Some people equate smooth jazz with “elevator music.”
Singer Lindsey Webster was one of them — until smooth-jazz radio embraced her smoky vocals, propelling her to the top of the Billboard charts.
Since then, Webster has discovered “how wrong that stereotype was” — and she’s happy to sing the genre’s praises.
Local audiences can judge for themselves Saturday when Webster and bandmates — including her husband, co-songwriter and keyboardist Keith Slattery — help kick off the 28th annual Jazz in the Park series at the Clark County Government Center amphitheater.
As she’s discovered, “the people who follow the smooth-jazz genre … are some of the most enthusiastic music lovers I’ve ever met,” Webster says in a telephone interview from her upstate New York home. “It’s a wonderful niche crowd.”
Especially at an outdoor venue, which has “a more relaxed vibe,” Webster notes. And while the crowd may be more relaxed, “we still give the same energy of performance.”
Inevitably, Webster, Slattery and company — guitarist Mike DeMicco, bassist Fred Doumbe and drummer Dan Hickey — will be performing the chart-topping “Fool Me Once,” which last year helped Webster, 29, become the first vocalist to top Billboard’s smooth-jazz chart since Sade in 2010.
The Sade connection played a major role in connecting Webster with manager Bud Harner, who first heard her recording during a random listening session.
Webster and Slattery were hoping to license their songs to movies and TV, but Harner had another idea.
“Within about four bars, I was on the edge of my chair, like ‘What is this?’ ” he recalls in an email. “I think the kind of dusky quality to her low range caught my ear as a similar sound to Sade’s, but (Webster) also had the big high range like a Mariah Carey style. I hadn’t really heard anyone who could slide between both styles so easily and uniquely.”
Although instrumentals dominate smooth-jazz radio, “both Lindsey’s vocals, and the production of the tracks — which have elements of pop and jazz to them — just lent themselves perfectly to this genre,” according to Harner, who introduced radio programmers to “Fool Me Once” last year.
Since then, Webster’s charted three other numbers, including the latest, “Where Do You Want to Go,” which has hit No. 4 on Billboard’s smooth-jazz chart.
Along with originals, however, Webster will perform some “choice covers that feature my voice and the band” — from “Over the Rainbow” to “Natural Woman” — because “not everyone is familiar with our music yet.”
The child of musically inclined parents — including a mother who was “an opera singer at heart” yet “wanted to sing backgrounds for Jimi Hendrix” — Webster sang R&B growing up but studied cello in school, which “was my main thing for a long time,” she recalls.
But a move from New York City (where she attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, the famed high school featured in “Fame”) to “a tiny town in upstate New York” — one without a school music program — altered her musical course.
Instead, “I would sing karaoke,” she notes. “I would sing wherever I could.”
Including this weekend’s Jazz in the Park.
Contact Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272. Follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.
Saturday in the park … at Jazz in the Park
You can’t beat the price. After all, Clark County’s annual Jazz in the Park concert series is free to the public.
You can’t beat the setting, at the county’s Government Center amphitheater — which seats about 3,000, give or take a few blankets and lawn chairs, yet boasts a far more intimate feel. (Before the government center opened in 1995, the concerts took place in Paradise and Winchester parks.)
And you certainly can’t beat the weather.
“It’s springtime, it’s nice, it’s tolerable,” says Brian Saliba, program supervisor for Clark County Parks and Recreation, who oversees the annual series. To say nothing of the fact that “it’s a free evening in the park.”
Free for audiences, that is; the series is funded through the county’s general fund, according to Saliba, who says the cost of each show ranges from $15,000 to $20,000.
“It varies based on the artists and the artists’ needs,” he explains.
This year’s guest lineup includes four Jazz in the Park newcomers — plus perennially popular returnees Spyro Gyra, who have played the series numerous times.
“I know personally I have booked Spyro at least five or six times,” Saliba notes. “They’re crowd-pleasers, one of the favorites and highlights” of the series. “I try to bring them back at least every other year.”
Saturday’s opening-night headliner, Lindsey Webster, has never played Jazz in the Park. “I’ve never even been to Las Vegas,” she admits.
“But I’ve seen pictures of the stage — and it looks like a beautiful place to be,” Webster says.
It’s also “totally unusual” to have a free concert series, she adds, calling it “an amazing thing that they’re able to do this.”
In scheduling Jazz in the Park performers, “we’re trying to fill a niche,” Saliba explains. “There’s a lot of entertainment in Las Vegas,” and he tries to find “what normally isn’t booked on a regular basis” in Las Vegas.
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