It is most unusual to hear of someone who gives up a top corporate job so they can be a career musician. That’s the decision Phil Denny made two years ago when he walked out of his position as vice president of a financial company in Michigan, to devote himself to music full time.
In June this year, the American saxophonist posted this tweet to his followers: “It is with great honour and excitement that I announce I will be performing in Nairobi, Kenya on 31 August, 2013."
Denny will be the headline act at this year’s Jazz Under The Stars that takes place tomorrow at the Windsor Golf and Country Club.
After the success of the inaugural concert last year, the event returns this year with what organisers are promising is a bigger and better concert.
Smooth Jazz attracts a huge following due to its easy listening sound and the fusion with related genres like Rhythm and Blues and Pop.
The choice of Phil Denny is due to the success of his 2012 debut album “Crossover” that has created a new star who until 2010 was the vice president of a mortgage brokerage company.
After working in the corporate world for seven years, he realised that this was not the career he wanted for the rest of his working life. So, he picked up the saxophone, the instrument he first played at age 12 and began writing music for an album.
Together with producer, keyboardist and Grammy nominee, Nate Harasim, Phil dropped the first beat in 2011 and recorded the final session a year later.
There are 10 songs on the album with highlights such as “Push” the upbeat first single and the equally vibrant “Traffic Jam” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Chart in March.
Other tracks of note on the album are “Give a little Love” “Playin’ Coy” and the romantic “Be There For Me”.
Style and personality
Phil’s influences are those artists he feels play jazz with “space and feel”, including saxophonists Grover Washington Jr, Kirk Whalum and Boney James. He has played along with greats like guitarist Peter White, Gerald Albright and even jammed with Stevie Wonder
Playing a musical style which is mostly instrumental with just the odd vocal song has meant that Phil develops a style and personality of his own both on the recording and while on stage.
In the last one year when he has been on the road promoting the album, the performances have been about, as he puts it, “holding his audience captive and making each person present feel as though I am playing just for them.”
Jazz Under The Stars 2013 also has an impressive line-up of homegrown talent in Aaron Rimbui and the Quartet, the National Youth Orchestra and Saxophonist Brian Mugenyi from Uganda.
Rimbui, who plays the keyboard is one of the leading lights of modern jazz in the country, thanks to his bi-monthly All That Jazz concerts. He also currently hosts The Capital FM Jazz Club.
He has released two albums to date, Keys of Life in 2005 and Alfajiri in 2009 as well as producing recordings for a host of artistes, from Joseph Hellon to Dan Chizi Aceda.
Mugenyi makes a return to Nairobi after performing in the city during the Cocktail of Jazz in May.
This 25-year-old is also a professional pianist and is currently studying for his Bachelor’s Degree in Music, majoring in classical piano. In addition to his solo career, Mugenyi plays with Code 9, a band of nine musicians based in Kampala.
Just like Phil Denny he, too, draws his inspiration from sax icons like Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright as well as smooth singers in the mould of Luther Vandross and Peabo Bryson.
This year’s Jazz Under the Stars will be supporting the National Youth Orchestra in its efforts to change the lives of youth through music. The orchestra, brings together musically-gifted youth from different parts of the country.
Currently, it consists of 55 members, between the ages of 14 and 23 years. Through the Ghetto Classics programme, classical music has been introduced to the youth in slum areas like Korogocho in Nairobi.
Tickets for Saturday’s concert are available online at www.ticketsasa.com or from the Windsor Hotel for Sh3,000 and VIP at Sh5,000. The event will be hosted by June Gachui, herself a jazz singer.