How Jazz Musician Jermaine Lockhart Finds Inspiration on His Metro Phoenix Farm

How Jazz Musician Jermaine Lockhart Finds Inspiration on His Metro Phoenix Farm
Steven Benson

Tenor saxophonist Jermaine Lockhart doesn’t just talk to the animals. He also plays music for them at the Phoenix-area homestead where he resides with his family.

When he practices outdoors at his place, his audience are sheep, goats, chickens, and ducks.

“They're definitely curious,” he tells Phoenix New Times. “They wonder what I’m saying with my music like it’s a new language. Sometimes they sing along.”

He gets ideas from their sounds, too. “They’re singing their own kind of notes — sometimes I’ll go back to the piano and think about their sounds and how they could make a nice melody.”

It's safe to assume there won't be any animals in the audience on Friday, July 23, when Lockhart will take the stage at downtown jazz venue The Nash with vocalist Kim Weston and musicians Raul Yanez (keys), Roger Dryer (bass), and Dowell Davis (drums). Lockhart will play two shows that highlight his mastery of the sax via interpretations of jazz, soul, pop, and R&B favorites by artists like Stevie Wonder and The Fugees.

It’s not just a night of classic hits, though. Lockhart will also be treating the audience to original music from his record, The Sunshine Album. Weston will do the same from her recording, Love Is All We Ask.

Though Lockhart loves jazz immensely and cites greats like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins as huge influences, he has always played a hearty mix of genres. Born in Cleveland, he got his start playing gospel at a Pentecostal church. “Playing in the church,” he says, “and then going to Oberlin Conservatory of Music made me rounded in the type of genres I play. For many years, I played gospel, country, jazz, and rock; I toured with a rock band for three years.”

In addition to being a professional musician, Lockhart is also a certified real estate appraiser. When the market crashed a little over a decade ago, he thought that might be a good time to head west from Ohio and work on music full-time. “Living off the grid has really helped us get rid of a lot of overhead costs, and I can just focus on being a musician," he says.

The fluidity with which Lockhart plays tells you everything you need to know — and hear — about his skills. The track “Back to the Sunshine” on his recent full-length release emphasizes how he weaves notes smoothly around the other instruments, effortlessly fusing all the sounds into an engaging sonic fusion.

click to enlarge Lockhart finds inspiration from life on his farm. - JERMAINE LOCKHART
Lockhart finds inspiration from life on his farm.
Jermaine Lockhart
Lockhart has played with some legends throughout his career, such as R&B icons The Spinners. He got hooked up with them through the help of another musical superstar, George Benson, who Lockhart calls his mentor. (During our conversation with Lockhart, he was wearing an ornate, colorful jacket that he says was a gift from Benson — one that his mentor had worn on one of his own album covers. “I told him he should be giving it to a museum, but he said he wanted to give it to me.”)

“George came to a club where I was playing,” Lockhart recalls, “and he invited me over to his table — he liked the way I performed. I went over and spoke with him, and we’ve been friends ever since.” Benson also connected Lockhart with the award-winning songwriter and producer Preston Glass. “Working with both George and Preston was a great experience. I learned so much; they taught me a lot.”

When Lockhart performs, he doesn’t only want his music to sound good. He wants to give listeners a soul-soothing experience.

“I want my music to touch people’s spirits and their hearts,” he says. “I want it to be therapeutic and medicinal.” He’s even considered going back to school in the future to study music therapy. “Musicians were the doctors back in the day — people would come to them when they didn’t feel well, and musicians knew what notes or melodies to play to help them get rid of those ailments. Let’s step it up and not just be performers. Let’s be healers because we have the power through music to do that.”

Wellness is a huge focus for Lockhart. “I’ve been inspired by John Coltrane — not just his music but some of the work he was doing on himself before he passed, like meditation and fasting. I’d like to make my body more alkaline so that when the music flows through me, there’s more energy I can project to the people. I want to project love through music.”

Jermaine Lockhart performs at 7 and 9 p.m. on Friday, July 23 at The Nash, 110 E. Roosevelt Street. Tickets are $34 to $40.
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young