New Orleans’ own PJ Morton returns home to Jazz Fest with new music

NEW ORLEANS – Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and producer PJ Morton comes home with a new album and memoir dropping soon amid a Saturday afternoon performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which nears the end of an eight-day run.

Morton, a preacher’s kid whose parents — the Revs. Paul and Debra Morton — are well-known in the city, said he looks forward every year to taking the stage at the Fair Grounds.

“Jazz Fest always feels like home,” Morton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It feels like a family reunion. We want the food, just like everyone else does. You get to see all your friends, see everybody. There’s nothing better than that.”

Morton said he does not take for granted the love he feels in his hometown or in performances done around the world.

“I’m amazed at the crowds and the rooms we get to play,” he said. “The joy started in small clubs where we were playing to 20 to 50 people. Now it’s thousands. I love to see the growth. It’s just special at every single level for me.

“I hope the fans leave with having had a good time. I want to give people everything I have and let people already familiar with my work leave knowing that and those who aren’t familiar with this ‘PJ Morton kid,’ feel it too.”

Since New Orleans is home, he said the city always gets a little something special.

“I play things here that I don’t play anywhere else, like ‘New Orleans Girl,’ which I wrote for Jazz Fest 10 years ago,” he said.

Morton has been a keyboardist for Maroon 5 since 2012. That year he also dropped his first debut solo EP, “Following My First Mind.” Maroon 5’s lead singer, Adam Levine, was featured on the lead single, “Heavy.” The next year, Morton released his first major-label debut album, “New Orleans.” And, in 2017, he released his first self-released studio album “Gumbo,” earning him two Grammy Award nominations.

In 2019, he took home a Best R&B Grammy for “Say So” and Best Traditional R&B Performance for “How Deep Is Your Love.” Since then, he’s won three more Grammys for Best Gospel Album, Album of the Year and, this year, for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Good Morning.”

At Jazz Fest, Morton said fans can expect to hear a mix of old and new, including songs from his latest project, “Cape Town to Cairo,” a collection he created in 30 days during a journey that took him to South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Egypt.

On Friday, he released his new single, “Smoke & Mirrors,” which is about “defying preconceptions” and has a “message that connects back to self.”

He said the project forced him to trust his gut instincts.

“I wrote every day for 30 days and recorded every day,” he said. “It was fully written in Africa and I now I’m giving it to the world. On my last album, ‘Watch The Sun,’ I had a lot of duets with heavy hitters like Stevie Wonder and Nas and had so much time to mull over everything because of the pandemic. This, closes that chapter for me. This one I wasn’t able to overthink. I wanted to be inspired by the moment and go off of instinct. And, it gave me a real deadlines. In the end, I learned that limitations can give you freedom.”

In addition to the music, Morton said his memoir “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning,” is scheduled for release Nov. 12.

“I don’t generally talk about my journey. I make albums, I tour and I mind my business,” he said, laughing. “But over the last several years, the Grammy wins and being able to do all this independently, owning my masters and making my own decisions, I thought it was a good time to put it on paper. ‘Emotions’ turns 20 years old in October and I thought it was a good time to share that mark and let people know that some of this crazy stuff I did actually worked. I’ve been able to do it this way, my way and hopefully I can inspire some others to stick to their guns along their own journeys.”

Jazz Fest concludes its eight-day run on Sunday. Other headliners Saturday include Queen Latifah, Neil Young Crazy Horse, Greta Van Fleet, Tab Benoit and Sonny Landreth.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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