An Interview with Maceo Parker

Maceo Parker Dial Maceo Parker
Interview with a legend
by Paula Edelstein

JazzUSA.Com had the chance to DIAL M-A-C-E-O and did just that! He answered and here’s the scoop!! Enjoy this funkshun…because you and your computer are just about to add the “funky function” key for the one and only Maceo Parker. He needs no introduction!

JazzUSA: DIAL M-A-C-E-O is a funky piece of work! With seven original tracks and eight covers of some of the best funk and jazz out there, you perform an overwhelming amount of material on one great funkshun! When did the roots for this great project produce the creative jazz we’re hearing?

MP: From day one! Well, I hear everything. It seems that you just hear more as you get into it. I could hear a lot…from day one. I was very interested from the time I spent listening to big bands or small bands or whatever and even from my days with James Brown, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins. I remembered these things so it was very, very easy for me to land into a funkier kind of groove and into jazz. I enjoy doing the ballads and being in this situation where I can do just about anything I want to is really great. But the material on DIAL M-A-C-E-O was something that came about when someone said, “Hey, maybe we’d better think about going into the studio.” So I just said, “Oh yeah? Well OK, I’d better come up with something.” And this is it!

Dial M-A-C-E-OJazzUSA: This sure is IT! You’ve invited several well-known artists including Prince, Ani DeFranco, Sheryl Crow, and James Taylor to join you on this great musical journey. How well is the CD doing?

MP: I don’t really know how well the CD is doing but the last I heard, it was right around 100,000 in Europe! We just ended a 3-week show there a few weeks ago but unless someone tells me how well it’s doing, I don’t really inquire about how it’s doing. I don’t think I’ve heard any of the cuts that much in the USA but I can tell you that after playing one of the venues on Martha’s Vineyard, I went in for shopping and one of the guys there told me, “Oh wow! I just heard you on the radio!” If I had been a couple of minutes sooner, I could have heard it then…but I haven’t heard it that much in the USA. JAZZUSA: Well, we sure have! I just heard “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” on the radio in Los Angeles, and heard you working such a funky sax and flute on Prince’s video of that track on Black Entertainment Television. And those are just a few of the reasons we just had to have this interview!!

MP: Thanks, Paula!

JazzUSA: Is it more exciting for you to go out on the road with new material or would you rather re-create the funky sounds that you know have propelled your career so far?

MP: It’s a little bit of both…. You’ve got to satisfy those who want to hear “Pass The Peas,” “Cold Sweat” and all that good James Brown stuff. “Got To Get You” and “Shake Everything You’ve Got,” but it’s also equally rewarding to come out with new stuff, like the stuff we’ve done on DIAL. So it’s all good. We played a place outside of Buffalo, New York …in Williamsville, at Runways and those people were so excited! The first thing I said was, “Why is this the first time we’ve ever played here? Is this a hidden thing or something?” (Laughs) It was fun, fun, fun and party, party, party. We had so much fun.

JazzUSA: I bet it was! I wish I’d been there! Well Maceo, this is the first time in ten years that you’ve been worked to the smooth jazz radio format, with Prince’s “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” and to Triple A radio with “Coin Toss” which features Ani DeFranco. Even though this CD has much of your trademark funk, and you are working it, do you think adding the smooth jazz format to your core audience will create a few more question marks behind the range of attitudes toward funk at jazz radio stations? Dial M-A-C-E-O

MP: Probably. Yeah. Anytime you delve into something outside of the realm of what you normally do, you’re going to turn some heads. Like who’s that?

JazzUSA: Well that’s what I said? (Laughs) It was fantastic!

MP: We get that a lot, especially on college campuses where we’ve been and the talk goes from here to here to here to here. It’s sort of like we’ve become a tradition! They go, “If you ever hear Maceo Parker, etc! Man, it’s great!” They are really into us and just love us and ask us, “Where have you guys been?” But it’s all good. So when I think about my decision to become an entertainer, to travel and to do all the things you have to do in order to do the job, it’s all worthwhile….

JazzUSA: You are jamming on alto saxophone, flute and vocals and really stretching out. There are ballads that work it – especially your rendition of “My Love.” Your tone is so smooth, so loving. In choosing the 12 songs, what were you ultimately looking for?

MP: Well, I just knew I had to do something and here it is! (Laughs) This is where my head is at the moment. But the thing with “My Love” is …I always like to play something sort of away from the funky stuff that I’m setting up. I had been using “My Love,” but I do “If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words,” by Bread or sometimes I do “Rainbow” and then go right into something funky. But when going into the studio, I thought, maybe I’d do something serious on “My Love” and that is what we did. I changed the arrangements two or three times.

JazzUSA: It’s beautiful. Corey Parker raps a message every lady wants to hear on “Black Widow” and it’s so right! With your flute rapping its own message, many of your new fans will realize that your work on the sax is not the only great sounds you’ve played for generation after generation. Is DIAL M-A-C-E-O the first CD you and your son has recorded together?

Funk OverloadMP: Nooooooo! He was on FUNKOVERLOAD. Before he did the rap stuff…we called it “Maceo’s Groove.” He was a college student at that time, an Engineering major. So after he heard it, his words started coming and he let me hear it. At that time, he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to become an Engineer. So he got the chance to stand near the stage once during one of my shows and I called him on. It was like, ABSOLUTE LOVE at first performance! I mean he loves the stage! It was like, “Wow. This is so exciting.”

JazzUSA: (Thrilled) Well who wouldn’t love standing there next to the great Maceo Parker?

MP: So then it was like he just discovered that this is probably what he should have been about for the first part of his life anyway.

JazzUSA: I liked him on “Let’s Get It On” too…that’s another great cut on FUNKOVERLOAD. So he’s in the right pea patch! (Laughs) Speaking of a pea patch, you’re really laying on the funk on that cut “Rabbits In The Pea Patch.” We really like “My Baby Loves You” and “Homeboy” also, and especially enjoyed your fingering work on these gems for the saxophone. What ideas were you reaching for when putting those songs together?

MP: Well it’s just funky! Most of the time, I’ll say, let’s get something that sounds like this, or let’s get something that sounds like that one. Or maybe let’s get one just a little bit slower than that…and I just go in and fill in the blanks! Pretty soon, all the bases are covered. Basically it’s, “Let’s get something a little jazzy. Now we got to have a ballad. And maybe Corey you can do something.” His thing will be either slow, fast, moderate or whatever. You know? And that’s it. So after covering all that, there should be enough material for an album!

JazzUSA: Get down Maceo! Only a master showman can get it all together just like that! Also, as a master saxophonist, you have brought the greatest R&B, funk and rhythmic skills to the world along with one of the best funky horn sections in music…ever! Now that you’ve had huge success in jazz, does your legacy create any more pressure to live up to everything that you’ve previously done or a freedom to work at the pace you want to?

Funk OverloadMP: You sort of set a height…subconsciously as you go. And if you come up with something that for some reason doesn’t measure up to that height or the saxophone is not sounding right or your ability to do it is not quite right…then you say, “No, that’s not quite it” and you go in and make the adjustments. But as I get older, I know in my mind how I want it to sound, but at the same time, I’m keeping my eyes open for slowing down just a little bit. So all that’s in there when I stop to think about it.

JazzUSA: What do you consider to be the “definitive” Maceo Parker masterwork?

MP: I kind of like the one we just finished, I suppose. The one with “Children’s World” on it and the one with Ray Charles’ “Them That Got.” I even like FUNKOVERLOAD, believe it or not!

JazzUSA: I do too. Your personal relationship with the saxophone extends far beyond jazz and I’m sure you must own and play many different ones. Which saxes are you playing these days and why?

MP: I’m playing a Selmer sax and basically started after my high school band days. But really started playing them after hearing Ray Charles and his band… his sax players. They were all playing Selmer saxophones…. Hank Crawford and David Newman…. I just stayed there. James Brown suggested that I play alto and I started doing that.

JazzUSA: So there you have it! This gives new meaning to being online!! Man oh man! Thank you so much for this fantastic interview. I had so much fun. We wish you even greater success with DIAL M-A-C-E-O. It’s so funky!

MP: Thank you! Stay in touch with the great Maceo Parker. For tickets, tour and CDs, check in at www.war.com and check out with DIAL M-A-C-E-O and FUNKOVERLOAD.

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