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Interview: Jazz Icon Najee On His Career, the Lives He’s Touched, and Relationship with His Saxophone

Our next featured guest is a world renowned, award-winning, multi-platinum selling jazz icon. His catalog is packed with Billboard #1 hits and classic albums including ‘Tokyo Blue’, ‘Just An Illusion’ and ‘Morning Tenderness’. His amazing new album ‘Poetry In Motion’, with our favorite “Let’s Take It Back” featuring Incognito, is available now. Please welcome to…Najee! You’re an icon now, Najee. Through the course of your life and career where have you breathed the most life – into the lives you’ve touched with music, the lives of your loved ones, or into your saxophone?


Najee 4Najee: Obviously I’d like to think it’s touched more than just the saxophone! It’s an inanimate object. It doesn’t mean anything without the player. More importantly, I hope it’s been a vehicle to help some people – young people in particular – be inspired to have a dream and a vision and actually want to do it, to be able to continue on doing it. I was a kid with very humble beginnings, and a simple dream to want to do something I was passionate about. I hope people don’t look at me and I think I was destined to be successful. I don’t see my life that way at all. I see somebody who worked. When opportunity came, thank goodness I was prepared. Watching you perform live is a great experience. Seeing you do your thing at Alexander Zonjic’s Shoreline Jazz Festival was cool, but it was just as cool to watch the audience smiling and enjoying themselves while you performed. What do you think your music has done for the impression of Jazz since you came along?


Najee: Everything goes in cycles. I recall in the 80’s there was a decline in the industry. When I came on the scene there were several artists recording instrumental music. You had Kenny G who’d done maybe four albums, George Howard had done about four, and then I came in with ‘Najee’s Theme’ and went straight to having a gold record and being #1 on Billboard for 13 weeks. So I think it did help to revive the industry in some way, along with having an audience who was willing to buy the music. I think I’ve been fortunate. It seems like when a jazz musician reaches a certain level of prominence the instrument they play almost takes on a personality of its own. Najee, at this stage in your career do you feel you’re collaborating with your saxophone?


Najee: It does have an identity of its own at this stage. As a young musician you go through experimentation, imitating people, or trying to sound like this or that. But I always ended up sounding like myself. Over time that has become my signature sound, as people would say. Most people when they hear it they know it’s me. Has anyone ever complimented just your saxophone instead of complimenting you for playing it or how you sound playing it?


Najee: Yeah. For example: I have a video out featuring Phil Perry for the song “Just To Fall In Love”, I’m using a very beautiful looking saxophone. Sometimes those real pretty ones aren’t always the best ones. At concerts women will see it and say, Oh, it SO pretty!” [Laughs] But it’s not as nice-sounding as that old one you don’t like looking at. It’s the ones that don’t look like anything that usually have the best sound. You spend so much time carrying it around and being behind it. People hear it sometimes before they even hear your voice. Is it easy to lose sight of who you are underneath the instrument’s weight?


NajeeHeader3Najee: I’m not really sure that has to do with the physical instrument as much as the person themselves and their relationship to it. The instrument is really just a vehicle to communicate the music, but the sound…  The sound, the music itself, is in the person’s spirit, in their head, in their mind, in the way they think as a musician. It’s in their experience. I’ve owned a lot of saxophones, and they may all sound a little different from each other. If I put any of them on a record they’re all going to pretty much sound like me. So the instrument really takes on the character or the identity of the musician. I understand the instrument is not a living thing, but I’ve also heard other musicians refer to their relationship with their instrument as a partnership. Can you explain what that means?


Najee: I think what they’re really trying to say is they have a relationship, the instrument communicates the way they hear themselves playing the music. They’re able to develop a certain relationship with the instrument physically to be able to communicate their ideas or how they feel through sound. Have you ever known a musician to become overwhelmed by their instrument?


Najee: Definitely. The sax is a very demanding instrument. It requires a lot of attention in terms of consistency. There’ve been periods when I’ve been overwhelmed or put in challenging situations. It feels as though you’re challenged in ways you’ve never been challenged before. |

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CREDITS Written by Mr. Joe Walker | Photos – Stephenson Photography | Najee – as Himself | Producer – Liquid Arts & Entertainment | Creative Director – The Liquidation Committee | Editor – Mr. Joe Walker | Copy Editor – Mr. Joe Walker | Site Editor – Doug Sims | Webmaster – Doug Sims | Twitter – @LiquidAEMag | Instagram – @liquidmagazine

Liquid Arts & Entertainment is committed to presenting engaging conversations with top artists. We hope you enjoyed this interview with Najee.

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