Word of mouth is good for Will Downing

July 25, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Will Downing admits that it isn't easy to put a name to the kind of music he makes. "It's kind of hard to classify," says the singer over the phone from a rehearsal hall in New Jersey. "I'm certainly not jazz in the traditional sense of the word. Adult contemporary listeners view me as an adult contemporary artist. But the way I classify my music is, R&B music with jazz overtones.

"So the same way that you would categorize someone like an Anita Baker, throw me in that same circle."

That's pretty good company to be in, though Downing admits that their careers aren't quite as similar as their sounds. For instance, because he did a lot of backup singing in his youth, he has sung with more people than Baker has. "But she's sold more records than I have." He laughs. "When you look at it from that perspective, it kind of balances itself out."

Record sales are something of a sticking point for Downing. Although his current album, "Moods," is likely to do as well as its predecessors, Downing despairs at pushing his sales past the 350,000 point. "I can't explain it," he says. "We've hit a wall. I need the radio play in order to make the whole thing work."

But radio has its own agenda, and playing sophisticated, mature music like his doesn't fit it. "I fall in a very strange position," he says. "I don't get a lot of play as far as R&B radio is concerned, because it's so youth-orientated. They're concentrating more on the new R&B, or hip-hop and rap. They don't want to hear this kind of music during the day, because they feel it slows down their format. They say, 'We want to keep people "up" in the daytime.'

"But then when it comes to Quiet Storm, or whatever late-night programming that they have, then I'm the king. If it's a vocal tune that they're putting on, it's either me, Luther [Vandross] or Anita."

Fortunately, Downing's concert performances have a habit of turning listeners into fans. "When we do concerts and things of that nature, I get a lot of repeat business," he says. "A lot of repeat offenders. But they always bring someone with them. After the show, when I'm signing something or talking to the folks, people will say, 'I saw you two years ago. I brought my girlfriend to come see you this time.' Or boyfriend. You know -- my whatever. Subsequently, the audiences have been getting bigger and bigger, and a lot more better attended. So it's expanding, which I think is the basis of any career."

The only real complaint he has about being on the road has to do with the weather here in Baltimore. "Every time I come there, it rains," he says, laughing. "But the people turn out anyway."

WHEN: Tonight, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Pier Six

TICKETS: $25 reserved seating, $12 lawn

CALL: (410) 481-7328

To hear excerpts from Will Downing's new release, "Moods," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6124. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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