Editor: Keisha Lynn
Photographer: Matt Ward

Music that feels good to the Soul



By Matt Ward Published May 25, 2013


In the presence of Saxappeal, I am reminded of the saying that genius is often unrecognized in its own time. Internationally known saxophonist, LaDarrel ‘Saxappeal’ Johnson, is one of Detroit's foremost musical experimenters.  He has coined his particular brand of wind symphony with the term 'SaxSoul'; an eclectic mix of contemporary Jazz, Hip-Hop and R&B.  It entails a combination of more up-tempo sounds, forming a spirited and soulful cocktail.

Detroit Jazz Magazine sat down with Saxappeal at the Detroit Main Library where his band, Collective Peace, was set to present material from their upcoming album, “Introducing Collective Peace.”

 DJM:  How do you define your music?

 SAX: It's just a Jambalaya mix of music that feels good to you. It's not something made to be easily forgotten nor is it some type of microwave processed food; we actually took time to make it. So, what we're feeding you is wholesome.

DJM: Are you releasing it online, physical formats or both?

SAX: We're doing both. It will go on iTunes, CDBaby, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, and also Pandora. We're in the process of trying to get a distribution deal so that we can get it out not just to the Mom & Pop businesses, but also high end retailers as well.  The goal is to get our message of peace and positivity out to a larger audience.

DJM: Can you unpack the meaning of 'SaxSoul', and how the album title "Unmarketable” (2011) came about?

SAX: The genre SaxSoul just kind of organically happened. I was speaking to a friend of mine about the album, and at the time, we didn't have a name for it. He was listening to it, and said "I like it, but from a marketing standpoint, you won't get anywhere with it.  They won't play the music on mainstream jazz radio stations because it's not marketable for Smooth Jazz.”  But, I knew there was a strong underground market of people who could appreciate all genres of music that feels good to the soul.

DJM: If you were to try educating someone in Contemporary Jazz, what albums artists would you point them towards?

SAX: One of the first contemporary jazz albums I owned was Grover Washington Jr.'s “Winelight.” I think there were only six songs on the album, but it was an incredible piece of work. Another phenomenal album is Herbie Hancock's “Maiden Voyage.”  With both of those albums, it made me realize that it's not about making music that mass media will appreciate, it's just about music that's therapeutic to someone else's ears as well as yours. With “Winelight”, it was a type of simplicity, tonality, and articulation that I had never heard.

DJM: How did your family nurture and influence your love of music?

SAX: My Dad, the late Demetrious Smith, [a noted musician in his own right] played guitar and drums, and my Mom, Crystal Johnson, has an incredible voice. Unfortunately, my Dad passed away at the age of 30 when I was eight years old. He would put me on his lap and play songs and make silly riffs. That connection I had with him made me want to continue to play, because anytime I have my instrument or music around me, it makes me feel like I'm still close to my Dad.

DJM:  Where did the name Saxappeal come from?

SAX:  About 10 years ago, my mother saw me taking photos for my MySpace page.  She jokingly said “you think you got that Sax Appeal.”  As I thought about it, I realized that I really liked the name.  So, it stuck around, and I don't think it's going anywhere.

DJM:  Where can we see you performing at next?

SAX:  I actually have an APP, “SaxAPPeal” where I list all of my upcoming performances.  To date, I am scheduled to perform at the Key Club, Motor City Wine,  The Music Hall (Elevate), La Casa de la Habana and River Days just to name a few.