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:

Michael Lington – Appealing to the Soul of C-Jazz

Saxman Michael Lington is one of those consummate performers who leaves no doubt as to why he has earned the ear and respect of so many peers and fans.

Born on June 11, 1969, in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Danish-American contemporary jazz saxman, songwriter, producer, and national recording artist is a genuine purveyor of soul and contemporary jazz, wowing fans since 1997.

Since entering the c-jazz scene, the emotive artist has released 10 solo albums and has 23 singles that have charted on the Billboard and Radio & Records (R&R) contemporary jazz radio charts.

Over the course of his career, Lington has collaborated with the likes of Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow, Aaron Neville, Mike Love, Randy Crawford, Bobby Caldwell, Booker T. Jones, Chuck Loeb, Brian Culbertson, Kenny Lattimore, Ryan Shaw, Little Richard, and so many other luminaries.

The amicable Lington began his career at the age of 7 as a clarinetist. He was a member of the world-renowned Tivoli Boys Guard for 7 years (1978-1985), which is where he began his formal music education, receiving a gold medal for his efforts. At 15, he became influenced by saxophonists David Sanborn and King Curtis and by American soul music artists like Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett and Ray Charles, which precipitated his decision to take on the saxophone as his instrument of choice.

After attending college, Lington co-owned a recording studio with songwriter John Hatting while touring regularly throughout Europe. During this time, he performed on several of Denmark’s Eurovision song contest entries. He also competed in the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidene / Rhythmic Conservatory music youth competition, judged by musician Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, where he won First Prize in 1987 and won the Gold Prize in 1988.

In 1990, the saxman moved to Los Angeles with the assistance of drummer Mark Schulman and soon became heavily involved in the L.A. contemporary jazz scene. After playing various gigs around southern California, he met Bobby Caldwell, with whom he toured for four years from 1994-1998 and, subsequently, renowned vocalist Randy Crawford (with whom he toured for three years from 1998-2001).

Lington signed his first recording contract in 1996 with Nugroove Records and released his self-titled debut album in 1997. It produced the hit “Tell It Like It Is” (feat. Bobby Caldwell), a song that became a Top 10 R&R NAC/Smooth jazz song and a Top 20 R&R Adult Contemporary song.

Three years later, in 2000, Lington signed with Gold Circle Records and released his 2nd album, Vivid, which produced two R&R charting singles, “Twice In A Lifetime” (#2) and “Sunset (Por Do Sol)” (#4). The album featured Randy Crawford singing the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic, “Message To Michael.”

In 2002, he signed with keyboardist Marcus Johnson’s Three Keys Music label and released the album Everything Must Change, which also produced two R&R charting radio singles; “Still Thinking Of You” (#5) and “Off The Hook.”

In 2004, Lington signed with Rendezvous Music and released the albums Stay With Me featuring vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Michael Sembello and, in 2006, A Song For You which featured a full orchestra arranged and co-produced by Randy Waldman.

Stay With Me produced three Top 5 R&R charting radio singles; “Show Me” (#2), “Two Of A Kind”(#2), and “Pacifica” (#6). A Song For You also featured the popular single, “It’s Too Late,” penned by songwriter Carole King.

In 2008, Lington re-signed with Nugroove Records and released the album Heat, which reached the Top 5 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz albums sales chart and was chosen as JazzTrax’s 2008 Album of the Year. The album featured singers Aaron Neville and “American Idol” finalist Ace Young. It also featured Brazilian guitarist Torcuado Mariano and the Academy Award-nominated songwriting team of Allan Rich and Jud Friedman. It was produced, in part, by Keith Olsen and Greg Phillinganes. Heat’s lead single, “You and I,” reached #2 on R&R’s Smooth Jazz radio chart. Lington’s duet with Neville, “That’s When You Save Me,” tied that year as JazzTrax Best Vocal Song of the Year.

In 2012, Lington released Pure on Trippin ‘N’ Rhythm Records, which featured guest artists Michael Bolton, Jonathan Butler, Lee Ritenour, Jeff Golub, and former “American Idol” & “Tonight Show” bandleader Rickey Minor. It produced the Billboard Top 5 radio single “Road Trip,” which also hit #1 on the instrumental radio charts.

Two years later, the saxman established his own label, Copenhagen Music, along with business partner Roy McClurg, on which he’s since released the albums Soul Appeal (2014) and Second Nature (2016). Soul Appeal featured vocalists Kenny Lattimore and Ryan Shaw and produced 4 Billboard jazz radio singles; “Soul Appeal,” “Uptown Groove,” “In The Pocket” and “Taking Off.” The self-titled first single becoming the #1 song of 2014 on the Groove Jazz music chart.

The album Second Nature has been described as an “audio love letter to the city and sound of Memphis,” a place that the artist has said influenced him significantly as a young man. Special guests on the album include vocalists Taylor Dayne and Sy Smith, as well as Booker T. Jones, Ray Parker Jr., Paul Jackson Jr., and Brian Culbertson. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz sales charts and #7 on the Billboard Combined Jazz sales chart. The album’s first two radio singles, “Beale Street” and “ Memphis Strut,” were both Top 15 Billboard jazz radio singles, and the third single, “Midnight Drive,” reached number one on multiple charts including The Radio Wave and Groove Jazz Music Chart.

Lington’s 10th and latest solo album, Silver Lining, was released in June of this year on Copenhagen Music. “City Life,” the lead-off track and first single, was #2 Most Added at Contemporary/Smooth Jazz Radio during its first week at radio. The song features the Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart. See our review of this album in our Smooth Jazz CD Reviews section on this site.

The saxman has no shortage of work as he has toured regularly his entire career, averaging 60-80 shows per year. He has performed at the Royal Wedding of Denmark’s future king, Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary Donaldson at Fredensborg Castle and has also played numerous other times for the Danish royal family. He is the grandson of Danish composer and band leader Otto Lington.

In recent years, from 2010 to 2013, Lington joined Michael Bolton on tour as his opening act and special guest. Lington and Bolton performed over 350 shows together in more than 40 countries.

In February 2016, Barry Manilow invited Lington to join his “One Last Time” arena tour. Lington opened the show and joined Manilow on the song “Brooklyn Blues” during the headliner’s main set. In April 2018, it was announced that Michael Lington would join Manilow once again as his opening act starting June 8th at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA.

Lington is signed to the Agency for the Performing Arts (APA) for worldwide representation and has a publishing administration deal with Kobalt Music Publishing. He is an ASCAP songwriter/publisher and a 20-year voting member of the Recording Academy (NARAS).

Among Lington’s notable recognitions and awards are being nominated for International Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2009 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards and being featured on the November 2008 cover of the International Musician Magazine.

In addition to a successful musical career, the soulful saxman manages his own wine company, Lington Wines, based in California’s central Paso Robles region, as well as a cigar company, Michael Lington Cigars, which manufactures its product in Honduras. He’s also served as a cigar columnist for Wine and Jazz magazine.

One of the intangibles that distinguishes Michael Lington from so many is the passion with which he performs both in the studio and during live performances. I suppose leading such an exciting and lucrative life – both in and out of music – will bring out that kind of passion in one. – Ronald Jackson