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Taken from Chronicle Live (Apr 06, 2018)

Gateshead International Jazz Festival - hear how Maceo Parker can’t wait to take to the stage

Music icon will be saxing up weekend’s festival with trademark “2% jazz and 98% funky stuff”

by Alan Nichol



Maceo Parker is to play Gateshead International Jazz Festival(Image: Alan Nichol)


Alan Nichol catches up with Maceo Parker ahead of the launch of Gateshead International Jazz Festival.


I must admit that when the line-up was first announced for Gateshead International Jazz Festival, which runs from Friday to Sunday in Sage Gateshead , one particular name jumped out immediately.


The fact that the artist Maceo Parker has frequently declared that his work is “2% jazz, 98% funky stuff” had an influence on my choice.


Parker had been the saxophonist of choice - repeatedly, it must be stressed - for James Brown (13 albums); George Clinton and his bands including Parliament and Funkadelic (14 albums) and Prince (8 albums; two films).


Not only did he tour, record and share the spotlight with all three iconic funksters but his CV also includes other stellar names from Keith Richards to Bryan Ferry, Red Hot Chilli Peppers to De La Soul and scores besides.


He has also fronted his own band (including 16 albums to date) over several decades.


I spoke to Maceo as he was coming to the end of a European tour (he was in Germany) and found him in top-form, genial, humble and relishing the prospect of playing to more enthusiastic crowds.


Mention of his part in the presence of those heavyweight, truly defining artists like Brown and Prince is met with undoubted pride but humility, too, as he tells me: “It’s unbelievable! I don’t think about it until I do interviews like this.


“The road from where I started and where it has lead, it’s bewildering.”


Where it started was in a music-loving family home in Kinston, North Carolina, where his father played piano and drums and both parents sang in the local church choir. Later, it was Maceo’s brother, Melvin - a drummer - who was the first Parker brother to be chosen by James Brown and that opened the door for Maceo’s recruitment.


Another brother, Kellis, plays trombone professionally.


Parker is a huge fan of Ray Charles but before Charles entered his life there was some impromptu auditioning to be done.


He explains: “As far back as I can remember, there had always been a piano in the house.


“I remember when I was a child that I was always fascinated when you see someone sit down at the thing; apply a little pressure to the right keys and you got this tinkling sound.


“I think I was about six or seven and my parents sang in the church choir - you know the religious stuff: because the piano was there, they would have rehearsals and I would just stand back and listen” (sings hymn intro).


“When they took a break, I would (simulates tinkering) have a try and the grown-ups would say ‘is that child playing that?’. I didn’t think it was a big deal but that was the beginning of my musical career, or something” (laughs).


“I was a little bit older when I got to hear Ray Charles. Me and my brothers and cousins would get together - my uncle also had a band called the Blue Notes - and we would call ourselves the Junior Blue Notes.


“I remember when Ray Charles released What’d I Say (sings ‘hey Mama don’t you treat me wrong’) and we were all gathered around the radio and we went bonkers!


“When he started part two, we went even wilder!” (laughs aloud at the memory).


I ask him about the challenges of working (with James Brown) through the civil rights era of the mid-sixties and Maceo described the typical gig.


“At shows they would put-up a big rope, like the ones used to moor a ship, and it would go all the way to the back of the room: whites on one side and blacks on the other.


“It didn’t make any sense at all. Listening to the same music, they had to have some kind of separation. Those were the times, man. We knew it would change and somehow we got through it.”



Maceo Parker is to play Gateshead International Jazz Festival(Image: Alan Nichol)


There was a difference, of course, when the musicians came to Europe as Parker acknowledges.


“It was amazing, you know, (we thought) people can live together. There was a little bit of that in New York city and we had dates in Canada, too, so we saw the beauty in that.”


Parker’s love of Ray Charles is well known – he has a big tribute event in a couple of weeks’ time back in the US - but I ask about other favourites.


He muses before answering: “Lee Morgan (hard-bop trumpeter) but I like something in just about everything I hear.”


In a mesmerising career that has so many highs, I ask him if there is a particular “purple patch” among the decades of achievement.


He thinks for a while before telling me: “I try to put 100% into everything I do but since you put it like that somehow Prince kinda popped-up in there, that he may be sticking-up a bit higher than everybody else. For obvious reasons. I mean he was a sweetheart but I would think, ‘hang on a minute, I’m working with Prince’!”


There is ample footage available of the pair in action with Prince calling on Maceo - just as James Brown used to do - to take a solo.


The mutual respect is plain to see.


As to his plan for Saturday night’s set list (he co-headlines in Hall One with UK soul-singer Ruby Turner and her band) he adds: “I sort of satisfy myself and I think that way I’m sure to satisfy other folks, too.”


With a back catalogue as voluminous as Parker’s, there will be no difficulty in filling the stage time.


Over the course of the weekend, there will be music for just about everyone, with the Sun Ra Arkestra and African drum supremo Tony Allen on Friday night; Georgie Fame and the Guy Barker Big Band on Sunday night plus a packed bill which includes Portico Quartet, Norma Winstone, Zara McFarlane, Alexander Hawkins, Chris Barber Big Band, Jay Rayner, Sheila Jordan and many more.


Check- out the multi-buy ticket options on the Sage Gateshead website for the definitive list of appearances and timings.



 
 

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