Listen to this track by British R&B soul-jazz gurus The Graham Bond Organisation. It’s “Wade In The Water” a version of a traditional song that appears on their second, and final, album The Sound Of ’65, released that very year in March. The band consists of Bond on organ and alto saxophone, Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor saxophone, Jack Bruce on bass, and Ginger Baker on the kit.
Along with Alexis Corner’s Blues Incorporated, The Graham Bond Organisation (misspeling of Oxford English “orginisation” is deliberate, everyone …) was a very well-respected unit on the R&B scene in London from the early to mid 1960s. If the Beatles and the Stones were the bands that the record buying public loved, then Graham Bond and his compatriots were just as beloved by their musician peers on the London club scene. For a time, even future jazz-fusion innovator John McLaughlin was a part of the band on guitar. For those looking for pure chops and blues authenticity that was so sought after at the time, then these guys were it.
As short-lived as this band was, they helped to sow the seeds of the progressive rock and jazz-rock movements in Britain that would flourish by the end of the sixties and into the seventies. As influential as they were, there was much trouble at the root for these guys when it came to personal demons. Read more
Listen to this track by South African horn master and jazz crossover champeen, Hugh Masekela. It’s “Part Of A Whole”, the opening track on his 1972 landmark album Home Is Where The Music Is.
This cut is practically seething with joy, full of his own lilting trumpet, the energetic and versatile drumming of Makaya Ntshoko and the playful alto sax lines of Dudu Pakwana, along with American jazz musician Larry Willis on Fender Rhodes, and Puerto Rican-born bassist Eddie Gomez filling out the lineup.
It’s hard to imagine this kind of joie d’vive coming out of musicians that hailed from a region of the world that suffered under the oppression of Apartheid. As a musical figure, Masekela rallyed against this dangerous and oppressive political climate that also housed a hotbed of musical delights. In this way this is music that is, in its own way, very political. Further to that, I think that political reach extends outside of South Africa to regions closer to home, too. Read more
Listen to this track by Hammond B3 organ kingpin and soul jazz practitioner Jimmy Smith. It’s “Root Down (And Get It)” as taken from his 1972 live album Root Down Jimmy Smith Live. The record was recorded live in Los Angeles in February of that year. You can hear the clinking of the glasses which serve as a kind of unofficial percussion section as the patrons listen to the groove as it unfolds. And boy, does it ever.
Like Wes Montgomery with whom Smith partnered on many occasions, Smith was interested in the pop music side of the soul jazz spectrum. But also like Montgomery, Smith was a formidable improvisationalist even if some of his sides are viewed as a bit lightweight.
Yet, here on this cut, it’s the funk that really shines through. And it serves somewhat as a beacon of light for the music that would emerge in ensuing decades, too. Read more
Listen to this track by hard bop trumpeter and pop-chart flirting jazzer Lee Morgan. It’s “The Sidewinder” his runaway 1963 hit from the album cleverly entitled The Sidewinder, a now-essential jazz record that on the time of release wasn’t expected to be a smash crossover success. What do record labels know, anyway?
This track stands as the vanguard of jazz opening up its doors a bit starting in the 1960s, and letting the R&B and soul breezes in. For instance, on this track, there are some creative solos. But, the horns also are arranged in harmony, playing themes and riffs as a unit just as they do in soul music. This demonstrates a clear link to the blues, and to the call and response dynamic that would characterize R&B, and later be an important ingredient to funk.
In this,”The Sidewinder” revels in simplicity, and almost childlike verve, rather than in complexity and academic artistry. This approach was something of a risky move, seeing as jazz was increasingly being looked at as ‘serious music’, very much in contrast to pop records, or to what was perceived as the crudeness of R&B.
Although still very much in the classic ’60s hard bop style, this tune adds real accessibility and stylistic variation, which is what helped to place it into the pop charts. This was certainly not a bad situation for Morgan, who was 25 at the time, and who then found himself with a hit record on his hands. But, does this have any bearing on where jazz as a form would go? Read more
Listen to this track by famously jovial alto saxophonist, and soul-jazz exponent Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley with a live performance of pianist Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy”, a track that brings together Adderley’s love of jazz as filtered through gospel music and rhythm & blues. The track appears on Adderley’s 1966 quasi-live LP Mercy Mercy Mercy Live at ‘the Club’.
Cannonball Adderley had long invested in R&B, often appearing on R&B albums under pseudonyms so as to escape the ire of a narrow-minded jazz press. One of those psuedonyms was Buckshot Lafonke, which would later be an album title by saxophonist Branford Marsalis, himself a jazz musician who was also a dabbler in non-jazz fields, and himself an older brother of a jazz trumpeter (Cannonball had Nat Adderley, and Branford has Wynton…).
But, despite any ideas that jazz is the purer form of music, the fact is that the blues, and gospel music play into it. And Adderley brought out these elements early on for audiences, in addition to being more than competent in a hard bop style. Ironically to some perhaps, this made him a pretty popular jazzman. And he was known for being an extremely affable man on and off of the stage which made his stage presence a joy with audiences and band members alike.
Yet this is not to mean that he couldn’t be assertive. There is the tale of Adderley’s run in with the Nation of Islam, who had some issues with Adderley’s penchant for putting together racially integrated bands, such as the one that recorded this very track. Adderley’s response to them was respectful, but firm. To the question of why he hired a white pianist, Joe Zawinul (composer of this song) to play in his group instead of an African-American one, Adderley had this to say, and I paraphrase:
“Until you show me a black man who can play as well as he can, and shows up on time, then I’d thank you to run your religion, and I’ll run my little band.”
That’s kind of hard to argue with.
For more information about Cannonball Adderley and his brother Nat Adderley too, I suggest that you check out this entry on All About Jazz.
Here’s a clip of legendary soul and R&B sessioner Bernard Purdie demonstrating why King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others sought his skills as a drummer from the 60s onward.
Purdie is one of my favourite drummers, and I think he gives away his secret in this clip; he is a drummer who is interested in melody as much as he is in the groove. This is certainly identified on Aretha’s Live at Filmore West, and on Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam, my two favourite examples of his work.
For more information about Bernard Purdie, check out Bernard Purdie’s official website, which outlines just how prolific he has been as a session drummer, as well as a bandleader.
Here’s a clip of one of the Founding Fathers of Funk, Maceo Parker and his band All the King’s Men with their 1970 funk workout “Funky Women”. The song comes from the album Doing Their Own Thing.
One of the things that top drawer funk musicians do very well is take the attention off of their own individual skill, and shift it to what the band as a whole is creating in the moment. And they do this in a few ways, it seems to me.
First, the emphasis is on the groove, which is simply the nature of the beast; everything interlocks and interrelates to achieve this end. Second, they keep everything simple by having equally straightforward goals, namely to get people on the floor and get them moving. There is no funk if there is no sweat, after all. And third, even if each band member is named and invited to solo, the ultimate objective is to contribute to what has been offered by the one who’s played his bit before. And fourth, the band lets the audience in on what is being created as it’s happening, sometimes even letting them know where the music is going to go (‘Let’s we hit it and quit it! ‘We gonna give the drummer some?’).
“Funky Women” does all of this, and has the additional benefit of being really, really playful, and very sexy too. We get some fine playing from all involved, each band member having gone through James Brown’s school of hard knocks where they were fined for mistakes among other punishments. Yet, this isn’t workmanlike playing – it’s pure joy, pure excitement, pure funk, with each instrumental solo delivered with a woman’s voice in mind. The lilting trumpet is the voice of the breezy, talkative girl. The deep tenor sax is the voice of the sultry man eater in the red dress. And Maceo’s own alto sax the short and sassy party girl.
All the while, Maceo is the master of ceremonies, the spinner of the tale, the setter of the scene, inviting his guys to imagine a humid evening playing a club in a roomful of appreciative, and vibrant women, who are to be looked upon not as mere decorations in the scene, but the very lifeblood of it, the living reasons for making music in the first place – to see them dance, to see them laugh, to draw them closer. I just love this tune, an ode to the beauty of women and a reminder of how closely music and dance is tied to other physical yearnings. And “Funky Women” is ultimately about acknowledging how great it is to be alive, as a physical being.
A close friend and collaborator with James Brown during his mid-to-late 60s period, Maceo Parker is of course a figure of authority in his own right, having made albums of notable consistency together with Brown, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Prince, as well as on his own, even if his profile isn’t quite as high as some of these artists. Parker’s handle on funk, soul, and even jazz remains undiminished, active as he is as a touring performer and recording artist today.