This year marks a refresh start, a rebirth if you will, for Gospel Jazz artist, Harold Rayford. Not only did he release a brand new album, I Am the Instrument, but now his music is beginning to catch the attention of those outside of his core fans.
The youngest of five children, Rayford was raised in a Christian household where God, church and gospel music reigned supreme. Influenced by two of the older siblings, young Harold took an early interest in music. Little did he know that this interest in music would soon become an integral part of his ministry.
When Harold Met the Saxophone
Rayford’s union with the saxophone came in the sixth grade when he joined the school band and chose the saxophone over the trumpet. After he picked out his shiny new saxophone, he carried it to church the next day and sat proudly with the musicians, even though he could barely play a note and didn’t have a clue as to how to put it together.
He continued to grow as a musician, playing in the school band and at church, however, he didn’t really connect with the saxophone and play with the passion and fervor he is known for today until he was a teenager. He says, "Music was just something I did casually for the first three years I played the saxophone. I really loved playing football and was pretty talented. I thought I was going to be a football star. So by the time I reached the eighth grade I had made up my mind that I was going to stop playing the saxophone and devote myself totally to football and track. But as fate would have it, I broke my leg playing football, ending that dream. That injury was God’s way of redirecting me back to where he wanted me to be, music."
This injury changed the course of Harold’s life and soon he began to devote his attention to his burgeoning music career.
Like many of today’s great music talents, Rayford developed and honed his skills in the church. Soon after, a new genre of music began to develop that would take Harold’s music from his Ft. Worth, Texas church to the rest of the world.
Blending the encouraging messages and powerful emotion of gospel with the unique musical stylings of jazz, Gospel Jazz began to catch the ear of audiences worldwide. Pioneered by many great vocalist and musicians including Ben Tankard and Take 6, Rayford found a perfect home in this emerging style of music. As the popularity and demand for this music continued to flourish, Harold knew that it was important to distinguish himself from the many artists that were on the scene. Drawing upon his early childhood influences of great gospel music, he chose to set himself apart from the others by focusing on the source of his talent… God.
, "Many times when you listen to Gospel Jazz artists, they kind of lean towards Jazz but my style leans more towards Gospel. My music is a praise unto God. So when I go into a recording studio or approach a song, it’s as though I’m playing it directly to God. And I only play songs that minister to me. If it doesn’t inspire me, I won’t play it. If it doesn’t encourage me, I won’t record it because if it doesn’t minister to me, it certainly won’t inspire others. It is important that I please God with my music. That’s the most important thing to me when I approach a song. Therefore, my music is unquestionably Gospel Jazz."
Even without a record deal, God remained the driving force by Harold’s musical creation. Then one day, God blessed him with a tremendous opportunity. According to Rayford, the members of his home church, Chosen Vessel, got together and raised $2,500. This money was used to record his first full project, Young, Gifted and Saved. This first album led to even more projects which eventually caught the attention gospel music powerhouse, Tyscot Records, who signed Rayford as their first jazz artist in 1994.
I Am the Instrument
After being nominated for his first Dove Award in 2007, Harold wanted to make sure that his latest release surpassed his critically acclaimed Always There double CD. Although, I Am the Instrument marks the fifth CD for the gospel jazz veteran, this is the first time that Rayford has ever recorded an album in a live setting. "I decided to do a live recording because I have found that I play differently live juxtaposed to how I play in a studio setting," said Rayford, " The most memorable songs performed in the studio, were uninterrupted studio sessions.
Filled with a mixture of originals and covers, I Am the Instrument, is a giant musical leap for longtime fans of his music. Listeners are given more of glimpse into Harold gifts as a composer on this more so than other previous. The very personal piece, "Every Night My Father Prays" is a great example of Harold’s growth as a musician. The song has even gained attention from secular jazz world with www.smoothjazz.com recently adding the song to its rotation.
With the help of up-and-coming producer, Jeffery Thomas II and songwriters Bishop Leonard Scott and Antoine Chambers, I Am an Instrument showcases Harold diverse musical influences while strongly paying homage to his traditional gospel roots. Songs like Down Through the Years and Hymn Medley wonderfully reflect Rayford’s childhood exposure to early gospel. His love of praise is felt through his fresh arrangements of neo-classic worship tunes like "How Great Is Our God" and "Alpha and Omega". Harold shows a welcomed edginess and experimental side of his musical personality in "Ummm" and "Ummm Reprise" which also features his son, rapper Jeff Ray.
The 16-track CD also features Harold’s rendition of the mega-hit, "Never Would Have Made It" which still causes an undeniable rush of emotions with every play.
This year brought another "first" into Harold’s life. He became an official endorser for Cannonball Musical Instruments. Along with legendary jazz greats like Gerald Albright, Brandford Marsalis and Najee, Harold will endorse the company’s saxophones.
Even in the midst of all of this excitement, Harold still finds a way to maintain balance between his everyday roles as a family man and new head pastor of the Faith, Hope, and Love Worship Center and a recording artist.
This time around, he plans to tour extensively to ensure that the world is exposed to his recent masterpiece, I Am the Instrument. He has already been approached by some major gospel artists to accompany them on future tour and he is planning one of his own that will solely focus on gospel jazz.
Even with all of this excitement, Rayford still remains true to his original purpose of making music, "I am to God what my saxophone is to me, I’m just an instrument." Based on his latest release, Harold is letting God use him in a mighty way.