With a long discography of chillaxin’ tunes, saxophonist and vocalist Walter Beasley keeps delivering good vibes. The 2017 CD “Blackstreams” doesn’t fail to deliver the upbeat and groovable. The track “Night Cruisin’” has a little bop and bounce, and “Now What” (understandably getting lots of airplay) lures you in with the first hook. “Come On Over” is evocative of a nighttime satin-sheet invitation.
From the energy of a very early piece like “Just Kickin’ It” (1989) to his current sound of sugar and spice, Walter has graced the world of music with an enormous contribution. The music inspires love, heat and togetherness.
What’s the biggest change (besides technology) you have seen in the industry since you started?
The ability for musicians to own everything. To be responsible for musicianship, publicity and be able to negotiate contracts on his/her own terms.
What’s in your head when you play?
It depends on the song, whether I wrote a song about a woman or my home town. All these things I concentrate on, so I can use my imagination to play the right notes and to create the best type of musical scenery; so that the sax can lock in and take myself and others where it needs to go.
Why did you name your label “Affable”?
Growing up I was kind of quiet. I didn’t say a whole lot, and I don’t think I was really that friendly. As I got older and learned to accept people for who they are, I lightened up and became a bit more affable. That was a goal of mine, to be light-hearted, not only to myself but also to others. Not to take life too seriously. Enjoy life, music, friends and the label.
Why did you launch your own label and publishing house?
Because it was time for it. The deconstruction of these old paradigms, as they relate to the record industry and publishing, allowed me to do everything that I always wanted to do. Control my own publishing, control the records and control everything.
That’s the thing some musicians don’t really get. We always cried about how messed up the record companies were and how messed up the publishing companies were. Well, now we have the ability to take matters into our own hands and do what’s needed to build a kind of career and legacy that you can be proud of.
When you compose, how do you know whether you are “feelin’ it” for alto or soprano?
The song always speaks to me as to what instrument should be played, or even if there should be singing in it. The song immediately lets me know what should happen.
I don’t try to think about it anymore. It’s a feeling that I have and if I honor that feeling, I maximize my potential to have a good creation because I am simply allowing music to speak through me.
Biggest insight from your education at Berklee regarding technique?
Technique is overrated. The problem with the manner in which many institutions teach technique is that they’re leaving the soul out of expression.
I have always believed that soulful expression and technique should be taught simultaneously and valued equally. I learned early from my teaching that you should only use your technique to display or express what’s in your heart and once it becomes more than that, you are not speaking honestly and the message is lost.
It’s not really expression. You’re just jumping through hoops and making up things that will make you popular and that’s not really what music is about.
What’s the key to being a band that jibes together and is on the same page?
That’s an interesting question. I think now musicianship is much different than when I was coming up.
You had bands that knew their roles and were very happy to stay in their roles in order to make the best music. Now you have drummers who play like saxophonists, and saxophonists who play like drummers. I mean, the roles are so blended and confused now that much of the music coming from bands is not as good as it was before.
The key is knowing the history of the instrument in the context of R&B, jazz, rock, etc. The more you know and the more information you have that relates to your instrument and its function, the better musician you will be. If all band members share your perspective the band will be great.
How do you continue to challenge yourself when you solo?
I don’t really challenge myself anymore. The best thing I can do is just to let go and to let the music have its way.
My thoughts, feeling, experiences I can pretty much guide through the music and do the things that I want to do. I don’t think about anything, I just express myself and it is what it is.
What do you like best about performing on a cruise?
Audience. You’re there and you get to have fun with the people and have fun with the music. You get to know them, get to shake their hands, you introduce yourself to their families and vice versa. You become kind of an extended family member.
Is “smooth” looked down upon as not “real” jazz or has it gained acceptance?
I am grateful for the ability to have a career in smooth jazz but there has always been commercial instrumental music and there always will be no matter what.
It doesn’t really matter what you call it, it just depends on perspective and if you’re willing to pay for it.
The top influential smooth artists?
Johnny Hodges, Grover Washington Jr., Ronny Laws, George Duke, George Benson, Donny Hathaway, David Sanborn, Hank Crawford, Carlos Santana, John Klemmer, Raul de Souza, and many others.
Raheem DeVaughn on my latest album. The song is called “Late Night Lover.”
Favorite small venue?
All of them.
Was it difficult to narrow down “The Best Of” to several tracks?
They kind of spoke to me. I knew I wanted “Barack’s Groove” on there because what he has done as a man and as a black man for me is incredible, politics aside.
Serious question: what makes the sound of the sax so sexy?
Favorite songs to really GO OFF on?
“Mr. Magic,” and “Bye Bye Black Bird.”
Highlights for this year – what is planned?
Making sure that “The Best of Walter Beasley” is promoted the way it should be promoted, do as many performances as possible, touch as many people as possible, and create the best music that I can create.