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Brazilian Jazz from Chicago’s Michael Ross? You’ll find it’s a secret entrance to your heart.
Songwriters have always played a special role in our collective love of music. Back in the day, great songwriters could drive a song to the top of the charts. From Motown to Jobim, how a songwriter’s creativity can inspire our favorite musicians is always intriguing.
So, when Chicago Urban jazz guitarist and vocalist Michael Ross sent us his new single, we were excited to hear how it sounded.
Michael is an accomplished songwriter and performer. Fans love his musical warmth and creativity. Talent and versatility have helped him to become a leading session player for Chicago’s thriving theater and music scene.
Ross has seven albums to his credit, including 2021’s best-selling Four Seasons to Cross. Both ‘Hot In Brazil’ and the title track carry a distinctive jazz-samba vibe.
Today’s song? Ross explains. “I was listening to Connect Brazil’s streaming station and I happened to catch ‘Secret Entrance To Your Heart’ by Breeze BossaNova. I thought: What an interesting title, so I listened to the lyrics tell the song’s story. And then I thought about how I’d approach the song if I recorded it.”
“My appreciation for the music brings me peace. What a good thing to have!” – M. Ross
Breeze Bossanova is the Romanian group that gave ‘Secret Entrance To Your Heart’ an upbeat and bright feel to its original recording in 2020. Interestingly, Michael Ross picked up on a different style for songwriter Scott Fivelson’s creation.
“First, I slowed the rhythm down slightly but kept that same Bossa Nova groove,” Ross explained. “I wanted to put more emphasis on the lyrics to bring more clarity to the story. Then, I opened up the song to give it a burst of a new beginning, just as if it was the first warm day of Spring.”
And here’s where the creativity of the musician and the songwriter results in something new.
“I felt that ‘Secret Entrance To Your Heart’ was about the beginning of a new relationship,” recalls Ross. “The connection of two people and a smile that captured the heart of something magical.”
Michael confided that he’s found new depth to his music through Brazilian jazz.
“When I’m playing a Brazilian song, the chord progressions make a connection with me. Then, the song takes on a life of its own. The Brazilian sound is like riding a wave. Smooth, breezy, and warm. It’s a festival of sounds and yes, it gives you a sense of freedom, putting you in the land of paradise. My appreciation for the music brings me peace. What a good thing to have!”
And what inspired Michael Ross about the song’s title? “Well, I imagined it to be a small unassuming place where love was waiting to be found. A place that you never thought you would run across, which happened to be the ‘Secret Entrance To Your Heart’.”
‘Secret Entrance To Your Heart’
10 Questions with Chicago jazz guitarist Michael Ross reveals his thoughtful and optimistic nature.
As a talented voice for Chicago’s rising Smooth Jazz scene to a storied career with seven critically acclaimed albums, Michael Ross has a lot to say.
He’s been Chicago’s “go-to” guitarist for its thriving theater and music scene. Michael Ross has brought his unique style to the stage with Ramsey Lewis, Angela Bofill, and Jonathan Butler. He’s opened for Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle. His own MIHI label has featured Najee’s saxophone.
Windy City born-and-raised; Michael Ross is part of the generation of musicians who have gone on to define Chicago’s urban jazz scene. Four Seasons To Cross is his new album, recorded during the pandemic and released in late November.
Each of the album’s 8 original songs carries Ross’s musical perspective of a year-long journey through the challenging times we’ve all experienced. And just like Chicago’s seasons, his music reflects the range of emotion, hopes, and imagination that carried us through.
If you already know Michael Ross’s optimistic approach to life, then you know that there’s no place for brooding. Four Seasons To Cross offers us the chance to smile, relax and revel in the promise of our tomorrows.
Part of this album’s journey carried Michael’s imagination south, to the land of Samba and Sun. And just like the beaches at Ipanema and Copacabana, ‘Hot In Brazil’ and ‘Four Seasons to Cross’ bring us different views of paradise found.
Even if we’ve never been.
Most of us are still waiting to book that first trip to Brazil, and so is Michael. So, I wanted to find out how he was able to capture that breezy, exotic vibe we know so well.
Recently, I was able to ask Michael Ross 10 questions about his life, in and away from music. What inspired him most during difficult times? Here’s what he had to say.
-Scott Adams, Connect Brazil
Four Seasons to Cross is your first album to include a Brazilian-named song. I’m intrigued by the album’s title and the meaning behind it.
Well, I was born here in the Midwest, in Chicago where we experience all four seasons in their raw form. Especially winter!
I started Four Seasons To Cross by writing the song ‘Winter Is Coming’. It was at the beginning of winter in 2019, when my wife and I were caregivers for my mother.
Then, there was talk about a virus looming and we all learned about COVID-19. So, ‘Winter Is Coming’ tells the story of our survival, our struggles, and our joy.
I wanted to connect these four seasons together. ‘Moments In Fall’ tells the story of how we reflect on what we’ve gone through. About how we begin to prepare ourselves for what’s to come. It’s like getting ready for the harvest.
‘Hot in Brazil’! The melody is what brought it to our streaming channels. And the title song of Four Seasons To Cross is a smooth, jazzy Samba for Brazilian Jazz fans. Where does your affinity for Brazilian music come from?
Music was always in our home, thanks to my father who passed when I was six. Even in my younger years, I remember hearing Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 on the radio. Those songs immediately caught my ear. The sound was fresh and inviting and it stayed with me. Later, I found myself listening to Willie Bobo’s song, ‘Yellow Days’. That song really brought clarity to what Brazil must be like.
Rio de Janeiro is a night flight away from most US cities. So, it’s a big ask for Brazilian jazz fans to visit Brazil. But the music makes us feel like Copacabana could be our second home. Is that how you feel about it?
Music has given me the opportunity to travel to just about every major city in the US and Europe. And I’ve played many different styles of music. But there’s something about playing Samba and Bossa Nova that always takes me to that place called ‘Brazil’. I’ve always felt there’s something magical about Brazil. It’s easy for me to entertain the thought of being there one day, right?
So, I wrote the song ‘Hot In Brazil’. I wanted to create that feeling of being there.
Is there something about Brazilian culture that draws you to it?
Brazil is such a melting pot of cultures. The history of Brazil is not so pretty but what has emerged is the great music we hear today and how Brazilians love to celebrate life.
How did you come into music, and how did the Chicago sound influence you?
Well, when I was 13, my mother decided to enroll me in private music lessons at the Chicago School of Music. I took up the guitar. It was just so natural to learn an instrument in our family. Music was always playing in our home. My sister learned how to play the clarinet.
I played in local startup bands around Chicago in the early 70s. That’s where I was exposed to a variety of music styles. I was shaping and sharpening my ear to R&B, Jazz, Funk, Reggae, and Latin styles. I later got the chance to study at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and that open the door to playing in Theater.
Longtime fans know you from your frequent performances for Chicago’s WNUA 95.5 and also with your music on the radio. What’s your favorite story from those days?
Radio station WNUA played a very important part in my music career. I remember the first time my music was introduced to WNUA.
I got a call from Program Director Michael Fischer and he told me that he loved my first album We Finally Meet. Fischer added my song ‘Latin Affair’ to WNUA’s playlist and soon other stations added the song to their playlists.
It was like a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to hear my music on the radio. I got the chance to meet some of the radio hosts and was invited to perform at many of WNUA’s listening parties. Those were some awesome times!!
Every successful musician has a defining moment in their career. What was your big break?
My very first big break? I got a call to go on the road with the first New York Broadway company for the “Wiz”. That’s when my travels began.
It was a huge opportunity, so I quit my day job at the steel plant. I had just bought a brand new 1977 Ford LTD II and I left it with my mother although she didn’t drive.
We toured every major city in the United States by plane. I was able to convince the Show Manager to let me drive my car to most cities while keeping the airline fee for gas money! That was the first time I was able to see the country in a whole different way. It was simply a beautiful experience.
Tell me about the creative process for Four Seasons to Cross. Was it different than your previous recordings?
Some time had passed since my last album, A Special Thing. I was ready to write and record again, but who would have thought we would be faced with a pandemic?
As difficult as it was, COVID-19 had a few positive effects. I stayed home to focus on my surroundings and my personal experience of what was in front of me. A clear perspective of that moment in time.
I wasn’t able to record the traditional way so I recorded at home and then transferred the music to my engineer. It worked, and we were able to complete Four Seasons To Cross.
What do you like to do when you’re away from music? Has your interest in Brazil and its culture found its way into other parts of your life?
My hobby is interior design and I love to bring my creativity to home renovations. That magical place I call ‘Brazil’ plays a part in keeping it fresh, and airy to create a space of serenity.
What’s on your personal playlist these days?
I’m a fan of Al Jarreau, Shirley Horn, Sade, Pat Metheny, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Wes Montgomery just to name a few.
If you could have composed any song, which one would it be, and why?
Wow. There’s so much great music that’s been composed. The song I would choose is ‘The Summer Knows (Theme from Summer of ‘42)’. I had the chance to perform ‘The Summer Knows’ with a big band. The band gave me the melody and when I took a solo, I felt transported!
I believe there’s still a story to be told and perhaps someone will reveal what the summer knows. Or maybe, it should just remain… a secret.
Brazilian jazz fans have diverse tastes in music, especially jazz and pop. Any chance that you’ll grace us with another Brazilian jazz song or two in the future? And where will you be performing for the remainder of the year?
Yes, I know I will! I’d like to continue exploring the sounds of Brazil. It’s so uplifting, positive, fresh, and inspiring!! And there will be live performances coming. They will be announced soon.
After all, there are still four seasons to cross. Thank you!
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"Four Seasons To Cross"
This album invites your imagination to indulge in seasons of exotic romance with that special someone; to take time to muse about life purpose within family and society, and to ride the wave of life's ups and down with joy! There are eight tracks that will take you on a musical adventure!
“Hot In Brazil”, describes that place to vacation on the beach, and of course “On The Beach With You” speaks for itself, very nice and easy groove with a little reggae feel. While still knowing that there’s still “Four Seasons To Cross” with this song the tempo picks up and it’s time to move, things can get a little rough. While on this journey “We Slept In The Rain”, and it turns into a very romantic moment of two people resting, just to know there’s still a ways to go, so we‘re “Bumpin’ On Sundown”, that cool stepper’s groove. Well it’s time to move out and we’re “Almost Home”, in this song you will feel that all your efforts and struggles to reach your goal are near. “A Moment In Fall” we take a moment to reflect on what we’ve gone through and just to know “Winter Is Coming” so we begin the cycle of life over again.
What a spectacular cd! I've enjoyed listening to the beautiful music the past few days and the production, the compositions, the arrangements are great. Although jazz radio stations are hard to find on Chicago radio, this ought to be played prominently on whatever stations are around. Winter is Coming is a beautifully performed, sung, arranged song which to me expresses thoughts of joy of obstacles overcome, living a gratifying life and moving forward to the next stage in life in anticipation of joy and love. I find the story encouraging and hopeful. You are quite the musician, writer, composer Bro Ross. Thanks for sharing your music with us all.
Michael Ross has released a brand new CD single entitled "Your Brother's Keeper". Michael Ross said he was inspired by President Barack Obama's "My Brother's Keeper Initiative Program" to write this song. The purpose of his program was to put more focus on our youth by giving them more opportunities to succeed in life. I've had the opportunity to teach and work with young teenager for six years, and I understand the need for more mentoring and giving constructive guidance. I've also noticed the rise in violence with young teens in the city of Chicago and our nation. This song was written to send a message that we must begin to be the keeper and the protector of each other. "You've got to be "Your Brother's Keeper".
by: Kanyla Wilson
Michael Ross and The Boss 8 Ensemble Winner of the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago for Black Excellence Award - Jazz ”American Arts Alliance of Chicago"
Michael Ross performs a tribute to Nat King Cole with his eight piece band ensemble at the Skokie Theater.
Michael Ross-"A Special Thing" This smoky, seductive slice of smooth jazz comes with the added bonus of some of the finest male vocals I’ve heard in quite some time, barring a few special names. Guitarist/ vocalist/composer Michael Ross, who is no stranger to the genre (having released 3 other CDs dating back to the late 90s), pours on the charm in abundance, both with his guitar and his easy, silky vocals, with his latest offering, A Special Thing. With an opening and title track that sways with that special rhythm that might remind one of walking along the shores of Rio de Janeiro, hand-in-hand with that special someone, Ross sets a delightfully tasteful tone that starts here and might move through the end of the album, but certainly not to the end of the experience. I honestly couldn’t decide which I liked better: The vocals or his arrangements. While he is a very fine guitarist, I think you’ll agree that the magnetic draw here would be the very attractive compositions accentuated by a very able voice. A combination that’s always proven to be pretty irresistible. Besides the title track, Ross glides through a charmer called “The Blaze,” a mellow yet intense mid-tempo piece of romance that knows not a thing about mediocrity. Original, flavorful, and fluid, the tune is ablaze with charisma. Lovers, you may as well settle back into the arms of your "squeeze," your "boo," or whatever you're lovingly calling that significant for this one, as Ross pulls no punches with his alluring vibe. Ross’ take-no-prisoners approach is surely bound to capture many a heart. Painting the vivid imagery of sensuality in motion as the candlelight dances along the walls of a soft environment created just for two, this artist knows how to hold the listener captive. Case in point would be his creative cover of the Bread classic, “Make It With You.” Beyond the swaying scat and cool of Al Jarreau and Kem and the sophistication of Will Downing, I have not heard so much class and culture placed into one song. In fact, there are some pleasant similarities between these artists and Ross throughout this production. Following “Make It With You", Saxophonist Najee drops by to place his own indelible signature on the peppy and suave “The Secret Door.” This stepped-up groove is a momentary departure from the seduction that Ross has obviously labored to effect, yet it works itself well into the fabric of the project. If you needed one word to describe Ross’ work here, it would be polish…to a spit-shine. This is a seamless testament to the conversation between romance and smooth jazz, the way it was always meant to be conveyed. -- Ronald Jackson
"Reloaded" CD SmoothJazz.com Review author: Sandy Shore from the jazz drenched town of Chicago comes a Smooth Jazz home run from guitarist Michael Ross. RELOADED is fully loaded with thirteen tunes… a compilation of his best songs chosen from his previous albums, plus an added addition of two new arrangements of Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman” (instrumental and vocal). For those who have been anxiously waiting for the return of this smooth groover, you’ll be very glad to have this collection. For those who don’t know about Michael Ross, allow us to assure you, he captures the very essence of Smooth Jazz in his songs. His effortless playing is what most guitarists strive for. There’s depth and grace in his playing with room to breath. Michael is of the George Benson, Norman Brown ilk in regard to his ability to synch silky rich vocals with his captivating guitar playing. Nominated by Chicago Music Awards organization for The Best Jazz Contemporary CD in 2004, Michael has played and performed with well-known musicians including Chicago’s own Ramsey Lewis as well as Najee, Angela Bofill, Jonathan Butler, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle and many others. We’re hoping that on the heels of RELOADED Mr. Ross stays takes his artistry ammunition back into the studio as soon as possible to record more world-class music… the stars are aligned and it’s time for Michael Ross to take his rightful place among the Smooth Jazz greats. - Sandy Shore - Smooth Jazz. Com
Beth Lewis Words such as versatile, resourceful and diligent are apt when speaking of guitarist Michael Ross. Not only a recording artist; he is the staff guitarist at Chicago’s Schubert Theatre; has performed with artists such as Ramsey Lewis, Najee, Nancy Wilson and Jonathan Butler; and is a music instructor for a local Chicago Community Center’s after school program. With his latest release, A SPECIAL THING, Mr. Ross continues down a musical path he began in 1992 with WE FINALLY MEET. The tunes are lush and thoughtful with guitar performances that are fluid and seemingly effortless. Amble down “The River Walk,” and you’ll be transported to a place where bliss and joy abound. Ross showcases his vocal aptitude on the gorgeous “Come On Over.” His singing style is rich and seductive, holding attention from start to finish. Featuring Najee, “The Secret Door” grabs the listener and does not let go. A SPECIAL THING is just that so take time to savor it. ~BETH LEWIS ”
“MICHAEL ROSS – A SPECIAL THING CD £12.95 (ANTICIPATED 9 FEBRUARY 2010)Michael Ross is a Smooth Jazz guitarist of repute in the playing style of George Benson or Norman Brown. On this excellent album full of smooth grooves, it is vocal tracks that take centre stage. The opener ‘A Special Thing’ is a beautifully crafted song whose vocal has a touch of Jon Lucien and Will Downing to it. ‘Don’t Make Your Move So Fast’ has a dreamier ambience, whereas ‘Come On Over’ is a strong ballad. Smooth Jazzers will love the languid ‘The Blaze’, whilst ‘The Secret Door’ is funkier and ‘The River Walk’ is another strong groove. Excellent.”
“Dear Mr. Ross: We Want to thank you for your outstanding performance at the June 14th Music Monday event at ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Your performance was intense and outstanding, and we sincerely hope that you felt the love in the room coming from our audience. Our patrons gave rave reviews on our comment cards. Please know that we greatly appreciate the time and effort that went into your performance and we surely look forward to another performance in the future. It is because of artist like you that ETA has gained it's reputation for hosting the very best artists residing in the Chicago area. Iris C. Dunmore ”