Tag Archives: Arif Mardin

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music for the Next ONE 6/27/15 : “All My Friends Are Here” by Arif Mardin and Friends

The late great Arif Mardin had the most Quincy Jones like career of anybody not named Quincy Jones. That was fitting, as his fellow Piscean Jones encouraged him to leave his native Turkey, allowing him to became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones music scholarship. He might have out Quincied Quincy at times, as he had perhaps less musical success than Jones putting out albums under his own name, and more as a pure pop producer, in addition to his talents as an arranger. He produced numerous hit acts such as The Average White band, Aretha Franklin, The Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, Donny Hathaway, Chaka Khan and David “Fathead” Newman, among others. Mardin was a foremost member of that group of Turkish American music men who contributed to American music through their strong love for black music. Being that Mardin produced music in almost every style of R&B inflected music from the ’50s to the 90s, it should come as no surprise that his funk resume is strong. He was the producer of songs such as The Average White Band’s “Pick up the Pieces” and “Schoolboy Crush”, “Get Ready, Get Set” by Chaka Khan, “Listen Here” by Eddie Harris, and “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin. Today’s funk feature, “All my Friends are Here” is big jam session of a track featuring many artists that he produced, coming back to pay tribute to their friend and mentor in the twilight of his life.

The song begins with a super funky slow drum beat with the snare drum accenting the fourth beat, a very common beat in New Orleans music. That slow beat from the drum set is melded with funky accents from the Conga drum. Soon, Lalah Hathaway sings wordless, soulful vowel sounds as the super funky clavinet riff that’s the meat of the song gets going, played by Robbie Konder. Soon a full groove is struck up with sparse Meters like bass, organ, rhythm guitar and an interesting harmony on the horn stabs. The track contains the current lineup of The Average White Band on rhythm, including original member Onnie McIntyre. After the beat gets comfortable, the big chorus melody line of “All my Friends are Here!” Kicks in, and it’s voiced by singers such as the Gibb brothers of the Bee Gees, The Rascals, Hall & Oates, Phil Collins, Cissy Houston and many other artists Mardin worked with. The line itself has a booming, soaring horn part feeling, and it’s answered immediately by a horn phrase, from a section including trumpeter Randy Brecker and Tenor man Fathead Newman.

Arifs son comes in with a bass voice vocal that his father meant to sing but was too sick to do, influenced directly by Larry Graham’s vocals on “Dance to the Music”, saying “I’m gonna do it from the bottom”, to which Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees replies in falsetto, “And I’m gonna sing the top.” The feel is really loose as the choir sings the main line and the great singers ad lib around it. From there, the Mardin writes in a horn interlude with the horns sustaining an interesting harmony with a slightly dark tone. After that the arrangement moves to an interesting funky unison lick, like Stevie Wonder uses in so many tunes, played by bass, guitar, clavinet, and also vocalized by one of the singers, with the drums also playing along. After the lick the song breaks all the way down to drums and conga and the “I’m gonna do the bottom” Larry Graham style vocals. The song goes back to the main line, with the singers having even more room to improvise.

After another go round of the unison lick, Randy Brecker announces his time at the mic, with some “get out of my way” trumpet phrases before playing his solo, with singers ad living as he solos. He solos through the different grooves of the song as Mardin sends the arrangement back to the sustained horn chords for Brecker to blow over. The song ends out in a joyful riot of vocalization.

“All My Friends Are Here” is Arif Mardins last album, one in which he struggled to complete as he knew he was dying. It’s title and theme could well be one that he or any other “super producer” could call their work, emphasizing the connections they develop from the intimate work of making music. For that reason it’s very touching for me that all of these artists would arrange their schedules to do a song for their mentors album. And I like the way he went out, not on a morbid note, but on a funky jam session, rich with the joy if collaboration, peace, unity, and having fun, making the song an epitaph both funky and fitting.

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Filed under Music for the Next ONE