Jason Carroll isn’t exactly known in Wichita.
But the 32-year-old Carroll, who goes by his stage name Skinny Hightower, prefers it that way.
Perhaps his relative anonymity here won’t last much longer – the Wichita native already has a No. 1 single on the Billboard jazz charts, and he continues to write new music.
The burgeoning smooth jazz musician will play at Vann’s Nightclub, 3926 E. 13th Street, at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Hightower said he’s out to change public perceptions of smooth jazz.
“We’re going against the grain – there’s nobody here that’s really doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We just know that if we work hard and we continue to get better and expand our base, then it’ll take care of itself no matter where we’re at.”
Who is Skinny?
Hightower grew up in a musical Wichita family – his mother played piano and his father played drums.
He took after his father and started playing drums when he was 2 years old, he said.
That passion for drumming continued through his schooling at Allison Middle School and then at Wichita South High School, where he played in jazz band, pep band, marching band – “pretty much every type of band there was,” he said.
Hightower was offered a full-ride scholarship to play drums in college, but he turned down the offer to help provide for his family financially, he said.
He enlisted in the Army in 2012 and was stationed at Georgia’s Fort Stewart. During his time in Georgia – and on deployment in Afghanistan – he worked on recording jazz riffs in his free time.
“It was like (the military) pulled something out of me to say I really need to take this serious and dive into it,” he said. “Then is when I really started taking jazz seriously.”
His Army buddies, knowing he was a jazz man, coined him a new nickname.
“They just associated me with Steve Hightower from ‘The Steve Harvey Show,’ so they said, ‘You’re like a skinny Mr. Hightower,’” he said.
Thus Jason Carroll became Skinny Hightower.
Carroll left the Army in 2017 after five years of service as a sergeant – and began a professional recording career. He plays drums, piano and bass.
“My plan was to stay in Georgia and go to school in Atlanta, and just kind of spread out musically from there ... but my wife is originally from (Wichita), and she wanted to be around family,” Hightower said. “I decided to come here (in late 2017) and just make it work from here.”
Hightower has released two records: the most recent, “Emotions,” debuted in May 2017 on Trippin N Rhythm Records, a division of Sony Music.
The No. 1 single
Jazz fans with a subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio can hear Hightower’s songs on regular rotation on its smooth-jazz Watercolors station.
His most-often-played song: “Taboo.”
The song peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard jazz charts on July 22, 2017, which came as a surprise to Hightower.
“To be honest, it was one of my least favorite (songs on the album), because it fell too far into the realms of ‘standard smooth jazz,’” Hightower said. “ (The label) decided to push it, and it ended up going No. 1.”
Hightower doesn’t play what he considers standard smooth jazz – like Kenny G or other traditional artists.
In his music, one can hear influences of R&B, gospel, hip hop, soul – and none of the tracks on the album sound exactly like one another.
To survive as a smooth jazz artist in 2018, Hightower said, self-reinvention is required constantly.
Hightower said he’s written another song and changed three songs on the setlist just since the band’s last gig in December, “because I don’t like repeating stuff too much.”
“What I see happening now is a lot of labels and a lot of artists are starting to conform into this really small, tight box – to where you have to play at this tempo, it’s got to be these instruments, it’s got to have this much saxophone stuff in it,” he said. “Anything that’s so tight like that is destined to fall. There’s got to be a change in direction.”
Hightower and his band – featuring local musicians such as Dale Black, Brett Johnson and Bongo Bobby Thomas – aren’t looking for notoriety in Wichita.
“Our objective isn’t to get to be known here, per se,” Hightower said. “The end goal is to make good music. That should be your driving force, and if it’s not it doesn’t matter how many people here know you. It’s only going to go so far before people say, ‘OK, this is just somebody else doing the same old thing.’
“It’s just a continual process of growth, and I think that’s key.”
For more information on Skinny Hightower, visit www.skinnyhightower.com.
When: 9-11:30 p.m. Sat.
Where: Vann’s Nightclub, 3926 E. 13th Street
What: Performance by Wichita-native smooth jazz musician Skinny Hightower and his band. 18+.
Admission: $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Available online at www.ticketstorm.com.