Next Thought on Music: a chat with jazz virtuoso Najee

Happy Monday MMT Family! It’s been a long first day of the work week for me – how about you? But now, I’m listening to a CD gifted to me by none other than the saxophone/flutist virtuoso himself, Najee.  Najee, who’s latest release You, Me and Forever entered the Top 10 Jazz Albums on the Billboard charts and is available everywhere now (including on iTunes and Amazon), was in town earlier this month for a performance – and I had the opportunity to sit with him and ask about the new CD, his favorite pastime, the current state of the jazz genre, and his advice for young musicians. You can check the first part of the interview in my examiner.com article here, but check out his responses to a few of my questions below!

On his thoughts of a jazz resurgence and how music streaming has impacted the genre from his perspective:

“(Music streaming) It’s been a double edge sword. Obviously royalty checks are a lot less (laughs), but on the other side there’s an opportunity to create new markets. It’s figuring out how to translate art and music into finance. And a lot of that has to do with artists coming together – whether it’s R&B, jazz etc.

Michael Tozzi told me that whoever did the ratings for the smooth jazz network used a really faulty system, because they were recording the ratings far below what people are supporting.  And now they’re starting to realize that, because people are still coming to concerts, and you figure (the average couple spends) $50 per ticket plus dinner, parking, hotel stay, and CD purchases, and spends (approximately) $300-400. So they are now recognizing that they threw the smooth jazz formula “into the tank” prematurely.

Now, I see a way around it and that is artists cooperating with each other. If I have a friend who has an album coming out, I help promote it the way I would promote my own and vice versa. If we understand that it takes a market to really build success for all of us, it’s not built around one player, I think we would see better change in terms of connection with the people.”

On what he would say to his younger self after almost 30 years in the industry

“I would have obviously done some things differently, because I didn’t have a clue (laughs). I’ll never forget my first album and (the record company) calling me and saying we want to present you with a gold record. I didn’t realize, at that time, what a gold record really meant. I thought because I was signed to Capitol/EMI records it was a ceremonial thing – because you go to the Capitol buildings in LA and NY and see all these gold records with whomever is on the label.  I didn’t realize I had a career – that’s how naïve I was!  And they were like no you sold a half million units – and that’s really huge, especially for a jazz artist.  Based on what I know now, I would have done a lot of things differently – but thank goodness I’m still here and people still enjoy what I do and coming to see me.”

One piece of advice he would give to children with an affinity for music:

“They’re always told to have hope and work hard and that’s a part of it.  But what I find sometimes in students is a fear to be who they are. For many years, I tried to imitate Grover, Coltrane, Dave Sanborn, and at the end of the day I still sounded like Najee – and I was not confident in that voice. But ultimately, I became confident that this is who I am. And I realized that the best advice you can give any young artist is this – God has given each human being their own gift. Find out what your gift is and share it with the world. The world has heard me, Coltrane and all these other people – but they haven’t heard you.”

Originally from NYC, the saxophonist now resides in Florida – which he’s called home for the past 15 yrs.  When asked what he enjoys and what relaxes him, he quickly answered “home, and going home.” And when I tailored the MMT signature question and asked what artist, living or dead, would he not mind portraying or producing a biopic about, he answered, “From a musical standpoint, I think someone like a Dexter Gordon or Lester Young.  I can’t see doing John Coltrane, he was tall man I don’t think I would fit the profile very well. (laughs)”

And in case any of you were wondering, since Najee plays both flute and sax, if he prefers one instrument over the other, Najee said he doesn’t have a preference and, “It depends on what song I’m playing, or what voice fits. I did the Songs from the Key of Life CD, which (the late) George Duke produced. And he and I were doing stuff, and the flute lent itself to Stevie’s music – the way we were doing it – easier than the saxophone for me.”

I also asked what his favorite song was on the project and he listed Wave, Air, and Jannah respectively.  Stating that he “opens up” more on the closing track Jannah and it displays more of his traditional side he shared, “If anyone has doubts, they can listen to that.” He further shared that Jannah was an homage to the writer, the late Ahmad Alaadeen – a legendary saxophonist who played with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and a young Charlie Parker, to name a few. According to Najee, “It was one of those songs in the cannon and I decided to pull it out. It’s a very organic track, not the glossy stuff – just me with the horn, the upright bass, piano and drums.”

Now, Jannah is also one of my faves on the project, along with Give It All We’ve Got featuring Andrea Wallace. And I am simply in love with Signature, which features a fave – Mr. Frank McComb. Ooh, and one other cool fact I learned from Mr. Najee about the album –  a lot of the songs on You, Me and Forever are the first take!

You can click the name links for iTunes and Amazon to check out and purchase You, Me and Forever – and stop back and let me know what your favorites are MMT fam!  You can also get more information about Najee and the project – including his tour schedule – at his official website here and social media sites on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Until next thought family, Thomasena

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