Marion Meadows

"A lot of people have found their way into learning about music through smooth jazz," saxophonist Marion Meadows observes of his chosen genre. "It does seem to draw on new ideas, and it gets people to later dig harder material."

A West Virginia native, Meadows himself studied classical music as a youngster, and began his professional life performing avant-garde jazz as a sideman with drummer Norman Connors. He ultimately found himself playing smooth jazz after a chance encounter in the late Eighties with TV composer Jay Chattaway.

"I was in New York City waiting for a train at Grand Central Station, so I pulled out my instrument and begin to play, and this guy comes to me saying that I had a beautiful sound. That was Jay," he recalls. Chattaway later introduced Meadows to keyboardist Bob James, who signed him to his TapanZee label.

Although smooth jazz has brought him sweet deals on recording contracts and a broad audience, Meadows does feel that this is a good moment to shake things up. "The typical contemporary jazz listener expects more; they usually get bored with the format," he explains by phone from Detroit. "It's time to make a difference, to create some kind of individuality. The fans are ready for that, and we should have been going in that direction long ago."

He's already brought this ambition to the live format. Fans used to hearing Meadows's studio recordings, such as Dressed To Chill (2006), might find his approach onstage, well, different. "We have a really new show, with some surprises. It's a New York-based band, and we'll bring that New York flavor to it. I like to let the musicians play, and I enjoy showcasing the band in a way that the CDs don't do."

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Ernest Barteldes