Over 250 performances a year !"Everything's coming up Maceo," concluded DownBeat Magazine in a 1991 article, at the at the beginning of Maceo Parker's 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. More than a decade later Maceo Parker is enjoying a blistering solo career. For the past ten years Maceo has been building a new funk empire, fresh and stylistically diverse. He navigates deftly between JB's 1960's soul and George Clinton's 1970's freaky funk while exploring mellower jazz and hip-hop.
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, Ani DiFranco, Prince, De La Soul, Jane's Addiction and Dave Matthews Band.
Early YearsRaised 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 David "Fathead" Newman, Hank Crawford, Cannonball Adderley and King Curtis."I was crazy about Ray Charles and all his band, and of course particularly the horn players" .
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 A & T College in Greensboro, the two were seasoned pros.
James BrownOn an evening in 1962 (while Maceo was out of town with another band), Melvin was performing with a local band, 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, and in 1970 when he left to form Maceo and All the Kings Men with some fellow J.B. band members (the two albums from this period are on a constant reissue cycle even some thirty years later.)
From baritone saxophone, to tenor, and eventually his current instrument alto saxophone - Maceo's signature style helped define James' brand of funk, and the phrase: "Maceo, I want you to Blow!" passed into the language.
The 70'sIn the mid '70's Maceo hooked up with Bootsy Collins, and George Clinton and his various incarnations of Funkadelic and Parliament. He now had worked with the figure heads of Funk music at the height of their success, from the breathtaking shows of James Brown to the landing of the Mothership Maceo has been as close as it gets to some of the most exciting moments in musical history, contributing his unique sound as a constant point of reference.
2% Jazz, 98% FunkyIn 1990 the opportunity came for Maceo to concentrate on his own projects. 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." The soft spoken North Carolina native doesn't come out on stage in a diaper or a velvet swirling cape, no giant spaceships or 50 person entourages, nothing except the core of his musical soul which he lays open every time he blows his horn.
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."
European chartsMaceo's last two releases Funk Overload and Dial M-A-C-E-O entered the top 40 in the European charts upon release. Dial M-A-C-E-O features guest spots from the Mistress of folk music Ani DiFranco, Prince, and a quite different James from the one we have come to associate with Maceo: James Taylor.
His latest album Made by Maceo is just that. A no-frills affair from the man who was and is present at the birth of any funky music. Recorded live in the studio with his touring band, and a special guest spot with fellow saxophonist Candy Dulfer.
From Maceo's urgent J.B.-flavored opener "Come By And See" featuring some hot soloing from Candy Dulfer, to the hard-hitting "Off The Hook"; from the aggressively funky instrumental "Quick Step" to the raucous organ-driven roadhouse shuffle "Lady Luck", Maceo's infectious goodfoot grooves are guaranteed to inspire much sweaty rowdiness on the dance floor, says Bill Milkowski of the New York Times. Other reviewers cite this latest offering as Maceo's strongest since Life on Planet Groove.
PrinceIn between his own touring during 2002 Maceo squeezed in time with Prince and his One Nite Alone tour (US, Europe, and Japan). The tour received huge critical acclaim and Maceo's presence excited reviewers and audiences alike.
2003 looks like coming up roses once again, with the new album receiving heavy attention in Europe and Maceo himself receiving a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation for his contribution as a sideman to the genre of R & B.
Maceo says that during his college years he considered teaching as a career until he discovered that most musical educators wanted to be performers, and his love for performing took over, for which we are all grateful. His contributions - bordering on creation - to funk have sealed his place in history, as both a musician and a legend. You could say he became the educator he set out to be, he just took the slightly longer route.
"He's still doing it. And that to me makes a really legendary person"
-- Friend and Mistress of Folk, Ani DiFranco.
"...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..."
-- Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN