Saxophonist / vocalist Walter Beasley understands what it means to be prepared. A prolific recording artist and a compelling performer for more than two decades, he has proven his success as an instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, producer and educator – a range of talents that has made him one of the highest selling and most accomplished African-American saxophonists of the last ten years. Ready For Love is the culmination of two decades of pushing his own creative envelope and the boundaries of contemporary jazz in general.
But while the title is clearly a reference to the universality of romantic love, the record is fueled just as much by other passions that Beasley considers equally important. “This record is an indication of what hard work, dedication, talent and effort will accomplish, and it’s a gesture of love and appreciation for the people who have supported me along the way,” he says. “To actually take the time to dedicate yourself to music, dedicate yourself to a strong work ethic, dedicate yourself to being better, means you love what you do.”
Ranging from the playful to the introspective, from the old school to the edgy, Ready For Love is filled with a variety of soulful grooves and infectious melodies that showcase the countless satisfying shades of Beasley’s rich musical tapestry. Along with Beasley’s own production on five of the eleven tracks, the album also includes a number of noteworthy guest producers, including Phil Davis and Lil’ John Roberts, both of whom have produced and / or played with Janet Jackson, George Duke, Alex Bugnon, Rachelle Ferrell. Also guest producing on two tracks is James Lloyd, co-founder and keyboardist for Pieces of a Dream.
The set opens with “Free,” a stirring piece originally penned by Deniece Williams and features the vocal accents of Tiffany Davis. “It was just a blast to be able to record a song by someone who I had my first crush on when I was 12 years old, and then put my own spin on it. I just think that song – especially the saxophone work during the outro – sets the tone for the whole album.”
Beasley brings not only his horn but his rich vocals to the smoky backbeat groove of “Be Thankful,” the classic William DeVaughan piece that looks beyond material trappings and instead acknowledges some of life’s most simple and profound blessings. “I have two female African-American friends who recently told me that they were very frustrated by the feeling that the world no longer valued their worth,” says Beasley. “That song just hit me. I saw it as a way for me and others to step back and reassess who we are to ourselves and what we represent to other people. It serves as a reminder that all of us – regardless of race, economics, or whatever – should be thankful for what we do have and what we’re able to bring to the table.”
Keyboardist James Lloyd lends a hand on a couple tracks. The title track – along with the punchy “Why Not You,” toward the end of the set – both feature Lloyd as writer, producer and guest keyboardist. “James is very clear about what he hears in a song and what he sees as the end result,” says Beasley, who previously enlisted Lloyd for a track on For Her (“Coolness,” which shot to number 5 on the smooth jazz charts). “You just have to trust that the end result is going to be good, because with James, it always is. Sometimes you get too close to a project and you have to step back, and for those two tracks I just stepped back, because I knew they were in good hands.”
The island groove of “She Moves Me” takes Beasley into territory that he hadn’t explored in previous projects, with highly favorable results. “Hands down, that’s my favorite song on the album,” he says with no hesitation. “That was the first time I ever wrote anything in a reggae style. It’s a beautiful song that goers through various time changes. It just grooves. It moved me when I was recording it, and it still moves me whenever I hear it.”
“Sugar Puddin’” is a sensual track wherein Beasley’s alto sax work atop the churning backbeat creates the perfect union of the sweet with the spicy – a fitting combination, given the origins of the title. “Sugar Puddin’ is actually a slang term that we used in the South, where I spent my summers with my grandparents,” says Beasley. “It could be a reference to a little girl, or a girlfriend, or any girl who moves your heart in some way. Now, as I got older, I started to understand the more spicy definition of the term.” He pauses to elaborate, then thinks better of it. “I’ll just leave the rest to the imagination.”
The heartfelt closer, “Willa Mae’s Place,” is a tribute to Willa Mae Brothers, a lady who gave Beasley some much needed direction many years ago when he was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “When my parents were very far away, and I was dealing with different issues and challenges in my life – musically, personally, economically – she was there to really make sure that I considered all my options and made the right decisions,” Beasley explains. “She was a foundation for me. She’s gone now, but she made a big impact on my life.”
From nostalgic tales of bygone role models to island interludes to spicy and passionate vignettes, Walter Beasley is musician of many stories – and is possessed of the various talents necessary to tell them well. Every one of these stories is a reflection of a unique musical vision that pays its respects to what has come before and makes ready for what’s yet to come.
“For me, every song on here has a special meaning, and every song touches me in some kind of way,” he says. “I listened to this record three times as much as any other record I’ve ever made, and I’m still listening to it. And I think people will get the same feeling when they listen to it, because I don’t go too far from what moves me. I’m just taking it to that place where music moves you just because it’s good.”