Matt Bauer’s Exclusive Interview with Najee and DP Powell

Grammy Nominated Saxophonist Najee Will Be Joined On Sage by Buffalo’s Own Daniel “DP” Powell For Two Great Shows!

by Matt Bauer

To hear “Najee’s Theme” back in 1986 was to bear aural witness to the sound of a new genre being birthed. Seamlessly fusing contemporary jazz and R&B into a blend both accessible and sophisticated, sax, flute and reeds virtuoso Najee is one of the most distinguished artists to have emerged from the rich musical tradition known as jazz over his three decade and counting career.

“It went so fast to be honest with you,“ he says with a chuckle when asked about celebrating that milestone. “30 years is obviously a long time but you know for me it’s always been one continuous line of successes, some things not so successful , some things mediocre but when the story is told it’s been a wonderful ride to me”.

That ride has encompassed such highlights as a Grammy nomination, an NAACP Image Award Nomination and a fifteen album discography with such acclaimed albums such as “Day By Day,” “Tokyo Blue” and his Stevie Wonder tribute “Najee Plays Songs from the Key Of Life.

“I think of myself as a music sculptor,” he says when asked to define his sound. “Being able to combine different experiences of my life as a musician. I come from the jazz world, I come from the R&B world. I studied in a classical environment when I was at the New England Conservatory of music. I like to think of myself as a consummate musician who combines all of those experiences to work for me.”

Another result of his progressive musical outlook and talent was a host of recording and performing collaborations from his first gig with Chaka Khan to Prince, Freddie Jackson, Patti Labelle, Billy Cobham, Phyllis Hyman and well, we could go on and on.

“Everyone that I’ve worked with has had some impact,” he notes. “I had the opportunity to work with people that I listened to as a kid, on records like George Duke, Herbie Hancock or Stanley Clarke, and people that are more my age range like Prince. He was an amazing artist all the way around. He could play so many different kinds of music even though he was known as a pop star. He was a well rounded musician, he really was. So everyone I’ve worked with has had a profound effect on me in some way or another.”

Dedicated to the memories of both Prince and Al Jarreau, Najee’s latest album, the Barry Eastmond-produced “Poetry In Motion” offers the expectedly sumptuous mix of jazz and R&B that he has perfected throughout his career, with an impressive line-up of guests including Incognito, Will Downing, Maysa and Eric Roberson.

Daniel DP Powell

“It’s really a collaborative record. I called up all of my friends and I didn’t know if they were going to show up for one album,” he laughs.

Performing with Najee during his two performances at The Tralf this upcoming Saturday night is Buffalo born and based drummer Daniel Powell (known as DP) who is also promoting the show having met Najee while backing Will Holton. “ I asked Najee for his autograph and he said ‘you’ll get my autograph when I sign your check,‘” recalls Powell.

As the son of a singing mother and drumming father (Olivia Brown & Ambrose Powell Sr), music is in Powell’s blood. He picked up his first set of mallets at the ripe old age of two and by five was playing drums for the Soul Saving Revival Center in Buffalo, under the leadership of Pastor Alberta Robinson. He began competing in Guitar Center drum offs placing first regional three times, before meeting Will Holton at age 16, graduating to the club scene and the True Bethel Baptist Church.

The proud father of two daughters (Cadence & Madisen) Powell remains a Buffalo resident while traveling worldwide performing with the likes of Marsha Ambrosius, Eric Benet and Alex Bugnon among others, having also founded the Triinity Band. Powell’s events such as the annual Autumn Wave and Tuesday Night Live set a high standard for live musicianship in the nickel city.

“I love Daniel. He’s been with me now for seven years. He’s been very consistent and I’m glad to see that he’s expanding beyond playing drums because he’s quite smart,” says Najee.

With mutual respect Powell says, “It’s been an amazing adventure musically. Najee is one of the most generous people off stage and onstage. He’s not selfish and he has nothing to prove to anybody. He has a great caliber of musicians on the stage and he’s not afraid to share the wealth.”

In addition to the Tralf shows, Najee will be hosting a master class on Friday, June 15 from 4Pm-6Pm at The Buffalo Center for the Arts and Technology where he hopes to share some practical advice with up and comers.

“I find that the greatest joy I get in doing this is I remove the restrictions of finding what it is you’re trying to do and are able to do. Helping them understand that there’s no mystery to any of this, no secret formula and it’s really about developing your talent and finding a way to monetize your dream . Sometimes people run into mental obstacles in trying to reach their goal because they have circumstances in their life and they think it’s much harder than what it really is. So those things I really try addressing.”