CoM&L - episode 5 with Najee
On top of “saxophonist” and “flute player,” Grammy nominee Najee sort of adds “poet” to his résumé with his new album, Poetry in Motion. This star-studded production includes efforts by some artists familiar to regular consumers of this blog — Maysa and Will Downing, both interviewed here themselves — as well as by Eric Roberson and others. Najee dedicated this August 2017 release to the memory of two recently departed giants, Prince and Al Jarreau. “Whenever I have worked with people of their caliber,” Najee says, “I have always walked away with something that helps to shape my musical conversation.”
That conversation began as a family chat, so to speak. Jerome Najee Rasheed’s brother, Fareed Abdul Haqq, gave the future performer-known-by-a-single-name his first soprano saxophone. “My first [loves were] the tenor saxophone and flute,” Najee recalls in his web page’s bio, which also identifies jazz master/educator Billy Taylor (through his Jazzmobile program) as a key early influence. Najee and his brother, a guitarist, went on to study at the New England Conservatory, after which both young men gained employ with Chaka Khan in the early 1980s. Such a connection with the Queen of Funk, among others, would recur over the course of Najee’s career, both on stage and in the recording studio. By the mid-’80s Najee had embarked upon a recording career of his own with the album Najee’s Theme.
Numerous recordings have followed that debut, including Day by Day, Tokyo Blue, Embrace, and The Morning After. Some rarefied audiences have gotten to enjoy Najee’s playing: Nelson Mandela, for whose birthday the wind instrumentalist played in South Africa; and Bill Clinton, whom Najee entertained at the White House. The NAACP has taken notice; it honored Najee with a “Best Jazz Artist” Image Award for his 2007 album, Rising Sun. Since then, like the sun itself, Najee has continued to rise, and through his music he promises to shine for some time to come.
Hear him in this week’s episode of ‘Conversations on Music & Life” Saturday morning, starting at 11a EDT/10a CDT/8a PDT. Click here to listen the stream.
—Edward Austin Hall
Host & Exec. Producer, CoM&L
Edward Austin Hall
FAS Editorial Director