Back in the Day – Today: Jeffrey Osborne

Back in the Day – Today: Jeffrey Osborne

Jeffrey Osborne is all jazzed up. (Photo by Janice Malone/Tennessee Tribune)

Jeffrey Osborne is all jazzed up. (Photo by Janice Malone/Tennessee Tribune)

By Janice Malone
Special to the NNPA from the Tennessee Tribune

For almost three decades R&B singer/recording artist Jeffrey Osborne has been a force on the music scene, either as a member of the great R&B band LTD or as a solo singer.  Born in Providence, R.I., Jeffrey Osborne was the youngest of 12 children and was constantly bombarded with music as he was growing up. He had five brothers and six sisters, some of whom went on to have music careers. His father, Clarence “Legs” Osborne, was a popular trumpeter who played with Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, and died when Jeffrey was only 13.

But Osborne’s father had the greatest influence on his musical career; He turned down many top band offers during his career to be with his family. It was only after receiving his mother’s encouragement that Jeffrey left for Los Angeles to play with L.T.D. At the age of 15, he sat in with the O’Jays when the drummer was too tired to play, and went on to play with them for two weeks. It was at a Providence nightclub that fate brought him together with the band Love Men Ltd. in 1969. Osborne’s solo career has brought him five gold and platinum albums, including “Stay with Me Tonight” and “Only Human.” He also recorded an album of duets with popular singer James Ingram, and scored an international hit with “On the Wings of Love” in 1982.

So what’s Jeffrey Osborne been up since his days with LTD?

Today, Jeffrey is part of the popular Men of Soul tour, also featuring Peabo Bryson, Freddie Jackson and Howard Hewett. His touring and recording continue to keep him busy much of the time. He has a new jazz CD, “A Time for Love,” that was released this past Valentine’s Day. The first single, the classic song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” features a duet with Osborne and the great Chaka Khan. The current release is a 14-song project featuring classic jazz standard songs, with Osborne and some of jazz music’s top musicians. Here, he chats about his first ever jazz album and what his music is all about today.

Q: Tell me more about the upcoming new jazz CD.

OSBORNE: The upcoming new CD reminds you of a modern day Nat King Cole record. This is the first time in my career that I’m doing an album featuring classic jazz standards songs. I’m very excited about it because this is something I’ve always wanted to do in my career. But back in the day, these various record companies I was with insisted that I do original material, so I never really got a chance to do jazz. Unfortunately, the R&B music genre is almost dead. It’s one of the forms of music that’s pretty much is dying off. Hip hop, country music and others are alive and well. To me, today’s gospel music has become today’s R&B music. It’s taken on a form that’s more and more like an R&B format. And country music is sounding more like pop music but R&B has kinda left us. So I thought now is the time for me to take my music in another direction. The jazz direction I’ve gone into is one that I’m very comfortable with.

Q: What was it like working with George Duke again?

OSBORNE: George Duke is one of my favorite producers, not to mention being a great pianist and singer. George also produced my first three solo albums. I’ve worked with other producers over the years but now George and I are back together again on this one. He and I have both matured over the years and so now I think this new album is probably my personal favorite projects I’ve ever done. One of the songs is “Smile.” I understand this is one of Michael Jackson’s favorite songs of all time. We were waiting for Stevie Wonder to do a harmonica solo on this one but his schedule didn’t pan out.

Q: I understand that you guys had a live band actually in the studio during the recording.

 OSBORNE: Yes, we did. That’s one of the interesting elements about this project. This kinda thing is rarely done anymore. We had a live trio in the studio, consisting of George Duke, Christian McBride (stand-up bass) and John Roberts (drums). I wanted to do a record where I could simply sing a verse and then have someone play a beautiful solo behind it. And that’s what we did. The project is filled with some incredible solo numbers from various musicians. We did 14 songs in two days.

Q: Are you nervous how your fans will react to you doing an all jazz CD?

OSBORNE: I’ll admit that I’m a little concerned on how the fans will accept it. I don’t think they’ll be expecting anything like this from me. I’m hoping this project will expand my audience rather than cater to the audience I already have. It will be nice if my current audience were to enjoy this piece of music, along with new fans. But I think it’s time for me to expand musically. Jazz seems to be alive and well, it continues to have worldwide fans. I’m really glad that I chose to release a jazz project at this time in my career rather than earlier because back in the day I probably would’ve over sung these songs. I would’ve sung as many riffs as I could find but now I just sing the melodies. I’ve stuck with the melody because these are great songs. They’re classics and all a singer has to do is just sing the melodies and that’s it.

Q: You have a single with Chaka Khan, the classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

OSBORNE:  Yes, Chaka really wanted to do this song. There’s been many great versions of this song but I especially like the Ray Charles/Betty Carter rendition. Chaka handled the song very similar and beautifully, in the same style as Betty Carter did. Chaka and I are talking a little junk on the song, all in fun too.

Q: Your dad was an accomplished trumpeter who played for top performers during the Big Band era. So with this new jazz CD it seems your career has now come full circle.

OSBORNE: My original music roots really are in jazz. I’m the youngest of 12 kids. I grew up listening to Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstein, Ella Fitzgerald. So for me to record an album of jazz standards makes me feel right at home. My new CD is the kind of music my father would’ve loved to play on. My dad insisted that I learn to play the trumpet while in elementary school. When I reached junior high my dad passed and I never picked it up again. I actually never really liked playing it though. I found singing to be much easier. There have been times when I wished that I had continued playing trumpet, though. It’s kinda interesting that my career has come full circle with a record of classic jazz standard songs. I don’t know what took me so long to do this!

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