|Form: Two percent jazz
|"Everything's coming up Maceo," concluded DownBeat Magazine in a 1991 article, but this was at the beginning of Maceo Parker' current solo career. At the time Maceo was a remembered by aficionados of funk music as back-seat sideman; appreciated by those in the know, but not well known on the music scene of the time. Almost a decade later Maceo Parker is enjoying a blistering solo career. Throughout the United States, Europe and Japan he has garnered unusual simultaneous respect as both an unrivaled musical legend and a hip, contemporary artist. Today Maceo headlines over 250 performances a year worldwide to sold-out audiences of college fans and old-school music aficionados alike. Over this time he has collaborated on recordings with such diverse acts as De La Soul, Jane's Addiction, Ani DiFranco, and Prince. In 1998 Maceo performed nine opening stints for the Dave Matthews Band and summer of 1999 a five week tour with Ani DiFranco. The last part of 1999, in addition to his own touring and recording, he has been appearing with The Artist for both live shows and on the latest album from Paisley Park, - RaveUn2 The Joy Fantastic. National TV appearances in the US has included The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and culminating in the 1999/2000 Per View Show with The Artist.
Raised in Kinston, North Carolina, Maceo was born into a musical family: both his parents played gospel music in their church. But his uncle, who headed local band the Blue Notes, was his first musical mentor. At age 8 Maceo picked up the saxophone, and his brothers Melvin (7) and Kellis (9) chose drums and trombone respectively. The three Parker brothers formed the Junior Blue Notes and grew up admiring such heroes as Hank Crawford, Cannonball Adderley and King Curtis. When Maceo reached the sixth grade, their uncle let the Junior Blue Notes perform in between sets at his nightclub engagements. It was his first experience of the stage that perhaps goes some way to explaining a love affair with performing that has increased rather than diminished with time. By age 15, Maceo Parker had forged his own style on the tenor sax. "I thought about Maceo Parker plays Charlie Parker, and then I thought how about Maceo Parker plays Maceo Parker, what would it be like to have young sax players listening to me and emulating my style of playing..." and thus the Maceo sound was born. By the time Maceo and Melvin were attending the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, the two were seasoned pros. On an evening in 1962 (while Maceo was out of town with another band), Melvin was performing with a funky outfit called Apex, when James Brown wandered in for some late night food. Impressed with the young drummer’s style, that night James told Melvin, "If there's ever a time when you're not a student and you want a job with me, you got it, automatically." Both brothers would approach J.B. a year and a half later. "I really wanted Melvin," Brown remembers in his autobiography James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, "but I figured I had to hire Maceo, too, if I wanted to get his brother. I didn't know what I had got!"
Maceo grew to become the lynch-pin of the James Brown enclave for the best part of two decades. There would be other projects and short hiatuses during this time, including a brief spell overseas when he was drafted. From baritone saxophone, to tenor, and eventually his current instrument alto saxophone - Maceo's signature style helped define James' brand of funk, and James would shout for more: "Maceo, I want you to Blow!" With James Brown, Maceo learned, as much as anything, how to work hard. And in 1990 the opportunity came for Maceo to concentrate on his own projects. In the early 90's Maceo released two successful solo albums entitled Roots Revisited (which spent 10 weeks at the top of Billboard's Jazz Charts in 1990) and Mo' Roots (1991). But it was his third solo release, the 1992 live album Life on Planet Groove that would launch Maceo's contemporary career as a solo artist for a college aged audience and brought into being Maceo's catch phrase "2% Jazz, 98% Funky Stuff." It was about this time that Maceo began his relentless headlining tours, bringing his top notch, road-tight band and three hour plus shows to the masses. "I feel it's my duty as an artist to go as many places as I can, especially if the people want it." And people really, really want it. Maceo's super funky performances have earned the well deserved reputation as the best party around. And his ever-growing legion of dedicated fans just can't get enough of his horn-blowing.
Gene Santoro of Downbeat Magazine describes Maceo's musical style as: "He's no bebopper, reborn or otherwise. His roots are the church and the blues…his sound is joyful, cutting ribbon of light and heat burnished by grit and soul. His riff-based attack is melodic, unraveling and re-weaving themes rather than running chords, and primarily rhythmic, relying on finely-shaped nuances of timing and displacement to communicate - kinda like his longtime boss' vocals, amazingly enough." There's no doubt about it, "There's only one Maceo."
Maceo's last two releases Funk Overload and Dial M-A-C-E-O entered the top 40 in the European charts upon its release. As Jazz Times reviewed, "Maceo and his crew lay into some deadly grooves. "Funk Overload" is an eleven song collection of originals and re-workings of such classics as Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," Stevie Wonder's "Tell Me Something Good," and Sly Stone's "Sing A Simple Song." The album eloquently captures the energy of Maceo's live performance in a studio setting and offers plenty of trombone solos by cherished friend and fellow legend Fred Wesley. Also, in the tradition of Maceo's musical family, Funk Overload introduces the smooth hip-hop rhymes of Maceo's son, Corey Parker (who has been a part of his touring act for three years). "You talk about proud, man," Maceo says. His latest Dial M-A-C-E-O album which features includes the Mistress of folk music Ani DiFranco, , and a quite different James from the one we have come to associate with Maceo: James Taylor.
Maceo Parker has made incomparable contributions to the music world and as we enter a new century, the saxophone legend's career is seemingly just beginning. The phrase "Everything's coming up Maceo" is amazingly truer now than ever before. Maybe it's not so amazing, though. He'll tell you, it's because of his profound love for what he does. His joy must be contagious.
"The double bill seemed disparate at first: Funk Saxophonist Maceo Parker sharing the stage with folkie feminist Ani DiFranco? Ah, but that's how memorable nights of music are made. The two artists had lots in common actually: they are both ground-breakers - Parker for his seminal work with James Brown and George Clinton, DiFranco for her unique sound and leading role as an independent record label owner. More to the point, they both believe in the unmitigated joy and freedom of the funk, not funk as a musical style per se - though Parker wrote the book on that one- but funk as a rallying cry, as a way to unleash human potential; recognize the problem, deal with it then bump it out the door with a swift shake of the hips.
...he didn't just play songs he played a set of interconnecting grooves where tunes flowed into one another like a deep eddying river of funk...His stage introduction 'Come on Maceo' with every syllable pulled stretched and repeated until his name became synonymous with funk... each parlance was a variation on one big message: give in to the uplifting power of music. His blowing was timelessly on target, with a leanness of thought that was the reduced essence of bebop laid over the skeletal structure of rhythm and blues.... DiFranco and Parker acted like kids and chipped away at the notion of musical boundaries..."