The next big thing.
There’s a certain weight that comes with that label.
As the Richmond Jazz and Music Festival’s grown and changed over the years, we’ve brought you some of the most interesting “next big things” in modern music.
Whether that’s future stars like Butcher Brown or prodigies like Kamasi Washington or Christian Sands, we bring in a few acts every year that are right on the cusp of stardom.
The household names we pick to perform are a given.
But we’ve also done well finding hidden gems.
Just months after releasing his critically-acclaimed debut album, we swooped up Kamasi Washington to perform at the 2015 RJMFest.
Now he’s currently on tour with legendary RJMFest alum Herbie Hancock.
Butcher Brown — a band of gifted VCU grads — graced our stages in 2015 and again last year. Fittingly, they opened up for Kamasi during a homecoming stop last fall.
And boy, did they put on a show. Now they’re performing on national and global stages.
At the time, 2018 alumnus Christian Sands was one of jazz’s rising stars.
And now, he’s one of jazz’s most in-demand pianists — performing at the world’s most prestigious concerts and festivals.
And now we come to PJ Morton and Cautious Clay.
For years, PJ Morton worked in the background.
He started out collaborating with artists like Faith Evans, Monica, and RJMFest alum India.Arie, all while releasing low-key solo albums. Then he stepped into an entirely different spotlight, joining up with Maroon 5 when their original keyboardist stepped away.
But even while touring the world and recording platinum albums with the group, PJ still had an itch to make his own music. 2013’s New Orleans saw him performing with Stevie Wonder, Busta Rhymes, and Adam Levine, and earned him his first Grammy nomination.
It’s an old story: the sideman becomes a great frontman.
Like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Father John Misty, PJ’s move to center stage took him to another level.
The success of New Orleans led to his magnum opus, Gumbo.
Here’s the story behind the album:
In 2016, PJ returned to New Orleans — his hometown— where he then formed his record label, Morton Records.
Then, as an ode to his hometown’s signature dish, he slow-stirred soul, R&B, jazz, hip-hop and gospel to make Gumbo. It’s a masterpiece: the kind of album people will talk about for the rest of his career.
And the Grammys thought so too — crowning PJ with “Best Traditional R&B Performance” in 2019 for “How Deep Is Your Love (feat. YEBBA)”, beating out heavyweights Bettye LaVette and Charlie Wilson.
With the Grammy win, he joins an elite class who’ve received the same honor: Prince, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Barry White, and Beyoncé.
With the way he’s been going, it’s not a question of if PJ’s going to become a household name — it’s a question of when.
See what PJ’s all about for yourself as he headlines Homegrown at the Hipp on August 8th.
Another one to watch this year is Cautious Clay.
Though he’s still relatively new to the national scene — bursting onto the scene four winters ago after remixing Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes” — Cautious possesses a mature contemporary sound.
The Clevelander — a classically-trained flautist-turned-producer-turned-singer — has had his hands in music since he was seven years old. But he didn’t pursue music full-time until 2017, after he decided to quit his job as a leasing agent marketer.
The following year, he released “Cold War” on Soundcloud.
The record quickly grew legs and carried him into the national spotlight.
Since the track’s release, he sold out his first live show; he’s featured on the soundtrack of Issa Rae’s popular show, Insecure; and he’s performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.
He’s no one-hit wonder either.
In this generation of music, where genre lines are blurred, Cautious’ sound fits perfectly.
His world is pop and soulful electronica — two intricately distinctive sounds that he merges smoothly.
Now, you’ll probably see him in a lot more places over the next few years, but you can hear Cautious crooning live and in person on Day 2 of the RJMFest on the Dominion Energy stage.
PJ Morton and Cautious Clay are up next.
Get ready to see history in the making.
And something you can tell everyone you were there for.
Get your RJMFest tickets today at richmondjazzandmusicfestival.com!