She is Jazmina!
By Christopher Flowers
In the summer of 1986, Chicago house music had pervaded the northeastern part of the US, particularly in the underground clubs of New York and New Jersey. Of the two prominent NY underground venues of the day; Paradise Garage and The Loft, at least 35% of records played in both clubs were of this new “house” sound phenomenon. However across the Hudson, 30 minutes by PATH train (a commuter train that links midtown Manhattan to New Jersey), 20 minutes by NJ transit train via the Northeast corridor lies what was once called “The Renaissance City”, Newark, New Jersey. How strange that at the peak of the Disco era, the Black communities of Newark and the surrounding Black communities of East Orange, Orange, and Irvington was extremely fanatical about Disco and had venues that were packed to capacity to prove it. They weren’t bothered having to standing the shadows of the Disco capital of the world, New York City. They had their own party going on.
Of all the clubs in Newark, East Orange, Orange and Irvington, Newark being the largest city in New Jersey, held four core venues that drew the most crowds and were pivotal in promoting new music, La Jock (Newark’s first underground type venue), New Experience/Club Sensations, Club Zanzibar and Docks. Even after the demise of Disco, spawned by that racist and homophobic Disco Demolition in Chicago’s Comiskey Park during a White Sox baseball game by angry white terrorists led by ousted WDAI radio DJ Steve Dahl, Dance Music as it became known continued to flourish undaunted by music industry’s fear to be associated with anything reminiscent of Disco. It is in these Newark venues where Chicago house music pounced upon Essex County NJ’s innocent club heads. By the dawn of the mid80’s, Club Zanzibar and one of its more popular resident DJs, Tony Humphries took the proverbial Chicago bull by the horns and rammed every Chicago house track into Zanzibar’s dance floor every week. This had a significant impact on the up and coming local Newark dance music producers along with the influences of Gospel, Soul, Funk, R&B and Jazz.
By 1985-86, the first offerings of what would be deemed “the Jersey Sound” began to germinate. These early demos and subsequent releases were jewels in the hand of Humphries who promoted these “Jersey” bred tracks in earnest at Zanzibar and on his weekly WRKS 98.7 KISS FM Mastermix show. It is at this point; the Newark-bred, glucose shrill queen Jazmina “rites of passage” into R&B dance underground were initiated at Ace Beat’s Records’ legendary Campsite Studios. Owned and operated by the label’s namesake Ace Munchin (who awkwardly professes AceBeat was the first “House” label). Ace Beat’s campsite and label launched the careers of such Jersey House artists as Jomanda, Charvoni, Joey Washington, The Voices of 6th Avenue and Brothers Of Peace (BOP). Musician/Talent scout, Joe Watson caught a whiff of Jazmina’s feathery vocal while she was rehearsing with her university’s choir and later set up an audition with his cousin, producer/musician Tyrone Payton along with his new outfit, Intense. Also at the audition was intense lead vocalist Khison, and Ace. After the audition, Ace was wary of her vocals; however, with Tyrone’s insistence, Jazmina joined Intense becoming a musical threesome.
She was given a rough draft of “Can’t Treat Me This Way” to demo which became her first recorded lead song as a member of Intense and was released on Ace Beat’s Garage Movement EP in 1989. A thumping piano driven, bass heavy, percussive ditty Jazmina’s swirling femme falsetto pleads throughout the track reaching dizzying heights. However, her epic breakout moment came during the remix by Humphries of Intense’s massive hit, “Let The Rain Come Down” from the EP lead by Khison. This remix released on Movin’ Records, feature an ample solo on the breakdown by Jazmina. That performance was the turning point in her career making Jazmina the centerpiece of the trio.
Born into an ancestry of gospel singers and musicians, one Sunday at church after taking in Desiree Coleman’s show stopping performance of the Broadway production of “Mama, I Want To Sing”; Jazmina stood in front of the pulpit and sung the gospel classic, “God Has Smiled On Me” as the church gazed in awe! That passionate performance made her devotional leader mother drop her microphone! The entire congregation turned around and the pastor looked out of his office and gasped. Jazmina, alumni of the famed Newark’s Arts High School that produced many future Jersey dance music vocalists, later became a graduate of Rutgers University with a BA in English. Her vision was to become a college professor and novelist. It’s no wonder her profound and introspective songwriting skills are so exemplary.
Of all the AceBeat releases during this period, the Movement Soul EP captured the pure, gospel-tinged purity of the Jersey Sound. Jazmina’ stellar vocal performance of “I See You” featured on the EP is masterful. A mid tempo symphonic “swing beat soul” groove and holding down the backing vocals are emperors of Gospel & Deep House, Kenny Bobien & Eddie Stocky along with the earthy chanteuse, Charvoni. Unfortunately, a lack of solid distribution and major promotion plagued The Movement Soul EP. Rumor has it that a RCA deal was on the table based off that EP that was tragically iced.
As Intense ascended the ladder of underground house music success, irreconcilable differences sent Khison to an uncertain solo career reducing the trio to a duo. Jazmina and Tyrone were left to wing it on their own which would not be a problem. Though they had a depository full of quality material, the releases weren’t forthcoming. Taking advantage of this release dry spell, Jazmina took a stab at producing, thus birthing the 1991 AceBeat house jam, “Lock It Up” by the CRJ Project (Charvoni, Ruby and Jazmina).
She continued to “keep up her skills” doing cameo appearances on songs for other AceBeat campsite producers on cuts such as “Call Him Up” by the Voices of 6th Ave and the unreleased, explosive Tony Humphries tribute, “Do You Know What’s On His Mind?” Both tunes featured 18 of Jersey’s reigning underground dance music celebrities.
According to Songwriter/Producer, the liberated tune wizard, Willy Washington, the song grew out of his total appreciation for Humphries and what he doing by showcasing new producers and up and coming artists, “His birthday was coming up and I was hanging out a lot with Kerri Chandler in his studio. I knew Ultra Nate because at the time I was friends with Bill Coleman and Ultra and I had just done a record called “Paradox” for Virgin UK. While hanging out with Kerri, I suggested we do something for Tony’s birthday.”
With Kerri on drum programming detail and possibly the late Larry Rauson on keyboards, Willy sent the track to Bill to give to Ultra, who was opening for Deee-Lite on tour. Ultra called in and sung her part on Willie’s recording set up, which he subsequently over brought to Kerri’s studio. Kerri summoned all the vocalists over, “And the rest was just magic,” says Willy. “Larry played sax on it. Jazmina was not at that session, she came in after we finished it. But I remember, Kerri got everyone in, mixed the track and we gave Pops (Tony’s nickname ‘for those who know’) a reel of it at his birthday party. It was a great project.”
Blessed with the Creator’s gift of euphonic beatitudes, the sentimental spirituality of this songbird emanates from her sleek frame and gold-lined lungs. Just listen to “Good Time” produced by leftfields/Producer guru, Johnny Dangerous; it’s a forthright “R&B-downtempo-jazz-hip-hop-with-a-house-twist “released on KULT Records (originally released on Hourglass Records); that squeezed through the barbed wire fence of predetermined 120-125bpm house tracks. Jazmina parades in those downtempo, swing beat R&B/hip-hop stilettos with a Jersey swagger, gouging an opening in that “fence” for others house music vocalists with the nerve to follow suit.
That mysterious rapscallion, Mr. Dangerous, a progressive thinker cast convention aside and formulated the idea to merge the instrumental of Frankie Knuckles Presents Satoshi Tomiie’s celebrated “Tears “with Jazmina singing the full vocal of “Let The Rain Come Down” on top. It was a beautiful marriage that never saw a release even though the conglomeration was a smash in the underground clubs. It’s also surprising that a bootleg 12” of this track never surfaced. This mash-up of “Let The Rain Come Down/Tears” has been floating around on cassette for years, and there are a few acetates of it, as sound technology developed, it’s around on mp3 in DJ circles if you’re lucky enough to know someone who has a copy of it. It is no surprise then that Singer/Songwriter/Producer, Willy Washington whose keen ear and high taste for quality female vocalists formed a unique bond with Jazmina. For those immersed in the Jersey house music scene during Humphries reign at Zanzibar, one would find Willy rubbing elbows with the local Jersey producers and recording artists; as well as, building a spirited relationship with Humphries, and of course “catching his life” on the dance floor. It was fitting that two of his earliest 12” house productions were on the Jersey-based label, New Generation, Determination featuring Darryl D’ Bonneau with gospel-fused, “Not Just Sunday”, and haunting “Here We Go” also with Determination that featured the sultry, Jackie Wakefield. By the time Willy and Jazmina started working together, he garnered roughly 15-25 productions, remixes and performances under his belt.
This union of two highly creative minds dropped the deepest and thoroughly emotive offering on an unsuspecting underground house music populace. Released on the NYC-based, Dance Tracks label, “Rescue Me (Y Don’t You)” has a sweet darkness to it. A beauty buried within the sadness of asking only to be loved yet tormented by her lover whose affections are somewhat questionable. Jazmina pulls you in as if you can feel the warm breath of her words on the face as the thickness of the production engulfs the soul. Willie and Jazmina then followed up with the funky-soul house tune, “It Ain’t Easy” on Defected Records. This track swings! With this performance, we get to hear the sassy side of Ms. Jaz. She bounces across the blues-soul styled production like a brazen southern gal. The sub hook is a killer, something pulled right out of a boiling Memphis Soul stew. It is painfully obvious tithe even to the average listener that there is much more to Jazmina than “four-to-the-floor “grooves. Although having excelled in the house music arena and that beat pulsates between her joints and marrow; however, there is a career to be had that extends beyond the thump-thump-thump of the underground. Strip away the house music production that cradles her vocal and there lies a captivating, poignant storyteller who has the uncanny ability to paint the deepest emotion unafraid to be vulnerable and transparent.
That’s why she is…Jazmina.