March the 22, 1998, Jazz suddenly lost one it's most talented son's to
Lymphoma / Colon Cancer. At the time of his passing George Howard was
just 41 years old, but had managed to achieve a remarkable amount during
his short, yet meaningful life.
ignored by the so-called critics and traditional authorities of Jazz music,
for his insistence on melodies & grooves, rather than improvisation,
Howard instead chose to concentrate on the Soulful side of Jazz, which
gained him a massive following from both Soul and Jazz music listeners.
For example his 1985 crossover hit "Shower You With Love", featuring
John Pagano, became an Underground Classic, amongst Rare Groove DJ's,
who would otherwise not openly acknowledge Jazz.
Howard has complemented his horn with support from some of his top vocal and instrumental peers in the R&B/jazz world. Among these are keyboard legend George Duke (who co-produced Attitude Adjustment), bassist Victor Bailey (a longtime collaborator who co-produced 1991's Love and Understanding), Jonathan Butler, Paul Jackson, Jr., Howard Hewitt, Will Downing, Billy Childs, Munyungo Jackson, Alex Acuna, Nathan East and Paulinho Da Costa.
Choosing nine classic tracks to go along with the new songs "Midnight Mood" and "Find Your Way" proved to be both a daunting and enjoyable task. But from the opening strains of Howard's dreamy, light funk take on Kenny Loggins' ballad "Love Will Follow," (title track from the 1986 album), it's clear that the true pleasure lies with the listener. Further reflecting Howard's unique talent for arranging and producing definitive instrumental covers of pop-soul hits are Howard's gospel flavored, jazzy and seductive spins on Rod Temperton's "Baby Come To Me" and the Jimmy Jam-Terry Lewis gem "Everything I Miss At Home" (both from Love and Understanding).
The strutting, jaunty title cut from 1993's When Summer Comes and the throbbing, exotic percussion-driven "Dianne's Blues" (from Attitude Adjustment) make a sterling tandem showcase for the more hip-hoppy, relentlessly funky side of Howard's personality. These lead to the unmistakable late night passions of the next two pieces, the balmy, acoustic flavored title track from 1994's A Home Far Away (featuring the laid back guitar of Carl Burnett and a tasty avante garde improvisation section) and "Midnight Mood," a soaring, perfect for slow dancing number written and co-produced by Morris Pleasure.
Howard has always been well-known for including solid vocal tunes on his recordings, and the lighthearted "Cross Your Mind" (from 1992's Do I Ever Cross Your Mind) and brand new, sensuous, soundscape textured rainy day companion "Find Your Way" are two of his best. Rounding out the collection are yet another superb cover, this one a whimsical reading of Lionel Richie's "Love Will Find A Way" (from 1985's Dancing in the Sun, which was later re-released on GRP) and the swaying, slamming groove intensive hip-hop tune, "Miracle," which brings the set to an invigorating close.
The saxman's musical background and professional training ground, especially his early association with the great Grover Washington, Jr., is well documented in contemporary jazz lore. Born in Philadelphia, Howard originally trained on clarinet and bassoon before shifting gears to the more lyrical sound of the soprano sax. The soul-based jazz sounds of John Coltrane, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Sonny Fortune, Herbie Hancock, Eddie Harris and Wayne Shorter were early inspirations as he honed his sound. After getting his feet wet with local R&B groups, he launched a successful career as a session player for Philly legends Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel. A subsequent career as a solo artist seemed inevitable once he hooked up on tour with Washington in 1979.
"Playing with Grover gave me a real hunger," he recalls. "As far as learning the ropes and watching Grover, who is the consummate professional, I learned a whole lot of stuff from being in that environment. It really fired me up for having my own thing." Years later, Howard dedicated "Grover's Groove" (on A Home Far Away) to his mentor.
Launching his catalog with Asphalt Garden in 1982, Howard became a highly prolific artist in his own right. His second album, Stepping Out, garnered a good deal of attention, but he considers his third set, 1985's Dancing in the Sun the release that bonded him with record buyers hungry for a perfectly realized middle ground between jazz, pop and soul. It was also the first of many albums which topped the nation's contemporary jazz charts. Love Will Follow led to a best selling three album association with MCA, which included A Nice Place To Be, Reflections and 1990's Personal.
When many of MCA's jazz artists became part of GRP's roster after a 1990 merger, Howard saw a great freedom and opportunity to try new and creative directions both compositionally and production wise, while still keeping his golden soprano at the core. To date, his label output includes Love and Understanding (1991), Do I Ever Cross Your Mind (1992), When Summer Comes (1993), A Home Far Away (1994) and Attitude Adjustment (1996), his most personal and ambitious project to date.
Despite his numerous accolades and remarkable influence as one of the leading sax voices of his generation, Howard looks back on his career to date primarily as a stepping stone to the future. "I think I've found a niche for myself," he says. "But I feel that there's room for me to expand even further. I just hope that when I do a project, it reflects growth and a sense that I am in constant search for my voice. At this point, I've grown up as an artist and have come full circle as a person. My music is a reflection of that."
Celebrating this great creative growth from young sax lion to fully realized, innovative and best selling GRP recording artist is one of the many joys of The Very Best Of George Howard ...and then Some. It's an amazing retrospective which reflects wistfully on his past but also shows that he is currently at the top of his game, eager to keep the creative and spiritual vibes on full tilt as the new millenium approaches.
George Howard: 1957 - 1998