Earth, Wind & Fire's longtime frontman, Philip Bailey, talks about jazz as if he's talking about a school sweetheart. "Jazz was always my first musical genre love," he says. "[Music] always feels like it's an astro-travel of sorts." Fans can go along for the ride June 28-29 when eight-time Grammy winners and Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame members Earth, Wind & Fire headline the Saratoga Jazz Festival, which also features Trombone Shorty, Patti Austin, and Terence Blanchard. Bailey is promoting his new album, "Now, Then & Forever," and his autobiography, "Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire." We chatted about his his love of jazz, keeping Earth, Wind & Fire alive, and his favorite apps.
What does Earth, Wind & Fire have planned for the Saratoga Jazz Festival?
We always give the people the hits. We'll probably throw in one or two of the songs from the latest "Now, Then, & Forever" CD. The way the band has stayed vibrant is our reputation for our live shows, so we pride ourselves that when we hit that stage, we give the people all that we have. And we always look forward to playing in that part of the country, 'cause it's always so beautiful.
What separates jazz from all the other genres for you?
Jazz was always my first musical genre love, from a young kid. For me, it's been one of those feelings with the music that is very transportive. It always feels like it's an astro-travel of sorts, so that's why I've always loved jazz and loved the fact that it doesn't have parameters. And there's always a place to go, with more to learn and more to do.
You guys are touring way into the fall. What is the best and worst thing about touring?
The hardest thing is just not being in your own bed. But we've been on the road now for 40-plus years, so we've come up with a regimen that is natural for us, so I exist very comfortably on the road. I try to make it more manageable with non-travel days off, so that I can play some golf or do some other things. And I bring my kids out and give them some travel experiences.
After 42 years, you're finally releasing an autobiography. Why now?
Originally, I didn't even think that I had a book, but an agent talked me into it and put me in contact with two writers. But I didn't want to write a book that just glorified all the highlights and spoke loftily about me. I wanted it to be real and really expose the life issues that everyone has to go through as a way of inspiring readers and relating to the normalcy of life that we all have to go through. Today artists are not nurtured and supported by their companies in the same way we were [in] building longstanding careers of our stature. So I wanted to write about that to expose to some of the younger musicians and artists what the industry was like back then, and how it is that 42 years later, we would still have a productive career that has spanned all these years and is still going internationally.
Compared to a lot of bands, Earth, Wind & Fire has seemingly avoided a lot of the dramas that befall most bands.
It was really part of the whole concept of Earth, Wind & Fire. When you read the lyrics in the songs, it's really about how we aspire to live the life that we sing about. Not that we don't have life challenges, and you can read a little bit about those things in my book. But it's that we were able to work through them and continue to make positive steps forward and positive contributions in my career.
Since founding member Maurice White no longer performs with the band, you are now the main vocalist. How do you handle that?
We almost unknowingly prepared for this, because there were certain records where I didn't have a lot of leads singing in my upper register. So when I started singing all the songs, taking on both responsibilities, it worked out that there was a good balance between the two. Both of us sang up and down, so it worked out that there was a good balance between songs sung in baritone and falsetto without undue challenge or stress on the voice.
You've said that your instrument, your voice, is always evolving. Would you elaborate on that?
I just look at it as my God-given gift that I don't put any limits on, and I try to look at it as the way and means that I express myself musically. I just don't look at it as if I have arrived, but look at it as an exploratory adventure. For that reason I've been able to discover different things about my instrument and to grow over the years and not just settle in any one place.
Your music has been covered and sampled by so many different artists. Is there one that you look back on as a favorite?
I think there was a compilation done by Patrice Rushen where she did a lot of the Earth, Wind, & Fire songs in a jazz style, and I really like the treatment she had on our music.
As a solo artist, you won a Grammy for your "Easy Lover" duet with Phil Collins. If you were to release another solo album, who is another artist that you are dying to duet with?
Well, interestingly enough, I think Sting comes to mind, and I've wanted to do something with Sade. But there are so many other artists that I can see mixing it up with, such as John Mayer and Joni Mitchell.
What are your top five mobile apps?
1. One is Logos, a Christian app that gives you studies and books.
2. I'm an espresso junkie, so Yelp just to try to find a coffee place.
3. The MyRadar Weather Radar app.
4. Emoji Emoticons 2 to send emoticons over text.
5. Lumosity is pretty cool.