Ray Charles isn't just a giant of American music. He is American music.

As a singer, songwriter, keyboardist, and bandleader, Charles has left an indelible stamp on rock, R&B, blues, jazz, and country, often by single-handedly redefining the boundaries between them.

Pastor Andrae Crouch is one of the leading lights in contemporary gospel music. In addition to singing, playing piano and writing songs with his own group, he has performed and arranged backing vocals for a host of top artists, including Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Julio Iglesias, and Quincy Jones.

Guitarist Jon Herington has played with artists as diverse as Michael and Randy Brecker, Eliane Elias, the Bacon Brothers, and most recently, Steely Dan and Bette Midler. But it's taken him a while to come to terms with his own versatility.

Master percussionist Alex Acuna has lent groove, color and texture to countless recordings in an astonishing array of styles. His list of performing and recording credits reads like a music dictionary: U2, Paul McCartney, Elvis Presley, Weather Report, Al Jarreau, Joni Mitchell, Yellowjackets, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Chucho Valdez, Placido Domingo, Julio Iglesias, Whitney Houston, Seal-and we could keep going for a long, long time.

In today's sample-anything era, it's easy to forget just how bold a move it was when a handful of young musicians first melded rock and jazz back in the late '60s.

Nashville songwriter/producer Jon Vezner is a consummate musical craftsman whose songs have been recorded by such artists as Faith Hill, Patti Page, Martina McBride, and Vezner's wife, Grammy-winning singer Kathy Mattea. But when we caught up with him, he was on his way to pick up supplies for a different kind of craft: woodturning.

Joey DeFrancesco is largely responsible for returning the electronic organ to its central role in jazz, blues and R&B. When Joey issued his debut album, All of Me, in 1989 at the tender age of 17, the instrument had all but vanished from contemporary music. Now it's everywhere-and many new players have been inspired by Joey's stunning virtuosity and funky groove.

When legendary grunge-era group Soundgarden disbanded in 1997, drummer Matt Cameron was out of a job-for about five minutes. Matt's own band, Wellwater Conspiracy (with Monster Magnet guitarist John Mcbain and keyboardist Glen Slater from The Walkabouts), recently released its fourth album. He's appeared on solo records from such rock icons as Rush bassist Geddy Lee and Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. And, most visibly, Matt has served as Pearl Jam's drummer since 1998.

Singer/pianist Charlotte Martin doesn't know when to quit-fortunately for her. After completing college and moving to Los Angeles from her Illinois hometown, the classically trained Martin got a record deal on Bong Load/RCA. She recorded her first disc, One Girl Army, with producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Foo Fighters). But just as things started to move ahead for Martin, the label decided not to release the record.

Chris Rodriguez has an unusual vantage point in the music business. As a vocalist, he's appeared on albums by Glen Campbell, Faith Hill, Dolly Parton, and Billy Joel. As a guitarist, he's played with the likes of Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald- and he's released a solo record, Beggar's Paradise, on Sony. He's also Vice President of A&R for Word Entertainment, Warner Music Group's contemporary Christian imprint.

Composer David Schwartz has written music for many successful television shows, from Arrested Development to The Two Of Us. The theme for his first network production, the hit series Northern Exposure, earned him a GRAMMY nomination for Best Instrumental Composition, and he scored the show throughout its seven-year run.

Bassist Chris Minh Doky is bilingual: he's equally fluent on upright and electric. The son of a Danish pop singer and a Vietnamese doctor, Doky grew up in Denmark and France, but moved to New York City as a young adult in hopes of tapping into the city's vibrant jazz scene. Those hopes came true-he's worked with such artists as Mike Stern, Randy Brecker, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and his brother, pianist Niels Lan Doky. He's also recorded several fine solo albums.

Contemporary country artist Jamie O'Neal has followed an unusual route to success. Born in Australia to musician parents, Jamie spent her childhood roaming the United States, singing with her family’s variety act at state fairs, conventions, and opening for country stars. After a stint in Las Vegas, the family spent some time in Nashville, where they recorded three self-produced albums.

Jazz piano wunderkind Taylor Eigsti has accomplished more before the age of 20 than many musicians achieve in a lifetime. In addition to sharing the stage with David Benoit at age eight and recording his first CD at thirteen, Eigsti has opened for such artists as Diana Krall, Al Jarreau and Natalie Cole. With a new album, Resonance, out on Bop City and another due out in early 2004, this is one young pianist to watch.

Over the past three-and-a-half decades, drummer Ndugu Chancler has played with such diverse musicians as Stanley Clarke, Miles Davis, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, John Lee Hooker, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Flora Purim, Kenny Rogers, Santana, Frank Sinatra, Donna Summer, Tina Turner, Weather Report, and Frank Zappa.

Once upon a time Bruce Somers was a drummer. "But now," he says, "my instrument is the studio." Somers is one-half of the industrial rock duo KidneyThieves. He and vocalist Free Dominguez have released three albums, including the recent Trickster Reprocess, and have placed songs in the films Queen of the Damned and Child's Play 4: The Bride of Chucky.

p>Bassist Robby Takac has been a fundamental part of the Goo Goo Dolls for 19 years, appearing on every album from 1987's First Release to the band's latest smash, Gutterflower. Robby spoke with us recently during a brief break from his latest project: producing bands for his own label, Good Charamel.

After 25 years as a successful singer/songwriter, Brenda Russell is taking her career to a new stage-literally.

From his critically acclaimed 1998 debut album to his most recent Dreamworks release, Want One, Rufus Wainwright has revealed himself as a confident, articulate young singer/songwriter/pianist with roots in French chanson, romantic piano music, and the folk music of the past half-century.

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