Jazz performers headed to NHS hall of fame

Chad Frey
The Kansan

Long time jazz aficionados in Newton remember the Webb Three — a group of three kids that would take the stage and play jazz. There was Jacob on bass or piano, Nathan on drums and April on vocals. The siblings played festivals and concerts in the area until Nathan, the oldest, graduated high school and headed off to college in 2004.

They will be playing again this weekend, part of the Newton USD 373 Pops and Jazz Concert at 8 p.m. May 8 in  Athletic Park. 

"We are excited that we get to come back and perform with what started our musical journey," said April May Haywood. 

Newton natives Nathan Webb (on bass), April May Haywood (vocals) and Jacob Webb (drums) form the backbone of "Sounds of A&R." The group hits jazz charts with its recordings. The Webbs will be inducted into the Newton High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame this weekend.

The Webbs will be officially inducted into the Newton High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame that night. 

"We are excited," April said. "We were supposed to do this last year, but we all know what happened last year."

COVID led to the cancellation of about every event on the calendar, and delayed the hall of fame inductions.

April graduated from Newton High School in 2009, and Nathan in 2007.  All three now live in New Jersey. 

The Webbs have not stopped performing together, forming the backbone of April and husband Randall Haywood's project Sounds of A&R. With April singing, Jacob on Drums and Nathan either playing bass or piano, the trio are a major component of Sounds of A&R. 

"We have been doing a lot," April said. "We have such positive vibes from people in the area."

They toured with the son of Thelonious Monk, T.S. Monk, both in the U.S. and abroad.  April and her husband, Randall, won best jazz group in the New York City Jazz Readers competition. 

April got her start singing at Second Baptist Church of Newton as a five-year-old in the children's choir — and then, like her brothers, was pulled into Jazz by the Woolerys. Donna and Keith Woolery were long-time music teachers at Newton High School. 

"I was in concert band, wind ensemble, orchestra and drama club.Specifically, Mrs. Woolery asked if I wanted to join the jazz band as their singer," April said. "I had never sang jazz before. ... That was the foundation of me performing jazz as a freshman. Then going on jazz tours to New Orleans (Louisianna) and Texas, that was a great experience that set the foundation for being a jazz singer and a performer." 

Nathan had a similar experience — pulled into jazz performance under the tutelage of Keith Woolery. Jacob got his start playing drums and that eventually led him (and his brother, Nathan) to take lessons from Woolery — where his musical influences continued to grow.

“Keith Woolery introduced us to the concepts of jazz,” Webb said. “So, we had this Gospel background with traditional Gospel music from the church and then Keith Woolery was showing us concepts of jazz and that’s kind of where that whole thing started.”

All three Webb children graduated from WIlliam Patterson University, where they studied jazz. April recorded an album — "It's all about you" while still a student. Jacob formed "The JT Project" while a student, then recorded a solo album, "I'm Coming Home" in 2018 that cracked the top 10 of the Billboard jazz charts. 

Jacob has launched his own record label, specializing in young smooth jazz artists. Nathan has been accepted into a doctorate program at William Patterson University. 

For video of an Sounds of A&R performance, visit them on Youtube, https://tinyurl.com/ypuyuch3.