Selected by Dan Grunebaum
Blue Note Tokyo
"Maceo! Blow your
horn!" is how Ambassador of Soul James Brown would signal his favorite horn player to
take another burning sax solo, and for a decade that's what Parker did as Brown's alto
saxophonist. Now, as a bandleader and star in his own right, Parker once again takes up
residency at the Blue Note Tokyo in mid-April.
Hailing from Kinston, North Carolina, Parker got his gig working for Brown mainly because
Brown was impressed with his brother Melvin's drumming chops. But Parker soon made a name
for himself, providing the steaming breaks in Brown hits like "Papa's Got a Brand New
Bag" and "Cold Sweat."
Defecting from the notoriously overbearing Brown camp in 1970, Parker formed Maceo and All
the King's Men along with ex-section mates from Brown's band trombonist Fred Wesley and
saxist Pee Wee Ellis. He rejoined the Brown band three years later but also did stints
with Parliament/Funkadelic and Bootsy's (P-funk bassist Bootsy Collins) Rubber Band later
in the '70s. In an interview with the New Funk Times, Parker compared working
with these two towering figures of funk: "James would have strict regulations - you
gotta wear this uniform, you gotta stand here, you gotta do this routine - that's where it
differs a bit. George is like - come as you are and do what you feel like doing, ain't
nothing but a party!"
In the '90s Parker has emerged into the spotlight, releasing several well-received albums
including Roots Revisited (which topped the Billboard Jazz Charts for
two months in 1990), Mo' Roots on the Verve imprint, and more recently Funk
Overload in 1998 and Doin' Their Own Thing (Charly) in 1999.
Parker has also been the subject of a film, My First Name Is Maceo, created by
German director Markus Gruber in 1994. The film crew went on tour with Parker and captured
- both on and offstage - the warm and generous personality that flows through Parker's
While Parker may have parted with Brown for good, there don't seem to be any hard
feelings. When Brown was jailed in the late '80s, Parker was there for him, recording a
rap song that urged the Godfather of Soul's immediate freedom.
For the upcoming Blue Note gigs - his first in Japan in almost two years - Parker will be
debuting tracks off his latest album, Dial Parker (Victor). The saxophonist will
be bringing with him a ten-piece band, including no less than three vocalists: Corey
Parker, "Sweet" Charles Sherrell and Martha High.
Parker plays the Blue Note Tokyo April 16-21. See
listings for details.