How did this new album and overall concept for it come about, and what are your ultimate goals with it?
This is a great question! My first album, "Generations" (2011) was a bit of an experiment, which flushed out some musical ideas that had been evolving for several years. The result was a record that included contemporary jazz, along with instrumental music that many might consider "not-jazz". So, I was quite intentional when thinking about a second album that I wanted to plant it firmly in the contemporary jazz genre. Since jazz is a global language, I also wanted to create a project that would engage people from around the world. I invited friends and fans to contribute inspiration for the music by way of adopting a theme for the record. Contributors were asked to identify places around the world that were special to them, and through poetry and pictures, explain why. Those places then became the inspirations for the songs on the album.
So, what I have is a record with 12 original songs which have been inspired directly by the life experiences of people from around the world! It's been an exceedingly fun journey in writing the music and having the personal interaction with the contributors.
The title I chose, "NEXT STOP HOME", is a reflection on travel, how "home" can be in several places, and an admission that in life, we're always moving along a path – a path leading Home.
Of your touring and gigs so far in your career, do any stand out as being particularly memorable or defining moments?
Though I've not done an extensive amount of touring, one of my shows this year was unique as I had the privilege of opening for one of the great legends of our time, Larry Carlton. I will always remember this one; it was generous opportunity from others who believe in me, and in my music, and I had a blast!
Meeting and spending some time with Larry was a memorable pleasure; his soft-spoken and unassuming demeanor made the entire evening flow effortlessly. Our respective sets went off without a hitch, the audience was superb ... and it's not every day you get to sit next to a 4-time Grammy winning super-group guitarist, signing autographs on your CDs as he does so on his. Sweet memories.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to the growth of Smooth Jazz in the future?
Let me answer this by first admitting that I drive a SAAB. Saab owners are a funny bunch. They're a tiny fraction of the global automobile market, though staunch believers in their cars, and probably more loyal than any other brand owner. Saab cars themselves have been described as "quirky", "odd", and even "ugly".
The global automotive media all but ignores Saabs in comparison to other marquee European brands such as BMW, Audi, Porsche, and Mercedes. The truth is, Saabs have historically been some of the best, safest, and most reliable cars on the roads. Unfortunately, recent times have been hard on Saab.
I think Smooth Jazz is the "Saab" of global music - Smooth Jazz'ers are a funny bunch too. We're a tiny fraction of the global music market, but we are fiercely passionate and loyal to the music we love. Others may consider SJ "odd", "outdated", or even..."ugly", and we're often ignored by the mass music media. But behind all that is a form of music that has historical traditions, innovative geniuses, and real longevity.
That's a long way of saying that I think our challenges can be summed up threefold: (1) as a small market segment, SJ doesn't attract the attention it deserves, and as such becomes a financial burden on its own artists, (2) SJ has some unfortunate 'baggage' from its early years that needs to be discarded, and (3) SJ has a tangible and physical image problem it needs to overcome.
SJ (or, as I prefer, "contemporary jazz") is still a little fish in a huge ocean, and one of the side effects of this is that SJ artists often cannot support themselves or their families on music alone. If we are going to grow, the genre must become a more viable option for those who desire a career in music, and needs to be able to financially support a larger roster of artists.
SJ has baggage from its early years that has caused some to assume what it is, and what it's not. We are so far beyond that now, but many in the mainstream don't know it, because they've already written it off based on 20 years ago. We need to really and truly discard this baggage so that a younger generation of listeners will grab hold and hang on.
Finally, SJ has an visual problem - except for the 1%, its shows, festivals, and performances are 'backyard' events held under tents or small park theaters, without any engaging visual or visceral presence. Compare that to the physical manifestations of concert offerings of other genres, and it’s no wonder we cannot attract a broader audience.
BUT...I hold out great hope that emerging artists, promoters, and labels will continue to find ways to bring change. I haven't even mentioned radio. That's another essay entirely...
What aspect of the creative process, from concept to market, do you personally find to be the most rewarding?
I believe that in every creative endeavor, whether musical or otherwise, there is a moment at which the thing being created takes on a life of its own. A moment when, for all the effort the author is pouring into the 'thing', the 'thing' suddenly has a life and course of its own, often which cannot be altered by the author. I have found this to be especially true in music, and I love experiencing that moment in my own writing. That moment when a song suddenly says to me - "hey, I know what I am now” and does what it wants to do. It's a magical, wonderful total loss of control, but it’s also the point of extreme clarity. That's what makes it beautiful.
When the times arise for you give back for the success and abundance you enjoy, what kinds of opportunities do you look for?
Clearly, in the United States we are blessed beyond what we know. We are immensely wealthy by world standards, yet we most often don't recognize it. It goes without saying that I enjoy sharing my music with others; like so many SJ artists, I began cutting my musical teeth in a church setting, and continue to volunteer in music ministries today.
Beyond that, my family has decided that we need to do more for those who have less, and as such we sponsor two children through Compassion International, in Tanzania and Guatemala. One day we hope to be able to visit these children and share our joy for them in person.
What are some of the most important goals you have for yourself in the next five to ten years?
Wow. That's always the question, right? Gotta have goals. And, I suppose I do. Above all, I'd like to have the tenacity and wherewithal to keep making records. With 2 full albums under my belt, I really feel like I'm just warming up; there's SO much in contemporary jazz I'd like to explore musically.
Next, I'd really like to find meaningful collaboration with others. I'm a big believer in synergy, and people's ability to raise each other's bars. Finally, is there a #1 hit out there for me? Well, gotta have goals after all...I'm going for it!