Ty Stephens

Supporting his latest album, "Good Medicine," featuring urban-tinged jazz, funk and R&B, Ty Stephens spent the summer in Japan, sharing stages with pop icon Toshinobu Kubota.

Ty Stephens

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Ty Stephens has deep roots in American music. The tracks on his latest CD, "Good Medicine," pulse with a groove that harkens back to legendary names he likes to play tribute to, such as Harry Belafonte, Al Jarreau, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder.

With a sound so deeply connected to the ultimate American sounds of jazz, blues and funk, it seems an odd mix to pair Stephens with a Japanese pop icon. Stephens recently returned from a summer tour of Japan sharing the stage with Toshinobu Kubota. Called the "Michael Jackson of Japan," Kubota has produced six million-selling records and thirty-three Top 40 singles.

Stephens is a multi-talented performer himself, the classic triple threat. He's been on Broadway ("Sophisticated Ladies," "Marilyn, An American Fable"), and studied dance at John Hines Dance Theatre in Philadelphia and Alvin Ailey School in New York. His voice has been likened to honey, "pure and sweet," and can move a room to tears or dancing in just a few notes.

What's the connection between the gifted American performer and the iconic Japanese pop star? We chatted with Ty to find out.

How did you first meet Toshinobu Kubota and get the chance to perform with him?

We met after I auditioned for his band back in the '90s and I didn't get the gig, at first. It was my good friend John James who got it and then dropped out because he was having a child, I believe.

I had never heard of Toshi, though many of my American friends had. When I heard what he was doing, I was more than impressed. Many of his musical influences were similar to mine: African American Soul/R&B/Pop, icons and innovators. Toshi loves funk, and my thing is more jazzy and fusion, comparatively. There was no problem meshing our energies.

I was thrilled to support his lead vocals in his stage performances, along with two other vocalists. It's something I truly love! The blending of voices, the vibration of harmonies - spiritual!

How was this latest tour of Japan?

It was one of our shortest tours. That's one way I'll remember it. Typically, Toshi does a 3-5 month tour. This was a summer tour, and my first tour with Toshi the didn't include drummer Ralph Rolle, who is currently out on tour with Chic! But, other than those factors, it was marvelous, as always! The schedule, the accommodations, the fans, the music, all amazing and on point.

Are there differences in how fans react to your music here in the U.S. and overseas?

Yes, there's a big difference in audiences outside of the U.S. They tend to really listen more intently. Perhaps, the language prompts them to be more attentive, so they can understand, but, moreso, they respect music and musicianship more, and don't take the artists for granted. They seem to really see the hard work and love most of us infuse into our work.

Lately, home in the U.S., we have been acculturated to a more disposable version of the arts and artists in particular. Luckily, music being its own language, I have had the most amazing experiences performing internationally! People seem to "get" my sincerity and my connection to the music that I perform. I try to make sure I sing what moves me, no matter the mood, so they "get it," too! It becomes infectious. It's a mutual exchange of love!

You've paid tributes to legends like Harry Belafonte, Al Jarreau and Donny Hathaway. Is there something about your music that attracts you to those artists?

These artists, and more, including Stevie Wonder, attract my attention and admiration because they have much to say. They have content and substance. They can talk about partying and the curve of some hips, like so many others, but they bring more artistry, style and creativity to their craft.

There is a higher level of musicianship to their work, as well. They can talk about life, social responsibility, love, sex, spirituality, and more, with all the same finesse and grace and weight. They draw me in close and whisper sweet "somethings" in my ear, they touch my heart, they stir my soul. And, these are the same reasons why their music endures.

Why has their music lasted?

They connect with us on a much deeper level than the "disposable" acts of late. They influenced me to want to be the kind of artist that they were and are.


Watch "Good Medicine" by Ty Stephens & (the) SoulJaazz

Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing. www.imprtech.com