Jazz saxophonist j.dee is one man you do not want to refer to as funky. He will also object if you say his music is smooth. So what is it with this cat from LA anyway? The sax man who is better known for his production and songwriting skills will tell you that his music is tippin’ on the edge of funk, and that just happens to be the name of his current CD.
"What I wanted to try and do is to be a little funkier than the mainstream smooth jazz artists are, but still be smooth jazz. I thought I would come up with a track that sounds kind of funky, with a funky melody, but still has the jazz overtones to it, that underline the little nuances that keep it in the jazz idiom," says j.dee in talking about the title track, "Tippin’ On The Edge of Funk."
The affable j.dee came up with six or seven melodies for the song, "Tippin’ On The Edge Of Funk," before settling on the one that appears on his CD. He says, "This one that is on the record, came the closest to tippin’ on the edge of funk. It was like, I am right here on the edge of funk, but I am not all the way into funk. That is what I wanted to call the record."
"There are a couple of other songs that are tippin’ on the edge of funk (including) "Yah Dah," which is funky, and "Jah Jah Can," which has its own funkiness going on. Definitely "Slo Yo Roll" has a funky kind of ride to it," he concludes.
The CD has much more, however to offer the listener than just music tippin’ on the edge of funk. "Once you start listening to the project, there are a variety of styles and moods that you are placed into during the course of the project. It has something for everybody. There is a song on the record called, "A Black Tie Affair," which is more of an orchestral production. It has strings and French horns. That is for the person who is more into classical, but it still has a jazz kind of thing to it. It (the CD) has the Jamaican thing in "Jah Jah Can," "Esta Noche" is a sultry smooth Spanish song, (with) a more urban type thing. The CD even has "Wednesday On The West Side," that I didn’t want to do at first (he laughs). It is more of an old school disco song," says j.dee.
Still laughing about the inclusion of "Wednesday On The West Side," j.dee explains how the song made its way onto Tippin’ On The Edge Of Funk, "I was putting together four or five tracks for a workout tape to be used around the house, when some friends heard it. They told me I needed to put a melody on it."
"The song, "Smooth Mellow Nights" is there for people who want to have a romantic candle light dinner. It was two or three in the morning, when I put that track together, and it was just so quiet and peaceful. I didn’t want to have a full drum section in this. I didn’t want a kick drum or snare, I just wanted the high-hats from the drum set. I have some strings and a bass going on," he says in discussing the project that took two years to create and was temporarily derailed when he developed carpel tunnel syndrome, which eventually resulted in surgery.
One is left with the feeling that j.dee had fun working on Tippin’ On The Edge Of Funk, and that is what he wants the listener to experience while the Latin beats of "Esta Noche" unfold. The song sounds like how you might imagine Carlos Santana would approach the music if his instrument of choice were the saxophone instead of the guitar.
A cover of Michael Franks’ "Rainy Night In Tokyo" also appears on the CD. "I wanted to put an urban rhythm to it and still keep it smooth. It was a little tricky getting it done, but we did accomplish that. It turned out to be a really good song. I really like Michael Franks. He has the ability to put people out of their everyday hustle and bustle, and into a tranquil state. It is really amazing," says j.dee.
j.dee also reached back to Motown to do a cover of the Smokey Robinson tune "Quiet Storm."
Instead of hand played percussion j.dee opted for programmed beats for the project and that decision was not motivated by finances. He explains, "I felt these songs needed to be programmed to capture more of a radio ear, not just in the jazz idiom, but in the R&B (genre) as well, because they hear what is out there now, which is programmed material. I could have called up several guys to come and play live tracks for me. For the next record, I do have some songs that are going to require live players."
Tippin’ On The Edge Of Funk, also features some very good vocal performances, Claude J. Woods Jr. provides background vocals on several of the songs. The real treat however is reserved for "Love’s Gonna Getcha," which features vocalists Dionne Knighton and Latesha Thierry. The three singers were part of a group known as Fourever (the fourth being Richard Figueroa) that j.dee had previously worked with while wearing his producer’s hat. Woods Jr. is now singing with the Earth, Wind & Fire All Stars. The three vocalists also appeared on a Grover Washington Jr. record that j.dee produced.
The production of Tippin’ On The Edge Of Funk and the songwriting afforded j.dee an opportunity to work with his brother teddy b. "Once you get a brother who is your best friend, it is a piece of cake working with him. You never have arguments. I focus more towards the creative aspects, and he focuses more towards the business aspects, but we (stay involved in) the creative, and we both (stay involved in) the business. I think that is what makes our team work (so well), it is always give and take. It is never, ‘We are not going to do this, or you stay over there.’ It’s not going to happen. First and foremost, we weren’t brought up that way. There were six of us that started out in a small house in south central (Los Angeles), and we were forced to all live in one bedroom, so you become bonded," says j.dee.
Two people in the record industry were instrumental in fanning the creative flames for j.dee and his brother, the first was George Butler of Columbia Records, who introduced the brothers to Grover Washington Jr. They worked with Washington Jr. on a couple of projects including the CD Next Exit.
Next j.dee hooked up with David Chackler the president of Avenue Records. "We did some work for War ("Why Can’t We Be Friends"). Chackler also arranged for j.dee and teddy b. to write some music for the Orion film Original Gangsters.
"Consequently I bought myself another horn, and started making noise on it. Next thing that I knew I had a project on my hands. I looked for a place to put it. David (Chackler) said, ‘Bring it on over, I have a smooth jazz label, let’s do it."
He may describe himself as only having one toe in the funkier waters, but j.dee is one cat who knows how to lay down a good groove.