RnR

Rick Braun

Rick Braun has enjoyed a career longevity that is rare in this business. He has crafted his own distinctive sound and become a staple on contemporary jazz radio. He has produced No. 1 hits for David Benoit, Marc Antoine, and former Rod Stewart band sidekick, Jeff Golub. Braun achieved collaborative success on massive hits with Boney James, as a member of RnR with saxophonist Richard Elliot, and with BWB, a powerhouse trio completed by Grammy® winners Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown. He has made a mark staying true to his own musical voice and eclectic influences that have allowed him to collaborate across genres with some of the biggest names in music, including Tina Turner, Tom Petty, Sade, Natalie Cole and REO Speedwagon.

Richard Elliot

Los Angeles-based saxophonist and composer Richard Elliot is widely considered one of the architects of urban contemporary jazz. After indulging his lifelong love of funk and R&B as a studio ace and spending five years as a member or Tower of Power, Elliot and his fat, reedy tone began braiding soul, funk, and hip-hop grooves with smooth jazz on his albums including 1986’s Trolltown. After signing to Blue Note in 1989, he issued a host of charting albums for the label including 1992’s On the Town, and 1997’s Jumpin’ Off. Elliot’s records helped to define the contemporary jazz radio format. During that period he also helped launch the annual franchised Guitars & Saxes tours. He continued developing his own accessible sound into the 21st century on two charting outings for GRP including 2001’s Crush and 2003’s Ricochet. 2005’s Metro Blue spent 42 weeks on the charts and peaked at number two, while his album with Trumpeter, Rick Braun on 2007’s RnR spent 47 weeks on the charts and peaked in the top slot on the Top 200. He was among the saxists (who also included Gerald Albright and Mindi Abair) to appear on Dave Koz and Friends‘ number one Summer Horns (it remained on the charts for more than eight months). Elliot followed with his own chart-topping, jazz-funk outing Summer Madness in 2016. He joined Koz and crew again for Summer Horns II: From A to Z and returned to solo work on 2021’s funky Authentic Life.

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Damien Escobar

Damien Escobar is a world renowned violinist, author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, hailing from Jamaica, Queens, New York. His musical career spans over a decade, and his inspiring journey of making it big, losing it all, fighting to rebuild, and getting a second chance at success is as much apart of his brand identity than being among the top violinist in the world.

The now NAACP Image Award nominee and Billboards chart topping artist, was once humbled by homelessness after calling it quits from his famed group, “Nuttin but Stringz.” The group, comprised of Damien and his brother, Tourie– known in NYC for playing their violins on the subway; gained global recognition when they appeared as contestants on “America’s Got Talent.” The competition helped to catapult the duo into stardom and they quickly experienced all the highs of being the most sought after musicians of their time. However, that glory was short-lived and the fall from grace was a hard hit, to say the very least; as the group disbanded and  a bruised Damien made the decision to retire his violin. What came next was a struggle– not only with his identity, and depression, but with finding success in other non-creative endeavors.

Looking back at his journey, Damien realizes it all  needed to fall apart so he could be forced to grow while putting it back together the right way. Prevailing was a process and it started with unburying his talent– his love of playing the violin. And in 2013 Damien released his first album as a solo artist, “Sensual Melodies.” Once thought of as a passion project, the album garnished over 200K downloads; landed on  the iTunes Top 100 chart; and served as a springboard for a successful national tour where he headlined, for the first time, as the one and only, Damien Escobar.

From there, doors that were once closed, became a little easier to push open; affording Damien opportunities to tell his inspiring story to publications like People Magazine and Huffington Post; make appearances on local and national news including “The Today Show”; serve as a guest on radio broadcasts;  and even accept invitations to perform at notable events such as Oprah Winfrey’s “The Life You Want” tour. Back in the spotlight, Damien decided this time around he would do more with his visibility and began his entrepreneurial walk by penning and self-publishing his very first children’s book, “The Sound of Strings”; building his very own line of custom designed violins; and establishing partnerships to develop a wine line, perfume and fragrances, and a non-profit organization that would include a music program for children.

Motivated by his past and grateful for his fans and future, Damien went on to release his second album, “Boundless.” Growing into a self-conscious artist with more than a mission to make good music, Damien sought to inspire change and spread positivity by sharing uplifting messages and telling unfiltered personal stories to sold-out arenas across the world during his second tour. Though he’s achieved more than he could have imagined after pulling himself up by his bootstraps and kick starting his solo career– Damien Escobar’s story isn’t over yet. The breakout artist has partnered with Mitsubishi and is now the face and sound of their latest campaign; he’s releasing new music and videos set to air on major broadcast channels; and, the world famous violinist, continues to build his brand centered around making an impact and inspiring social change. Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

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Tony Guerrero & Greg Vail

Tony Guerrero

Since his first solo release in 1988, Tony Guerrero has established himself in a variety of areas. His work as a contemporary jazz flugelhornist, trumpeter, composer, and producer has garnered him both critical success and a worldwide audience. He has toured the United States and much of the world as a headliner in major jazz festivals, concert halls, and clubs and has enjoyed commercial radio success not only with his own releases but with music he’s written for other artists. To date, he has released twelve solo CDs, some of which have charted on the Billboard Top 20, as well as a variety of special releases. He has appeared on around 200 albums as either producer, composer, arranger or as a musician performing on either trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, guitar and more. Guerrero’s work as a musician and composer can also be heard in movies and on television.

Guerrero’s resume reads like a who’s who of contemporary music. He’s worked with a diverse roster of artists, including jazz legends Freddie HubbardTom Scott and Joe Sample, rock icons Brian WilsonPaul McCartneySlash and Billy Idol, pop sensations Chance the RapperThe Jonas Bros and the quadruple-platinum soundtrack to Disney’s High School Musical, as well as Hollywood icons Dick Van DykeJane LynchMerv Griffin and more. (See below for details or visit his Resume for a complete list.)

 

Greg Vail

“Whether blowing a tenderly passionate soprano sax, firing up his exciting and playful alto, or edging into a more aggressive stance with his brilliant technique on tenor sax, Greg Vail is a show stopper nonpareil, and one of the most dynamic saxophone players on today’s instrumental scene.” – Jonathan Widran (National Jazz Author)

I’ve had the opportunity of working with some prolific names in the jazz, contemporary jazz, pop, and Christian music scenes over the last few decades as well as recording six solo instrumental CDs with a discography of 100’s of CDs in varied genres to date.

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Jazmin Ghent

Jazmin Ghent is one of the hottest national smooth jazz and gospel recording artists today.  She was voted “2017’s BEST NEW SMOOTH JAZZ ARTIST” and was awarded the prestigious “2019 NAACP IMAGE AWARD” for Outstanding Jazz Album “The Story of Jaz.”  Jazmin has 3 Billboard topping singles: “Work Wit It,” “Heat” and “Compared to What.”  Her most successful hit to date is “Heat” which remained on Billboard Smooth Jazz Airplay Charts for 20+ weeks and was played in rotation by most smooth jazz stations including Sirius XM Watercolors Channel for 7+ months. Jazmin has performed at various major festivals and venues throughout the country, in Europe and recently on the 2019 Dave Koz Cruise in Australia. In addition to performing, she teaches music in Polk County Florida to elementary students in grades K-5.

According to Art Good of Catalina Island’s JazzTrax festival, “…unknown Jazmin Ghent was one of the BEST FINDS the festival has EVER uncovered.  Obviously…she OUTSOLD all 30 stars of smooth jazz in the JazzTrax store, selling more CDs than anyone.  She had stage presence, a show and she could play!”

Jazmin received a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and a Master’s Degree from Tennessee State University.  Her latest CD, “The Story of Jaz” includes collaborations with Phillippe Saisse, Kim Scott, James Lloyd and Jeff Lorber.  The CD was recorded and produced by Ron Jenkins and Euge Groove at “The Groove House”.

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Erin Stevenson

Houston we have a problem cause this rocket’s finally ready to take off and change the atmosphere…which is exactly what she does every time she opens her mouth to pour out her heart through song.  Either she’ll win you over with her natural southern charm or her undeniable talent and infectious energy.

“One morning I woke up bored and tired of living a purposeless life.  I walked into my boss’s office while working for NASA and told him to fire me.  I laid my CD on his desk and told him to listen to it, and if he felt like I sucked I’d return to work the next day with a smile on my face…that evening I received my notice…the next day I was asked to tour with Janet Jackson.” But that’s not where her story begins. 

At the tender age of 10 she was a member of “Girls Tyme”, a prepubescent group of girls who later became Destiny’s Child.  Her first single reached to number 5 on the Billboard Dance Charts in 2006 and she’s had several songs featured in major films.

Erin has been blessed with many gifts including a sultry voice, electric dance moves, producing and songwriting, and the ability to deliver breathtaking performances with her feisty personality. This has led her to starring in her own right opening for or background singing for Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Duran Duran,Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Ciara, Rihanna, Yolanda Adams,

Jaime Foxx,…to humbly name a few.

Some have even dubbed her the hardest working undiscovered star, but undiscovered she’ll be no more.  While rehearsing and touring for other mega talents by day, Erin was brewing her own storm by night.

In 2017 Erin released her debut single entitled “Naked” and in 2018 her single “Hangin” made the top 10 on the UK charts and charted on the soul charts in the United States. Due to the demand to hear more, she’s finally figured it out and is ready to give the world all of her…starting with her single “MAKE IT LAST FOREVER” which was released on Valentine’s Day, which charted on the digital radio charts and indie radio charts, and her next single “Juicy” is set to be released on August 30th.  She effortlessly fuses a retro 80’s/90’s r&b sound, with current melodies, and infectious hooks.  Erin’s music is guaranteed to soar straight to your heart and infect your soul.

“I just want to sing, sing about something that matters, and have fun while doing it.  Here goes everything”…Erin

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Lalah Hathaway

…Ask her to describe her voice and she might say it feels like, sounds like, soul. But when it comes to defining the essence of music, itself, Lalah Hathaway can go on and on…

“Music is so textured and layered,” she says, “and it is an absolute entity in my life. It’s three-dimensional, it’s tangible, and when I die, I’ll say goodbye to it, just as I will to everyone standing around my bed.”

In the four years since she’s blessed the people with a set of songs, she’s been “working, writing music and living a very, simple life. Many people think that you’re just lounging between albums, but that time for me was about trying to find a place to land that will give you the opportunity to create something artful, something mindful,” Lalah notes.

With SELF PORTRAIT, (Stax Records/Concord Music Group), her fifth studio album, including the Joe Sample duet, and on which she co-wrote and co-produced, Hathaway is poised to express who she is, where she is, today, at this very moment. For starters, she is an artist, of course, but she’s also a devoted daughter, culture junkie and a good friend, even. But not necessarily in that order.

“This album is like a movie of my life over the last couple of years,” she says. “The portrait I see of myself is of a very confident, smart woman who is extremely funny, independently wealthy and well-traveled – all things that I am to a small degree., she laughs. “Every day, I realize that I’m walking toward the woman I’m going to be. She’s there. I can see her. ”

Leading the 12-song collection is “Let Go,” a dance-oriented, up-tempo number she produced with Rex Rideout and wrote alongside Rahsaan Patterson. And just as the title suggests, the song is about acknowledging and releasing whatever’s not working to make room for the next experience. “I’ve had to let go of quite a few things, quite a few situations and a couple of mindsets,” she admits about the origins of her first single. “Every so often, I have to remind myself to just let some stuff go – from people and relationships to an old pair of jeans.”

While it might seem that “On Your Own,” which re-teams her with Rideout and Patterson, is inspired by a past heartbreak, in fact, the idea for the song came to her in a dream. “My father was singing to me and telling me that I could make it on my own,” she reflects. Keeping in step with the theme of family, she journeys back to her childhood with “Little Girl,” which she co-produced with Rideout and penned with Patterson and Sandra St. Victor. When she reminisces about growing up under the watchful eye of her mother, she’s always felt the presence of her father in her life.

On “That Was Then,” which she produced with Rideout and written with St. Victor, Hathaway recalls her former self and how much she didn’t know way back then. “I called Sandra in Amsterdam on a Tuesday and said, ‘I don’t know what to write,'” she says. “She was there, helping me craft the melody, by Friday. She’s a baaad girl.” Closing out the album is the Hathaway-produced, “Tragic Inevitability,” a song that stands out for her because of its fluidity. “My friend told me that she got some love while listening to this song, which horrified me and made me happy at the same time,” she remembers. “The track was sent to me by two cats from Amsterdam, Wiboud Burkens and Manuel Hugas, whom I met with Sandra. I just wrote the words that came to me.” As she sings about the things that will no longer be, you might actually feel soothed because, after all, the only constant is change. Life is funny that way.

Born to Donny Hathaway, one of the most influential soul artists of the eighties, and Eulaulah Hathaway, an accomplished musician in her own right, the Chicago native first put pen to paper, “with the music,” as a 10th grader. Later, as a student at Berklee College of Music, she recorded her self-titled debut in 1990, which spawned the hits “Baby Don’t Cry,” “Heaven Only Knows” and “I’m Coming Back.” She returned four years later with A Moment, followed by the much-lauded The Song Lives On, her duet album with Joe Sample in 1999, the same year she began growing her now-signature, cinnamon-hued ‘locs. By 2004, she’d deliver her fourth album, Outrun the Sky, garnering Hathaway her first number one single, the Rex Rideout-produced cover of Luther Vandross’ Forever, For Always, For Love, which was also featured on the critically-acclaimed Vandross tribute album of the same name.

Although she has created a space for herself, it’s not surprising that Hathaway remains connected to her late, great father and his classic sound. “I am his daughter,” she says, softly, “and that’s the truth of who I am, every day. When I was 15, and then, 20, I didn’t get why people were asking me how I felt about him and his music. But when I turned 25, I began to understand. Like my father, I want to leave a legacy of music that makes people really feel something, whether it be happiness, sadness, grief or heartache. I also want them to appreciate my humor which I know can be difficult to interpret in a song.”

In the meantime and between album projects, Hathaway – who’s recorded collaborations with Marcus Miller, Meshell Ndegéocello and Mary J. Blige, among them – keeps her creativity nourished by taking to the global stage and contributing her voice to Daughters of Soul, a musical mélange founded by comrade, Sandra St. Victor, and featuring Nona Hendryx, Joyce Kennedy as well as Indira and Simone, daughters of Chaka Khan and Nina Simone, respectively.

So, how does she hope her latest offering will be received?

“I don’t necessarily need to fit into what’s happening now,” she says of today’s marketplace, “but I want to stand with it, on my own thing. I would really love it if people need the record. I put a lot of myself into this album, so I hope people can hear me and understand who I am.”

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Tower of Power

“We knew when we went into the studio, we were going to make the best record that we could make – the best album of our career. And we did. We took it to another level.” – Emilio Castillo

With a landmark 50th anniversary album, 2018’s Soul Side of Town, still visible in their rearview mirror, one would think Tower of Power (or TOP, as it is more often referred to by its global legion of fans), the much- lauded creators of their own horn-based, hybrid brand of East Bay soul/funk/R&B/rock, would take a well- deserved breather. But that is not in the band’s DNA, nor that of its founder and ringmaster, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Emilio Castillo.

Beginning with East Bay Grease, their 1970 album debut on legendary impresario Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records, the tireless unit has released 26 albums, been responsible for such classic hit tracks as “What Is Hip?,” “You’re Still a Young Man,” “So Very Hard To Go” and “Down To The Nightclub,” among so many others. TOP’s horn section, the heart of the band, have long been sought after sidemen, appearing on recordings by top artists ranging from Elton John, Aerosmith and Bonnie Raitt to Otis Redding, Santana and Heart. TOP paved the way for other high-powered brass rock/R&B hit artists of the 70s like Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Now, with their latest album release available on both on CD and LP, Step Up, the band forges on into the next decade of the 21st century, keeping to its continuous hardcore tour schedule (200 days a year!) and ongoing reinvigoration with the continual addition of new talent, most notably the phenomenal young lead vocalist, Marcus Scott, among many others. Marcus replaced TOP’s longtime lead singer, Ray Greene, who makes his final appearance with the band on Step UpAlso taking his bows on the new album is 30-year TOP veteran bassist Francis ‘

The new album came together in a somewhat unusual manner, Emilio says. In 2018, after spending a few years crafting a large body of new songs, TOP headed into the studio with Joe Vannelli, the GRAMMY®-nominated producer with a long string of R&B, jazz, rock and pop credits. Between the writing, arranging and recording, says Emilio, it was a long and careful process – six years in the making.

“We knew when we went into the studio, we had so much great material, much more than one album,” says Emilio. About halfway through recording, he continues, Artistry Music [an imprint under Mack Avenue Music Group], the band’s new label, “loved what they were hearing so much, they wanted to put all the material out on one album for the band’s 50th anniversary.

two great albums instead – Soul Side of Town for the anniversary and then Step Up for this year as we move forward.”

It’s been a long and sometimes bumpy road for Emilio and TOP, who says he feels fortunate to have found his calling in life and stuck with it, shepherding his ever-evolving band through the decades, keeping a dedicated fan base all the while.

In the early 60s, at a time when many kids were picking up electric guitars and listening to early rock and the British Invasion, Emilio was listening to R&B, jazz and blues. He asked his father to get him a saxophone instead and he never looked back.

“It was because of my father,” he says. “My dad was a bartender and he worked in joints that had bands with horn sections! I listened to ‘Harlem Nocturne,’ ‘Night Train,’ ‘Gigolo’ – songs like that were my early influences.”

Rocco’ Prestia, who is stepping back from life on the road and whose driving fingerstyle funk is

ably replaced on tour by Marc Van Wageningen.

“But we decided we were going to do the Michael Jackson thing,” Emilio laughs. “You know, where you record

way more than you need and pick the best 12. So, we ended up with

He started his first band when he was 14 and says he has always had a band ever since. “I’d be lost if it wasn’t for the band,” Emilio laughs. “I play sax, but my instrument is the band. My talent is to help great musicians bring their sensibilities together.” The sign of a great bandleader, he observes, is to “not hog anything for yourself. You want to bring people in, create unity.”

By the summer of 1968, Emilio had already played in several bands when he met Steven ‘Doc’ Kupka, the baritone sax player and songwriter whose soulful style and Bohemian personality have become a defining part of the band’s songwriting, image and sound.

“Doc was the first hippie I ever met,” Emilio laughs. “He’s an old-school guy, an old soul. He just thinks differently.” Along with longtime drummer Dave Garibaldi, the three form the consistent core of TOP.

From the band’s debut up to Step Up, the TOP sound remains true to Emilio’s original musical vision: reach inside the deep, multidimensional well of what is broadly called soul music and bring together all its diverse components in a singular, emotional sound. With the exception of a brief attempt in the late 70s to chase the disco trend, the band has stayed true to that aim.

“Our label at the time leaned on us and they gave us a ton of money,” he says ruefully. “But we learned a hard lesson. It wasn’t us and we never again tried to change our sound. We thought we could sound like other bands? No. TOP has its own sound and it’s a blessing not a curse.”

Since that time, many great players have come and gone through TOP’s ranks, including Lenny Williams, the band’s lead vocalist on its classic early 70s hits. Anchored by Doc Kupka’s baritone, the renowned Tower of Power Horn Section has long been considered by many the best in the business and features 1st tenor saxophonist Tom Politzer and trumpeters Adolfo Acosta and Sal Cracchiolo.

, who will soon celebrate 20 years with the group.

Through the years, TOP has always been difficult to slot into established music business genres: soul, funk, pop, rock. It incorporates all of those into its own unique and easily recognizable signature sound.

“I don’t think in terms of genres,” Emilio says. “But the rest of the world does. Originally, we were called a soul band. And we do make original soul music. Then, because of Garibaldi, people started saying we were one of the greatest funk bands in the world. But funk is only a small part of soul music.

“Soul music encompasses so much,” Emilio continues. “It has those great love ballads, the ones that put you through an emotional wringer. It has shuffles, medium-tempo love songs – so many different aspects and ways to express them. We’ve incorporated and interpreted them all in our own East Bay way.”

The bottom line for the band is wanting the audience to feel TOP music with both body and soul. “Basically, what we try to do with our music is to move you physically and emotionally,” he says. “When you go to our show, you should leave both sweaty and emotional!”

•••
Emilio Castillo comments on his choice tracks on TOP’s new album, Step Up:

Any Excuse Will Do – “Doc wrote this one with Lenny Pickett and Dave Eskridge did a fantastic job arranging. It’s up, it’s funky, it’s got really clever lyrics – that’s Doc – and it talks about all the various hatreds in the world. There’s just such tremendous musicality in this one throughout, especially at the ride-out.”

Addicted to You – “A medium tempo love song with lots of soul and those beautiful, expansive string and synth parts. Ray Greene handles the lead vocal nice and smooth. Old school.”

Who Would Have Thought? – “A confessional,” he laughs. “It’s about a guy who’s ‘fessing up to being the cause of the demise of his relationship. It’s really a different kind of track than TOP would normally do, but it works.”

The rhythm section is still powered by the original team of funkmasters: Garibaldi on drums and Francis ‘Rocco’

Prestia on bass, who have both been with the band since the debut album. Rounding out the 10-piece unit is

gifted guitarist Jerry Cortez (nearly a decade with TOP) and soulful keyboardist/Hammond B3 specialist, Roger

Smith

Step Up – “Just a super funky track. Pure TOP, the band is kicking and it makes you move. It’s got a killer B3 solo by Roger Smith and some fantastic guitar work by Jerry Cortez takes you out.”

The Story of You and I – “Again, Doc is just such a great lyricist. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about him. The lyrics on this one are so heartfelt and real – reminds me of Ray Charles, lyrically just not rhythmically.”

Tower of Power · Step UpArtistry Music · Release Date: March 20, 2020

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