Fluid, polished, sleek, and oh yeah … smooth

Jazz at Gilly’s with Bob Baldwin and Toni Redd

By Khalid Moss

I’ll admit that I, as a voracious, jazz-hungry, sabre-toothed tiger of the music scene, have tracked all the great pianists, from Vladimir Horowitz to Allen Toussaint.

I’ve tried to examine the entire spectrum of the art of manipulating the 88-toothed leviathan. But in my entire examination of the world of keyboards, I have to fess up that I’d never heard of Bob Baldwin before now.

I guess since the genre of music labeled “smooth jazz” never had that much appeal to me, I just overlooked, or better, ignored the fact that skilled musicians exist in all areas of the music industry. Such was the case of pianist Baldwin.

The New York-born, contemporary jazz pianist, who learned to play the piano from his father, Robert, has been active on the scene for more than three decades and has earned four SESAC awards, most recently for his tribute to Michael Jackson, Never Can Say Goodbye.

Turns out that Baldwin, and vocalist Toni Redd, are the final artists scheduled to perform for Central State University’s 50th anniversary of its radio station, WCSU-FM, at Gilly’s on Nov. 10 at 7 and 10 p.m.

Baldwin has never performed in Dayton before. He is currently on a jazz cruise and I was fortunate to catch up with him for an interview for the Dayton City Paper. As a jazz pianist myself, with a preference for the acoustic instrument over its lesser electronic cousins, I asked him for his preference: acoustic or electric piano.

“I absolutely love acoustic,” he said. “It was my first instrument at age four. But I can carve out a landscape of textures on keyboards which is an art form within itself.”

Best known for his Southern soul and blues, Baldwin expanded into jazz in the late ‘80s. His heavily synthesized pop and funk-centered work didn’t prove commercially potent and he moved to Atlantic Records in 1990. He remained on Atlantic throughout the ‘90s without much commercial success.

In 1990 he joined saxophonist Marion Meadows and became a part of the smooth jazz consciousness. I asked him of all his recorded works which recording is he most proud.

“I like American Spirit for what it represents,” he said. “I also am fond of Brazil Chill which displays and re-confirms that music is its own international language. And finally New Urban Jazz launches a deeper relationship between urban and jazz which I believe to be the true sound of contemporary jazz.”

Baldwin has released albums for a number of labels including Orpheus, Narada, A440 music, 215 Music, Shanachie, Nu Groove and many others. In addition to recording and producing, Baldwin has also worked as a radio consultant. Asked what, as a first time visitor, he expected of Dayton audiences, he replied, “We’ll see! I have no opinion … yet. I’m sure they will embrace the truth in my music.”

Baldwin is paired with vocalist Toni Redd. Born and raised in Atlanta, Redd is an internationally known powerhouse performer and entertainer. She is an intense vocalist whose style is infused with r&b, contemporary jazz and classic soul. She is also a gifted songwriter whose recording credits include her international hit album, Straight From The Heart.

Baldwin first discovered Redd in a recording studio.

“I heard her first record and she just had that sound,” he said. “I produced her second record, which was a blast. Her version of ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’ is very respectful and should be highly adored by all who listen to it.”

The Baldwin/Redd performance is the final segment of WCSU-FM’s 50th anniversary celebration. Previous shows have featured Columbus, Ohio’s Kim Pensil, vibraphonist/vocalist Roy Ayres and the Michael Wade/Khalid Moss Quintet. WCSU-FM is the nation’s oldest HBCU broadcasting station and has been literally transformed into a viable, 24-hour jazz station by station manager/DJ Edwin Clay. Clay, for decades, was station manager of WOSU public television station. He parlayed his love of jazz and jazz performances into an informative and educational outlet for jazz lovers throughout the region.

“When I retired from WOSU, I could have dropped out of the scene completely,” he said. “But WCSU-FM was on the verge of being eliminated completely so I decided to use my expertise to resuscitate a fading institution.”

Clay, who lives in Columbus, commutes to Wilberforce each day to host a 1 p.m. jazz show and to tend to the business of the day.

“Now, we are recognized as a jazz radio station with jazz profiles and programs that give listeners something to think about.”

Bob Baldwin and Toni Redd will perform at Gilly’s, 132 N. Jefferson St. on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 and 10 p.m.  Tickets are available at Omega Records, Gilly’s, Huber Music and Video and Half Price Books and Records. For more information contact WCSU-FM at (937) 376-9278. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

Reach DCP freelance writer KhalidMoss@daytoncitypaper.com

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