Kari-On Productions is proud to introduce
Sweet Lu Olutosin
“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
- William Congreve
Jazz vocalist, lyricist, and composer Sweet Lu Olutosin has embraced, embodied, internalized this philosophy unflinchingly on his journey to becoming a top 20 international Jazz recording artist. Whether it’s headlining at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C or, playing the Teatro Rendano in Consenza, Italy, Lu’s performances are life changing.
Sweet Lu believes it is his duty, his mission to share his God given talent with the world; to use the idioms of jazz, blues, and gospel to share the spiritual healing and love this music, his music, imbues. He feels ‘mission accomplished’ after many of his shows when members of the audience come to him and say things like “...your music warmed my heart” or “I can feel the emotions in your voice” or, the big one, ...” your music made me cry”.
Like many African American artists, Lu grew up in the church and his first introduction to music was as a member of, you guessed it, the gospel choir. Lu’s family spent many happy hours in their local church and he reveled in the robust joy of gospel music and the magical effect it had on him and everyone around him. At home, the family was only allowed to listen to gospel music. Outside the home the only secular music he was exposed to was the blues.
Gospel and Blues were the breadth of his musical experience until, by chance, he heard a recording of Al Jarreau singing “You Don’t See Me.’ After further listening, Lu felt that Jarreau’s voice was totally free to communicate his message in whatever musical vernacular available to him. Sweet Lu’s passion was ignited. He knew from the moment he heard the opening rhythmic patterns of “You Don’t See Me” that this was the type of singer he wanted to be and the type of music he wanted to sing. His goal was to become an uninhibited singer using a mix of jazz, blues, and gospel to create music with the message of soulful, spiritual healing.
Lu immediately started listening to everything he could get his hands on. Al Jarreau, of course, Joe Williams, Lou Rawls, Eddie Jefferson, and John Lee Hooker were some of the male vocalists who influenced him. Like most creative artists, he began by imitating their styles and vocal nuances until he could take what he’d learned and create his own unique vocal style.
This musical odyssey did not take the expected route, however. Instead, his trek detoured with a 35-year stint in the US armed forces. Lu’s years in the military taught him the very important lessons of discipline, order, method and ultimately, belief in himself. Lu recently retired from the Army with the rank of full Colonel.
“Olutosin is masterful, filled with ideas within his phrasing, and deeply rooted in blues. The soulfulness of his well-rounded masculine voice is a beacon in the male jazz vocal idiom. One voice I hope to hear for many years."
~ H. Williams, JazzTimes
Most recently, Lu has added lots of silky movement, i.e. dance, to his live performances. His audiences love him all the more for it. Reminiscent of Hollywood’s suave Sammy Davis, Jr. or Ben Vereen, Lu elevates his performances to another level, adding visual dimension and texture to make his brand of healing a complete treat for the senses.
Vocalist “Sweet” Lu Olutosin proudly bears the honorific nickname of an honored of sweet bat swinging and basketball shooting sports heroes named Lou; from a jazz perspective he keeps good company in the sweetness department with the great saxophonist Lou Donaldson. Meet Me at the Crossroads is Lu’s third outing as a leader, and a honeyed follow-up indeed to his last date, Sweet Lou’s Blues from 2014.
Born in Gary, Indiana, raised primarily in Jackson, MS, and currently based in the Atlanta area, retired military Colonel Lu Olutosin has adopted a deeply ingrained familial immersion in gospel music to develop a most soulful approach to jazz song. Though anything other than gospel music was frowned upon in his upbringing, a chance aural encounter with Al Jarreau set Lu on the path to musical independence as he assertively responded to the irresistible call of the art of the improvisers.
For this latest outing Sweet Lu has enlisted the assured hand of pianist-composer Donald Brown in the producer chair. The two met
on the strength of Brown’s thumbs up to Lu’s lyric to Brown’s magnetic “Theme for Malcolm”. “Donald heard my lyric,” Lu reveals, and “he loved it,” said “it was very creative the way you told the story.”
For this crossroads meeting Lu has enlisted additional jazz classics to lyricize, including Billy Strayhorn’s sophisticated line “Intimacy of the Blues,” which Lu christens “Sister Sadie’s Blues.” For the album’s closer Lu wrote lyrics to Joe Henderson’s indelible Brazilian flavor “Recorda Me,” which in Lu’s context becomes “Don’t Forget to Remember.” “I wanted to express in a relatable way that the cycle of life is unending,” Lu says of his investment in the Henderson classic.
Lu’s original songs for this date include “Skin Game,” a particularly resonant lyric in the wake of the troubling racial chasm in this country. In his assertive, though lighthearted way, Lu decries the ludicrous nature of our historic skin game divide, dismissing this artificial separation of the human race just as his granny admonished him. “I intentionally, but playfully, poke the big bear called racism with an implied question: “what if we didn’t have skin color to cloud our judgments,” he asks.
Another of Lu’s originals, “Tunji Baby” details a particularly appealing set of feminine wiles, a tune whose flavor neatly straddles the invisible line of demarcation between R&B and jazz. “I just wanted to pay homage to all the beautiful, smart, fine women who are just outside the grasp of the man who’s hot on their trail. Maybe if the guy comes correct he can get Tunji,” Lu declares.
With “How You Do That,” in this world of seeming insurmountable hurdles, Lu sings of folks achieving the unexpected in a world of “haters,” delivered in an eminently radio-friendly manner. Clearly our leader has developed musical platforms that neatly balance originals and classics. In the case of the classics, dig how Lu re-harmonizes the timeless Gamble & Huff line “You’ll Never Find,” bringing that chestnut into the realm of jazz interpretation.
Achieving such a finely balanced program of material is no small task, but Lu Olutosin aces that mission. “I wanted to show the relevance of jazz music in today’s society; although there are considerable stylistic differences between today’s popular music and jazz, the roots of both come directly from African-American gospel music,” he asserts. Exemplifying this approach he cites the Kevin Mahogany-penned opener, “Still Swingin’”, where he successfully endeavors to “tell the story of how jazz has been beaten up, changed up, and we end it by giving a gospel flavor to inject the feeling of origin in the song,” neatly referencing the “Cross-Roads” theme of this release.
Of equal importance with his careful program selection, Lu has chosen his compadres well, accompanied throughout by the rhythm section of his arranging partner Tyrone Jackson on piano, bassist Kevin Smith, and drummer Henry Conerway III. For certain selections he broadens the instrumental palate with trumpeter Lester Walker, and tenor saxophonist Mace Hibbard, employing some of the Southeast’s finest practitioners to give wing to this balanced program.
“I believe jazz is, was, and will forever be the music of the struggle for freedom. I think the players who realize this point are the ones we feel and connect with on a spiritual level,” is how Lu sums up his approach here. Open up those ears and that sensibility and “Meet Lu Olutosin at the Cross Roads.”
-Willard Jenkins is a DC-area based journalist, broadcaster, and concerts/festivals curator who can be found at www.openskyjazz.com.
- Still Swingin’ - 4:29
- I love you more than you’ll ever know - 5:00
- How They do That - 4:26
- Sister Sadie’s Blues (Intimacy of the Blues) - 4:48
- Skin Game (Granny said) - 4:12
- Dancea Swinga Nova (Swing A Nova) - 4:35
- You’ll Never Find - 5:01
- Tunji Baby - 4:56
- Don’t Forget to Remember (Recorda Me) - 4:49
- Skin Game (Sing a long) 4:12
- How They do That (Sing a long) 4:26
Instrument - Player - Pronunciation:
Sweet Lu Olutosin (vocals)
Donald Brown (piano, producer)
Tyrone Jackson (piano, arranger)
Mace Hibbard (tenor saxophone)
Lester Walker (trumpet)
Crystal Monet’ (background vocals)
Kevin Smith (bass)
Henry Conerway III (drums)