Kirk Whalum - Thursday 9:15pm
Kirk Whalum is an American R&B and smooth jazz saxophonist and songwriter. He toured with Whitney Houston for more than seven years and soloed in her single "I Will Always Love You", the best-selling single by a female artist in music history. He was also featured on many Luther Vandross albums, most often playing on the singer's covers of older pop and R&B standards such as "Anyone Who Had a Heart", "I (Who Have Nothing)", and "Love Won't Let Me Wait". On June 20, 2014, Whalum was the inaugural Jazz Legend honoree of the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee. In September 2015, it was announced that Whalum would be joining the faculty of Visible Music College in Memphis, Tennessee. In September 2018 he received the coveted honor of a Brass Note on Historic Beale Street in his native Memphis.
Spyro Gyra - Friday 9:15pm
Spyro Gyra has long been known to its peers in the contemporary jazz world as a “well oiled road machine” due to its relentless schedule of over 45 years of performing. To date, they have logged more than 10,000 shows on six continents and released 35 albums, garnering platinum and gold records along the way. Spyro Gyra rose from humble beginnings in Buffalo, New York in 1974 to their current international prominence in the jazz world. Every year, they continue to exhibit how to remain among a relative handful of artists who are able to look forward to 50 years in the business. Their energy and joy in concert match their unmatched musicality.
You might think that Spyro Gyra’s leader and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein might welcome a break in its 45+ years of non-stop, year round performances. After all, much of his adult life has been centered around the recording and performing activities of this now legendary group. Renowned bass player Will Lee once referred to the ensemble as a “well oiled road machine” as a tribute to their daunting schedule, bringing their music to fans around the globe. So what has it been like to have this well oiled road machine in the garage due to the pandemic? “Good!” Beckenstein laughingly replies, “A little more oil couldn’t hurt. But you know, it’s too long now. The first few months of it, after over 45 years of touring without really having a break, it felt good to not be touring. Even if it was to realize how much I love being out there. But now, It’s been too long.”
Fans of the band are familiar with the group’s rise to international prominence from humble beginnings in Buffalo, New York. That’s when a few area working musicians arranged for a weekly gig of playing less commercial music in a local club on everyone’s night off. So humble a beginning, there was no name for the band so they were only known as “Tuesday Night Jazz Jam”. Soon the word got around and the core group was joined by many of the city’s musicians to come and have some fun. And customers started showing up, too, prompting the club owner to press Beckenstein for a band name for the club’s new sign. Beckenstein offered up this late night, tipsy answer, “You can call it ‘spirogyra’”, an algae that he had studied once. The next week, he came back and there it was, misspelling and all, and so it began in 1974.
Fast forward to the band having logged over 10,000 shows on six continents, having released 35 albums garnering platinum and gold records along the way and here they are, once again looking forward. Speaking of the band’s return to live audiences, Beckenstein admits, “It’s been a long time since we played. We’ll do some fan favorites but we’re a bunch of wanderers by nature. We have a relatively short attention span as a band and we always will want to be doing our favorites too. That’s all I know right now. But it will be happy. We will be happy.”
Najee - Saturday 8:15pm
Born 4th November 1957 in Jamaica, Queens, NYC where he still resides. Smooth Jazz artist, plays saxophone (soprano, alto and tenor), clarinet, flute and keyboards. As well as releasing a number of solo albums he has performed with other artists including Freddie Jackson, Will Downing, Jeffrey Osborne, Marcus Miller, Paul Jackson Jr. and George Duke.
An acclaimed saxophonist and flute player, Najee is one of the most successful and recognizable crossover jazz and R&B performers of his generation. Known for his warm, lyrical sound, he built upon the tradition of predecessors like Grover Washington, Jr., Ronnie Laws, and Stanley Turrentine. Following his initial breakthrough with 1986's Grammy-nominated Najee's Theme, Najee rose to widespread prominence with a series of Top Five-charting contemporary jazz albums, including 1990's Tokyo Blue, 1994's Share My World, and 2005's My Point of View. He has worked alongside such luminaries as Prince, Chaka Khan, Stanley Clarke, and others. The winner of two NAACP Awards, including for 2013's The Morning After: A Musical Journey, Najee celebrated his 30th year as a recording artist with 2017's Poetry in Motion and again reached number one on the contemporary jazz chart with 2019's Center of the Heart.
As a solo artist, Najee launched his career with 1986's Najee's Theme, which hit number one on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. The effort found him embracing the sound of the soprano sax, an instrument well-suited to his distinctive blend of soulful jazz and R&B. Audiences responded and the album earned a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental R&B Performance. That same year he also joined singer Freddie Jackson on tour and returned to his solo work in 1988 with Day by Day. Najee's brother Fareed produced his third album, 1990's Tokyo Blue. Well-received, it landed on top of the contemporary jazz charts, achieved gold status, and picked up a Soul Train Award for Best Jazz Album.