Fitting in Naturally at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Naturally 7 at the 2011 Playboy Jazz Festival. Photo by Mario /
Naturally 7 at the 2011 Playboy Jazz Festival. Photo by Mario /

Singing a capella music is about as Old School as you can get. It is not a form of music that comes in your backyard everyday as you sit back and relax and turn up the volume on the radio.

These days it’s about the flavor of hip hop, underground rap and some other noise that’s out there. The idea of harmonizing without music is almost a faded art among today’s generation.

But it is such a wonderful art to sit back and enjoy.

Singing a capella is what made the group Take 6 popular during the latter part of the 1980s and 90s. Their unique sound set them apart from everyone else on the music scene. Now Naturally 7 has taken over that mantle.

In fact, Naturally 7, which credits Take 6 as being very influential in their music, has taken what they deem as “vocal play,” to another level. Well, there’s a slight distinction between a capella music and “vocal play.”

Take 6 made noise by singing without instruments. Naturally 7 have wowed international audiences for over a decade by imitating the sounds of drums, cymbals, horns, flutes and other instruments with the gift of their vocal chords.

The sound of their music is simply playing off each other’s voices they use as instruments.

Naturally 7 have taken the beatbox sound from the New York city streets they grew up on and have transitioned it to the jazz arena.

The group has taken the sound that hip hop pioneers Doug E. Fresh, KRS-One and The Fat Boys originated on the airways and turned it into their own musical calling.

Sometimes seeing is believing. Seeing the seven-member group perform onstage defies description. What Roger Thomas, Warren Thomas, Rod Eldridge, Napoleon Cummings, Dwight Stewart, Garfield Buckley and “Hops” Hutton do with their voices is nothing short of amazing.

“We feel like we are a continuation of Take 6,” Roger Thomas said in a phone interview with “Without Take there wouldn’t be a Naturally 7. We spend a lot of our time imitating instruments.”

A member of Naturally 7 does his thing at the Playboy Jazz Festival in 2011. Photo by Mario /
A member of Naturally 7 does his thing at the Playboy Jazz Festival in 2011. Photo by Mario /

Hutton mimics the bass. Buckely does his take on the harmonica. Cummings gets his kicks by rocking the guitarist sound. Eldridge and Stewart sound off as trumpeters, while Warren Thomas does the clarinet sound. Roger Thomas, the musical director of the group, take on the role as rapper.

When Naturally 7 takes the stage with the great Herbie Hancock this Saturday at the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, chances are that individuals that see them for the first time will be whooping and hollering and rendering them a standing ovation once they’ve concluded their set.

After years and years of perfecting their sound, the obligatory ovation and appreciation is something that is somewhat expected, Thomas said.

“If we didn’t get a standing ovation we’d wonder if the sound is on,” said Thomas.

These cats are not your average guys blowing a bunch of smoke. They are that good and then some. Because of the delicacy of the type of music they perform, Thomas said it use to take up to two to three months for the group to get one song right.

The group has gotten better in that area over the years, Thomas said. But then there are times when coming up with certain songs on point can be lengthy.

“Some pieces are so simple. Some are much more complex, Thomas said.

It’s a pretty awesome sight to see and hear individuals master the sound of musical instruments and harmonize off of each other with the greatest of ease much like a seasoned pro surfer riding the crest wave during high tide. These men know how to put it down.

Quincy Jones, Jay Leno, Ludacris, Tavis Smiley, Coldplay and daytime talk show host Ellen are all on the Naturally 7 bandwagon, having worked or propped up the group on their respective projects.

In 2011, Naturally 7 came down to perform at the Playboy Jazz Festival with jazz legends Buddy Guy and Terence Blanchard on the lineup list. They rocked the house, sending the packed house into musical delirium with their rhythmic harmonious sound.

“Our goal is that we want you to enjoy the music,” Thomas said. “We want you to enjoy the songs.

Like any group, however, Naturally 7 has seen both good days and bad ones. While they bask in their current glory of fame, no doubt the group has seen its share of difficult times.

Helping the band survive has been a matter of dialing up their bond of spirituality, something they all have in common.

“Our foundation is a lot of faith,”Thomas said. “Like any other family, we have our ups and downs. We’ve had more success than those down times…we stayed strong.”

The Playboy Jazz Festival crowd will feel the strength of these vocal masters. And after hearing them perform many will fall in love with the notion of hearing music again in its purist form.


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