Tenor saxophonist Jermaine Lockhart doesn’t just talk to animals. He also plays music for them at the Phoenix-area farm where he resides with his family.
When he practices outdoors at home, his audience is made up of sheep, goats, chickens and ducks.
“They are definitely curious,” he says Phoenix New Times. “They wonder what I say with my music as if it were a new language. Sometimes they sing.
He also draws ideas from their sounds. “They sing their own kind of notes – sometimes I go back to the piano and think about their sounds and how they could make a beautiful melody.”
Presumably there will be no animals in the audience on Friday, July 23, when Lockhart takes the stage at downtown jazz venue The Nash with vocalist Kim Weston and musicians Raul Yanez (keyboards), Roger Dryer (bass), and Dowell Davis (drums). Lockhart will play two shows that will showcase his mastery of the sax via renditions of jazz, soul, pop and R&B favorites by artists like Stevie Wonder and The Fugees.
It’s not just an evening of classic hits. Lockhart will also offer the public original music from his record, The Sun album. Weston will do the same from his recording, Love That’s all we ask.
Although Lockhart is hugely fond of jazz and cites greats like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins as huge influences, he has always played a warm mix of genres. Born in Cleveland, he started playing gospel in a Pentecostal church. “Playing in church,” he says, “and then going to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music introduced me to the type of genres I play. For many years I played gospel, country , jazz and rock; I toured with a rock band for three years.
In addition to being a professional musician, Lockhart is also a licensed real estate appraiser. When the market crashed just over a decade ago, he thought it might be a good time to head west from Ohio and work on music full-time. “Living off the grid has really helped us get rid of a lot of overhead, and I can just focus on being a musician,” he says.
The fluidity with which Lockhart plays tells you everything you need to know – and hear – about his skills. The track “Back to the Sunshine” from his recent full-length release emphasizes how he weaves the notes smoothly around the other instruments, effortlessly merging all sounds into an engaging sonic fusion.
Lockhart has performed with some legends throughout his career, such as R&B icons The Spinners. He bonded with them through the help of another musical superstar, George Benson, whom Lockhart calls his mentor. (During our chat with Lockhart, he wore an ornate, colorful jacket he said was a gift from Benson — one his mentor had worn on one of his own album covers. “I told him that he should give it to a museum, but he said he wanted to give it to me.”)
“George came to a club where I was playing,” Lockhart recalled, “and he invited me to his table – he liked the way I played. I went to talk to him and we’ve been friends ever since. Benson also connected Lockhart with award-winning songwriter and producer Preston Glass.”Working with George and Preston has been a great experience. I learned so much; they taught me a lot.
When Lockhart performs, he doesn’t just want his music to sound good. He wants to provide listeners with a soothing experience.
“I want my music to touch people’s minds and hearts,” he says. “I want it to be therapeutic and medicinal.” He even plans to go back to school in the future to study music therapy. “Musicians were the doctors back then – people came to them when they weren’t feeling well, and the musicians knew what notes or melodies to play to help them get rid of those ailments. Let’s step up and not settle not to be performers, let’s be healers because we have the power through music to do that.
Wellness is a priority for Lockhart. “I was inspired by John Coltrane – not just his music, but some of the work he was doing on himself before he died, like meditation and fasting. I would like to make my body more alkaline so that when the music flows through me, there is more energy that I can project to people, I want to project love through music.
Jermaine Lockhart performs at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday, July 23 at The Nash, 110 E. Roosevelt Street. Tickets cost between $34 and $40.