A year to the day since the untimely death of Michael Jackson, contemporary jazz writer, producer and keyboard player Bob Baldwin mounted his own tribute to the great man. Out on the Trippin' N Rhythm label, his CD ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ is the first jazz record to pay homage to Jackson. It speaks directly to the sentiment felt by millions of fans worldwide and when recently I spoke to Bob from his home in Westchester County, NY I first asked him what had motivated him to compile this stunning anthology.
"The idea was already there" Bob told me. "I had featured several Jackson songs before. In fact ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ was the opening number from my 2000 album ‘BobBaldwin.com’ and, irrespective of Michael’s death I had always wanted to use my music to honor him. The material was already in place and the blueprints were in my head. Two weeks after the sad news was announced I began work on the project."
I mentioned to Bob I had read somewhere that the collection was conceived with the full blessing of the Jackson estate and he confirmed this was indeed the case. "Although I had been working on ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ since July 2009, it wasn’t until February 2010 that an approach to the Jackson estate was made. We shared four of the cuts with them and two weeks later permission was given to go ahead. Those guys really fast-tracked us because at the time there was a huge list of requests to produce Jackson themed records, DVD’s and books."
When I speculated that it must have been difficult to know which Jackson songs to include, Bob confirmed that he could have used double the number he finally arrived at. "It was really tough" Bob said. "I wanted to go back to Michael’s early stuff, his Jackson 5 days, but wanted to feature something from the Quincy Jones era too. There is just so much great music out there. For example the Rod Temperton composition ‘Lady In My Life’, that guy is such a wonderful writer. I also loved Gamble and Huff’s ‘Let Me Show You’ and I worked with the tunes to kind of give them a ‘live’ feel."
Commenting on the featured artists Bob had assembled for the project I wondered how these collaborations had come about. Bob explained that guitarist Chuck Loeb had played on his 2000 take of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and for this new recording Bob simply mixed in Loeb’s original work. Another guitarist, Steve Oliver (who delivers a great guitar solo on ‘This Girl Is Mine’), was someone with whom Bob had recently performed. "I worked with Steve on a show with Gerald Veasley then played with him at the Pizza Express in London along with Michael Lington. That gig was in September 2009 and it’s funny because I was also in London that year, in June, at the Jazz Café with Jocelyn Brown. That had been the first time I had been there since 1992. I had written the track ‘She’ for Will Downing’s album ‘A Dream Fulfilled’ and I was with him on tour in the UK.
I was also intrigued by the contribution of guitarist (and Special EFX founder member) Cheilli Minucci. "Earlier in the year" Bob explained "Chielli and I did a Jazz For Haiti fundraiser show in Newark, NJ and we have worked together on several occasions. Just last week we were together at Joe’s Pub in New York City for my New Urban Jazz Party. Gabriela Anders was also there with us. I have been a huge fan of hers since I heard her 1998 debut, the Paul Brown produced ‘Wanting’, and it is always a blast to perform with her.
Bob’s whole concept of New Urban Jazz interested me. Not only is ‘NewUrbanJazz.com’ the name of his excellent 2008 CD, New Urban Jazz Lounge is also the name of Bob’s syndicated radio show that is doing fabulous work in restoring choice and variety to contemporary jazz programming. I asked him where the idea had originated.
Bob explained that "when ‘NewUrbanJazz.com’ was about to be released, smooth jazz radio was going through a difficult time. When CD101 folded in New York it seemed unbelievable but within weeks stations all over the country were switching formats. It seemed to me that what listeners really wanted was a return to the fusion of electric jazz, R & B and Latin music that still epitomized the very best of contemporary jazz. That’s where I wanted to go with ‘NewUrbanJazz.com’ and that’s where I am both with the radio show and my live performances. Within the genre, that soulful, R & B edge is a key differentiator. It is what is turning people back on to smooth jazz."
With Bob newly signed to Trippin' N Rhythm I surmised what might be coming next. "The whole Trippin' N Rhythm thing seems a very good fit. It’s a label with vision and I’m currently working on ideas for a new album, kind of a ‘NewUrbanJazz.com-part 2’ that I would expect to be out sometime in 2011. I’m expecting it to be a mix of original compositions and a few cover versions done in that special ‘Bob Baldwin’ way."
I commented on that special ‘Bob Baldwin’ way and how the covers he has produced have always added something exciting and different to the original. He said it was always a buzz when artists told him they had enjoyed what he had done with their music. "When I included ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ on my 2002 release, ‘Standing Tall’, Roy Ayers was really knocked out and I got a similar reaction from Jocelyn Brown for ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’.
That track can be found on the ‘NewUrbanJazz.com’ disc and as we look forward to more great music from Bob Baldwin we can luxuriate in the magic of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’. Served up in true Baldwin style, this sterling compilation of handpicked Jackson classics should serve as both a stirring and fitting mark of respect to the man whose influence is still felt across the width and breadth of the musical spectrum.