David Benoit

Smooth Jazz Summer Nights, August 1 In October 2008, David Benoit took a much needed breather from the frenetic pace of life in Los Angeles and headed up to the mountains near Saratoga to become an artist in residence at Villa Montalvo. Finding peaceful solitude and discovering fresh inspiration in a small cabin near the non-profit Montalvo Arts Center, the five time GRAMMY® nominated veteran composer and pianist—one of contemporary jazz’s most acclaimed artists for over two decades—wrote “Botswana Bossa Nova” and “Will’s Chill,” two unique pieces unlike any he had done before. These became the foundation for the overall global music concept behind Benoit’s stirring and provocative new CD Earthglow, his first set of original material in four years. The title track was inspired by the stunning NASA photo of our planet which graces the cover. In an age where many listeners prefer the instant gratification of purchasing individual tracks on iTunes, Benoit takes the bold step of writing good old fashioned liner notes to explain the way the eclectic 11-track collection developed. After mentioning that the great will.i.am from Black Eyed Peas was an influence on “Will’s Chill,” the multi-talented performer says, “I was interested in experimenting with some of the new ‘jazz-lounge-Euro-chill’ music I was hearing at upscale boutique hotels and chic Japanese sake bars.” Focusing on the high energy hybrid of old school soul-jazz and infectious world beat textures and rhythms of “Botswana Bossa Nova,” he adds, “I loved the world mix of exotic ethnic percussion, African voices along with Brazilian beats. With the aid of the computer sequencing program Logic Pro I came up with some of these new ideas. To give the instruments a more realistic sound, I played everything in real time as opposed to step timing. Months later, with the same format, I came up with ‘Straightaway,’ ‘Unbelievable,’ ‘New Creation’ and ‘Sneaky As A Cat’ at my home studio in Palos Verdes, California.” Beyond what he writes in the liner notes, the song “Botswana Bossa Nova” also owes a debt to the “Soul Bossa Nova” sound of the Austin Powers theme, and the old school funk/jazz jam “New Creation” was inspired by The Hit Crew’s “(You’re) Unbelievable.” The easily rhythmic “Straightaway” mixes soulful jazz touches by Pat Kelley’s languid guitar and Jeff Kashiwa’s sax with an unexpected, very cool bossa interlude. Living up to its name, “Unbelievable” features a combination of the trademark Benoit piano hook amidst a hypnotic jungle percussive groove (featuring African tablas) and Rick Braun’s muted trumpet charm. “New Creation,” a vibrant, percussive retro-jam which was the album’s original title track, is very atypical Benoit, with the pianist getting into a Chick Corea/Herbie Hancock vibe on the classic Fender Rhodes. Fans of Benoit’s numerous Charlie Brown/Vince Guaraldi related projects, including 2008’s Jazz For Peanuts, will love the whimsical ‘60s flavors of “Sneaky As A Cat,” which features remarkable work by Benoit’s lifelong friend, flute legend Tim Weisberg. Benoit was tapped by other muses during an engagement in Tokyo, where he rented a piano and composed “Brownie’s Gone” (an elegant reflection on a beloved cat who ran away) and the coolly percussive title track “Earthglow” with nothing but a Judy Green music pencil and ledger buff manuscript paper. When he returned to Palos Verdes, he penned the gently rolling, gospel flavored “Easy Day” (featuring sampled African voices) and the darker toned trio ballad “Downtime,” whose easy swinging waltz rhythm skips a beat every so often. The six minute closing track “Freedom At Midnight (The Schroeder Variations)” is a unique mix of Benoit’s classic 1987 radio hit and a stirring take on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” as if Schroeder from Peanuts was playing it. The pianist and his band have made the unlikely medley a staple of their live show since they did it impromptu several years ago.

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Chris Strandring

Smooth Jazz Summer Nights, August 8

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Jonathan Fritzen & Vincent Ingala: The Next Generation

Smooth Jazz Summer Nights, August 15 Back in January of 2011, Smooth Jazz Journalist of The Year nominee, Denis Poole commented that ‘North End Soul’ from multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer Vincent Ingala was, by any standards, an outstanding piece of work. In fact, it proved to be a spectacular debut and set the scene for what evolved into a truly remarkable year. In San Diego, at what became known as ‘The Lemonade Weekend,’ Ingala owned the stage at Anthology and later that night played with Peter White at the Hard Rock Hotel. Twelve months later, his ever growing fan-base would be rewarded with Vincent’s follow up album ‘Can’t Stop Now,’ earning him two Billboard top five singles, one of them topping at #1 for four weeks. With seven original compositions, two spellbinding covers and guest performances from Gregg Karukas & Jonathan Fritzen, ‘Can’t Stop Now’ is a measure of just how far Ingala has come and a tribute to the focus and dedication he has for his music. Indeed, ‘Can’t Stop Now’ bears testimony to the way Vincent pursues his musical goals with determination and zeal. Not only did he write and co-write seven of the tracks, he also played every instrument and, if that wasn’t enough, produced and programmed the album throughout. This all seems a far cry from the time his parents bought him his first drum set at the age of four. Later, he was given his first guitar and after only nine months of lessons in third grade, was strumming Elvis tunes that he had perfected by ear. Both friends and family quickly sensed that there was something special going on and this was confirmed when in fifth grade he mastered the keyboard before trading it in for the saxophone. Finally, Vincent had found the sound for which he had been searching. He was hooked and the rest, as they say, is history. Since May 2011, Vincent has become an ever-increasing presence on the Smooth Jazz circuit, performing as a solo artist at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival, Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival, the Seabreeze Jazz Festival and was a featured artist on the Dave Koz & Friends 2011 Alaskan Cruise. He will also be on board for Koz’s 2013 Mediterranean Cruise this fall. Most recently, Vincent has joined forces with saxophonists, Marion Meadows & Paul Taylor and will be touring together this summer as ‘Sax & The City.’ A Yamaha Performing Artist, Vincent cites Elvis Presley, Sam Butera, Wilton Felder and Richard Elliott as being among some of his major influences in music. Family is also a core value for Vincent. He enjoys nothing more than spending time with his parents and their large, extended Italian family. With more dates in support of ‘Can’t Stop Now’ already planned for this year, there has never been a better time to experience the magic of Vincent Ingala. Vincent plays Yamaha saxophones exclusively.

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Jonathan Fritzen & Vincent Ingala: The Next Generation

Music with the power to captivate, coupled with a touring schedule that spans Europe, the far east and some of the biggest festivals in the USA, is rapidly turning Swedish American composer and keyboard player Jonathan Fritzén into a truly global phenomenon. Now, his considerable worldwide audience seems certain to increase still further with the release of his latest CD, the appropriately titled ‘Magical’. With featured performances from Boney James, Paul Brown, Jackiem Joyner, Darren Rahn, Malene Mortensen and Vincent Ingala, ‘Magical’ is Fritzén’s fourth solo project and follows the highly acclaimed ‘Diamonds’ which enabled him to reach #1 on both the Billboard airplay charts and the Amazon.com sales charts. In fact legendary broadcaster Art Good recently named Fritzén as his ‘debut artist of the year’ yet his first recording actually came in 2008 with the sumptuous ‘Love Birds’. It announced him as a performer of tremendous promise with every one of its eleven original compositions reaching to the very core of what great smooth jazz should be. Less than a year later Fritzén returned with the equally impressive ‘VIP’. With ‘Magical’ his talents as a composer, producer and performer are again all brilliantly on display with a case in point being the easy grooving title track which finds Fritzén at his outstanding best and sublimely in tandem with sax-man Boney James who predictably leaves his mark all over this wonderful tune. When Jackiem Joyner takes over on sax for the feel good flavor of ‘Love Will Overcome’ he assists Fritzén in checking every smooth jazz box imaginable while elsewhere the deliciously languid groove of ‘Sweet Spot’ owes much to the fabulous interplay between Fritzén and Paul Brown. Staying in mellow mode, the hugely cinematic ‘Angels’ proves just how effective Fritzén can be when shifting to a romantic vibe and this is also evident with the stunning ‘Nostalgia’. It combines elements of chill with a marvelous melody in a way that only he can and in similar vein is the extremely sensuous ‘Nordic Night’. When Fritzén calls on Darren Rahn (who also mixes the album) for the intensely poignant ‘Lullaby’ his contribution on sax serves as the perfect accompaniment to this heartfelt tune and with ‘Cant Get You Out Of My Mind’ it’s the vocals of Danish singing star Malene Mortenson that pave the way to more of Fritzén’s superb playing on keys. In the final analysis Fritzén’s position as the master of delightfully accessible contemporary jazz is perfectly validated by the fabulous ‘Turn Back Time’ that has the same vibrant and catchy quality, which typifies much of his best work. Not only that, when the rapidly emerging Vincent Ingala becomes the fourth saxophonists to guest on ‘Magical’, his performance for ‘To The Top’ helps to create more of that delicious up-tempo energy and much the same can be said of the rhythmic splendor of the fabulous ‘Electric’ which is a smooth jazz classic in the making. There is little doubt that fans and critics alike will salute this latest offering by the incomparable Jonathan Fritzén as being truly ‘Magical’. Jonathan Fritzén was born in Stockholm to a Swedish mother and an American father. He grew up in a musical family and as a young child started playing drums. He later added piano, bass, guitar, flute and vocals, whilst during his formal training at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm he became one of the first students to receive a Masters degree in jazz. By the age of 22 Jonathan had performed several times on national television and toured with some of Sweden’s most respected jazz musicians. When ‘Love Birds’ followed three years later it marked Fritzén out as the first keyboard player from that country to release a smooth jazz CD. The rest, as they say, is history and with ‘Magical’ he is all set to write a new chapter.

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Eric Darius

Smooth Jazz Summer Nights, August 22 Every now and then an artist bursts onto the scene, changing the rules and challenging the status quo. Eric Darius is one of those artists fearlessly pushing all musical boundaries. He is one of the most exciting musicians to enter the Contemporary Jazz scene in the last decade. His explosive arrival as a recording artist at the age of 17 caused a frenzy! Now, with four critically acclaimed albums under his belt, a Number One hit single and Five Top 10 radio hits on Nielsen’s R&R/Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts, international recording artist, Eric Darius, is on a mission. Prophetically hailed Debut Artist of the Year by Smooth Jazz News in 2004, Eric has toured worldwide and shared the stage with innumerable renown artists, such as Prince, Jamie Foxx, Mary J. Blige, Carlos Santana, David Foster, Babyface, and George Benson, just to name a few. His music innovatively crosses over all music boundaries from Jazz, R&B, Hip-Hop, to Pop, creating a very distinctive, fresh sound and approach that is uniquely his own. Eric Darius continues to be a force that is unequalled in today’s musical landscape. With a new album scheduled to be released this year, Eric is on the verge of superstardom.

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Valerie Simposon

Smooth Jazz Summer Nights, August 29 Valerie Simpson is half of the songwriting/ performing/ producing entity formerly known as Ashford and Simpson. Their award winning collaborations began 4 decades ago and she along with her late husband Nick Ashford have penned classic hits such as, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” “I’m Every Woman,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “Solid,” “Your Precious Love,” and “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” She is on ASCAP’s board of directors and also serves on The ASCAP’s Foundation where an award has been established to aid struggling songwriters called the Reach Out and Touch Award which honors Nick Ashford. Valerie runs a popular New York Westside Music Club and Restaurant called The Sugar Bar where young writers/singers/musicians have a platform to perform. Valerie recently released a solo album “Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again,” which was 11 years in the making. She is currently performing concerts around the country in support of this new project. And she was just featured recently on Oprah Winfrey’s Next Chapter.

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Smokie Norful

Sounds of Inspiration, August 23 The 2002 release of Smokie Norful’s debut album I Need You Now, heralded the birth of a new Gospel legend. That project, led by the instantly classic title song, achieved gold-certification while winning the first of the numerous awards that would mark his truly groundbreaking career. In the decade since then, Smokie has sold more than two million albums, earned four #1 albums, received countless GRAMMY®, Dove, and Stellar awards, and has twice been named Billboard magazine’s “Gospel Artist of the Year.” Meanwhile, audiences around the world have come to embrace himas songwriter, balladeer, worshipper, and preacher. That level of success has been nothing short of a dream for the pastor’s son who began singing and playing piano while he was still in kindergarten. It is an accomplishment worthy of a moment of reflection.

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Kierra Sheard

Sounds of Inspiration, August 23. 2013 Stellar Award Female Vocalist of the Year. The Sheards, 2nd season on BET airs this Fall. Certified Gold artist in Japan. Lead single 2nd Win impacts Gospel May 5. Focus tracks: Save Me, Flaws.

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VaShawn Mitchell

Sounds of Inspiration, August 23

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