An Interview with "blujanova" musician Jeff Saxon - an eclectic merging of blues, jazz and bossa nova

"Blues is all about freely expressing the ups and downs of the human condition...and that's something that'll never go out of style. And jazz is sublime and sophisticated and in many cases, a thinking person's music."

Jeff Saxon: Rio de Mississippi

Jeff Saxon describes his eclectic and broadly-appealing musical style, "blujanova"; a merging of blues, jazz and bossa nova. This hybrid style really shines with Jeff's innovative arrangements of tunes seemingly devoid of jazz or Latin influences, such as "Hound Dog", "Riders On The Storm" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)". These highly innovative, musically-rich reworkings of timeless rock and blues classics along with 7 first-rate Saxon originals are included on Jeff's new CD, Blujanova.

Saxon's soothing and emotive vocals, regardless of what genre he's singing in, are a hallmark of all his recordings. As a songwriter and composer, Jeff is known for his memorable melodies, sublime and sophisticated chord changes and intelligently crafted lyrics. His compositions have earned him over 40 awards from various national and international songwriting contests and he's a former staff songwriter for long-standing New York City-based publisher, Bourne Music. His catalog of over 400 songs has led him down many paths; from children's songs that have been performed from coast-to-coast, to a gutbucket Delta blues song he placed in an indie movie, to country and Americana songs placed with other recording artists, to politically and socially conscious songs that spawned music video awards.

Jeff is a New Jersey native, but lived and performed in Los Angeles for many years, where he worked in the studio or shared stages with well-known jazz and pop artists such as Dave Koz, Little Richard, Norman Brown, and jazz/fusion group, Hiroshima. Jeff has performed at numerous music festivals on both coasts and his musical talents have drawn praise from a diverse list of public figures, including Quincy Jones and former President Clinton. Jeff has appeared at several film and music festivals, including the 2012 World Music And Independent Film Festival in Washington, D.C. (where he won the award for Best Rock Music Video), The Telluride Blues and Brews Festival and the Philadelphia Music and Film Festival.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Blujanova sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

The blujanova sound resulted from combining the core elements of my 3 favorite styles of music: blues, jazz and bossa nova. By taking this hybrid approach, I was able to combine what I felt were the most appealing features of each genre and blend them according to the mood and storyline of each tune. The blues and jazz components allowed me to have fun with the vocals and freely add blue notes and be creative with the vocals, whereas the bossa nova influence facilitated the use of chords like minor 9's and minor 11's and so forth) instead of straight-ahead major or minors (as in straight ahead blues). With Blujanova, I wanted to evoke an upbeat, yet relaxing vibe. I've written songs with heavy topical lyrical themes, but I wanted and needed a break from that to make some smile-inducing music for the soul and spirit.

As for my music philosophy...it's pretty simple. I'm my own toughest critic, so if a song or track can get me to smile and say "Yeah!", then I know things are likely going in the right direction. Another facet of my music philosophy is that I feel there's little point in doing a cover tune unless you're going to do it in a new interesting way, yet being respectful to the original version. And that's what I hoped to accomplish by including the 3 cover tunes on Blujanova.

"When I play and sing the blues, it just does something to my body and mind that is absolutely palpable...it gives me a really cool way of letting off steam and venting out a variety of emotions...and the end result is that I always feel quite a bit better after doing so. And that applies equally to writing blues and playing blues."

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

I'd say right here and now. Middle age. And the reason I say that is because I think it takes a whole lot of living and dealing with adversity to shape a writer and give character to an artist's work. I started writing and singing music when I was around 12 or so and I've been writing and making music ever since, but I don't think I could've truly offered much substantial perspective and vision about life and love experiences until many years later. I feel I'm doing my best work now and uncoincidentally, it seems like more people are taking note of my music. Now than ever before.

As for the best moment of my career...I'm gonna quote the title of a classic song by the late, great Cy Coleman..."The best is yet to come".  I really do feel that my best days are still ahead. The more music I make and share and the more life I live, it keeps on getting better...and I feel like I’m always learning and evolving as an artist.

As for the worst moment of my career, I'd say it was when I had my vocal cords nicked during a sinus operation and I could barely talk for several months and I had to go through lengthy vocal therapy. One very famous throat facility wanted to inject Botox into my cords, thinking that was the answer. Luckily my mind was working just fine and I didn't give serious consideration to such an untraditional and scary approach. That was a tough time for me; the unknowing of it all. But the great thing is that I ultimately found the right voice doctor and vocal coach and I was able to get my voice back up and running and better than ever.

Why did you think that the Jazz and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because of the timelessness, honesty and unpretentiousness of both genres. Blues is all about freely expressing the ups and downs of the human condition...and that's something that'll never go out of style.  And jazz is sublime and sophisticated and in many cases, a thinking person's music. It's quite often musically complex and can immediately take you out of whatever state of mind you're in and transport you into an altered state, where you can either just groove to it or allow it to shift your mood and thoughts or simply try to follow its many harmonic and rhythmic twists and turns. It just has so many layers to it.  And another wonderful aspect of these genres is that their fans are invariably exuberant about them and have a penchant for turning on younger generations to them.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

To be honest, I don't jam a lot. I'm not opposed to it, but I'm more of a singer/songwriter/guitarist than a jammer.

As for some of my most memorable gigs, about a year ago I got to perform at a film festival held at the Capitol Hilton Presidential ballroom in Washington, D.C. That was pretty cool in and of itself, but what made it even cooler is when I took home a best rock music video award that day, too.

Another memorable gig was in L.A., at a live benefit telethon for the people of Kobe, Japan, after they had a big earthquake. On the bill were Little Richard, the jazz fusion group Hiroshima, and several other notable acts. It was an honor to be a part of an event that is international in scope, showcasing the benevolence and common ground shared amongst musicians of many genres. When music can not only entertain and touch, but also give to the greater good, that's a powerful thing to be a part of.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Shortly after moving to L.A, in the 1990's, I remember meeting with a hit songwriter by the name of Paul Jabara. He penned quite a few of Donna Summer's biggest hits and many other top 40 tunes back in the day. He listened to me sing 2 or 3 of my tunes and also listened to demos of my tunes where I hired studio singers to sing them. Paul said he really liked my voice and he encouraged me to sing my own tunes because "nobody's gonna sing 'em like you". He apologized for not being able to personally help me, saying he burned too many bridges.  So that was another eye-opening statement.  And while you can't please and impress everybody who hears your music, burning bridges is something to try to avoid. So two important revelations came from that meeting.

Are there any memories from recording and show time which you’d like to share with us?

I have learned to appreciate and capitalize on the unexpected things that sometimes go on at sessions. I was recording my vocal on my version of "Hound Dog" in my home studio and in between takes; I heard the neighbor's dogs barking.  So I thought--wait a second--that's not such a bad thing at all.  And how ironic can it get--dogs barking on "Hound Dog""???  So I opened up a window, stuck out a mic and recorded them in all their agitated glory. And if you listen to the last few seconds of the track, you'll hear 'em goin' at it.

But the majority of my album was done through file sharing with the various musicians and producers. And for this method to work, you really have to have the utmost trust in the players and producers. But I was fortunate to have a really amazingly talented and intuitive "team" for Blujanova. And they all gave so much of themselves and their skills to the project. The soloists recorded at least 15 solos each, so that I could choose the solo I liked best and give me more than enough to do so. That was a great honor and spoke volumes as to how seriously they took the project.

"When I listen to the blues, I almost always feel a little better than I did beforehand because I don't feel so alone in my 'bluedom'." 

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

Sometimes I miss the innocence of it, the charm of it...in this digital music world, sometimes music is polished to the point where it can sound too slick and therefore come out a bit less organic or human-sounding and emotionally effecting. I also think the chances for a jazz tune, novelty song, blues tune or an instrumental becoming popular radio hits and big sellers have been dramatically reduced. At least here in the States, where syndicated radio and segmented formating is prevalent, it makes it quite challenging for hybrid or unique styles to rise to the top.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

I hope that people will continue to turn to music for all the reasons that generations in the past did: to leave your troubles behind, to relax, to think more deeply, to feel and enjoy rhythm and to have it as a sonic backdrop and memory for the different times in their lives. I worry that it might lose precedence for some or all of those things as technology is ever-evolving and competing for our limited discretionary time, because life and making a living for many people has gotten more difficult to carve away quality listening time. As a creator of music, I have some concern about society continuing to put enough value in music (i.e. enough to induce them to take the time and spend their hard earned money to purchase it).  

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

I recently heard about a 96 year old man who lost his wife of over 50 years writing a poem/lyric about missing her and celebrating their life together. That was touching in and of itself. This man then heard that a recording studio in the midwest was running a songwriting contest, so he entered his words as a song. And when the studio owners received this man's entry, they took a special interest in it and wrote and recorded music for it and it later became a top 10 entry on the iTunes charts. That speaks to many things and many people, but mostly it speaks to the power of love and the potential for miracles to happen, both in music and life.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Bossa Nova and continue to Jazz and Rock music?

I can really only address how I made the connection between Blues and Bossa Nova and how I utilized it on Blujanova. I don't feel necessarily that every bossa nova song can be "bluesified" or vice versa.  But what I did was find some classic soulful blues tunes like "I Feel Good (I Got You)" and "Hound Dog" lent themselves better to it than others.  Both are 3 chord songs.

But I did two things to connect the genres: I expanded the major chords in each and "bossafied" them by plugging in chord extensions often found in bossa nova. I then took those new chords and set it to a bossa rhythm.  And then allowed for some blue notes and some playful blues interpretations of the resulting new hybrid. As for the relationship between Jazz and Rock, I think the jazz fusion of the 70's marked the coming of age of the merging of those styles. Artists like Billy Cobham and John McLaughlin, Weather Report, Chicago and Blood, Sweat, And Tears immediately pop into mind. The connecting rod between Jazz and Rock are that they both have natural tendencies to be bold, brazen and uncompromising. And if you ask me, that's a winning combination.

What was the relationship of 60s Psychedelic Blues, Folk and Jazz culture to Brazilian artistic movement of Tropicalia?

The first thing that comes to mind would be that all these stylistic methods of expression place a strong emphasis on telling it like it is.  And in so doing, they have a much great likelihood of emotionally resonating with listeners. Since Tropicalia was a melting pot of music, poetry and theatre and was open to both native Brazilian and international influences, it was a very free-spirited form of expression. So Tropicalia artists could feel unrestricted and uninhibited about how they presented their work. I think 60's psychedelic blues, folk and jazz all share that freewheeling characteristic.

The artists who emerged in all these genres didn't hesitate to put the unfiltered message first and they tended not to concern themselves with convention or other dogmatic constraints.  And such freedom often produces some of the most interesting and adventurous artistic results.

"I hope that people will continue to turn to music for all the reasons that generations in the past did: to leave your troubles behind, to relax, to think more deeply, to feel and enjoy rhythm and to have it as a sonic backdrop and memory for the different times in their lives."

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

When I listen to the blues, I almost always feel a little better than I did beforehand because I don't feel so alone in my "bluedom". The singer I'm listening to has likely been feeling a little heartbreeak, disappointment, too. And commiseration is a wonderful unifier.  When I play and sing the blues, it just does something to my body and mind that is absolutely palpable...it gives me a really cool way of letting off steam and venting out a variety of emotions...and the end result is that I always feel quite a bit better after doing so. And that applies equally to writing blues and playing blues.

One of my favorite blues artists is Mose Allison and one of the things I love about his approach is that he often uses humor to diffuse the gravity of the predicament in the storyline. A classic example is Mose's tune, "What Do You Do After You Ruined Your Life?".  His timing is impeccable in delivering the line and instead of making it a purely sorrowful piece, it's just incredibly wry and filled with implicit perspective. 

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day?

I'd wanna hang out and write a bossa nova with Jobim in Rio de Janeiro and then play it that night in a club there and then record it right after.

What would you say to Tampa Red? What would you like to ask Charlie Byrd?

I would want to ask Tampa Red if he felt that slide guitar would be a passing phase or if he thought it would be around for many musical generations to come.

I would want to ask Charlie Byrd if he felt bitter about having to sue for royalties that weren't originally allocated to him for his contributions to the seminal album, Jazz Samba and if he felt victorious or miffed over having to go through such measures to get compensated for work that he felt he played an integral role in creating.

I would also want to ask him if he continued to love Brazilian music in his later years as much as he did initially. And lastly, I would want to know what Brazilian tune he'd want to hear in his final moments and why he chose it. 

Jeff Saxon - official website

Views: 502

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media

Members

© 2022   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service