Music phenomenon Najee still giant in smooth jazz

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After a decade-long hiatus, jazz musician Najee returned to Pittsburgh to headline the eighth annual Summer Nights Jazz Under The Stars fundraiser to benefit the Hosanna House.

“Pittsburgh has been a difficult market for me to come back to, but I’m hoping that this will allow me to reconnect with the audience there and that they will be saying that Najee is back,” said the New York-born musician whose full name is Jerome Najee Rasheed.

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NAJEE WITH SAXOPHONE

The concert proved that the saxophonist and flutist never left the smooth jazz game.

He and his band took audience members on a journey through his 18 albums, hitting his latest project, “The Smooth Side of Soul” several times with performances of his favorite songs “Sound for Sore Ears” and “Perfect Nites.”

In addition to playing hits from his “The Smooth Side of Soul,” Najee treated his audience to his most popular masterpieces including “Tokyo Blue,” “Gina” and “Breezy.”

“I am here in Pittsburgh and am going to take my time tonight if it’s alright,” said Najee to the audience. “I enjoy having an audience and having them enjoy what we do. At the end of the day, that’s the best thing for me.”

Najee became a top name in instrumental and jazz music circles after releasing, “Najee’s Theme” in 1986 and “Day by Day” in 1988. Both albums sold over a million copies and netted him a Grammy win.

“I was fortunate in the beginning because we had MTV, BET and VH-1 playing videos and I was able to create an audience and they grew with me and over time I was able to find a niche,” said the avid movie watcher and walker who has been a mainstay in the smooth jazz arena for more than 20 years.

“Now we have a smooth jazz industry and I think that’s great. I have my own little corner of the world and I try to find music so that my albums sound different. I try to bring something new to the table sometimes that is done by working with people that I have never worked with before,” said Najee who has two platinum selling albums and four gold records to his credit.

“The Smooth Side of Soul” features collaborations with singer Phil Perry.

Najee started his musical career as a member of Chaka Khan’s band in the 1980s. From there, he worked with many musical legends including Freddie Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Patti LaBelle, Will Downing, Phil Perry, Vesta Williams and Prince.

“It was great working with Prince. I toured with him for three and a half years. I have a great respect for him. He is the greatest business man I’ve ever known,” Najee said. Najee performed on two of Prince’s albums: “Rainbow Children” and “One Night Alone.”

As an alumni of the New England Conservatory of Music, Najee learned musicology from the best in the business like Jazz greats Jimmy Heath and Frank Foster as well as Harold Jones of the New York Philharmonic.

But the prolific instrumentalists’ pursuit in music stared in grade school, being inspired by the likes of Stanley Turrentine, John Coltrane, and Hubert Lews.

“Saxophone and flute are my main instruments. One time, my tenor and alto saxophones were stolen on Christmas Eve after I left them at a place where I was playing a gig,” Najee recalls. “I grew up in New York and I left them at the rehearsal space so that I could walk home without getting robbed. I ended up getting robbed anyway.”

Najee didn’t play the saxophone for a year. But instead of being deterred from continuing his burgeoning music career, Najee turned his full attention to his flute.

“Having the saxes stolen was a blessing because I got the chance to become a respectable flutist as well. I don’t have a favorite instrument. They each have different voices and I don’t see a difference between the two instruments,” Najee said.

When composing songs for “Smooth Side of Soul,” Najee turned to his friends Jimmy Heath, Phil Perry and Chris “Big Dog” Davis for help and inspiration.

The result is a beautiful album filled with breezy songs mixed with funky pieces.

People walked away experiencing the ‘Najee Sound.”

Following the concert, Najee sold and signed copies of “The Smooth Side of Soul” and gave five percent of the sales proceeds to the Hosanna House.

Hosanna House is a non-profit community center nestled in Wilkinsburg. Created in 1990, its goal is to provide opportunities that will empower families and individuals to discover and develop their maximum potential physically, spiritually and economically.

Najee is currently touring the country promoting “The Smooth Side of Soul” by performing at festivals and outdoor concerts and working on new music for an upcoming new album.

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