Harvey Mason’s drum sound is one of the key elements in mid 70’s jazz-funk. Next to the Crusaders’ Stix Hooper,it was Harvey’s approach that really calcified the rhythm beat of that particular musical hybrid. Pretty much any band doing live instrumental based jazz-funk of the past decade and a half-including Lettuce,Greyboy and Snarky Puppy are all rhythmically built around what Harvey did on drums. Even for me, it’s very likely that Harvey Mason was the very first drummer I ever heard. With Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” being a very early musical memory. He is also important for another reason outside of those things.
Also similar to Stix Hooper, Harvey was a powerful session drummer too. Especially when it came to jazz and pop artists in the 70’s looking to make their sounds funkier. I’ve tended to notice when a musician does a great deal of session playing,they accumulate a good deal of musical allies. Many of Harvey’s were iconic soloists/session players in their own right such as Lee Ritenour,Ernie Watts,Chuck Rainey,Dave Grusin and Randy Crawford. All of these artists played a huge part on Harvey’s 1975 solo debut album Marching In The Street. And it was an album that really started right off with a bang with it’s monster title song.
Harvey starts out the song playing a steady,unaccompanied march which gradually adds funkier snare accents before Rainey’s bass chimes in along with Grusin’s electric piano. Ernie Watts,George Bohannon,Bobby Bryant and Oscar Brashear provide the accenting horn charts. By this point,Harvey’s playing both a double time drum solo-one very funky and a straight march along with a whistle. Watts adds a melodic Piccolo flute while the collective lead vocals (including Crawford) sing the repeated choruses and chants and along a round,muted trumpet solo. As the song progresses,the marching rhythm becomes more prominent before the song fades out with it being unaccompanied again.
Since Harvey Mason’s debut is so thick with heavy funk numbers, it was a bit of a challenge selecting just one. The reason the title song of the album stands out for me is how strongly linked it is with jazz history. From the days of Buddy Bolden’s “gutbucket” music of late 19th century New Orleans,the musical term funk was born at the core of the big four jazz rhythm. These earliest jazz bands were formed in many ways based on dis-guarded horns and drums left over from the Civil War,as well as local marching bands. So the idea of Mason returning this rhythmic concept to his 70’s sounds was sounding the call for the new revolutionary march of funk.
Filed under 1975, bass guitar, Dave Grusin, drums, Ernie Watts, Harvey Mason, horns, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Randy Crawford, Uncategorized
With the passing of Joe Sample in 2014 and Wilton Felder just last year, I had a plan to pay tribute to The Crusaders here in a major way. In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, the music of the Crusaders were a key reference point for everything Henrique Hopkins and myself have done as bloggers. Now today is the birthday of Randy Crawford. Her own solo body of work contains some strong funk,soul and jazzy pop on it’s own. But it was through the Crusaders that I even discovered that she existed. To goes back to listening to that double Crusaders cassette at age 14 in the car stereo with my father. One of those albums was 1979’s Street Life. And it’s title song.
A brushing cymbal opens the song-joined shortly by a soulful sax solo from Wilton. After that the strings come into play as the main melodic theme that Randy is singing-along with Sample’s accents on the Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes. After the strings fade out,the song pauses for two seconds before the scaling horn charts and drums introduce the main body of the song. This main body of the song features Stix Hooper’s disco friendly funky shuffle that swings along at a thick 112 beats per minute. EWF’s Roland Bautista is one of the guitarists providing a liquid rhythm guitar in fine rhythmic harmony with Wilton’s popping bass line.
At the conclusion of each refrain,the strings come back into play as the rhythm increases in strength. The percussion and the horn charts accessorize the melody even further on the chorus of the song. After these,a second whole refrain chimes in. Here the liquid guitar pulses along with the low swing of the cymbal based percussive groove behind it while the strings scale over and around it. The next part of the song features the main body featuring Wilton improvising the vocal chorus on sax. After Randy comes in for another vocal chorus,the second refrain concludes the album. The percussion evolves into a marching drum in this section as the song fades out.
Over twenty years of listening to this song has engendered a huge growth process for my musical ear. At the time I first heard it,I was listening to a lot of late 70’s and early 80’s Jacksons/Michael Jackson. And heard a lot of sonic similarities while listening to this song. Of course with the participation of percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,plus the Crusaders participation on many early 70’s Jackson 5 records that comes as no surprise now. Instrumentally,it’s nearly 12 minute length blends the jazz orchestration of people such as Gil Evans with the band disco era jazz/funk rhythms. The addition of additional session musicians into the brew further beefs up the core Crusaders sound as well.
Another friend of mine named Calvin Lincoln hosts a TV program called Soul School in Vallejo,California on Saturday evenings. One time he and Henrique did an episode together following Joe Sample’s passing discussing how many records different Crusaders played on throughout the 70’s as session musicians. That really bought out what a clean,well oiled sound this song had. As Henrique also once pointed out to me, this song has the aural vibe of a slick OG walking down an urban downtown sidewalk after dark. It’s one of the finest,most multi faceted examples of funky jazz/pop/soul and a defining moment for both the Crusaders and Randy Crawford.
Filed under 1970's, Calvin Lincoln, disco funk, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Randy Crawford, Roland Bautista, Soul School TV, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Uncategorized, Wilton Felder