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St. Albans native release second jazz album

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Music is a journey, and all the steps a professional musician takes along the way help create a sound.

A lifetime lesson taught in jazz clubs, smoky bars, concert arenas, recording studios and in one’s home all come together for the final product. The wail that slides out of a horn, the vibrato resounding off piano strings, the hollow echo of a drum all coalesce in the tiny inner ear to produce melody, harmony and rhythm.

For Steven Kroon, his ears have been ringing for years with the lively, rhythmic and often explosive sounds of Latin jazz.

Spending the first nine years of his life in the projects in Harlem, Kroon would listen to his dad’s Tito Puente records, old 78s, and would hear the sounds of other stars of the early ‘50s rebounding off the walls and through the courtyards of his home.

“At an early age it draws you in,” Kroon said last week of his lifelong appreciation of music. “Music plants a seed in you and grows into something that is such a part of you that you can’t pull it out. It moves you and tells you where to go.”

In 1956, Kroon’s family moved to where some of the best music in the city was being made — St. Albans. The shift from the projects to “the country” blew his mind.

“At first I only came kicking and screaming, but those were some exciting times,” he said, smiling as he reminisced. “We were right there with Count Basie, Lester Young, Henry Glover, all the doo-wop groups. Harlem was amazing as a child, but this...” he paused, searching for the words, “...this was something else.”

Kroon realized that with private houses and lawns that needed mowing, he could make a good living at age 10. He washed cars, delivered Jet magazine door-to-door and spent his free time hanging out with his friends and his older brother, Robbie — his greatest inspiration, his mentor and his idol.

“He was before me in everything, and when he started playing timbales, I started, too,” Kroon said. “I always looked up to him. One day we were playing timbales together and he looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to do this for real.’”

Kroon was silent for a moment, then said, with a slight crack in his voice, “Robbie passed 12 years ago.”

“I got my initial start hanging out with him. Because of him I was always hanging out with an older crowd.”

The “older crowd” in his part of town was made up of some of the best jazz and Latin jazz performers of the era. St. Albans was teeming with dance halls, and the gangs that were big at the time were always musically influenced.

“We would always be fighting, and you knew that if you went onto the wrong street without some backup, and you got caught, they would put a hurting on you,” he said of the rough rites of passage of the era.

But the gangs would get together one night a week in harmony, literally, gathering for an open mic night at a local dance hall to cheer on their favorite musicians, many of whom were gang members themselves. “After that was over it was back to business as usual,” Kroon said.

Music was Kroon’s business by the time he was in his late teens. By the mid-60s he and his brother were part of a band, and he was meeting some of the hottest rising stars in the Latin jazz world, as well as those of other genres such as R&B, doo-wop, traditional jazz and pop.

From 1981 to 2001, Kroon was a percussionist working with Luther Vandross, including appearances on seven platinum albums, attendance of 15 world tours, two live video performances and an array of live television performances.

He has also recorded with such musical greats as Ron Carter, Stephen Scott, Diane Krall, Roberta Flack, Gary Barts, Jimmy Heath, The Temptations, Kenny Rankin, Bette Midler, Billy Ocean, Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergrass, Kenny G, Spiro Gyra and many others.

In playing all over the world, Kroon has grown musically.

“It is great t experience so many different cultures,” he said. “Playing is like seasoning — the different spices that you acquire adds to your knowledge and your performance.”

His new solo release, “Señor Kroon,” was recently released and is a virtual jambalaya of sound. Nine tracks that reveal Kroon’s own musical influences are well put together in what would make a spicy live set.

From the lively “Amigos” to the ballad-like “My One and Only Love” to the humorous “Belly Button,” the album shows the musical range for which Latin jazz is so well known. Kroon and his talented musicians, including flautist/sax man Tim Reis, make this album sing.

Other notable musicians include Steve Nelson on vibraphone, Ron Carter filling in for one track on bass, Vince Cherico and Lewis Nash trading tracks on drums, and the steady playing Oscar Hernandez on piano.

“All the musicians on the recording are outstanding,” Kroon said. “It was a collaboration in every way, and a real blessing

The album, which is Kroon’s second solo piece, has been a labor of love. “These are my concepts, the things that I feel,” Kroon said.

Though his first album, “In My Path,” bounced around from Latin jazz to Brazilian sounds and R&B, this follow-up is a throwback to his childhood.

“I went all the way back to the days of me and my brother playing Latin jazz.”

Kroon, who has made a career playing for other composers, would love to succeed as a solo artist. “I just hope that at this point I can create enough attention to have my own band working regularly,” Kroon said. “I just want to play my music and have people enjoy it — that would make me rich. To create something I love and make a living at it, that is what it means to be rich.”

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