Catching Up With: Isley Brothers’ Chris Jasper
The Isley Brothers will forever be music industry legends. Their uniquely gifted sound is timeless, whether you’re from the doo-wop, soul, or hip-hop generations.
While most remember Ronald Isley’s soothing voice and charming persona, we have Chris Jasper to thank for the melody. The Cincinnati-bred composer and singer produced a large chunk of the Isley Brothers’ library, and his talent still thrives to this day.
JET caught up with the former Isley Jasper Isley band member to discuss his roots, how he hooked up with the famed Isley clan and what fans can expect with his upcoming project, “The One.”
JET: Let’s start by learning about you. Where did you grow up and what was childhood like for you?
Chris Jasper: I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio actually we all did. We were all born there. My childhood was pretty good. I was the youngest of seven. I was a very observant child and I learned a lot from what I saw everybody doing. Education was important and that’s what I focused on; that was always important to me as a kid, and music was always important. I got started with that at a very early age as a kid, about seven years old.
JET: Yeah I read that you started studying classical music at age seven when most children are playing with toys and climbing trees.
Chris Jasper: I played sports and was out there with the rest of the kids, but then there was a certain part of the day when I did have to come in and practice. My mom was the one who encouraged me to take the lessons at that age in the first place because she played, you know. So I had to do my half hour or hour then I was right back out there with the kids. But I guess the difference was music was still important to me. It was still something that I cared a lot about just as much as I did about sports and everything else.
JET: How did you discover that you actually enjoyed playing and studying music?
Chris Jasper: When I started to hear music on the radio, I used to try to play it by ear. That’s when I first knew I really wanted to be involved in music some kind of way. I was always attracted to it—I loved Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye and the songs they had and music stuck with me. It would go through my head all day long. And I was kinda shy at first, I didn’t let other people see me singing, but I would sing those songs that I was hearing and try to play them on my piano, so I just knew at an early age that I really liked music and I wanted to be a song writer.
JET: That’s interesting. Most people want to be the star. They want to be the singer. But you’re more interested in the creation of the music.
CJ: I was always that way. I studied architecture too in high school and I always liked putting things together—building things, creating new things, developing new ideas. I don’t know where that came from (laughs), but that’s how I always thought. I guess that’s why my role with the Isley Brothers was so easy to step into, because I was always interested in creating new things and that’s what I enjoyed about the business the most.
JET: Sounds like it’s simply just your calling. That was your purpose. If everyone wanted to be the star then who would be writing the songs right?
Chris Jasper: Yeah and you know it wasn’t until later on near the end of the Isley Brothers’ in the early 80s during the shows, that I started to step out and do singing and that was a complete surprise to a lot of people cause I had been you know…just playing the keyboards and songwriting. That was the most important thing to me.
JET: Speaking of the Isley Brothers, some of your finest work was produced when you worked with them. What’s your favorite song from that era?
Chris Jasper: It would have to be the songs on The Heat is On album because that album really set us apart from a lot of the other groups at the time. It was a number one pop album. It had a collection of fast songs and slow songs on it. You know, it was kind of a landmark album and the ideas I thought were really really good on that album. If I HAD to pick one song on there, it would have to be “For the Love of You.” Whitney Houston did a great cover of it too. Of all the ballads, that one stood out and in the concerts it really was a really big crowd pleaser.
JET: Nice. Now you also have a very impressive solo career having recorded 14 of your own solo albums. What is it like working with a group versus working by yourself?
Chris Jasper: Well working with a group, you have others to bounce your ideas off of. Sometimes, you get input here and there and I guess you can say you feel a little bit safer because you have numbers around you. There’s somebody there to say, “What do you think?” to. But working alone, you have to kind of make those decisions and analyze the music for yourself and I’m just fortunate that with my background, I was kind of doing that all along. But I was getting feedback here and there. I’m kind of used to studying — analyzing. When I went to Julliard, and when I went to Long Island University, that was part of the curriculum. To not only write the music, but when you compose the music, to analyze it and break it down to see if there was something you could maybe add or take out. I was used to that process.
JET: Makes perfect sense. Now you’re still making music. You’re latest CD, The One, is available now and it definitely has that classic sound that a lot of today’s music is missing. What can fans expect?
Chris Jasper: Fans can expect the vintage stuff that I’ve been doing my whole career. I put out a new single from it. It’s called, “Your Love,” and I’m working on new material too for myself for the next project. I’m always working on something else. My son Michael has also put out a new single. It’s called “Make It.” That’s also on Gold City Music, that’s my label and we’re also working on a score of a screenplay of a film. You should be hearing something in regards to that pretty soon. We got a lot on our plates today. The Essential Chris Jasper is coming out too. That’s a collection of songs from Isley-Jasper-Isley and my solo career that I wrote and sang.
Chris Jasper’s new album, “The One,” is available now on his website, GoldCityMusic.com.