Saxophone players are not unusual to the world of music but when you find one whose influences have stemmed from his love of Hip Hop plus traditional jazz music, you got something pretty special on your hands. To be exact, you have an ''Uncommon Denominator'' that is indivisible by anything that doesn't equate to the love of music.
I caught up with Hidden Beach recording artist, Mike Phillips, one Tuesday evening while he was on the road in Cleveland, OH and we ''chopped it up'' about the music game, his dedication there of and his passion for keeping the arts alive.
JazzReview Michael, how are you?
Mike Phillips I'm good, I'm good.
JazzReview Cool. I'm glad that I finally caught up to you. How's your daughter?
Mike Phillips Oh she's fine. I was just on the phone talking to her. You know I got to talk to her.
JazzReview How old is she?
Mike Phillips Seven.
JazzReview Oh yeah, I remember. I had ''two'' seven year olds at the same time so I know how that is.
Mike Phillips Yep! That's my daughter singing on the last song on my CD. I'm actually going to pick up a tape of her singing her first solo in church.
JazzReview Wow, so I see whose following in whose footsteps.
Mike Phillips Yep, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
JazzReview Well let's talk and let me take it back to the beginning. What influenced your decision to become a musician? How did that happen?
Mike Phillips It felt natural. It's always about things feeling right. I rented an instrument. I played in church. I just practiced a lot. I played by ear. I tried to follow Coltrane and Dexter Gordon. I had my first gig at the age of 17 and if felt good to work and get paid. I was playing in clubs and I was so glad because I was following my dream.
JazzReview So how did you manage to get in the clubs at 17?
Mike Phillips I told them I was in college. They didn't trip. They'd pay me $10 to get home and I was happy because I was doing what I liked and then I knew that I wanted to do this for a living. When a career can feel like a hobby, it's a career!
JazzReview So is this career what you always wanted?
Mike Phillips I didn't care what it took, I wanted to do this for a living.
JazzReview I've met and spoken with some musicians and singers who knew from the start that they'd end up someday working along side the artist that they most admired. Did you always know or feel that you'd end up working with people like Stevie Wonder or Prince?
Mike Phillips No, no, not me! I was with Stevie in Paris and it just blows me away. Stevie called me and wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and I hung up the phone like wow that was Stevie! Indulging in another's art form is a privilege because I am absorbing in the perspective of their genius.
JazzReview Wow, that's a hell of a statement, very profound.
Mike Phillips Being around people like Stevie and Prince is a whole other level of pinching your self. It's an honor for real because I know that I am in the mist of greatness.
JazzReview Prince said your playing made him want to ''rise up'' to it when he went back on stage at one particular concert. How did it make you feel to hear him say that?
Mike Phillips At first, I just froze. It was almost unbelievable. I take the compliment actually, any compliment in the highest regard. Having a gift is like owning a pearl. When you have a precious gemstone you treasure it and your careful of how you handle it. Like that pearl, I try to keep my gift (because that's what it is) centered around people who appreciate it just like reserving that pearl to the highest esteem. I want to be around people that value the music.
JazzReview You can't help but to value the music you play. It's so beautiful and your very talented, to say the least. Now I know you're on the road and I don't want to take up too much of your time.
Mike Phillips Oh no, it's cool. We got to talk about Uncommon Denominator.
JazzReview Ok, cool. So explain to me what that term, ''Uncommon Denominator'' meant to you with regard to your using it as the title of this project?
Mike Phillips This title is about understanding that I don't want to sound like anyone else. My style is like taking two uncommon situations of loving Hip Hop and traditional jazz and both to allowing me to express my love for each in my way. It's about having no one control my style.
JazzReview Is that what you found at Hidden Beach meaning, a label that allows you to do you?
Mike Phillips Hidden Beach was a blessing. They allowed me to do me and stay true to myself. I am 100% happy there.
JazzReview So are you pleased with the way your CD is going and the response so far?
Mike Phillips Yes, I am very pleased with the way my CD is going. It's about growth and being different. I grow the foundation on a daily basis.
JazzReview So you are performing in Chicago this weekend at the Parkwest, on Armitage Avenue along with Will Downing and Regina Belle and I know this because I made my plans weeks ago to be there.
Mike Phillips So you're coming out?
JazzReview Oh yes sir, I'll be there! I love you, Will's my man and Regina Belle is just the bomb. That's going to be an amazing show. I interviewed Will in October so to have all three of you on one show is going to be a treat, to say the least. How did you get hooked up on that show?
Mike Phillips I'm actually on tour doing several shows and Will called me and asked if I'd like to open up for him.
JazzReview So were you guy's friends?
Mike Phillips We'd always bump into each other. I sat in on a couple of gigs with him and we talked about trying to do something together.
JazzReview Wow, so this must have been meant to be. So do you have a lot of dates or some breaks in between?
Mike Phillips I'm actually touring like crazy. I'm out with Venus and Serena Williams on the U.S. Open Ronald McDonald House charity tour and I'm also involved with the Sax in The Schools project. I go out and talk to kids about music with hope so motivating them. It's hard because so many schools have cut their programs.
JazzReview We (WOTS) have recently ''adopted'' an organization called Music in Schools Today for that same reason. The plan is to develop something to raise funds to donate to them. Both of my daughter's are in band so I know the importance of having music in schools.
Mike Phillips So what do they play?
JazzReview One is on the flute and the other plays the Alto Sax.
Mike Phillips I was gonna say that somebody was gonna have to give up their instrument if either one wasn't playing a sax!
JazzReview Well, that's what they picked. I commend you for doing that.
Mike Phillips Everything that I involve myself in is for a purpose. You just gotta give back. It's the only way you receive.
JazzReview Yep, you are right about that. Now I also happen to know that you are the first jazz musician to have a sneaker endorsement by a major manufacturer. Did I get that right?
Mike Phillips Well, the story is that I met Michael Jordan from my performing the National Anthem at some of the NBA games and he approached me with the thought that it would be cool to have someone else who wasn't an athlete to represent his line. I started that 5 years ago with the Air Jordan 17.
JazzReview Dang, you just got it going on all the way around!
Mike Phillips I'm blessed.
JazzReview So tell me, what is your biggest pet peeve?
Mike Phillips I don't like people touching my horn. My horn is like an extension of my body.
JazzReview Whoa, that's deep. Ok, one last question. Give me one word to describe Mike Phillips.
Mike Phillips Passionate.
JazzReview What are you passionate about?
Mike Phillips Everything. With what I do, you gotta be.
JazzReview Mike, I really enjoyed talking to you.
Mike Phillips Same here. This wasn't like an ''interview''. It was more of a conversation.
JazzReview That's how I try to make it. Well, Thanks again and I'll see you Sunday at the show.
Mike Phillips Most definitely.
Sheila Chadwick for © 2005 Word On The Street