Aaron Akins: Thinking Love
Aaron Akins' music is something out of the ordinary. After all, a certain reminiscence of the voice of Nat "King" Cole wrapped up in the arms of a sophisticated Urban beat is not something heard every day.
Jazz is an alive music. Its rawness leaves an open door for pure artistry to grow and develop at its own speed; and whether it is under the influence of Urban music, a rather elegant hip hop vibe, or a classic vocal jazz spell, ultimately all that's asked for is some good music to talk to the heart. Stir and jazz it up, and Aaron Akins might be it. Produced by Darryl Swann (Macy Gray), the singer's second studio album Love is All Around (Vintrix Entertainment, 2009) combines the tradition of the Great American Songbookwith songs like "Mona Lisa," "Let There be Love" and "Nature Boy" absolutely reinvented and somewhat perfected under a brand new lightwith house compositions like "God Made Women Beautiful," "I'm Nothin' - If It Wasn't for You" and "I Just Wanna Luv U," where Akins pours out a heart filled with love and positiveness, and brings a smile to the face.
Any artist's level of creativity can usually be measured by an ability to create something unique and brilliantly different. Being an artist and being creative is not the same thing. When Akins envisioned a song like "Mona Lisa" performed with a twist of hip hop, he may have not been aware that a new concept in music was about to be acknowledged. The late Carole Cole and Capitol Records felt the magic, and the tribute to Nat "King" Cole, Nat "King" Cole, Re: Generations (King Cole Partners, EMI/Capitol, 2009), was born, with Aaron Akins' name listed on the "everlasting thanks" of the liner notes. The album features Nat "King" Cole with the voices of Cee-Lo Green, will.i.am, Natalie Cole and Nas, among others, where jazz meets a grownup great-grandson named hip hop. Just like Akins felt it should be.
A brilliant songwriter for Kurt Farquhar's True Music company (Burn Notice, King of Queens, Lost, Lincoln Heights), and a vocalist of impeccable taste, Akins' voice is a prodigy of sensuality and elegance. Somewhere between Al Jarreau, Nat "King" Cole and Johnny Mathis, Akins creates a voice for a musically mature 21st century. Put Urban, jazz, Nu-Jazz and Neo-Soul together in the same room and you've got an artist named Aaron Akins.
All About Jazz: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Aaron Akins: I am someone who has loved music for as long as I can remember. I am a middle child that comes from a large, loving family. I am excited about the possibilities of helping my family remember what it means to be a human being. I am someone who chooses a lot of laughter, joy and happiness, and as a result I experience a lot of laughter, joy and happiness.
AAJ: How would you describe your music?
AA: I would describe my music as a blend of jazz, Urban and R&B. But my music is ever-expanding and evolving. I am perfectly capable of doing a classic jazz set, a pop set or an R&B set. I also write in various genres.
AAJ: What is music to you?
AA: Music is something that is pleasing to the ear. It has the ability to heal. I simply couldn't imagine a world without music. Music is soothing medicine to my soul.
AAJ: What is jazz to you?
AA: Jazz to me is a style of music that gives the artist the foundation to be creative. Music is something that the artist gets to be creative with, and that is what jazz does.
AAJ: Tell me a little bit about your beginnings.
AA: I was born and raised in Chicago, and as a kid I was truly involved in sports. I was the captain of my high school basketball team. I also played a bit in college in the very beginning. When I was nine years old, I was singing outside, in front of my house, and a famous singing group that lived across the street called me over because they heard I could sing. I went over and sang with them, and thought nothing of it until many years later. I really didn't sing much at all in high school, just for fun. But when I got to college, I had to declare my major, and I decided to major in music. In college I formed my first band along with Darryl Jones, who was snatched out of that band by Miles Davis, and went on to play for Sting and now plays for The Rolling Stones.
Immediately after completing college I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my music career. While in L.A. in the early years, I got into acting as a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and worked with people like Gene Hackman, Bernadette Peters, Tyne Daly and others, always performing at night and perfecting my craft. I went on to perform at some of the largest venues around the world, like the North Sea Jazz Festival.
AAJ: What is the main difference between Chicago and L.A., as an artist?
AA: L.A. is the entertainment capital of the world, so there is the possibility of more opportunity for an artist, but by the same token, Chicago is a very big blues town, so depending on your style and what you are into, the difference would be if you want to pursue acting, you would have to be more in Los Angeles, but if you are more into blues and jazz, you would be more productive in Chicago. In my opinion, as an artist, I don't think there is a difference between both of them as far as how I interact with what's around me. Whatever I bring to the table as an artist, I bring it wherever I go. So, wherever I am, however I am being at the time, that is how I create whatever I am creating, whether it's in Los Angeles or Chicago. It's important to say that whatever I am being while I'm doing what I'm doing will determine what I create, whether I am in Chicago or Los Angeles.
AAJ: The North Sea Jazz Festival.
AA: I performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1997. I was the singer for an Indonesian group called the JAMZ All Stars. Those were some of the most exciting and fun times of my life. It was very exciting to play alongside artists like Ray Charles, Al Jarreau, Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton and many other great jazz artists.
AAJ: Bob Hope, Henry Nemo and Lionel Hampton.
AA: I opened for Bob Hope at the Hollywood Palladium. It was for a big club in Southern California. That was the year Michigan played USC. It was not only fun meeting and taking pictures with Bob Hope, but also his friend Zsa Zsa Gabor hung out with me and took pictures. It was a lot of fun, and just knowing that I was working with Bob Hope, you know, Mr. Entertainment, it had certain fascination to it.
I was performing at a club in Southern California, and I caught the attention of Henry Nemo. I did not know who he was at the time, and did not know he was in the audience, but he had someone contact me and told me he wanted to meet me. I went over and met him. He started talking and he asked me to record some of his songs that had never been recorded before, so we recorded an album together that was called "Mr. Nostalgia and Friends." As you know, Henry Nemo is known for writing songs like "Don't Take Your Love From Me," recorded by Frank Sinatra, "'Tis Autumn," recorded by Nat "King" Cole, and "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart," recorded by Duke Ellington.
My experience with Lionel Hampton was just that one night I was performing at a Hollywood club, and he happened to be in the audience, and he sent his manager over to ask me to sing "When I Fall in Love," and I did sing it. He was very appreciative, and that was a very interesting time in my life.
AAJ: Nat "King" Cole.
AA: [Big sigh]. Today I am probably the biggest Nat "King" Cole fan on the planet. I was singing at a workshop, and my instructor gave me a tape of Nat "King" Cole, and I asked her why she had given me that tape. She said "I gave it to you because your sound is a mixture between Nat "King" Cole and Johnny Mathis." I went home and listened to that tape and became a fan of his. I can't even describe what I experienced. It was his cool, his phrasing, his tone, his style...He was simply amazing to me. I was 28 years old. The song that moves me the most is absolutely "Mona Lisa." Its mysteriousness; so much is behind Mona Lisa. Of course, the painting...the lyrics in the song..."is she a lonely, lovely work of art," such a colorful lyric in itself. So it is just intriguing the way Nat "King" Cole sang it. Everything about "Mona Lisa" was intriguing. I love that song.
AAJ: Tell me about Re:Generations and Into The Cole .
AA: The title of my first album was called Into the Cole. It's a collection of Nat "King" Cole songs done in a contemporary, Urban way. I was able to give that CD to Carole Cole, the older, late sister of Natalie Cole , who played it for Natalie, and at that time they decided to do an album of Nat "King" Cole songs, but done in a contemporary Urban way. They brought in will.i.am, Cee-Lo Green, Nas, The Roots, Natalie Cole and many more, and that album is called Nat "King" Cole, Re: Generations (Capitol, 2009). I am acknowledged and thanked in the liner notes of that CD.
I am excited that I was able to inspire such an historic CD, with some of the biggest names in music today, and to know that I had an idea where I wanted to merge classic jazz with Urban music and come up with a concept that was accepted by Carole Cole and Capitol Records; that makes me very happy.
Into the Cole was just a labor of love. When I recorded it, I was not recording an album that I had in the back of my mind what audience it would reach, or how many units it would sell, or who I would impress. I did it because I loved the music and I loved the concept of giving that classic music a beat. And really my idea was to just to do a good album, as simple as that. Whatever happened after that was up to the universe, but I just wanted to do good music.
AAJ: Love is All Around, tell me about the songs.
AA: Love is All Around is my second CD. It's the CD with "God Made Women Beautiful" on it. I would say that every song has something to do with love. I'm extremely proud of it because I got to put the songs on it that I wanted to put on it. Also I like the fact that I had the courage to put different genres of music on it, like Contemporary jazz, Urban, R&B.
When I did this album I didn't have any major company standing over me telling me "stick with this genre." I decided that I wanted to put the songs that I like the most all together in one album, and that's what I did.
It is what it is, love is all around. If one is open to see love, one will see love. If one is open and chooses to see something else, one will see something else. But the choice is yours. If you choose love, it's all there for you. My best thinking tells me that God ultimately is love, and everything else is just an illusion, Everything else that happens, in my opinion, is just to get one back to what really is, and what really is, is that love is all around. The ultimate reality is love; everything else is just an illusion, something that was created for us to get to that ultimate reality, which is love. That is why I say that love is all around, because I see that I can choose to see love, all around me. Everywhere, every moment, every day.
AAJ: Darryl Phinnesee as a producer of Into the Cole.
AA: Firstly, Darryl Phinnesee is my friend. We went to the same college. He was in the graduate program while I was doing my under graduate work. I wanted him to produce my CD because he is a great singer first, and a sought after songwriter. All those collaborative efforts, I knew he would bring great vocal insight and musicality to the project. When he commits to something he treats it with the utmost respect and concern, or he doesn't take on the project. I know that he treated me with the same concentration and focus that he did when he worked with Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
AAJ: What's in your heart?
AA: Love, passion and more love. Love for life. Passion for life.
AAJ: Tell me your songwriting.
AA: My songwriting has been an intriguing, beautiful process. I think my writing is a reflection of what I think and how I feel normally. I seem to have a universal perspective, writing-wise. All the songs that I write seem to talk to the world about something. When I get the inspiration, I try to put the song down on paper first, I usually get a melody and the lyrics at the same time, and because I am a singer I sing the melody and lyrics into a recorder and then I go into the studio and perfect the song with some of the best producers in the world.
The inspiration comes from all around, from everywhere, from everything. It just depends on what I am being at the time. If I am being open and receptive to love, and beauty and happiness, I will receive inspiration more than if I am feeling down, depressed or sad; so I feel it is my responsibility to keep myself in a happy, loving, positive, grateful disposition, and then inspiration can come in easier.
AAJ: "God Made Women Beautiful."
AA: This song is my baby. When I say "it's my baby," what I mean is that I simply love this song. I can't say enough about this song. I know I was inspired by God to write this song. I think there are so many negative images and thoughts and words in music today, especially some Rap, that it is absolutely imperative that there be some positive images and thoughts and words in music today. "God Made Women Beautiful" is an attempt to remind women about the truth of who they are.
I don't believe that God can make anything that is not beautiful. I believe that certain women bought into a lie, and believe they are something other than beautiful. It is just an idea, and an idea can be changed. The definition of an idea is something that exists in the mind, the definition of a thought is something you put your attention on. If you have an idea that you are something other than beautiful, you will feel that way. If you put your attention on a thought that you are something other than beautiful, you will feel that way. So I am going to continue to remind myself and anybody who would listen that God made women beautiful.
AAJ: A perfect song to sing.
AA: "God Made Women Beautiful," because it has a message to all women, not just to some women. Every woman on the planet I am trying to remind them that they can't be anything but beautiful. Because anything other than beauty is just an illusion, it is not real, it's just an idea. I'm also extremely fond of "Mona Lisa."
AAJ: Your influences.
AA: Nat "King" Cole. Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, to name a few.
AAJ: A dream.
AA: That every man and woman could hear my song "God Made Women Beautiful."
AAJ: A fear.
AA: I try to never say or think that word.
AAJ: What has been your biggest accomplishment as an artist, so far?
AA: I sang for the Pope at the Vatican, and I performed alongside some of the best jazz artists at the North Sea Jazz Festival, but I think I would say that as a an artist my biggest accomplishment is that I was inspired to write "God Made Women Beautiful."
AAJ: And as a human being?
AA: I am very happy that I learned that the best prayer is a prayer of gratitude, and I also understand the magnitude and importance that meditation has on my life.
Aaron Akins, Love is All Around (Vintrix Entertainment 2009)Aaron Akins, Into the Cole (Nakico Records 2004)
Courtesy of Aaron Akins