Sound Check: Kim Waters

One genre we can all probably agree on that has had an impact on the history of music is jazz. While jazz flourished and dominated the music industry during one time, there are still many great jazz musicians today that keep this genre going. One musician who has made both a successful and creative mark in music history is the King of Smooth Urban Jazz himself, Kim Waters.

Kim, a supreme saxophonist and brilliant musician, stepped into the music industry in the 80s and has continued on the path of success ever since. Even with the change of the music industry over the years, this musician is a key example of why this genre is so powerful and soulful. Kim Waters was kind enough to speak with about his musical influences as a jazz musician and his 17th album Heart of Mine, his ability to combine both jazz and R&B successfully, and where he hopes to see the music industry again someday.

Soul Train: You released This Heart of Mine this past October.  Can you tell us a little about the album?

Kim Waters: This album I did pretty much all on my own. I just figured I’d take some time off and just sit in the home studio and do all of the recording and all of the instruments myself this time. It’s different than previous albums where I’ve had other producers come in and produce a couple of songs.  This time I did the whole record on my own and it came out great.

Soul Train: And what was the inspiration behind this album in particular?

Kim Waters: Well, I just wanted to take time out and do my thing. Of course, my daughters–the girls who I dedicate every record to–are a big inspiration.  They keep me inspired and they’re also great musicians as well, so that keeps me going and then my everyday experiences from doing live concerts all over the world and seeing the peoples’ smiling faces encourages me to continue to have a great product.

Soul Train: Did you always want to be a jazz musician?

Kim Waters:  I didn’t really plan on being a jazz musician [laughs]. I was into everything–I was into funk and R&B, I played all of that stuff growing up.  Then I became a hot saxaphone player on the East Coast and New York area; when I was about 21 or 22 someone asked if I wanted to do a record and I said sure. So that’s how it all happened.

Soul Train: Twenty years ago, did you ever imagine you would be in this place right now as far as your career?

Kim Waters: You know what, I never thought about this phase of it, the amount of success I’ve had as an artist and producer.  I just wanted to be able to play music for a living. I would have been happy playing in hotel clubs but I got lucky and God has blessed me with a tremendous career and I am very grateful for that.

Soul Train: You play just about every instrument imaginable, from the drums to the guitar to the keyboards and so on. How long did it take you to master all of those instruments before becoming your own one-man band?

Kim Waters: [laughs] Well, I don’t ever think you master them; it’s always a work in progress. My main two instruments would be saxophone and piano but with the other ones, since I’m in the studio I can take my time and get it right. It’s a work in progress, I’m constantly trying to hone all of my skills and continue to get better.

Soul Train: And so how long have you been playing the saxophone? Is that something you started as a child?

Kim Waters: I’ve been playing the saxophone for about 40 years.

Soul Train: Some would say jazz is the heart of music, and with you being the “King of Smooth Urban Jazz,” who are some of your personal favorites in jazz and even outside of jazz?

Kim Waters:  I like a little bit of everything, you know.  As far as jazz, old school guys I studied [like] Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Stanley Turrentine.  Even the newer guys–David Sanborn, Grover Washington, and my good buddies Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Najee–came out around the same time.  I learn from those guys, too, we all learn from each other, everybody’s got their own different style which makes this much great.

Soul Train: You’ve done many R&B covers throughout your career.  What’s been your favorite to do so far?

Kim Waters: Wow, that’s a tough one! I’ve done a lot of good ones. I did the Marvin Gaye song “I Want You” on a CD. The last CD, I did Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” and then I did R. Kelly’s “Love Letter,” that turned out great. But I like doing the R&B covers because it’s something people are familiar with.  They like to see what you do with it but you change up the style and make it a little jazzy.

Soul Train: Coming into the music industry in the 80s compared to now, how do you feel about the state of the music industry from then to now and the future of the industry?

Kim Waters:  I’m hoping it gets back to more of the realism. I just think we’ve lost some of our foundation to the music industry as far as being realists and having to write stuff. So I’m hoping with today’s younger generation it brings back more realism because the stuff that we hear now.  Let’s face it: down the road 20 years from now we’re not going to be able to look back and hear those songs and say wow those are classics, it’s just not going to happen. Like in the 60s 70s, and 80s you can still hear those songs and those are the songs that will go on through history as our life’s music. We need to bring real music back to those days.

Soul Train: Who are some jazz musicians that influenced you, especially when you were younger coming into the music industry?

Kim Waters: [When I was] younger, I studied with a guy named Mickey Fields from Baltimore, and Stanley Turrentine, Grover Washington, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker. I studied all of those guys and I listened a lot and that’s the key, to listen to those guys and trying to imitate what they’re doing and try to create your own style.

Soul Train: Wow. So what’s next for Kim Waters?  Are you working on any new albums coming up?

Kim Waters:  I’m getting ready to start production for a Streetwize record, which is a hip-hop/jazz CD that I produce every year or two and we’re going to start on that really soon.

Soul Train: Do you have any specific Soul Train memories of your own? Was Soul Train of any influence for you?

Kim Waters: Oh yeah. All of the time. That was our Saturday special, cleaning house and watching Soul Train [laughs]. And of course we all miss Don Cornelius, we definitely miss him and of course featuring artists like Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, guys that I listened to. I think it influenced everybody in some way.

Soul Train: What’s been the most challenging obstacle for you as a jazz musician over the course of your career?

Kim Waters: Well for me, I think the hardest part is to try to bring the genres together because I don’t want to just be considered a jazz musician.  I do enough to try to crossover and I get special guest singers to keep me in both genres.  I think that’s the key to my longevity: to keep the two genres–R&B and jazz– together and keep my fan base the way it has been.

Be sure to keep up with Kim Waters at for the latest information on shows and upcoming projects such as his Streetwize album.

–Danielle Turner

Danielle Turner is a Southern California-based music writer with a passion for sharing new and upcoming artists through R&B and Hip Hop to the everyday music junkie. As a contributing writer for and a columnist at she has always combined her love of writing and music to create a formula for doing what she loves and loving what she does. You can always find Danielle via Twitter @thisisdanielle.

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