If there’s one particular word which comes to mind while both describing critically hailed saxophonist MIKE PHILLIPS and an ongoing theme of his illustrious music career within the jazz, R&B and even hip-hop worlds, it would be “authentic.” Phillips’ unusually high appreciation for music since early childhood, which manifested into everything from absorbing and learning musical instruments and immersing himself into all things music – his widely-noted, soulfully warm saxophone-driven sound sonically and melodically personifies the term.
Phillips latest groove-driven smooth-jazz musical offering, Pulling Off The Covers, cleverly turns out to be not only the soundtrack of his life but many of ours as well. “When you’re doing a cover, you do it your way…you do it how you do it,” Phillips explains of both the title and overall approach to his multi-influenced new set. “The song has to have swag and personality, and a harmonic or melodic outlook on something that already exists. The secondary meaning is you’re getting deeper into the song from an instrumental standpoint and maybe pulling off a layer. My perspective is getting deeper into songs.”
Born and raised in (“Money-Earnin’) Mount Vernon, New York (hometown to Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Al B. Sure and Heavy D) during the onset of the hip-hop generation to parents who fully encouraged his affinity for music, young Mike sampled multiple instruments before officially embracing the saxophone by the second grade. Yet it was a particular gift from his mother during this time which he says signaled an opening of musical floodgates for him. “After my mother gave me a record player, there was this jazz station, 89U I used to keep my radio on,” recalls Mike. “Then I would put the radio dial all the way up on the other end of the dial on Friday or Saturday nights to listen to Mr. Magic (popular early rap radio show). I was all over the place, but jazz was a big part of everything. This dual musical upbringing of sorts – which ranged from street corner rhyming and beat-boxing to honing his musicianship chops – prompted the decision to play professionally by the age of 16.
Hence, after making an impromptu debut at New York City’s Wilson’s nightclub in 1993, it came as no surprise when MIKE PHILLIPS not only became a regular presence at various open-mic jam sessions in Manhattan’s live music scene, but soon thereafter found himself scoring sessions and sideman work within jazz, R&B and hip-hop circles. Brought to the attention of the owners of Hidden Beach recordings, who quickly signed him and put him on the road opening for then label-mate Jill Scott in 2001. With noted, successful releases like 2002’s You Have Reached Mike Phillips, 2005’s Uncommon Denominator and M.P.3 (2010), received well by music critics and audiences alike, Mike simultaneously found himself amidst musical greatness when he was entrusted and embraced as saxophonist for the one and only music icon, Prince. “I played with him from 2004 to 2012,” recalls Mike. “He didn’t keep people that long, but I rocked with him from Musicology all the way up to those L.A. Forum shows. Loaded with valuable lessons and experiences, MIKE PHILLIPS never ceased carving his own music destiny and identity, as his just-released Pulling Off The Covers signals not only the commencement of the ownership of his masters (via his deal with new label home SRG-ILS /Universal Music Group), but finds him musically moving forward…..as always, with hyper-creative authenticity.
Having more than paid his dues and proven a most comprehensive student of the masters, his quest for creative freedom is fully realized amidst the warmly intimate, most contemporary-sounding smooth-jazz grooves of Pulling Off The Covers. Concurrently premiered by his easy-bouncin’ take on The Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes” and his harmony-riddled lo-fi-hip-hop-meets-jazz-funk spin on Craig Mack’s Bad Boy-era “Flava In Ya Ear” (featuring Stevie Wonder, Trombone Shorty, Keyon Harrold & Blu2th) as its first singles, Pulling Off The Covers seamlessly melds classic jazz with everything from 70s Quiet Storm soul and 80s funk/R&B, to 90s hip-hop and even an all-time classic TV music theme. “The integrity of the song that exists shouldn’t exist when you’re trying to push the envelope with the cover,” says Mike on his approach to covering well-known songs. Whether sonically navigating listeners through a smooth-coasting contemporary jazz “People Make The World Go Round” with Naturally 7 (The Stylistics) and a sassy harkening back to jazz/R&B crossover’s pioneering hit “Just The Two Of Us” featuring Butterscotch (Grover Washington, Jr with Bill Withers), or fusing Euro-funk with his signature jazz alongside a dependably mellifluous Brian McKnight on “Watching You” (Slave), maintaining the classic R&B chill of “Don’t Ask My Neighbor” featuring Angie Fisher (The Emotions) and even daring a jazz re-imagining of the classic Bad Boy multi-artist remix of “Flava In Ya Ear” (swapping out the rap posse for an R&B posse boasting Stevie Wonder/PJ Morton/Raheem DeVaughn/Naturally7/Eric Roberson/Leela James/Avery Sunshine (Craig Mack), this latest musical offering most represents the full life experience of the true MIKE PHILLIPS. “I want people to clearly understand that I am a product of hip-hop, the funk and everything that comes by way of the negro spiritual,” he reflects on the all-encompassing sound of Pulling Off The Covers. “I can roll the dice, and no matter what I throw out there I’m gonna make them proud because I’ve studied it and played it.”