At the 30th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival, Smooth Jazz Magazine met up with Najee in his artist trailer to discuss his new CD and life experiences over the years.
SJM: How many Long Beach Jazz festivals have you performed in?
Najee: Over the years it's been about 13 and this year 2017 I celebrate my 30-year as a solo artist starting with “Najee’s Theme.” Al Williams was one of the first promoters to embrace me and bring me to a jazz festival when I went solo as an artist.
SJM: So now he just gets on the phone and say hey Najee I need you here.
Najee: Pretty much, and its not always for the festival, he uses me for other things. Last year he invited me to play with his band AL Williams and the Jazz Society which is more straight-ahead. So yeah, I have developed a great relationship with Al and the festival, and I'll come here and feel right at home, there is no stress and I am just poised and ready.
SJM: So within the 30 years how many CDs have you released?
Najee: I am releasing one on August 25th and this will be my 17th I think, some of them are like remakes with Capital Records and EMI.
SJM: So tell us about this new one?
Najee: It's called “Poetry In Motion,” I called a few of my friends and said we need to do something but I didn't know that they all were going to show up on one album (haha). Will Downing, we dedicated a song to Al Jarreau and Prince and as a matter of fact, I credit Will for giving me the title for the record “Poetry In Motion.” And then we have Eric Roberson a great Neo-Soul R&B artist, a song writer and producer then we also have Maysa on there with our first Smooth Jazz single that features Incognito. Also we have Bobby Lyle a legendary jazz pianist and Blake Aaron the great smooth jazz guitar player. So its a pretty full record with Barry Eastman produced it. It all kind of fell together, I was kind of worried that maybe it all would not make sense, with all that talent like an NBA team its like putting Kobe and Michael Jordan and everybody together on it but it all worked out so it was an All-Star team.
SJM: With Will giving you this title so what's the premise behind it and how did this come about?
Najee: What's funny is the song we did called “Will Be Missing You” is a song that Barry Eastman and I had written for Al Jarreau. I had seen Al a few years ago in London and we had made a commitment to do a song together, a verbal commitment, so we started the process of writing a song together but he got sick and the rest is history. So Will came in and redid the song, lyrics and everything as a tribute to Al and ultimately I included Prince in the tribute. But in the song is a phrase he says its called like poetry in motion, and I said Will, man I got it use that has the title of the album, cause its just brilliant, its just a brilliant phrase. He said, “yeah man, I am honored,” so that’s how it came about.
SJM: How long have you and Will known each other?
Najee: We go way back to the days in New York we were just young guys trying to figure out life. We met back in 1982 and we used to go to his house, he is a comedian so my brother and I would just laugh. He lived in Brooklyn and we lived in Queens, then our careers started taking off in the mid 80’s and we've been friends ever since we have toured different places around the world.
SJM: I know you and Al Williams have a great relationship what is it about this Festival that you really like that stands out to you?
Najee: It's not overly demanding you come here you get your time slot and you go out there and people are here all day to hear whatever you bring that's what I really like about it, it's not too stressful, they want to dance then they get up and dance, if they want to be a chill crowd then they will just sit back chill, that’s who they are. And the artists I think should be psychologically prepared sometime you are playing and you think they're not getting it but they’re just chilling and enjoying it, they may not give you a big applause that you are used too but they're feeling it.
SJM: From your set today what is it that we can expect?
Najee: Most of the things from my previous albums because no matter what is new out there, I can't get away without not playing “Tokyo Blue,” “Najee’s Theme,” “Betcha Don’t Know,” “Sweet Thing” all the classics.
SJM: I know you have been all over the world; I'm just curious to know how are you received from crowds in other countries?
Najee: Pretty much the same in every country, they have their own cultures so some give it to you right away while others wait until you finish playing and then they give it to you with the big eruption at the end but pretty much its all the same.
SJM: Whats next for you are there any other collaborations?
Najee: This album is the biggest collaboration since “Just An Illusion” back in 1992, and back then I had Will Downing on that album along with Freddie Jackson, Jeffrey Osborne, Marcus Miller, George Duke I mean I had everybody on it, I think this one will keep me busy for a while.
SJM: Recently the passing of Chuck Loeb did you know him?
Najee: I knew him and I had a lot of respect for him. In fact he sent me a song for this album but it was late in the process so I wasn't able to get it in. I saw him earlier this year in Orlando Florida at a jazz fest and at that time when I saw him, he had lost a lot of weight and I'm thinking he's on a workout program, I said “Man! hey you look great” and I come to find out he was sick, I am sorry about that.
SJM: With this CD if you can sum it up is it a Love CD or R&B CD?
Najee: It’s actually all that, you know, I'm a jazz musician that's what I do, my first four albums albums was R&B records featuring a jazz saxophonist and they call it Jazz, but I called it R&B with a saxophonist but I think with this albums the combination of experience as a jazz musician meets well with the R&B singers. One track on there with Eric Robeson called “Is It The Way” it's R&B but that blend with the saxophone and his voice comes out beautifully, as with the same with Will and Maysa its a combination with all of those parts. You know I get bored with music; if I am going to play R&B I have to have some elements to keep me interested and not just playing it straight.
SJM: That brings up a good point; do you create your CDs based on what you are feeling or what you think your fans want to hear?
Najee: Little bit of both because the real brilliance that I credit Barry Eastman being able to do combine both. I remember Diane Reeves told me a long time ago when we were touring, “Its great to do things that the audience wants to hear, but it’s good to do something to educate them at the same time” and that always stuck with me until this day. To this day, we do whats needed to get the song on the radio, at the same time you let the people know you can do this in other areas of the music business and do it well.
SJM: I don’t want to take up a lot of time I know you have your show, but what would you want your fans to know about this particular Cd?
Najee: I just want them to know that again its called “Poetry In Motion” and I am going to name drop of course, it features Will Downing, Eric Roberson, Maysa, Incognito, Blake Aaron and Bobby Lyle and I think it’s a full package and a great experience, so its out on August 25th and I am here at the Long Beach Jazz Festival getting ready to do this.