Cover Story

Kim Waters
By Brian Soergel

Kim Waters is one of the hardest working musicians in smooth jazz who, in addition to his solo CDs and group projects, is much in demand as a producer.

This year looks to be hyper-busy. His new solo CD is I Want You: Love in the Spirit of Marvin, which he will be promoting beginning this month as part of what he’s calling his 20th anniversary tour. One of his first concerts of the tour will be kicking off BB Jazz’s annual Smooth Jazz Concert Series in Huntington Beach, California, on Feb. 14. He’s also co-producing fellow saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa’s upcoming CD. Kashiwa, of course, joins Waters and another saxophonist, Steve Cole, as members of the group The Sax Pack, a touring favorite that will be part of the 19th Annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest in April. And he’ll no doubt be offering another in the series of his hip-hop-meets-jazz Streetwize CDs, but before that he’ll release Hot Buttered Jazz, a smooth jazz tribute to the late, great Isaac Hayes.

Whew! That’s a lot of work. But Waters would be the last to grumble.

“It’s great to be able to be in this industry this long,” he said. “It’s a stroke of luck. As you know, the industry nowadays is very short-lived. Touring is what really keeps me going. It helps keep my fan base along with selling records on the road. I’m just trying to keep my core audience and establish new listeners every time we do a concert.”

One way he’s holding onto his base is by releasing a new solo CD just about every year. I Want You: Love in the Spirit of Marvin’s supposition could be described as the following: What manner of sound would Marvin Gaye be making today if he were still alive and doing smooth jazz? Waters has always been a huge fan of Gaye and in 2007 had a Top 5 smooth jazz hit with “Got to Give It Up” from his You Are My Lady CD. Danny Weiss, an executive at Shanachie Records, Waters’ label, suggested the idea of a concept CD of Gaye’s music. But although I Want You: Love in the Spirit of Marvin would go on to have two covers, “I Want You” and “Distant Lover,” the rest are all originals.

“I just tried to create some stuff Marvin perhaps would try and do if he were still alive today,” Waters said. There were some challenges, he admits, because Gaye’s music remains so powerful and, of course, his voice so distinct. “His music is so intricate––he has so much stuff going on, but when it came together it all made sense. Of course, I simplified quite a bit of it and tried to create it in an instrumental way where you still have that type of feel.”

Original tunes include “Take Me Away,” with a staggered, against-the-beat groove; “Groove With Me,” a dance song with Waters’ distinctive sax hook; the funky “Let’s Get On It,” its title a wink to Gaye’s classic song; and “Thank You,” which Waters said is a shout-out to his fans.

When it came to the covers, Waters said it was easy to pick the ones that he wanted. On “I Want You,” he enlisted vocalist Vivian Green. “She did a tremendous job. You know, I have a big stigma of me being this sexy saxophone player, so I tried to play that up.” He laughed. “It worked pretty well.” “Distant Lover,” as Gaye’s fans know, is one of his most romantic tunes. Waters agrees. “I remember when I saw him on TV. As they played the first two notes of the song, women would start going crazy and throw clothes on the stage. I knew it was a sax song I wanted to do.”

Speaking of which, Waters felt the same about “Fallin’ For You,” a song from The Sax Pack’s debut CD last year. The song spent an amazing 10 weeks at No. 1 on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz national airplay chart. “When we recorded this, I said that that’s a No. 1 song,” Waters said. “Jeff and Steve turned to me and just laughed. They said that ‘Maybe you can say that because you’ve had so many No. 1’s.’ But sure enough, it went to No. 1 and just sat there.”

But, in a sign of how smooth jazz has changed, Waters remembers when he could put a single out and have it hit the top of the charts in a month. “Now it can take four to five months, sometimes six, to even get into the Top 10.” That’s probably a result of the tightening of the smooth jazz charts, where newer artists find it hard to break in with more established artists––both instrumentalists and crossover vocalists such as Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah. Nonetheless, the success of the song and The Sax Pack tour has all three artists anxious to return to the studio to give it another shot.

“Our recording process for The Sax Pack was unusual,” Waters said. “We went to Steve’s house in Chicago, made some Bloody Marys and started working. We went into the studio, gathered around a mic, pressed play and recorded. Lots of the songs on the CD were just one-takes, and we wanted it to be that way, not a rehearsed thing.”

**The complete story can be found in the February issue of Smooth Jazz News. Subscribe today. Receive 11 editions of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (February through December), for $35.


For more information on Waters, including his complete tour schedule and discography, visit