Stories on Rodney Jerkins, Toby Keith and Don Byron and the Sugar Hill Gang.

JerkinsProducer Rodney Jerkins is adding a twist to his instrumental solo album, "Versatility" (Bungalo/Universal). Aspiring songwriters can write a song based on one of the set's 12 original tracks for the chance to win a publishing, production or artist deal under Jerkins' Darkchild banner.

The tracks range from R&B and hip-hop to smooth jazz, dancehall ("Shock Wave"), club ("Shake It for Me") and even marching band-flavored ("Wake-Up Call"). Jerkins is also considering reissuing "Versatility" with the winners' songs.

This really isn't about my tracks or my production shining," Jerkins says. "It's about giving people an opportunity to do their thing as well as an outlet to get their material heard. I want to create new avenues for new talent."

-- Gail Mitchell, L.A.

KeithCountry mainstay Toby Keith will celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans, reigning as celebrity monarch for the Krewe of Orpheus. In addition to strolling the Uptown route through the Big Easy on Feb. 7, Keith will also perform at the annual post-parade Orpheuscapade with krewe founder Harry Connick Jr.

Keith had a very successful 2004, finishing the year as Billboard's Top Country Artist, with his 2003 set "Shock'n Y'all" (DreamWorks) leading the year-end Top Country Albums chart, while his "American Soldier" finished sixth on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks wrap-up.

-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.

ByronIn celebration of its fifth anniversary as a resident of one of New York's most adventurous cultural arts institutions, the Symphony Space Adventurers Orchestra will find jazz artist/conductor Don Byron revisiting the group's eclectic offerings of years past. Saturday's (Jan. 8) two-part concert will open with explorations of Sly Stone and Henry Mancini, Raymond Scott and Igor Stravinsky, and Herb Alpert and Earth Wind & Fire.

The second half of the show will be dedicated to another New York institution, legendary hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records. Big Bang Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee of the imprint's flagship act, the Sugar Hill Gang, will be on hand as special guests.

"This is the music that has shaped our environment, the music that Americans hear internally in their inner soundtrack," Byron says of the works he has explored with the Symphony Space Adventurers Orchestra. "This is the music that we call on emotionally, when we are happy, sad, sexy, goofy, frightened. Other countries have other musics. This is ours. For our orchestra -- and, I would bet, for much of our audience -- Sly, Sugar Hill and Herb Alpert may be the music closest to our sense of the American canon."

-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.