The best in jazz is on tap May 9 as some of the recording industry’s most popular artists take the stage at the Johnson’s Smooth Jazz Festival. Presented by the Marco and Sandra Johnson Foundation, the festival will take place at Lancaster City Park and is being touted as a “Mother’s Day” event.
Lancaster resident Sandra Johnson and John Mann will serve as a co-host, along with Pat Prescott and Greg Mack of 94.7 The Wave.
Featured artists will include Gerald Albright, Bobby Caldwell, the Jeanette Harris Band and Nils. Gates will open at 1 p.m. with the main show beginning at 5 p.m. Organizers suggest patrons bring lawn chairs, blankets and dress in comfortable attire. There is reserved seating for $75. Front lawn seats are $55 each, and rear lawn seating is priced at $40.
Albright is one of the most prolific artists on the contemporary jazz scene. The Los Angeles native began taking piano lessons at an early age, but his love of music is said to have picked up considerably when he was given a saxophone.
By his freshman year at the University of Redlands, Albright had already become a polished saxophonist. After seeing Los Angeles native Louis Johnson (“Brothers Johnson”) perform in concert, Albright decided to take up the bass guitar. Shortly after graduating from college, Albright connected with yet another noted Los Angeles name and a schoolmate—Patrice Rushen—who was in the process of forming her own band. She eventually replaced her bass player on tour with Albright.
During the 1980s, Albright became a highly requested session musician, playing on albums from a wide variety of artists including Anita Baker, Ray Parker Jr., Lola Folana, Atlantic Starr, Olivia Newton-John, the Temptations and Maurice White. He has toured extensively with Les McCann, Jeff Lorber, Teena Marie, the Winans, Marlena Shaw, Quincy Jones and Whitney Houston.
Albright has recorded a number of solo albums for Atlantic Records, with two hitting the number-one spot on Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz Chart and each nominated for a Grammy Award in 1989 and in 1990.
In 1998, Albright and Phil Collins toured together and later the two recorded one of Albright’s tunes, “Chips ‘N Salsa” on Collin’s Big Band Project entitled “A Hot Night in Paris. “Also that year, Albright released “Pleasures of the Night” with Will Downing on Verve Forecast, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.
Albright released “Pushing the Envelope” in 2010 on Heads Up International Records. This album was said to be a showcase for Albright’s balance of songcraft and musicianship, and featured special guest appearances by trombonist Fred Wesley (James Brown and the JB’s) Earl Klugh on guitar and George Duke on keyboards. Other popular albums by Albright include “24/7” from 2012 and “Slam Dunk” from 2014. “Slam Dunk” includes versions of Phil Collins’ “True Colors” and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” with a special appearance by Peabo Bryson.
Bobby Caldwell may be considered one of the masters of both Soul and Jazz. His most famous song, “What You Won’t Do For Love” from 1978 remains a standard on today’s “soft rock” radio stations. The song has reportedly been recorded and sampled by more than 100 artists, including a rendition by Boys II Men.
A sample of Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes” appeared on the Grammy-nominated platinum rap hit “The Light” by Common.
All combined, Billboard Magazine said Caldwell songs and samples are said to have contributed to more than the 40 million disk sold by artists as diverse as Tupac Shakur, Michael Bolton, Roberta Flack, Go West, Vanessa Williams and Notorious B.I.G. They have all paid tribute to the man known as the ‘blue eyed soul” singer. “What You Won’t Do For Love” was sung by Elliot Yamin during round three of American Idol in 2006.
Major motion picture and television credits have brought Caldwell’s music to an even broader audience. His original composition, “The Girl I Dream About,” was included in Hillary Duff’s film “The Perfect Man;” in Charlie Matthau’s film “Her Minor Thing;” and in “Simone” starring Al Pacino. Previously, Caldwell’s rendition of “Beyond the Sea” was selected by actor/director Joe Mantegna as the opening theme for his directorial debut “Lakeboat.”
Mantegna commissioned Caldwell to compose an original piece, “(Oh Boy!) You’ve Got it Made,” as the closing theme of the film. Caldwell can also be heard in the films “Beyond the Sea,” along with “All the Way” and “My First Mister” the latter starring Albert Brooks and directed by Christine Lahti. Caldwell’s version of “I’ve Got the World on a String” was used in “Hearts In Atlantis” starring Anthony Hopkins. “Luck Be a Lady” is the featured track in the film “The Cooler” starring William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Paul Sorvino.
Jeanette Harris is considered by critics and fans as one of the best saxophonists within the modern jazz genre. Harris is said to blend energetic and captivating performances with uplifting and inspiring melodies. Her cover of Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do” from her “Saxified” album hit the Billboard Jazz singles chart. Harris, classically trained on both the saxophone and piano, is a graduate of the prestigious Berkeley College of Music and was the lead saxophonist for the late Teena Marie.
Harris’ fourth album, “Summer Rain,” saw her write all but one of the 11 tracks, that being the cover of the Luther Vandross hit “Here and Now.”
“The music of ‘Summer Rain’ is all about a positive vibe,” Harris aid. “It’s about staying in love … never falling out of love, feeling good, being faithful and always following a positive route. Great things have happened for me in the last year. I’ve learned what’s really important in life—my family and my music.”
Two songs that may make the festival playlist on May 9 feature Harris’ friend Darrell Crooks on guitar. “Take Me There” follows a sensual, mellow groove that finds Harris layering her horn in subtle combinations with Crook’s string work, while the captivating “The Ride” is more of a “techno” groove that morphs into some heated interplay and exchange between the two musicians.
Other popular songs within Harris repertoire to look out for include “Ja’licious” (Harris’ way combining the words jazz and delicious), “Oh, So Good” and a more laid-back composition called “Chillin.’” There’s also “Passing Time,” which features keyboardist George Freeman performing and her writing collaboration with Chuck Cymone which resulted in the popular “Just Keep Holding On.” Harris may even step into the groove of the Latin sound with “Muy Caliente.”
“One of my trademarks is writing a song for a vocalist then having the instrumental version on the same album,” Harris said. “On my CD ‘Saxified,’ I wrote the lyrics first for ‘You Can Dance’ then reworked it for my saxophone. I switched it up for ‘Summer Rain’ and wrote the music first, then the words. I wrote those lyrics with my mother and think it’s beautiful.”
Pronouncing his name “Neels,” this guitarist born and reared in Munich, Germany, and has been influenced by everyone from Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, to Chic and The Yellowjackets.
Nils moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and began studying music composition, arrangement and film composition. His first job locally was as a teacher at the Valley Arts Music Store in the San Fernando Valley. Nils acquired his production skills as a studio engineer in the 1990s, and then started doing regular sessions as a rhythm guitarist for Rick Braun, the Temptations and has also worked with George Clinton. Nils earned a Platinum Record for his contribution to the Temptations’ 1998 album “Phoenix Rising.”
With guitar legend George Benson, Nils co-wrote the song “Keep Rollin’” which appeared on the latter’s 1998 album “Standing Together.” Benson returned the favor by playing a duet with Nils on his 1998 debut album “Blue Planet” which also featured performances by Albright, Nathan East and the late vocalist Carl Anderson.
Nils is said to present a lively stage performance with stellar guitar work and is backed by a band featuring Clydene Jackson (keyboards, vocals) as well as Oliver C. Brown (percussion) who was an original member of KC and the Sunshine Band.
Nils frequently plays the California Jazz circuit with past appearances at the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival in Avalon, Jazz Fest West in San Dimas, the Temecula Jazz Festival, the Long Beach Jazz Festival, and the Ultimate Jazz Festival in Ontario. Other stops have included the San Diego Jazz Festival and the Pismo Preserve Jazz Festival in Pismo Beach.
Marco and Sandra Johnson Foundation
The Marco and Sandra Johnson Foundation is a local philanthropic organization known for its many contributions to homeless shelters. The charitable non-profit group assists individuals and families in need in the Antelope Valley, advancing its mission primarily through its work with charitable services in the areas of education and in awarding a number of scholarships.
Over the years, the foundation has donated mattresses, televisions and bedroom sets to the Antelope Valley community. It has organized free CPR classes at women’s shelters, CPR and first aid instruction for local Boy Scouts of America troops, has committed $100,000 to Antelope Valley High School’s “Athletics and Arts” program, and an additional $10,000 for the LPAC school outreach program), and hosts a yearly community appreciation dinner.]
For more details about the concert and the Marco and Sandra Johnson Foundation, visit their website at www.marcoandsandra.org. Vendors interested in participating in the jazz concert should contact Ashley.Clutter@uav.edu.