When 2020 began, Michael Lington was eagerly looking forward to many wonderful events – the impending birth of his son Landon, touring again with his fellow saxophone stars Vincent Ingala and Paul Taylor as Sax to the Max, and numerous European solo dates. Then COVID-19 hit, and the resulting lockdown scrambled everything. Prevented from hitting the road, Lington quickly turned his home studio into one of contemporary jazz’s premiere virtual performance destinations, with a popular ongoing series of weekly shows on the StageIt platform.
In a year like no other, the pandemic has wreaked havoc with our health, the economy and our day to day lives – but with the release of his latest recording Alone Together on Peak Records (distributed through BVD/Sony/Orchard), the innovative artist and his array of musical friends (from the worlds of contemporary jazz and beyond) remind us it can’t stop the flow of creativity and determination to bring fans together to experience a collective joy like no other.
“Alone Together is a unique project that presented itself in many shapes and forms,” Lington says. “When the pandemic started and all my touring was postponed indefinitely, I knew I needed to continue creating music for my own well-being. It was more a matter of my mental health than financial survival. I didn’t want to sit around feeling stagnant and unproductive. That’s when I started doing my virtual shows from my studio on StageIt.
“A few shows in,” he adds, “I started inviting special guests to perform with me, but as technology wasn’t allowing for ‘live’ duets we did it literally ‘alone together’ from separate locations as a pre-record. The most exhilarating part was that my fellow artists that I invited all said yes immediately – and the same goes for the selections I made for this album. At a time when I thought I might not be working at all, I’ve never worked so hard in my life to bring all the musical and technical elements together. This has been a very difficult juncture in all of our lives, but what it has shown me is that we as human beings are very cable of adapting and uniting, even in the most challenging of circumstances.”
In addition to the opportunity for fans to once again experience favorite warm-hearted and transcendent moments of the StageIt shows, the tracks on Alone Together allow everyone to revisit some of the most compelling original and cover songs from Lington’s multi-faceted 20-plus year solo discography. Opening with a rousing version of “Baker Street” featuring Javier Colon (from Heat), the set includes “Everything Must Change” feat. Chris Walker (Everything Must Change), “Gonna Love You Tonight” feat. Kenny Lattimore (Soul Appeal), “My Love” feat. Dave Koz (Stay With Me), “Some Kinda Way feat. Sy Smith (Second Nature), “Slick” feat. Brian Culbertson (Second Nature), “So Very Hard to Go” feat. Dorian Holley (Silver Lining), “Road Trip” (feat. Nick Colionne) (Pure) and “You’ve Got a Friend” feat. Billy Dean (A Song For You). Lington also fires up a dynamic horn conversation with superstar saxman Boney James on Boney’s #1 hit “Up All Night.”
Beyond the ongoing flow of Lington favorites, themed presentations like tributes to the music of Luther Vandross and David Sanborn and special holiday shows, a major key to the success of Lington’s livestream series is its state-of-the-art video and audio technology. Lington launched the venture a bit more primitively, tinkering around with some basic streaming equipment he had in his studio and getting it up to speed just enough so that he could test a few opening shows on Facebook Live. He dialed in the sound quickly, then wanted better camera’s and lighting and a more professional, higher quality visual presentation.
His friend Evan Lowenstein, founder of StageIt, had been telling him for years about the benefits of working with his company. Thousands of artists have used the popular platform, where they perform live, interactive, monetized shows for their fans directly from a laptop, offering those fans special one time only experiences that are never archived. Lington started the series with the StageIt interface and a simple mono feed with his computer camera and no special lighting.
With the company’s help, and inspired by his opening show which sold well, Lington achieved stereo sound and entered what he calls the “brave new world,” adding new tech elements with each show. He began using OBS broadcasting software to run video packets, graphics and overlays, adding webcams, enhancing the lighting and treatment of the room and ultimately running the streaming through a Mac Pro. He currently works with moving BlackMagic Designs 4K and 6K cameras and broadcasts in 1080HD.
When it came time to stream the duets, technical challenges made it impossible to do them live. So for each duet, Lington and each artist created pre-recorded videos, doing one take from top to bottom. He mixed the music and then sent it all to a video editor to synch it up – and the result is pure sonic and split screen visual magic. As Lington says in his liner notes, “What ended up happening was incredible. We put together performances that were so real, heartfelt and authentic that it became apparent we were creating something special. We captured a spirit and vibe beyond anything I could have imagined. It’s not about being perfect but all about the heart and soul. It’s exciting to now share that magic again on Alone Together.
“Besides prompting me to learn a lot about new technologies, one of the loveliest aspects of the StageIt series is how it has created a special community among longtime and new fans. When you perform like this, you never know who’s out there listening. Then I get those heartwarming emails that say things like, ‘We’re all locked down at home, and every Sunday night you give us a sense of normalcy in the world and something to look forward to.’ To them, I’m no longer just Michael Lington, the artist, but the friend who comes into their home and chats with and plays for them—and we are now Alone Together!
In the 19 years since Paul Taylor first got On The Horn with his hit debut album, he’s enjoyed an extraordinary journey in the contemporary urban jazz world. The key to the charismatic saxophonist’s success? Beyond those instantly identifiable sax tones, infectious melodies, cutting edge production, and dynamic live performances, it’s one thing: Tenacity–the perfect title for his latest recording on Peak Records (and 10th overall).
From the start of his recording career, Taylor has created his ever cool deeply soulful and rhythmic trip-hop influenced sound by working with some of urban jazz and R&B’s top producers, including Rex Rideout, Barry J. Eastmond and The Heavyweights. But one of the most important architects of the saxman’s core flow has been Dino Esposito, who helped Taylor establish his vibe with On The Horn and Pleasure Seeker (1997), and has played a powerful role in the saxophonist’s evolution by helming tracks on his subsequent recordings Undercover (2000), his Peak Records debut Hypnotic (2001), Nightlife (2005) and Prime Time (2011).
Tenacity marks the first time ever that Taylor has recorded an entire project with a single producer – and his longtime friendship and incredible chemistry with Esposito made him the perfect choice for the varied rhythms and progressive sonics that the saxophonist wanted. “I’ve always had this special bond with Dino and it was really exciting to focus on doing an entire project with my great friend, rather than just a few tracks here and there like in the past,” says Taylor. “I’m always trying to grow as an artist, so there were ideas going all the time as we developed these tracks,” he adds. “I definitely have an established sound, so the key was having an open mind and being honest when we hit on a certain vibe, groove or lick I had done before – and taking the tune in another direction. “
Taylor has a long history of bringing his favorite urban jazz artists to the mix, and he continues that inspiring tradition by inviting keyboardist Jonathan Fritzen to add his lush piano harmonies to the whimsical, easy flowing soprano-driven opening track “Supernova” – which pairs Taylor’s horn with some snazzy “vocalese.” He textures four alto sax tracks behind a colorful lead melody to create the spirited optimism that rolls through the mid-tempo funk of the title track, then shifts from a balmy, tropical feeling to a more urban, trip-hop pocket on the rhythmically diverse “Awakening.” Taylor says, “This one is magical in that it has three distinct melodic parts.”“Spur of the Moment” isn’t just a clever title – it actually conveys the emotion of Taylor’s spontaneous alto lines and they burst forth and dance over a thick, edgy funk-rock groove and dynamic horn texturing. He named “Luxe,” featuring special guest Jeff Lorber on electric piano and guitar, for the luxurious ambiences surrounding his easy swaying soprano, while the tenor-led “Peace of Mind” taps into a coolly rhythmic Paul Hardcastle style as it moves towards a playful, clapping crunch-funk groove behind a swirl of sax and wordless vocals. Esposito turned Taylor onto the recent alternative R&B hit “Wicked Games” by Canadian artist The Weeknd, and he immediately loved it. The saxophonist’s version features a thoughtful alto melody over a hypnotic piano riff and gentle percussion, then a trippy distant “banging” sound; it also features whispery computer generated vocals.
Taylor envisions “Open Road” as the album’s perfect “road trip with a friend, with no traffic and the horizon straight ahead tune:” his alto romps easily over Esposito’s moody old school keyboard sounds, hypnotic grooves and bright brass flourishes. Promising “More To Come,” Taylor’s gentle soprano winds through a serpentine melody and a double time groove that creates a true club flavor a la the popular Swedish DJ/producer Avicii. Tenacity wraps with Taylor looking out over the “Empire” he’s created, forging a unique tension between his alto lead and backing spirited horn textures with Esposito’s dark and moody piano textures. “It’s a tune that makes you think about things,” says Taylor, “looking out at everything you’ve done and savoring the moment.”
Long a mainstay among the most popular and elite artists, Taylor has been on one of the most exhilarating upswings of his career over the past seven years, starting with Ladies’ Choice (2007), which marked his first ever #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz. “Burnin’,” the title track from his 2009 album, hit #1 on the airplay charts, and “Push To Start” from Prime Time (2011), hit the pole position on the Smooth Jazz Songs chart. Prime Time further lived up to its colorful name by reaching the Top Ten on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.
Over the past few years, Taylor has also been part of two of the genre’s biggest summer tours, Gentlemen of the Night (with Marion Meadows and Warren Hill) and Sax and the City (with Meadows and Vincent Ingala). In December 2012, the longtime basketball enthusiast achieved another longtime dream, performing the National Anthem in Madison Square Garden at a New York Knicks game; their coach Mike Woodson is a longtime fan.
Though the Denver native has lived and worked primarily in Las Vegas since graduating as a music performance major from UNLV, the proximity of his adopted hometown to Los Angeles gave him many opportunities to vibe with R&B and contemporary jazz producers and artists, including Esposito, whom he first met in the late 80s. Taylor played one of Esposito’s sessions at Jeff Lorber’s home studio; a few years later, in 1994, the keyboardist remembered Taylor and asked him to play with him at the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival.
Another popular keyboard player, Keiko Matsui, and her producer/husband Kazu liked Taylor’s charismatic performance and soon offered him an audition with their band. He recorded and toured with the Matsuis for two years (appearing on Sapphire and Dream Walk), and Kazu Matsui eventually co-produced On The Horn, which spawned the #1 radio hit “Till We Meet Again.” Taylor’s mix of funk and sensuality were a natural fit for the emerging urban jazz genre, and he soon became one of its core artists. Although Taylor has since been one of the genre’s most popular live attractions as a solo artist, he eagerly accepted Russ Freeman’s invitation to tour with The Rippingtons as a special guest artist in 2000—the year he released his third album Undercover–after Jeff Kashiwa left the group. He later toured as a featured performer with the all-star “Groovin’ For Grover” lineup (including Lorber, Richard Elliot and Gerald Albright) and performed and made his acting debut on the legendary ABC soap opera “One Life To Live.”
With the 20th anniversary of his recording debut coming up next year, Taylor remains a fresh and vital, forward thinking force in contemporary urban jazz. Talent and vision are a given, but sometimes those things fade. It’s his Tenacity that’s made the difference.
With widespread comparison to the vocal expertise of legendary Whitney Houston, and the piano prowess of Alicia Keys, it’s no surprise that artist and actress, Sheléa (pronounced shuh-lay-yuh), has garnered co-signs from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Mary J.Blige, Missy Elliott, David Foster, Queen Latifah, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Quincy Jones, and more.
Blending traditional pop, jazz, R&B and soul, Sheléa brings a contemporary edge to classics, and a classic touch to contemporary pop standards. With years of making a name for herself as a vocal powerhouse, having performed twice at the White House; Library of Congress; Carnegie Hall; the Kennedy Center; and more, 2020 marked her acting debut as Dorinda Clark in The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel. The Lifetime biopic drew 2.7 million viewers and "was the strongest original movie for all television for 2020 across key demos including both broadcast and cable." Based on the iconic Clark Sisters, the film recounts the story of the highest-selling female gospel group in history, and of their trailblazing mother, Mattie Moss Clark (Aunjanue Ellis). With the film as the top social trend across all television, Sheléa’s name was prominently found leading the charge.
Having been discovered to have an aptitude for vocal harmony at age 2, Sheléa was already writing songs on her first wooden piano for her sisters by age 4. She began piano lessons at age 7, and her musical talent was regularly on display at Bakersfield Southside Church before age 12. However, it wasn’t until Sheléa arrived at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama when she thought about making music for a living, after gaining her first recording studio experience singing with a short-lived girl group. Though her major changed, classical music steadfastly remained her minor, and she ultimately graduated with a B.A. in music, with an emphasis in piano.
With only local performances and recorded vocals on the theme song for Will & Jada Pinkett Smith’s, All of Us, under her belt, Sheléa’s first big break came via a connection with vocal sextet, Take 6, members of the tight-knit 7th Day Adventist Church Community. In 2008, she was featured on the group’s Grammy-nominated album, The Standard, singing the classic, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Stevie Wonder heard the recording and loved her voice so much that he invited her to visit him at his Wonderlove Studio. This meeting led to her having the opportunity to sing at his annual Christmas concert, “A House Full of Toys,” and later join him as a background vocalist on his “Songs In the Key of Life Revisited Tour.”
Following the tour, she went on to compose and perform the theme song, “Love Fell On Me”, for SONY’s Jumping the Broom (2011), starring Angela Bassett, and meanwhile, her own composition/recording “Can’t Play it Cool With You” (a jazzy ballad featuring trumpeter, Chuck Findley) was tapped for an episode of the CW superhero show, Black Lightning. Around the same time, Sheléa was also working as a songwriter/vocalist with legendary producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, followed by her writing and producing three songs for Chanté Moore’s Love the Woman, including the single, “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way.” Subsequently, she also co-wrote “I Fell In” (with Phil Galdston—composer of “Save the Best for Last”) for Vanessa Williams’ album, The Real Thing. In addition to writing for other artists, and recording vocals on major motion picture soundtracks such as Hotel Rwanda, Akeelah and the Bee, and Be Cool, Sheléa released her 2013 debut album, Love Fell On Me, featuring heavyweights Stevie Wonder, Brian McKnight, and Narada Michael Walden. Her single, “I'll Never Let You Go”, hit #22 on the Billboard R&B charts and charted for 22+ weeks at its peak.
However, it was in 2016 that Sheléa was invited by Rickey Minor to perform a set at Quincy Jones’ house for Gina Clayton-Johnson’s Essie Justice Group fundraiser. Following an unforgettable performance, she connected with Quincy and his team at Quincy Jones Productions, and was signed to his management roster shortly thereafter. She was then handpicked to be the inaugural artist to perform at Quincy’s first-ever music venue, Q’s Bar and Lounge, located in the Palazzo Versace Hotel, Dubai.
On top of creating original music, Sheléa has cemented her reputation as the go-to voice for legendary tribute concerts. With a resume and list of performance credits that are as staggering as they are multi-faceted, she has traveled internationally as a featured vocalist in “An Intimate Evening with David Foster” singing selections made famous by Natalie Cole (“Unforgettable”), Chaka Khan (“Through the Fire”), Whitney Houston (songs from “The Bodyguard” motion picture soundtrack), and Toni Braxton (“Unbreak My Heart”), as well as the power duet “Tell Him” on which she sang Barbra Streisand (giving her the nickname: “The Black Barbra”) with Pia Toscano singing Celine Dion.
Sheléa was initially invited to perform at the White House at the suggestion of Stevie Wonder to honor master songwriting team, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, with the Gershwin Prize singing the Dionne Warwick classic “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (a showstopper she reprised at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards and at David’s memorial service).
She was asked to return for a second performance at the White House, before President Barack & First Lady Michele Obama (who led the room in a standing ovation) for “Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles,” singing “Night Time is the Right Time” with Anthony Hamilton.
Sheléa was also featured on the PBS-TV special Zoltan Maga: Live from Budapest with David Foster as a special guest of the Hungarian violinist, and in the fall of 2016, Sheléa appeared in HBO’s multi-Emmy-nominated film, All the Way, singing and acting as a funeral choir soloist, loosely based on the great Mahalia Jackson.
For five consecutive years, she has toured with saxophonist, Kirk Whalum, on his “The Gospel According to Jazz Christmas” shows, and is featured on his Grammy/NAACP Image Award-nominated, The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter IV. Furthermore, Sheléa sang the spiritual “Wade in the Water” at the Kennedy Center Honors, accompanying the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in tribute to choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, and at the Governor’s Ball, she sang the Diane Warren-penned World Humanitarian Day anthem, “I Was Here” (originally recorded by Beyoncé). Sheléa also made her Carnegie Hall debut performing “Shattered” in tribute to songwriting great, Jimmy Webb.
Her tribute to Great American Songbook legends, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, became the impetus for her long-awaited third album, Pretty World: A Tribute to Alan and Marilyn Bergman. And with an invitation from The Recording Academy, she honored Tina Turner through a medley of “What’s Love Got to Do With It” / “Proud Mary” / “Simply The Best” on the PBS special, A Grammy Salute to Music Legends. After performing on a variety of specials, 2019 brought forth Shelea’s very own PBS special, Quincy Jones Presents: Sheléa, in which she performed a variety of originals, mixed with everything from Aretha to Whitney Houston.
And most recently, Sheléa has been at the forefront of the Quincy Jones Tribute concerts at venues such as The O2 Arena in London, the Accor Hotels Arena in Paris, and the legendary Stravinski Hall at Montreux Jazz Festival, singing Michael Jackson hits in honor of Quincy’s work on Off the Wall, Thriller, & Bad.
As a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Sheléa was an invited guest speaker at the “Grammy Museum Summer Sessions,” helping to educate high school students on the value of music, songwriting craft, vocal technique, and all-around professionalism. In addition to working with students and writing songs for kids, Sheléa is also an avid proponent for female empowerment. Most notably, she teamed up with Grammy Award-winning producer/songwriter, Tena Clark, to sing the anthem “Break the Chain” for the global launch of “One Billion Rising,” headed by Eve Ensler and Taína Asili.
Sheléa also closed the 2016 TED Women conference in San Francisco, with a performance of “I Believe” and performed for the National Women’s History Museum honoring Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Dolores Huerta.
In line with her passion for spreading empowering messages, she posted a personal affirmation in song form on Instagram, and later released it as a single, after receiving an overwhelming amount of covers and demands from people all over the world asking for her to release it as a single. “You Are Enough” was released in May 2020.
This year, Sheléa found herself back in the studio, this time writing and recording original material. “New year. New music. I’m so excited to be singing MY songs again! This message is deeply personal to me. More than ever, we gotta start giving each other and ourselves a little more GRACE! My new single “Grace” is available now!”