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The Soul of Jazz: Gerald Albright, Will Downing, Alex Bugnon

Will Downing is an exceptional artist who soars with the soul of jazz.

Team him with stalwart special guests like Gerald Albright and Alex Bugnon and you have a concert that absolutely soars.

This marquee Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest concert as presented by Berks Arts Council on Friday, April 7, at 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral came about when saxophonist and flautist Najee bowed out of his festival pairing with Downing because of an unexpected schedule conflict.

Replacing him with two musical heavyweights such as Albright and Bugnon is quite a coup for the festival.

“We feel very fortunate to have Gerald and Alex join Will Downing’s show,” said John Ernesto, Berks Jazz Fest general manager. “We were disappointed that Najee’s plans changed, but getting two great artists to replace him is a win-win for Will, the fest, and our fans. The Soul of Jazz concert is going to be an awesome concert.”

Will Downing’s voice is one of the most distinctive, loved and instantly recognizable voices in R&B.

His flawless, emotive, buttery-smooth and agile honey-toned baritone, along with his impeccable phrasing and jazz-fueled agile runs, seamlessly bridge the worlds of R&B and jazz.

Downing’s sophisticated and always-cool sensibilities have proven to be timeless and have garnered him the role as the reigning king of romantic ballads.

Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Gerald Albright is one of the biggest stars of R&B, contemporary and straight-ahead jazz as well as one of the genre’s most compelling and consistent artists. He has earned the reputation as a “musician’s musician.”

Albright has performed with an astonishing array of marquee artists such as Anita Baker, Ray Parker, Lola Falana, Olivia Newton-John, the Temptations, Maurice White, Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston and Phil Collins. He has sold over a million albums in the U.S. alone and has appeared on nearly 200 albums by other artists.

His signature searing and soulful sax lines coupled with his ebullient tenor, baritone and soprano saxophone arrangements give him a compelling stage presence.

Alex Bugnon has been a prolific, energetic force on the contemporary music scene for more than two decades. A renowned pianist/composer/bandleader, Bugnon hails from the picturesque town of Montreux, Switzerland — site of the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival.

Bugnon left Montreux to continue his training at a music conservatory in Paris before landing in Boston to further hone his skills at the famed Berklee School of Music.

It was in the U.S. that his exposure to a diversity of musical styles — from R&B to gospel and funk that began to shape and influence his personal sound. He toured the south playing with Gospel Leviticus and after graduation from Berklee, had the opportunity to play in bands backing R&B greats Patti Austin, James Ingram, Melba Moore, Freddie Jackson and Keith Sweat.

Bugnon’s 12th album, Harlem, is a mix of original compositions and his personal take on beloved and well known songs including the classic, “A Night in Tunisia,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman”, Stevie Wonder’s “Summer Soft” and Burt Bacharach’s “A House is Not a Home.”

His first album, Love Season (1989), catapulted the then virtual unknown to prominence and set him on his musical course. The album rocketed to No. 2 on the R&B charts and was nominated for best jazz album at the Soul Train Awards.