In his broad-brimmed fedora and his overflowing dark suit it's still the warm, generous smile of Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II that stands out.
Whether he's playing the alto sax or beating out interesting rhythms on his West African djembe, when Jennings finishes a piece his smile lights up the room.
Jennings, who lives in Rock Hill and who describes his age as "timeless," is a well-known figure in the St. Louis music scene. He has played with Oliver Sain, sat in with Johnny Johnson of Chuck Berry fame, worked with jazz singer Mae Wheeler, James Crutchfield, Tommy Bankhead and many others. Now Jennings has released his first CD, "Spiritual Jazz... on South 9th Street."
"It's my debut CD. There are 19 individual songs, 19 spiritual journeys," Jennings said. "It's right around 54:45 minutes in length."
Jennings plays a variety of instruments on the CD and even sings on four of the songs. He describes his sound on the CD in this way:
"My genre, style and discipline is an original, organic healing sound. As a multi-instrumentalist I combine years of developed technique on saxophones, orchestral flute, native style wooden flutes, djembe, electric bass, piano and singing to create and share a musical sound/art form that I have named 'Spiritual Jazz... in the St. Louis Tradition.'"
Music as a healing force? Jennings is also a Reiki Master, a technique aimed at stress reduction relaxation to promote healing. How does that mesh with his music?
"It involves my being able to use my gift to hold space in the universe and the ether. It involves my being able to direct earth energy and life force energy and celestial energy," Jennings said.
"A musical note has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And it allows me to set the intention of healing and allow that intention to be the direction of the energy and I place it in each note as I share the music. It's a part of the healing arts."
Jennings said the CD draws on some of his own experiences.
"It's 19 journeys. It tells people how I got to where I am spiritually. It reflects on that. It's not autobiographical but it's a healing sound," he said.
His favorite track on the CD is called "Hummingbird and Dragonfly."
"It's a story that unfolds about two great loves in my life," he said. "The first great love was my wife, Linda Hayes, who made her transition on Feb. 19, 2007. The last four years of her life she was into dragonflies. She had cancer of the head and neck and did chemo and wasted down to almost nothing. She was able to come back home for Christmas and New Years but she was back in the hospital at the end.
"I stopped playing my sax for about 19 months. My wife Linda was in love with my tenor saxophone," he continued. "It was Mae Wheeler who took me aside and asked me why I didn't play my horn and I told her every time I tried to play it made my cry. Mae told me I had to start playing the horn again because it was the only thing that would bring me back out of my mourning. And she was right."
Now, said Jennings, he lets whatever music is in his heart and mind come through when he plays. He said between his public performances around the St. Louis area, which he calls his "Magical Mystical Meditation Concert" and his own playing, he often plays as much as 17 hours in a single day, all of it original music.
But what about the hummingbird?
"The great love in my life now is Margaret Waddell, who teaches Early Childhood Development in Columbia, Mo., and is on staff at the University of Missouri," Jennings said.
Waddell loves hummingbirds.
"When she was four years old she stood up in class and said she wanted to grow up to be a hummingbird," he said.
Jennings said the song is composed of flute music to represent the hummingbirds and his tenor sax (which he has named Jessica P.) to represent the dragonfly. He has a bass guitar track and drums to represent the terrain they are flying over and how they interact. He said the song is for him a healing of what is now gone, and a transition into a love that's present.
Although his CD is spiritual jazz, Jennings has also played classical, gospel, contemporary Christian, funk, reggae, blues, jazz, romantic music, new age and ambiance music. He's played in bands and in orchestras. He's hoping to use that broad experience to help in recording other artists someday. He founded his own music label, Pug Dog Records.
"What I have in mind is to continue to work with myself and Pug Dog Records and use myself as a learning curve as I move into the recording industry and learn how to distribute before I take on another artist," Jennings said. "That way I'll have a broader knowledge base."
"Spiritual Jazz ... on South 9th Street" displays the musical versatility of Jennings. He plays piano, alto sax, alto flute, Native American flute, Tibetan bells, healing sound glass bowls, wind chimes, and even used red lentils in a glass jar for a percussion effect. It is, above all, music about healing. As Jennings says, "The sound is there to heal the world one heart at a time."
You can find "Spiritual Jazz ... on South 9th Street" online at www.PugDogRecords.com, iTunes and Spotify. It's available as a CD in St. Louis at Vintage Vinyl, Webster Records, Mystic Valley, Mind Body Spirit, Living Insights, Rising Thoughts Bookstore at CSL and Path Ways.
Jennings plays every Saturday morning at the Soulard Farmers Market from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. He has an upcoming show Dec. 8 at Joe's Cafe located at 6014 Kingsbury Ave. in the Skinker Debaliviere neighborhood.