How do I describe Jamal? Those were the words of each member when asked on our last DVD from the VocalPlay album. I think in the end our director only used Dwight and I speaking about him because he was so hard to put in a few sentences. Dwight kind of summed it up something like this; “you can’t just put a label or a tag on Jamal, he’s a different type of dude”.
Well, that’s for sure. Sometime in early 2000 Jamal joined us. We probably had about 5 songs in our show. “Bless this house”, “Bridge over troubled water”, “Sit back Relax”, “Be with me Jesus” and “Blessed Assurance”. This meant that for the most part he sang a background part and no leads at all. In fact, the first lead he sang “live” was “Amazing Grace” which probably didn’t pop up until about 2001. The first time we recorded Jamal’s awesome lead vocal was 2002 for “What is it?” (The original recording is not found on any of our albums for copyright reasons… we used “I got rhythm”, “Don’t stop the music” and “Rappers Delight” and could get them all cleared). This marked a new day for N7 as Jamal showed off some hard hitting vocal riffs. Shortly after that we recorded “Another you” which Jamal showed his other side which was heartfelt emotion. I wouldn’t discover the height of his voice until sometime in 2003 while recording “Gone with the wind”. Jamal loved using his chest voice. We usually refer to that as “natural” oppose to false as in falsetto. (Many vocalist call that the “Head Voice”). It was the only thing you could hear him working on day in, day out. He felt like falsetto was for wimps! A way of getting around the fact that you couldn’t sing the note. While recording him I simply asked for a more “MJ” way, so he gave it to me… I said “yes, that’s it! More of that… can you go higher? He said “sure” and just did it and a discovery was made. From that day forward he and Rod would share some of the higher duties of the arrangements. That was mostly flutes and strings. The screaming high guitar had not been invented yet!
We all play roles in N7 that are quite clear once you get up close. If not, it will appear that everyone is able to do a little of everything. The only thing that we are all required to do is harmonize on any part except Bass, imitate horns (for a brass ensemble), and we all do various guitars. Outside of that, we do not really share responsibilities.
Jamal’s role was:
1) Upper register lead vocalist
2) Any high Orchestral instrument (this job was sometimes shared with Rod). Flute, string, horn, etc
3) The screaming guitar!
Jamal is by far most known for the screaming guitar which was brought to the table in 2004 for our “Live in Berlin” DVD. My attitude was: “if he can get up that high, let’s use it”. I then wrote and arranged “BMG” with the first unbelievably high guitar solo and Jamal knocked it out of the ball park!
Is it real or is it an effect? Is still the question on the streets these days. That means the mission has been accomplished. It wouldn’t be until about 2008 that we’d really put it down with “Wall of Sound” and then truly solidify the a cappella “highest note I’ve ever heard by a male vocalist” crown with 2010’s “While my guitar gently weeps”.
Jamal’s range and skill was nothing less than a “Phenomenon”. If he or we made it look like it was simply everyday business… that’s because it was our job to do so.
We may have heard him hit those notes a thousand times, but we were all stunned on stage every single time. I sometimes even cringed because I’d be scared it would be the night or day that he wasn’t going to hit it or even get close. This feeling was magnified by the fact that Jamal didn’t practice hitting the note. What! That’s right I said it. He never rehearsed it… not even in sound check. He was just one of those singers that wanted to do it all at show time! Of course that leads to advantages and disadvantages to the entire group, but nevertheless that is the truth.
In fact, just about last week… Polo said to me “so how do you do the feedback effect on Jamal”. What feedback effect? I questioned. “The highest note he sings at the end?”. Ha, ha, ha,… I couldn’t stop laughing. Here is a man joining the band and can not believe that any man could possibly hit that last note. I immediately went and found Jamal and asked him to do it on the spot (which he always seems shy to do)… but we also had Michael Bublé there with Polo and an entire crew who all wanted to hear it off the mic! So guess what. Jamal sat down and started to explain the process. I said “NO NO!” Just do it! No more talking…
It was intense… He pulled himself together. And just hit it… BANG!
Bublé said “What?” Do it again! So he did it again and again and again. And the last time was higher than the times before or than “Gently weeps”! Polo was like “Why hasn’t he entered the Guinness Book of Records? I said “He should”… All I can say, it was a great moment, I wish you all could have been there! You would have been Entertained for sure!
N7+1 performing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Oct 17, 2010)
I’ll be honest…
I don’t expect to meet another human being like him. He was my Spades partner (we were by far the best) and his memory was excellent which is interesting because it wasn’t worth anything in any other part of N7 life. For example: Jamal wouldn’t remember the titles to any song… you’d have to hum it for him. If he knew your name and actually said “Hello (your name)” consider that a complete honor. He barely could keep up with our names in the group. (Some of you witnessed this when he would introduce the band at times). Yet this is the same guy who taught himself three languages while on the road. What?!#. Yes all true… what can you make from all this? As I said, I don’t expect to meet another Jamal in my life time.
Jamal Reed… one great ear for the harmonies. A strong emotional and intense lead vocalist with unbelievable heights and riff speed. Hardly ever broke a sweat while on stage for 2 hours :-)
Master of language, logic and could truly sleep in any position… including in front of 10,000 people on stage :-)
You are going to be truly missed by me, the gang and all of our fans.
May God Bless you and yours on your new journey in this thing called LIFE.
PS. Whenever you come around we can team up and “get a hand in”. I guess Polo has got some big shoes to fill… speaking of POLO…
READ THE NEXT TICKET CALLED “POLO”