2% Jazz, 98% Funk

   L-R: Fred, PeeWee and Maceo

L-R: Fred, PeeWee and Maceo

When I toured with the J.B. Horns (Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley) along with Al Jaffe on guitar and Mark Helias on bass, Maceo would always announce in the beginning that we were gonna play “2% jazz and 98% funk.” The people always cheered wildly.

We funked it up and the guys did do a few tunes with repetitive vocal lines like “Funky Good Time,” and Fred always killed it with his “House Party,” and Maceo did “Let Him Out,” a great rap homage to JB when he was unfortunately incarcerated late in his career.

The JBs would get everybody in the audience to sing the words “Soul Power” before we did an instrumental version of that tune, but basically it was an instrumental band. So that’s kind of become my formula for fun and good times for everyone, “2% jazz and 98% funk.”

BUT… The owner of the club where I have a steady gig with my band once a week on Cannery Row in Monterey poked his head in last Tuesday and checked us out. I don’t think he had ever actually heard us in the two years we’ve been there.

I have a five piece band: tenor, trumpet, guitar, bass and drums.

We do some funky tunes, 98% funk, in fact: Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Average White Band, Pee Wee Ellis and some of my originals. I worked up charts for the two horns with some help from the guitar player, Jesse DeCarlo, and we’ve been groovin’ really well.

The next day I get a call from the bartender, who also does the booking… “Jack came in last night and saw that you guys don’t have a singer. Band sounds great but that’s his formula. Classic dance tunes and a singer singing them.”

I’ve played behind a lot of great singers (Esther Phillips, Esther Satterfield, Yvonne Jackson, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, Hank Ballard, Ray Anderson, the San Francisco Inspirational Choir, even James Taylor) but that wasn’t what I wanted to do with this band. I wanted more freedom for me and the other guys.

The word was, “You guys gotta get a singer or you’re out.” He’s pretty direct.

Of course he wouldn’t come up with any extra money, so I couldn’t keep the five-piece band. No, of course not. Somebody had to go. I’m afraid it was the trumpet player, Dan Herrera.

So why didn’t Maceo’s formula of 2% jazz and 98% funk work in this case?

If you play funk without a singer it’s considered “jazz.” And that’s a broad label and a bad word for many people. “Jazz, oh no. That’s not my thing.” If they say you’re playing jazz, that’s not ok. But what really gets me is that they still call it jazz even when the people are crowding the dance floor, shaking their money makers and having a good time!

Hey, I like good singers too. I just have to rant a little and get on with it, reorient my brain and change gears.

So I gave it up and all my tediously written horn harmony charts for two horns are out. Oh well, I learned a lot working them up. We’ll still slip them in and call it dance-rap-funk-pop.

Hey, we fooled ‘em for almost two years so I guess that’s success in itself.
And we still have a steady Tuesday night gig. Anybody know any great singers in the Monterey area?

2% jazz, 98% funk plus singer.

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WAIT: HAPPY ENDING!

The guys decided to take a cut in pay. I didn’t even ask them to! The big bucks we make (haha) are not why we do this gig anyway.

And we found a really soulful singer who also plays alto, so now we have a three piece horn section! Wow, even better. Sometimes the Universe really works. Now I’m really getting happy.