As is readily evident throughout his very engaging and dynamic first CD, Michael Jenkins is no stranger to contemporary jazz, and has been blessed with the vocal “chops” to tell the stories and to make the kind of music that jazz lovers want to hear.
Michael’s influences include masters of “vocalese,” such as Jon Hendricks and King Pleasure, and legendary jazz storytellers such as Oscar Brown, Jr. It’s the stuff he was raised on and his style reflects all of that, and more.
In fact, Michael is part of a deep family musical legacy. As far back as the early 1900’s, his great-uncles, Wilton and Jim Crawley, were highly respected members of what was a still-young jazz community. The brothers played clarinet and soprano saxophone throughout venues in the old “black vaudeville,” and toured Europe in the early 1930’s. Michael’s uncle Wilton wrote, performed and recorded a great number of songs and led several notable bands, whose members included early luminaries such as Henry “Red” Allen and pianist Jelly Roll Morton. That musical legacy is now being handed to three of his four children, Michael, age 14 (drums), Taryn-Marie, age 9 (violin) and Adrian, age 11 (saxophone), who appears on the CD. Michael’s oldest daughter Tenniele teaches dance.
Michael began singing in his early teens in his native North Central Philadelphia, Pennsylvania housing project. Throughout his high school years, he sang falsetto 1st tenor, in various singing groups and bands, in local clubs, in dance halls and on university campuses, throughout the mid-Atlantic region. During that time, he befriended and performed with many talented Philadelphia musicians who have gone on to become established stars within the music industry.
During Michael’s college and professional career, his music interest moved closer to the musical heritage of his family…jazz. The family legacy is still alive in the musical talents of his brothers; Bruce (trumpet and saxophone) and Morris (saxophone), both of who appear on the From Deep Within CD, and who greatly influenced him at a young age.
For more than a twenty-five year span, Michael performed primarily as one of the lead vocalists for Fortune Vinson Cruse, a Philadelphia-based jazz unit, and is featured on two of the group’s CD releases. During this period he also had occasion to perform with a wide range of notable performers, such as Billy Paul, Najee’, Rachelle Ferrell, Sid Simmons (former piano player for Grover Washington Jr), jazz great Eddie Green, the late George Howard, Alfie Pollitt, and Alan Blake, just to name a few.
Although his greater love is music, for 25-plus years Michael held executive and senior leadership positions in several market-leading high-tech companies. In 2004, he founded his own market research and management-consulting firm with his wife, Karen.
Through this CD, Michael expresses deeply personal feelings and experiences, many influenced by his survival from prostate cancer, and a recent throat ailment (that he says hit him emotionally worse than the prostate cancer) where he lost his voice, resulting in more than a year of vocal therapy. His recovery has resulted in this CD, and the development of original songs featuring arrangements he’s heard in his head for a long time. To help him tell these stories, he’s gathered family members and several close friends, not only to join him in creating the music, but on most aspects of the overall project.
For example, Michael and long-time friends Kenny Dockins and Bill Jolly collaborated in writing songs for the CD. A special selection is a song called “Ever My Heart,” which was written by Michael in honor of his mother, who passed away in 1998. His brother Bruce joins him on the piece, on soprano saxophone.
Another selection, “I Hope You Know” is a very moving message that he wrote together with Bill Jolly, which is dedicated to his four children. Another brother Morris joins Michael on this piece, also on soprano saxophone. To complete the family connection on the project, Michael’s youngest son, Adrian, sits in with his Dad to provide some saxophone accompaniment on a delightfully smooth piece they’ve called “Heaven Love.” Long time friend, high school buddy, and former guitarist with the Stylistics, George Overton, also joins him on a couple selections.
In short, this CD provides Michael the opportunity to introduce his musical style to a broader audience, share some of his thoughts and feelings, celebrate the goodness of God’s blessings, and the love of family and friends. A. Bruce Crawley