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July 2010

July 30, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “Running Away” feat. @KevinWhalum

“ Running Away” – My Baby brother Kevin came up with this one. Besides being a great testimony, it was a whole lot of fun. I asked him for the story behind what was one of the most theatrical—and physically demanding—moments of the night. If you’ve ever wondered if you can communicate without words or if musical instruments can talk—Uh huh, they can.: Here’s what Kevin had to say:

"Frankie Beverly is an amazing influence on me musically. I listen to Maze records nearly every week. As a result of that, I put an ear to their hit song, “Running Away” to see where I could take it lyrically given the purpose of The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter III. Let me say it was an honor for me to record a song written by a personal hero, so I hope Frankie likes what we did. The live audience seemed to appreciate where I took it, and that’s always a good thing." - Kevin

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July 29, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “The Thrill Is Gone” feat. @LalahHathaway

“The Thrill Is Gone” – This was a stretch for us! I thought, somebody’s gonna come for me with handcuffs and a straightjacket over this one! But I knew I was on solid ground, not only because of my own experience being delivered from habits and addictions, but from the many, many stories that I’ve heard and witnessed. The scripture says, “He whom the Son sets free, is free indeed.” There is no feeling known to man as awesome, as liberating, as light as knowing that God has “turned the switch off for good!” That which (and he who) has kept us bound is forever defeated. All the lies and condemnation heaped on us just disappears, like mist. He can even take away the appetite for whatever it is! This is the celebration behind “The Thrill Is Gone!”

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#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “It’s What I Do” feat. @LalahHathaway

“It’s What I Do” – I wanted to write something for Lalah that featured her in that intimate, old, smoky jazz club setting, with the drummer “swishing” his brushes on the snare and the upright bass whining down low. Jerry Peters and I started the song with the idea of God reminding us that it’s a waste of time to ever try and figure out why or how God could love us. He simply says,

It’s ‘cause you’re mine.
It’s ‘cause you’re you.
It’s ‘cause I’m Love.
It’s what I do.

I once heard that God says to us in essence: “There’s nothing you can do to make me love you any more… nothing you can do to make me love you any less. This is the saying I recited to my kids many nights as I tucked them in. I’m their “Abba.” He’s ours.

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July 28, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “Smile Medley” feat. Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum

“Smile Medley” – I was so glad, first of all to have my awesome Uncle, Hugh David Whalum, on this project with me. His previous recordings except one or two songs had not been in the gospel idiom, although his Christmas album certainly carried the gospel message, and he had really done very little in the way of religious performances, being a lifelong and devout Catholic (he often teases that he is running for pope next election… “Pope Peanuts the 1st.” The first jazz mass at the Vatican!!!)

When we began to consider material, I thought it would be wonderful to adapt something from his nightclub repertoire from over 65 years in the business! What better song than one made famous by his most profound influence, Nat King Cole. And further, we thought that it was a message Christians in particular needed to hear.

Sometimes we can become “so spiritually minded that we’re no earthly good!” In that sense, we forget that God is, for instance, a Daddy, a Mom, a Sister, a Brother and a really good Friend. He also happens to be the sole Potentate of the universe that He created. But I believe that there’s nothing he loves more—whether sunsets over the Arizona desert, the beautiful azure of the Indian Ocean near Cape Point in S. Africa or the precocious dance of the hummingbird — than to see you smile! Go ahead, bless Him!!!

God Has Smiled On Me was the perfect bookend for this medley, being a song that we grew up singing in church in the early ’70s. When my dad, Peanuts’ youngest brother, passed away only 11 days after this recording, we all sang and played this medley at the memorial service: Kenneth, Jr, Kenneth III, Kortland (vocals – he’s also featured on the record!), Kameron (trombone), Kyle (bass) and myself.

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July 27, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- (Bonus) “You Are Everything” feat. @TD_Jakes

Listen Here --

“You Are Everything” (Bishop TD Jakes version) – When my good friend and producer, Cedric Caldwell (Cece Winans, Whitney, T.D. Jakes, Donny McClurkin, etc.) heard this track, he suggested we let Bishop Jakes hear it with the idea of him doing a spoken-word piece with it. He loved it! And he thought it would be an awesome avenue for him and his beautiful wife Serita to share an inside peek at their romance. More than ever Christians, in particular pastors and people in ministry, need to have the spotlight shone on “our first ministry.” We need to celebrate the love relationship described so delicately in Song of Solomon.

I am blessed to have been married for 28 years to my childhood sweetheart, the love of my life, Ruby. We met when I was 15—35 years ago. I realize that my story is unique. I also realize that my story is 100% grace. I know that Ruby would say the same. Two people equally desperate for God’s healing touch, desperate for His “real love.” So when Bishop Jakes consented to perform this “love song” with us, I took it personally and desired to lift it up as an offering to God—coupled with my feeble but sincere commitment to love and honor my wife in a way that brings Him glory and not shame. To treasure her, as the old jazz standard says, “body and soul.” Hey… Body and Soul… Chapter IV!?

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#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “You Are Everything” feat. Doc Powell

“You Are Everything” – I presented this to Doc Powell as a vehicle for him to work his soulful, lyrical, sanctified magic… and that’s exactly what he did! He and I agreed that this message, previously sung between lovers, was perfect to lavish on our Savior, who is, by the way, Everything. A note about Doc’s playing; His technique includes a very unique style of vibrato where he literally shakes the whole guitar (as opposed to just the fingers on the fret board) and his whole body shakes at the same time. I see this as significant because he is fleshing out the spiritual concept of “the artist is the instrument, God is the Musician.”

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July 26, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “AFRICA JESUS AFRICA” feat. my cousin, rapper Caleb tha Bridge

“AFRICA JESUS AFRICA” – As I say on the concert in my introduction, I have been profoundly impacted and touched by the constant response we get from Africa. My trips to S. Africa have always left me humbled beyond description by the lovely (in every way) people of that particular country. I wanted to do something special on this project for Africa, having just released another project for the Millennium Promise Foundation called “Promises Made.”

When I asked my cousin, rapper Caleb tha Bridge (his real name is Andrick) to write a rap using as many countries in Africa as he could fit in this song, he asked me why I felt the need to give him homework at this late stage in the game! He’s 33 and was born on my birthday – July 11! Well, he did an amazing job and thus we’re able to bless Africa in an age where I believe the world economy and the world of art (music in particular) will look to Africa as in no epoch before.

I also believe that Africans will lead the way in evangelizing the continent of North America as well as other parts of the world in this age of “comfortable Christianity.” She can teach us much. God has seen the furnace of persecution and greed imposed on Her for these centuries and will now present Her as pure gold, a beautiful, rich, soulful fragrance to bless the nations.

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July 22, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “If You Ever Need Me” feat. @KevinWhalum

“If You Ever Need Me” – John Stoddart’s composition here is so awesome, especially because he reminds us that worship styles passed down to us from our European ancestors are not by any means the end of the story. Arica, South America, the Caribbean, Asia… so vast are the sources and tributaries of this ocean we call worship music.

The Puerto Rican salsa rhythm of this song is one of my absolute favorite styles of music. If you are blessed to have mobility… you have to dance! And if not, I believe the eyes, the hearts, the spirits of even those who are mobility-challenged will “bailar!”

The message is so comforting. It is “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” on steroids!

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July 19, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “He’s Been Just That Good” feat. @LalahHathaway

“He’s Been Just That Good” – An exciting new husband and wife writing team just dropped in my lap! My son Kyle’s first roommate, Jonathan Jackson and his lovely bride Brandi—she is an incredible singer/songwriter in her own right—sent me a few ideas on a CD. This one stood out for me, though there were plenty of good ones! I look to hear lots more from these two.

The message is so, so simple. It’s a message that I thought would be good for this context where one of our primary objectives is to reach beyond those who have already encountered the Savior. Anyone, ANYONE can look behind them and see just ONE thing for which they are grateful, and join in on this chorus. Relationship begins with acknowledging something good in the other —and gratitude is foundational for a person’s journey “home” to God. How good has He been? How can we quantify it? The words “just that good,” in this case, are pregnant with the stories of everyone who I believe will identify with and be blessed by this song.

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July 17, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “Make Me A Believer” feat. @LalahHathaway and @KevinWhalum

“Make Me A Believer” – This song was another really cool idea from my brother Kevin. He is
such a creative person, always thinking of ways to “twist” the original meaning of a song to bless
people and bless God. The lyric was not too difficult to adapt, although obviously the original
intent was for a romantic setting.

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July 13, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “Because You Loved Me” feat. George Duke

“Because You Loved Me” – This arrangement was given to me by my close friends in England, James McMillan and Peter Murray. The song, recorded by Celine Dion, has been a favorite of mine for some time. I always thought that it fell comfortably in the category of songs that are “more Gospel than a lot of Gospel songs!” The message is profoundly simple: “I’m everything I am because you love me.” This was especially sweet for me as we prepared because I was watching my dad die. I wanted him to know that before he left. I think he knew. I would sing to him and play for him in intensive care just to help him pass the time and take his mind off of his illness. The message of the song goes both horizontally and vertically, both to God and those who have loved us qualitatively in a way that builds a foundation for us to stand on.

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July 11, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “Rev” feat. @KyleWhalum

"Rev"– My song. Kyle and I wrote this song as a tribute to my father, Rev. Kenneth Twigg Whalum, Sr., who passed away 11 days after our recording. We had been dealing with his illness throughout the writing and preparation process, so his journey is tied into this recording in many ways. At the end, he was unable to speak, so I had to imagine (not very hard to do, given his constant pride in and support for my music) what he would say to us in this live concert endeavor – featuring his eldest brother (of 3 brothers and 1 sister) as well as so many of his progeny.

We wanted the song to be vibrant but not trite, melodic but also complex. This is all a part of who my dad was. Kyle also wrote two more lovely songs for his granddad that I would love to record some day – both haunting ballads.

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July 08, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “Ananias & Sapphira”

“Ananias & Sapphira”– This song was very important to me in preparing material for this project because it represents the more ethereal, brooding, thought-provoking, art-music type of jazz. This is significant because many times in “Gospel music,” (I use quotation marks because that term becomes suspect depending on how it’s used)… we limit the experience to what is familiar and or extremely evident in its delivery (i.e., “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Praise Him, Praise Him…). The contemplative paths of, say the Monastics of the 4th century or those who desire to embrace this God who is beyond simplistic descriptions, are not represented in much of the music on the Black Gospel shelf.

The black spiritual experience, in particular, is a multifaceted one. The Savior we love and cling to, is a Creative, profoundly complex Being. Jesus of Nazareth is, to put it mildly, beyond our comprehension. Thus there should be room for music that leads us into this mystical world of “contemplating God” in ways that are less bound by any musical tradition, be that black Gospel, Baroque, Pop or otherwise.

This song, inspired by the fearful account of this couple’s run in with the God of the Universe, through their fellow believers, immediately takes us, through the unbelievable bass solo by Reginald Veal, to a place where we are allowed, each one of us, to interpret for ourselves the meaning of this story – or for that matter the meaning of our journeys. I believe that there will be more music in this vein in the coming years that challenges the “seatbelt” that we have placed on our Christian, artistic expression. I don’t anticipate this song being played on Christian radio anytime soon!

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July 04, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “Fit To Battle” w/ Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum and @KennethWhalum

“Fit To Battle” – I wrote this song with the intention of capturing the raw, rhythmic, dynamic power of the saxophone as an instrument. Thus we do not use the band on this one, only drums and percussion. It’s part New Orleans, part Mississippi cotton field—we should have used a washboard!—part old Pentecostal and part… Arnette Cobb! Arnette was my secondary mentor on the saxophone (I still wear his “music ring” on my right hand). He was a “dean” of the Texas Tenor school of hard-driving, sweat-inducing, mad-swinging saxophone-playing. His legendary solos with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra earned him his own place in the history books.

Who better to feature on this one than my primary mentor, my Uncle Peanuts, and my primary student, my nephew Kenneth, III. I still pinch myself when I hear the three of us go at it together! 80, 50 and 25 years old! We have such a genuine respect for each other. Ken’s already started to make his own way in the industry. Recently touring with Jay-Z, Maxwell, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and Regina Belle, he will soon release his debut recording, on which he will both sing and play. Awesome huh!

It is both humbling and gratifying to observe the obvious giftings of my nephews, nieces (my brother Kevin has twin girls who are drop-dead gorgeous and sing like angels!), sons and daughters, not all of whom are in music by the way—film, investments, the hotel business, etc. But I think of black people in particular and how we are not able, for the most part, to trace our lineage back very far because of the sad legacy of slavery (where our personal history was stolen from us). But I have to imagine that back on the Continent, there must have been some BAAAAAD musicians, orators and just cool people! I look forward to hugging (and thanking) my ancestors both there and in North America, for being strong enough to weather such a storm so that we could be here to draw from such a well of creativity. God is an awesome God!

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July 01, 2010

#GATJ3 Track by Track -- “Intro (Call To Worship)”

“Intro (Call To Worship)”—When I was a little boy, one of the things I detested about going to church (and of course we didn’t have any say in whether or not we went!) was the old folks starting out the service with that tired, old, worn-out, out-dated “Dr. Watts Chorus.” They would do what’s called “line a hymn” before the “good” part of the service got started—the part we young folks could relate to!

This á cappella segment was always led by a deacon or deaconess with the “call,” and then the congregation would “respond.” Of course now I have grown to treasure the raw and soulful beauty of this melody, it always reminds me of my childhood at Olivet Baptist Church in Memphis, where my dad, was pastor. The melody of this Dr. Watts Chorus (Dr. Isaac Watts,father of English hymnody, composer of Joy to the World and many others) is what I used as the call to worship. I segued into Amazing Grace, the first song I ever learned on the saxophone, at age 12. This is the same song that I played in S. Africa with Whitney Houston 1994 to celebrate the fall of Apartheid.

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