With a career that encompasses five Grammys, numerous chart successes and personal and professional accolades, as well as collaborations with some of the world’s most prominent artists, Michael McDonald remains an enduring force in popular music. Hailing from St. Louis, McDonald arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, honing his talents as a studio musician before becoming an integral part of Steely Dan. In the mid-’70s McDonald was invited to join the Doobie Brothers as the band redefined their sound with McDonald serving as singer, keyboardist and songwriter on such Top 40 singles as “Takin’ It To The Streets,” “It Keeps You Runnin’,” “Minute By Minute” and “What A Fool Believes.” Throughout the ’80s and ’90s McDonald’s solo career took off with a string of hits including “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near),” “Sweet Freedom,” “On My Own” (with Patti LaBelle) and the Grammy-winning James Ingram duet “Yah Mo B There,” plus he co-wrote the Van Halen hit “I’ll Wait.” McDonald has performed with a who’s-who of critically acclaimed artists across a number of genres, including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Vince Gill and Grizzly Bear.
McDonald’s latest album, Wide Open (September 15, 2017 via BMG), finds him collaborating with a number of special guests including Warren Haynes, Robben Ford, Marcus Miller and Branford Marsalis. McDonald’s first album of original material in 17 years, Wide Open is comprised largely of material written over a number of years in-between projects and recorded in McDonald’s Nashville studio with drummer Shannon Forrest (Faith Hill, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Toto) and an extensive cast of Nashville session musicians. The record follows a trio of albums of R&B and soul covers McDonald recorded for the fabled Motown label, the most recent being 2008’s Soul Speak.
McDonald’s other recent collaborations include his work on the critically acclaimed track “Show You The Way” with multi-genre bassist, singer and producer Thundercat and Kenny Loggins; McDonald performed the song with Thundercat during a surprise guest appearance at Coachella in April. This past spring, McDonald was joined by Solange Knowles, Allen Stone, Lawrence and members of Snarky Puppy and Vulfpeck at the Okeechobee Music Fest. McDonald continues to tour extensively as a solo artist, with a lengthy run of summer and fall tour dates planned with Loggins and Boz Scaggs.
Since GRAMMY®-winner Earl Klugh released his inaugural album in 1976, the Detroit-born master of the acoustic-classical guitar has become one of the most imitated icons of the instrument. He has released over 40 records, 24 of which have been on Billboard’s top-10 list of jazz albums and 6 of which have made it to the No. 1 slot.
Klugh’s recordings have received 13 Grammy® nominations (including one for his latest release, HandPicked) – and his collaboration with pianist Bob James, One on One, walked away with the 1980 Grammy® Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. In 2016, Earl celebrates the 40th Anniversary of his debut album Earl Klugh (1976, Blue Note Records) with a very special catalogue of shows, highlighting selections from over 250 original compositions and featuring Klugh’s favorite standards, influences and collaborations from throughout his illustrious career.
What the world needs now is love…but as is often the case, what the world needs begins with one person and one household. Thus, the crux of the story behind South African singer/guitarist Jonathan Butler’s 23rd album, Close To You, his tribute to the hallowed pop canon of Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics). The 11-song project features 10 Bacharach/David gemstones from the mid-60s to early 70s (including vocal versions of “The Look Of Love,” “Walk On By,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” “This Guy’s In Love With You” and the lead single “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” plus instrumental versions of “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” and “I Say A Little Prayer”) as well as one original composition, the ebulliently autobiographical “Cape Town.”
Following several monumental decades of moving from South Africa to America, building a worldwide audience for his music while also raising his children to adulthood, Jonathan Butler arrived at a crossroads in his marriage which ended in divorce.
“I realized then this was not the season to write about me or my relationship,” Butler shares. “It was a season for me to listen to what is in the atmosphere. The music of Burt Bacharach is what I was hearing. The next day I called my manager and told him I wanted to do a Bacharach songbook album and reinvent myself in the process. I am honored to become a student of this music. To recognize the precious, golden ‘origin era’ of great songwriting. I did my homework then sprinkled South African spice on top with my chanting and rhythmic approach to playing the guitar. This is music I could really dig into.”
The highlights of Close To You are bountiful, beginning with the title track that features the touching violin introduction of Nadira Kimberly (Hidden Figures, The Voice). There is “A House Is Not A Home” which Butler sings solely to guitar/bass accompaniment – “a lyric I just felt I needed to pay attention to.” Then there is the existential musing, “Alfie.” “I had to reach a level of maturity to sing this one,” he states. “The lyric is so profound. At the start, I am having a chat with the listener. Then at the end where it says, ‘Without love, we just exist’…what a revelation! We all have many things to sort out in life but this is said in such a beautiful way. ‘When you walk, let your heart lead the way / Then you’ll find love any day.’”
Deepest of all is “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” a message destined to ring out in today’s troubled times as it did when introduced in 1965. “It’s a 6/8 groove that keeps opening and opening, wrapping ’round the listener,” he says. “People are ready to go to a higher place. At my concerts, I’ve seen them standing together, holding hands. Starting with me, I hope this song will start a new love movement.” Reflecting upon his roots in poverty and apartheid in Cape Town, Butler adds, “What I am seeing today in America truly hurts my heart. I know what it is to see a ‘whites only’ sign. There are three things that are important for a Black man to know: Who you are; Where you are, and; When you speak, be bold, loud enough for everybody to hear. Many people that come to my concerts, I can see, are still conflicted. When I am among them, I am very open and real. I tell them my story.”
Butler’s musical story began at age 12 recording the Burt Bacharach song “Please Stay,” originally recorded by vocal quartet The Drifters in 1961. Escaping then-Apartheid-poisoned South Africa through a love for music instilled within him from his parents and siblings, Butler has become a world-renowned singer, guitarist and entertainer via songs ranging from the pop of “Sarah, Sarah” and the soul of “Do You Love Me” to the jazz of “Deliverance” and his Contemporary Gospel classic “Be Encouraged.” Now 56, Jonathan Butler has come back to Bacharach full circle with the music of Close To You.
THE RIPPINGTONS Featuring RUSS FREEMAN
GRAMMY® nominated contemporary jazz group The Rippingtons, founded by leader Russ Freeman, provide musical elixir delighting devout fans and attracting new ones for over 30 years. Under Freeman's production, the group has released 22 albums, all of which have attained top 5 Billboard status, with 5 of them reaching #1. Jazziz magazine called their debut album, "Moonlighting", "the number one most influential contemporary jazz album of all time.”
The group's influences are wide-ranging, from instrumental pop, to rock, to world music, to EDM, to R&B. Some artists having recorded with the Rippingtons include Arturo Sandoval, Jeffrey Osbourne, James Taylor, Kirk Whalum, Kenny G, Dave Grusin, the late Joe Sample, Dave Koz, David Benoit, Patti Austin, Peter White, Rick Braun, Zak Wylde, and many more. The Rippingtons were chosen Best Group 2000 by Billboard BET, and Best Group 2 years in a row, 2001 and 2002 by the Oasis Awards.
The Nashville born, LA based guitarist Russ Freeman, began studying classical guitar at eleven. Musical inspiration is a triage of sonics, melody and visual reference,” states Freeman. His approach to composition is similar to that of a mixed-medium painter, in which he engages all the senses and employs disparate techniques. Hurling unique instrumentation, wide-ranging dynamics and contrasting textures upon his auditory canvas, he pushes the boundaries sonically, harmonically, rhythmically and emotionally.
“I have always attributed the band’s success to our loyal fans,” says the humble maverick. “I try to always respect the limited time we have, and treat each day as the last,” shares the visionary and virtuosic guitarist, keyboardist, composer and producer. This spiritual grounding and deep understanding of how to operate in gratitude, has allowed the multi-instrumentalist to explore the realms of possibility, making him a pioneer in the music game.
Two-time GRAMMY® nominated saxophonist and flautist, Najee has made a career following his heart and musical intuition pushing musical boundaries which have made him an international pioneer in the music industry. Having collaborated with everyone in the music business from Prince, Quincy Jones to Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and Herbie Hancock, Najee’s technical agility, grace, compositional prowess, passion and fearless genre bending have made him one of the most sought after musicians of his generation. With two Platinum and four Gold albums under his belt, Najee is an icon whose musical vision spawned an entire new genre by fusing the music close to his heart (R&B and Jazz).
Born in Greenwich Village in New York City and raised in Jamaica, Queens; he is an alumnus of the New England Conservatory of Music. When he emerged onto the scene with his soulful R&B and jazz fused sound, it wasn’t long before his trademark soprano found a home at the top of the charts and he carved out his own unique niche in the musical landscape. “My first love was tenor saxophone and flute,” confides Najee. “It was my brother Fareed who got me to play soprano saxophone.” While a student at the New England Conservatory he studied saxophone performance and performed with George Russell and Jaki Byard big bands. After the conservatory, Najee returned to New York and landed a gig with Chaka Khan along with his brother and guitarist Fareed, now his manager.
Performing at Nelson Mandela’s birthday celebration in South Africa, performing at the White House for President Clinton, recording and touring with Prince, winning an NAACP Image Award for “Best Jazz Artist” and being the recipient of two Soul Train Awards are just a few of the honors and accomplishments this highly sought after musician has achieved.
Najee says, “I enjoy the challenge of recording music that can be commercially accessible and diverse at the same time. Making music is exciting and I am always evolving. As a musician, the love of performing for people whether in studio or live is still a gratifying experience.” Najee’s latest release is Poetry in Motion.
At the tender age of 14, Joey Alexander has already recorded two GRAMMY®-nominated studio albums, 2015’s My Favorite Things and 2016’s Countdown, as well as Joey.Monk.Live!, a critically acclaimed surprise release from late 2017 to honor Thelonious Monk’s centennial. With his third studio effort Eclipse, his most personal statement to date, Joey takes another giant step forward, demonstrating his aptitude as a composer, bandleader, and musician, hinting at the many artistic paths open to him in the decades ahead.
Born in 2003 in Bali, Alexander lived in Jakarta from age eight to ten and then moved to New York City in 2014, where he has experienced one of the most ascendant careers ever seen in jazz. Jason Olaine, a GRAMMY-winning producer who serves as Director of Programming for Jazz At Lincoln Center and has produced all four of Alexander’s albums, says he continues to be impressed by the pianist’s fantastic gift. “Joey is such a huge talent coming out of a young player, however he wants to create and have fun by playing. It’s not about the accolades or the applause.” He added, “Eclipse shows what an amazing journey Joey has been on, and he’s playing with an openness and clarity.”www.joeyalexandermusic.com
"There has never been anyone that you can think of who could play like that at his age. I love everything about his playing – his rhythm, his confidence, his understanding of the music.” – Wynton Marsalis
A Detroit Michigan native, Ron grew up playing the organ, following in the footsteps of his mother who played in his local church. At the age of five, he discovered drums and never looked back. By 16, Ron was playing in local clubs around the Detroit Area and he has been working and recording with Earl Klugh since 1994. In addition to working with Klugh, Ron has performed and or recorded with the very best in the music world including Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, KEM, Bob James, Keith Washington, Wendy Moten, and R&B singer Tyrese. Ron maintains a busy touring schedule performing with Earl, KEM and Bob James all the while making time to meet the demands for his session work. With a desire to try his skills at music writing and producing, Ron released his well received debut album Up Front in 2009. He wrote and or co-wrote 8 of the 9 songs on the album. His follow up CD, Stay in Your Lane released in 2017, Ron once again displays his writing, producing and playing chops. The gifted songwriter and producer, expanded his creative reach penning 5 songs with other musical luminaries Nelson Rangel, Beth Griffith and fellow Detroit native Charles Scales. Stay In Your Lane travels the musical road map featuring wonderful original Contemporary Jazz and R & B tinged vocal tunes, along with a great re-imagination of the Marvin Gaye classic “I Want You”.
Ten years after their debut Smooth Jazz album ALWAYS… made a strong international impact – earning airplay throughout the U.S., Norway, the UK, Japan, Poland and South America - GTF makes a highly anticipated return with CROSS PATHS - an eclectic jazz, pop and R&B infused collection of powerhouse instrumentals, soulful vocals, infectious originals and lush re-imaginings of classics by George Duke and Nat “King” Cole.”
The title CROSS PATHS is a reflection of a group whose core dynamic is driven by the intersection and intuitive chemistry of musical talents from Northern and Southern California and beyond. The five piece band is led by its namesakes, San Francisco based married couple George and Tracy Franklin. George is a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who plays bass, keyboards and guitar; songwriter and associate producer Tracy also contributes backing vocals.
GTF also includes two San Diego based musicians, Richard “Blitz” Livoni (producer, guitar, drums, percussion, vocals) and John Rekevics (saxophones, flutes, clarinets, horn arrangements). Keyboardist and acoustic guitarist John Cain currently lives in Cuenca, Ecuador. Richard is a founding member of the Blitz Brothers and the rock trio Sons of Edison. John Cain has recorded three solo CDs, is an actor and a published author. John Rekevics has performed and/or recorded with Fattburger, Natalie Cole, Johnny Mathis, The Fifth Dimension, The Temptations and Smooth Jazz guitar great Steve Laury.
Recorded at Richard’s Blitz Recording Studio in San Diego, CROSS PATHS also features exciting contributions from guest artists, keyboard legend Bob James, percussionist Juan Escovedo (from the legendary Escovedo family, and the brother of Sheila E.) and drummer Ron Otis (Earl Klugh, Aretha Franklin, Kem).
“Tracy and I are just amazed at how our paths have crossed with so many amazing artists throughout the moments of our lives,” George says, “and we’re so grateful that some of those intersections include having the opportunity to work with Bob, Juan and Ron. We’re excited to be back, re-introducing what we are about while working with the same musicians who made our debut so memorable. We designed CROSS PATHS to showcase the diversity of the band. We all like different styles of music and those passions are reflected on the collection.”
GTF started out as a concept by George and Tracy in which they could write and produce their songs – but it has since evolved into more of a true band, with all members contributing in the writing, arranging and production of the music. The group traces its origins back to 1997, when George met Richard while playing on a friend’s recording at Blitz Studio. After working on several projects and developing a camaraderie with Richard, George and Tracy were inspired to launch their own group concept. Richard introduced them to both Johns, and the chemistry was immediate when they began playing together.
Tracy says, “All being down to earth, genuine and quite humble, the ‘click’ with each was meant to be. We look back on ALWAYS…as a fun time for all, where the magic first began. This time around, it’s as if we were elevated to the next level and simply came to play. We believe we have developed a unique style and everyone has dialed into the process.”
David Lee Spradley, also known as D. Lee, David Lee, David Lee Chong or Chung, and St. Song throughout his career, was born on May 18, 1954 in Seoul, South Korea. His birth name was Lee Seung Chang, which when translated is St. Song! When he was three years old, Americans, Russell and Nancy Spradley, adopted David. Russell, serving in the military at the time, then brought him over to the United States where David became a naturalized U.S. citizen. His father’s occupation led to his growing up in several different countries, his favorite being Germany, where he lived for nearly four years as a child.
David’s love of performing started at the tender age of four when he first discovered his adopted grandmother’s old upright piano. He also enjoyed playing guitar and drums as a youth. He graduated from Roseville High School in 1972 and attended Oakland University (1972-75) in Rochester, MI, as a music-major. He has continued his love of music for the past forty years working as a professional musician, composer, arranger, producer, and engineer for an interesting mix of internationally known artists.
Some of the incredible artists David has worked with throughout his career include: Steve Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jeffrey Osborne, Peabo Bryson, Patti Austin, Anita Baker, George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic and Bootsy Collins, (as David Lee Chong) Roy Ayers, Stanley Clarke, Earl Klugh, Bob James, Boney James, David Benoit, Chuck Loeb, Norman Brown, Tom Browne, Ray Parker, Jr., Peter White, Mindi Abair, Jesse J, Sly Fox, Boogie Boys, L.J. Reynolds, Phillipe Wynne, David Peaston, Keith Washington, and Straight Ahead.
David has also composed many songs throughout his career, the most famous being, “Atomic Dog,” with George Clinton. This song has the distinction of being one of the most sampled songs in the industry, most notably, by Snoop Dogg in, “What’s My Name,” a multi-million seller.
David currently works with Grammy Award-winning guitarist, Earl Klugh, performing in concerts all over the world and in the recording studio. Earl’s last band album, “The Spice Of Life,” which David performs on, was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award. David has been working with Earl since 1993.
David also had his own band based in Detroit called, “D. Lee and The Edge.” He produced and released two albums on the group entitled, “In Pursuit of Phatness,” (1998)* and “Fabulous,” (2005). Both CD's and his newest solo release, "Back To Basics," -A Pop Thang- (2014) are available for review and purchase at at www.cdbaby.com You can also hear these and some of his unreleased songs on his website at www.dleesmusic.com e-mail: email@example.com
*currently re-released in 2018