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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:

Rob Zinn – A Journey From Swing and Big Band to the C-Jazz Groove

In 2016, veteran trumpeter and flugelhornist Rob Zinn launched an exciting new phase of his multi-faceted career, emerging as an internationally recognized independent smooth jazz artist and composer with his critically acclaimed albums Walk The Walk (2018) and Yesterday Again (2016). Walk the Walk was selected for the 61st Grammy Ballot for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.

A native of Maryland who grew up and established his musical career in neighboring Delaware, Zinn has brought to his solo artistry a dynamic history as an ensemble performer and popular sideman. While performing in his high school jazz band and in the college jazz band at the University of Delaware, he “cut his teeth” and began his professional career with a prominent 15-piece swing band. Playing with them from the ages of 17 to 25, he performed hundreds of gigs throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware at top venues, big band society dances and numerous special occasions.

Zinn then joined the horn section of the heavily booked 7-piece dance party band Group Therapy, which performed heavy jazz and funk (from Tower of Power to The Brecker Brothers) everywhere from outdoor concerts and country clubs to state fairs and 800-1000 seat venues, opening for, among others, legendary acts like The Spinners, Kool & The Gang, Tower of Power and Average White Band. During his stint with this ensemble, Zinn expanded his repertoire to include lead and harmony vocals, keyboards and percussion.

While playing regularly with the swing band and Group Therapy, Zinn also gigged with Just Friends, a hip big band that played, among others, the music of Buddy Rich, Hank Levy and Maynard Ferguson; and the Brian Pastor Big Band, which performed hip big band music by everyone from Buddy Rich to contemporary master and multiple Grammy winner Gordon Goodwin.

Zinn later exercised his blues chops with Rockett 88 and with The Jimmy Pritchard Band, which represented the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation and competed in the annual Memphis based competition, the International Blues Challenge. Performing with both groups at various blues festivals gave the trumpeter a taste of what he is now enjoying as a leader in his own right. Over the past few years, he has reconnected and performed with Group Therapy, in addition to being part of a seven-piece band dedicated to the music of Frank Sinatra and participating in numerous tribute shows (The Beatles, George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen) at World Café Live and The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware. Zinn has also played at the venue’s annual Shine the Light shows, which feature tributes to single years in pop music and raises money for music programs for underprivileged students.

Though there were no professional musicians in his immediate family, Zinn’s grandfather was a semi-pro trumpeter, so it made sense for him to carry on in that tradition when he began playing at age 9. His parents were big music lovers, and he grew up surrounded by the traditional sounds of Andy Williams, Jack Jones, Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert, Al Hirt and Johnny Mathis. His two older sisters introduced him to the Beatles and later on his own he discovered Steely Dan, Tower of Power, Chicago, Maynard Ferguson and Chuck Mangione, while also playing along to Herb Alpert records. He added flugelhorn to his arsenal when he was a 3-time selection to the all-state jazz band in high school.

With all of those musical experiences paving the way, Zinn is excited about the fresh opportunities coming his way that will allow him to continue performing his own music for a rapidly growing fan base. “It is amazing to be able to take these ideas rolling around in my head, commit them to a demo, and then be part of the process of bringing a fresh composition to life with amazing musicians,” he says. “The most gratifying thing, though, is playing my songs live. It’s great being a working musician interpreting other people’s compositions, but there’s nothing like making meaningful connections with my own music. I want people to feel something when I play, feel the emotion in what I’m expressing – whether it’s through the melody, chords or performance – and to create a special moment in time for them. That’s the ultimate for me.”

We can never have too many well-accomplished musical artists with that smooth swagger that adorns the c-jazz genre, and Rob Zinn brings much of that and more. With the c-jazz community becoming more and more attracted to his style, persona, and music, Zinn can certainly look forward to an upward trajectory and a long, fun ride along the way. — Ronald Jackson