The Soul Seen™ is a retrospective of past features that provide a snapshot in time in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of these very talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find, still resonate today.
From the original I SPY SOUL feature segment, IN FOCUS, 2002
WILL DOWNING The Journey Continues
On a sunny afternoon in Manhattan, I realize that I’m sitting in a place where scores of women would love to be. Behind closed doors with a gentleman whose rich, silky-smooth baritone and seductive delivery seemingly mesmerizes ladies like a swinging timepiece. I’m here to talk music with vocalist, WILL DOWNING and about the release of his new CD, SENSUAL JOURNEY, but my guess is those women would have a far different agenda, if you know what I mean. After just a few minutes into our talk, I’m convinced his warm smile and easy-going flow, add to the appeal of this suave New York son, but the velvety voice is without question, the key.
The title of his new release is quite fitting, for Downing has indeed taken many faithful admirers on a sensual journey. One that began some fourteen years ago with his distinctive, jazz-inspired and mellifluous timbre stirring romantic vibes, tender moments, and idyllic nostalgia. With a voice that conjures up the sophisticated elegance of legendary crooners before him like Johnny Hartman or Billy Eckstine and the mood-setting ability of R&B icons like Peabo Bryson and Luther Vandross, Downing personalizes every song he sings. In fact, early renown for him came with what he has become somewhat known for, which is his beautiful rendering of timeless classics – songs like the Deniece Williams’ tune, “Free” or Angela Bofill’s “I Try”. Needless to say the winning trend continues on the new project with Downing again adding his signature flavor to beloved gems such as “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” and “If I Ever Lose This Heaven.” But there’s more reminiscing to be done when he effortlessly weaves new warmth and beauty into the Michael Jackson hit, “I Can’t Help It”, with the aid of smooth sax man, Boney James, keyboard whiz, Ronnie Foster and the extraordinary, Marcus Miller. “I have a list of songs that I write down and I’m kind of going down the list” says Downing. “With the song, “I Can’t Help It,” I was listening to radio in New York and it came on and I was like, Man, this feels good and it sounds good. I started singing and humming it to myself and it stuck with me all day. Finally, I just said let me come up with my own arrangement for this song and that’s what I did.”
It’s clear the choice to adopt a song for his own comes from a sincere fondness for the music that has touched Downing over the years. It’s this fondness that sets the tone for all of “Sensual Journey”, a splendid union of R&B and jazz with an adult lean and seductive prose urging plenty of passion-filled scenarios. A listen to tracks like, the first single to radio, “Cool Water” with its infectious mid-tempo sway and pleasant Latin-tinged, acoustic guitar or the sure, quiet-storm jewel, “Maybe” with its alluring feel tailor-made for inciting intimate moments, will clue you to the target this accomplished artist is going for. “This album is for adults”, says Downing without hesitation.
Categories to artists like Will Downing are a frustrating reality that most often hinders their exposure to the mainstream in favor of younger more predictable artists. Even with a career such as his which, boast eight albums, a Grammy nomination, and sales of more than one million records. Not to mention, countless more sales and success he’s garnered with other prominent artists he’s recorded with. But “adult” is the only category he’s completely fine with. It’s where his music naturally falls and he’s quite proud of it. He also wants fans of his music to follow suit. “Basically what I’m saying (with this album) is, it’s a call to people in my generation and my age range. [I’m saying] listen, it’s okay to be this age and it’s ok to love this kind of music and it’s okay to buy it and it’s okay to see it in concert. Just because radio may not format music to your taste that doesn’t mean there isn’t music out there for you”. With unwavering confidence Downing continues, “When we’re out doing concerts, the joints are filled with people saying, ‘Oh I love it, thank God y’all are playing some real music’. Well, if that’s the way you feel, then you’re going to love this record. This record is for you. I’m not pulling any punches. I’m not trying to be something I’m not. This is it.”
To find out what Will Downing is up to now go to willdowning.com