- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

Ken Navarro is getting ready to release his first album with Shanachie Records this month, but the local jazz guitarist can hardly be considered an industry novice.

Since starting his solo career in 1989, Mr. Navarro has released 13 records on his own Positive Music label, run from his home studio in Ellicott City, Md. He kicks off a tour in support of his 14th album, "Slow Dance," Tuesday at Blues Alley in Georgetown.

The reason for the switch to Shanachie is not about production (he's already had plenty of contemporary jazz hits on his own), but distribution, marketing and other aspects of the business.

"They have the power and prestige to take me to the next level as an artist," Mr. Navarro explains on the phone from his home.

Mr. Navarro, who will celebrate his 50th birthday next year, grew up in Bethesda before his family moved to Wisconsin in his late teens. He was a voice major at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and lived in Washington for several years after graduating, before heading out to Los Angeles to work as a studio musician.

During those years, he backed up artists such as Nell Carter and Doc Severinsen and worked on a variety of soundtracks, including several Disney films and the music for the TV show "Family Ties."

In the late 1980s, Mr. Navarro moved back to Maryland and began his solo career and the label Positive Music. His work fit nicely into the emerging "smooth jazz" genre, even if he often switches styles from rhythm and blues to rock and funk.

"The listeners are very often coming from the same background as I am," Mr. Navarro says of smooth jazz fans. "They have no problem with listening to Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but people's tastes evolve."

He has plenty of reasons to put his career in perspective now. Last year, his record company released "Old Friends: The Best of Ken Navarro," his first greatest-hits collection.

"It's interesting to go back and revisit some of those things that I hadn't listened to in five or six or eight years," he says. "It was harder on the earlier records to find things that really satisfied me, because I've evolved as an artist."

On "Slow Dance," he wanted to make his nylon string guitar the primary voice while creating a record with "a fairly R&B sound, fairly contemporary," he says.

"One of the things I'm real insistent on with my own records is that every song be strong, and that as you listen to the whole album, that it's building," Mr. Navarro says.

The record also features two tracks with Maryland-born saxophonist Kim Waters ("Workin' It" and "Hookin' Up"), the first time the two have worked together in the studio.

On the road, he trims his band from eight studio musicians to a lean four-piece group, including himself. The three other members are Dan LaMaestra (keyboards), Gary Grainger (bass) and Andre Webb (drums).

Though Mr. Navarro is set to deliver his next few albums to Shanachie, he plans to continue his own label, which currently boasts roughly 70 releases.

With the aid of Federal Express and the Internet, Mr. Navarro has been able to maintain a successful career, while still living in the country with his wife, Kristin and their two children.

"It allows me to not only pursue music the way I want to, but to pursue the rest of my life the way I want to," he says.


WHAT: Ken Navarro

WHERE: Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW

WHEN: 8 and 10 p.m. Tuesday

TICKETS: $18

PHONE: 202/337-4141

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