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Arts and Entertainment

Najee talks music, touring and the ladies
Grammy-nominated saxophonist plays Halton Theater Aug. 3
Published Tuesday, July 30, 2013 11:57 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

Grammy-nominated saxophonist Najee will open the annual Carolina Jazz Festival at Halton Theater Aug. 3.

The annual Carolina Jazz Concert Series kicks off its fifth season this weekend with Najee.

The Grammy-nominated saxophonist is playing Halton Theater Aug. 3 with special guest Alex Bugnon and guitarist Terence Young opening the show.

“Everywhere we go with our show, people love us,” Najee said. “I’m not bragging, but I’m just telling you our reality… It’s going to be a wonderful evening.”

If you’re a fan, you may have heard that the platinum-selling artist got into playing the sax for the women. And for the record, that’s partly true.

Growing up in Queens, N.Y., Najee attended August Martin High School with Russell Simmons. The school is best known for its unique aviation program. Initially, Najee was interested in becoming an airline pilot, but a school concert changed all that.

Najee had been designated the band’s lead tenor saxophonist and selected to play a solo on his sax.

“After that concert all the girls knew my name,” he said. “So I made a very quick career change… True story.”

Always on the road

These days, Najee spends much of his time on tour. A typical day includes tedious sound checks, live performances and meet-and-greets with fans. When that’s all over, he packs up, hits the road, and moves on to the next city.

“I have very full days every day,” he said. “I enjoy it. I think if I was a recording musician that didn’t get the chance to go out and perform live, I wouldn’t be as happy as I am. Part of what brings me joy is to get out and play with a live band to a live audience.”

Plus, he said, touring provides an opportunity to see the world.

“There is nothing like it,” he said. “From the age of 18, I’ve traveled all over the world, visiting places most people couldn’t imagine going. So, I consider myself very fortunate.”

Najee counts spending time in South Africa with then-President Nelson Mandela among his most memorable experiences abroad.

He had been invited along with Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan to sing during a birthday celebration for Mandela and dine with him in his home.

“Any time you travel abroad, it’s always wonderful,” Najee said. “I truly believe that you can never really get a true education on other world people or humanity in general unless you really have the opportunity to travel abroad.”

Motherly influences

Najee credits his mom and her Saturday cleaning rituals with inspiring his love of jazz.

“Every Saturday, we would clean the house,” he said. “Everybody in the family had to get involved. She would always listen to music, and she was very fond of the tenor saxophone and jazz music in particular so I gravitated towards jazz music at a very young age.”

Najee said he would even bend curtain rods and fashion them into saxophones and pretend he was playing. When he was 14, his mom came home one day and surprised him with a real one.

Back then, Najee said he never imagined that he’d be where he is today.

“I could have never imagined as that I’d grow up to work with a Quincy (Jones) or people like that,” he said. “Even when I first started this thing, I didn’t anticipate much. I thought I was just going to record one record with the label, and I ended up going far beyond my expectations.”

During his 30-year career, Najee has performed with the likes of Prince, Chaka Khan, Freddie Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Vesta and Jeffrey Osborne among others. He also has two platinum and four gold albums under his belt and is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.

“I feel very fortunate,” he said. “At this stage in my career, when I’m able to look back at all of the things that I’ve accomplished, it really is just to me a miracle. It’s a blessing.”

When asked what legacy he hopes to leave with his music, Najee said it’s not something that he gives much thought. He just hopes his contributions to music will live on through the numerous students he works with – both volunteering for one-on-one instruction and through workshops at colleges, universities and various schools throughout the country.

“I think that some of these kids are going to end up being real superstars,” he said.

Najee has been busy in the studio working on material for his next album. He’s not releasing a name yet, but said he’s very excited about the new project.

Tickets to see Najee perform in Charlotte are available at the Halton Theater Box Office or by phone at (704) 330-6534.   



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