*Following his heart and his musical intuition has made two-time Grammy-nominated and award-winning jazz saxophonist and flautist Najee, an international legend in the music industry.
Celebrating 30 years in the music industry via seventeen albums later (two Platinum and four Gold albums), Najee’s love affair with jazz is still going strong and he promises that there is more music in store for his fans.
Inspired to put out great music, Najee pushed musical boundaries early in his career and merged his soulful R&B and Jazz fused sound, creating a brand new genre. Since launching his music career, he has been greeted both nationally and internationally with awards, stunning reviews, extensive airplay, and consistently climbing Billboard charts.
I caught up with Najee a few days before he performed at the Wolf Creek Jazz Festival in Atlanta over the Labor Day weekend and again at the festival. The City of Atlanta presented Najee with a Proclamation for his 30th year anniversary/contribution to the music industry. When asked, how does it feel to be still putting out beautiful music 30 years later, Najee says, “I’m feeling very good. I don’t feel abused. I still wake up and I’m grateful.” The Wolf Creek Jazz Festival featured Najee, Will Downing, Pieces of a Dream, Gerald Albright, David Benoit, Rachelle Ferrell, Paul Taylor, Jeff Lorber, Cindy Bradley, Boney James, Euge Groove, Alex Bugnon, Kirk Whalum, Norman Brown, Rick Braun, Vincent Ingala, Ragan Whiteside, Josh Vietti, Peter White and several Atlanta-based jazz artists.
“This has always been my passion. As a young boy growing up in New York, my friends would always say everywhere you go, you have your saxophone. I was a kid always carrying a dream on his back,” he jokingly says. He reminisces about how he loved the tenor saxophone and flute but his brother, Fareed, insisted that he play the soprano saxophone. They would often argue about it. Later someone gave him a soprano saxophone and unbeknownst to him, the soprano saxophone would end up being the instrument that made him popular.
It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years since Najee emerged on the scene with his soulful but jazzy, genre-bending sound. It seems like it was just yesterday when I added Najee’s debut smooth jazz album to my growing jazz collection. I had just started graduate school when Najee first came to prominence three decades ago, when he released his well-received debut album, “Najee’s Theme”, in 1986. Who could forget the Platinum-certified album with the nice cool blue cover of Najee sitting on the beach with his saxophone, with songs such as “Feel So Good to Me,” “Najee’s Theme,” “Sweet Love” and “Bectcha Don’t Know”? And, remember the Day Side vs Night Side songs….
This musical giant has collaborated with many notable icons in the music industry. From Prince, Quincy Jones to Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Stanley Clarke and Herbie Hancock, Najee’s passion and genre bending have made him one of the most sought-after musicians in his generation. Najee performed at Nelson Mandela’s birthday celebration in South Africa and played as a special guest of President Clinton at the White House.
Longevity is not an easy feat in the music industry, especially now since traditional labels cut back and artists are starting their own record labels. However, Najee has managed to keep himself relevant and release album after album. “What contributes to my longevity is in the initial years, it was the connections I was able to make. Also, a lot of my audience has grown with me over the years. With technology, we were able to grasp another group of people. I would say associations are important,” says Najee.
When Najee is not in the studio making music, he enjoys spending time with his family and taking care of the business side of music.
“I just live life. I spend a lot of time on the road. I had my 12-year-old son on the road with me recently. When I go back home, I am constantly in touch with writers and producers,” he says.
So what’s the key to success for aspiring artist?
“I often try to say, try to create a market and how that’s done is by doing something someone else hasn’t done. Try to find something original and be true to your identity,” Najee says. “The ones that are successful are the ones that sound fresh and share their true identity. Cats aIways say, I want to be like you. I say don’t be like me. Be like you. Try to find who you are. You’re talented. Find your identity, your voice and if you’re original, people will respond to you.”
With a large catalog of music, some artists may find it difficult to keep things fresh. That is not the case with Najee, who put out his 17th album, “You, Me and Forever” in summer 2015. It reached Top 10 on the Contemporary Jazz Albums on Billboard and #1 Most Added Album on the Smooth Jazz charts. “Part of that is the attempt to keep it fresh. Associate with people. Doing things that are true to your identity. I try not to do covers anymore. I like to create original compositions as much as I can and writing with other people.”
He adds, “You’re always sharing with younger people. I have four teenagers that I teach privately. One got a full scholarship to Berkley and the other two to colleges in New York. So, three of them have gone on to pursue music.”
With so much already accomplished in his career, Najee says he still has more music for his fans.
“I’m at that stage where I want to experiment. I want to explore different type of music, cultural music. There’s a risk in that, but I think I can afford to do that now,” he says.
Najee concludes, “Making music at this point in my career is still exciting, and I am always evolving. As a musician, the love of performing for people, whether in studio or live is still a gratifying experience. The best feeling to me is presenting something new to the world!”
Catch Najee in a city near you and help him celebrate 30 years of excellence.
For Najee’s Tour dates, Visit www.najeeofficial.com.
Follow him on Facebook @ NAJEE The Official Page
EURweb associate journalist Angela P. Moore is based in the Atlanta area. A passionate writer-and-photographer-at-heart, she freelances for local and national magazines. She pens articles on celebrity profiles, art, music, business, travel, entertainment, health, self-help, and consumer-related issues. She is also the founder and owner of APM Public Relations. In the realization of her life-long passion for writing, Angela will release her debut book winter 2016. She can be reached via [email protected].