By ROBERT FELTON
Those who have followed the music of smooth-jazz artist Michael Ross since his debut album We Finally Meet (1992) will find that his new album, A Special Thing, represents a different direction for his soundtrack for seduction.
The recording, which was released on Sept. 22, contains many elements Ross is known for - sultry guitar and seductive vocals, mid-tempo drums and romantic soundscapes.
Over the course of the last four years, Ross has taught music to high school students at Chicago West Community Music Center, 100 N. Central Park Ave., on the West Side. But he has always been a jazz musician and songwriter. As for his latest release, the CD seeks to add to the ambiance of a romantic interlude with the stirring saxophone of artist NaJee.
"I first met Najee 20 years ago at while performing with Angela Bofill ," says Ross. "I thought he was a very outstanding talented musician. I continued to follow his music until last year, when we were both performing in a show , and we discussed the possibility of working together of my new record.
Najee's input is especially felt on track six, "The Secret Door," when Ross' guitar duels with Najee's sax recall Herbie Hancock's recordings in the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, Ross says that track five, "Make it With You," a Bread cover, was perhaps his favorite track on the album.
"That song has always been a personal favorite of mine," he says. "Performing it was a real joy."
Ross, who grew up the youngest of five children on Chicago's West Side, has been involved in music since the age of 13, when his mother encouraged him to take guitar lessons.
"My mother wanted to assure that I would have a hobby to occupy my time outside of school, so she enrolled me into the Chicago School of Music. It was a great experience and from it I discovered a love for jazz music," he says.
Afterward, Ross studied music at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and then attended Kennedy-King College, where he earned a degree in music instruction. In the years that followed, Ross would work as a staff guitarist for the New York Broadway National Touring Company's production of The Wiz and the Shubert Theater's productions of Dreamgirls and Evita.
"Most of the students come in with an open mind," says Ross. "They may not necessarily have been interested in jazz prior to taking my class, but they are willing to learn about the composition of the music."
Ross says the enjoyment of teaching the students to sing is comparable to recording music in the studio.
"I enjoy working on music. It gives me an enormous amount of pleasure," he says.
"But I also love working with kids as well. I know how important it was for me to explore my interest in guitar. It is my way of giving back to the community and the kids are usually very open to learning new techniques."
Nevertheless, it is his studio recordings that have gained Ross the esteem of his smooth-jazz colleagues such as Ramsey Lewis, with whom he shared a concert stage last year.
A married father of three, Ross says that the biggest challenge of being in music is the amount of time he must spend away from his family while touring overseas.
"I have had the opportunity to see many beautiful countries, but being away from my family so much can be hard," says Ross. "I am very appreciative of my wife, Ola, for being so patient and understanding all these years."