Jerome Najee Rasheed (born in New York City, New York on November 4, 1957), known professionally as Najee, is an American jazz and smooth jazz saxophonist and flautist.
Najee was born in the Greenwich Village section of New York City and lived throughout his teenage years in Jamaica Queens, New York. His father died when he was four years old, and Najee was raised by his mother Mary Richards, who was an important figure and supporter throughout his life and musical career.
Najee's musical pursuits began in grade school at age eight, where he learned how to play the clarinet. He was influenced at this age by listening to his mother's recordings of Miles Davis and other legendary American jazz artists. This was a pivotal moment in his life where he made the decision to become a professional jazz musician. In high school, Najee began to study jazz as a student at the Jazzmobile program (co-founded by Dr. Billy Taylor) where he honed his skills on tenor saxophone and flute under the direction of Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster and Ernie Wilkins. At age 16, Najee studied flute at the Manhattan School of Music Preparatory Division, where he took lessons with Harold Jones, flautist from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
He was inspired by saxophonists John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Yusef Lateef, Grover Washington Jr. and Hubert Laws on flute. His brother Fareed suggested that he consider the soprano saxophone as his main instrument. This later helped catapult Najee's career. After high school, Najee's first world tour was with Area Code performing with the USO for military bases in Europe and Latin America. Upon his return from the USO, Najee went on the road with Ben E. King. After touring with Ben, Najee (and his brother Fareed) was accepted at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where he studied saxophone performance with Joe Allard and performed with George Russell and Jaki Byard big bands.
After his studies at the conservatory, Najee returned to New York in the early 1980s, performing with Chaka Khan with his brother and guitarist Fareed (who is now his manager). This started Najee's career as a solo jazz instrumentalist. In 1986, he released his debut album, entitled Najee's Theme (EMI/Capital). The album earned Najee a Grammy Award Nomination and an opportunity to open for the "Tasty Love" tour with R&B singer Freddie Jackson. The following year, Day By Day was released and went platinum. Tokyo Blue, released in 1991, (produced by Najee's brother Fareed) is one of Najee's most successful recordings to date. Tokyo Blue and Day By Day led to Najee winning two Soul Train Awards for Best Jazz Artist in 1991 and 1993.
In 1992, Najee's next album Just An Illusion was released during the same time he collaborated with Quincy Jones and jazz greats Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham and Larry Carlton which resulted in the album Live At The Greek. Following this collaboration, his next album Share My World was released in 1994 and was followed by his tribute to Stevie Wonder's 1976 classic, Songs In The Key of Life' in 1995. The CD was produced by George Duke and features Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Sheila E. and Patrice Rushen among others. His CD Morning Tenderness was released in 1998 and went #1 on the contemporary jazz charts. Also within the same year The Best of Najee was released, (Blue Note Records/Capitol) and his tour again with the USO for the troops in the Mediterranean: Spain and Turkey.
Najee performed at Nelson Mandela's birthday celebration in South Africa, and as guest of President Bill Clinton at an event honoring President Jerry Rawlings of the Republic of Ghana at the White House. Najee spent three years touring (2000-2003) with Prince and appeared on Prince's albums Rainbow Children' and One Night Alone.
In 2003, Najee released Embrace featuring guests Roy Ayers and BeBe Winans. My Point Of View was his follow-up in 2005 featuring his good friend and vocalist Will Downing. In 2006, Najee won an NAACP Image Award for "Best Jazz Artist". His 2007 album Rising Sun, featured singer Phil Perry and Mind Over Matter, from 2009 paired Najee with singer Eric Benét. In 2012, his album The Smooth Side Of Soul was his first release with Shanachie Records which featured production from keyboardist and producer Jeff Lorber and saxophonist and producer Darren Rahn, as well as guest vocals from R&B singer Phil Perry on the lead single, "Just To Fall In Love". The video for "Just To Fall In Love" also features actress Vanessa Bell Calloway and songstress N'dambi.
Najee's second release with Shanachie in 2013, The Morning After, A Musical Love Journey earned him an NAACP Image Award Nomination for "Outstanding Jazz Album" (2014) and a Soul Train Awards Nomination for "Best Contemporary Jazz Performance" (2014). The album produced by Demonte Posey, features R&B singer Meli'sa Morgan and bassist Brian Bromberg, with musicians Bill Sharpe on bass, Ray Fuller on guitar, Daniel Powell on drums, Nick Smith on piano and drummer Joel Taylor.
Najee has recently released his third album with Shanachie, entitled: You, Me, and Forever, on June 23, 2015. The album features singer and songwriter Frank McComb, keyboardist James Lloyd from Pieces of a Dream, and pianist Robert Damper. You, Me, and Forever also features musicians from Najee's touring band including: Rod Bonner on keys, Daniel Powell on drums, RaShawn Northington on electric bass, and Chuck Johnson on guitar who is also the lead vocalist on the popular Ambrosia song "Biggest Part of Me". New comer, Andrea Wallace who is the lead vocalist on song "Give It All We've Got", produced by Najee. The album is currently available worldwide.
Najee has performed and recorded with vocalists including Chaka Khan, Freddie Jackson, Will Downing, Phil Perry, Prince, Patti Labelle, Phyllis Hyman, Vesta Williams and Jeffrey Osborne. He has also recorded and performed with instrumentalists: Marcus Miller, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, Billy Cobham, Charles Earland, Paul Jackson Jr. and George Duke. ,
Najee has three brothers, two sisters and six children. He was married for many years to Regina Jackson, for whom the song "Gina" was written. Najee and Regina divorced in the mid 1990s.