The innovative brothers captured the attention of classic diva, Chaka Khan, whom requested they tour with her.
Nominated for a Grammy, Najee’s Theme, released in 1986, went platinum before Najee began a U.S. tour with Freddie Jackson, in 1987
Day By Day went platinum in 1988.
Tokyo Blue and Just An Illusion went gold before Share My World, recorded in 1994
A continued succession of hits followed: Najee Plays Sons from the Key of Life: A Tribute to Stevie Wonder. Morning Tenderness, hit number one on the jazz charts in 1998.
Yet, with all the magic he brings to the world of music, Najee is warm, welcoming and down to earth-just like the songs he plays.
JazzReview: You are a musical icon. To be known around the world simply by your first name, indicates your one-of-a-kind stature. You’ve been busy touring?
Najee: Yes, and now I’ll be touring to support this record. But this year, I’ve been doing kind of like-spot dates, about two dates a month, on average.
JazzReview: I understand you have been doing some touring with Prince. He actually called you and said, "Come on."
Najee: That’s right. It’s strange how it happened and I love telling this story.
Somebody called me and said, "Najee, Prince wants to talk with you." I said, "Okay." He said, "I’ll call you back." Then he hangs up-click-just like that. About an hour later, the phone rings. It’s the same guy. He said, "Prince wants to talk with you. He’s on the line." I said, "okay." Prince gets on the line and says, "Hey man, what’s up?" (Stunned), I said, " Man, I don’t know. What’s up?" He said, "Listen, when are you and I getting together?"
I’m thinking-I don’t know what that meant. So, I say, "I don’t know. You tell me." He said, "Well why don’t you come out now, to Minneapolis?" I said, "I can’t come out now." "When can you come out?" he said. I said, "I don’t know-a couple of days."
He calls back, about two hours later with plans from the travel agenda, and I ended up going out for three or four days for jam sessions. Then he asked me to join the band.
JazzReview: Wow, that’s incredible. Right out of the clear blue sky! So he’s had his eye on you for a while to want to do that. That’s quite an honor.
Najee: He loves saxophone players, as you know. Candy Dulfer has been with him for a very long time. Maceo (Parker) has been with him for a long time.
JazzReview: To be chosen like that is pretty special. To be known around the world by your first name is also pretty special. That sets you apart. You have a style all your own, yet you’re not repetitive. You haven’t fallen into the trap of a pattern in your CDs, making them all sound the same. Your distinct style: is it the instrument or is it the player?
Najee: I think it’s probably the desire more than anything. I mean, your character is going to be what it is no matter what you play. On each album I try to take somewhat of a twist in direction so that the core audience-people who have followed me for the last 16-17 years, will know it’s me.
JazzReview: You are a pioneer. You set the standard for what is known as smooth, cool, urban jazz-back in the day, during the 80s. You open doors for the newer players. When you came out, you started on the charts-seemingly as soon as your CDs were released.
Najee: I really can’t take that credit. I was very fortunate with the timing. At that time, Grover (Washington) and Bob James and so many others were re-defining jazz, as we understood it, during the late 70s. And, in the middle 80s there was a re-birth of that, if you will. I was at the ground floor, along with many others, such as Kenny (G) and Sade. From those good people, it was already established. And from that, it just started building back up.
JazzReview: Let’s talk about your new album, My Point Of View. How did this come about? Whose idea was it?
Najee: Ahh, you know, I signed with Heads Up and I wanted to do an album that was this is kind of starting over for me. My last few albums did okay for my level. We’ve had bigger successes, but this album is representative of my point in the industry--as an artist, where I stand with my own particular voice, in the industry.
I’m not trying to be anybody else. I’m not trying to do what anyone else has done. I think there’s a formula there that I’ve developed over the years, as an artist. But, if I had to put it in a nutshell, it’s My Point of View, you know? It’s my own formula, if you will.
JazzReview: These songs are mostly originals, correct? They were written by you and James Lloyd, as co-writer?
Najee: Yes. James is one of the founding members of Pieces Of a Dream. Plus, Chris-we call him Big Dog-Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis, who’s played with Brian McKnight, and Dave Koz,--he contributed five songs as a writer. My brother, Fareed, also produced one track on there. And Sisaundra, who sang with Celine Dion and Pebo Bryson. She co-wrote a song on there; As well as Rex Rideout. I kind of went around a little bit and found the people I thought would work for this project.
JazzReview: That was part of the next question. Will Downing, Jr., is known for his sexy, sultry voice. But you have newcomers here-Lomon Andrews and a lady-Sisaundra. How did you come to know these talents and how did you choose them for this work?
Najee: Well, with Lomon, I was in Waterbury, Connecticut working with Chris Davis. Chris came by the session and played the song he had written for Lomon. So I said, "Lets call him, wake him up and get him working, right now!" He became so excited at the possibility of doing it; I thought he did a beautiful job.
Sisaundra is someone from the Orlando Florida area. She does a lot of work here in Orlando, playing Universal and Disney. She sang background with Celine Dion for a few years. She’s a wonderful talent. She and her husband wrote this song that I just put on the record.
JazzReview: She did very nice work on the tune Emotional. I would like to ask you about Rex Rideout. Now, how did you choose him?
Najee: I’ve known Rex for many years. But, I’ve never worked with him. This is my first opportunity.
During the Christmas season last year, Will Downing was doing an in-studio video--DVD, a Christmas performance of an album he recorded and I played flute on. So he brought in all the people who worked on that album. At that point, Rex and I said we need to finally work together. We had known each other too long not to work together.
JazzReview: Great. Rex is also a one-of-a-kind person. Please tell me about Fareed. He’s been a big part of your music career.
Najee: Well, he’s my brother. As kids, we started out playing in the little bands in New York City--as an after school thing. That evolved into finally making money, at the age of 16, playing in the little community centers and the parks around the village. He was a guitar player originally. He toured with Chaka Khan, and I toured with Chaka in the mid 80s for the Ain’t Nobody tour. Then, we toured with Jeffrey Osborn.
After that, he just decided he wasn’t cut out for road life that way. So he decided to go into producing. He began by producing one of Patti LaBelle’s records. Then he produced some of my bigger albums, like Tokyo Blue and Day By Day. He was part of all that. He still does some production. But, mostly he handles the management company we have together now.
JazzReview: Let’s talk a little more about this track, "Emotional." You have Nathaniel ‘Crocket’ Wilkie on keyboard, Alvin White on guitar and Rohan Reid on bass, with Greg Phillips on drums. How did you decide on these artists?
Najee: Alvin White, Rohan Reid, and Nathaniel Wilkie are currently in my band right now. Nathaniel was the keyboard player with Patti LaBelle for about 21 years. He finally left her group and went on the road with me. Rohan use to play bass with Maxi Priest and even plays with Steven Seagal-the actor. Steve’s really into Reggae music, so he hires people like Rohan and folks from Jamaica.
Then we have Greg Phillips, who was one of the original members of Starpoint, the group from the 80s. He played drums with me for quite some time. So we hired him in for this particular recording session.
JazzReview: And, this album closes with you on soprano sax for "Miyuki", with keyboardist Khalil Parker and very special bassist, Dre Boogie Edwards. And, your son, Superb, actually co-produced this track?
Najee: Yes. It’s actually a song he came up with and he got some of his partners to record it. I just put the melody down on it.
JazzReview: How did it feel to actually be working with your son?
Najee: (with a chuckle) You know, it’s funny because he comes out of the rap culture-an entirely different mind set. He’s working with a famous rap artist called Bone Crusher. I didn’t know how it would work, but I asked him, "Why don’t you come up with something for me." I didn’t know he would actually come up with something that would work for me.
JazzReview: That was really taking a leap of faith. That track turned out very good. The choice of artists and the melody worked together. What was your son’s feedback after the production of the CD?
Did he say, "That’s nice but I’m out of here?" Or, maybe, "I’ll try that again?"
Najee: He really appreciated the opportunity. He was grateful. For him, it was like a tribute to my father, type thing, you know. For years he’s told me what he does and I’m like ‘Yeah, okay.’ Then he called me to say he got a royalty check. When he told me how much it was, I said, "Now, THAT’s a royalty check." I had to take him seriously then.
JazzReview: During your career, you performed at Nelson Mandela’s birthday celebration in South Africa. And, you’ve played as special guest to President Clinton at the White House, honoring President Jerry Rawlings of the Republic of Ghana. You have also played with Quincy Jones, Patti Labelle and Lionel Richie.
Do you have a moment that was a highlight during all this stardom-a moment that stands out, that changed you?
Najee: Yeah, all of those! They were all hallmark experiences for me because I guess, in some ways, I’m still star-struck with people you see on TV all the time. Being in their company and being respected as a great artist is just a great blessing to me.
I remember being invited to the White House to perform during the second inauguration of President Clinton. I’m standing on stage performing with Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder and, all those big guys. Here I am standing up there performing with my alto saxophone. It was wonderful.
Quincy Jones-I’ve had the pleasure of performing with him three times; twice at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. And, once in the Bahamas, at the opening of Atlantis, I was part of the orchestra for that.
Then in 1998, (I think), performing for Mr. Mandela, in South Africa, I was invited as one of the guests in the delegation. I ended up having the pleasure of sitting in his home and having lunch with him. The man was just so natural. He didn’t make you feel as if he was such a giant of a man. He was very easy to be around and was very gracious.
He had a very nice sense of humor. And, he didn’t give off the feeling that he was bitter about anything. He looked at it as being a major part of history and moving the world.
JazzReview: He’s truly a hero.
Najee: He is!
JazzReview: So after all this, do you still have moments when you get weak in the knees, or butterflies in your stomach before performing-or wonder, what am I doing up here? Maybe I should just go home and call in sick?
Najee: I don’t get quite that way, but I do get those moments. I think playing at the White House-to be the first of my family to enter the doors of the White House and be invited on behalf of the president at that time, was quite an accomplishment. I’m grateful the administration was gracious enough to give us pictures. I even sent one to mom-you know how that is!
These are the things I hold dear to my heart.
JazzReview: Let me ask, what does your mom say through all this? She has seen you play for the president. Does she treat you special now?
Najee: It’s funny. We had a family reunion recently and when it was time to clean up, she made sure I took the garbage out. (Mom keeps him humble.)
JazzReview: Is there anything you would like your fans to know that I didn’t ask you? Maybe plans for the future?
Najee: I’ll be working full time now to promote this record. It’s time to come out and be in touch with the people again. I’ve been busy over the past five or six years doing other things. But now, it’s time to get out there again.
Being with the company Heads Up, we’ll be highly visible. We’re expecting a lot of great things.
Najee brings all his talent with him to an interview, just as he does to his performances. He’s fresh, enthusiastic, impassioned by his work. Now with Heads Up, Najee’s world-class talent is joined by a world-class family of support. The world is grateful to have Najee back with My Point of View.