Take the stage

Bradley Fair Smooth Jazz Concert Series features Newton-to-New York City connection

Written by Joe Stumpe

As a boy, Jacob Webb used to attend Bradley Fair's summer jazz concerts with his parents and other music fans. But while most of those present were just soaking up tunes, Webb harbored a goal.

"I remember going to these shows and being inspired and saying one day I'll be able to perform on this stage," he says.

That day will come June 22 when the Newton native, now a New York City-based musician, performs at Bradley Fair with his band The JT Project. The rest of the smooth jazz series features Joseph Vincelli, June 1; Dotsero, June 8; Chris Standring, June 15; and Vincent Ingala, June 29.

Webb, 28, has risen quickly in the music world since moving to the East Coast, releasing four albums with The JT Project, touring overseas and playing with numerous legends in the business. The JT Project scored a No. 1 hit on the Billboard contemporary jazz charts with its single "Overdrive."

Webb says it likely wouldn't have happened without the start he got in Kansas. Growing up, he played in school bands in Newton and took private lessons on bass from Mark Foley, a professor at Wichita State University, and piano from Huron Breaux II, artist in residence at St. Mary's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He was all-state in band, played in the Wichita Youth Symphony Orchestra and won a spot in the Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble, made up of top high school musicians from the area.

"I wouldn't trade it for the world," he said. "Kansas, believe it or not, had so many resources for jazz. And these things are essentially free. Over on the East Coast, if you want to do anything extra, you have to pay for it."

Webb got scholarship offers from two colleges with strong jazz programs North Texas State University and William Patterson University, located in New Jersey about 15 minutes from New York City. Naturally, Webb says with laugh, "I wanted to go the school the furthest away."

It turned out to be a good move. On his second day on campus, he met Todd Schefflin, a fellow student and saxophonist from Philadelphia.

"I was in one of the practice rooms. I just heard this beautiful sound and I opened the door and there was Todd. I knew from that moment this was in 2007 that we would be working together in some form or capacity."

The two eventually formed The JT Project. They write the band's songs together, bringing in other musicians as needed to record and perform. Webb describes the pair's style as "kind of in between contemporary jazz and traditional jazz," influenced by performers such as David Sanborn and the Yellowjackets.

"We tell our audience that our music is from the heart," he said. "It's a very passionate music to where we want to dig deep down to the core of emotions of people's hearts. At the same time, we play a lot of stuff that is very uplifting and very danceable. Our goal is to be able to touch people."

They've performed in Dubai and Brazil, and for three years were the artists in residence at the Sugar Bar in New York City, owned by legendary R&B singer Valerie Simpson.

The June 22 concert at Bradley Fair will be more than just a homecoming for Webb. His brother, Nathan, will play drums and his sister, April, will sing. Both of them have also moved to the East Coast. Not surprisingly, Webb says his parents, Stanley and Felicia Webb of Newton, are looking forward to the show.

"They wouldn't miss it for the world," he said. "It's kind of like a family affair."

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