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Grammy-nominated musician performs at Brockport

by Katherine Fernandez - Copy Editor
Tue, Sep 10th 2019 11:00 pm

The first musical performance of the 2019–20 Fine Arts Series will be a tough act to follow. On Friday, Sept. 6, Grammy-nominated saxophonist Jimmie Highsmith Jr. along with some lifelong friends graced Tower Fine Arts Center Mainstage in a performance students are calling “inspiring.” The Rochester native was accompanied by keyboardist Larry Singleton, drummer Tony Hiler and bassist Jerome Bell in his soulful smooth jazz. 

The set was high in energy right from the start and whether or not jazz is your cup of tea, it was nearly impossible to keep from being swept into the sound. Looking out into the audience there was no shortage of head-bopping, toe-tapping and swaying in tune to the rhythm of the music. Alternating between his saxophone and Electric Wind Instrument (EWI), Highsmith Jr. broke out in a sweat after his passionate display of artistry. 

As the set progressed, Highsmith Jr. and friends began to branch out, choosing songs that exemplify how diverse jazz can be. The third song was bass heavy and included a sample of the iconic Super Mario Bros. underground theme. The bass was instantly recognizable, as the theme has been unchanged through the decades. He cited the pop culture mania around the game franchise in the 80s as inspiration for the song. 

The next few songs were slow and sultry while proving to be just as infectious. Highsmith Jr. dedicated the song “I Found You” to his wife who was in the audience and happens to be a College at Brockport alumna. The song was romantic, somewhat melancholic and absolutely enrapturing. Highsmith Jr.’s solo in the middle of the song demonstrated his lung capacity that rival Michael Phelps’. 

He also took time to interact with the audience, providing anecdotes that related to his musical process and asked students which instruments they played. According to Rochester-based singer and Brockport student Deja Levette Baxter, Highsmith, Jr. is known for working with young, local musicians and supporting their dreams. 

“My friend, local rapper Chi TheRealest, was recording a song that had a soulful vibe to it, and he had Jimmie Highsmith on the saxophone and he asked me to do the ad-libs so that’s how I was able to work with him,” Baxter said. “It was an amazing opportunity; I didn’t know I would be working with a Grammy-nominated artist and just watching him work you could tell he is very passionate. It inspires me to keep going, it shows me that people out in Rochester can make it.” 

During the brief interaction-based intermissions, Highsmith Jr. revealed the performance was unrehearsed, allowing for his companions to take creative license. 

“This is the essence of jazz music… we are in a conversation musically,” Highsmith Jr. said. 

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