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Najee comes back to IndyFestival headliner promises a stellar performance

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Indianapolis’ reputation for great jazz music is continuously growing and the Indy Jazz Fest 2010 promises to highlight the city’s success in the genre.

This year features heavy hitters such as Al Jarreau and local favorites like Pharez Whitted. This year’s event also features jazz events during the week at various locations such as the Jazz Kitchen and the Madame Walker Theatre, culminating with jazz from noon to 10 p.m. on Sept. 18 at Optimist Park in Broad Ripple.

The Recorder was able to speak with this year’s headliner, Najee, and found out about his latest project and what audiences can expect at Jazz Fest.

Recorder: How has your summer been?

Najee: My summer’s been great! Just been moving around, you know, doing what we do. I’ve been over to Europe and done a lot of stuff here in the states. I took a month off and now I’m heading back out. I started this past week in Los Angeles, “Najee and the Smooth Side of Soul” which featured Howard Hewett as a guest in my band. It was nice.

You’ll be here in Indianapolis for the Indy Jazz Fest. For those who are neophytes to your music, describe your sound?

I’m a saxophone player and I go in between all the genres of music – jazz, R&B, even classical. My popularity is what we call the smooth jazz and R&B. Because I like a lot of different types of music, I just look for good material to record that’s great, that the people may enjoy. I really choose stuff that I like personally. That determines what kind of record I’m going to do.

You’ve done concerts and special appearances around the world. Tell me, what makes festivals such as the Indy Jazz Fest special?

Festivals bring a lot of people. The festival I did this past weekend brought around 4,500 people. There’s always more of an audience and you get to reach a huge, captivated audience. But the spirit at a festival is a bit different too; people are ready to dance a little more. (laughs)

Tell me about the inspiration behind your current album, “Mind Over Matter.”

We were just thinking of titles and came up with this one song that was just a very simple song. Not a heavy melody at all. It seemed to be the perfect title for the record. Plus I wanted to collaborate with Jeff Lorber, who contributed two songs; Gary Taylor, the legendary R&B writer and singer; and Eric Benet, who I’ve known for many years.

For your next project, you will record your first ever live DVD and CD at the Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo, N.Y., with Alex Bugnon. What does something like this mean for your career?

It’s something that has been requested by my audience for many years and I’ve just never done one. This time, I’ve decided to seriously record a live CD and DVD. We did one in South Africa years ago. Kim Fields the actress was the director, but it was more of documentary-style footage. We decided to do one here in the United States and this one is more performance driven. We’re looking to release this in spring or summer of 2011.

You’ve achieved great success throughout your career, what do you attribute that to?

Being sincere to the music. I’ve been fortunate to work with George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder; I’ve toured and recorded with Prince. I don’t have a favorite. Everybody I’ve worked with, I’ve been blessed to have a great experience. I’ve also been fortunate to have good people in my life that advise me well. And just being able to develop an audience that has followed me since the beginning.

And lastly, what can people expect from your performance at the Indy Jazz Fest?

They can expect a wonderful time! (laughs) We gon’ have so much fun!

You can e-mail comments to Jessica Williams-Gibson at Jessica-recorder@indy.rr.com.

Listen up!

Najee will be in Indianapolis for the Indy Jazz Fest, but here are several

albums from which fans can get their Najee fix after he leaves the city.

“Najee’s Theme”

“Morning Tenderness”

“Rising Sun”

“Mind Over Matter”

Indy Jazz Fest

Where: Optimist Park, 67th and College Ave.

When: Sept. 18

Time: noon to 10 p.m. (gates open at 11 a.m.)

Admission: $25

Saturday’s lineup includes:

High School Jazz Showcase, noon to 1:30 p.m.

Owl Studios All Stars, 2 p.m.

Charmaine Neville Band, 4 p.m.

Mike Stern Band, 5:45 p.m.

Al Jarreau, 7:30 p.m.

Najee, 9:15 p.m.

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