July 25 2012 12:00 AM

Eclectic Eric Darius tops smooth jazz bill in Holt


Even though his “Goin’ All Out” on Blue Note scored him a No. 1 album on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts, saxophonist Eric Darius prefers not to pigeonhole his high-energy sound.

“I don’t only play jazz — I play hip hop, R&B, pop, rock, gospel, funk, country,” said Darius, who headlines the “Evening of Smooth Jazz” concert Friday at the Holt Performing Arts Complex. “I think that’s what makes my music different because I incorporate all those different styles of music and put it into one.”

Perhaps that’s because the 29-year old Tampa-based smooth jazz star comes from a family of musicians. His dad plays bass, his mom sings and plays the piano, his younger sister sings, and his older brother plays the drums and the trumpet. “Music has always been in my family, it’s in my blood,” Darius said. “I was born to be a musician.”

Growing up, he listened through his parents’ big ears. “I was listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, to Tower of Power, to Bob Marley — so I think I’ve always had a diverse taste when it comes to music.”

Darius picked up a saxophone at 10 years old. A few years later he was writing original songs and performing in front of audiences. Today he tours the world with a six-piece group. He plays mostly original material. “I’ve been writing my own music since I was 13 years old,” he said. “But we do a few covers.” Alicia Keys’ R&B chart-topper ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ popped up on one of his albums a few years ago and makes its way into live sets. He often covers Ne-Yo’s “Because of You.” “Other than that the rest of the material is original,” he said.

But make no mistake, Darius knows his jazz — and learned by digging back through the history of the genre.

“The guy that really perked up my interest in wanting to play the saxophone was Grover Washington Jr.,” Darius recalled. “I started studying his music and then I discovered David Sanborn, and that was the alpha sound that I really wanted to go for. Then I got into John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett. There’s a long list, but those are some of my favorites.”

Now in its eighth year, the “Evening of Smooth Jazz” concerts are hosted annually by the Lansing-based BMRW Promotions. BMRW President Charlie Wilson said after he witnessed Darius play a show back in January, he knew he wanted to bring that smooth, up-tempo sound to Lansing.

“He is high, high energy — from start to finish,” Wilson said. “I don’t know how he blows on a saxophone like that for over an hour. People are going to be shocked by his performance.”

Michigan jazz will warm up the stage for Darius: 496 West, an 11-piece local band with a new self-titled CD, and Detroit’s Al McKenzi Band. Aside from his own music, Al McKenzi was the music director for the Temptations on Motown. He’s the music director for Martha Reeves and also worked with Anita Baker.

Evening of Smooth Jazz with Eric Darius

Al McKenzi Band, 496 West

Friday, July 27

Holt Performing Arts Complex

Margaret Livensparger Theater

$38, $50 VIP tickets

BMRWPromotions.com or call 517-372-7246