This is a tribute to Joe Sample, the great keyboardist, composer and co-founder of The Crusaders who passed away in 2014. It was the title track to his classic 1978 solo debut album. I felt devastated when we lost him and wanted to find the perfect way to honor him on this project. Joe was not only one of my favorite all-time keyboard players, he was a huge influence on my musical development as a pianist and keyboardist as well. I first saw him play when I was in high school in St. Louis, and it was an honor over the years to get to know and work with him on various of projects of mine and his. He was great mentor to me as well. In the early days of my L.A. jam band Los Lobotomys, we played a song called “JoRainbo” which was an homage to Joe and Rainbow Seeker, which one of my favorite recordings of his.
“Rainbow Seeker” is one of Joe’s songs that I perform in my live shows and my band has been doing it since the 90s. This is one of the songs I recorded two versions of, one acoustic and one electric, with me on piano and Rhodes. Joe was a very close friend of percussion great Lenny Castro, who plays a key role on the track, and both feature drummer Steve Jordan, who is well known for his work with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Boz Scaggs and John Mayer. I’ve also got Marcus Miller. Lenny, Steve and Marcus all went to the High School for Music and Arts in New York, the same school from the movie “Fame. My idea was to create a session that was like a musical high school reunion. I have known Steve since we were 18 years old but had never had the chance to work with him. He was on the project bucket list from the beginning. I also brought in Joe’s favorite guitarist Dean Parks, who played on Rainbow Seeker, to work on the acoustic piano version, which also features a great guitar solo by the late Chuck Loeb. He’s another guy I never got to record with despite working in each other’s bands over the years. On the electric version, I have another guitar player by a younger player, Tony Pulizzi, which keeps the multi-generational concept of the project going.
This classic by Sting and The Police is one of my all-time favorite tunes. I recently performed at a charity gig and needed to include more songs for dancing in our set. One of the singers working with me was Robbie Wyckoff, who has worked with great female vocalists including Natalie, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion and is also well known for his work with Roger Waters on “The Wall Live” Tour. We decided to include “Roxanne” in the set and Robbie did a wonderful job. We had a ball playing it.
The next time we had the opportunity to perform, we plotted a fresh course and decided to give the tune a smoky acoustic jazz treatment. That’s the arrangement we recorded on this project. It starts out with an elegant piano intro and we play it as a slow and smoky ballad before switching gears and getting into a jamming rock mode towards the end. We also recorded a “jazz only” version for those who want to hear it exclusively that way.
I knew I needed different drummers to capture the distinct vibes I was going for. The rock version features Abe Laboriel (who also sings) and guitarists Tim Pierce, Felix Nunez and Michael Thompson. The jazz take has Joe Porcaro, working along with bassist Chuck Berghofer from the legendary Wrecking Crew, and the great trumpeter Chuck Findley. Carmen Grillo joins Robbie on the vocals as well. It was a blast creating these two unique versions of the song with all these incredible musicians!
“East ‘Lou’ Brew”
This is an original piece that I wrote as a tribute to another one of my biggest jazz influences, Miles Davis. I collaborated on the production with Miles nephew, Vince Wilburn, who is an incredible drummer and also one of the administrators of his uncle’s estate. It’s an adventurous tune that’s loosely based on themes from some of Miles’ best known works, and I conceived it as an all-star session featuring a cast of musicians who had worked with Miles at one point or another. The initial track was recorded live at Capitol’s famed Studio A with me, Vince and former Miles bassist Darryl Jones, who now plays with the Rolling Stones. Then in the overdub process, Miles protégé Wallace Roney came in to play trumpet along with legendary sax and bass clarinet player Bennie Maupin, who was on Miles’ 1970 classic Bitches Brew.
To round out the track, we have percussion master Airto Moreira (who toured with Miles for two years and also played on Bitches Brew) and the late Larry Coryell on guitar. I’m playing Fender Rhodes, organ and synthesizer. It was incredible to play with all these greats who knew Miles and toured and recorded with him, and I they all shared a ton of stories which helped ground the tune in both past and present. The best way to describe “East ‘Lou’ Brew” is moody, sultry and impressionistic. It takes you on a journey. The title of this piece refers to St. Louis, which was Miles’ hometown as well as mine. Miles, who grew up in East St. Louis, left a great legacy to the city and was a huge influence on my development as a jazz musician. I had a strong personal relationship with Miles and always wanted to play with him, so this is the next best thing. As an aside, the session brought back an amusing memory to me. Some years ago, I got called to work with Alison Eastwood, Clint’s daughter who is an actress and singer.
I knew the producer’s name was Erin Davis but I didn’t make the Miles connection till I was leaving the session and noticed there was a gold record of Bitches Brew on his wall. Miles has been part of my life in so many ways.
Being that I’m from St. Louis, another hometown hero of mine is the great saxophonist, clarinetist, arranger, composer and bandleader Oliver Nelson. Besides being Quincy Jones’ go to guy in the 60s, Oliver is probably best known for his groundbreaking 1961 Impulse! album The Blues and the Abstract Truth, which is considered by many to be one of the most significant recordings of the modern jazz era. The centerpiece of the album is Oliver’s brilliant composition “Stolen Moments.”
Like many of the songs on my new project, I’ve played this song at my gigs for years. I wanted to pay homage to another St. Louis legend, and I gathered a great lineup to create the perfect cool traditional acoustic jazz vibe: Joe Porcaro on drums, Chuck Berghoffer on bass with a horn section of Tom Scott, Chuck Findley and Nick Lane. I created the horn arrangement with Nick. During the session, Tom told me that Oliver Nelson’s big band was one of his first ever gigs. Tom is one of my heroes and I played in his group when I was young, so there’s a unique throwback element here for both of us. We’ve also got Denny Dias, aka “Dr. Bebop,” on guitar. He was one of the founders of Steely Dan and brought a jazz element to what Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were doing.
Oliver’s original “Stolen Moments” is probably the most traditional jazz song on the project. Oliver’s original version had a lot of counterpoint, but my version is slightly toned down and more sensual and romantic. I started my career as a jazz piano player, and this track is the perfect opportunity for me to get back to my roots and showcase the traditional jazz side of my artistry.
“Song for My Father”
This song by The Horace Silver Quintet is one of the great all time classics, one of the most recorded and played jazz standards of all time. To me, it defines the whole era of jazz on Blue Note Records in the mid-60s. Horace used a bossa nova beat, and this was one of the first popular jazz songs not to use the traditional swing beat. The story goes that when Horace went to perform in Brazil, he met Sergio Mendes and stayed with him. When he returned to the States, he brought back this classic Brazilian rhythm. Horace was one of my mentors and heroes. He became a good friend and he practically adopted me! The first time I met him at a record release party at Chick Corea’s studio, I told him I loved “Song for My Father” and he immediately reminded me it was in AAB, not the standard AABA song form. Just prior to meeting him, I had recorded his song “Peace” on my Recollections album. That’s the tune that Norah Jones wrote lyrics to and sang before she became famous. For a time, Horace and I would go out to dinner once a month and attend shows together, and he would often come to my shows as well. Beyond just sitting in, we made some real musical connections.
Some consider Horace the inventor of funk, and I believe that his 1953 tune “Opus de Funk” was the first time that word was used in a song title. Some of the greatest legends in music were big fans. I remember I was at an event at the House of Blues in L.A. and all the blues cats onstage were listening to Horace play. Remember, a lot of the British rockers like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and John Mayall were influenced by African American jazz artists. Another cool thing is that Steely Dan borrowed the opening chords from “Song for My Father” on “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” and I often quoted that riff when I played “Song for My Father” at my gigs. I included that at the beginning of this new recording of the song, which features guitarist Denny Dias, a founding member of Steely Dan. There’s also a part of the track where I have Jason Scheff, lead singer of Chicago, sing “If you have a change of heart” as another nod to “Rikki.” Jason, who also plays bass, is the son of Jerry Scheff, who was an original member of the famed Wrecking Crew.
I also have John Densmore, the legendary Doors drummer, who once played with Jason’s dad for Horace - who as I said is like an adopted father to me. So there are all these unique family connections going on. I added a section up front that’s kind of Doorsesque, and there’s a part where John does some spoken word. A lot of people don’t know that Horace originally wrote lyrics to the song, and so I had John speak Horace’s words, which Horace gave me personally. I also have Randy Brecker on trumpet because Horace was the one who introduced his legendary brother Michael to the world. So in a single song, we’re paying homage to the Doors, Steely Dan and Horace Silver – all of which connect beautifully.
During one of my recent live gigs, one of my singers brought in this classic song by Sting and we started performing it so regularly that it’s become a staple of my show over the last couple of years. It really lends itself to extended improvisations and a Latin world music vibe. I decided to include it on this project in an instrumental and vocal version. When I was doing collaborations with the late guitarist Larry Coryell, we would play it instrumentally. Here, I tracked it with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and the great Cuban acoustic bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, who has played with everyone from Chick Corea to Barbra Streisand. Vinnie, of course, has played on tour with Sting for many years, and plays a special drum part for me that he does live with Sting. This rhythm section was perfect for the world music vibe I was aiming for. We also have Cuban percussionist San Miguel Perez playing the tres, and guitarist Diego Figuerado did his great solo in his home country of Brazil. The vocal version features lead vocals by bassist Bruce Hamada from my Hawaiian band (I have bands all over the world that I play with, from Cleveland to Scandinavia!) and Michael McDonald on the choruses. The instrumental version features sax by Jim Stevens. I brought John Clayton on board to write and arrange the string section and he did a total of three string arrangements for me. From the inclusion of the tres to the actual string section, these strings give the tracks great sonic dimension.
“The Red Baron”
This is a landmark song that Billy Cobham wrote and recorded on his 1973 Spectrum album. It is a true classic of the early fusion movement. The legendary bassist Leland Sklar played on the original, and I wanted to re-record the piece with him on my project. He’s appeared on over 2000 recordings, playing with icons like Dolly Parton, Phil Collins, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Hall & Oates, Vince Gill and Neil Diamond. Leland and I recorded this song in a video performance for the innovative musical education program Studio Jams five years ago. We were joking how much fun it was to play, especially since he was on the original but hadn’t played it since the 70s. The drummer I chose, Benny Rogers, was a second year Musicians Institute student who won one of the drum scholarship competitions I created in conjunction with our annual Carlos Vega Memorial Concert.
From 2007-10, I was on the panel of judges with Lee Ritenour and Harvey Mason. Benny and some of the other scholarship winners have gone on to do very well in the industry. Benny also programmed the tracks’ rhythmic electronic percussion, which along with his drumming, was the foundation of the track. Another special guest is one of my all-time music heroes, organist Brian Auger, who was from the original London fusion scene and had the first Hammond B-3 organ in England. I listened to him and his band Oblivion Express all the time and he was a great influence on me. I met Brian through my friends Alex Ligterwood and Steve Ferrone, but I didn’t realize until I was working with Brian in his studio that those two were once members of Oblivion Express. “The Red Baron” is a defining song of the fusion genre, but I never played it because there was a time when everyone was playing it. The version I create here is trippy, with lots of different twists and turns that take you on a musical journey. It starts out as funky hip-hop, then I give a nod to traditional jazz and there’s another section that’s fusion-y and rocking.
“My Favorite Things”
John Coltrane’s version of this classic has always been one of my favorite jazz tunes. One of the wonderful things about doing this project is paying tributes to great artists who have influenced, inspired and mentored me throughout my career. To pay homage to ‘Trane, I came up with a really cool arrangement based on African drum rhythms. The first musician I knew had to work with me on this was Robert Greenidge, one of the greatest steelpan players in the world and a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. He’s well known for his solo on Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers’ hit “Just the Two of Us.” I believe his uncle Carl Greenidge invented the steel drums. Robert was one of the first guys I got to work with when I moved to Los Angeles and I’ve always been impressed with his musicianship. He and I had collaborated over the years at different times on various projects, but this is the first time he has recorded on one of my own projects. Besides the Afro-Caribbean vibe and the horns, another important aspect of this track is having my onetime piano teacher, Terry Trotter, play. The two of us have different piano parts. I play the minor key section, he plays the major. Also on this song is another mentor of mine from St. Louis, Richard Tokatz, who was instrumental in my decision to move out to L.A. in the 70s. I went back to St. Louis to record his part.
This Karizma original is one of my older compositions that I wrote back when the band was starting out in the 70s. It’s probably considered our first “hit” song because it became a favorite of many fans. It was always a highlight of the show and featured everyone in the band including Carlos. We usually closed the set with it. When we were approached to sign a deal with Warner Bros. Records in 1979, they took us in the studio and we recorded “Prophecy” on our demo. That version was released on Karizma’s Lost and Found album in 2001. The industry was going through difficult financial times during the late 70s, so ultimately Warner’s did not sign us, but “Prophecy” has enjoyed several incarnations since then. It was on our Cuba album in 1986, and we did an acoustic trio version on Seasons of Change in 2004. This current rendition, featuring Eric Marienthal, Mike Landau, Jimmy Johnson, Vinnie Colaiuta and Lenny Castro, will be the fourth time I’ve recorded it.
It’s been a fan and musician favorite over the years, and it’s got some challenging lines that I’m still trying to play just right. I consider this my first full-fledged version of it, because the others were the demo or live to two track. None of the previous ones were fully recorded, mixed and overdubbed. I consider it one of the classic Karizma songs which highlights my trademark style of music, very melodic with heavy rhythms, blending jazz, Latin, rock and world music.
This is a classic Cannonball Adderley song written by the great Joe Zawinal, who also wrote “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and “Birdland,” which were also big instrumental hits. It’s an old favorite of mine from the time I started out in the early 70s. I really loved what Cannonball was doing, blending soul and funk music into his jazz. Over the years, Steve Ferrone, the drummer who has played with me the most, confided that this is one of his favorite tunes as well. He was a big fan of Cannonball and his drummer Roy McCurdy.
In the mid-90s, I decided to write a chart on it and start performing it with my band. I’ve played it live over the years when Steve is with me, and wanted to create a new recording of it featuring him. One of the things I love about the song is that it’s got a very high, loud section and soft subdued section, dynamics that are not very easy to play. It’s also quite slow paced. Not everyone can master it, but Steve plays it really well. I tracked this with Will Lee, James Harrah and one of my favorite organ players Mike Finnigan, plus the horn section of Walt Fowler and Eric Marienthal (who also cites Cannonball as an influence). It’s my homage to Cannonball and also one of my all time favorite keyboardists, composers and innovators, Joe Zawinal. I was always greatly influenced by his band Weather Report.
“In A Sentimental Mood”
This has always been one of my favorite Duke Ellington tunes and one of the greatest standards of all time. I love Duke’s original version and the ones recorded by Coltrane and Michael Brecker. I have played it live many times but never recorded it. A few years ago, I was asked to headline the Idyllwild Jazz Festival and brought in an Afro Cuban band. I did an arrangement of the song that was authentically Cuban, with a traditional donzon arrangement featuring drummer Jimmy Branly and bassist John Pena. We did sax and trumpet features with a Latin rhythm underneath. It was such a big hit at the festival that the promoters asked us to headline again. I wanted to include on this project this same unique arrangement of the song with Jimmy and John, plus Poncho Sanchez on congas, Emil Richards (from George Shearing’s famous group) Larry Klimas, Walt Fowler and percussionists Joey DeLeon and Luis Conte. It’s a good vehicle to feature my acoustic piano and I also play electric keyboards. Poncho and I go back to the 70s together and it’s great to feature him and Larry, who has also been playing with me since those days and is a huge disciple of Coltrane. The arrangement has some peculiar twists and turns, and I put in some crazy rhythms. As you can tell by now, I like to do things a little differently.
This is another great Ellington tune that we’ve done over the past few years with our singer Leslie Smith, who does a soulful rendition here. It’s got a subtle, sexy and sophisticated vibe that reflects a traditional Latin dance flavor, with a little bolero and cha cha cha. I have recorded it here with Joe DeLeon, Jimmy Branly, John Pena, Poncho Sanchez, the great saxophonist Pete Christlieb and an incredible Cuban violinist named Dayren Santamaria. We also have Walfredo de los Reyes St. on the guiro. The arrangement came to me spontaneously during an acoustic gig a few years ago at Vitello’s in Studio City when I had Jimmy on drums and Leslie singing. I just said, “Let’s do it as a cha cha cha.” It’s a nod to a very traditional Cuban style, but its core is jazz and there’s a little R&B in there too. It’s got a Latin coro section but the rest is in English. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to record more Latin jazz because the style is so much a part of my roots, dating back to my time with Willie Bobo in the 70s. I’m known throughout the industry for my specialty for playing Latin styled keyboards. I think it’s because Carlos was Cuban and his cultural affinity for this music rubbed off on me. It’s also a pleasure releasing tracks to the world that share the music of Duke Ellington, one of the great songwriters and musicians of all time.
This is another original composition of mine that I wrote many years ago and I always wanted to give it a proper recording. It was inspired by playing some ideas on the acoustic piano so it’s always been an acoustic flavored piece. I recorded it before on my Seasons of Change CD but just with the live trio and not a full version. I did it this time with a Karizma-type ensemble which included Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Landau and Eric Marienthal. It’s always been a favorite at my gigs. People comment on it and compliment me about it all the time and I feel it’s important that I’ve fulfilled my desire to record it. I decided it merited two versions, one featuring acoustic bass with an electric bass solo and the other featuring electric bass with an acoustic bass solo. Jimmy is playing the electric and Carlos del Puerto the acoustic. I then sweetened it with Oz Noy on guitar and Airto Moreira on percussion. I used a different acoustic piano on each version. I have always enjoyed writing songs and this is one of my favorite originals. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of pleasure performing and recording other people’s songs. They are always a great way to get people to connect with me. But I wanted this project to also have a good slice of my own material.