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Mike Phillips Closes Out the 2008 Summer Breeze Concert Series

If you happened upon City Hall Plaza on Saturday August 23, a few minutes too late for the start of the Mike Phillips concert, it was standing room only. With every inch of grass median space taken up by lawn chairs, and not an empty seat to be found on the plaza, the ever-diligent Recreation Department staff, brought out additional chairs to accommodate the overflow crowd.

The multigenerational audience came out in full force, to support one of Mount Vernon’s most charismatic native sons. Mike Phillips, a renowned saxophone player, has performed most prominently with Prince, as part of the New Power Generation, and has collaborated with the legendary Stevie Wonder. With two solo albums to his credit, Mike has appeared on numerous other projects with his Hidden Beach Recordings label mates. The multi-talented entertainer has been the host his own lifestyle show, "Mike's World" on BET J.

Acting Recreation Commissioner Floyd Myers thanked Donna Jackson, the Summer Breeze Concert Series’ Creative Director, for her commitment to the arts in Mount Vernon. This was Donna’s first year coordinating the fantastic 17 concert series, which included jazz, R&B, Brazilian, reggae, and classical music artists from around the globe. Whenever I had the opportunity to attend, it was always a great time, made better by seeing so many friends and neighbors!

Mike Phillips started his multi-song set by declaring his love for his hometown. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he recalled growing up on the South Side, where he had so many caring neighbors. He spoke affectionately, about his days at Mount Vernon High School, back when there were 250 students in the high school band (I remember, because we graduated in the same MVHS class). Mike also talked about how his teachers always told him to strive for the best, because they saw his tremendous potential, even before he could.

Sadly, MVHS currently has no band, no orchestra, and no concert choir. Mike decried the cuts in arts education in the public schools, and urged parents to seek out private lessons to nurture their children’s creativity. He emphasized that his exposure to the arts in school, (where he first learned about Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis), playing in the churches of Mount Vernon, and a supportive family, led him to pursue a career in music.

Mike’s passion and conviction that evening, was not limited to his relevant social commentary. His dynamic performance was interspersed with funk tunes, an ode to the straight ahead jazz of John Coltrane, and an interlude of Prince’s “Pop Life.” He told the audience, “This is how I play jazz.” Backed by a formidable band of talented young musicians, Mike made his way through the audience on several occasions, to interact with the audience. He also played several solos, which brought many to their feet.

One of Mike’s proudest artistic achievements to date, has been his participation in the Hidden Beach Recording’s Unwrapped Series. “I like Hip-Hop, but I don’t always like the words in Hip-Hop. Here we take the words off, and add organic music. People enjoy the beat, and yet feel the music.” He even pulled out a vocoder synthesizer, which altered his voice, as he rapped alternative lyrics to the 50 Cent hit, "21 Questions."

The future continues to be bright for Mike Phillips. He is the first non-athlete to have a Nike Brand Jordan endorsement contract. Recently, he completed a tour sponsored by BMW. Currently, he continues to perform internationally, and is working on his third album, MP3.

Mike Phillips closed the set with the Frankie Beverly and Maze classic, "We Are One." At the end of the night, that could not have been a truer statement, as audience members lined up to say hello, and to thank him for coming back home again. There was no better way to end the 2008 Summer Breeze Concert Series, as the city could see a stellar return on its tremendous investment, live in concert. Mike Phillips not only entertained us, he made us realize that we are truly all in this life, together.