Atlanta, Georgia might be known for being the home of the major league baseball team, The Braves, but bravery does not only run in the veins of the city’s sports teams. It is also found in Atlanta's denizen, Dee Lucas, who began playing the saxophone at the ripe age of 28 and bravely took steps to be active in contemporary smooth jazz music. He highlights, "I am considered a self-taught musician. Once I purchased my first sax at the age 28, I began to seek private instructors, which never panned out for various reasons. The private instructors that I REALLY wanted to study from, had very busy schedules due to their popularity."
He recalls, "As for my parents, they were very supportive of the endeavors I wanted to pursue. However, they strongly urged me to decide on either sports or band due to their busy work schedules, so I chose the popular choice - sports."
In this way, Dee Lucas’ life paralleled smooth jazz saxophonist Tim Cunningham who also pursued a livelihood playing sports in his college years, but was put back on track to playing music later on in life. Lucas maintained an attachment to music as he says endearly, "I always had a love affair for the instrument when I was a kid. However, I opted to focus on sports. When I finally decided to play the sax, it was a defining moment in my life where I had plenty of personal downtime to start planning what I wanted to start building for the rest of my life. It is the only instrument I’ve learned thus far."
A quality which he shares with Cunningham is that soul-deep attachment to the saxophone, and like Cunningham, Lucas was influenced by jazz musicians played on the radio as he confirms, "Yes, I was heavily influenced by radio and George Howard was one of MANY artists who motivated me to gravitate to smooth jazz."
Atlanta’s local jazz clubs also influenced Lucas as he exposes, "Growing up, my desire came from watching nationally-known artists such as Grover Washington, Jr., George Howard, Ronnie Laws, and David Sanborn. When I moved to Atlanta and started venturing to various jazz clubs, it was then that local musicians started to fuel my hunger to play."
"Back in the day," he reminisces, "early 90s, the jazz spots were Topaz, The A Train, Mr. V’s on Peachtree, Morgan Supper Club, Yin Yang Café, and Café 290, which are both still open to this day."
Lucas got his start as a professional saxophonist by playing in a local band. He recounts, "After I started learning how to play the horn, my break came when I was asked to join a local band in Atlanta. This gave me an opportunity to perform in a live setting as well as studio recordings."
He began dreaming big about the music he played. "I want my music to touch people in every facet of their life. Whether they are feeling frustrated or happy, I want the music to inspire them. I want a person who listens to my music to understand and respect what I’m saying without verbally having to say it."
Once he set his goal to have a large impact on people’s lives with his music like the way his heroes such as George Howard and Grover Washington, Jr. had done, he knew the only way to do it would be to become a solo artist. "I decided to become a solo artist because I felt the need to touch people concerning all aspects of life. Throughout my life, I’ve somewhat been considered a ‘voice of reason’ among my friends and family. So I figured if I have that type of affect on people I know, then maybe I could possibly make a positive impact on people worldwide who may be going through the same things in life."
His debut album Remembrance was a tribute to jazz great George Howard. "I would never recommend performing a tribute recording as your debut CD," he asserts, "talk about pressure. Anyway, my reason for Remembrance was to celebrate the music of George Howard who played an influential role in my desire to play sax. I had noticed there was very little radio airplay on George after his death and I felt he deserved to be played on radio stations. So, I decided my first recording project would be a tribute to someone who rightly deserved it."
He stipulates, "In terms of the mood of the CD, I wanted to capture a collection of compositions that were defining moments for George but also include songs that were obscure to both the audience and radio. The idea was to stimulate listeners to go back and invest in George’s music, which they may have missed during the era when he was with us. With all of that said, there was a lot of pressure in making this record. Here I am a first-time artist paying tribute to a world-renowned artist. I understood that whatever came out of this project, both positive and negative, I had to live with for LONG time. When all is said and done, I’m very pleased with the outcome of the CD."
He expresses that he prefers the give and take exchange that transpires while working in a collaborative environment, and did so for the recording of Remembrance. "I’ve always preferred to write from a collaborative effort. I choose this path because it allows me to work with other talented writers or producers who can both contribute and embellish on what I’m trying to say. My writing approach has always started from a melodic standpoint based on a particular mood. So, it is only logical for me to bring someone in who is strong enough to add the right chords, to add the final colors to the painting."
He cites, "I collaborated with my keyboardist Karey Davis who is a fine producer and player. We worked together on arrangements and setting the moods for each composition, but he did the production of the project."
He provides, "There was no tour involved" after Remembrance was released. "However, there were several spot dates in the Southeast region. My band consisted of a cast of various talented Atlanta-based musicians who have performed all over the world. Some of the musicians were bassist Joel Powell (India Arie), bassist Jon Roberts (TLC, Tony Rich, Patti Austin), guitarist Fletcher Dozier (Speech and Arrested Development), guitarist Vic Smiley (Levert), drummer Terrell Sass, and keyboardist Karey Davis. My band was and is still comprised of musicians who are very supportive of the music. Also, I tend to pick musicians who leave their egos checked at the door."
For Lucas’ second album Something To Ride 2, the songs were original works designed to captivate audiences. He describes about the recording, "I wanted to put together a ‘feel good’ record that anyone, young or old, could listen to. I wanted to project a vibe that would allow the listener to pop the CD in their CD player and just ride."
He reveals about the song "Bayou" from the album, "This record was presented to me by co-writer and guitarist Vic Smiley. It was perfect. We did very little to alter the arrangements. The collaborative effort came in on the ‘how and where’ to double the sax voicing with guitar. The deciding factor for me was to determine how much sax should I embellish in between the gaps. The rhythmic pulse is so strong from the other instrumentation, overplaying would have destroyed this record in my opinion. So, I took the Mile Davis approach - less is more. This record has a great vibe."
Both records were released by his label Mo Better Recordings as he declares, "Actually, I discovered Mo Better Recordings. The label is my personal business venture to catalog all of my musical endeavors. Right now, it is still in the growing stages."
Presently, Lucas has a succession of club dates and jazz festivals on his agenda and explains about being a live performer, "I tend to focus on delivering the music as captivating as possible. Talking to the audience during a performance is always a positive step in the right direction. Every audience is different, but every audience wants to feel connected," he perceives.
When it comes to the choice between playing intimate clubs or large festivals Lucas admits, "I truly like both environments because both require similar and different disciplines. However, I tend to gravitate towards jazz festivals. There is a certain feeling while playing at a festival that a small jazz club doesn’t capture. Playing outside to an audience allows me to stretch musically. And yes, jazz festivals also allow us to fraternize with other talented artists. Sometimes, festivals are the only places where we, musicians finally do see each other due to busy schedules, etc."
Jazz festivals are unique in that both major label and indie artists perform on the same stage. As an independent artist, Dee Lucas points out that the biggest challenge he faces is marketing his music. "I think the biggest challenge is the lack of having a sizeable promotional budget to truly market myself. Without that, all of the other pieces such as radio airplay and performance opportunities become more challenging and require very creative marketing to stay in the mix of a competitive industry."
He earnestly praises, "I’m very appreciative of the stations that have gotten behind my music, because they could very well be playing someone else’s music that deserves to be heard as well."
But remarks, "I think the format of a majority of the contemporary jazz radio stations is becoming more and more narrow in terms of what’s being heard. It’s not to say that it’s not good music or anything of that nature, but I’m not hearing a variety of contemporary jazz music. It’s almost as if there are restrictions on the music required for airplay. I no longer hear the progressive styles. Now, it’s less solos and more hooks. As a result, this leads to all the music you hear sounding the same."
"With that said," he adduces, "I think radio in general could do a much better job in promoting more indie artists even if the minimum efforts were to create a 2-hour specialty show for indie and/or local artists. However, at the same time, I feel radio should continue to maintain a certain standard, requiring any music for airplay be of quality, sonically. There are some smooth jazz stations that are beginning to reach out and pay attention to some well-deserved indie artists. But, all in all, I think most of the commercial jazz radio stations could step up the awareness and level the playing field just a bit more."
Like many musicians in Dee Lucas’ position, he has tapped into the market of Internet radio stations and comments, "The Internet for the music industry is the best thing that has happened in a long time. It truly gives me an avenue to promote my music faster around the world than any other vehicle I know. Thanks to Internet radio stations, I now have the great fortune to promote and distribute my music as well as creating new fan bases."
Dee Lucas is an artist who dreams big and luckily his home is also the home of The Braves so he is acquainted with having the courage of his conviction. Lucas is savoring every moment of his journey and although he looks forward to making it big, he realizes that every step he takes is a necessary part to becoming a jazz musician that has a positive impact on people’s lives inspiring hope and optimism