Entertainment

Najee's smooth tones for 'Jazz'

Howard Campbell

Friday, January 17, 2014    

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MUSIC industry executives were big into genre labelling during the 1980s. One of the period's most popular formats was smooth jazz.

Saxophonist Najee was one of the stars of smooth jazz, a laid-back sound that produced a number of big-selling acts including fellow saxophonists Kenny G and Gerald Albright.

The Queens, New York native recorded strong selling albums such as Najee's Theme, Day By Day and Tokyo Blue. His popular songs include Sweet Love and Betcha Don't Know.

Najee, 56, makes his third appearance at the Jamaica Jazz Festival later this month at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium. He says the smooth jazz scene has toned down considerably.

"I would say the (radio) stations are less, a lot of them have gone out of business. Because of that decline it hurt the genre," he told Splash.

Najee was born and raised Jerome Najee Rasheed. His father was born in England while his mother is from St Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands.

His early influences included inspirational and experimental jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, Motown saxophonist Junior Walker and the funk of Kool and the Gang.

While he studied traditional jazz at the Manhattan School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music, Najee's break in the music business came when he toured with Rhythm and Blues singer Chaka Khan in the early 1980s.

His solo career took off during the smooth jazz explosion in the United States. Najee's Theme and Day By Day were big sellers and lay the foundation for a rewarding decade that saw him recording well-received albums and working with the best musicians in the business.

Najee notes out that although disc jockeys and record companies coined the term in the 1980s, smooth jazz had been around since the 1970s.

"Artistes like George Benson and Al Jarreau changed the way people thought about jazz. It's when the radio people began calling the sound smooth jazz that it really took off," he explained.

After the smooth jazz craze simmered in the late 1990s, Najee toured with big acts like Prince for several years. He resumed his solo career in 2003 with the album Embrace.

Quality, not sales, is what drives his music these days.

"I really don't think about if an album is gonna sell when I'm recording," he said. "I do some R$B, smooth jazz and traditional jazz. My goal is to give the full package."

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