Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ragan Whiteside to release fourth studio CD Treblemaker on May 12

Ragan Whiteside, the flautist-singer who catches the ear like few in the world of contemporary jazz can, is getting ready to make waves this May 12th with her fourth studio album, Treblemaker.
A favorite of well-known stages such as Capital Jazz, Whiteside’s sound brings to mind the stylings of Najee and Dave Valentin. The preceding album, Quantum Drive, has received major airplay and acclaim by such publications as Jazz In M.E.E., and was described as “an enchanting and vibrant album” by Hans-Bernt Hulsman of As its successor, Treblemaker promises a further expanse of Whiteside’s variety and style. Frank McComb, Kim Waters, Marion Meadows, and Tom Browne make their appearances on the album to lend their touch to a well-seasoned musical mix.
Whiteside is not one to shy away from shaking up expectations. In contemporary jazz, where there is always a thirst for fresh material, she steps up and delivers, both in studio recording and on live stage.

“Her tenacity makes her a force to be reckoned with. Mark my words!” said Bob Baldwin of her once, and this tenacity is obvious at every show and in every track. “We need new music!” the fans say, and Ragan Whiteside is always up to deliver exactly what they ask for.

Still a New Yorker at her core and in her every note, Ragan Whiteside brings no shortage of sound to shake up some perceptions of what a flute – and a jazz artist – can do.

1. Intro (00:43)
2. Corey’s Bop (04:08)
3. Early Arrival (ft. Kim Waters) (04:15) 4. By the Moonlight (04:00)
5. The Sun Came Up (04:25)
6. Let’s Do This (ft. Tom Browne) (04:40)
7. I Never Told You (04:56)
8. Flute Funk (ft. Frank McComb) (05:31)
9. Love Song (ft. Marion Meadows) (04:51)
10. Mystic Vibration (05:11)
11. See You at the Get Down (ft. Bob Baldwin and PR Experience) (04:46)

Songwriter, flutist, vocalist, and all-around musical adventurer Ragan Whiteside is back in the studio. For those who know her, this should be a signal to rub hands together in anticipation, and for jazz lovers who have not yet met her, it’s more than ample invitation to see what she can do.

A musical prodigy since the age of five, Ragan found her way to the flute after the piano, the violin, and a turn with the drum set. She attended the Cleveland Institute of Music and the prestigious Harid Conservatory, where her sound was honed with the tried-and-true classical training, graduating with a Bachelor of Music Performance degree.
After school ended, Ragan found herself in New York and immersed herself in the world of jazz, funk, and R&B, going on to collaborate with contemporary heavyweights such as Patrice Rushen, Bob Baldwin, Chieli Minucci, and Frank McComb. Since her debut with Class Axe, Ragan honed her arranging and songwriting skills alongside Bob Baldwin and acclaimed producer/arranger Dennis Johnson, and focused on the deeper inner workings of producing and releasing music. Her third studio album, Quantum Drive, much like her sophomore album, Evolve, is a showcase of her wide variety of talents, from her sleek and immediately recognizable singing voice to the on-point arrangements and composition. The albums flow along a variety of musical styles, the sounds never parking themselves too long in one genre or another, but blending all in various proportions, so that no aficionado of one genre or another is left wanting.

Blue Note Jazz Festival Announces 2017 lineup; Pat Metheny, The Isley Brothers, Jacob Collier, Cassandra Wilson and more

With over 100 events in 10 venues throughout New York City, the 2017 Blue Note Jazz Festival returns June 1 through 30.

The seventh annual festival will feature a diverse lineup of high-profile artists including music legends Pat MethenyDr. John, and Jerry Lee Lewis; iconic groups such as The Isley BrothersKool & The GangDirty Dozen Brass Band, and Incognito; jazz staples HiromiEddie Palmieri (currently in residency at Subrosa NYC through August), Cassandra Wilson, and McCoy Tyner; breakout artists Jacob CollierThe Hot Sardines (month-long residency at Blue Note Jazz Club), and Dayme Arocena; as well as two special Central Park SummerStage shows featuring Laura Mvula (with Taylor McFerrin & Marcus Gilmore and Introducing Blue Lab Beats - Presented by Jill Newman Productions) and the Robert Glasper Experiment (with Phony Ppl plus Tank and the Bangas); and many more.
Visit for a full schedule of events, as well as venue and ticket information. Additional events will be announced in the coming weeks.
Established in 2011, the Blue Note Jazz Festival was initially formed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Greenwich Village's iconic Blue Note Jazz Club. Presented by Blue Note Entertainment Group, which owns and operates the venue lineup of Blue Note Jazz ClubB.B. King Blues Club & GrillHighline BallroomSubrosa NYC (located in the Meatpacking District), and Lucille's Grill, the festival has quickly grown into an annual 30-day event, emerging as the city's largest jazz festival, with each venue offering its own unique cultural contribution to the New York City musical landscape. Additional festival venues and co-presenters this year include Beacon TheatreKings TheatreThe Town HallCentral Park SummerStage, and Jill Newman Productions.
Additional headliners at Blue Note Jazz Club, B.B. King Blues Club, Highline Ballroom, and Subrosa include Michel CamiloDanilo Pérez/John Patitucci/Brian Blade TrioCandy DulferRobert CrayValerie SimpsonGary U.S. BondsPedrito MartinezBria Skonberg, and The Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra, among others to be announced.
Please visit for the most current public lineup and schedule.
About Blue Note Entertainment Group:
Blue Note Entertainment Group, founded in 1981 by Danny Bensusan, is a multi-faceted entertainment company that owns and operates New York's Blue Note Jazz Club, B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Highline Ballroom, Subrosa, and Lucille's Grill; The Howard Theatre (Washington D.C.); and Blue Note Jazz Clubs Worldwide (Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan; Milan, Italy; Waikiki, Hawaii; Beijing; and Napa). The company also programs the Regattabar Jazz Club (Cambridge, MA) and Blue Note-branded concerts throughout Italy. Blue Note Entertainment Group presents shows outside of its club network. The annual Blue Note Jazz Festival was established in 2011 and has since grown to become the largest jazz festival in New York City each June. Subsidiaries of Blue Note Entertainment Group include the GRAMMY®-nominated record label Half Note Records, whose catalogue includes over fifty titles recorded live at New York's Blue Note Jazz Club, as well as Blue Note Travel, Management Group and Media Group. The organization has presented many of the music industry's greatest artists over the past 35 years, including jazz legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughn, Chris Botti, and many more.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

CD Review: In the Moment - Daniel Chia

Singapore saxophonist Daniel Chia would be releasing his debut CD on April 3rd and on it one will find a plethora of tracks that shifts from buttery smooth to  grown and sexy.

Entitled "In the Moment". Daniel's CD was produced by award- winning producer and guitarist Paul Brown and features a list of musicians who helped to make this compilation a stellar one.

The album's first single "Cali Style" is a track that will make your comfort levels soar. It has this smooth chill swag over a funky beat that gets better with every listen. There are other similar tracks in the waiting such as the mellow notes found on "Life's a Beach" and the finger-snapping "Malibu Drive”.

There is an old-soul sound on the track aptly titled “Retro”, one that has a style similar to those that can be found in a crate filled with compilations of 70’s soul groups.

 Daniel displays great tonality and his ability to improvise is impeccable. This is evident on the track “In the Moment” which pairs him with Paul Brown. Paul’s solo on here is that majestic to say the least; Daniel also stands head and shoulders with Paul as the two inject fluidity into this beautiful track.

Don’t miss Melina’s sweet vocals on “Where Do We Go from Here”, a passion-driven single with Daniel’s sax notes gliding on the wings of love.

“Say You Will” is satisfying to the soul with its enchanting vocal-filled chorus; just another track to make you want to get up close and personal with your significant other.

Other tracks on this CD include “Just Because” featuring Darren Rahn and the stirring “Grace.”

We have two autographed copies of Daniel’s CD to give to two of our readers. Message me at to win!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Canadian Guitarist Rob Tardik releases hot sauce inspired by one of his songs

Photo by: Asha Brodie (c) 
Late last year, Canadian based jazz guitarist Rob Tardik released the sizzling and festive single "Sip and Salsa." The track has inspired Rob to create the Sip and Salsa hot sauce which is priced at $20US/Canadian.
The hot sauce can be described as  an unexpected kick of flavors in your mouth with a satisfying bite of heat.

The sauce is presented in a little red bottle that bears a silhouette of a female dancer and a flaming guitar. The ingredients in the Sip and Salsa hot sauce include habanero peppers, tomatoes and garlic and enlivened with vinegar and lime. Sip and Salsa Hot Sauce is the way hot sauces should taste: light and delicious without the excessive burning sensation in your mouth and not to mention the tangy taste.
Sip and Salsa Hot Sauce takes your curry dishes to another level and is also perfect with steak sandwiches (we sampled it on these dishes so far). The food pairings for this sauce is limitless. We love the Sip and Salsa Hot Sauce and hope you do too. Order yours here:

New Music: 222 South - Eric Cawalla

Get to know Erich Cawalla; he is a singer and saxophonist that specializes in jazz music with a contemporary jazz and R&B flair. "222 South" is not only the name of the highway near his hometown in Reading PA; it is also the name of his latest single currently heard on #jazzmoodsradio
Laid back and smooth, this track displays a funky bassline and flourishes with a compelling R&B groove that slaps you back to the way it was done back in the 80s/90s.

New Music: A Love Like Ours - Dominique Toney

Singer, producer and pianist Dominique Toney's new single "A Love Like Ours" has been added to our playlist on #jazzmoodsradio This is a very invigorating single that gives us a generous amount of sexy latin jazz that is loaded with sweet scats and cohesive trumpet harmonies. Dominique's latest CD is said to be filled with topics about relationships; this particular track speaks of a woman's appreciation for the love she shares with her guy. #dominiquetoney #latinjazz2017 #jazzysingers

Sunday, March 19, 2017

New Music: Be Careful - Vaughnette Bigford

Trinidad and Tobago vocalist Vaughnette Bigford has released "Born to Shine" a compilation of singles reworked from calypsoes and pop singles from local musicians that dominated the 80s era. 
The late calypsonian Merchant will be proud to hear Vaughnette's treatment of his single "Be Careful", a track that has been immerse in a calypso-jazz formula with Vaughette's soft and classy vocals giving the right amount of spice to this infectious groove. The added beauty to Vaughette's vocals is that her Trinidadian accent and phrasing remain vibrant throughout the track. Staying true to who she is even in song, helps to keep the track fresh and unique in every way.
Tune in to also hear Vaughnette on the soulful and inspiring "Born to Shine", a track originally done by Trinidad's own diva Carol Addison.

New Music: Bob Baldwin - Mobile Global

We love Bob Baldwin at JazzMoodsRadio and we are quite thrilled to be streaming his latest single "Mobile Global." In typical Baldwin style, this track allows your mind to roam to some far off place where a high level of relaxation awaits you. The track features trumpeter Gabriel Mark Hasselbach; his input adds to the lush arrangement which ironically was recorded in beautiful Brazil. The track was taken from Bob's latest CD "The Brazilian-American Soundtrack." Hear this and more great new music on #jazzmoodsradio streaming jazz...the way you like it!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks' Unique Perspective on Musical Landscape of East and West Coasts Shines with New CD East West Time Line, Available April 7, 2017

Since his 18-year tenure as guitarist and music director of TV's The Tonight Show Band ended in 2010, Philadelphia-born guitarist, composer Kevin Eubanks has been on a creative roll. On East West Time Line, Eubanks explores the chemistry he maintains with musicians on both coasts. And once again, his distinctive fingerstyle approach to the instrument is in the service of tunes that run the stylist gamut from urgent swingers to introspective ballads to Latin-tinged numbers and some get-down Philly funk.
Joining Eubanks on this stellar outing are longtime collaborator and former Berklee College of Music schoolmate, drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, who fuels the West Coast outfit alongside seasoned session bassist Rene Camacho, percussionist Mino Cinelu and saxophonist Bill Pierce. Smith's East Coast counterpart on this bi-coastal session is the irrepressibly swinging Jeff "Tain" Watts, a force of nature on the kit who combines with bassist Dave Holland, Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans and New York trumpeter Nicholas Payton for a potent lineup. Together these great musicians bring out the best in Eubanks' six-string prowess and ignite his searching instincts throughout the sessions in Los Angeles and New York.
"Of course, we all came up through New York," says the Philly guitarist who broke in with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers during the early '80s. "But we also got the benefits of seeing the East Coast down and dirty and Hollywood down and dirty too. We combined both vibes on this recording-the kind of Latin vibe of Los Angeles and the straight-up swinging vibe of New York.
The album kicks off with "Time Line," an urgent swinger paced by Holland's signature walking groove and Watts' inimitable polyrhythmic burn. Eubanks digs in with fingers on strings in his trademark percussive attack, alternately doubling the baselines and dealing in Wes-style octaves on his solo. Payton also turns in a trumpet solo that bristles with energy and "Tain" is turned loose on the kit at the tag. "There's something a little Philly about that groove. I mean, it's a long way from when I was playing in the neighborhood bands, but basically that's a little Philly vibe in there.
Shifting gears, the East Coast crew next settles into the gentle "Watercolors," which has Payton delivering a beautifully lyrical solo on this melodic track. "This was the first time that I ever played with Nick before," says Eubanks. "I met him once or twice in passing on the road but we've been communicating on Twitter recently and at some point Nick said, 'Man, one day we gotta hit.' That's really how this connection came about. In the studio I told him, 'If you hear it, man, play it! Just feel free.'"
The introspective "Poet" introduces Orrin Evans on the Fender Rhodes engaging in a sparse and tender duet with Eubanks on the opening four minutes of the tune before the full band enters. The guitarist shifts from warm-toned electric to nylon string acoustic after that distinct break, while Evans moves from Rhodes to acoustic piano in the second half of the tune.
"Carnival" has Eubanks digging in more forcefully on his nylon string acoustic guitar. Holland also delivers a resounding bass solo here while Watts kicks up a fury on the kit and Evans pushes the harmonic envelope on his searching piano solo. "It's such a pleasure to play with Tain," says Eubanks. "He just keeps the thing rolling along and keeps the energy at a level where everybody can float on it but at the same time it's not intrusive on what you want to do."
The more open-ended "Something About Nothing," which closes out Side A, has the East Coast ensemble exploring collectively with Evans on Rhodes, Eubanks on electric guitar and Payton turning in another exhilarating trumpet solo. "I think the title really describes the song," says the guitarist. "We're dealing with nothing but we're dealing with something. There's the bass line, and the chords are circular so you're free to go wherever you want."
The West Coast crew opens with a mambo-flavored arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Take The Coltrane." Eubanks digs in with his typically percussive attack on top of the clave-fueled groove. Eubanks next extrapolates on a motif from Chick Corea's "Captain Señor Mouse," which has him doubling on steel string guitar and bass, accompanied only by Mino Cinelu on percussion and Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums.
The ensemble's take on Kevin's uncle, Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant," has the guitarist alternating between acoustic and electric while Bill Pierce supplies a soaring soprano sax solo. The guitarist explains his directive to the musicians on this popular Afro-Cuban flavored number. "I just said, 'Let's just get compassionate on this...let's breathe on this and let it float so it's not all stick it and quit it.' The influence of Latin jazz is undeniable when you're on the West Coast long enough, and I wanted to reflect that in this session."
Following the familiar soprano sax intro on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," the band leaps into a swinging rendition of that '60s anthem that has Camacho walking persuasively and Eubanks alternately comping pianistically and soloing with Wes-styled octaves. Smitty's interactive, swinging pulse fuels this uptempo treatment while Pierce explores the melodic theme before taking off on another flowing soprano sax solo. "The idea was to keep it brief, just kind of making astatement of, 'What IS going on?,' given the current social-political climate. And our version just had an uplifting brightness to it."
The collection closes with a gorgeous reading of the standard "My One and Only Love," which features a magnificent solo guitar intro by Eubanks. Pierce's full-bodied tenor sax voice is decidedly old school here while Camacho maintains a sparse, Zen-like approach on bass throughout this relaxed rendition. "I'm definitely thinking about Wes Montgomery when I'm playing this," says Eubanks, "and it feels so relaxing and beautiful to try and delve into that vibe."
Overall, Eubanks seems exceedingly pleased with the copacetic nature of his first bi-coastal recording. "I think because I'm so familiar with all the musicians and we played together over the years in different settings, on different tours, that it helped the music quite a bit. There's something that goes with friendship, knowing everybody's journey to a large extent, that really enhances the communication between the players on a session. It's that thing where everybody's pulling for each other to do well and trying to make each other sound better, and you keep your sorry-ass ego out of it. We all have egos, we're human beings and everything, but through the love of the music and wanting the best, good things happen. It's really such a wonderful kind of democracy that you don't see in other things. I think jazz music is the most perfect example of democracy in action."
About Kevin Eubanks
Philadelphia native Kevin Eubanks grew up surrounded by music. His mother, Vera, was both a gospel and classical pianist, and his brothers Robin and Duane play trombone and trumpet respectively. Eubanks started as an elementary student playing violin, trumpet and piano and eventually found himself studying at Berklee College of Music. After graduating, he moved to New York City and started performing with legends such Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, and Sam Rivers, carving out a spot as the go-to guitarist in the New York jazz scene. In 1992 he moved to Los Angeles to join The Tonight Show Band and in '95 he replaced Branford Marsalis as the leader and served in that role for 15 years. Eubanks left the showin 2010 and has since released three albums with Mack Avenue Records: Zen FoodThe Messenger and Duets (with Stanley Jordan).

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

New Music: Chris Godber - Courageous

Saxophonist Chris Godber's Starting Over CD is like that gift that keeps on giving. With two successful singles in the rearview from the same CD, Chris has released "Courageous", a mighty song that currently streams on #jazzmoodsradio
There are so many great moments on this single. The vibe itself makes you want spring to usher in so you can hit open roads with this track as the perfect companion. It's upbeat and hits the spot on a festive note. Not to mention, this single features more of Chris' prowess as a saxophone player as he takes on the high notes with great precision.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Pianist Christian Sands Manifests New Experiences Stretching Into Progressive New Territory on Mack Avenue Records Debut, REACH - Available April 21

With his debut Mack Avenue Records recording, REACH, singularly talented pianist and five-time Grammy® Award nominee Christian Sands is stretching into exciting progressive territory as he breaks new ground traversing from the straight-ahead zone into fresh-sounding music influenced by a range of styles, from Afro-Cuban rhythms to hip-hop beats to dirty blues with an edge. That's impressive for a youngster who is just 27. "The collection here is about reaching new ideas and reaching new music," he says. "I'm reaching from past recordings to bring in the future, which is really all about finding myself. It's a chance to express my experience."
REACH becomes one more milestone in Sands' auspicious career that stretches back to his New Haven, Connecticut upbringing. Beginning music classes and composing his first piece at age five, he quickly became a professional by ten. Sands was well-prepared to attend such prestigious schools as the Neighborhood Music School and the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven (he later received bachelor's and master's degrees from the Manhattan School of Music).
But a key moment came when he attended the Jazz in July summer workshop at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst when he was in high school. That was where he met and began his mentorship with Dr. Billy Taylor. "I was 13 or 14 and I studied with Dr. Taylor," Sands says. "After the first week, he asked me to stay a second. I went on to take private lessons with him and master classes. He became my music grandfather; I went to his house in the Bronx and we'd talk about different music such as his piano heroes like Art Tatum and then bands I was listening to, including The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, John Legend and he was hip to all this."
The recording is co-produced by Grammy® Award-winning producer Al Pryor and famed bassist Christian McBride, who Sands has collaborated with in his Grammy® Award-winning trio, as well as some of McBride's other groups, since 2009. "Upon first meeting Christian, I could feel a cool connection," Sands recalls. "From when I first sat in with his Inside Straight band, I realized that we think about music in the same way. When I got signed to Mack Avenue, I asked if Christian could produce me, as someone who knows my playing and what I want to accomplish in my music."

Sands has assembled a stellar trio here, including bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Marcus Baylor. The album also features guests Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and percussionist Cristian Rivera. He even convinced McBride to make a cameo appearance, bowing his bass at the end of the slow tempo "Use Me."
Photo by: Anna Webber
With a record deal in hand, Sands set out to make a grand artistic entry with REACH, which includes eight originals and two covers. He opens the album with the upbeat piano trio tune, "Armando's Song," with its dazzling keys, rhythmic drive and overall ebullience. Inspired by Chick Corea, the song features a catchy melody and piano counterpoint and flies through different keys and strikes with rhythmic hits. More piano ecstasy follows with the blues-tinged "Song of the Rainbow People," again a trio trip. "This is a song about bringing people together in the midst of all the racial and religious tension, hate and misunderstanding in the world today," Sands says.
The swinging "Pointing West," written when Sands was attending the Manhattan School of Music and playing piano in the practice room overlooking the West Side Highway and the Hudson River beyond, features an inspired collaboration with Strickland that features remarkable harmonizing and trading. The pair links up again in the cosmic "Freefall," with more intertwining of piano and sax and new colors: the bright synthesized electronics and the dark-toned bass clarinet that speak to the song's theme of chasing an elusive apparition.
Informed by his Afro-Cuban music experiences in Bobby Sanabria's band, as well as playing in Los Hombres Calientes and in local Latin bands in Hartford, Connecticut, Sands sizzles on the firestorm "Óyeme," which features Rivera taking wild freedom with his percussion runs. "I love the groove, the dance," explains Sands. "This is about having a fiesta. This is what music should be like. Not going too deep, but having a lot of ridiculous fun." That's followed by a cooking and bouncing trio swing on "Bud's Tune," Sands' homage to Bud Powell and Herbie Nichols.
The next three songs showcase guitarist Hekselman, whom Sands has worked with for several years, especially in bassist Ben Williams' band. "I wrote 'Reaching for the Sun' with Gilad in mind," Sands says. "He's so easy to play with and we never get in each other's way." The tune is another easy-going dance with the guitar adding a cool tonal color above the percolating rhythms and an excited fleet-fingered piano solo. Hekselman delivers a rock-edged, bending-note solo on the blues-drenched "Use Me" and helps drive the rhythm on the moving hip-hop grooved "Gangstalude." Of the former, Sands says that he was a big fan of soul music growing up, with one of his biggest influences being Bill Withers. "I always loved that tune 'Use Me,'" he says. "Originally I was just going to cover it, but then I started to bend and move the rhythm and extended and stretched the bass and melody lines." As for "Gangstalude," Sands says it was originally designed to just be a short swing interlude about gangsters--he loves mob movies like The Godfather--but then he came up with a bridge and brought the hip-hop flow into the mix.
The album ends on a romantic note with a non-original tune, the melodic gem "Somewhere Out There." Composed by James Horner, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the original recording, sung by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, won Grammy® Awards for "Song of the Year" and "Best Song for Film" from its appearance in the 1986 animated film An American Tail. "I was looking for a ballad and I didn't want to do Strayhorn or Porter," Sands says. "I wanted to play something that was not that familiar. So I was talking to my mother and she said, 'What about the song from the movie with the mouse that you used to watch when you were a kid?' She used to sing it to me when I was four or five years old and my dad would play piano. So I told her she was genius; I don't think this has ever been done as an instrumental. When people hear this, I'm hoping they go, 'Oh, yeah, I remember this.'"
The end song is yet another example of how Sands shifts musical gears with a variety of styles onREACH. "Actually, my biggest influence in making this album was Michael Jackson's Bad record," he says. "There are so many different kinds of tunes on that, so many changes. So that's what I was setting out to do."

Saxophonist Bobby Watson Shines Light on Vital but Largely Unappreciated Black Pioneers on Made in America, Available April 21 via Smoke Sessions Records

While Black History Month provides an annual reminder of the momentous contributions that African-Americans have made to the nation's history, 28 days out of 365 aren't nearly enough to compensate for the neglect those "hidden figures" (to borrow the title of a recent hit film) have suffered in classrooms and history books. On his latest album, Made in America, saxophonist and composer Bobby Watson does his part to call attention to some vital but largely unappreciated black pioneers in a variety of fields, from politics to pop culture, science to sports.

Made in America, due out April 21 from Smoke Sessions Records, offers a musical portrait gallery of nine influential African-Americans. Listeners may be familiar with some -- surely everyone knows the name Sammy Davis, Jr., while Grant Green, Butterfly McQueen and Madam C.J. Walker will ring a bell with many -- most of them remain obscure despite their history-making achievements.

"This project has been a history lesson for me," Watson says, "and I hope it will be a history lesson for the listeners."

To shed light on these overlooked giants of American history, Watson enlisted a few collaborators with whom he shares some significant history of his own. On Made in America the renowned saxophonist is joined by the Curtis Lundy Trio, featuring bassist Curtis Lundy, pianist Stephen Scott and drummer Lewis Nash. All four have tenures with the influential singer Betty Carter in common, while the album marks a welcome return to the scene for Scott, who has been largely silent for the last several years.

In a sense, Watson's enlistment of Lundy and the bassist's veteran trio expands the mission of the album itself, finding another too-undersung figure in Lundy himself. "I've known Curtis for over 40 years," Watson says. "He's a groove master, and he knows how to put a trio together. I thought it was only fair to give him the recognition that he deserves on this album."

The same impulse drove the concept of Made in America, the honorees of which were in most cases new to even Watson himself before he embarked on the project. "I've been studying black history for years," he explains, "and I would come across these great figures in history whom I'd never heard of. It set me on a path to find other black figures in history that weren't as big as George Washington Carver or Booker T. Washington, and to try to illuminate these folks."

The album takes off, almost literally, with a clever quotation of "The U.S. Air Force Song" -- think "Off we go into the wild blue yonder" and you'll have the refrain in your head -- for "The Aviator." That piece pays homage to Wendell Pruitt, a pioneering military pilot and Tuskegee Airman who was killed during a training exercise in 1945.

Each subsequent piece paints its portrait with similar wit and feeling for the nuance of its subjects. The inspiration that Watson finds in these forgotten innovators comes through in his -- and the band's -- playing throughout the album. Watson's Kansas City roots shine through in the soulful swing and boisterous grooves that make for a hell of a funky history lesson.

Photo by John Abbott
Looking back at a history that intersects more directly with Watson's own four-decade career, "The Guitarist" captures the merger of soul and jazz that distinguished the work of Grant Green, which presaged artists like Wes Montgomery and George Benson. Watson bends his notes like a blues axeman on the tune's guitar-like lines. Scott's appropriately fluttering piano opens "The Butterfly," penned for actress Butterfly McQueen, best known from her defining role as Prissy, Scarlett O'Hara's maid in Gone With the Wind. Watson evokes the actress' trademark high-pitched voice with his piping alto, while the ultimate tragedy of her life is captured in Scott's aching solo over Nash's wrenchingly whispering brushwork and Lundy's mournful bass moans.

"The Cyclist" and "The Jockey" both pay tribute to landmark figures from the sports world. The former, whose buoyant rhythm seems to spin in time with a bicycle wheel, was written for Major Taylor, the first African-American cyclist to win the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899, setting numerous world records in the face of rampant racism. Composed by Lundy, the heavy trot of "The Jockey" depicts Isaac Murphy, a Hall of Fame jockey who won three Kentucky Derbies in the late 19th century.

Co-written with Watson's wife Pamela, the anthemic "The Entrepreneur" is an ode to Madam C.J. Walker, whose line of beauty and hair products for black women made her the first female self-made millionaire in the country. Highlighted by the deep gallop of Lundy's bassline, "The Real Lone Ranger" takes a look at Bass Reeves, a U.S. Marshal in the American west thought to be the inspiration for the famed masked man; while the driving, mechanistic rhythms of Scott's "The Computer Scientist" are a nod to Dr. Mark Dean, who holds three of the nine original patents for the first IBM personal computer.

While its title might suggest Muhammad Ali to most, "The G.O.A.T." -- or Greatest Of All Time -- is actually meant for Sammy Davis, Jr. Watson sees Davis as the epitome of the all-around entertainer, and Nash's skittering rhythms are an apt impression of Davis' tap-dancing prowess. "I was always happy to see Sammy on TV when I was young," Watson says. "There weren't many opportunities to see a black man on TV doing the things that he did. I only learned later that he started as a child -- he was like the Michael Jackson of his time."

Watson also borrowed his self-proclaimed theme song, "I've Gotta Be Me," from Davis' repertoire. The classic song closes the album, its lyrics suggestive of Watson's own artistic path as well as the necessary qualities shared by his inspirations on Made in America: "I want to live, not merely survive, and I won't give up this dream of life that keeps me alive."

Finally, "A Moment of Silence" allows listeners to bow their heads and reflect on their own heroes. Originally composed for the late Mulgrew Miller, the track was written to last exactly one minute and provide an appropriately elegiac soundtrack to such commemorations.

"This is not your typical jazz record," Watson concludes. "I want to try, in the time I have left, to reflect the things that I'm learning about history, about America and about the world and the people that came before me, and hopefully connect that with some of our young people and older people, both black and white."