Post-Election Music: 11.7 – 11.13

November 7, 2012
It’s a big week here in the Twin Cities, what with Bob Dylan (tonight) and Bruce Springsteen (Sunday and Monday) performing at Xcel and Bettye Lavette at the Dakota. You don’t need me to tell you about the Boss and the Bard. Bettye LaVette is covered below. At any rate, if you aren’t staying at home to enjoy regular (rather than political) commercials on TV, you can find some mighty fine music around town.


Wednesday, November 7

Snowblind @ The Artists Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm ($5) It may seem that I often list this group, but that’s because they only place about once every six weeks or so. Six fine musicians playing original music with a few jazz standards thrown in for good measure. They work as equals, creating music inspired by Ellington, Mingus, and Blakey, among others, and including grooves into their horn-based sound. Scott Agster (trombone), Reid Kennedy (drums), Graydon Peterson (bass), Adam Rosmiller (trumpet) and Shilad Sen (sax). 

Friday, November 9

Vital Organ @ Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis. 6pm – 9pm (Free) Thought Hell’s Kitchen can be noisy, this organ trio led by Zacc Harris has the goods to catch your attention: funky sounds, head boppin’ grooves, and occasional vocals from Katy Gearty.

Friday, Saturday, November 9, 10

Patty Peterson CD Release & Birthday Party @ The Artists’ Quarter, 9pm ($12) Patty brings her CD Release to the East Metro and manages to make it a Birthday Party as well. The new CD, “The Very Thought of You,” reflects Patty’s ability to go from standards to jazz to R&B. Bobby Vandell, drums; Billy Franze, guitar; Paul Peterson, bass; and Jason Peterson DeLaire, piano. Given Patty’s longevity and stature in the Twin Cities music scene, there will undoubtedly be surprise guests.

Saturday, November 10

Dave Karr Quartet: Jazz @ Studio Z, Saint Paul.  5pm (Workshop – Free), 7pm (Performance – $10) The second in the Jazz at Studio Z series for this year. At the 5pm workshop, saxophonist Karr will talk about “Developing a Bebop Sound & Vocabulary.” It will be followed at 7pm by a performance featuring Karr, Dave Graf, trombone; Adam Linz, bass; and Phil Hey, drums. Plus, if you attend the workshop, you get $2 off the performance. Learn about one of the basic streams of jazz and then listen to a performance that helps you understand what you learned.

Anat Cohen with Special Guest Evan Christopher @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 8pm ($25) It’s a two clarinet night at the Dakota. Cohen was originally scheduled to appear at Orchestra Hall. She’s a clarinetist and rising star, appearing recently on the cover of Jazz Times. With a lyrical approach and deep, warmly wooden tones, Cohen is bringing a new understanding and appreciation for clarinet in jazz. Special guest Evan Christopher explores the ins and outs of classic New Orleans jazz, bringing his own stamp to the result. Here’s a video of Anat that showcases her style.

Sunday, November 11

PipJazz Sunday: Youth All-Star Night @ The Landmark Center, Saint Paul. 5pm ($20) Pippi Ardennia has made a point of having a talented young person perform at each of her monthly shows. Tonight she brings fifteen of them together to perform. Some have their own bands, others have performed with the Dakota Combo, and still others are simply talented musicians studying at Walker West or other schools around town.

Dearie & O’Day @ Jazz Central, Minneapolis. 6pm ($5) Vicky Mountain will be singing the songs of Anita O’Day, and Maryann Sullivan will be doing the songs of Blossom Dearie. They’ll be backed by Chris Lomheim, piano; Doug Haining, sax; Graydon Peterson, bass; and Trevor Haining, drums.  Swing and sweetness. Vicky and Maryann will be appearing on my show Saturday (90.3 and 106.7 FM)

More listings for Twin Cities jazz can be found at KBEM and at Jazz Police. Jazz Police also features jazz commentary as well, as do Bebopified, and Jazz Ink.

Blues, Roots, Other… 

Wednesday, November 7

Secret Stash Presents Pena @ The Icehouse, Minneapolis. 9pm ($6) Minnesota Monthly dubbed them the Best Record Label in the Twin Cities. In fact, there are folks all over the world that appreciate the effort these guys put into unearthing and releasing funk, soul, and worldbeat records. They recorded the award-winning Pena on a trip to Peru, followed it up with a second release and a remix. Tonight they’ll be presenting Pena’s music, with Secret Stash Deejays providing music before and between sets.

Thursday, November 8

Eilen Jewell @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($25) It’s about two years since Eilen appeared at the 331 Club and gained a whole bunch of fans of her blend of Americana, classic country, blues, and folk. There’s nothing old fashioned about her songs, though. She’s originally from Idaho, but spent a number of years in the Boston area, and has been building a fan base touring the country and internationally. Wednesday afternoon she appeared on Jackson Buck’s Freewheelin on KFAI, which you can listen to here, starting about an hour and ten minutes into the show.

Friday, November 9

Hurricane Harold’s Blues Revue @ Wilebski’s, Saint Paul. 6pm – 10pm ($5) An early show for those of a certain age, this is nevertheless a chance to see a bevy of excellent blues players. Hurricane Harold Trembley on harp leads the charge, with Dave “Cool Breeze” Brown and Mark “Good Time Willy” Williams on guitars; Allen Kirk, drums; and Chris Johnson, bass.

Minnesota Salsa Fiesta, feat. Malamanya and La Gran Charanga @ Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis. 7pm  ($15) Merengues, danzones, boleros and lotsa salsa dancing. Dozens of top  local  Latin music and dancers will come together to entertain for your dancing pleasure, including musicians from Charanga Tropical,  Malamanya,  Salsa Del Soul, Sensacion Latina, and Salsabrosa. Dance lessons, showcases, a live Cuban cigar roller and more

Saturday, November 10

Jennifer Markey & the Tennessee Snowpants and the Crown Vics @ The Eagles Club #34, Minneapolis. ($5?) Modern bands doing originals that often sound like classic country. Check out this video of Jennifer.

Monday, Tuesday, November 12, 13

Bettye LaVette @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($45) A strong contender for displacing Aretha as the preeminent soul singer,  Bettye didn’t hold back for the crowd at the Leinie Lodge stage during this year’s state fair. This is her 50th year in the music business, and she’s released a new CD, Thankful n’ Thoughtful, and an autobiography, “A Woman Like Me.” No one else gets inside a song like she does and no one can wring out you as a listener either.

Tuesday, November 13

Paul Thorn @ Bunker’s, Minneapolis. 9pm ($22) His 2010 album is titled Pimps and Preachers, and is full of semi-autographical stories about characters from his Southern upbringing, including one about his short-lived boxing career. On stage, Thorn is a charming, often humorous storyteller and effective singer, whose songs will appeal to fans of both John Hiatt and John Prine.

Menahan Street Band @ Seventh Street Entry, Minneapolis. 9pm ($15) The funk faithful will be out in force for this. One of Brooklyn’s new horn-driven funk bands, the Menahan Street Band creates sinuous instrumental hooks in both originals and surprising covers. Members come from Antibalas, The Budos Band, El Michaels Affair, and the Dap-Kings.

For a more comprehensive listing of blues (and some roots) events, see the Minnesota Blues Society calendar.  For a comprehensive listing of Cajun and Zydeco events, see the Krewe de Walleye calendar.

Music for Mid-July: 7.18 – 7.24

July 18, 2012

My computer is on the fritz and in the shop, so I’ll keep this short, since I’m using a borrowed computer.

Wednesday, July 18

Jana Nyberg Group @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm (No Cover) Jana and her group have been playing out and touring the Midwest quite a bit lately, including forays into Door County, WI. She’s backed by a stellar group of musicians including hubby Adam Meckler on trumpet, long time cohort Evan Montgomery on guitar, Matt Peterson on bass, and  Jake Nyberg on drums. It’s Foodie Night, so no cover, and a featured wine for $10/bottle.

Valve Meets Slide @ The Artists’ Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm ($5) Its a trombone showdown as Brad Bellos (Valves) and Dave Graf meet for one of their enjoyable gigs, backed by Chris Lomheim, piano; James Buckely, bass; and Jay Epstein on drums.

Thursday, July 19
The Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra w/Charmin Michele @ Landmark Plaza, Saint Paul. 6pm – 9pm (free) Part of the summertime weekly dance series by the Ordway. Ballroom dance instruction at 6pm, followed by music at 7:15. Food, drink, tables, and a dance floor are all available.

Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric @ Amsterdam Bar & Hall, Saint Paul. 7pm – 9pm (no cover). It’s been a busy year for Clouser. He’s released the first of three CDs planned for the year, and has been playing all over the states and Mexico. His guitar playing and his music has enough energy to go over in a rock n’ roll bar like the ‘Dam, and enough improvising and imagination to go over in a jazz club.

Friday, July 20
Matt Turner & Viv Cunninghan @ The Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar, Saint Paul. 8pm (tip jar) Turner plays cello, while Cunningham sings. Part of the always adventurous and satisfying Community Pool series.

Friday, Saturday, July 20, 21
Laura Caviani Quartet @ The Artists’ Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm ($10) Ms Caviani is an impressive player, interpreter, and composer. She’s also been known to sing a song, as on her album Going There. Caviani’s sound has been described as salon meets saloon, which seems apt to me. For these shows she’ll be accompanied by Pete Whitman, sax; Peter Schimke, piano; Jeff Bailey, bass; and Kevin Washington, drums.

Saturday, July 21
Joel Shapiro Trio @ Loring Pasta Bar, Minneapolis. 6pm – 9pm. Shapiro is a versatile and tasty guitarist. Tonight he’ll be accompanied by Tom Lewis on bass, and Eric Kamau Gravatt on drums. Music that deserves to be more than just a background for dinner.

Jeremy Siskind, Lucas Pine, and Nancy Harms @ Jazz Central, Minneapolis. 8:30pm – 10:30pm. New York Pianist/composer Siskind recently put out an album entitled Finger-Songwriter, featuring Pine on reeds and Harms on vocals. It’s a chamber-jazz sort of affair, with Harm’s appealing dry vocals adding a special dimension to Siskind’s words. Nate Chinen, of the NY Times, gave it a very positive review. Nancy will be on my show Saturday morning (10:30AM KFAI, 90.3 & 106.7FM) and will likely bring Siskind and Pine along.

Tuesday, July 24
Moonlight Serenaders @ the Minnesota History Center, Saint Paul. 7pm (Free) Dance lessons at 6:30pm The Serenaders are one of the fine big band we’re privileged to have in our area. Lee Engele serves as their “canary” and does a great job of swingin’ with the band. This is an outdoor event on the Center’s plaza overlooking downtown Saint Paul.

For a comprehensive listing of Jazz, go to the Twin Cities Live Jazz Calendar. For further commentary on Twin Cities jazz, check out the blogs Jazz Police, Bebopified, and Jazz Ink.

Blues, Roots, Other
Wednesday, July 18
Malamanya @ The IceHouse, Minneapolis. 10:30pm ($6) The Icehouse is starting a Wednesday night program of world music with a bang, bringing in this popular Cuban son & salsa group to fire up the combination of hipsters and hip oldsters that are coming out to this new restaurant/stage/deli/bar.

Thursday, July 19
Luisa Maita @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($25) Sensual, Brazilian-flavored pop that’s pushing, or rather meshing the borders of numerous genres. Fans of CeU, Seu Jorge, and other current Brazilian singers will find much to like. 

Ukrainian Village Band @ The Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar, Saint Paul. 8pm (tip jar) The Ukrainian Village Band is a group of eight musicians with acoustic instruments playing music from the Ukrainian countryside in a “cafe europa” style, yet isn’t afraid to apply their sound to a Lady Gaga tune. Sounds fun!

Friday, July 20
Felonious Bosch, Brass Messengers, and Clocks & Clouds @ Amsterdam Bar & Hall, Saint Paul. 8pm ($8) Check into the Hall stage to hear the global/medieval, yet highly accessible sounds of Bosch and the always fun, loose-limbed, celebrations of the Messengers. Clocks and Clouds are Stephanie Shogren and Lucas Shogren on violin and cello, respectively, and Derek Powers on drums and percussion. They are a chamber trio whose tunes sometimes evoke rock n’ roll power trios.

Bill Kirchen @ Lee’s Liquor Lounge, Minneapolis. 9pm $15  Guitarist Kirchen first came to prominence with Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen, when his twang-infused guitar served as the double barrel carburetor for Cody’s V-8 engine of a band. He’s an incisive player, with such wit and humanity about his solos that he’s earned a story in the Oxford American’s issue of the Best of the South. With Eric Koskinen Band.

Sunday, July 22
Jennifer Grimm @ Manitou Station, White Bear Lake. 7:30 – 11pm. You’ve heard her voice in commercials. She was well-received at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival when she did a guest spot with Sue Orfield. Grimm sings with Hookers $ Blow, guests with Jue Cruz, and will be appearing at the Metropolitan room in NYC later this week. She’s also had one of her songs featured on NBC’s Parenthood and Showtime’s House of Lies. Sunday night at the Station is a regular gig and well worth stopping by to hear her relaxed vocals applied to jazzy pop originals.

Monday, Tuesday, July 23, 24
Ronnie Laws & Tom Browne Supergroup @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($35) 9pm ($25) Laws is a flautist and saxophone player who was one of the founders of Earth, Wind, and Fire and went on to a successful solo career playing jazz-funk and earning a number of gold records in the process. Trumpeter Browne cut his teeth with artists like Lenny White, Woody Shaw, and Sonny Fortune before becoming a solo artist and hitting with “Funkin’ for Jamaica.” Their appearance at the Dakota last year was a funk n’ fun-filled show.

For a more comprehensive listing of blues (and some roots) events, see the Minnesota Blues Society calendar.
For a comprehensive listing of Cajun and Zydeco events, see the Krewe de Walleye calendar.

The Weather’s Improving and the Music is Great: 4.18 – 4.25

April 18, 2012

If you were inside listening to music, you may have missed this cold front coming in last Sunday. Lucky you. Photo from WCCO TV.

Well, the weather remains weird (see above photo), though it’s looking promising, tax day is done, and the festival season is starting. Good reasons to get out and about. Support the arts. Discover the creativity of other people, and perhaps light a spark of your own.


Wednesday, Thursday, April 18, 19 Jana Nyberg Group on KFAI (90.3 & 106.7FM), Wednesday, 10pm – Midnight (Free) and  Jana Nyberg Group @ The Dakota, Minneapolis, Thursday 7pm ($5) A couple of appearances for Ms. Nyberg and her solid group before they head out on a Midwest tour. She’s swings with taste, holding her power in reserve, and with the help of husband/trumpeter Adam Meckler, brings new life to standards of all sorts. Note: I’ll be co-hosting the KFAI appearance.

Friday, Saturday, April 20, 21 Cory Wong CD Release @ The Artists’ Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm ($10) Wong has recorded a two-CD set called Quartet/Quintet, which features him fronting two different types of aggregations. He’s a talented guitarist, using the quartet to create both straight-ahead and modern pieces and the quintet to add a rock edge to his songs. He’ll be my guest Saturday morning (the 21st) on Rhythm and Grooves (10:30AM – 90.3 and 106.7 FM)

Saturday, April 21

Photo by Jimmy Ryan from Terell Website

JazzMN Orchestra presents: Terell Stafford @ Hopkins High School, 2400 Lindberg Dr., Minnetonka. 7:30pm. ($25/$29) Stafford started his professional career playing with Bobby Watson, then played with McCoy Tyner’s Latin All Star Band. He’s also performed with Cedar Walton, Herbie Mann, the Clayton Brothers, Diana Krall and a host of others, not to mention recording a half dozen or so recordings under his own name, including Live at the Dakota in 2007. The talented members of the JazzMN Orchestra will provide more than ample backing.

Third Saturday Swing Dance featuring Nichola Miller’s Trio @ The Eagles Club #34, Minneapolis. 7:30 – Midnight ($10) The Swing Dancers will be out, but no need to be intimidated. The dance floor fills with folks of all abilities, and with Nichola and her Trio playing, it will be a swingin’ night indeed. Dance lesson at 7:30. Music at 8:30

Sunday, April 22 Jazz Brunch Fundraiser @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. Noon – 3pm ($75) Yeah, the price is high, but it’s a fundraiser so the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education can continue to bring jazz artists into schools, provide summer jazz camp scholarships, support the Dakota Combo, and provide performance opportunities for young bands. 19 year old Grace Kelly, who has recorded seven albums already, will make a special presentation, and Dave Karr will perform with the Dakota Combo. More information and registration here.

Doug Haining’s Cannonball Collective @ The Artists Quarter, Saint Paul. 7pm ($10/$8TCJS members). The last in the J to Z series for the year. The Twin Cities Jazz Society has called on swingmaster Haining and his quintet’s salute to Cannonball Adderley. Opening set by Take Five, an ensemble made up of metro area HS students.

Grace Kelly @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($20) Ms Kelly is only 19, yet the alto saxophonist/composer has recorded seven CDs, graduated from Berklee College of Music, teaches there, and is in demand around the world. She was last seen here a few years back at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Here’s her first music video, in which you can hear her fine singing as well as her playing.

For a comprehensive listing of Jazz, go to the Twin Cities Live Jazz Calendar. For further commentary on Twin Cities jazz, check out the blogs Jazz PoliceBebopified, and Jazz Ink.

Blues, Roots, Other

Wednesday, April 18

Nick Lowe & His Band @ First Avenue, Minneapolis. Doors at 7pm. Music at 9pm? ($20) Nick Lowe is known to middle-aged hipsters as the guy who produced all those great Stiff Records by Elvis Costello, the Damned, and others. I got to interview him once and he admitted he didn’t know what he was doing as a producer. By the time of his albums “Labor of Lust” and “Jesus of Cool” he knew exactly what he was doing. A terrific writer who has gotten better with age, Lowe is a keen observer of the human condition. He’s been solo last couple of times in town, but has a band with him now. What’s more, he’s got Paul Cebar, another fine composer, doing a solo turn as the opener.

Friday, April 20 Scottie Miller & Joe Cruz @ Bayport BBQ, Bayport. 8-10pm ($10) Miller’s keyboard playing can frolic a la Professor Longhair, boogie like Pete Johnson, or rock like Jerry Lee. Joe Cruz is a talented guitarist who will prove a good partner in this rare appearance together.

Greg Brown, w/Joe & Vicki Price @ The Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis. 8pm. ($45/$35) It’s Iowa night at the Cedar as Greg Brown brings his gravely voice, warm humor, and abiding love of simple things to town. A regular visitor for oh, so many years. When it comes to writing and storytelling, Brown is a master craftsman. Joe & Vicki Price bring a stripped down blues ethic to show as openers.

Saturday, April 21 SolBock Revival Party @ Harriet Brewing, 3036 Minnehaha Ave, Minneapolis. 2pm – 10pm. ($15) The summer festival season starts out with Harriet Brewing‘s festival for their warm weather beers. Along with the beverage you might expect are a passel of bands, including Javier Trejo, Zack Lozier’s Super Jazz Band Combo, Natty Nation, Reckless Ones, Lonesome Dan Kase, and more, inlcuding painters, food vendors, art vendors, and other entertainment. Hotpants @ The Nomad, Minneapolis. 9pm. ($5) I’ve some regular readers who always want to know about this monthy 45rpm dance event. Always fun. Always showcasing great music you’ve never heard before.

Sunday, April 22

Road to Memphis @ Minnesota Music Cafe, Saint Paul. 1pm It’s the annual revue of Minnesota Blues Talent vying to go to the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis next winter. Today’s bands include: Ken Valdez, Wisconsin Bryan Johnson, Jimmi & the Band of Souls, Crankshaft & the Gear Grinders, the Mark Cameron Band, the Trent Romens Band, Mike Fugazzi, Kildahl & Vonderharr, Gregg Felber and Crankshaft.

Father Time & Mama Maria @ The King and I Thai, Minneapolis. (No cover) 9pm – Midnight. It’s a generational showdown as father and daughter take vinyl to turntables. Neither knows what the other is playing. Soul? Funk? Punk? Rock? It’s all likely to spill out of the speakers at the Thai restaurant with great cocktails and food.

Tuesday, April 24 Patrick Harrison & Kip Jones @ Cafe Maude, Minneapolis. 7pm (No Cover) Harrison on accordion and Jones on violin say they create folk music for imaginary countries. Both are highly skilled instrumentalists with a flair for improvisation.

Tuesday, Wednesday, April 24, 25 James Hunter @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($40) Though Great Britain has produced a number of singers mining the soul/r&b genre, none does it as convincingly and with as much soul as Hunter. He has a bit of grit, a lot of passion, and loads of charm. BTW, if none of that intrigues you, he’s a favorite of Van Morrison, a pretty soulful guy himself. Hear some of his music on his website.

For a more comprehensive listing of blues (and some roots) events, see the Minnesota Blues Society calendar. For a comprehensive listing of Cajun and Zydeco events, see the Krewe de Walleye calendar.

Mary Louise Knutson

November 27, 2011

Performing a song from In the Bubble. Photo by Howard Gitelson

Pianist Mary Louise Knutson has been a staple of the Twin Cities jazz scene for almost two decades. Her melodic soloing and her rhythmic sensibilities have led to her performing with quite a few visiting artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby McFerrin, Nicolas Payton, Diane Reeves, and Doc Severinsen. She’s also played for shows by artists like Smokey Robinson, Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave), and  Trisha Yearwood.

When she isn’t performing with visiting artists, Knutson works with a number of Twin Cities groups including the JazzMN Orchestra and vocalists such as Connie Evingson and Debbie Duncan. She also  leads her own trio, with the seamless rhythm section of Gordon Johnson on bass and Phil Hey on drums. It is this configuration which drives her new CD, In the Bubble, though drummers Greg Schutte and Craig O’Hara step in for a few tunes.  The CD contains Knutson originals as well as standards. The result is a swinging affair, with moods that range from meditative to joyous, all buoyed by Knutson’s warm, soulful touch. This is an album that will undoubtedly receive airplay on stations throughout the nation. Ms Knutson stopped by Rhythm and Grooves on Saturday, November 19, 2011 to talk about upcoming CD release parties at The Artists’ Quarter in Saint Paul and the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. This is a slightly edited version of our interview.

LE:     I want to welcome to the KFAI Studio Mary Louise Knutson. How are you today?

MLK:  Great Larry, I’m just getting up though. (laughs)

LE:     Is that musician’s time?

MLK:  Oh yeah. Absolutely

LE:     You have a brand new album out called In the Bubble. You notice I’m calling it an album and not a CD.

MLK:  Oh, I do. I like the way that sounds.

LE:      You’ve been around a bit, but people don’t necessarily find out about your background unless they go to your website. Give us a little bit of your background, and when you came to the Twin Cities, that sort of thing.

MLK:  Okay. Well… I actually grew up being a classical pianist. I started playing piano when I was four, and took lessons all the way through college. I got a degree in classical music. While I was at college I was exposed to jazz, and really started liking it and got involved in some of the jazz ensembles. I didn’t know how to play it at all, but at that level they usually give you written-out music anyway.  So I could read it and play in a big band or other groups, and by the end of college I knew I wanted to be a jazz pianist.

LE:     What was it about jazz that intrigued you so much?

MLK:  Just the feel of it. I could feel something. Being able to play with my friends also was a factor.  Here’s something we could do together. I guess in the classical world, we could play quartets or I could accompany people or whatever. We could do that there, but I don’t know. There was just a sort of fun energy about it (jazz) that I appreciated. I loved the voicing’s on the piano, the rich harmonies and the rhythms – all that. So I knew I wanted to be a jazz pianist and after I graduated I thought I’m just going to sit down and study this music. That’s what I did. I moved to Minneapolis. At that point I was going to school at Lawrence University in Appleton Wisconsin and I moved to Minneapolis. Didn’t know anyone here. I just found an apartment and had a little keyboard and started practicing. I knew at some point I needed to start going to jam sessions. I mean… it was hard. I was totally new at it. It was frightening to improvise. But I’ve worked at it over the years and I should know a little bit about it by now. (laughs) Twenty years I’ve been playing jazz.

LE:     You’ve also shown talent at composition and have gotten awards for your writing. Is that something you studied separately? Did it come out of what you learned as a classical pianist? How did that come about?

MLK:  Well, let me mention a great teacher of mine, Chris Granias. Chris is actually a teacher here in the Twin Cities, at the Perpich Center for the Arts, but I grew up in Wisconsin, and he was there teaching. He taught me and he was the first one to ask me to try composing. He gave me an assignment and he came back and was very supportive. He opened that possibility in me, and then from there I took a couple of composition and arranging classes at college, and really enjoy exploring what is in me and what I have to say. It’s an enjoyable act to work on compositions.

LE:    How did this album come about?

MLK:  Well, I produced a CD (Call Me When You Get There) ten years ago, almost to the date. That was my first CD as a leader with my trio. It’s been ten years. It was time. I’ve worked on a lot of other people’s projects in the meantime, but I really wanted to get back to composing again, and just sort of documenting where I am now. It’s been a while so it really is mostly about that – wanting to document and wanting to share something with people that they could take home with them.

LE:    The first track on the CD is “It Could Happen to You,” a Jimmy Van Huesen tune that you’ve arranged with a couple of significant tempo changes. Gordy Johnson is on bass and Phil Hey is on drums. Was it fun to work out your arrangement?

MLK:  It sure was. That arrangement I always think of as a Ray Brown Trio arrangement. I just love the way he used to arrange all his tunes. I was very influenced by that and that was what I was thinking when arranging that tune

Mary Louise Knutson, Gordy Johnson, and Phil Hey at the Artists' Quarter, Saint Paul. Photo by Howard Gitelson

LE:     You’ve had the opportunity to play with many visiting artists as well as almost all the artists in town, and you’ve done some touring. What happens when you play with a visiting artist? What do you take out of that?

MLK:  The biggest thing I think is the energy that they play with. That inspires me. I watch them walk on stage. That’s one thing – how they carry themselves. Often these are national, international stars. They have a way of carrying themselves and then when they perform you can feel their energy. I pay attention to that and think, if that’s where I want to be, what do I have to do to step up my game to match that. If I’m playing with them, I want to bring my energy up to that level, or do that on a consistent basis from now on. I love that about playing with national artists. I learn a lot.

LE:     Do you find it difficult to match that energy?

MLK:  Usually, they’re very gracious. I’m thinking back to a time years ago when I studied with Kenny Werner, just a lesson or two, and I remember standing behind him. The energy he played with, the volume he played with – not just that you want to play loud – he was just playing with his whole being. That inspired me. I thought, oh, that’s the level of energy or emotion that you need to put out when you’re playing. It sort of gave me permission to let more of myself out. And so when I play with national artists, they’re giving a lot of their own energy, and I’m reminded to do that. Every time I play with them it’s just: put it all out there on the table.

LE:     You were talking about visiting artists. Will you be playing with someone who’s coming in soon?

MLK:  I’ ll be playing with Doc Severinsen, coming up Friday the 9th of December, and Sunday the 11th of December at Orchestra Hall. He actually asked me to go on tour with him this last summer, but the tour never materialized, so I didn’t get to go.

LE:     But that was great that you were asked.

MLK:  Yeah, what a treat.

LE:     One of your original compositions on the new CD is “Can You Hear Me Now.” What’s the inspiration for this one?

MLK:  Well, there is a little story behind this. One time when I was trying to compose some new music, I was really stuck. I was sitting at the piano for days and weeks and nothing was coming to me, and I decided to use a sort of composing trick that I swore I never would use. It’s where you assign numbers to the pitches.  Take a scale, and the first step of the scale is number one, then number two, three four, all the way up the scale. Then you take a series of numbers, like your social security number, or your phone number, and see if those numbers make a melody. So, I was desperate, and took my cell phone number, and tried to see if it made a melody, and it did. I worked with it for a while, and am really happy with the tune that came out of it. I titled it “Can You Hear Me Now” after the ad. I was glad to use it and to get out of my rut. It does work sometimes.

Cover of the New CD

LE:     How long did it take you to put this album (In the Bubble) together?

MLK:  I started composing and arranging for it about five years ago. With a full time job as a musician, there’s a lot to do. People might not think that, but it’s busy. You’re always practicing and rehearsing for other people’s shows and stuff. So I was trying to squeeze in composing and arranging. I kept saying, oh, I’ll have an album out. I’ll have an album out next year. It just kept going on and on. It felt like it took a long time. It did take a long time to put it together.

LE:     Once you got into the studio, did that go fairly quickly?

MLK:  I actually recorded about eight of the tunes in 2009 and didn’t like any of them. So I scrapped them all and went back in 2010. I tweaked some of the arrangements, and practiced some of the soloing. I had something else in mind, so I came back and redid everything and it came back much better this time.  Although I have to say I did use some of the tracks from the original recording. After having some time away from them I actually liked hearing them. (laughs)

LE:     We’re always our own worst critics, aren’t we?

MLK:  It’s true.

LE:     Thank you so very much for coming by. This has been delightful.

MLK:  Thank you very much.

George Duke

August 9, 2011

A Genial Talent


From the George Duke Website

George Duke is a genial, talented multi-instrumentalist who specializes in keyboards. He made a name for himself playing jazz fusion with Jean-Luc Ponty, and went on to play with Cannonball Adderley and Frank Zappa before going solo in the mid-seventies. He has practiced his talents across a variety of genres, finding success in R&B, Jazz, and pop, collaborated with a who’s who of recording artists, including  Stanley Clarke, with whom he had a number one single (“Sweet Baby”), and has had his work sampled by Hip-Hop artists. He’s scored TV and films, including The Five Heartbeats, and produced and composed two tracks for Miles Davis. Duke has collaborated with Brazilian artists such as Milton Nascimento, Flora Purim, and Airto Moreira and has also been a musical director for a number of specials and tribute shows.

Duke played at the Minnesota Zoo music series with Marcus Miller and David Sanborn on August 5th, 2011.  During their funk filled performance, Duke used his humor to good effect. Singing a ballad about losing his baby, he pretended to cry, which the audience lapped up, and Duke milked for all it was worth. Then, for a closer, his voice was electronically altered to achieve a Darth Vader effect, as he introduced the George Clinton-esque “Dukey Stick” and walked through the crowd with his portable keyboard (a key-tar?). I talked with Duke by phone the morning of July 30, 2011 during my radio show. This is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

LE:  Good Morning, Mr. Duke, are you there?

GD: Absolutely, I’m here.

 LE:  Terrific. Glad to have you. We’re looking forward to this Friday’s show, which features you, and Marcus Miller, and David Sanborn. I’m just amazed at all you do, and the energy you have and what you’ve been able to accomplish since, what is it, about 1967 or 68 when you first started.

GD: Well, you’re trying to date me now. (laughs)

LE:  Well, I can remember that era myself

GD: I go back a little bit. Yeah, you’re definitely in the right area.

LE:  What was your first musical memory?

GD: Oh my God. Well, actually the first was probably the strongest. My mom took me to see Duke Ellington, and that kind of messed me up. Long and short of it is I never heard any music like that. I’d never seen anyone like that. I never heard a band that sounded like that. And I was only four years old.

LE:  Wow.

GD: Yeah, it was a mess. (chuckles)

LE:  So you took up piano, and played some in church and eventually had your own little group. What intrigued me as I’ve learned about your career is that apparently you heard a recording of Jean-Luc Ponty, and he was coming to town and you decided you were the only guy worthwhile playing with him. What was it about his music that intrigued you?

GD: First of all, it was very experimental for the time, and there was a station called KJAZZ in the Bay area – I grew up in San Francisco Bay area – that used to play his records all the time, and so I got a chance to experience that and I was like, Man! When this guy was coming to town, I just instinctively knew that I was the right person to play with him, because I understood what he was trying to do musically. And so I, well, there wasn’t e-mail at that time, so I sent a reel-to-reel tape – not even a cassette, they weren’t around – I sent a tape down to this producer (Note: Dick Bock of World Pacific Records) on the off-chance that he might give me a shot, and he did. He didn’t have to, because I was an unknown quantity at that time.

LE:  And so you had somewhat of a groundbreaking album with him. What did you learn from Jean-Luc Ponty?

GD: Well, basically it was a real shared kind of thing, because we were trying to do progressive music – as simple as that. What I learned was that it was possible to be your self and make a living. I wasn’t sure at that time whether I could make a living doing music. I was playing at a club in San Francisco and had been there for about three years, starting about 1965. I was playing at a place called the Half-Note Club with Al Jarreau, neither one of us knowing whether we could make a living doing that. When I got the gig, somebody who didn’t know who I was kind of called me up and said, “I’m going to give you a shot at playing in my band and we’re going to go to Europe and blah blah blah,” and Wow, maybe I can make a living doing this.

LE:  And you certainly have. I’m just amazed at all the projects you’ve been involved with, and the number of people you’ve been involved with – everybody from Barry Manilow, to Diane Reeves, to your current compatriots Dave Sanborn and Marcus Miller and the music direction you’ve done. One of the other things that intrigues me was that after being with Jean-Luc Ponty you were with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.  How did that come about?

GD: Actually, through Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc’s producer had an idea, and to make a long story short, we ended up playing a rock club. We did an album there, a place called Thee Experience in Los Angeles. It’s no longer there. And because Jean-Luc was playing a unique, electric violin thing, all the musicians came, because he had made his name, and there weren’t a lot of progressive violinists at the time. Matter of fact I don’t think there were any. He was probably it, and was playing modern jazz. He played music that was kind of close to what Miles Davis was doing at the time. And so Frank Zappa came, Quincy Jones was there, a lot of people. And so I just happened to be there and we did a record called King Kong, an album came out of that. So that’s how I got with Frank Zappa. He heard me playing on that album and eventually called my mom looking for me and found me.

LE:  That must have been a somewhat unique experience in your life.

GD: Oh yeah. That was definitely a turning point in my life and in my career. Frank brought out a lot of things in me that might not have ever been brought out. In terms of humor… in terms of playing electronic instruments… singing. All of that. He just told me basically I needed to loosen up and allow my talent to go wherever it will.

LE:  What a great thing to hear. Let’s fast forward through all the things you’ve done, production, solo work, Grammy nominations. Now, you’re touring with Marcus Miller and David Sanborn. What are you doing with this group that you haven’t done with anybody else?

GD: First of all, the simple answer is we’ve never done this before. This is something which came about in January. A very new idea. I was kind of brought into it late because David and Marcus had already decided they were going to do a tour, and wanted to add a third element. I was hanging around and the word got to me and I said sure, I’m interested and they said great. That sounds like an interesting package. I think the thing that’s interesting is that the more we play together, the more we’re gonna become a band and sound like we create our own thing. We thought about the idea of doing an album, before we did this tour. This is like the third leg of the tour, that we’re embarking on next week. So we’ve already been playing and we’re beginning to develop a band sound, which is really interesting. I would love to see where we go when we do make an album. I think this can continue.

LE:  What have you discovered about playing together so far?

It's all happening at the zoo.

GD: Interestingly enough, I’m not playing as much keyboards where I’m sitting down as I normally do, because there’s a second keyboard player, and there’s no guitarist. So I wind up playing, many times, guitar parts, and I’m wearing the instrument I wear around my neck. I kind of walk around the stage, and I’m having a good time. That’s one thing. It allows me a different focus, because normally I just play a couple of tunes on this thing, not like when I was thirty years old and playing this instrument all the time. I kind of stopped doing that and only do it once a night. Now I’m back on stage playing it half the show.

LE:  Okay.

GD: That’s one thing that’s different. And playing Marcus’s music and David’s music, it’s just interesting because we sound different playing together than they do with their own bands or me with my band. It’s a different level of intensity because you have three musicians on stage who are of equal level of competence and we challenge each other in a good way, so the music reaches another level. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.

LE:  You mention there’s a second keyboard player. I assume there’s a drummer as well?

GD: Absolutely. Absolutely.

LE:  Anybody else with you? Vocalists or anybody?

GD: Nope. I’m the only one singing right now.

LE:  Well you’ve a long history of singing and it’s turned out well for you. In coming together did you say, “we want to do a particular kind of music” or is there a philosophy behind this, or is the philosophy “let’s get together and have some fun.”

GD: That’s part of it. The latter. First of all, we didn’t know what this was going to be. Until we actually got on stage and played we didn’t know what this was going to be. There were really no preconceived notions, though we did talk about it. We thought we’d let the experience dictate where we should go. Right now, we’re not really doing any new music. We’re doing music from our catalogs, our respective catalogs. But we’re doing different arrangements on them because of the personnel involved. So it is different because the three of us are out there headlining it. Obviously we can’t play the greatest hits of all of us because we’ve all been around too long.

LE:  Not enough time.

GD: Not enough time to do it all and do it justice. But we hit all the major points that we can, and we’re just having a good time. It’s something that may not ever happen again, but hopefully it will.

LE:  Before I let you go, I do want to go back to your early career. Early on you were a sideman for a couple of Flora Purim and Airto Moreira albums, and you did a Brazilian album. Do you still play Brazilian influenced music?

GD: Oh, absolutely. Even in this show. I bring a couple of my tunes which are more oriented that way. Yeah, that’s played a big part in my career and in my musical world, the Brazilian sound. And of course Cannonball Adderley was a big part of that because I was in his band for a few years. He encouraged me to do that and was actually the first one to take me to Brazil, as part of his band. So yeah, Flora Purim and Airto are good friends of mine. As a matter of fact, my son is in a band with their kid.

LE:  Wow.

GD: Yeah, it continues.

LE:  The circle is complete.

GD:  Yeah, (laughs)

LE:  Well, thank you so very much.

GD: Bye bye.


Allen Toussaint, Southern Knight

June 12, 2011

Interview from June, 2009


Toussaint as subject of the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival poster.

Allen Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. His accomplishments are many over a career that has spanned five decades. As a writer and producer, Toussaint was largely responsible for the second blossoming of New Orleans R&B (in the 60s), creating such hits as Working in a Coal Mine, by Lee Dorsey, Mother-In-Law, by Ernie K. Doe, Ruler of My Heart, by Irma Thomas, Fortune Teller, by Benny Spellman, and many, many, more. Artists ranging from The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Yardbirds, to Devo, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur, and Warren Zevon have recorded his songs. More recently, Robert Plant and Allison Kraus covered Fortune Teller on their album “Raising Sand.” In the 70s he got funky, as he worked with The Meters, Dr. John, and The Wild Tchoupitoulas. He also started working with artists from outside New Orleans, such as The Band, Robert Palmer, Paul Simon, and LaBelle, among others. Glen Cambell’s cover of Southern Nights topped the Pop, Country, and Adult Contemporary charts in the late 70s. More recently, he collaborated with Elvis Costello on “The River in Reverse” in 2006, and released “Bright Mississippi” in 2009.

I interviewed him by phone a week or so prior to his appearance at the 2009 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. He proved to be a gracious gentleman in the true sense of the term – a gentleman who will stand when a lady leaves a table. This is a slightly edited version of that interview, which was broadcast on Rhythm and Grooves on June 20 of that year.

LE: What’s your first memory of music?

AT: My first memory of music at all was when I was about six and a half. They brought a piano to my house for my sister, this big upright, and they set it in the front room. I saw this big piece of furniture.  I knew it was a musical instrument, and walked over and reluctantly touched it and it gave me a pleasant sound and that was it.

LE: Did you start playing by yourself, did you take lessons?

AT: Well, I must say that I started picking out little simple melodies. It seemed like really soon I saw the structure – two black keys, three black, two black. My sister began taking music lessons and she saw me trying to pick out little simple melodies. She would show me this, what you’re pressing here, is there on the page. So I began to understand a bit of theory – innocent theory – as well as picking out little single finger melodies, what I would hear on the radio, and hear people sing.

LE: Who was the first musician that you admired?

AT: Oh, well, everything I heard on the radio, I thought every musician knew how to play that except me. I just thought there was one big conglomeration of music out there, and everyone who plays it can play everything. When I did begin to pick out particular people, I’d been hearing boogie woogies and things like that. Just hearing the records, not knowing who it was, it didn’t matter who was what, I was just trying to learn that. But I must say the first influence from people who were recording was Professor Longhair. That I really paid attention to. This was off the beaten path. I better take note here.

LE: And did you search him out. I know you eventually got to meet him.

AT: Oh I got to meet him many, many years later. I heard him when I was 8 ½ – 9 years old, but only saw him for the first time when I was 16. At that moment, I didn’t dare talk with him, because I didn’t feel I had the right to yet. But I saw him one time at what they called the sock hop, and it was for about a half hour I saw him playing a Spinet piano. Then I met him later on when I was like, 18. I saw him and actually spoke with him briefly.  We weren’t at a piano, he was somewhere doing another kind of labor job. Later on, over the age of 20, I began to see him around town playing, and I would go in.

LE: Certainly at that point you were already playing as a professional musician?

AT: Oh Yes, yes. I started playing professionally at 13 with Snooks Eaglin and some neighborhood cats.

LE: Oh that’s right, in that group the Flamingos.

AT: Oh yes, yes

LE: Now was there a particular point when you realized you could actually make a good living as a musician?

AT: Well, when I was 12 or 13, I thought I would be playing music forever. It hadn’t dawned on me whether it would make a lot of money. I hadn’t thought about that because as a kid living with your parents, it wasn’t necessary yet. But I thought that whatever in my life, I would be doing this, and when it comes to making a living I would be doing this wherever people do this.

LE: So, you started out playing piano, and at some point you started arranging and producing. How did that occur?

AT: Well I started arranging early on with that band, The Flamingos, because we were playing cover songs by Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and various things. By me playing the piano and listening constantly I could many times give the horn players the parts that were on the recording. So I started arranging, innocently, in that band. And of course, being a studio musician, I became a sideman in the studio, which gave me a little more experience at giving parts to horns and other people.

LE: You did some work with Dave Bartholomew as well?

AT: Oh yes. Dave Bartholomew was extremely important, and I would say my mentor as far as the business part of the industry and what we do. He called me in once to play, well he called me in to play on a couple of sessions beforehand, but one that was a milestone was I went to play on three songs of Fats Domino’s. We were up to multi track, two-track recording, where the band could be on one track and the vocalist on another. They had a deadline for a record to come out and Fats Domino was touring in Europe, so Dave needed to have that ready for him when he got in, cause he’d be in New Orleans only a short time. So we went in and I played the piano as Fats would on a couple of new songs. And it went very well, and when Fats came in, he put his voice on it. One of the highest compliments in my life, was a year or so later, when Fats Domino said, “I don’t know if that was me or you.” I just thought that was delightful.

LE: It certainly sounds that way. What song was that?

AT: That first one was I Want You to Know

LE: You started producing and arranging on your own. What kind of things did you learn on your own as a producer that led to your success doing that?

AT: Well, being a side man in the studio I learned the process of what takes place, of what needs to be done, and who calls the shots. So when Minit Records started, I became the A&R man, [Ed note: Artists & Repertoire] which later we called producers. But by being a sideman in the studio before then, I knew the process. So Minit Records started up and I became the person who was responsible for all the music being made. That was my initiation into being a producer.

1972 Album, Life, Love, and Faith

LE: And then, you eventually branched out from just producing New Orleans artists to producing The Meters, which had a different sound, and then national artists would come to you, folks like The Band, for instance, and ask you for some horn charts. Did you find you had to change your approach to work with folks from outside New Orleans?

AT: Not really. Of course, The Band was a unique situation because I wasn’t operating as a producer, just a horn arranger, which was wonderful as well. But producing other artists from outside, like Joe Cocker, Frankie Miller, Patti Labelle, or Ramsey Lewis? No my approach didn’t change as far as my process. I would think differently about whoever comes in with whatever music would go with them, so it all wouldn’t sound like it’s just one kind of music, and whoever comes has to fall into that. I thought everything should be sort of tailor made, because I just feel that way about things. But my basic process and approach didn’t have to change.

LE: Were there any records that were disappointments in that you thought they should have been a hit and weren’t?

AT: Not that I thought they should have been a hit, but there were some things that I produced that I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome. I guess you might say like outtakes. Sometimes I was disappointed that it didn’t come out as well as I thought it should have. Some were released many, many years later, which I wish wasn’t sometimes. But then, as I look at it in retrospect, it’s all right. Life is just like that sometimes. It’s never that I thought something should be a hit and wasn’t, because that term hit is a wonderful thing when it happens, but it’s so hard to deal with it before the fact. You’re just trying to make good music and have a good time, and leave the rest to (Molly?)

LE: The hit is kind of an ephemeral thing. It’s out there and maybe you grab onto it, and maybe you don’t.

AT: How ‘bout that.

Bright Mississippi, the 2009 Nonesuch Album by Allen Toussaint

LE: Let’s move on to your new album, “Bright Mississippi

AT: Oh yes.

LE: This is a wonderful, wonderful album. It encompasses some music that is almost a century old, as well as including music from Mingus, and Duke Ellington, yet it doesn’t seem like a museum piece at all – it’s really right there. You worked with Joe Henry, who’s become well known for working with artists who have been around for a while, and it’s come out very modern. How did you work with Joe to choose the songs?

AT: Well Joe is responsible for just about everything there except the playing of the piano. He had the foresight of just what this should be, I believe, and I think it came out the way he thought it would. He chose all of the songs, and the musicians, and the studio as to where and when. I am so glad he did cause it was quite comforting to have someone to assume such a broad position.

LE: One that you usually have.

AT: Yes, he did it so very well, and does it well all the time. He did it with such dignity, and he chose such fine material.

LE: And fine musicians to accompany you.

AT: He did the best he could and I must say this is quite a prize, to be in this collaboration with Joe.

LE: He did the arranging? How did that work out?

AT: I must say that you couldn’t say there was an arrangement at all. He guided us into whether this should be a duet, that should be a full complement. Those were his ideas, and the business of having two pianists on that song, the Jelly Roll Morton song, Whining Boy, that was his idea. Each one of those combinations was Joe’s idea. He was truly the sole producer here.

LE: In some respects, it’s an album of traditional music, and traditional music is really a big part of what goes on in New Orleans music. When I was down in New Orleans for Jazz Fest, I recall stepping out on Frenchman Street and finding a bunch of young people in a brass band – I don’t think anyone was over 18 – and they’re playing a lot of traditional stuff.

AT: Oh yes, It’s a part of who we are.

LE: Talk about tradition a little bit, and how it works in New Orleans.

AT: Well, tradition is like holding on to that old world charm. And we do that in more than a musical way, in the structures, the buildings, the streetcars, the food. New Orleans really holds on to the old world charm as much as possible. And when you’ve got a brass band that moves through the street, there are certain things that are going to happen and certain things that are not going to happen. The most obvious things to happen are traditional, because there’s a reason why that music existed, and even without it being announced, that reason was strong enough to still prevail. The sound and nuance of that music is still there.

LE: Are there any new projects you’ve got coming up?

AT: I’m contemplating things to do in the future, but I must say my primary focus is on the best presentation, live presentation for this new music, from the new album. That’s where my head is mostly now.

LE: Well, thank you so very much for taking the time to talk with me.

AT: My pleasure.



Maceo, I Want You To Blow

May 28, 2011

An Interview with Maceo Parker

Maceo Parker, From the Cover of is 2007 CD, Roots and Grooves

When James Brown said the above words during the song I Got You (I Feel Good), Maceo Parker became a famous sideman. Famous enough that his name became synonymous with funky saxophone. Famous enough that a few years later he left Brown and started Maceo and the King’s Men. Famous enough that he eventually would play with George Clinton, Prince, and other funksters, not to mention folks like Ray Charles, James Taylor, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Since the early 90s, he’s been leading his own group and recording well-received albums, such as Roots Revisited (1990), Life on Planet Groove (1992), and most recently, Roots and Grooves (2007), recorded with the WDR Big Band of Germany. In person, his band reflects the tightness of the original James Brown band, as well as its adherence to “stage uniforms.” Maceo’s group is an eight-piece band that executes precision stops and starts, yet the individual members blow plenty funky. I had the opportunity to interview him by phone about 10 days before his appearance at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, on May 22, 2011. I recorded the interview and aired it on Rhythm and Grooves on May 21. I’ve done some slight editing for clarity.

LE: You come from a musical family. Your dad played the drums, your dad and mom both sang in church, your brother played the drums. How did you gravitate to the saxophone?

MP: As far back as I can remember, there was a piano around. As a child, you see an adult play, or you realize that you put your fingers on a key and with a little pressure you get a note or sound. It was interesting, or entertaining, to key it, so I would play in passing. I’d just play and bang, bang, bang. But as I got older, I really noticed how to actually play it, not just how to play it by ear. That was that, then I got really excited about my first parade, you know, a marching band parade? I still remember being really, really excited about that, and I had to choose, like my mom said, a marching band instrument, and as we were speaking, the saxophone line was passing, and I thought, well maybe I can play one of those things, and that was it.

LE: You joined James Brown in 1964 when he wanted your brother to be his drummer, and Mr. Brown said he’d bring you along.

MP: Yeah, right. Well he had met by brother Melvin about a year earlier. He happened to come by where Melvin was playing. We were college students at the time, but we had two different groups, and he (James Brown) thought Melvin was of a caliber to work with him when he first heard him.

One thing you have to remember is we started trying to do, you know, dot dot dadot, dah, and come up with our own individual styles, what we thought funky music should be. We started very, very young. I think my trombone-playing brother was in the sixth grade. I was in the fifth. Melvin was in the fourth. But we had rehearsed and rehearsed til we had gotten a couple of tunes down. We were listening to my uncle’s band [Ed note: The Blue Notes] and been at his rehearsals, being in the corner trying to learn, to imitate what they did. Pretty soon we got pretty good at it, and he would take us to the nightclub while we were at an early age, and have us play during the breaks. [Ed note: They performed as the Junior Blue Notes] To make a long story short, we just kept trying, kept trying, from elementary school right through high school. By the time we graduated, when Melvin first met James Brown, he was a freshman in college and I was a sophomore.

Then about a year after he met him, we decided to get out of school and seek that job with James Brown. We met him and Melvin said, Mr. Brown do you remember me, I’m Melvin Parker, the drummer. Mr. Brown said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.” He was still excited about my brother. They went through the whole thing about did you bring your clothes, and where they’d be going for the next two or three days and stuff. And then my brother cleared his throat, and I cleared my throat, and Melvin said, “Oh yeah, Mr. Brown, this is my brother, he’s a saxophone player. He needs a job too.” He asked me some questions about playing saxophone, if I played baritone saxophone. I told him I played a little baritone, but I didn’t have a baritone. He said, “Okay, I’ll give you a chance. Take two weeks, three weeks, to get a baritone and you can have a job too.” It was exciting. Having two brothers in the same household being hired by James Brown at the same time. It was really exciting for us.

LE: I’m sure it was. After you joined James Brown what was the first important lesson that you learned?

MP: Punctuality, I think was the first thing I learned. Well, he used to teach pride, stage decorum, and punctuality. Not in that order, but at the same time. The one that came to mind first is punctuality. The bus would leave at a certain time, and if you’re not there, maybe five minutes within leaving time, they’re gone. And then there’d be like a fine, and if you weren’t there, you’d get fifty dollars taken from you. You learn really quickly you gotta be on time for stuff. I think that’s the first thing I learned. We knew about punctuality anyway, but that was a big thing with Mr. Brown. Along with stage decorum, the way your uniform looked, you gotta be pressed, just having pride in being a man, to respect women and kids. He preached that really, really well.

LE: You mentioned being in a marching band, and I noticed that on Funky Music Machine, one of your albums with the Kings Men, that you do a tune that’s a tribute to the Tennessee State University Marching Band. What was it about that band that made you want to do a tribute song  to them?

MP: Well, it was not my idea, I went along with it. That whole idea was from my trumpet player at the time, Richard Griffin. We called him Cush. We had a couple of friends that had joined James’ band, the James Brown Band, from Nashville, and I guess it inspired him to write that little thing. The whistle part, and the “pick up your feet” part, what was it, “pick up your feet, play your part, drive, drive, drive” came from the school that Melvin and I were at, which was North Carolina E&T in Greensboro. That’s something we used to sing. We incorporated that because it was like a march.

LE: You’ve served as a sideman to James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Prince. You’ve worked with artists like Kenny Neal, Candy Dulfer, Ani DiFranco. Do you approach your playing any differently when you are not the leader of the group, as opposed to when you’re the leader?

MP: No. I just dig down within my soul and within myself to try to come up with something funky. I always try anyway. People say, wouldn’t it be nice to have that guy that worked with James Brown come up with something (for a track). They’ve come up with something that reminds them of, or sounds like, something James Brown would do or something funky in the same kind of vein, and my name comes up. So I figure that’s what they want, something I would do if I’m working with him. It’s very easy and natural for me. I just realize that the funky style is natural for me, just as some guys can pitch a baseball, or hit a baseball, throw a football. It’s just something natural I could do from birth I guess.

LE: How did this current appearance with Christian McBride come about?

MP: I don’t know, but I’m excited about it. We’ve worked together. We were on the same stage a while back, some festival, or something where we’ve collaborated. Either we’re on the same stage doing a couple of tunes together or he’s with a group and I’m with a group. These things happen in this business. You follow your schedule, your itinerary, and however it turns out, it’s fun, it’s okay. That’s what makes it exciting as you tour month after month, and year after year. You get to the point where you start looking forward to things like this where you cross-breed with other musicians.

LE: I believe you’re doing an appearance with the African tribute to James Brown.

MP: Well, there’s some stuff coming up, I think they call it, Still Black, Still Proud. I’m doing stuff like that too. [Ed note: Coming to the Ordway Theater in Saint Paul on November 22, 2011]

LE: We look forward to seeing you on Sunday, May 22nd.

MP: Thank you, and like we say all the time when I perform, on behalf of all of us, we love you.



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