PAVILION STAGE – hosted by Angela Stribling, featuring: Gregory Porter • India.Arie • Gerald Albright with special guest Selina Albright • Something She Can Feel: A Tribute to Queen Aretha • Regina Belle • Nick Colionne • Kandace Springs.
SYMPHONY WOODS STAGE – hosted by Cayman Kelly, featuring: Brian McKnight • Marsha Ambrosius • Kindred the Family • Kenny Lattimore • Leela James • Daley
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“Known for his warm baritone vocals, Gregory Porter rose to acclaim in the 2010s with his earthy, cross-pollinated brand of jazz, soul, and gospel. A gifted singer of standards as well as more contemporary soul material, Porter has earned favorable comparisons to his idols Nat King Cole, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder. He announced his arrival by picking up a Grammy nomination for his 2010 debut, Water. After signing to Blue Note, he gained even wider notice for his third album, 2013’s Liquid Spirit, which hit number two on the jazz charts, and won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Although his original songs are his main focus, Porter often returns to his roots, such as on his 2017 tribute album Nat King Cole & Me.
Born in Los Angeles in 1971, Porter grew up in Bakersfield, California, where his mother was a minister. It was through his mother’s record collection that he fell under the spell of Cole, learning early on how to imitate him. Along with singing, he was also a gifted athlete, and left high school with a football scholarship to San Diego State University. However, after an injury to his shoulder derailed his sports career, he moved to Brooklyn where he worked days as a chef while performing in local jazz clubs. It was during this period that he met saxophonist, composer, and pianist Kamau Kenyatta.
Kenyatta quickly became Porter‘s mentor, introducing him to flutist Hubert Laws. Laws then featured Porter on a track on his 1998 album, Hubert Laws Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole. Laws‘ sister, Eloise Laws, also heard Porter during the sessions and cast him as one of the leads in the musical It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, which eventually enjoyed a run on Broadway. In 2010, Porter released his debut album, Water, on Motéma Music. Well-received, it picked up a Grammy nod for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Be Good followed two years later and further showcased Porter‘s growing confidence.
In September of 2013, Porter issued his third album and Blue Note debut, Liquid Spirit. Produced by Brian Bacchus, the album was a huge success, landing at number two on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart, and scooping up the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. It also became the one of the most streamed jazz albums of all time, with over 20 million streams. His second effort for Blue Note, Take Me to the Alley, was released in early 2016, and featured Porter‘s own version of “Holding On,” a track he co-wrote and previously recorded with electronic act Disclosure. Also in 2016, Porter delivered the concert album Live in Berlin.
The following year he released an album that paid tribute to the artist who had been most influential on his own music. Nat King Cole & Me featured Porter‘s versions of some of Cole‘s most treasured classics, including “Smile” and “Mona Lisa.” The concert album One Night Only: Live at the Royal Albert Hall arrived in 2018.” – Matt Collar, AllMusic
Sometimes you have to step back to move forward. Coming to that realization—let alone taking that crucial first step—can be a daunting endeavor. Now on the other side of a self-imposed four-year hiatus, India.Arie returns with the most illuminating album of her career. SongVersation (Soulbird/Motown, June 25) reunites the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/producer with longtime writing partner/co-producer Shannon Sanders. Recorded in Atlanta and Los Angeles, India.Arie’s fifth studio album features additional production from singer/songwriter David Ryan Harris and songwriter Michael Ruff. The result is a compelling snapshot of her hard-won breakthrough to simultaneous personal and artistic growth.“This is where I’ve been for the last four years,” reflects the singer. “I’ve struggled most of my career to feel comfortable with how things were, how I was treated, the politics of the music industry. I needed to pull back from the public eye to ground myself and rebuild my life and career. It’s a process many of us go through: spiritual maturation, spiritual awakening, clearing out the old and starting anew.”Her inner renewal pulsates throughout SongVersation, starting with lead single “Cocoa Butter.” The mid-tempo groove and image-rich verses mirror the soothing balm that is the song’s namesake. “Your love is like cocoa butter on my heart … \ I show you my burns \ you show me lessons learned,” sings a re-energized India.Arie.The singer exudes quiet power on the non-apologetic “Life I Know” as well as the empowerment-themed “Just Do You.” With its spare instrumentation, honest and engaging lyrics framed by melodic R&B, SongVersation finds India.Arie coming back full circle to the basics that captivated a global legion of fans on debut album Acoustic Soul. But underscoring those basics now is a fervent spirit born out of epiphanies, health imbalances and hard decisions that occurred over the past four years.
“On my last two albums, I felt like I was fighting to grow,” says India.Arie. “And that was dehumanizing. Everything became and sounded more complex, instead of me just being.”
No more. As India.Arie sings on the album’s centerpiece “Break the Shell”: “Child, it’s time to break the shell \ Life’s gonna hurt but it’s meant to be felt \ You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself \ You cannot fly until you break the shell.”“Putting spiritual and empowerment ideals into music concepts … that’s always been the core message of my music—and it seemed I was talking to others …” says India.Arie. “But the truth is that it was my message to myself because I was yearning to know the peace of a self-defined life.”Born in Denver and later relocating to Atlanta as a teen, India.Arie went from “singing under a tree in the park” to the Grammy Awards stage in five years, earning seven nominations for her 2001 double-platinum debut Acoustic Soul featuring her first hit single “Video.” That was followed in 2002 by the platinum-selling Voyage to India, 2006’s gold-certified Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship and its 2009 sequel Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics. But despite 21 Grammy nominations, four Grammys and 10 million albums sold worldwide, something was wrong. “In 2009 I let go,” recalls India.Arie. “I realized I had to seize the chance to make the career and life I wanted, not accepting what others wanted me to do. So I decided to retire, asking God to show me where I am supposed to be.”Music did eventually come back into her life through a series of vulnerable songs she began writing for a self-funded new project called Open Door. But three years into the project, she shelved it. “I was confronted by the same questions,” says India.Arie. “Who are you? How are you shaping the big picture of your life?”Exhausted from writing and recording Open Door, the singer didn’t feel like doing another album. But instead of waiting another three years, she took a day to pray. Six months later she finished SongVersation.“That was my first glimpse of a new resilience, of stepping into my power,” she recalls. “It’s about not having anything to prove except to simply express myself because it’s who I am—not as a means to an end. Chasing that and topping that is not me. It’s about being more me in both my life and career.”She recently embraced the former by expanding Soulbird, her label imprint, into a multi-faceted company housing her other entrepreneurial endeavors: jewelry, apparel, merchandise, film and TV, music and book publishing. She’s also ready again for fans to hear India.Arie, the singer/songwriter.“I wasn’t ready until now,” she says. “I love where things are on and offstage. I trusted my intuition through every line and note of every song on this album, following the flow. And the ease of the flow is always a sign that I am in the right place, doing the right thing. And that is all I’ve ever wanted. I created SongVersation from that place.”
Gerald Albright is currently putting the finishing touches on the forthcoming CD project, “30”. This pivotal number represents 30 years since the release of his debut CD, Just Between Us.
This self-produced anniversary project is a reflection of some of Albright’s favorite music that he has written over the past three decades! All of the songs are action-packed with new and unique arrangements, spear-headed by Albright, Chris “Big Dog” Davis, and James “JRob” Roberson. This CD will prove to be one of Gerald Albright’s finest efforts to date.
It will be released later in 2018.
If you thought the mixture of deep funk and simmering sensuality of Slam Dunk (which Albright released in 2014) was on fire, he wowed us with the high-octane sequel, G. G gives you that in-your-face horn-section-magic, of classic bands like Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power.
What makes G and the upcoming project “30” so special is that these two projects are stemmed from Albright’s own record label – Bright Music Records. Early in his career, the versatile saxophonist was often told by his labels to “be funky, but not too funky” – but after 30 years at the top of his game as one of contemporary urban jazz’s core artists and sonic innovators, the eight-time Grammy nominee is letting loose like never before.
When Albright titled his 2006 album New Beginnings, he was referring to the move he and his family made to Colorado after a lifetime in Southern California. Ten years later, he’s in a similar mode, blazing into the next phase of his storied career releasing his own projects as an indie artist, after decades on major and major affiliated labels. Like a lot of his peers in the genre, he realized that the business models of those big companies don’t fit into the current economic structures of urban jazz. Inspired by a loyal fan base of thousands throughout the world, he knew it was time to leverage his hard won success, step out on faith, and create a company that could not only release his music but also serve as a legacy for his family. Choosing the name Bright Music Records is reflective of his great optimism in embarking on an endeavor that uniquely defines who he is.
What we got from G is nothing less than Genuine Gerald. “30” and all projects to follow will place a stamp on the Albright name as one to deliver nothing but the best.
Albright gets right down to business, celebrating his fresh start of “30” with a new rendition of “Sooki Sooki”. He creates all the horn sections himself, texturing alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, with the funkiness of an up and coming hit maker, James “JRob” Roberson on keyboards. Roberson’s off-the-chain talent on keyboards will also keep you jumping on “Chips and Salsa” and “4 On the Floor”.
With Chris “Big Dog” Davis (one of urban jazz’s top hit makers, who has worked with everyone from Najee to Maysa, Phil Perry, and Kim Waters) creating an array of keyboard sounds on “Bermuda Nights”, “Road to Peace”, “New Beginnings”, “Come Back to Me”, “Boss of Nova” and “Just Between Us”, Albright infuses a mixture of horns and other instruments.
The emotional up-tempo ballad “Come Back to Me” features the saxophonist on alto, tenor and bari, in addition to C flutes, alto flutes and bass guitar. It also features his daughter Selina – a solo artist in her own right – on background vocals.
Another highlight of “30” would be a bonus track, “4 On the Floor” featuring the dynamic Ricky Watford on guitar.
Albright says that the big, multi-faceted sound of the album, particularly his use of multiple flutes, is a throwback to the way he came up in music. “I’ve been implementing them over the past few projects, using flute seasonings strategically with certain songs, and it was exciting to take those sounds to the next level,” he adds. “I come from that orchestral big band sound that defined my high school years playing in the 70s, and had great teachers who believed that musicians should never take shortcuts. In those jazz band days, I doubled on other instruments besides sax, and coming from that world, it’s always been hard to neglect those instincts. I like having a lot of sonic options. I use everything as a facility to bring my music to another level. When I think of those EWF and TOP horns, they were so ‘in your face, present and clear’.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Albright was already an accomplished saxophonist by the time he enrolled at the University of Redlands, but he switched to bass after he saw Louis Johnson in concert. A few months after graduating from college, he joined jazz pianist/R&B singer Patrice Rushen, who was in the process of forming her own band. Later, when the bassist left in the middle of a tour, Albright replaced him and finished the tour on bass guitar. Playing both sax and bass, he became the consummate session and touring musician in the 80s, working with everyone from Anita Baker, Ray Parker, Jr., Atlantic Starr, The Temptations and Maurice White to Les McCann, Teena Marie, the Winans and Whitney Houston.
He launched his solo career in the infancy of what became the smooth jazz format, with Just Between Us in 1987 and has been a core part of the genre with chart-topping albums, countless radio hits and as a member of many all star tours, including Guitars & Saxes and Groovin’ For Grover. In the late 90s, he fronted a big band for and toured with pop star Phil Collins and did a dual recording with vocal great Will Downing called Pleasures of the Night. Between his last two Grammy-nominated solo albums Pushing The Envelope (2010) and Slam Dunk (2014), he enjoyed hit collaborations with two huge hits – 24/7 with guitarist Norman Brown and Summer Horns by Dave Koz and Friends (including Mindi Abair and Richard Elliot), which were also Grammy-nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Albums. He toured with Brown and Summer Horns, and most recently has been on the road with South Africa gospel/jazz singer and guitarist Jonathan Butler. Albright’s other albums whose titles perfectly reflect their flow include Smooth (1994), Groovology (2002), Kickin’ It Up (2004) and Sax for Stax (2008).
Because Albright’s musical muse has taken him to so many fascinating locales along the contemporary R&B/urban jazz spectrum, he’s joyfully defied easy categorizations.
“Top to bottom,” Albright says, “Whether in concert, listening to my music over the radio or CD player, I always want my listeners to be taken on a musical journey with different textures, rhythms, chord progressions and moods. I want people to know where I’ve been and where I’m going, and to let them hear that I’m in a really good place in my life.”
Four-time GRAMMY®-winning R&B/Pop songstress Regina Belle is a different story. Even as the New Jersey native rode high in the urban charts throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s with such urban classics as “Baby Come to Me,” “Make It Like It Was” and “What Goes Around,” faith, churchgoing, and gospel music remained at the very core of her life in the spotlight. Today, Belle is a pastor’s wife and minister of music at New Shield of Faith Ministries in Atlanta, where her husband, John S. Battle III, is senior pastor.
“I still went to church,” says Belle, whose LOVE FOREVER SHINES, her lifetime-in-the-making gospel debut, is set to make a splash via Ruben Rodriguez’ Pendulum Records with Walker Davis Entertainment and distributed by Fontana. “I carried it with me. I wasn’t necessarily in a church because I traveled from city to city. But God is not something that you can box in a building. You have to take him with you. Even though I didn’t have the understanding that I have now, He was still covering me even at that stage of the game.”
LOVE FOREVER SHINES is a triumphant homage to God’s faithfulness through it all, a testament to how His goodness and mercy followed the vocalist all the days of her life, from the cradle all the way through her decorated music career. Most importantly, the album is a tribute to the singer’s gospel music heritage—14 songs that speak to the bedrock of Belle’s faith, never more evident in the disc’s stunning centerpiece, the stirring traditional first single, “God Is Good.”
A precocious singer since a young age, Belle launched her music career with a bang when, as an 8-year-old, she performed her first church solo—a take-no-prisoners rendition of the gospel standard “Don’t Drive Your Mama Away,” originally by none other than Shirley Caesar, one of Belle’s early influences. Such was Belle’s talent that, by age 12, the budding songbird had her first professional gig, and, come high school, she received a full scholarship to attend the prestigious Manhattan School of Music.
Her stint at the school was instrumental in laying the groundwork for Belle’s future endeavors. There, she was mentored by the tireless Inga Wolfe, a diligent voice teacher who believed in Belle’s unpolished gift so much that she was moved to tutor her in private. Unlike her musically inclined schoolmates, Belle actually had to work hard to bring out the best in her. “When I came into the school, I never really thought I was going to make it,” Belle says.
While she cherishes the lessons learned there, something was amiss: the school’s rigid music-only curriculum left her wanting something more, namely, a better grasp on her identity as a singer. “While that was a great experience, it was something that I really didn’t want for four years of college,” Belle says. “I wanted to have a broader sense of things. I wanted to get a broader idea of who I was…a better understanding of how the world works.”
That desire to expand her horizons drove Belle to Rutgers University, where she majored in history and accounting, two careers she complemented with music courses at what is now the state college’s famed Mason Gross School of the Arts. Once there, she was mentored by professors William Fielder and Kenny Barron, two greats who built on Belle’s raw talent and previous schooling and provided the tools that prepared her for the national stage.
Only 12 credits shy of graduation, Belle got the break of her lifetime when she received a call to audition for the Manhattans, an R&B group that soon asked her to record a duet with them and be their opening act. “At that moment, it was like, goodbye school,” says Belle with a laugh. “What I wanted to do was handed to me on a platter. All I had to do was walk through that door. I had to grow up real quick. That was my real training. The life work started to happen.”
It wasn’t long until Belle scored for herself a solo deal with Columbia Records, a successful partnership that yielded the albums ALL BY MYSELF, STAY WITH ME, PASSION and REACHING BACK. STAY WITH ME, in particular, catapulted Belle to the No. 1 slot of Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally, a feat driven in part by two chart-topping singles, “Baby Come to Me” and “Make It Like It Was”—the latter a soulful ballad originally passed on by the Winans.
The whirlwind of activity, accolades, and media attention eventually got the best of the singer, to the point that her gospel foundation was put on the backburner—no more testifying like Pastor Caesar anymore.
“I don’t think it was time for gospel music,” Belle explains. “I think that when God had me in a place to do gospel, that my life was going to be very different. I don’t believe that the Lord just wanted for me to do a gospel album. He wanted it to be a testimony as to where I am in my life. He wanted to put me in a place where I could share things, intimate things with my audience, to help them get through.”
“I know 10 years ago I wasn’t ready for gospel. I had way too much pride for that. Maybe in confidence I would share with someone that I tripped up on some different things, but I wasn’t going to tell that to anybody in public. But He put me in a place now where I’m not bound by that. I’m not bound by the things that I used to do because I don’t do them anymore.”
In a chapter that Belle isn’t afraid to recount, the singer candidly tells of the time when, behind the scenes, she was dealing with demons of her own—brought about by her pride, her long days on the road, the limelight, and the lack of accountability. “I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I drank socially,” Belle says. “It came to a point when I really started having a little bit too much to drink.”
Soon enough, hitting the bottle began to take a toll on other areas of Belle’s life, eventually leading her to believe that it was she—not God—who was at the helm of her life. “I had a bad attitude—wanting things when I wanted them, not having a good attitude about life in general,” Belle says. “I had money, and my money made me who I was.”
Slowly but surely, God began smoothing Belle’s rough edges, showing her that His power could be made perfect in even her darkest weakness—in her case, her ongoing bout with pride and self-sufficiency. “The Lord had to deal with me in that aspect because He allowed me to know that I needed a little bit more humility in my life, that everyday that I get to be on this planet is because of Him, not me,” she says.
As soon as that realization hit her, brought about by the realization that she needed to model Christ for her own children, Belle says that, little by little, “the whole drinking issue, even socially, began to dwindle to nothing. It was a major turning in my life. I began to see differently. It was a serious awakening.”
She continues: “That’s when I really started to sit down and study the Word. All the sermons that I heard before were really just sermons that I heard—I had never really received the Word. I began to see not only who Christ was, but I also got a better understanding of who I was.”
With her identity in Christ now firmly in place, Belle set out to record LOVE FOREVER SHINES, a disc that showcases her soulful, elegant alto set to the two styles that make up her musical persona: contemporary R&B and gospel music. Leave it to Belle to perform an early ‘90s quiet-storm number like the title track, only to switch gears and deliver a fiery, Sunday morning delight like the hand-clapper “Can’t Nobody.”
In the vein of great gospel storytellers, Belle recounts the story of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment in the heartfelt “Who Touched Me,” a song that slowly builds from a gently caressed keyboard to an impassioned cry of heart. That song is the perfect segue for one of LOVE FOREVER SHINES’s early climaxes, the sprawling, take-it-to-the-old-school “God Is Good,” a song that is both an acknowledgement of God’s never-ending goodness and a testament to the influence Belle’s grandfather had on the singer growing up.
Ultimately, Regina Belle wants to communicate both sides of the spectrum: that life is not just about the mountaintop experiences, but that it’s also about the valley of the shadow of death, that dark place of despair where, above all, love forever shines.
“There’s nothing on this side of this earth you can commit that you can’t be saved from,” Belle says. “There isn’t anything Jesus didn’t die for. That’s one of the devil’s greatest tricks—to make you feel that God won’t own you. But that’s a lie. God will own you. No matter what we do, he still owns us. If He did it for me, He’ll do it for you.”
Since breaking through to contemporary urban jazz stardom in the early 2000s, Nick Colionne has been one of the genre´s most dynamic and tireless live performers, headlining hundreds of shows and energizing fans across the U.S. and Europe with his sizzling blend of jazz, R&B, funk, blues and soulful, seductive vocals. Over the years, the charismatic, inspirationally fashionable (courtesy of designer Stacy Adams) Chicago based guitarist´s album titles have kept everyone in the loop as to where his musical heart is. He has mastered the art of Keepin´ It Cool (2006), pushed musical boundaries to a place where there are No Limits (2008), urged us to Feel The Heat (2011) and later explored some of his deepest Influences (2014).
On his 2016 Trippin ´N´ Rhythm album The Journey, Nick takes stock of his extraordinary career, the wonderful musicians he´s played with, the people he´s entertained, and the amazing places he´s traveled. It´s taken him to great heights recently, as the three Top 5 singles from Influences led him to be named Billboard´s #5 Artist of the Year for 2015. Nick keeps the forward momentum going with the infectious and grooving title track and lead single from The Journey. Upon its recent release, it earned a “#1 Most-Added” designation on iTunes and Billboard, and quickly reached #1 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz and Groove Jazz Music charts.
The Journey is the perfect album title for an artist who has become one of the most in-demand headliners on the circuit, playing up to 75 shows a year throughout the country at top festivals (Berks Jazz Fest, Capital Jazz Fest, Catalina Jazz Trax Festival, Seabreeze Jazz Festival, JazzFest West, Punta Gorda Jazz Festival, Thornton Winery Jazz Series), on popular cruises (Capital Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise, Dave Koz Cruise) and in other top venues. Expanding his reach to Europe in recent years, Nick has performed several times at the Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg in Germany, the Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival and Pizza Express Jazz Club in London.
Nick has received numerous accolades throughout his multi-faceted career, including the 2007 International Instrumental Artist of the Year Award at the Wave Jazz Awards, where he succeeded 2006 winner Chris Botti. He was also chosen Artist of the Year at the 2011 Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival and Performer of the Year for Jazz Trax Jazz Festivals in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, Nick was nominated as Guitarist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year by the American Smooth Jazz Awards and received the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award for his ongoing commitment to mentoring children, his work in the community and nationally in support of breast cancer causes. The recipient of the 1996 Malcom X College Alumnus of the Year Award (he earned his degree there in music), Colionne has devoted much of his spare time over the past 20 years to mentoring children at St. Laurence K-8 School in Elgin, Illinois. His roles include counseling, teaching music, computer music skills and guitar, and producing talent shows and holiday pageants.
Though most urban jazz fans were first introduced to Nick via his 2003 hit single “High Flyin´” (which was one of the genre´s Top Ten songs that year), folks in “The Big Windy” started grooving to him much sooner with his early album releases, starting with It´s My Turn in 1994. Fully in line with the sense of gratitude and reflection that drives The Journey, he includes on the new album the sensual and reflective “East Evergreen Revisited,” which first appeared as “East Evergreen” on his recording debut. It is his way of not only coming full circle creatively, but also paying tribute to Carol Ray, his longtime partner, manager and guiding force in his life who passed away in 2013, as “East Evergreen” was the name of the street Carol lived on when Nick wrote it.
Aside from showcasing his incredible skills on the Epiphone Nick Colionne ES175 Premium (his own name model!), the Epiphone Sheridan, the Epiphone Broadway Elitist, Epiphone Swingster and Gibson L-4 C, The Journey also features Nick collaborating with a unique array of jazz and R&B talent. Wanting to explore a deeper palette of flavors, moods and attitudes, Nick invites Grammy nominee and Soul Train Award winning sax great Najee to play on the old school funk jam “Buckle Up” and complements his own compositions (including the percussive blues funk jam “On the Move” and the title track) with tunes written and produced by legendary Pieces of a Dream keyboardist James Lloyd (the sensual ballad “Say What´s On Your Mind,” and Chris “Big Dog” Davis (Maysa, Will Downing, Chante Moore). Lloyd and Davis previously worked with Nick on Influences. The coolly grooving, atmospheric mid-tempo tune “Uncle Nick” was written and produced by emerging urban jazz keyboardist Nicholas Cole, who refers to the guitarist in this affectionate way. Saxophonist and producer Darren Rahn mixed on four tracks.
It’s no surprise that Nick Colionne’s sustained chart-topping radio history and his incredible live performances, infused with his unique and soulful styling of jazz, funk, R&B and blues along with his rich vocals and engaging stage personality, have made him a force to be reckoned with.