What marks out the real ‘A-List’ performers of contemporary jazz is the ability they have to surround themselves with the best supporting artists that the genre has to offer. Despite often being consigned to the small print of CD liner notes, these players are the real power behind the throne and in this respect there are none more so than drummer Khari Parker and bassist Lamar Jones. Not only do they both call Chicago home but also are great friends. Over the years of playing together have built up the kind of understanding that defines what it means, rhythmically, for the bass to ‘lock in’ with drums. By moving as one single unit the bass player and drummer become the invincible force that drives the song.
Shortly Khari and Lamar will resume touring with the Grammy Award winning gospel vocalist Smokie Norful while Parker is also about to hit the road with smooth jazz super group BWB that comprises Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown. When recently I talked to them via Skype, Parker had just come from a recording engagement with the legendary Jim Peterik and, given they have a collective schedule that is hectic in the extreme, I wasted no time in asking how being a session or backing musician worked. Does the phone simply ring or is the process more formal than that?
“You know,” explained Khari “It basically comes down to reputation and word of mouth. That’s what happened back in 2007 when I got the gig to work with Joss Stone. She was recording the ‘Introducing Joss Stone’ project in Nassau, Bahamas. Raphael Saadiq was producing the album and as fortune would have it I had worked with him before. I was just finishing up a stint with Boz Scaggs (I played with Boz for six years) and Raphael called to say he needed me right away in Nassua. It was literally one plane into O’Hare and another out again. In all we were there for forty days. Sometimes that’s how it goes.”
The experience of Lamar Jones has been similar and in a musical career that now spans in excess of 28 years he has played with the best including multi Grammy Award winner bassist Larry Graham, Gerald Albright, Ledisi, Patti Austin, Steve Cole and Nelson Rangell. He also toured with Brian Culbertson and I asked him about the part he played in Culbertson’s lavish ‘Live From The Inside’ recording.
“That was quite something” Lamar told me. “We recorded it in various studios around LA including those at the iconic Capitol Records building. It was ten or so days in LA, practicing and recording with some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz.”
Parker played drums for the band Destiny’s Child and, leading on from that, for Beyonce in the earlier days of her solo career. He was also one of the resident musicians at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo studio in Chicago, an assignment he got after a recommendation by another Chicago bass player Richard Patterson. That led me to wonder, given the wide range of music that they both play, from jazz to R & B to pop and on to gospel, if they could only choose one genre what would it be?
“For me it’s the whole spectrum, the variety, that’s what I enjoy” Khari revealed and although Lamer agreed that he didn’t have a favorite he did explain that although born and raised on gospel music he would quite like to get some artistic exposure to country music. “Never done that” he said with a laugh in his voice “and what would really be cool would be to get to perform with Bonnie Raitt.”
Talking of different vibes I was aware that Khari and Lamar had both performed with R & B songstress Nichole Mitchell whose album ‘A Sound Of My Own’ became a firm Smooth Jazz Therapy favorite.
“I met Nicole when she first moved to Chicago” Lamar said. “I introduced her to Khari who subsequently became her Musical Director and she’s doing really well. Its good to see.”
Finally I asked what was up and coming. Not surprisingly they have a lot going on.
“We just got finished recording with the Sax Pack (Steve Cole, Jeff Kashiwa and Kim Waters) in a studio in downtown Chicago for a CD that is due out later this year” Lamar said. When I asked Khari about his involvement in October’s Smooth Jazz Cruise – West Coast Edition that will sail from San Diego it brought us to the subject of performing at sea.
“This will be my second cruise” Khari confirmed. “The first was in January and there was this night when I was due to go on and the sea was kind of rough. The ship was really moving about. It wasn’t good so lets just say I’m hoping for calmer waters in October.
One thing for sure, rain or shine, stormy or calm, wherever Lamar Jones and Khari Parker are playing you can be guaranteed a rock solid beat, a tight groove and music to savor.
Check out Lamar at www.lamarjonesmusic.com and search for Khari Parker at Facebook