Marion Meadows’ creative spirit is in perpetual motion. An avid and passionate cyclist with a zest for life, the debonair chart-topping saxophonist is also an accomplished photographer and visual artist. He earned his Doctorate in Arts and Humanities from Wilberforce University in 2016. Marion’s story of his ascent to fame is the stuff of legend. You might wonder what Star Trek, Star Ship and stardom have in common? Let’s just say the stars first aligned when Marion was heard playing his sax in Grand Central Station. Emmy-winning TV composer Jay Chattaway of Star Trek fame heard him and introduced Marion to iconic Grammy-winnng pianist Bob James who ended up helping Marion launch his solo career. The universe’s plans did not stop there, as it was not long before drummer and producer extraordinaire Norman Brown invited Meadows to board his Star Ship. Traveling at the speed of light, three decades later, Meadows who says his purpose is to “keep humanity moving forward,” stands as one of the premiere architects of Contemporary Jazz.
On April 23, 2021, Shanachie Entertainment released Meadows’ latest album, his 16th recording as a leader, Twice As Nice. The Nashville based saxophonist explains the title is a play on words. “Well, it certainly is Twice As Nice to have a brother and sister such as I have,” confides Marion who has collaborated with everyone from George Benson and Stevie Wonder to The Temptations. He adds, “Otha and Barbara are the best, and I am truly blessed to have them as siblings. The title also alludes to the joy I get from spinning my musical web into my albums and my artistic canvas. I guess it’s just that restless side of my brain that rarely rests!” Twice As Nice is an uplifting celebration that unites Marion with a who’s who list in Contemporary Jazz including Paul Brown, Chris “Big Dog” Davis, Jeff Lorber, Dave Mann, Steve Oliver and Joey Sommervile, among others. Marion reflects, “These guys are musical giants and I am so blessed to be in such a giving community.”
During the past year, the pandemic has been a catalyst for change in a number of ways. Collectively we have all been forced to self-reflect and assess our lives. “For me,” shares Marion, “I have been able to tap into an even deeper introspective of myself and the result has been rewarding. I realize how important my journey is on many levels and to be especially cognizant of my contribution to my friends and family as well as my community.” Marion’s mission with Twice As Nice is to use his music as a vehicle for positivity. “My fans know that when they get a new Marion Meadows album, that it will be eclectic! I have fans who tell me that my music is healing and I hope that this new music will continue to offer that to as many people as possible.”
Twice As Nice opens with the swinging and jubilant “On The Uptown,” co-written by Meadows along with bassist Robert Vally, keyboardist Leon Bisquera, and guitarist Paul Brown who join him on the track. Doubling on tenor and soprano, Meadows transports us on a soulful excursion along with trumpeter Joey Sommerville. Marion shares, “Joey is my dude and one of my best buddies and he is often my first call on trumpet. He definitely put that Sommerville patina on this track!” The finger snapping head-nodder “Lunchbox” is a fun and funky ditty chock full of all the right ingredients. This tasty groove features a stunning horn arrangement by Dave Mann and some fun interplay between Jeff Lorber’s bluesy keys and Meadow’s playful tenor and soprano licks. “I have always been such a fan of Dave’s sax work. It’s an honor to have him on board!” says Meadows adding, “Jeff and I have been going back and forth for years trying to get the right tune to lay down. I’m happy to say we finally got it right and it’s a hit! I’ll let the song do the talking!” Marion Meadows and company shift gears on “Pandora,” which Marion co-wrote with guitarist Paul Brown and keyboardist Gerald McCauley, who both join him on the track. “Paul collaborated with me on five songs on this project. He is a world-renowned producer, writer and musician and I am so happy to finally get the chance to create with him!” shares Marion.
Twice As Nice also features the alluring Meadows, Paul Brown and Lew Laing tune “Step To This” and the tender R&B ballad penned by Chris “Big Dog” Davis, “Yesterday Is Gone” featuring Meadows’ ethereal soprano and the vocals of Donnelly Smallwood. The album’s title track and first single, a spunky and bluesy riff-filled jaunt, is the perfect opportunity for Meadows to cut loose, and he does, having twice as much fun with Chris “Big Dog” Davis who co-wrote the song. The album’s lone cover is “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which has been recorded by everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Nancy Wilson. It is hard not to love Meadow’s emotive reinvention which poignantly shows why he is one of the best soprano players on the scene. “I don’t do many covers but I have always wanted to record “I Can’t Make You Love Me,’” reflects Marion. “This song stirs up so much emotion and I just let my soul do the talking when I recorded it! I was pleased when they played it back in the studio and I knew that this was the take!” The introspective and gorgeous “Kaleidoscope” shines new light and beauty as Meadows, guitarist Steve Oliver and keyboardist “Big Dog” shows off the many colors of this memorable Latin-tinged affair. Marion reflects “Steve and I have been friends and colleagues for many years. He was the cat that I needed for this song. He is a multi-talented musician/vocalist and he showed up for this track!” The hypnotic and meditative flow of “Don’t Wait Up” transports us to tranquility while the album’s closer, “The Thrill Of Rain,” brings the exhilarating journey to a close with another winning and memorable Chris “Big Dog” Davis and Marion Meadows collaboration. Meadows says, “Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis and I go way back and have recorded several tracks together. He never lets me down! He is always on point with the serious tracks and he is a consummate pro as well as bad dude on keys!”
Hailing from West Virginia and raised in Stamford, CT, Marion Meadows began his musical endeavors at age eight, studying clarinet. “I came up listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington but at the same time musicians like Earth Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan, Chicago and Parliament Funkadelic,” confesses Meadows who early on cut his teeth playing in Avant-Garde jazz groups alongside heavyweights Rashied Ali and James Blood Ulmer. At age 15, after hearing iconic saxophone masters like Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges and Stanley Turrentine, Marion Meadows’ switch to saxophone was imminent. He initially had his sights set on medical school and a career as a veterinarian. Upon high school graduation, he attended the renowned Berklee School of Music in Boston, later transferring to SUNY Purchase School of the Arts. While still a student, the ambitious saxophonist worked steadily as a sideman. He jokes that he “got a graduate degree playing clubs.” He was also fortunate to study with the best including Joe Henderson, Dave Liebman and Eddie Daniels. While at Berklee, Meadows had another serendipitous encounter, this time with drummer producer extraordinaire Norman Connors, who was then playing with legendary saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. Meadows says, “Norman Connors was really the guy who discovered me as an artist. The man who gave me my first shot.” Connors recorded Marion’s song “Invitation” and later extended an invitation to Marion to join his band. Connors, who collaborated with many of R&B and jazz’s greatest singers, afforded Marion the opportunity to work alongside such dynamic voices as Jean Carne, Phyllis Hyman, Glenn Jones, Angela Bofill, and many others. “That was a nice graduate school, so to speak,” laughs Meadows. After graduating with honors from ‘Connors’ University,’ the well-rounded saxophonist spent time honing his chops on the avant-garde circuit in the ensemble “Aboriginal Music Society,” which featured guitarist James Blood Ulmer, percussionist Juma Sutan and pianist Kasa Allah.
In 1990 Marion Meadows made his recording debut, For Lovers Only, featuring Eliot Lewis, Porter Carroll, Brian Keane and Average White Band alumnus Alan Gorrie. Two years later he joined forces with Will Downing, Bob Baldwin, Angela Bofill and Norman Connors for his sophomore recording Keep It Right There. Further solidifying his rightful place in the pantheon of great saxophonists, Meadows released Forbidden Fruit in 1994 with special guests Eric Benet, Don Grusin and Dori Caymmi, among others. Body Rhythm followed in 1996 and Pleasure was released the following year. Another Side of Midnight was released in 1999 showcasing Meadows alongside Bob Baldwin, Omar Hakim and Norman Brown. Next To You followed in 2000 along with In Deep in 2002. Player’s Club in 2004 spawned two hit singles, “Suede” and “Sweet Grapes,” which have gone on to become two of Marion’s signature songs. In 2006 Dressed To Chill was released and featured memorable renditions of hits by R. Kelly and Luther Vandross and joined Meadows with Chuck Loeb and his longtime touring keyboardist and vocalist Will Brock, among others. Secrets and its title track topped the Smooth Jazz charts in 2009.
The anticipated Whisper followed in 2013 showcasing the stunning Top Ten Billboard hit “Black Pearl” and in 2015 Meadows released Soul Traveler featuring another Top ten hit, “Humanity.” 2018 saw the release of Soul City, which united Meadows withPeabo Bryson, Maysa, Peter White, Norman Brown and Will Downing. Christmas With You, Marion Meadows holiday recording was released in 2019.
Several decades into Marion Meadows’ enviable career, a string of radio hits under his belt, scores of sold out international shows, a catalogue of critically heralded albums, and the saxophonist is still inspired. “Each recording is a continuation of my journey,” concludes Meadows. “I feel as though I have grown as a musician and a storyteller. It is all about my life and the fellowship of sharing.” With the release of Twice As Nice, Marion Meadows provides the perfect soundtrack for these challenging times offering inspiration, joy and an album filled with gratitude.