Pensacola native Antoine Knight returns home to perform at DeLuna Fest. / Special to GoPensacola.com
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Antoine Knight is putting some swagger back into smooth jazz this September at DeLuna Fest. The Pensacola native will bring the funk to his old stomping grounds to show why jazz shouldn't be on the decline and should be played more often, as a matter of fact. The charismatic saxophonist conveyed his feelings about where the genre has been and where it is going via phone interview. Knight knows his craft and isn't afraid to wow the crowds during his hometown performance.
Q: Since you are from Pensacola, but live in Atlanta now, I have to ask: What is your favotrite thing about your hometown?
A: The only thing that comes to mind is the Bob Sikes Bridge and going to the beach; listening to the wind and the waves and the birds and watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.
Q: I saw that while growing up in Pensacola that you got your start performing at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Do you think that you would have become a professional musician today without having had that experience?
A: I would say yes and no. The no part is that back in those days, I was just playing — I was not even a professional. It was just something that I was doing for my church and something that I was giving the talent that I had to my church. As far as me being a professional now, when I decided to become a professional, I was in a different time and place in my life. Going from job to job, trying to get into the corporate industry — I just said, “enough is enough.” I just made a full commitment to music in 2001, and haven't looked back since.
Q: Wow. That is scary and awesome and brave!
A: [laughs] Yeah, it is. It is an act of faith. A lot of people go on with their lives — it is a process. It is a faith thing. You gotta have the faith that you are going to prosper.
Q: Was it a fluid jump from performing gospel music to performing jazz music?
A: No, it wasn't that big of a jump. You know, the way that music is progressing now, it is very improvisational. That's why so many successful [artists] like Whitney Houston or whoever sprung out of the church, they just come into the scene of R&B and pop and just nail it.
Q: Speaking of the kind of music that you do, I heard that your new CD, “Walk Da Walk” has been described as urban contemporary jazz with unexpected stylistic twists. What would an example of that be, for those unfamiliar with the genre?
A: The expression means this: Smooth jazz started in the R&B genre. If you ever wanted to hear smooth jazz, it was always on the R&B station. The David Sanbournes, the Jill Allbrights — all of that was on the R&B stations. The way smooth jazz is going now is a little more mellower, a little more pop-ish. What I did was I brought some of the funk back. I brought back some of the swag back. And that's what the terminology of the “urban,” or how people describe the CD — that's where the term comes from, because it is kind of a fun thing. But let's keep it real — smooth jazz started from R&B, so it has that funk flair to it. Chuck Mangione, all of them, even the white boys that were playing the smooth jazz, they were funky! And that's just the way it was. Average White Band — the saxophonist is a personal friend of mine. So that's what I did. I just wanted to bring it back to what it used to be back in the ’70s. “Walk Da Walk,” the title track, that's the attitude or the swagger that I wanted to implement in that song.
Q: You mentioned a few artists there. Who are you currently listening to?
A: Well, before there was smooth jazz there was also traditonal jazz. And lately, I have been listening to some of the old jazz, like Cannonball Adderley. I have been listening to some of the old jazz like Sonny Spit. I have been listening to, if I want to get modern, to artists like Jill Allbright. What I do a lot of times, too, is I'm really a boring guy, at night I get on YouTube and I just plug in the name of an artist. I am always studying and listening to new guys. What an artist does is listen to the artist, but me, on YouTube with the technology now, it allows you to not only listen to them but you kind of grasp their show — what they do, how they articulate the audience, how they flirt with the vibe that they are creating on their craft. That's pretty much what I have been doing lately.
Q: You do your homework!
A: That's what you gotta do! I want an “at the end of the day!” [laughs]
Q: Are you going to be performing solo at DeLuna Fest, or will you be accompanied by other muscians on other instruments?
A: As an artist, musicians always come with the band. It's just that, I've got a nice crew out of Pensacola. They have proven themselves to me. Normally, I bring my cats out of Atlanta, but I did a show in Pensacola back over about two months ago and these cats really proved themselves and they really showed me something that they've got — what it takes to really do what I need to do onstage. So the guys that will be accompanying me are Pensacola's own!
Q: Is your family going to make it out for the show?
A: Oh, absolutely!
Q: I learned that you had written a song for your sister's wedding called “Our Day.” Is that available anywhere for download?
A: You can download that song. I am on a distribution website called cdbaby.com. So if you go to cdbaby.com/artists/antoineknight or search for it, you can download that song. A lot of people have liked that song and it was a nice song that I did.
Q: Since you wrote that song, are you involved with any other composing or songwriting?
A: What I do is, I can write all the songs, but it's really not important that [you do so]. A lot of times you want a different voice in what you're doing. You want someone that has a different signature. When people write a song, they have a certain signature where you always know it's them. It's the same thing in a different way and I didn't want that, so what I do is I use a conglomerate of different producers. And then they lay down the idea on the track or the song and then I put my own signature on it, based off of what they are doing to give it that twist. It's still me and what I do but the foundation of the songs and the music is not repetitive as if I were to write them all, all of the time.
I really try to keep my music simple and I try to keep my music, should I say, listener friendly. I don't want it to be complex, because jazz is really on the downfall. People are just not gravitating to the art. People are just not embracing the things that jazz has to offer and plus you don't have any jazz [radio] stations anywhere in Pensacola it's becoming a lost art. It's a shame and it's sad, but that's just the way it is. So I just try to make things interesting to show people that there are other ideas of what they think of and percieve when they listen to jazz or listen to jazz-pop.