@ The Gaiety, St. Lucia Jazz Festival
7 May 2008
Click an image to enlarge.
Though I tried several times... I never managed to catch Maceo
Parker’s electrifying funk gigs at London’s Jazz café
(which is less than one hour drive from my home). To me it seemed
a fitting reward to experience this ‘Man Of Funk’ in
the free-spirited five star environment of the Gaiety On Rodney
Bay in St. Lucia. When Maceo does return to the wonderfully furnished
Jazz Café in the UK I won’t bother to request a press
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.
Maceo Parker has played with each and every leader of funk, his
start with James Brown, which Parker describes as “like being
at University”; jumping aboard the Mothership with George
Clinton; stretching out with Bootsy’s Rubber Band. He’s
the living, breathing pulse, which connects the history of Funk
in one golden thread. The cipher which unravels dance music down
to its core.
In 1964, Maceo Parker and his brother Melvin were in college in
North Carolina studying music when a life-changing event took place.
James Brown, the famous God Father of Soul happened on to an after
hours club in which Melvin was drumming a gig. Mr Brown was in search
of some late night food when he was knocked out by Melvin Parker’s
bombastic beats. Brown offered the drumming Parker a future gig,
telling him all he had to do was refresh the soul man’s memory
and a job would be his. Cut to a year later when James Brown’s
band was touring again in the North Carolina area. The Parker brothers
looked to take JB up on his verbal job posting and cased the venue
in search of James Brown’s limo. After a while they spotted
the vehicle and waited for brother James to step out. Walking right
up to the already legend of soul, Melvin works Mr. Brown’s
memory to the year before. Soon, JB’s eyes light up and he
resubmits the job to the drumming Parker, while Maceo stands by
waiting his shot. Then Melvin blurts, “Oh, by the way Mr.
Brown this is my brother Maceo, he plays saxophone, and he needs
a job too.” James, asks Maceo if he owned the big horn. Maceo,
spouts a big fib responding “Ahhhhh, yes Mr. Brown,”
knowing full well he would have to go out and find the big brass
Bari sax if he wanted to join his brother on the road. Maceo found
a Baritone sax and recollects that he and his brother thought they’d
play with JB for about six months and then head back to school.
Maceo laughs, “ We stayed a lot longer than that.”
Maceo Parker grew to become the lynchpin of the James Brown enclave
for the best part of two decades. His signature style helped define
James' brand of funk, and the phrase: “Maceo, I want you to
Blow!” passed into the language. He’s still the most
sampled musician around simply because of the unique quality of
There would be other projects and short hiatuses during his on-off
time with The Godfather, including a brief spell overseas when he
was drafted, and in 1970 when he left to form Maceo and All the
Kings Men with some fellow James Brown band members.
It was Parker’s uncle front man for local band the Blue Notes,
who was Maceo’s first musical mentor. The three Parker brothers
(Maceo, Melvin and trombonist Kellis- later to become Professor
of Entertainment law at Columbia University) who formed the Junior
Blue Notes. When Maceo reached the sixth grade, their uncle let
the Junior Blue Notes perform in between sets at his nightclub engagements.
It was Maceo’s first experience of the stage that started
his love affair with performing that has increased rather than diminished
In the mid ‘70’s Parker hooked up with Bootsy Collins,
George Clinton, and the various incarnations of Funkadelic and Parliament.
He now had worked with the figureheads of Funk music at the height
of their success.
In 1990 the opportunity came for Parker to concentrate on his own
projects. He released two successful solo albums entitled “Roots
Revisited” (which spent 10 weeks at the top of Billboard's
Jazz Charts in 1990) and “Mo’ Roots” (1991). But
it was his third solo album, Parker’s ground breaking CD “Life
on Planet Groove”, recorded live in 1992 which soon became
a funk fan favourite.
Parker’s collaborations over the years performing or recording
or both have included Ray Charles, Ani Difranco, James Taylor, De
La Soul, Dave Matthews Band and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
In 2003, after several years as Band Leader for the Rhythm and Blues
Foundation Awards Parker received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm
and Blues Foundation for his contribution as a sideman to the genre
of R & B. Since 199, he has also participated in some of Prince's
groundbreaking tours when not with his own group.
At the beginning of 2007 Parker had a chance to fulfil one of his
dreams in working with a Big Band. Working with Grammy Award Winners
the WDR Big Band, he broadcast and performed a live series of shows
paying tribute to Ray Charles and putting Maceo’s own funky
music to a Big Band setting.