Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mr. Magic Himself

I can't tell you how much I've been missing New York City's smooth jazz station. In addition to the classic rhythm and blues station, it played music that all generations in my house could enjoy. It brings back memories of the family either playing bid whist or lively chatting with each other about politics in the living room. Smooth jazz was easy to listen to in the background and its creation is largely due to the music of one of its pioneers, the late Grover Washington Jr.

His rendition of this Bill Withers' classic is one of his most well-known songs, mostly because of its crossover appeal. The jazzier version allows Grover to showcase his mastery of the saxophone, blending perfectly with the composition of the song. Much ado is made about the validity of smooth jazz, with some not even considering it to be a legitimate sub-genre of jazz. However, critics cannot doubt the talents of Grover Washington Jr. His improvisation was sophisticated, edgy and one some songs, down right funky.

This is coming from my favorite album from him and one of the greatest jazz-funk/ soul jazz albums of all time, appropriately entitled Feels So Good. What I admire mostly was his approach to jazz in general. Some jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Charles Mingus want to get you to think, and they were geniuses at doing so. Washington, on the other hand, wanted you to feel. His sax work was very advanced, but still melodic and smooth. I find myself "singing" along to Hydra or Knucklehead because he gets the saxophone to sound like the voice of a Motown soul singer.

Now this is my favorite song by him. Grover's recordings are always so relaxed, so it surprises me to see him perform so energetically. Everybody looks as if they are having the time of their life. This performance almost looks like a jam session. Mister Magic was so funky that its beat later influenced DC-based go-go music. But his contributions to contemporary jazz are why we honor Grover Washington Jr. in this week's Throwback Tuesdays.

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