sweet soul music
Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999), “Move On Up” (C. Mayfield), live (Master Henry Gibson [1942-2002], hand drums), Netherlands (The Hague), 1987
voices I miss
Albert Collins (1932-1993), “Cold, Cold Feeling,” live, Switzerland (Montreux Jazz Festival), 1979
Nobody sounds like this guy, whose 1978 album Ice Pickin’, recorded at Curtis Mayfield’s studio in Chicago and nominated for a Grammy, I’m happy to say I co-produced.
Bruce Davidson (1933-), Birmingham, Ala., 1963
“Kung Fu” (C. Mayfield)
The Dirtbombs, live, New York (Southpaw, Brooklyn), 2008
Curtis Mayfield, recording (Sweet Exorcist), 1974
Yesterday, in Cambridge, Massachusetts (where I am for my son Alex’s college graduation), sitting on a brick sidewalk in Harvard Square, a panhandler with a sign:
OBAMA’S NOT THE ONLY ONE
WHO WANTS CHANGE
A few artists seem to hover over this blog, touching down, like angels, every now and again.
William Parker Ensemble (William Parker, bass, with [among others] Hamid Drake, drums; Dave Burrell, piano; Amiri Baraka, voice)
“Move On Up” (Curtis Mayfield), live, Italy (Milan), 2008
“It’s All Right” (Curtis Mayfield), live, New York, 2008
William Parker on his Curtis Mayfield Project:
This is the first project, in my 30-year career, that I have devoted to the music of someone else. It grew out of “Sitting by the Window,” a homage to Curtis Mayfield that I wrote for my band In Order To Survive. The current project develops this inspiration while trying to call upon the spirit in which Curtis Mayfield wrote his songs. We are trying to let that spirit find its voice today through musicians who not only know Mayfield’s songs, but more importantly, know themselves. They are familiar with the language of a music that includes Curtis Mayfield as well as Sun Ra.
I grew up listening to Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Martha and The Vandellas, Gladys Knight and The Pips, and Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. In my mind, their music was not separate from Marian Anderson, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Don Byas, Sarah Vaughn, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, and Louis Armstrong. All this music is part of an African American tradition that comes out of the blues. The roots of the jazz known as avant-garde are also in the blues, the field holler, and the church. Avoiding artificial separations is the key to understanding the true nature of the music. All these artists ultimately speak using this reservoir of sounds and colors that we can use to paint our own music.
The music that passed through the life and work of Curtis Mayfield cannot be duplicated. The question becomes, how can it then continue? I also ask myself this question in connection to Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk. It always seemed to me that when Ellington died, the music physically died with him. We were left orphaned, with just the recorded part of his work and all these notes on paper, but that is not the reality. Once you realize this truth, you can find a different way to proceed to re-create the songs. Paradoxically, you can only find a way to play the music by initially affirming that it cannot be done. Let us imagine the Creator: part of his voice was expressed through Duke Ellington, a part through Albert Ayler, another part through Curtis Mayfield. The method doesn’t consist in following or imitating anyone’s style; the method consists of plunging into the Tone World, which is the source of all music. You can’t counterfeit a music. One can only collect strands and begin to weave a new tapestry out of them.
Curtis Mayfield was a prophet, a preacher, a revolutionary, a humanist, and a griot. He took the music to its most essential level in the America of his day. If you had ears to hear, you knew that Curtis was a man with a positive message—a message that was going to help you to survive. He was in the foreground, always in the breach, both soft and powerful at the same time. For these reasons, his music still resounds in my heart.
More from the Albertina Walker Musical Tribute
Joe Ligon (Mighty Clouds of Joy), “I’ve Been In The Storm Too Long,” live, Chicago, 10/14/10
Like a lot of impromptu performances, this starts a little shakily; but then it builds, builds, builds.
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board.
“People Get Ready”
Curtis Mayfield, live, England (London), 1988
The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield), 1965
Al Green, live, Washington, D.C., 1983 (Gospel According to Al Green, 1984)
radio gems: gospel
The other day, as I waited for a train at an underground station in downtown Chicago, an older black guy started singing this song, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and at that moment everything—this song, this singer, this place—seemed all of a piece and I was no longer waiting.
Curtis Mayfield (with David Sanborn, alto saxophone; Hiram Bullock, guitar; David Lindley, steel guitar; George Duke, piano; Phillipe Saisse, keyboard; Tom Barney, bass; Omar Hakim, drums), “It’s All Right,” live (TV broadcast [Sunday Night]), 1989
Wednesday’s featured artist, Curtis Mayfield, was so popular and influential among Jamaican musicians, including the early Wailers (back when the group included Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer [before becoming “Bob Marley and . . .”]), that one British deejay dubbed him the “Godfather of Reggae.”
The Wailers (with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer), “Keep On Moving” (1972)
Want more? Here (don’t miss “Soul Shakedown Party”).
The Impressions (with Curtis Mayfield), “I Gotta Keep on Moving” (1964)
It’s odd to think back on the time—not so long ago—when there were distinct stylistic trends, such as “this season’s colour” or “abstract expressionism” or “psychedelic music.” It seems we don’t think like that any more. There are just too many styles around, and they keep mutating too fast to assume that kind of dominance.
As an example, go into a record shop and look at the dividers used to separate music into different categories. There used to be about a dozen: rock, jazz, ethnic, and so on. Now there are almost as many dividers as there are records, and they keep proliferating.
We’re living in a stylistic tropics. There’s a whole generation of people able to access almost anything from almost anywhere, and they don’t have the same localised stylistic sense that my generation grew up with. It’s all alive, all “now,” in an ever-expanding present, be it Hildegard of Bingen or a Bollywood soundtrack. The idea that something is uncool because it’s old or foreign has left the collective consciousness.
I think this is good news. As people become increasingly comfortable with drawing their culture from a rich range of sources—cherry-picking whatever makes sense to them—it becomes more natural to do the same thing with their social, political and other cultural ideas. The sharing of art is a precursor to the sharing of other human experiences, for what is pleasurable in art becomes thinkable in life.—Brian Eno, 11/18/09
To: Elliott Carter
Happy 101st Birthday!
Take away the hand drums and the music of this man—another of the great artists to come out of Chicago in the last 50 years—would have a whole different flavor.
Curtis Mayfield (with Master Henry Gibson on hand drums), “Move On Up,” live, The Netherlands (The Hague), 1987
In the Sixties, you had percussionists like Master Henry Gibson that was playing with Curtis Mayfield and he was pretty much used as melodic accents. When you listen to a lot of Curtis’ work after the Impressions, rather than a horn player he’s got Henry Gibson out front on percussions. A lot of people had missed that in the sense of compositional expression.—Kahil El’Zabar