songwriter, my mom suggested I write a Broadway show,” Brenda says. “I said, ‘Sure, mom,’ never thinking the opportunity would arise many years later. What a joy it was to work with Allee and Stephen. The most exciting part of being involved in The Color Purple was watching these young performers rehearse our songs and their dances. It was so amazing and exhilarating to watch them work so hard. It was also a major challenge compared to being a pop songwriter, because artists who want to record your songs don’t usually request constant rewrites and changes – and the art of rewriting is what Broadway composing is all about!”

When people assess Brenda’s overall career, her success as an artist – which began with her self-titled debut and Billboard Top Ten Adult Contemporary Hit “So Good So Right” in 1979 – and with The Color Purple often overshadows the songs she wrote that were hits for other artists. Beyond Oleta Adams’ “Get Here,” Brenda’s songs have been recorded by Luther Vandross (“If Only for One Night”), Donna Summer (“Dinner with Gershwin”), Babyface, The Manhattan Transfer, Patti Austin, Ruben Studdard and Ramsey Lewis. Her tunes have also been sampled by everyone from Janet Jackson and 2Pace to Chance the Rapper and Ariana Grande. In 2000, Brenda was tapped to write an English lyric to tune by Ivan Lins tune that was part of a Jason Miles produced all-star tribute album A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins. The track, “She Walks This Earth,” earned Sting a Best Pop Vocal Grammy in 2001.

“As a singer, songwriter and musical composer, I want to be remembered for being uplifting. People have enough to be depressed about in this life and I just want them to hear my songs, feel good and rise up. I’m excited that ‘What Will It Take’ will now have the opportunity to do just that.”  

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Jim Piela | "It Come With The Territory"

Alto and soprano saxophonist Jim Piela has explored the art of the quartet from a number of angles. His 2016 release Non Fiction paired saxophone and Fender Rhodes, while Out of Orbit and the four-track EP Force of Habit showcased him in a chordless environment with alto and trumpet. On his new outing, It Comes With the Territory, Piela enlists guitarist Mark McIntyre, whose full, clean-toned harmonies and burning lead work help ground this set of six original compositions, while also creating space within them. “Mark is the beating heart of this group,” Piela says. “His guitar speaks so clearly from his core. Once he joined the project, his unique musical voice permeated my entire concept for the record.”

Bassist Nick Jost and drummer Peter Kronrief complete a lineup that is versatile, alert, open to discovery. “Peter was the first hire,” Piela continues. “I’ve worked a lot of tour dates with him and I know he can meet any moment. And if Peter is the unstoppable force, Nick is the unmovable object. His playing has this amazing combination of lyricism and that deep rhythmic ‘thump’ that anchors the entire band. When I first heard him with Peter, I knew this was a special connection.”

For a good while, Piela had contemplated something like a love letter to Wayne Shorter’s 1966 Blue Note masterpiece Speak No Evil, and though the theme is somewhat disguised, It Comes With the Territory is that love letter. “It’s not a ‘cover’ or a tribute or a ‘reimagining,’ Piela clarifies, “but more like my guiding light.” The beautiful ballad “Crow Hill,” for instance, was inspired by the tempo, and only the tempo, of Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.” The arpeggiated intro to “Glass Cannon,” Piela explains, grew out of the intro to “Witch Hunt,” “but where ‘Witch Hunt’ is an exclamation point, I ended up coming from an intimate place. These little nods or interpretations are all over this record.”

Piela discerns a similar process at work in Shorter’s writing. The intervallic movement in “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum,” for example, borrows from “Giant Steps,” but in a uniquely Shorterian way. Referencing the famous quote (attributed to Picasso) that “good artists borrow, great artists steal,” Piela muses: “There’s more to it than that, isn’t there? Great artists trust their process and their intuition enough that no matter the ‘input,’ the output will always be original to them.”

Many other, more personal elements inform the writing and playing on It Comes With the Territory. Piela’s home in Brooklyn, his upbringing in the Midwest, “the vibrant and the quiet parts,” Piela says. “I wanted to capture those moments with this music.” The “territory” in question, then, could be understood in a literal and metaphorical sense.

Having defined the territory, one may ask what is the “it”? Quite simply, it is “all of the sacrifices we make as creative professionals in New York, things that might seem totally at odds with the outside world,” Piela offers. Factor in the elusiveness of artistic inspiration and the challenges only mount. “It almost feels like structuring your life around potential energy,” adds the saxophonist. “There’s a dissonance in building future plans around something that’s not yet there, or standing on stage not knowing what’s going to happen next, of trusting yourself and your artistry. To many this dissonance is uncomfortable, even scary, but to creators that live it, it comes with the territory.”

Along with “Crow Hill,” the mellow and lyrical “Off Course” features the leader’s authoritative voice on soprano sax, with a powerfully centered bass solo from Jost leading off the rotation. Piela follows with the first of three standalone alto saxophone improvisations — short contrasting transitional pieces that set the stage for the yearning waltz “Hinterlands,” the aforementioned “Crow Hill” and the funky, rocking set closer “We’ll Burn That Bridge When We Get to It.” The playing throughout is solidly swinging, tonally rich, informed by sensitive listening and a unified band spirit.

“I knew I wanted to approach this record in a different way,” Piela says in sum. “Usually, I reflect on my hopes, on the world I want to see, and the player I want to be. Instead, for Territory, I wrote a single word at the top of all my charts: ‘Execute.’ Do what you do, play how you play, be who you are. It became a mantra of self-acceptance. Just execute — play the music I love to play. I had this very specific goal to stop thinking, stop trying to be overly technical. It Comes With the Territory speaks to loving who you are today, but knowing that there are infinite possibilities ahead: the next day is yet to be lived, just as the next phrase is yet to be played.”

R&B/jazz singer Erin Stevenson lights up the season with "Christmas Time With You"

R&B/jazz singer Erin Stevenson has a joyous holiday treat for listeners filled with cinnamon kisses and time spent with loved ones. The Innervision Records artist wrote and produced the finger popping, swinging, bluesy, retro sleigh ride “Christmas Time With You,” a cheerful new single boding to become a seasonal standard. Now available from iTunes, Amazon and other major retailers, “Christmas Time With You” which began collecting playlist adds on November 27.

All year round, Stevenson radiates the energy and excitement of Christmas morning thus composing and recording her own standard feels apropos. Inherent in her glee is a sense of gratitude, strong sentiments that permeate the single’s lyrics.

“‘Christmas Time With You’ offers a happy slice of real life packaged as a classic Christmas song guaranteed to make you smile and get you in the holiday spirit. It will make you feel a tad bit closer to the ones you love,” said Stevenson who recruited keyboardist Christopher Thomas, guitarist Kay-Ta Matsuno, bassist Keith Eaddy and drummer Arthur Thompson to decorate the festive track.

Stevenson has been working on her sophomore album, “CoverGirl Uncovered,” which is slated to drop next April. She jokes that “Justin is financing the album,” a reference to the breaks she takes from recording to perform with Justin Timberlake, one of the many A-listers she has toured and performed with, including Pharrell Williams, Duran Duran, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Ciara, Rihanna and Camila Cabello. Her solo recording career has been on an upward trajectory, having most recently peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard chart with the single “Smooth Soul.”    

“My career has been taking off and I believe it’s primarily due to my live performances. I don't take for granted that my band is a critical component to that, which is why I put them on my records and in music videos. I'm happy, Christmas makes me happy, and my band makes me happy. That’s exactly what you get on ‘Christmas Time With You,’” said Stevenson.

Hailing from Houston and now based in Southern California, Stevenson debuted as a solo artist in 2006 with the Billboard top 5 dance music single “Sweat.” She dropped her first album, “Naked,” in 2017, paced by the British top 10 single, “Hangin’.” A series of singles followed – “Make It Last Forever,” “You Gotta Be” and “Never Too Much” - the latter of which won Stevenson a People’s Choice Indie Soul Award in 2021.       

Although she’s effervescent and jolly, Stevenson knows this time of year can be challenging for others. Her sense of empathy and compassion is why her message in “Christmas Time With You” resonates.

“For some, the holiday season is dreadful because everyone else is so doggone happy. Whether it’s a lack of finances, loneliness, or family problems, some people lose sight of the gifts right in their midst. It’s true, the best gifts in life are free - like time and living in the moment. I'm a strong believer that if you want to be happy, only do things and surround yourself with people who make you happy,” Stevenson said.

Spiritually grounded, Stevenson keeps sight of the true meaning of Christmas by maintaining a humble outlook that reflects her feelings of appreciation.

“Jesus will always be my reason for the season, but that also comes with lots of good food, good wine, and, of course, my family. Anything more is simply a bonus.”  

Jazz/R&B singer-songwriter Ashleigh Smith releases “I Can’t Help It”

The title of singer-songwriter Ashleigh Smith’s new single, “I Can’t Help It,” aligns with her identity as an artist. Her recordings are unapologetic and unabashed amalgams of straight-ahead jazz cadences and soulful R&B grooves with sophisticated pop appeal that when knitted together, result in genre-defying tracks best labeled modern vocal jazz. Her newly released TopCat Records single is an act of defiance in itself because there’s no question that it’s a straight-ahead jazz cut yet that radio format doesn’t release singles. That little detail wasn’t going to prevent Smith from issuing her version of the tune penned by Stevie Wonder and Susaye Greene, which she produced and arranged with bassist Nigel Rivers.

Clearly Smith is comfortable in her own skin. She studied classical music on a full scholarship in college, won the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, which demonstrates her remarkable skills as a jazz singer, and grew up in a musical household where she fell in love with classic R&B and pop as performed on “real instruments.” Each element adds to the distinctive alchemy that converges organically to form her own unique brand.

While “I Can’t Help It” is a song about romantic love, for Smith, the lyrics serve as affirmations, declarations empowering her individuality. Floating her emotive croon atop the brisk straight-ahead jazz rhythms constructed by Rivers’ elastic basslines and Mauricio Barroso’s staccato percussion beats, Smith’s single is illumined by the astute piano and Rhodes keyboards from Daniel Marandure and Pete Clagett’s probing trumpet. Adding melodic touches to the track are Max Townsley (guitar), Chelsea Danielle (vibes) and Jordache Grant (keyboards). Smith has been performing “I Can’t Help It” in her live set for years with many of the musicians on the recording.

“After years of performing it with my band, different sections and parts of the arrangements started to form organically. Honestly, it was only decided that it would be a single because of audience demand. After every show, fans ask where they could purchase that arrangement. So, I decided we would give the people what they wanted. One of the qualities that I’m most proud of when it comes to my music is that everything I do is always organic and natural. Even down to the musicians I choose to record with. The musicians on this record, and on all of my recordings, are musicians I play with regularly. They are people who have been a part of my musical journey from the beginning, so the synergy is a given. I love that everything I put out is made with love with people I genuinely love,” said the Dallas-based Smith who grew up in Augusta, Georgia.

“I Can’t Help It” previews Smith’s sophomore album, “In The Rain,” which is due to arrive next spring. Although this single is a reimagination, all the other songs on the collection are originals that Smith had a hand in writing. She debuted in 2016 with the “Sunkissed” album that was released by Concord Records, which offered a mix of originals and covers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Drummer-Composer Reggie Quinerly Releases "The Thousandth Scholar"

The rich straightahead jazz of Reggie Quinerly gets an Afro-Caribbean spin with The Thousandth Scholar, to be released January 19 on his own Redefinition Music. Quinerly’s fifth album finds the drummer-composer seasoning his musical recipes with what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Spanish tinge,” a sometimes-subtle Latin flavor that he achieves without sacrificing his distinctive soulful sound—and with the help of an ace quartet including pianist Manuel Valera, bassist Matt Brewer, and percussionist Samuel Torres.

The form of the quartet, featuring both drums and hand percussion, is a crucial element of Quinerly’s exploration. It was inspired by two of his favorite albums—Herbie Hancock’s 1963 classic Inventions and Dimensions and Ahmad Jamal’s more recent (2012) masterpiece Blue Moon—both of which feature a similar quartet. “With every album, I explore different aspects of my influences,” Quinerly explains.

In the case of The Thousandth Scholar, that list of influences has Valera’s name near the very top. Quinerly worked closely with the Havana-born pianist, who arranged the drummer’s compositions and coproduced the album. “The connection between melody and rhythm is pretty profound in Afro-Cuban and African music,” says Quinerly, “and Manuel helped me with that.” Additionally, percussionist Torres is a native Colombian, providing another important perspective on the Latin jazz tradition.

Even so, those perspectives are not always easy to detect. Tunes like Valera’s “Invernal” and Quinerly’s “Children Song #10” make gentle use of clave beats and conga textures, while on the waltzing “Sam from Brooklyn” Torres’s whispery shakers are the only surface signifier of Afro-Latin influence. On other tunes, however, that influence is in no doubt: “Folk Song” is carefully built around the groove Torres establishes in his solo introduction, “Ray’s Tune” is a fierce mambo, and “Skain’s Blues” comprises a taut set of interlocking rhythms from all four musicians.

Some of the songs, as their titles suggest, are nods to influences of Quinerly’s outside the Latin jazz rubric. “I’m so fortunate to have been in the presence of so many great people,” he remarks. “I wouldn’t be who I am otherwise.”

“Sam from Brooklyn” expresses Quinerly’s fondness for an old mentor, drum and percussion teacher Sam Dinkins; “Ray’s Tune” celebrates the brilliant and steady hand of pianist Ray Bryant; and the harmonically complex “Skain’s Blues” gives the nod to trumpeter, composer, and educator Wynton Marsalis.

Ultimately, though, that combination of influences only goes so far. It’s Quinerly himself who integrated them into himself to forge a unique voice and musical conception. Even as they’re newly steeped in Latin rhythms and textures, it’s that voice and conception that are of course front and center on The Thousandth Scholar.

Reggie Quinerly was born November 16, 1980, in Houston, Texas, one of the garden spots of 21st-century jazz. Fittingly, he took an early turn in that direction. Lester Grant, who played drums in the Pilgrim United Church of Christ (where Reggie grew up), was a jazz master who became the young musician’s first mentor. Grant not only taught him to play but sent him on an odyssey of discovering the great musicians of jazz past and present.

The odyssey took Quinerly first to Houston’s famous High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, then to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, and finally to the Juilliard School for his Master’s in Jazz Studies. There, his circle of mentors widened to include Jimmy Cobb, Lewis Nash, and Kenny Washington.

Shortly after completing his degree at Juilliard, Quinerly recorded and released his first album, 2012’s Music Inspired by Freedmantown. It started him down a fruitful artistic pathway that has also brought forth 2015’s Invictus and 2018’s Words to Love, critically acclaimed albums that helped raise Quinerly’s profile in the jazz world. Last year’s New York Nowhere represented his farewell to the jazz capital and the start of a new creative chapter in Los Angeles. It was in the City of Angels that Quinerly conceived and developed the music that became The Thousandth Scholar.

The enigmatic album title, Quinerly explains, “represents the idea that the journey of learning and discovery is endless. The numerical concept represents the many musicians that have come before me. In acknowledging their sacrifices, I hope to be a continuation of their artistic excellence.”

Reggie Quinerly will be performing the music of The Thousandth Scholar at Sam First, 6171 W. Century Blvd. #180, Los Angeles (Live Stream tickets available on the website on Thursday, 3/21/24.

R&B/jazz keyboardist Vassal Benford releases "Dedication Song"

R&B/jazz keyboardist, Vassal Benford, wrote and produced a new single, “Dedication Song,” that captures his feelings of appreciation. The Benford Jazz Label release mixed by Billboard hitmaker Greg Manning is the most added new single on Billboard’s Mediabase chart two weeks running.

Benford has played a role in the creation of more than 58 platinum-selling records as a Grammy nominated producer, songwriter, musician and record executive in pop, R&B, hip hop, rock and dance music. He’s worked with a veritable who’s who list of superstars, yet jazz remains his humble muse and he’s determined to put his distinctive imprint on the genre. Playing piano to foster feelings of intimacy and emotional connection, “Dedication Song” plays like a danceable and sensual R&B groove. Steamy undertones provide contrast to the poetic notes emoted eloquently from Benford’s melodic and agile piano. At its essence, the single is an offering of love reflecting thankfulness.

In the accompanying “Dedication Song” video ( that already has nearly 700,000 views in four days, Benford dedicates the song in loving memory to one of his mentors, the “Godfather of Black Music” Clarence Avant, along with an extended list of family members, friends and several of his longtime clients.

“‘Dedication Song’ is a heartfelt song for all occasions, but this year we’re bringing it out for the holiday season. While composing and tracking it in the studio, it filled me with immense feelings of gratitude, especially for my family and my loved ones. We are in strange times and every moment of love counts. Every act of love counts. I now find myself noticing every smile and recognize that each moment of peace is a blessing. The world needs love, so I dedicate this song to everyone with love,” said Benford about the second single from his forthcoming album, “Melody Man,” which is due to arrive in April.

Benford is a prolific producer of music, film, television, concert events, revolutionary technology and sporting projects that have generated billions of dollars and billions of spins, streams, downloads and views. He got his start as a teenager in Detroit writing songs for jazz legends Ramsey Lewis, Stanley Clarke and Nancy Wilson. His discography now boasts collaborations with DJ Diplo, Toni Braxton, NAS, Flo Rida, Queen Latifah, Mariah Carey, Rick Ross, Deborah Cox, Sheryl Crow, U2, Jade, Bobby Brown, New Edition, Lil’ Kim, Patti LaBelle, Faith Evans, Chanté Moore, Oleta Adams, Lisa Stansfield, Tramaine Hawkins, and The Fine Young Cannibals among others.

The Benford Company manages boxing champ Manny Pacquiao and Benford serves as the chairman of The B.B. King Estate. He is executive producing a documentary film about King and is assembling the accompanying soundtrack that features rapper Quavo of Migos. In movies, Benford is partnered with former studio head and blockbuster producer Mark Canton (“300”) on the “After” film trilogy (“After,” “After We Collided” and “After We Fell”), which has generated over $300 million at the box office, and created the television series “Power.” They currently have two Marvel films in the pipeline.

While making Hollywood megadeals is an everyday occurrence for Benford, at his core, his passion remains jazz and instrumental R&B music. Last year, he tested the waters by releasing the title track to “Melody Man,” which sounds totally unique and unlike anything in the contemporary jazz space. “Dedication Song” provides a second glimpse into what’s to come from what bodes to be an innovative collection that features Benford collaborating with Grammy-winning guitarist Norman Brown, eight-time Grammy nominated saxophonist Gerald Albright, and singer-songwriters Aloe Blacc and Moore.

R&B-Jazz saxophonist Shawn Raiford releases “Santa Baby”

Mesmerized by Eartha Kitt’s tantalizing and teasing performance of “Santa Baby,” R&B-jazz saxophonist Shawn Raiford has been playing his version of the holiday classic in his set for over twenty years. It’s become a perennial fan favorite, inspiring the Sacramento-based saxman to record and release his rendition. Grammy winner Derek “DOA” Allen (Lionel Richie, Janet Jackson, Tyrese) produced the single that began collecting playlist adds on Monday (November 20).

Raiford is a high-energy, award-winning concert performer and his recording projects are a blend of R&B, jazz, funk and soul. Yet his take on “Santa Baby” exhibits an entirely different sound and style. The track Allen crafted is a slow, deliberate and seductive straight-ahead jazz cut. Whereas Kitt’s voice flirts and seduces playfully, Raiford’s tenor sax warms, charms and comforts. Along with some backing sax sounds from Eddie Minnifield (Prince, Sheila E., Aretha Franklin), Allen decorated the track with bells and strings that add whimsical nuances, enhancing the childlike feelings of wonder at Christmastime.

According to Raiford, some Christmas magic took place in Minnifield’s recording studio while the single was tracked.

“We did it in one take and it’s the only song I’ve ever recorded in one take. We did a second pass but stuck with everything from the first take. I fell in love with that song since Eartha Kitt sang it. The way she acted out the song, it was electric! When we get around the holidays and I start playing ‘Santa Baby’ at our shows, we get so many raves from fans,” said Raiford who leads The Shawn Raiford Experience, a popular band on the NorCal scene that has opened for or performed with Teddy Riley, Yolanda Adams, Freddie Jackson, Pete Escovedo, Eric Darius and Jeff Ryan, and has been playing dates this year with R&B singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Chuckii Booker.

Raiford has been ramping up all year for the release of his second album, “The Next Step,” which Allen is producing. Thus far, he’s issued three singles to preview the set slated to drop in April – “Forever,” “Leave The Door Open” and “Vallejo.”

In addition to spending time with his family during the holidays, Raiford is a thriving entrepreneur who is committed to serving and giving back to his local community, which spans from Sacramento to his hometown, Vallejo.

“Every year, my company gives back. We give food and toys, and we do a lot for the community. We feed nearly two hundred people during Thanksgiving and Christmastime. I’ve always wanted to be able to give back and make sure that people have food and presents to unwrap,” said Raiford who plays at Yoshi’s in Oakland on December 18 and at The Palace Events in Dallas on January 13.    


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