Brenda Russell | Jeff Golub


Brenda Russell
By Jonathan Widran

Brenda Russell has great news for the hundreds of fans who e-mailed their prayers and support when she announced last fall that she had been diagnosed with diabetes. “I've had to change my lifestyle, eating habits, exercise routine and take insulin every day,” says the famed singer/songwriter, “but I feel really fantastic, like a whole new person.” Four months after giving up her spot on Dave Koz's annual Christmas tour to her good friend Patti Austin in order to rest and take care of herself, Russell is excited about hitting the road again.

She is scheduled to perform on Saturday, May 14, at the Lexus Jazz Festival at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. Russell is also a part of the highly anticipated Norman Brown's Summer Storm tour, an all-star group that includes Everette Harp and Peabo Bryson. The tour kicks off Memorial Day weekend with performances on May 28 at the Smooth Jazz 98.1 (KiFM) 30th Anniversary Festival in San Diego and Art Good's 3rd Annual Lake Tahoe JazzTrax Summer Smooth Jazz Festival on May 29, and also includes stops at the Playboy and Long Beach Jazz Festivals.

“It's going to be great going all over the place again after not being able to play out anywhere for six months,” says Russell, who will no doubt be performing her best-loved hits “Piano in the Dark” and “Get Here,” along with cuts from her recently released album, Between the Sun and the Moon. “I had the option of keeping it to myself, but being honest about my condition was definitely the right thing to do. I want folks to know that diabetes is manageable, and the better I take care of myself, the more I exercise and the better I eat, the less insulin I need. I'm really grateful for the opportunity to inspire people by getting out there. I've gotten so much positive feedback from the fans, and that has played a big part in my healing.

“I think the tour will be a life-affirming experience,” she adds. “Plus, since it's a group setting, I don't have to carry the whole weight of the show. And it'll be great to be on tour with such cool people. Playing with Norman is about as cool as it gets. Life couldn't be more perfect.”

In her spare time between the 15 scheduled tour stops, Russell will be hard at work fine tuning a project she calls “my new significant other”—a stage musical version of “The Color Purple,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker novel which became a Steven Spielberg film starring Whoopi Goldberg in 1985. She co-wrote the music and lyrics with fellow pop songwriters Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, and the show opened regionally to sold-out audiences at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta last September. It is slated to debut on Broadway this November, with Quincy Jones as co-producer.

Russell and her co-writers were in Atlanta last August, in rehearsals for the show's trial run, when she started feeling exhausted and checked into the hospital. After numerous misdiagnoses, it was confirmed that she had diabetes.

“At first, I thought I was just run down from doing my album and the show simultaneously, but I resolved to stay with the show during its six-week run, adjusting my diet and finding more time for working out,” she says. “Then I took time off to rest. Honestly, being part of a Broadway musical has been the best project I've been involved with in my life. The biggest challenge, of course, is following in the footsteps of some of the greatest composers in history, but it's opened me up to all different styles of writing. There are big band pieces and foot-stomping, front-porch tunes. We really did our research, buying all the books on musicals we could find, studying structure, the roles people play, the whole art form. There's a tendency for Broadway composers to look down on pop music as an inferior art form, but we're definitely up to the task and excited about showing what we've got.”

Originally released in London on Dome Records, Between The Sun and the Moon was released here under special license by Narada Jazz in November. Though people are more inclined to talk to her about “The Color Purple” and her illness, she believes her eighth album—which includes the samba-flavored U.K. smooth jazz hit “Make You Smile,” one of two tracks produced by Incognito leader Bluey Maunick––is one of her best ever. Drawing, as always, from her love for jazz, pop, R&B and world music, the collection also features the tongue-in-cheek “It's a Jazz Day,” which pays loving and sometimes humorous homage to traditional jazz and smooth jazz artists alike.

An intensely spiritual person, Russell loves telling the stories behind her inspiration for the whole recording, and, more specifically, the African-Latin-flavored title track, a duet with Patti Austin featuring the latter's wild, Ella Fitzgerald-like scatting.

“I'm always looking for signs,” says Russell, “and just before he died, I had a dream I was talking to George Harrison and telling him I was going to make my next record in London. I thought it was a great idea when I woke up, then when he passed away 10 days later, I knew that was a sign I should move on it. I wanted to record some things in Europe and release the album there to reconnect with my fans overseas. My previous album, Paris Rain, was only available in the U.S. I worked with Bluey and some other British songwriters and I learned so much from working with people outside my usual comfort zone.”

Russell was happy to be in that zone with longtime friend Austin, who happened to come over to Russell's home in Woodland Hills to do some collaborating the night of a lunar eclipse. “We decided to go outside and watch the eclipse before we started writing,” she says. “I looked at Patti and said, ‘We're between the sun and the moon.' It just came out, and the song took on this universal flavor where we amplified our own multi-cultural chanting. It's so rare in the genres we work in that two women get together and create music like we were doing. It's the first time we ever wrote together, and there was such a great bond between us. When she did her scat thing to the Latin groove, I told her she sounded like Ella on acid! What a great time.”

Similar to the way she is now dedicated to educating people about her illness, Russell has always encouraged young, up-and-coming musical talent with stories from her own struggling days. She enjoys offering them advice about songwriting and performing, and has appeared on panels with big name pop writers, like Diane Warren, over the years in numerous educational settings (from Berklee College to UCLA). She's also 100% behind her recently married, 28-year-old daughter Lindsay's musical career endeavors. Lindsay is currently backing Smokey Robinson while seeking other opportunities.

“In a time of copying and sampling, young people don't always believe in the power of an individual voice,” she says. “The media's always focused on copycats and trends, but the stars whose careers last the longest are those who broke the trends. I tell those who want shortcuts that there's nothing fulfilling in that. Between albums in the '90s, I also found other outlets for my creativity, including designing and making my own clothes and doing sketches of people I admire and others I know. It's very therapeutic, and I recently got back into it. I read a book once called ‘The Man Who Tapped the Secrets of the Universe' by Walter Russell and realized that creativity is all about opening up to the universe and channeling new ideas. I realized that there are no limits on creativity, that music is just the beginning for me.”

Brenda Russell is scheduled to perform at the following events:

  • May 14: The Lexus Jazz Festival at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, 1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach, California;
  • May 28: Smooth Jazz 98.1 (KiFM) 30th Anniversary Festival, in San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter 4th & Island Streets, downtown San Diego, California.

For tickets or more information on either of these shows, log on to www.jazzconcerts.com.

  • May 29: 3rd Annual Lake Tahoe JazzTrax Summer Smooth Jazz Festival, Resort at Squaw Creek, 400 Squaw Creek Road, Olympic Village, California. For tickets or more information call (866) 872-9849 or log on to www.jazztrax.com.

To access more information about Russell, including her tour schedule, visit www.brendarussell.com on the Internet.

Discography:
1978
Brenda Russell
A&M
1981 Love Life A&M
1983 Two Eyes Warner Bros.
1988 Get Here A&M
1991 Kiss Me with the Wind A&M
1993 Soul Talkin' EMI America
2000 Paris Rain Hidden Beach
2004 Between the Sun and the Moon Dome Records & Narada Jazz

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Jeff Golub
By Jonathan Widran

It's mid-April and Jeff Golub is in high spirits, hanging out at the swanky W Hotel in Westwood as he begins his working vacation in California. “Simple Pleasures,” the first single from his upcoming Narada Jazz debut Temptation, is being shipped to radio stations his week, and in a few days, his wife Audrey will be arriving from their home in New York. It will be the couple's first trip without their sons, 4-year-old Christopher and 2-year-old Matthew, in many months. She'll arrive just as Golub begins rehearsals for one of smooth jazz's biggest summer tours, Guitars & Saxes, which he's doing this year with Warren Hill and first-time G&S participants Wayman Tisdale and Mindi Abair.

The tour launched the weekend of April 16-17 with shows at the Lodge at Rancho Mirage and Thornton Winery in Temecula, California. This show hits the Lexus Jazz Festival at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach and the KiFM 30th Anniversary Jazz Festival in San Diego this month.

“I'm really excited because this year I'm the senior member of the tour for the first time,” says Golub, who is marking his sixth consecutive summer on the road with G&S. “Last year, Peter White and I were tied at five each. There's always something new and fresh about the energy of it because the lineup changes each time. Warren's done the show quite a few times, too, and it'll be great to be out there with an old friend. And I love both Mindi and Wayman. It'll be a whole new experience with them. The greatest thing about the tour concept is that the shows themselves are formulated by a booking agency. It's more a gathering of artists eager to play together, and we're the producers. Level one is working out who's going, and level two is deciding that we want to spend that much time with everyone.

“Even before getting together for formal rehearsals, we spoke a lot in advance to each other, going over ideas of things we want to do, ways we can interact onstage that can make it not four individual shows but one intermingled show,” he adds. “Everyone is open and committed to making it as fun as possible.”

When he did last year's Guitars & Saxes tour, Golub had just gotten off the road after three months touring the U.S. with old pal Rod Stewart. The guitarist had been the famed rocker's sideman from 1988-95, leaving to pursue a solo career which has produced seven smooth jazz recordings (Temptation is due out May 24). Stewart asked Golub to perform with him as he did the late night talk show circuit in support of his third Great American Songbook album. The two reunited again in England last October for a special concert called The Prince's Trust Live at Royal Albert Hall, soon to be released on DVD.

“I'm wearing a tie on the cover of my new CD, and I actually got to wear a tux during the second part of Rod's shows, when he did the standards,” Golub says. “So I'm learning to dress better! Of course it was a blast playing his old hits like I used to, but I really enjoyed playing the old standards because I love that era of songwriting. It was pretty amazing to be able to play jazz standards in huge coliseums. As I've become more confident in my own performing abilities, I realize what I've learned from Rod. There's nothing overly staged or choreographed about his shows. He just tries to be personable and connect with his audience.”

Golub can't wait to start performing tunes from his new collection, which run the gamut from quintessential, live-in-the-studio rock/blues jams like “Uptown Express” to exploring the new chill vibe (on songs like “Cream and Sugar”) that's fast becoming something of a smooth jazz subgenre. He's working for the first time with Paul Brown, who's produced hits for many top smooth jazz artists from Boney James to Peter White and George Benson. But there was more to Golub's connection with Brown than simply finding great sounds to score another hit single. Brown is also a top-notch guitarist (he released his solo debut last year), and the two share many of the same influences on their instrument.

“When Paul and I got together for the first time, we realized we both had the opportunity to do something different from our usual recordings,” says Golub. “Paul knew so much about the blues and blues rock I love, and has the same affinity for Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Johnny Smith, as well as my favorite blues rockers like Ry Cooder and Eric Clapton. There were a lot of different ways we could go, and we wound up co-writing all of the tracks, some by ourselves, some with other writers. When someone is so good at making hits, it's easy to dismiss the art sometimes, but Paul is really an insightful producer.”

Even though Golub had a deep curiosity about chill music, he has always shunned technology in favor of a more live-recording approach. But once they decided to dive into that realm, Golub was impressed with the way Brown blended Golub's trademark guitar licks with those cooler sounds. “My guitar ideas sat well on top of what he was coming up with, and I really started digging what we were doing,” he says. “I felt like I was going places I wouldn't have gone on my own. There's a sexy, sophisticated feeling to Temptation, but I'm not giving up my core sound. ‘Cream and Sugar' has this modern, machine-driven chill flavor, but my guitar is very retro. That song sort of sums up the best-of-both-worlds approach of the whole project.”

Like Rick Braun, Golub's close friend, frequent co-producer and bandmate from the old Rod Stewart days, the guitarist became a family man for the first time after 40––and loves being a dad to Christopher and Matthew (who are staying with Matthew's godparents while the couple is in California). Audrey is a full-time mom, and the Golubs are raising their children as quintessential New Yorkers —Christopher even knows how to hail a cab!––while dividing time between their Upper East Side apartment and a farmhouse retreat in Bridgehampton on Long Island. In the city, they live 100 yards or so from Riverside Park, and the Golubs enjoy the sense of community they feel when they take the boys to play there. Both are in pre-school, Christopher takes soccer lessons, and the two listen by default to a lot of jazz.

“Chris also loves James Brown,” Golub laughs, “and I'm sure they'll be playing instruments since there's one of everything lying around the apartment! I think when we decided to have kids, I worried about balancing being a working musician with family time. And I do have to get up by 7:30 every morning, not musician's hours. But I have a studio in the apartment, and so I'm able to get a lot of work done. I have more interruptions, but it's worth it. It's the first time I've known this kind of unconditional love. It's a deep change in my life, but I am really enjoying it. I look at Audrey and the boys and think how incredible my life has been, like I've been able to cram several different lifetimes in the time allotted for one. I'm as happy as I have ever been right now.”

Jeff Golub is scheduled to perform at the Lexus Jazz Festival at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach on May 15, at the Hyatt Regency, 1107 Jamboree Road, in Newport Beach, California. For tickets or more information on this show, call (949) 729-6400, or log on to www.summerjazzseries.com.

Golub has also been booked for the Smooth Jazz 98.1 (KiFM) 30th Anniversary Festival on May 28 in San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter. More information on exact location, showtimes, and tickets can be found online at www.kifm.com, www.jazzconcerts.com.

Golub's website can be accessed at www.jeffgolub.com.

Discography:
1988
Unspoken Words
Gaia/Polygram
1994 Avenue Blue Bluemoon
1996 Naked City Bluemoon
1997 Nightlife Bluemoon
1999 Out of the Blue Atlantic
2000 Dangerous Curves GRP
2002 Do It Again GRP
2003 Soul Sessions GRP
2005 Temptation Narada Jazz

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