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In Remembrance of: Benjamin Henry, Eva Burrell, Eric Paul Jackson, Bertha Smith, Leon Guitry, Jackie Hall
By Richard Henry on August 22, 2010

Joel Cross is fresh and entertaining like a pillow of folk on a bed of jazz funk. Poetic story telling combined with aggressive guitar playing transcends common musical ideals, encouraging you to reach for more. With an organic voice rooted in rhythm, groove, and imagination his, passion will reach out and touch you in your seat.

His Debut Album "Just Reach" is coming soon. It is a collection of all those things Joel has aspired to since his youth. Growing up in a musical household he felt like there was a limit to his talent both as a guitarist and singer. This album is about realizing that their are no limits, only perceived walls. His title track "Just Reach" motivates you to reach for the stars and believe that you can grab them. His music shares a story of conquering your dreams by faith.

The songs were written from an earthy part of the artist's soul. They share stories of sadness that were changed to joy simply by faith. Joel says "Faith allows you to look past your current reality in search of a greater one. It encompasses all of me. All that I am and all that I do is rooted in faith."

Joel's approach to playing the guitar has always been guided by his ear. He uses disjunct melodies to create a rhythmic groove while singing a simple counter melody. These disjunct melodies reflect the chaos and doubt in our minds while the lyrical melody represent the simple truth that all you have to do is Just Reach.

Your album Just Reach seems to borrow from different musical styles. Explain.

It is a combination of a lot of music that I love that gets me excited and moves me. There is a bit of jazz harmony, a bit of gospel, r & b and some Latin elements. I was trying to approach the guitar differently in creating different grooves. While I was composing, I started hearing a groove that I would use as a cool idea to add to my improvisation. I built songs around the funky style of the guitar.

How will your album Just Reach help your jazz career in terms of direction?

The biggest thing is that it gives me my own voice. I do not hear many people approaching the guitar the way I do. I have not heard too many people sing with a low baritone voice doing what I do. I know what I am doing is different. I do not know if it will be good or bad. We shall see.

You have a background in gospel and in the church, how has this shaped your jazz style?

I learned to play in the church. A lot of the way I hear music is through the gospel circuit, like Andre Crouch and Kirk Franklin. There is always a sense of soulful, spiritual connection in my music and my playing.

What is one of your biggest motivators in terms of enabling you to continue creating jazz music?

The biggest motivator is the God given desire to make jazz music. I love to play in front of people and I love the fact that people enjoy what I do. It is a personal thing for me. When I wake up, I want to pick up my instrument and play.

How much did working with Noe Marmolejo, Mike Wheeler and Woody Witt help in terms of solidifying your interest in jazz?

Before I worked with them I had listened to jazz. Those guys laid the foundation of jazz for me. Just playing with them and taking classes helped me a lot. These guys are monumental. I still held true to the things that they taught me. I still hold them in very high regards. They gave me a good strong introduction to jazz.

While you studied jazz at the University of North Texas, what kind of support did you receive for jazz?

The biggest thing that I learned is the fact that everybody there was for one another. Everyone wanted to always play and jam and I received exposure to different styles of jazz. It affected my perception of jazz. It challenged me to get beyond and push myself to find my own voice.

How awesome was it performing on the same stage as Dave Valentine?

That was a pleasure. We were playing in a festival in Alabama and we opened for him.
We got a chance to talk to him and heard his stories of who he played with. It was awesome hearing him play. He is a very great flute player.

As a young jazz musician, how important is it for you to help jazz grow?

It is extremely important. The biggest problem is that people do not appreciate it because they don’t understand the music and what’s going on with it. A lot of it is purely instrumental, it is a part of American and African American history. I seek to expose more people to jazz to help explain it to them and open up their minds in a different way than pop music.

Do you feel in some way that the jazz masters have handed you the jazz torch?

Always. When I listen to a record like Joshua Redman or an old George Benson record. You cannot listen to them and not be challenged. You are in a new realm to strive for more when listening to the masters.

How long have you known that you wanted to be a jazz musician?

I think growing up myself, I kind of hated jazz a little bit. I would listen to great players with these great ideas and hate that I was not able to duplicate them. The first time I knew was when I was a U of H when I heard Mike Wheeler play and knew the possibility that I could learn and study from him.

We hope to hear more of your work. Are you planning to release more material in the near future?

Definitely. I recorded this last November and by January I had so many new song ideas. I am planning on releasing another CD within the next year or two. You should be looking for my new material.

Joel Cross Interview
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