Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the August 22,
2001 edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Trenton’s `Urban’ Jazz Fest
The lineup for the annual Trenton Jazz Festival offers
a lot for those who love contemporary jazz and contemporary R&B, now
called "urban contemporary" music among radio types. Vocalist
Lalah Hathaway, tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and former NBA
player Wayman Tisdale are among the featured acts who will perform
at the festival this Saturday, August 25, at Mercer County Waterfront
Park, from 5 to 11 p.m.
Whatever the festival lacks in tradition-based soul jazz, it more
than makes up for with fans of contemporary jazz. While in past years
the festival has presented more tradition-based acts such as
Joe Sample, vocalist Al Jarreau, and longtime Garden State Hammond
B-3 organist Jimmy McGriff, this year’s festival is focused squarely
on contemporary jazz.
Bassist Wayman Tisdale, at six-foot-nine, began his performing career
on the basketball court, in 1986, with the Indiana Pacers. Within
a few years he was out west playing with the Sacramento Kings; he
averaged a career-high 22 points per game in the 1989-’90 season.
Tisdale ended his basketball career by playing for another three years
with the Phoenix Suns.
Tisdale, an Oklahoma University All-American, has had an interest
in and talent for music going back to his youth, he explains in the
notes that accompany "Face To Face," his most recent album
and his second release for Atlantic Records. "My roots are in
gospel," he says, "and my whole sense of being is from that.
I feel this record is displaying a lot of those positive sides of
"Face To Face" is an artfully blended mix of fusion, urban
contemporary, and contemporary jazz stylings. "I wanted to get
back to my roots," says Tisdale. "I’ve always been heavily
influenced by R&B, and my roots as a bass player go back the heavy
funk of the 1970s. I wouldn’t say I’ve gone funky this time, but I
definitely went towards a more R&B approach with this record."
The R&B Tisdale is referring to is contemporary R&B or "urban
contemporary," not the classic R&B of such artists as Ruth Brown,
Wilson Pickett, or the late Otis Redding.
"Face To Face" includes three of Tisdale’s own compositions,
including the title track, "Say I Do" and "Stay."
Tisdale says he wrote these tunes the old-fashioned way, strumming
a guitar and putting pen to paper.
"I never thought I could write lyrics until I wrote these
he says. "I was nervous, saying to people, `I wrote this song
last night.’ And when they heard it, they’d go crazy. I’ve gotten
really into it now, like a kid with a new toy."
Tisdale’s musical background includes singing backing
vocals on albums by saxophonist David Sanborn. Now Tisdale’s daughter,
Danielle, sings background on "Face To Face." Tisdale will
perform at the Trenton Jazz Festival with his group, Kombo.
Tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, who will perform with vocalist Lalah
Hathaway, is touring in support of his fall 2000 album for Warner,
"Unconditional." Whalum wrote or co-wrote seven of the tunes
on "Unconditional." The album includes "Grover Worked
and Underpaid," his own composition that is a tribute to the
Grover Washington, Jr., who died suddenly of a heart attack in
"My last album of covers was sort of a `thank-you’ note to this
audience that has been so faithful to me over the years," Whalum
explains in the biography accompanying his recent recording. "This
time I was determined to have Kirk Whalum compositions, for the
reason that it’s part of who I am. I love to write, arrange and
This is a record where from the top it was primarily about my songs,
about me collaborating with other people, with Paul Brown as a write
and producer. It was great to put that hat back on and back into the
fray," he explains.
On "Unconditional" Whalum also performs a tribute to his
friend, saxophonist David Sanborn, whom he credits as a major
to him through the years. "David has been a very big factor of
encouragement to me over the years. He’s one of those guys who, when
people interview him and ask,`Who do you like in terms of younger
guys?’ — and you know there are a million saxophone players —
he says, `Kirk Whalum.’"
"So I sat down to write a melody for him and it wrote itself,"
says Whalum. "That happened a few times on this record and it’s
definitely something I dare not skip over. I wrote all the songs
for `Unconditional.’ If there’s a theme, it was simply that I prayed
and asked God to give me songs that would really touch people in a
new way. The fact that this record has more grit to it, I think maybe
that was a theme that revealed itself. It’s like when an artist sits
down with a canvas. He doesn’t always have a theme, but it begins
to make itself evident. It emerges as he goes along."
Whalum offers "Grover Worked and Underpaid" as an example,
and says, "that song came out of a real sincere desire on my part
to pay homage to Grover Washington, Jr., an incredible man and a big
influence on me. I knew it couldn’t be all wimpy. It had to have some
grit in it. I was trying to make sure that I included some elements
of `Mr. Magic,’ not the notes, but the funky groove. You know, if
just rewards were given, then Grover would’ve been a millionaire."
Both Whalum and Tisdale’s albums have spent time at the top of
Magazine’s contemporary jazz charts, as have the recordings of the
Trenton Jazz Festival’s other headliners Maze, featuring Frankie
Beverly’s Maze is the San Francisco-based group responsible for
the careers of Natalie Cole and Anita Baker in the 1980s.
"We took Anita Baker out as our opening act on her first national
tour and did the same thing with Regina Belle and Toni Braxton. It
makes me feel great to see how each of these artists has gone on to
have great success," Beverly says.
While Beverly’s first love is classic R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll
from musicians like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and from New
Orleans pianist Lloyd Price’s "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," his group
Maze has built on his classic rhythm and blues orientation to create
music that is an amalgamation of jazz-rock fusion, jazz and urban
— Richard J. Skelly
Street, Trenton, 800-955-5566. The festival features Maze, with
Beverly, vocalist Laleh Hathaway, Kirk Whalum, tenor sax, Wayman
and his band Kombo. Tickets at www.tickets.com or by phone.
$20, $30, $35. Saturday, August 25, 5 to 11 p.m.
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