Black History – JAZZ-FUNK/MILES SMILES
Sellouts? Or Messengers from the Ancient to the Future?
The discussion today about Narada Micheal Walden reminded me of a concept that has been festering around in my head for quite a while, but the idea isn’t fully formed (but I figured that i would throw it out for discussion anyway)
Take the case of 3 (in my opinion) GREAT (damn near perfect) FUNK Artists
- Micheal Henderson
- James Mtume
- Narada Micheal Waldon
Most fans knew these 3 brothas as R&B hit making artists during the 1980’s.
However, during the 1970’s I knew these 3 artists best as members of two of the FIERCEST HARDCORE Jazz-Funk bands around
- Micheal Henderson – Miles Davis band (Bass)
- James Mtume – Miles Davis band (Percussion)
- Narada Micheal Waldon – Mahavishnu Orchestra (Drums)
During the 1980’s while the rest of the "Funk Universe" seemed to fall on hard times, these 3 brothas went on the "R&B Tip", yet still managed to retain all of their inherent FUNKINESS, still spreading that positive message, albeit to a different audience!
Anyhow, I was wondering if anyone else here might have some thoughts about this?
(or maybe I just think about this stuff too much?….lol)
Back in the late 1960’s when Miles Davis went "electric", he did so because he wanted to reach out to younger Black people (such as myself) because he felt that Jazz had gotten too far away from the people.
So he created something that I refer to as "jazz-funk" by fusing his own music with the music of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and James Brown. He did this using young musicians such as James Mtume, Reggie Lucas, Micheal Henderson and others to do this.
In the wake of what Miles had done, other jazz musicians soon followed such as Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock from Miles old band in the 60’s, and new groups like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Return To Forever, etc were formed by sidemen who had played with Miles on the album "Bitches Brew".
I was a BIG FAN of this particular "fusion" of musical styles and all of these artists sure as hell reached me in a big way 🙂
Jazz purists HATED this music.
But there was a problem with it to be sure, even though this music was fantastic, it was almost all instrumental and still pretty damn deep, especially with some pretty overt African/Spiritual influences as well.
Therefore it never really found an audience among the masses of people that it was intended to reach (R&B Radio audience).
I guess my point is that some of the younger musicians from this period, namely James Mtume, Micheal Henderson and Narada Micheal Waldon were able to carry the intent of this music to it’s logical conclusion during the 1980’s and actually reach the massive R&B audience that Miles himself was unable to reach, and they were able to do so without "selling out".
I was just wondering if others here had any thoughts on this topic?
"I don’t play music for people who hang out Music Conservatoires or Lincoln Center, I play music for people who hang out at the Rib Shack on Saturday Nights in Harlem…"
Hey Bob I see what you mean. Yeah those brothers retained their FUNKINESS, but they were lucky not to be famous (I mean they were sidemen first before breaking solo) as jazz artists in the 70’s before going R’n B!!! A lot of jazz purists (to use a headline of a post I made a few months back!) hated when people like Herbie Hancock or Miles or other jazz greats switched to a somehow more ‘commercial’ music.
It was the big issue back then. Should the jazz stay jazz or could it be allowed to incorporate some funk and become jazz-funk, jazz-rock or fusion, whatever tag was invented back then. Some people dealt with it, but a lot of them had to readjust to those modern times. Jimmy Smith, Ramsey Lewis, Cedar Walton, Sonny Fortune, David Newman, Eddie Harris, Stanley Clarke, The Crusaders, Sonny Stitt and countless others added some groove and funk to their straight jazz. Even Dizzy Gillespie put some funk into his bop on some of his albums for Perception records or later when he did ‘Unicorn’ with Lalo Schifrin.
But I remember reading in ‘Jazz-Hot’ (the mag that has been the jazz follower’s bible since the 30’s here in France) pages of what would be classified today as ‘hate mail’ about that hybrid music. It took a few years before they ackowledged that this kind of music whas going to stay in spite of their narrow-minded opinions. Some like Herbie, earned the right to record whatever they wanted, straight jazz stuff to funk to hip-hop or solo piano. I think this is the way it should be. Sometimes it is a bit hard when you go to a concert not knowing what facet of his talent you are going to be exposed to, but the musicianship is always there and that’s what counts after all.
Marcus Miller who played with Miles too, got a lot of exposure with all the Luther Vandross stuff, and did some rather lame solo stuff in the early 80’s before becoming a renowned jazz-funk solo artist in his own right.
To talk about the artists you mentioned, I’d say ‘Wide Receiver’ is a far cry from what Michael Henderson did with Miles! You can imagine the expression on the faces of Miles’ fans if they bought Michael’s albums at that time, expecting to hear an extension of what he played with the celebrated trumpet player! Same goes for the two others but I love what they did. I just wish I could hear more from them in 1999!!
For thos eon the list who are interested in the continual progress of Black music — I have a recommendation of a project I have yet to have seen discussed.
It’s a cd that I think will prove to be a lasting 20th Century classic. It’s called "Programmed" by the Innerzone Orchestra on Astralwerks Records, 1999. The cd is a jammin’ collage of "futuristic" black music — think free-jazz/mixed w. techno-funk and cinematic soul. IO is a project of the world famous techno-musician Carl Craig from Detroit. Craig as some of you may know is considered a pioneer of the Detroit Techno scene which largely gets uncredited for it’s black roots. The cd is far from a techno-album so before you start thinking whirrs, bleeps and attacking beats — think again.
Programmed is a concept project centered around a creature called Blacula — a beat-vampire at the end of the 20th Century and his journey through the galaxy trying to find his fix. Each song of the 13 tracks is a mini-movie, and is really a masterpiece of artistic realization — the cd listens like a journey. There’s is a jazz-funk foundation featuring real ensemble players, mingled with state of the art technology and production techniques. It features two reworked classics that would be familiar to people on the list
— "People make the world go around" and War’s "Galaxy". If you like Herbie Hancock’s Mawandishi or Bill Laswell’s treatment of Mile’s Pathalasia or their work together on Future Shock and Perfect Machine then do yourself a favor and check out "Programmed. It’s black creativity at it’s highest and most proficient level. If anyone has checked this one out already I would love to know what you think.
What/Who does this term bring to your mind ?
- How about……
Billy Cohham, Roy Ayres, Passport, Return to Forever (Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Al DiMieola & Lenny White), Brecker Brothers, Miles Davis, James Blood Ulmer, Charles Earland, Weather Report, Brother Jack McDuff…..
Just for starters, Funk, Funk, Funk……….. Funk me up !!!
Got any more ????
- I’d have to add Herbie Hancock, Harvey Mason & Noel Pointer to your list. Just my thoughts,.
- I saw Herbie Hancock live back when "Headhunter" was a big hit. I wonder how I could have left him off the list ???
- Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith and of course my boys Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns with Maceo Parker and Rick Gardner trumpet and Richard "Kush" Griffith trumpet "up for the down stroke"
- I’ve always been a big fan of Bro. Jack McDuff. Anybody else ??
- Fred Wesley is GREAT !!!!
- Eddie Harris, Miles, Santana, Lonnie Smith, Groove Holmes, Manu Dibango, Charles Earland, George Duke, are just a few , I could write for the next hour getting names for this!!
- I was just litening to "Swiss Movement" the other day !!!
Any other Jazz-Funk Albums that I should be listening to ??
- How about some work by Roy Ayers, or Charles Earland?
- I like Leaving This Planet by CE. Also there is work by Tony Williams Lifetime and the New Tony Williams Lifetime, and anything by Larry Young if you can find it. In this extensive list of artists also add Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, Tom Browne, Patrice Rushen, Ronnie Foster, and even David Sanborn. And please don’t forget Grover Washington Jr.I’ll come up with more later
- What cuts do you like by Tony Williams ???
Any Charles Earland fans out there ???
What’s he been up to lately ???
- Charlie has been touring extensively. he was in Pittsburgh about three weeks ago, and also played at Syracuse Jazz Festival. i interviewed him when he was here and we talked about his new release coming out on the muse label called "Purple Rain"!!!
He will also be doing a jazz cruise in october. this is the trird year for this. he gave me a greatlive recording of his group in tokyo, which is on the burning sounds label.he told me that a lot of his milesstone catalog has been reissued on cd. Leaving This Planet, Black Talk, etc. he also did a reunion concert with the Black Talk artists, Houston Person et al. they recorded it.
- I’m glad to hear that he is still on the scene, I was a big fan of the album "Leaving this Planet" !!!
Any MF’s (Miles Fans) on this board ?
- Jack Johnson, Agartha, In A Silent Way, etc…
Miles = afro-polyrythmic-supernasty-pure FUNK…. for the PEOPLE !!!
- "afro-polyrhthmic-supernasty-pure funk for the PEOPLE.." Yeah, you said it !!
Hey, did you know that about a half-dozen of ’70s Miles albums are getting reissued on CD this coming May? According to Cuscuna in his recent *P jazz chat!
Can hardly wait to pick up GET UP WITH IT and BLACK MAGUS– if those are indeed among the reissues. Do you have those on LP or import CD already? What do you
think of ’em?
- I had the original "Get Up With It", back in the day sound quality aside, why should I buy the new version ?
Since its election day……Im voting for Miles today !!
- How do you like the album? Can you compare it to other Miles of the time?
I still haven’t heard the album, so I’ll be looking forward to its reissue here in the States….
- "Get Up With It" compares favorably to the other "electric Miles" stuff from the early to mid 70’s. Load it up on your box right next to "Big Fun", "On the Corner", "Jack Johnson" and the others. You can’t go wrong in buying it !!
I agree with ya bout the James Brown thang !!
- An ’80s Miles man! What albums from Miles’ last decade stand out for you? Do you have the recent live release, LIVE AROUND THE WORLD?
Count me in !
- How about On the Corner, Pangea, Agartha, and tunes done like Human Nature, or Perfect Way. What if Miles ever considered doing an lp with James Brown, or Sly Stone? Just a thought.Do you think he had ever considered it?
- I can’t believe he found a female "MF" 🙂
- Did you know that there are some "MF’s" who consider "On the Corner" to be a "James Brown album" ????
I dig Agartha also
- Yeah, thats why I brought that up! A lot of folks critizied Miles for what did at various periods during his carrer. Now that hes dead everyones giving praise and trying to buy up all his music. Remember the show we saw him at, back in college! Ill tell folks about that show with your help later.
- Tell us about the show, please! I think Miles mustve thought about recording with Sly and JBhe dug them so much. Strange that he never did get in the studio with them, or even JBs band. I know he wanted to record with Jimi, but formal sessions just could never be worked out.
- Why’s it so funny to call On The Corner a "James Brown album"? Doesn’t it remind you of JB’s music?
- Its not funny at all & thats my point. Some jazz blowhards would see On the Corner and call it a James Brown record and mean it in a derogatory way.
- Miles would have regarded that as a comprednt !! In 1972 Miles knew what the deal was and was far more interested in reaching James Brown fans (such as myself) than in pleasing the "jazz elite. He knew that it was part of his responsibility as a Black man to get young knuckleheads like me to understand his music than the folks at Downbeat magazine, Lenard Feather, the New York Times or any other so called jazz experts.
He knew that it was far more important to teach James Brown fans (like me) the entire history of jazz, blues & rock all on one instrumental album on which not one word was uttered. Songs like Mr. Freedom X, Black Satin, New York Girl are jams which can on some level be compared to Say It Loud ……they are in your face and confrontational. They force the listener to think about Africa and America, just as Say It Loud does. This is a connection that jazz experts sometimes do not wish to be confronted with.
Im emotionally still On The Corner !!
- I agree with you totally. I was just confused because I had the impression you thought that to call OTC a "JB album" was ridiculous–like maybe it was so much more or something. Like you and Miles, if I heard someone compare OTC to JB, I’d also think it was a comprednt, even if the person
didn’t mean it to be. I’d immediately think, "Hey! You GOT IT!!" Some great jams and mind-boggling interplay on OTC. No wonder that many older jazz fans have never been able to accept the stuff, but it makes me sad that such people can’t at least recognize how Miles reconnected with the ROOTS of
black music in this period. I wonder if JB heard this album,and what he might’ve thought?
- I have no way of knowing this for sure, but if you listen to some of the later stuff by the JB’s (before Fred & Maceo hooked up with P-Funk) some of their stuff is pretty "spaced out". Perhaps they were listening to a little bit of early 70’s Miles ?
- Ill start off & perhaps someone else can fill in some of the details, becaus my memory isnt what it used to be.
The show was at the Syria Mosque (a large acusticly perfect auditorium seating around 3,500) in 1974. Miles was the opening act for Herbie Hancock who at that time was flying high with the big hit record Chameleon. Kevin, myself and about 10 of our friends who were also MFs prepared for the show and then got there early. There were several hundred MFs at the show that we knew and it was obvious they had prepared as well. I guess one of the biggest surprises to me was the fact that I saw some of the city’sBlack Elite (atheletes, entertainers, politicians, etc) in attendence at the show. I was shocked that many of this folks were in to Miles Davis jazz-funk, but it pleased me none the less.
We had all heard all of the stories about how outragious Miles was in concert and were prepared to see him do anything from spit at the audience to playing with his back turned.
He did neither, when he came out he looked like an African King…..played the trumpet hunched over…..he also had a small keyboard right next to him which he played occasionally.
Miles was backed up on that evening by:
Reggie Lucas – Guitar
Micheal Henderson – Bass
Sonny Fortune – Sax
Mtume – Percussion
Al Foster – Drums
(Somebody help me out here !!!)
I dont remember the names of the songs played that night, but all of the stuff was from On the Corner, Get Up With It & Big Fun.
I sat there in sheer amazement as I watched the "master" go to work. It was a 90 min. workout of pure unadulterated FUNK
Miles himself didn’t say one damn word (neither the group or the songs were introduced) during the whole show !!
To this day….it’s the "best concert I ever saw" !!
- Okay and this is what happened also that night. Even though we had "prepared for the show", that did not keep you, me, or our friends who we were with that Miles noticed us in thefirst few rows and the fact that we were really into the show. (We were giving high fives and urging the band and Miles on!!) So a few times during the show in acknowledgement, Miles came over to us and played not with his back toward us but was actually playing to us!! I swear to this and our other friends will attest to this. He would give us a nod and then go tho the other side of the stage. I got a chance to meet Reggie Lucas before the show, who was really a strange guy from what I remember.
- Wow! That Miles band was a killer…. And to have them and Herbie on the same night!!! Man, I’m jealous!
About the late 60s thru early 70s JBs: what are some peak recordings that you would recommend? Didnt a CD of a performance in Paris get released a few years back? Hows that one?
What did Reggie say and do that was so strange? Did he seem a little too "prepared" for the evening?