Northshore Harbor Center on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell is the venue for this year’s Camellia City Smooth Jazz Festival where some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz artists are appearing on October 7. Summer will be a distant memory by then, but the event is serving up a hot mix of modern jazz, R&B, funk, urban/hip-hop, and gospel. So, who’s set to thrill the audiences at this eagerly-awaited festival that promises something for all jazz lovers? Check out our profiles of the twelve artists below!
He’s often described as a musician’s musician for his polish, professionalism and collaborative approach, but it’s safe to say that anyone who has sold over a million solo albums in the US alone, is making a meaningful connection with a much wider demographic. Today, Gerald Albright is recognised as one of the brightest exponents of straight-ahead and contemporary jazz, as well as R&B, and anyone who attends his gig in Slidell is in for a treat. Piano was his first instrument as a boy in Los Angeles, but as soon as he picked up his teacher’s saxophone, he was hooked. By the time he graduated from college, he was also an accomplished bass guitar player. Throughout the 1980s, he was much in demand as a session musician, playing with a who’s who of names, including Ray Parker, Anita Baker, Olivia Newton-John, Maurice White, and the Temptations, and touring with stars such as Whitney Houston and Quincy Jones, to name but a few.
He fronted a big band put together by Phil Collins in the late 90s, appeared on numerous TV shows, and was chosen as one of the saxophonists to play at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. He was also carving out a successful solo career and ‘Pushing the Envelope’ (released in 2010 and nominated for a Grammy award) which showed off Albright’s by now signature skill of balancing fine musicianship with great song-craft. More albums (including Slam Dunk in 2014), and many more live performances have followed as fans flock to enjoy his soulful and sometimes searing tenor, soprano and baritone sax arrangements. Prepare to be blown away by the consummate performer, whether playing his own material or delivering knockout covers of classics such as “It’s a Man’s World” by James Brown, and Phil Collins’ “True Colours”.
True jazz stars are forged over time, often requiring a period of incubation for their talent to fully mature; challenges and struggles along the way also serve to enrich the brew. After almost three decades of recording and performing, jazz pianist Alex Bugnon has not only earned his stripes – plus multiple plaudits and awards – but is performing at his peak, as fans at his Slidell gig will be able to attest to.
Born in Montreux, Switzerland, home to the world-famous jazz festival, music was part of his growing up. Two other sources of inspiration included his uncle, the legendary trumpeter Donald Byrne, and a friendship with Herbie Hancock, whose music remains a huge influence on Bugnon. After studying at a conservatory in Paris, Bugnon enrolled at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where diverse influences such as R&B, funk, and gospel began to shape his own musical expression. He toured with Gospel Leviticus and also played in some great bands with Patti Austin, Freddie Jackson, Melba Moore, and Keith Sweat. To make ends meet between gigs, Bugnon taught French and drove a cab until a chance meeting with saxophonist Najee led to his first recording deal.
Cut in 1989, the album Love Season reached number 2 on the R&B charts – and a new star was on the rise. Fast-forward to today and Bugnon has 12 albums to his name plus a worldwide body of fans who are captivated by the energy and innovative style of this renowned musician, composer and bandleader. In a hectic tour schedule that shows no sign of relenting, Bugnon can boast more appearances at Washington D.C.’s Blues Alley than Dizzy Gillespie. He’s sure to win over many new fans at Slidell in October.
New York born guitarist Minucci fronts the Grammy-nominated jazz group Special EFX who have recorded 26 CDs and sold close to a million albums since forming in the early 1980s. Genesis, a CD released in 2013, is said to define the smooth jazz genre, which will be music to the ears of those heading for the Camellia City Smooth Jazz Festival.
A talented guitarist with a successful solo career, Minucci has also performed with a host of top names, including Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Mark Anthony, Lionel Ritchie, Anastasia, Jessica Simpson, as well as jazz artists Jay Beckenstein, Marion Meadows, Nestor Torez, Gerald Veasley (see below) and many others. He’s also a gifted composer/producer, having written the soundtrack for the stage version of the TV hit, Dora the Explorer, and written and recorded songs for the British children’s TV show, Thomas and Friends.
Growing up in a musical family in New Orleans, all of whom played instruments (her father was saxophonist Edward Jordan and siblings include trumpeter Marlon, flutist Kent, and violinist Rachel Jordan), Stephanie Jordan has described herself as an “accidental singer”. It’s said some accidents are happy ones but there’s nothing accidental about a successful singing career that has lasted some 25 years and a voice that continues to cast a powerful spell over audiences wherever she performs. Critics tend to align her with singers such as Dianne Reeves and Diana Krall, but Jordan attributes her early musical influences to singers like Gladys Knight, Chaka Kahn, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and R&B groups she heard on the radio in the 70s.
Jazz has remained her first love but she is always willing to take a chance and if she can hear jazz in a song and feel it in her heart, she’s more than happy to sing it. A renowned and popular live performer in her native New Orleans, she came to national prominence when she delivered a mesmerising performance of “Here’s to Life” at the televised benefit concert in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Joey Papa J Sommerville
“Soul communication between the musician and listener is key to making people happy”, says this uniquely talented and flamboyant artist. And, judging by his many fans in the US and worldwide, Papa J practices what he espouses through his trumpet and keyboard playing, as well as with his distinctive vocals.
His musical soul was formed at an early age while performing to the Baptist congregation of his church in Detroit. This urge to connect with audiences has been a mainstay of a successful career that has spanned several decades and produced a number of top albums, including ‘Like You Mean It’, which reached number 7 in the smooth jazz Indie charts, in 2007. He’s performed with some of the biggest names in the business such as BB King, Big Joe Burrell, and the band Phish. Today, Sommerville’s range embraces millennium jazz, funk, bop, blues, and gospel – all overlaid with his assured showmanship that has audiences everywhere eating out of his hand.
A prolific performer, Steve Oliver is best known as a great exponent of smooth jazz, although this multi-talented guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer can turn his hand to a range of musical genres, including rock, pop, electronic, Latin, and world music. It’s a safe bet the audience is in for a lively and spirited blend of music at Slidell in October.
Oliver’s 2002 album, “Positive Energy” made it into the Billboard top 20, with the single “High Noon” earning him a Smooth Jazz Awards nomination for best new artist and guitar player. Since then, he’s recorded two more albums, drawing on an eclectic mix of influences to produce his own unique sound, complete with his signature acoustic guitar and vocals.
Recognised as one of the top saxophonists performing today, Marcus Anderson has eight albums to his name and a worldwide reputation. Much sought after not only as a soloist, he has performed with many top names such as CeeLo Green, Judith Hill, and featured on Prince’s New Power Generation.
No stranger to the jazz festival scene, Anderson has enthralled audiences at Catalina Island, Seabreeze Jazz Festival, Montreux, Capital Jazz Festival, and many more. Magnetic is one word critics use to describe his performance; charismatic, energetic, and passionate are others. One thing all agree this gifted member of the new jazz generation has in abundance is talent – Anderson has it to burn.
Generation Next are credited with ushering in a new and innovative style of smooth jazz and R&B grooves. Distinctly cool and full of flair, the band has delighted jazz fans with their performances at some of the country’s premier festivals including Seabreeze, Capital Jazz, Jazztrax, Newport Beach, and Catalina Island. In 2004, they scored a Top 10 hit single with ‘Let it Ride’ and haven’t looked back since. Exuberant, exciting and talented, anyone coming to their gig better get ready to rock and bop along to the music.
The SpeakerBox Experiment
No strangers to the New Orleans jazz scene, The SpeakerBox Experiment comprises a talented group of musicians who have played on some of the biggest stages in the world and accompanied a host of top performers. Brought together by Nick Mercadel, the band has a single clear goal: to create great music. Combining their individual musicianship, influences, creativity and ideas, the band produces their original and unique sound that defies easy categorisation – a fusion of funk, soul and jazz makes for a heady and intoxicating mix. With one album to their credit, “Love Stories”, released in 2014, and a new EP due out later this year, The SpeakerBox Experiment are a band to watch – and listen to!
Musical CVs don’t come much better than Gerald Veasley’s. The Philadelphia-born bassist and composer has played alongside and recorded with a stellar cast of musicians such as Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Grover Washington Jnr, Special EFX, Dianne Reeves, Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, the list goes on…
Having more than earned his stripes as an accomplished sideman while releasing his own recording from the 90s onwards, his focus is on creating his own music and reaching more people in the US and Europe. He grew up playing R&B in bands as a teenager before graduating towards jazz. A contemporary artist of the highest order, Veasley’s signature is the sound he coaxes from his six-string bass guitar.
Jazz fans everywhere need little by way of introduction to Bill Summers; for those who’ve never heard him play, you’re in for a real and rare treat. The New Orleans-based multi-instrumentalist is a renowned Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz percussionist, capable of producing hypnotic rhythms from traditional instruments and soda pop bottles alike. Best known for his work with Los Hombres Callientes, he has also written soundtracks for a number of movies, including The Colour Purple and Roots, when he collaborated with Quincy Jones. Other musical ventures include performing with groups such as the Walter Payton Trio, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, and too many more to mention.
He runs the Summers Multi-ethnic Institute of Arts for aspiring young artists in New Orleans and has forged strong cultural links with the Afro-Cuban music scene in Cuba, including performing – along with his students – with Cuba’s legendary drummer, Estaban Vega.
By their very nature jazz bands continue to evolve over time, something that defines 3rd Force, a trio of musicians with numerous albums to their name who are at the top of their game. Willaim Aura, Alain Eskinasi and Craig Dobbin are masters of the smooth jazz genre and have a fanbase that has extended around the globe since they formed in the 1990s. Refusing to be pigeon-holed, or settling for commercial success, the band has continued to explore new soundscapes, that includes mellow jazz to a funky, irresistible mix. This is one band who always go down well live.