Jeffrey Osborne comes home to jazz

jeffrey osborne. ae

By Bill DeYoung

After three decades as one of the most recognizable ballad singers in rhythm ‘n’ blues, Jeffrey Osborne decided to return to his roots for his newest album, A Time For Love.

Here, the man who gave us “On the Wings of Love,” “You Should Be Mine,” “Stay With Me Tonight” and “Love Power” wraps that velvety voice around such old-school romantic chestnuts as “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Nature Boy” and “Teach Me Tonight.” All set to breathtaking slow-jazz arrangements.

Osborne and his band will visit The Mahaffey Oct. 23, joined by the jazz saxophonist Gerald Albright.

“Gerald is just an incredible player,” Osborne enthuses. “He’s amazing. He does a set, and then I come out and do a set. And he’ll play some solos on my set. We kind of inter-twine it. Now, my jazz show is totally different from my regular show, but the thing is that when I do my jazz show people come in and want to hear my own songs! So I do a lot of them, too.”

Jazz has always been in Jeffrey Osborne’s life. At home in Providence, R.I., his father was a jazz trumpeter who played Miles Davis and Clifford Brown records around the house (the youngest of 12 children, Jeffrey preferred Motown, but his father ruled the roost). Whenever Duke Ellington or Count Basie came to town, Dad would sit in with the band.

“Music was all I knew growing up,” recalls Osborne. “All my brothers and sisters either played an instrument or sang, so it was all through my house. Every day, we were all singing together.”

Jeffrey was a drummer – but mostly, he knew how to sing, and sing well. That was always what made him stand out. “I would go and sit in with my brother’s singing group, ‘cause he had a couple guys that really couldn’t sing,” he says. “And he used to ask me to embarrass them by showing them the part. I was like 10 years old.”

One night, in the early 1970s, he crossed paths with an R&B band called L.T.D. (Love, Togetherness and Devotion). “I met L.T.D. in Providence,” remembers Osborne. “They were actually the backup band for Sam & Dave; they left them and just started going up and down the east coast, playing in all these little clubs. When they came through Providence, my friends said ‘You gotta go see them, it’s like 10 black guys.’ And I’m like ‘There’s not 10 black guys in Providence!’ I had never seen a band like that in Rhode Island.

“The night I went to see them, their drummer got busted outside of the nightclub. When I walked in, the club owner told me ‘You gotta help me out.’ They were playing the Top 40, which I knew. I sat in and played that night, sang a couple of songs, and the next day they asked me to join the group. It was being in the right place at the right time, I guess.”

Apparently so. By the end of the decade, the now California-based L.T.D. – with Jeffrey Osborne’s rich baritone front and center – had scored a handful of solid R&B hits including “Back in Love Again,” “Love Ballad” and “We Both Deserve Each Other’s Love.”

Mentored by the great jazz and R&B keyboardist and composer George Duke, Osborne left for a solo career in 1980. All of his early records – including most of his signature hits – were produced by Duke.

And so, when the time came to explore his jazz roots with A Time For Love, Osborne called on his old friend to produce. “I always wanted to do a jazz project, and I’d always told George that if I ever did it, he’d be the only one I’d want to do it with,” Osborne explains. “We always remained really close. I’d pop in and sing on one of his records, some background vocals or something.”

Duke died in 2013, not long after A Time For Love was released.

“Well, we finally got the opportunity to do it,” Osborne sighs. “I felt honored that he did it – and it was the last record he did.”

Jeffrey Osborne/Gerald Albright | At 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23

The Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st Street South, St. Petersburg

Tickets and parking at www.themahaffey.com, or call 727.893.7832

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