Deon Yates
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Deon Yates

Detroit, Michigan, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | MAJOR

Detroit, Michigan, United States | MAJOR
Established on Jan, 2009
Solo Jazz Soul




"School is in..."

From his days studying music at Oakland University through his recent studies for a Master’s in Communications and Public Relations, versatile composer, saxophonist and recording artist Deon Yates is all about bettering himself through education. While he’s recently become an educator himself – lecturing on the history of Detroit jazz at a local community college – he’s not limiting the learning process to quiet classroom settings.
With his explosive, melodically infectious, soulful and grooving debut on Woodward Avenue Records, Yates opens a hands-on School of Funk to show young players and contemporary urban jazz lovers of all ages how it’s done. More specifically, with the in-the-pocket assistance of producer, co-writer and keyboardist Nate Harasim – who plays Fender Rhodes and organ throughout – Yates offers a spirited refresher on classic soul-jazz funk and a primer on where the genre is heading in the future. Yates also brings a wild bunch of guests to the class to help illustrate certain principles – including two time Grammy winning guitarist (and label mate) Paul Brown, guitarist and producer Nils, keyboardist Brian Simpson, trumpeter Lin Rountree, guitarist Gerey Johnson and bassists Roberto Vally and Takashi Iio. The vocal track “Satisfaction” also features one of the last recorded performances of legendary drummer Ricky Lawson.
Yates has been making music in and around his native Detroit his whole life and finds the perfect way to introduce the never-ending funky possibilities of the city than “Motor City Strut,” a high octane alto driven blues infected jam featuring a hypnotic electric guitar solo by Brown, twinkling old school jazzy keys and a ferocious swirl of horn textures. Showing that funk can also be sly and sensual, the saxman pulls back into a mid-tempo soulful groove on “Wise Guys,” with his bright, wistful soprano melody fronting Harasim’s elegant piano and moody Fender Rhodes. This is also one of six tracks on School of Funk to feature Nils.
Yates, swirling his tenor powerfully into bright horn blasts with Rountree’s fiery trumpet, gets to the core of the curriculum on the title track, wild, energetic old school soul jazz funk romp also featuring Harasim’s spirited piano and simmering, moody Rhodes. The three take the funk to the limit in a section mixing Harasim’s lush piano magic and percussive horns. Moving into a more specifically R&B/gospel realm, “Satisfaction” (featuring sensual lead vocals by LaRonn Dolley) offers lively, infectious classic soul, colorful horns and a spirited vocal chorus – with a groove courtesy of the late great drummer Ricky Lawson. Who better to capture the spirit of another late great, Joe Sample, than pianist and artist Brian Simpson, whose lively ivories interact splendidly with Yates’ whimsical, edgy alto melody. The track also features a touch of “crying” wah guitar by Nils.

With its sly reference to his new label and the forward momentum of his career and musical direction, “Cruisin’ Woodward” is all hypnotic funk and simmer, as Yates doubles his tenor for off the charts emotional impact over a classic drive time groove as Harasim’s Rhodes percolates. Nils shows the more rockin’ side of his artistry on a crackling solo. Opening with a seductive trumpet intro and finger snapping grooves, an inviting cover of Beyonce’s hit “Luv on Top” is all about retro dance floor cool, with a thumpin’ groove and low toned alto leading the way. Its buoyant production values include a section where Yates’ lead sax and the backing horns of Rountree engage in a whimsical dance. If you’re listening to this another time of year and really miss the warm weather, let Yates take you back to the lighthearted, breezy “First Day of Summer,” a perfect top down driving tune featuring Harasim’s bluesy key harmonies and trippy electronica atmospheres.

School of Funk’s other excellent cover tune is Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z’s irresistible “Suit & Tie,” rendered here as a cool, moody easy flowing low toned tenor tune leading to a more spirited chorus section which has that “old school” spirit. The final tracks on the funky syllabus are the wistful, atmospheric, tenor led “Step By Step” – which swings into high gear on the wings of Yates’ clever, soaring horn doubling – and “For Hosea,” a sweet, graceful tribute to a late teacher and mentor that needs only Harasim’s lush piano, a gentle groove and Yate’s lush soprano texturing to pay its last respects.

Usually, everyone looks forward to the end of the school year, but Deon Yates makes learning year round a treat for everyone who is groove inclined on School of Funk – one of the most exciting urban jazz albums of the year. Class dismissed! – Jonathan Widran - Jonathan Widran

"School Of Funk"

Whenever I’m in need of a serious pick-me-up, I reach for albums that get the flame going in me. Most times, that means a good, solid c-jazz album with flavor, melody, and presence. All of those elements are found in the latest project from veteran saxman Deon Yates CDDeon Yates called School of Funk. Brimming with classy runs and hooks, favoring a little of that Richard Elliot soulful bounce and even a bit of that dancing funk of Down to the Bone, but mostly displaying a complete and powerful picture of Deon Yates, this is one satisfying album.

My partiality to this album started right away as I head-bopped and finger-snapped my way through the supercharged lead track “Motor City Strut” featuring guitarist Paul Brown and a whole lot of oomph and smooth attitude.

Along with Brown, Yates recruits guitarist Nils, keyboardist Nate Harasim, trumpeter Lin Rountree, keyboardist Brian Simpson, and even some wonderful work from the late Ricky Lawson, as well as a host of other contributors. All of the ingredients necessary for a qualified classy and funky venture.

The entire album is one long narrative on how good, funky, polished jazz that’s designed to stir the soul should be approached, and who better to offer this than one who, when not recording or touring, is a featured lecturer at Macomb Community College – a renowned Michigan-based institution – on the history of jazz music in Detroit? Being quite the impressive and influential jazz figure there in his hometown and a two-time Emmy Award nominee, I think it’s safe to say he knows his way around this subject of jazz. His music certainly serves as further confirmation.

As for my faves and recommendations, each and every track has form, character, and appeal – from the lead track straight through to the sweet and charming finale “For Hosea.” So, don’t cheat yourself — drink in all of this album slowly, savoring it like fine wine. Your musical palate will thank you. – Ronald Jackson - The Smooth Jazz Ride

"Capital Jazz Super Cruise 2013"

Deon Yates, a Detroit native, definitely showed his chops in the grand jam session, and I will say this: if you want to see the mettle of a new artist, throw him on a jam session stage and watch. And Deon Yates is proof like no other that the Motor City is where you go for music. Mister Magic by Grover Washington Jr. is a favorite for most jam sessions, and with all the saxes on stage to take their turn at it for the first jam of the cruise, Yates showed exactly what he could do. While all of the saxophonists on the stage brought their own to the table, to my ears, Yates was the one who left a lasting impression - Detroit Jazz Magazine

"Deon Yates - Spotlight"

Saxophonist Deon Yates’ latest project entitled Spotlight has that certain cool swagger to it. Even the parts where he addresses his listening audience in a swift monologue have personality.

With guest appearances by the big windy Chicago cat, guitarist Nick Colionne, the renowned nightingale Maysa, and the sweet trumpet of Lin Rountree, Yates aims for the stars with this one.

"Introducing Deon Yates"

Let me introduce you to an outstanding new project from World-class Detroit saxophonist Deon Yates that’ll keep you coming back for more. SPOTLIGHT delivers big-time on talent and performance, as Deon’s playing sparkles like a new diamond on ten compelling songs. -


2016 - School Of Funk 
2012 - Spotlight
2009 - In Time
2000 - Career Move



A longtime innovative presence on his hometown’s jazz scene and two time Emmy Award nominee, he brings a fresh and unique perspective on the subject. But that’s just the start of the curriculum for the multi-talented composer and saxophonist. On his infectious, intensely soulful and hard groovin’ Woodward Avenue Records debut, Yates opens a spirited, high energy School of Funk, offering a dynamic, 11 track master class on the present and future of contemporary urban jazz.

The emotional focus of the collection is on Yates’ unique ability to switch off between tenor, alto and soprano as the lead melodic voice from track to track and create dazzling dual horn harmonies. But like all great teachers, Yates brings in an exciting array of “guest lecturers” and sonic architects to help him break all funk IQ barriers. Chief among these is fellow Michigander and Woodward Avenue Records label mate Nate Harasim, School of Funk’s main producer and co-writer, with Yates, of six of its tracks. In addition to emerging as an eclectic solo artist, Harasim – whose Fender Rhodes and organ vibe provides the perfect complement to Yates’ lead sax action - has brought the radio magic to tracks by Darren Rahn, Julian Vaughn, Michael Lington and others. Yates first met Harasim at a show in Kalamazoo in 2009, and Harasim has participated in a live music series Yates and his wife have produced in Detroit to spotlight up and coming urban jazz performers.

Another great Woodward Avenue artist, two time Grammy Award winning guitarist Paul Brown, is on hand as producer of a spirited cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” and adds his trademark string energy to the opening track “Motor City Strut.” Another top genre artist and producer, guitarist Nils, adds his electric string magic throughout and is co-writer and co-producer of the vocal track “Satisfaction.” The guest list also includes keyboardist Brian Simpson, trumpeter Lin Rountree, guitarist Gerey Johnson, bassists Roberto Vally and Takashi Iio and one of the last recorded performances of legendary drummer Ricky Lawson.

Though his independently released 2012 album Spotlight was self-produced, it also featured an exciting batch of heavy hitters, including Rountree, Nick Colionne and vocalist Maysa. Colionne appeared on the set’s first single “Used To Be,” which hit the Top 50 in all reporting smooth jazz chart, including #7 on and #13 on Groove Jazz. The breakthrough success of the perfectly titled Spotlight built on the momentum of Yates’ participating in the Capital Jazz Challenge at the annual Capital Jazz Fest. Competing against rising musicians from across the country, he was chosen as a finalist and finished runner up in the overall competition.

Yates has also been recognized as a top instrumentalist and performer by some of the top music manufacturers in the country, with endorsements from industry leaders Sax Dakota U.S.A., Theo Wanne (Mouthpieces) and AMT Microphones Deon has proven himself to be a world class artist.

Through the years, the saxman and his band, collectively known as the Deon Yates Soul Project, have been a popular force in their native Michigan, including a headlining show at the GrandJazzFest in Grand Rapids with Harasim and Brown. With Brown, they have opened for Richard Elliot in Akron, Ohio. Expanding beyond its regional renown, the band has performed at Blues Alley in Washington, DC, Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza and Entertainment in Columbus, Ohio and both locations of Spaghettini (Seal Beach and Beverly Hills, CA) with Nils and Harasim.

Yates closes School of Funk with the lush soprano ballad “For Hosea.” The song, like the entire album itself, is dedicated to his childhood music teacher Hosea Taylor, who was also his mentor, musical father and friend. In his moving liner notes, he credits Taylor, who took over as music teacher during his junior high band years, for recognizing his gift and encouraging him to continue pursuing music. Yates was proficient on flute, but credits Taylor for putting him on tenor sax when he was 12. He says, “Mr. Taylor took me under his wing and laid the foundation that brought me to where I am musically today.” Taylor remained a confidant and father figure to Yates until his passing in 2014.

“I’ve been making music around Detroit for a long time,” says Yates, “but I know that School of Funk is going to be the first impression I make on a lot of people. It’s an exciting opportunity to share my musical passions with many more people – almost like a senior project that’s preparing me for the master’s and doctorate to come. I look forward to a lot more learning and educating in the years to come.”

Band Members