Jazz Monthly: We here at Jazzmonthly.com are delighted to be chatting with a favorite of ours and we know a favorite of yours for many years – one of the hippest and freshest saxophonists on the Smooth Jazz circuit, Jimmy Sommers. This Chicago native, over the passed decade or so has garnered so many fans – and not just Jazz fans, but fans of great music all over the world. Jimmy has a wonderful facility to create a fabulous music happening, be it live or on record. His latest CD, Time Stands Still, is a delicious reflection of 14 melodies that we’ve known and loved over the years. Jimmy succeeded in being true to these familiar melodies, and yet at the same time totally making them very much his own in the Jimmy Sommers style; it’s a wonderful CD. Welcome to Jazzmonthly.com Jimmy.
Jimmy Sommers (JS): Hey man, thanks for having me, pleasure to be hear talking with you .
Jazz Monthly: We’re going to talk, of course, about your fabulous new CD that we here at JazzMonthly.com really love, Time Stands Still. Before we do that, I mentioned in my introduction that you’re a Chicago native. Now it all started there; how old were you man when you basically started with the sax?
JS: I started playing the horn in third grade when I was ten years old, so I’ve been doing it for a long time. You know, when I picked up that horn it just felt natural. It was a little rough in the marching band going through the years, but I weathered the storm and it’s paid off for me.
Jazz Monthly: Now Jimmy, I’m assuming it was an alto sax if you were a little kid right?
JS: Exactly, and I feel bad for the people that get pushed to the clarinet because when you’re a kid you don’t really realize that their trying to put together a whole orchestra, so luckily no one pushed me into something else.
Jazz Monthly: You mean like the tuba. (Both laughing) Now you received a musical scholarship right and you ventured out to LA. How old were you then?
JS: Well, I was twenty-one, I went to college at Southern Illinois University. I tried out for a scholarship and I got it, but I was an engineering major and music minor. I was trying to have a backup plan you know.
Jazz Monthly: Jimmy, when you say engineering you don’t mean like a musical recording engineer, you mean like mathematics right?
JS: Mathematics, exactly, but I guess… you know, most musicians are mathematical. I was always good with numbers; I did that but, thank God I didn’t have to use it because I forgot everything I learned in college. (Both laughing)
Jazz Monthly: Well you sure didn’t forget your great music. I know that you performed on: the Today Show, on Smooth Jazz TV, Access Hollywood, and even on Live with Regis and Kelly. That must have been a trip.
JS: Yeah, Regis and Kelly was a lot of fun. Its funny, Regis… he doesn’t age; he still looks the same. What’s funny is if you ever go on my website, jimmysommers.com, I shouldn’t tell anybody about this but I was wearing leather pants when I was playing with them, what was I thinking.
Jazz Monthly: Did he bust your chops a little bit?
JS: He didn’t (laughing). I was with Ginuwine on that show and we had a good time playing. It’s a little early to play in the morning because it is live you know. Eight in the morning you’re there so that was a little rough. But, besides that it was a lot of fun.
Jazz Monthly: See that’s the thing that people forget. See people who are not musicians Jim, and I know you go through this… I know I do as a musician, “Hey Jim do you want to meet me for breakfast at say 6:30 in the morning, or 7 o’clock?” They don’t know that we’re not even…
JS: We’re getting in then. (Both laughing)
Jazz Monthly: We’re not even in; right. (Laugh) So that must have been a fun experience and a real trip with Regis and Kelly.
JS: Yeah, that was, that was some fun. Those TV shows are fun to do but there’s nothing better than playing to a live audience and getting everyone up dancing and having fun and going around. You know one of the things I like to do is go into the crowd to play and have fun.
Jazz Monthly: I know that you’re a really good showman, but also a fine musician too. You know, I remember checking you out at, I think you were playing happy-hour-live at the Blue Note; it was a great groove, and as I said you’re having fun with the audience. You really are a very fine showman, but the thing that makes it really cool, for me, a fellow musician watching you – is that you can also back it up with talent and fine musicianship. In other words, you’re having fun and clowning around with the people; that’s all part of the performance, but you’re also a musician first right?
JS: Yeah, you know it. I’ve been playing for so long that its something that you don’t forget. It’s like riding a bike. That’s why, After playing for so many years, I wanted to do this new record: Time Stands Still, which is all of the classic songs. All of these songs have been around forever, but you know I wanted to put my own twist on it. Bill Cunliffe who is an incredible keyboard player, did such a great job arranging this CD. I wanted to get the best sound quality with the full orchestra in a studio and make sure that just the “right everything” was put on the record. I took care of everything including: the mix, and mastering; I really wanted to capture that great sound.
Jazz Monthly: Absolutely. Jimmy is this your sixth CD?
JS: Sixth or seventh maybe. I did my Christmas album like this too, you know the orchestra and the stand up bass… that classic sound. But, mainly I’m known for my R&B production. Sometimes, you want to change things up and try different things.
Jazz Monthly: You know, you mentioned your Christmas CD that came out about five years ago, it’s called A Holiday Wish and that’s a perfect lead in, thank you, you’re making my job easy!
JS: (Laughing) That’s where I got a taste of that “classic sound.” You know, that old bluesy sound. When you go in and instead of doing R&B – where you program some things… you know, its one instrument at a time. This is going in with rehearsing and playing it in one or two takes.