[JPL] Jazz fest to honor Motown superstar Marvin Gaye
Bobby.Jackson at ideastream.org
Tue Aug 26 14:53:27 EDT 2008
I thought I was finished with talking about Marvin Gaye....
It is no coincidence that so many jazz musicians choose to record Gaye's compositions. The music has depth and is timeless. You'd be hard pressed to find a year where someone didn't record a Gaye composition.
From: jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com [mailto:jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com] On Behalf Of Dr. Jazz
Sent: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 10:40 AM
To: Jazz Programmers Mailing List
Subject: [JPL] Jazz fest to honor Motown superstar Marvin Gaye
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Jazz fest to honor Motown superstar Marvin Gaye
BY BEN EDMONDS . FREE PRESS SPECIAL WRITER . August 26, 2008
Somewhere, Marvin Gaye is smiling.
The singer was known as "the Prince of Motown" and became one of that
fabled label's most commercially successful artists on the strength of
hits like "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and "I Heard It Through
He turned musical revolutionary with "What's Going On," his 1971
masterpiece, following it with "Let's Get It On," a nearly equal
masterpiece of carnal desire. By the time of Gaye's tragic death in
1984, not long after his dramatic comeback with "Sexual Healing," the
singer had scaled artistic heights few could have imagined.
Yet for all his creative accomplishment and commercial validation, one
lifelong desire eluded him: More than anything, Gaye wanted to be a
serious jazz balladeer. The man Janet Jackson once called black
culture's John Lennon dreamed of being its Frank Sinatra.
So it is fitting that Friday's opening night of the 2008 Detroit
International Jazz Festival will close with a tribute to Marvin Gaye
arranged by this year's artist-in-residence, Christian McBride. The
celebrated bassist has programmed a set of Gaye's music to be performed
by a 19-piece orchestra plus singers Lalah Hathaway, Rahsaan Patterson,
José James and a trio of backing vocalists.
McBride responded immediately when festival executive and artistic
director Terri Pontremoli proposed the tribute.
"I grew up on rhythm and blues and I own nearly everything Marvin Gaye
ever recorded," enthuses the 35-year-old Philadelphian, whose quartet
will be surrounded by an impressive posse of Motor City musicians to
create a big band that incarnates the festival theme "A Love Supreme:
The Philly/Detroit Summit."
"I re-listened to all Marvin's music and it was interesting to hear his
growth from the early '60s to the mid '70s," he says. "Man, what a time!
Everybody was really stretching, pushing themselves to the max. Marvin
always had a jazz attitude: 'I need to play the /real/ stuff.' When they
didn't bring it to him, he took it upon himself to bring it to them.
"I won't be presenting any particularly radical rearrangements. In this
festival setting, and in this city, I think people want to hear the
music and connect with their personal reminiscences. You don't want to
do too much to disguise that, so I'll stick reasonably close to the
original script. I have, however, written an overture of sorts, based on
a number of Marvin's themes. It will allow us to ease into the set and
work any butterflies out."
For those who knew Gaye personally, like former Detroit Lions great Lem
Barney, the tribute will be especially poignant.
"Oh, you couldn't keep him away from jazz," testifies the pro football
Hall of Famer, who bonded with Gaye during the singer's highly
publicized tryout with the Lions in 1970 and was later invited to
contribute background vocals to "What's Going On." "Marvin would sit at
the piano and sing Sinatra and Nat King Cole for /hours/. They'd let him
do as much of that as he wanted on his own time, but he couldn't put it
on wax. That frustrated him greatly."
Gaye did release albums of standards early in his Motown career, but the
success of hard-edged R&B numbers like "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and
"Hitch Hike" forced him to shelve any such ambitions.
Even after he'd won his creative independence with "What's Going On" and
commissioned a set of lush ballad orchestrations from pianist-composer
Bobby Scott, Gaye compulsively re-recorded his own performances, unsure
that he possessed the vocal maturity to get the job done. The results,
finally released in 1997 as the posthumous album "Vulnerable," show he
needn't have worried.
"Marvin Gaye could sing anything he put his mind to," Jack Ashford, a
jazz vibraphonist whom Gaye brought to Motown, has said. Ashford's
tambourine became a signature element of the famous Funk Brothers studio
band. "In a way that many of the other producers did not, Marvin
understood and appreciated the fact that most of us came from jazz
backgrounds. He was no real threat instrumentally -- he could hold his
own on piano or drums, after a fashion -- but we loved him because he
possessed the soul of a jazz musician."
Saxophonist Diego Rivera was ideally suited to recruit the Detroit
musicians for McBride's tribute. His own jazz homage to "What's Going
On" has had several public performances, including one by the Michigan
State University Jazz Band at last year's festival.
"When I told the musicians what the project was," he says, "they were
all excited, not only to work with Christian, but to play the music of
Marvin Gaye. Jazz is the music of the moment, and playing it is the art
of living fully in that moment. Marvin worked with emotion in much the
By investing himself so fully in his artistry, Gaye's music connected
popular culture to something eternal. "The key to life is the spirit
that leads," offers Lem Barney. These days Barney, who will act as
special guest emcee for this tribute to his departed friend, is director
of physician relations and recruitment for the Detroit Medical Center.
He also serves as associate pastor at Hope United Church.
"There are good spirits and bad spirits," he explains. "You have to
choose each day which spirits you're going to serve. Marvin had his
share of both, but when you hear his music, even after all this time,
you're hearing the spirit that leads."
/Contact freelance writer *BEN EDMONDS* at bedmonds5131 at comcast.net
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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