Leon Ware is someone I’m not sure a lot of people outside the soul/funk community are too aware of. Among people I know such as Henrique Hopkins,Henry Cooper and Calvin Lincoln,he is very likely an icon. He maintained a solo career from 1972 up through the end of his his life. And was a fine singer. Mainly however,he was one of the finest composers in the soul/funk/jazz spectrum during the early 70’s. His style used a lot of jazz styled chord progressions,which he blended with strong pop hooks and heavy hitting lyrically romanticism.
Mister Ware composed two songs that inspired the singer/songwriter side of my soul and funk musical interests very strongly as a younger man. Those songs were Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” and (perhaps Ware’s best known composition) “I Wanna Be Where You Are”. That particular song was recorded by several different people. But became a huge success for Michael Jackson in 1972,and helped launch his solo career. As far as Marvin Gaye was concerned,Ware gave the most help to him than he did for many other artist by composing the entirety of Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You when the artist suffered from writers block.
That occurred just after Ware was the man behind the 1974 Quincy Jones album project Body Heat. This albums gurgling,swampy groove also included the memorable soul hit “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” (recorded the same year by Average White Band). And it helped Quincy’s heavily arranged jazz sound to get deeper and funky. Ware extended his talents onto Quincy’s next album Mellow Madness-itself featuring the debut of the Brothers Johnson. In the late 70’s and early 80’s,Ware continued his solo career and continued writing songs for artists like Melissa Manchester.
Ware passed away after nine years of suffering from Pancreatic cancer on February 24th. Even so,I’m one of those people who views the combination of jazzy chord progressions, soulful melodicism and and funky rhythm to be the most successful fusion of black American uptempo music. Along with people such as Stevie Wonder,Leon Ware celebrated the connections between all those elements as a songwriter. Which probably explains why he and Quincy Jones were such close associates. His influence can be felt today in the songwriting of artists such as King and Thundercat. And will therefore live on.
Wanted to start this by giving thanks to two people who helped make today’s Anatomy of THE Groove occur. First is Brandon Ousley. It was through a Facebook post of his that I was made aware that today was the 40th anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You. When I first heard this album,it was a literal love affair for me in terms of appreciating it musically. It was an equal source of heartbreak after reading David Ritz biography of Marvin entitled Divided Soul. That book overly personalized Marvin’s 70’s albums for me to the point where the lyrics became uncomfortably subjective. It was my friend Henrique who I wanted to thank most for helping me on that level.
This 1976 Marvin Gaye album featured two of it’s songs in instrumental reprises. Including one of my favorites “After The Dance”. In an effort to stop getting the singer confused with the song,focusing on Marvin as a musical figure is a good way to go. And the subtext Henrique provided for me courtesy of Michael Eric Dyson’s book on Marvin called Mercy Mercy Me. It would seem that while recording this instrumental with writer/producer Leon Ware,Marvin had intended flutist Ernie Watts to play the main melodic solo. But he noticed the horns and strings were out of tune in some spots where he Watts’ solo wasn’t quite enough to compensate.
One Motown engineer Marvin was working with at that time was named Calvin Harris. He had a Moog synthesizer. Apparently Marvin was fascinated by the range of sounds this electronic instrument was capable of if multi tracked in the same way he did his vocals on the sung version of the song. Initially he did this only in order to cover the out of tune orchestrations that weren’t settling well with him. Then he realized he could use it to create his own musical world where Ernie’s solo’s just hadn’t worked for him. In the end,this was a totally different way of re-imagining the song on both the harmonic and melodic level. And it just opened up a whole new groove as it went along.
A slow crawling,percussive samba opens the album with rather Asian sounding chimes playing a similar melody to Marvin’s round and bubbling synthesizer. The chorus develops into a mix of jazzy piano voicing’s,elaborate string arrangements and the equally complex bass improvisations-so much so they aren’t always easy to hear for some people. On these choruses,Marvin’s Moog solos play in and around the chords of the melody in a similar manner to a bop jazz era pianist. As the intro to the song repeats,the Moog is really pushed up as a boiling round bass line until the main chorus fades out the song-this time with the Moog solo accompanying Watts flute soloing.
While I always loved the “sea of Marvin’s” vocal harmonizing that was present on the vocal hit version of this song,understanding the lyrics as I do now make them come off more as a tortured inner dialog than a beautiful vocal statement. This version focuses in on Marvin as an instrumentalist. And by using unusual melodic voicing’s that are more chord oriented,the range of emotion projected through the instrumentation allows the lyric of the song to be a lot more open to interpretation than the original words might’ve been. Hearing the instrumental made me fall in love with this musically sensuous Latin jazz soul/funk groove all over again. And that makes it all the more special.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Calvin Harris, Ernie Watts, flute, Leon Ware, Marvin Gaye, Moog, Motown, multi tracking, percussion, slow funk, synth bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized
With now over four decades in the music business? Melissa Manchester has taken her soulfully theatrical wail of a voice and heavy melodicism as a songwriter from the singer/songwriter,blue eyed soul,new wave and synth pop genres of music. Since she comes from the pop music scene,having had her biggest hit album produced by one time Marvin Gaye producer and fine singer/songwriter in his own right Leon Ware? It’s no surprise that through it all,Manchester would maintain a strong jazziness about her sound as well.
After a decade as an adjunct professor at the USC Thornton musical school,Manchester was encouraged by some of her students to independently raise money for a new album she wanted to record. The album was released in February of 2015 along with a series of club dates to promote it,including a guest appearance on Tavis Smiley’s talk show on PBS. Including a bevy of powerful guests,including the the late Joe Sample,Bronx native Manchester’s title song to her brand new album You Gotta Love The Life really bought her back with a serious musical bang!
Starting off with a persistent kick drum from Mister Abraham Laboriel,the horn section of Tom Evans.Steve Baxter and arranger/trumpet/flugelhorn player Lee Thornburg make a serious rapid fire funky horn proclamation before a groove assisted ably by the bluesy piano of John Proulax,Hammond organ player Steve Welch-all led along by the percussion of Lenny Castro on a pumping dance floor friendly jazzy funk rhythm. On the bridge the rhythm,the piano breaks down to a cymbal based beat after which guitarist Peter Hume takes a fiery jazz/rock solo. After this Manchester’s toughly vocalized chorus kicks right back in and stays there until it comes right into the end with the songs title frankly sung.
With a guest of crackerjack musicians along with backup singers Vangie Gunn and Susan Holder? This song is of the sort that most professional musicians would want to begin their album with. The melody is bold,the rhythm is righteous and the band are absolutely on fire along with the performance of Manchester herself. She sings about devotion to the love of creating and performing music,even through all of the outside struggles that are put upon artists. Stating in the end that it’s all worthwhile since “you’ve gotta love the life”. The uptempo,hard horn packed jazzy funk vibe and the style of choruses,instrumental harmonies and rhythms are also right out of the Crusaders/Stuff/Steely Dan school as well-which also helps matters for the lover of a good groove. An excellent way for Melissa Manchester to launch her comeback album!
Filed under Abraham Laboriel, Bronx, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, John Proulax, Lee Thromburg, Lenny Castro, Leon Ware, Melissa Manchester, PBS, Steely Dan, Steve Baxter, Steve Welch, Stuff, Susan Holder, The Crusaders, Tom Evans, USC Thornton, Vangie Gunn