Fresh out of Technical High School, Ed Archibald and his bandmates had dreams of becoming the next Commodores.
Then life happened. Jobs. Marriage. Kids. The dream and Archibald’s saxophone were tucked away.
It took a serious injury and more than two decades to draw Archibald back to playing music.
Archibald’s musical career has a second life now. He’s added writing, producing, and arranging into the mix.
“It gives me so much joy,” he says.
Born in 1958 in Pensacola, Florida, Archibald was 10 years old when he moved into his grandparents’ home in the small town of Monroe, Alabama.
His memories of those early years are dotted with musical references: His alcoholic father pretending to play the saxophone. His uncles taking him to juke joints to hear the popular music at that time in Pensacola, the blues. The tunes of Roy Clark and Chet Atkins playing on the radio in Alabama.
Archibald moved twice more before he wound up in Omaha in 1971 and stepped into the classroom of Al McKain. Then, everything changed.
McKain taught music at Tech High and introduced Archibald to the likes of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.
“When I listened to their music, it was very complicated,” Archibald says. “I found myself wanting to imitate and emulate their abilities and style.”
Archibald learned the saxophone, becoming so engrossed with his new interest that he skipped math and science to practice. McKain pretended not to mind.
“My teacher was a strong jazz advocate,” Archibald recalls.
During his four years at Tech, Archibald also studied classical music, playing baritone saxophone in an all-city music festival. Archibald caught up with his required courses and graduated on time in 1975. He jumped into the live music scene in Omaha, playing in bands for about five years, including Wild & Peaceful and Brass, Rhythm & Funk. They spent more money than they made, usually.
“Those early years were nonprofit years,” Archibald says. “We didn’t make a lot of money, but we had a lot of fun.”
As everyone aged, fell in love, married, and started families, the fun faded. The music stopped. Archibald met his wife, Lisa, and the two had a daughter, Adriene. Their focus turned to parenting and working. In a blink, Archibald spent a combined 21 years working for two different building materials companies.
One day, Archibald suffered a back injury on the job. Unable to work following surgery, he was drawn back to music. He began to play again.
“During the recovery period, it was sort of therapeutic to focus on the music, ” Archibald recalls.
He discovered the music scene had changed, for the better. His style of music—smooth jazz—had become popular in the main- stream. Archibald also learned how easy it was to produce music and share it online. He started writing and began recording it at home, layering piano and saxophone. In 2006, he released Smoove Grooves on iTunes and cdbaby.com. His second album, Love, Jazz, and Soul, was released in 2015.
“You could call it homemade; I did it myself,” says Archibald thinking back to Smoove Grooves. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
His abilities grew, and recording and producing that digital album was an important step in getting him back into the local jazz scene. He started playing with other musicians at clubs and restaurants. He began producing more recordings, and he developed Glenwood Heights Music, which has expanded from music production into promotions.
Archibald landed steady gigs at country clubs in Omaha and beyond, including a yearlong stint at Wilderness Ridge in Lincoln. He became a regular at Happy Hollow Country Club, as well.
“We have him for all our club functions as his group is extremely entertaining for all age groups,” says Kelly Smith, clubhouse manager at Happy Hollow. “The members always look forward to his group on Mother’s Day, as he plays for both our brunch and dinner buffets that day.”
Through the years, he’s shared the stage with notable jazz artists and vocalists locally and in Denver. He backed Al Green at the Mid- America Center in Council Bluffs, and had an impromptu concert with Chaka Khan in the Hilton Omaha lobby.
These days, Archibald plays at Omaha Lounge with his trio on Thursday nights.
It was at that lounge where he met Julie Baker, a vocalist and musician. Baker had recently moved to Omaha when they met, and the two became fast friends thanks to a mutual, eclec- tic taste in music. Baker says she’s amazed by his ease of switching genres while playing.
“You can’t fit him into a box,” Baker says.
What makes Archibald a standout musician isn’t just his ability at playing a variety of genres, according to Baker. It’s his passion.
“He’s a consummate musician,” Baker says. “When Ed plays, he plays from the heart. Every note when he plays, he feels it. And people feel it.”
Follow updates from Ed Archibald on Facebook at @edsmoovegroovesarchibald.
This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.