Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mr Magic” by Amy Winehouse

Amy Winhouse is quite possibly THE popularly successful jazz oriented female vocalist during my adult years who wasn’t strictly a balladeer.  Born to a English Jewish family, her exposure to jazz came early in life. Her mother was a singer for a time who dated UK jazz sax player Ronnie Scott. And her father sang her Frank Sinatra songs as a child. She began playing guitar and writing songs at age 14. At 20, she released her debut album Frank, a rather neo soul oriented album produced by Salaam Remi. In 2006, she took the world by storm with her Back In Black album, recorded with the Dap Kings.

Winehouse’s career was marked by a dysfunctional family and love life. And a lot of resulted drug abuse and eating disorders. Sadly, she joined the 27 club in 2011 from a culmination of her self destruction. My friend Henrique and I have talked to some level about the significance of her musical legacy-especially in regard to her breakout album Back In Black. Upon hearing her debut album however, it became clear to me just how vital her jazz/funk/soul sound was even at the start of her career. And one number that illustrates this well is called “Mr Magic”.

Winehouse starts out the song with steady jazz guitar strumming-with Remi’s drums playing an in the pocket beat right along with her strumming. Winhouse’s vocals are accompanied by Vincent Henry’s punchy sax solos. John Adam’s Fender Rhodes also provides a solo that plays the exact counterpoint to Winhouse’s main guitar rhythm. The chords on the chorus have a brighter tone to them. The bridge of the song showcases an instrumental section featuring an extended sax solo from Henry and one from Adams on Rhodes before all the horn charts fade out the song following an extended chorus.

“Mr Magic” is a great example of a song that has was written on guitar. While the instrumentation has a neo soul spareness and doesn’t feature a discernible bass line, everything is on the rhythm with this song. From Winehouse’s vocal solos to her harmonies on the chorus, she is every bit part of the instrumentation vocally as Billie Holiday was before her. The horn and Rhodes based jazz/funk sound of the song also provided a template on how she’d expand this sound later-when working with the Dap Kings several years later.

 

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mr Magic” by Amy Winehouse

  1. Great write up! This song is very special to me because “Mr. Magic” by Grover Washington Jr and written by Ralph McDonald was one of my father’s favorite songs. And of course, one of the most influential of its era as well, through Chuck Brown’s incorporation of the beat into Go Go. After Dad passed, I discovered this Amy Winehouse version, with vocals, and I wished I’d been able to share it with him! Of course, Roberta Flack’s first rendering of “Mr. Magic” was vocal as well, but this one actually incorporates the groove developed by Grover, Ralph McDonald, Creed Taylor, Eric Gale and Bob James in a very spare funky Neo Soul manner! A great cover of a great song that really speaks to Amy’s artistry and I’m glad you wrote about!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Henrique. Although I do feel mildly embarrassed about my write up now. I didn’t recognize that it was a cover-thought it was a song Amy Winehouse wrote on guitar. Still, glad you enjoyed it on the level of tribute. Adds a whole new dimension.

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