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TSJR’s Featured Smooth Jazz Artist

A profile of our selected smooth jazz artist of the month

Because we appreciate the talents and hard work of all of the many artists in our beloved smooth jazz genre, TSJR has made it a standard practice to highlight and honor one artist each month who has established himself or herself as an integral part of the smooth/contemporary jazz “engine.”

This month, we honor:

Darren Rahn – Combining Music, Faith, and Compassion to Paint Life

With over 25 #1 radio singles and multiple Grammy nominations over the past several years as an artist, producer and mixing engineer, Darren Rahn has become urban jazz’s premiere sonic architect, the “go-to” guy for established genre greats and up and comers looking for their next sure-fire hit. Yet, the British Columbia-born, Denver-based saxophonist who launched his solo career with Soulful in 2004 is after something more meaningful than a few more instantly infectious smashes. The multi-talented performer’s desire to launch his second decade as an innovative powerhouse by creating music in his truest voice, straight from the heart, is perfectly in line with the label’s unique mission: to let artists make music authentic to themselves, beyond the trappings of formulas and strictly commercial considerations.

Rahn’s lifelong affinity for woodwinds started as a child with the clarinet. He later taught himself baritone sax to join his junior high jazz band. He has since infused his albums with an often saucy, sweet blend of tenor, alto, and soprano sax. However, on his 2016 release, Sonic Boom, he decided that the best way to display the purest representation of his artistry is to focus strictly on the tenor sax. “I’ve matured to the point on my musical journey where I believe it’s time to really make that choice,” he says. “I’ll still play alto and soprano live, and will play alto, soprano and baritone on future recordings, but the horn that shows my heart and my core as a musician, and that I wanted to showcase on this album, is the tenor,” he once stated.

After the untimely passing of his close friend, contemporary jazz bass great Wayman Tisdale, Rahn paid homage to him via the ballad “Losing You,” found on his Sonic Boom release. Rahn explains, “It was a song I could have recorded earlier, but I didn’t feel ready until now. It’s designed to pay homage to a great musician and wonderful friend while also bringing me personal resolution. For fans, his loss was tremendous, but for those of us who were closest to Wayman, his loss was more impactful than anyone could imagine. This tune was my way of saying I’m now at peace with his loss as much as I can be.”

Rahn, who launched his career producing, engineering and mixing for local Denver area artists starting in the late 90s, began working with Tisdale after Rendezvous Music, an independent label co-owned by Dave Koz, showed interest in signing him. While the label couldn’t commit to adding Rahn to their roster, they were so impressed with his production that they offered to have helm a track for Tisdale, one of their top artists. In 2004, just as his own solo career was gaining steam, Rahn produced the bassist’s hit cover of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”; it was in the pole position on the airplay charts for four weeks and stayed in the Top 10 for nearly eight months. His subsequent production work on Tisdale’s Way Up! project led him to earn one of his Grammy nominations; the others came from his contributions as a producer and/or mixer for three Dave Koz projects: Greatest Hits, Hello Tomorrow and Summer Horns.

Rahn’s dual paths as an artist and producer reached a unique pinnacle in 2008-2009, when his own single “Talk of the Town” hit #1 on the Billboard jazz chart (followed by the Top 5 track “What Cha Gonna Do For Me”) and he scored three consecutive #1 productions (14 weeks in all) on the Radio & Records smooth jazz chart, holding the top position with Koz, Eric Darius and Tim Bowman.

During this time, Rahn held the top three chart positions for several weeks and had as many as four songs in the Top Ten at the same time. Over the years, as his detail-oriented sonic excellence led to more and more hit recordings, his resume has grown to include everyone from Toby Keith, Jonathan Butler and Najee to Bob James, Kirk Whalum, Jeffrey Osborne, Phil Perry, Jeff Lorber, Norman Brown, Jonathan Fritzen, Scott Allman, Julian Vaughn, Nate Harasim, Nick Colionne, Lebron, Dave Bradshaw, Jr., Patrick Lamb and Ryan Montano.

Growing up on a farm in in a small British Columbia mountain town and later in San Diego, Rahn’s formative musical experiences – and the foundation of his later passion for jazz and other genres – came from playing gospel music. In addition to performing at his home churches, he toured around with his parents’ singing group. Throughout his journey, he played everything from traditional hymns to mainstream Southern gospel tunes. After playing jazz in both junior high and high school, he studied music as an undergraduate at Adams State University, then earned his master’s and part of his Doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado in classical saxophone and jazz pedagogy. Settling in Denver, Rahn was self-employed by 1997 as a free-lance producer, writing his own material on the side as he worked towards his eventual emergence as a solo artist.

As amicable a person as he is a skilled professional musician and producer, Rahn is the consummate good guy, regularly touting his Christian faith and belief and putting them into practice in every phase of his life.

While we all benefit from his genius in the studio helping others, I know I speak for mane when I say how anxious I am to experience another of his own soul-stirring projects. Hopefully, that’s on the horizon. – Ronald Jackson

To view Darren Rahn’s complete discography, click here