Youngstown native brings smooth jazz to Playhouse

Sharon Rae North grew up on St. Louis Avenue, two blocks from Youngstown Playhouse.

She and her mom would walk to shows there, and North even did sound at the theater for some shows when she was a student at Youngstown State University.

North, who now lives in northern Virginia, will return to the Playhouse on Saturday as one of the producers of the Smooth Summer Sessions concert series, and she’ll be back in June as one of its performers.

“I have a lifelong relationship with the Playhouse,” North said. “I just love the Playhouse.”

That’s why the Playhouse immediately came to mind when North co-founded Touch of Class Productions LLC.

“I had been thinking about doing something in Youngstown for several years,” North said. “My business partner and I started talking about it in the middle of summer, late summer and decided to form a company and promote and produce concerts. Let’s make Summer Sessions at the Playhouse our inaugural event.”

The series opens with jazz saxophone player Kim Waters, and North drew upon her contacts in the music industry to put together the season.

“Kim and I know each other,” North said. “We have a lot of mutual friends. His keyboard player, Al Smith, is a longtime friend of mine. I called Kim and left him a message and he called back — ‘Yeah, it looks like my calendar is open that day,’ and here we are.”

Waters in 20022 released his 25th album, “That Special Touch,” which mixes originals with covers of Adele’s “Easy on Me” and Joe’s “If I Was Your Man.” His music mixes elements of jazz, R&B and pop, and he’s collaborated with such artists as Zendaya, Eric Roberson, Glenn Jones, Jeff Kashiwa and Steve Cole.

North will serve as host and emcee on Saturday, and she will be singing at the June 28 concert featuring Grammy-winning guitarist and producer Paul Brown.

“I knew that I wanted to get Paul Brown,” she said. “He produced two songs on my current album, ‘Silhouette,’ and I’ve done five shows with him now as a featured vocalist, like we’re doing in Youngstown. Paul is wonderful to work with. He’s a lot of fun, he can be very silly, he keeps you laughing.”

Brown has worked with a who’s who of jazz and R&B artists, including George Benson, Patti Austin, Larry Carlton and Kirk Whalum.

“Paul Brown has two Grammys and more than 75 No. 1 hits to his name, and people don’t realize it,” North said. “He’s like Smokey Robinson. You hear these people doing these songs, but you don’t realize who’s behind them. He has a lot of hits on his own, but he’s also done songs for Dave Koz, Boney James, Luther Vandross.”

Bassist and composer Christian De Mesones, who had a No. 1 Billboard jazz hit with “Hispanica” (featuring Bob James on keyboards), will perform July 12, and the series will conclude Aug. 30 with keyboard player James Lloyd, a Philadelphia native who now calls the Mahoning Valley home, and flutist Alexander Zonjic. The duo headlined last year’s Youngstown Wine and Jazz at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

“I’ve known James’ wife for many, many years, and I was actually in the studio with him eight, nine years ago,” North said. “He’s another one who’s funny and lively and silly. It just felt right to have him on with Alexander Zonjic.”

If you go …

WHAT: Smooth Summer Sessions – Kim Waters

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Youngstown Playhouse, 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $75 and $60 and are available online at experienceyourarts.org

FULL SEASON: Other concerts in the series include Paul Brown and Sharon Rae North on June 28, Christian de Mesones on July 12 and James Lloyd and Alexander Zonjic on Aug. 30.


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