From working with legendary music acts to being the first musician signed to the Nike Jordan brand, saxophonist Mike Phillips has established himself in not just the jazz genre but throughout the music industry as well. But his roots belong in Westchester County, where he will perform on September 10 during artsw.org/jazzfest.
Phillips began his journey with music when he learned about music through Mount Vernon, NY’s school system. Although he originally considered trombone, he ultimately chose the saxophone and bass. He would spend many extra hours at school practicing, and was one of the first to make All -State band and orchestra on two instruments.
Said Phillips, “I gotta give it up for all of Westchester County…I love the fact that Mount Vernon and Westchester as a whole have made significant contributions to music education.”
Mount Vernon’s hip-hop scene also played a major role in influencing Phillips’s path in music.
“The things that were shaping me, I was literally inches from. Mount Vernon had a whole revolution that shifted the paradigm of hip-hop. Hip-hop wasn’t as marketable until Heavy D came on and did the Sprite commercial.”
To record his music, Phillips would take the bus from Mount Vernon to White Plains, where he would play to the track tape. After recording, he would burn copies that he could give out at school.
Phillips started his professional career when he debuted his first album, You Have Reached Mike Phillips, in 2002. The album’s popular track Will You Stick With Me has over one-million plays on Spotify.
Throughout Phillips’s career, he has found ways of sticking to the roots of jazz while also incorporating elements of hip-hop into his jazz fusion style.
“I think it’s very important to morph and change with the times, but also stay rooted and grounded into the tradition of jazz.”
Phillips has worked and toured with legendary artists such as Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. By working with these household names, he was able to get a better understanding of the ins and outs of the professional music scene.
“One of my first shows with Stevie Wonder was at Nelson Mandela’s house. I got a chance to absorb culture and be with iconic artists, but also learn by watching how they moved and prepared. [With] Prince, we’d have jam sessions and you’d think we’d just be jamming but we had a 60-song setlist that we would randomly go to at any time.”
Phillips also gained the attention of another household name when he was the first-ever musician signed to the Nike Jordan brand.
He recalls Jordan Brand Executive Howard White, saying that “listening to this young kid play the National Anthem was like watching Michael [Jordan] play for the first time and Marvin Gaye sing.”
One of Phillips’s more recent releases is a version of the song Lift Every Voice and Sing, for which he spent time finding ways to put his own spin while keeping it true to its original message.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing is a song that, if America would actually listen to the words and absorb them in a way [in which] there wasn’t any preconceived notions on what the pain and the struggle African Americans have gone through during the history of America, then it would be a [situation] where you can use music for education and healing. Lift Every Voice and Sing is one of those powerful songs that allows people to be proud.”
These days, Phillips continuously works on new music but is also developing new artists as the Senior Vice President of the Jazz Division at the record label he is signed to, SRG. The division launched on August 4 and one of its songs, Taboo by renowned violinist Damien Escobar, has already achieved number-one status on the Billboard Jazz Chart.
Mike Phillips will headline the final day of JazzFest White Plains this Sunday, September 10. The outdoor celebration of jazz will take over Mamaroneck Avenue between Martine Avenue and Main Street in White Plains, NY with a free day of live music. Phillips’s set will take place at 6:15.
About Dan Wood
After receiving his BA in Media Arts, Daniel Wood went back to SHU for his MA in Journalism and Media Production. He has played trumpet in various bands and was surrounded by artists and writers growing up, which led to his interest in writing about various creative topics.