Celebrated saxophonist Maceo Parker brings his 75th-birthday celebration and newest album, “It’s All About Love”, to Jazz Alley Aug. 16-19.
Celebrated saxophonist Maceo Parker has spent more than 50 years playing steadily with some of the most important musicians of the 20th century. To the outside world, he’s a legend. To Parker, it was just meant to be.
Parker brings his 75th-birthday celebration and newest album, “It’s All About Love,” to Jazz Alley Aug. 16-19. With this 12th solo studio album and milestone birthday, the new release has the feel of coming full circle.
“It’s All About Love” soars with Parker’s signature raw, soulful voice and saxophone playing, as well as upbeat, funky band arrangements. Each of the tracks on the album has the word “love” in the title — classics from “Love the One You’re With” to the tender “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.”
“Well, you know, you turn on the news and there’s all this crazy stuff. And I came up with this idea, I mean, golly — there just is not enough love going on in the world,” Parker said. “I was born Valentine’s Day in 1943. Now you get me. I was born into the love. This is the way I’m going out, I’m going to be pushing love.”
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Parker grew up in Kinston, North Carolina, where he still lives today. He’s the second of three sons. They were always around music; Parker’s parents sang in the church choir and rehearsed often at home, and his uncle had a jazz band called The Blue Notes.
Parker, his brother Kellis, who played trombone, and Melvin, who played drums, gigged throughout high school together. Later, Parker and Melvin both ended up at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In 1964, 21-year-old Parker and Melvin got it in their heads that they’d both get hired by James Brown. About a year before, Brown had heard Melvin’s drumming at a local nightclub and offered him a job on the spot. When they heard of Brown coming back to town, they drove to the local venue, The Coliseum, and waited for him.
Eventually, James Brown showed up in his limo. He recognized Melvin.
“We’re getting ready to walk off to the dressing room when I clear my throat, and my brother says, ‘Oh, and Mr. Brown, I’d like you to meet my brother, he’s a sax player and he needs a job, too,’” said Parker. “The first thing James Brown ever said to me was, ‘do you play baritone sax?’ ”
The rest is history. Parker would play in James Brown’s band on and off for the next 30 years, when he wasn’t playing with Parliament Funkadelic, Prince or churning out meaty R&B albums of his own.
“James’ concept was, any time he had an idea, he would rush to the nearest radio station. He didn’t care what time it was because he was James Brown. He’d rush us to the radio station and we’d have a groove going and we’d make stuff up. So now we get to a little vamp, and then now’s the time for solos, and he didn’t want to stop the groove to tell who’s soloing — so now he’s thinking who will play the sax solo?” Parker described. “Then he sings, “I want you to blow, Maceo!”
This would become something Brown did routinely to signify solos in his songs. As this iconic music spread around the world, so did Parker’s name, paving the way for the success of his future solo career.
Nowadays, Parker tours a little less than half the year with his own material and frequently fills in for his hero, Ray Charles, in the Ray Charles Orchestra, with a voice and sense of phrasing uncannily similar to the late master’s.
“Sometimes when I’m in front of that Ray Charles band, I think about the fact that I was into him and he’s gone and that I get the chance to do this and carry his music on, and I get choked up,” Parker said. “It’s the love thing, it’s coming to the realization of what life is: I mean, just make somebody smile.”
Maceo Parker, 7:30 and 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 19; Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave., Seattle; $40.50; jazzalley.com