Interview: Maceo Parker

Saxophonist Maceo Parker brings a funk legacy to Tokyo, Osaka on Japan visit

Maceo Parker will be carrying a heavy load of history on his shoulders when he visits Japan for a string of gigs this month, but you wouldn’t know it from his carefree attitude.

The 71-year-old musician is best known for his seminal sax work with James Brown’s legendary funk lineups of the 1960s, and George Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic outfits in the ’70s.

“I smile when I reminisce about the early years, and feel lucky that I came up with James Brown, and that I can quote names like Brown and George Clinton, which sort of led to me being where I am today,” he tells The Japan Times. “So in the words of James Brown, ‘I feel good!’ ”

More recently, Parker has been a regular fixture in Prince’s touring ensemble as well as touring with his own combo. But with a history that has also included collaborations with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bootsy Collins and Ray Charles, there’s no point trying to play down the past.

“I’m doing a little bit of James Brown, a little bit of George Clinton, a little bit of Ray Charles, and a little bit more of Maceo,” he says of the shows in Japan.

Parker’s rhythmic horn blowing and inspired soloing made him a vital cog in Brown’s band.

“He felt that my style of playing was equal to his style of performing and when he needed time to leave the stage — to change clothes for example — he felt comfortable putting the spotlight on me,” Parker recalls. The interchange between them even became encoded into a catchphrase: “Maceo, I want you to blow!”

Parker says there is no secret to his technique, it’s just his style.

“Just to play loose and swinging, just to play that way,” he says. “It’s easy for me to hear funky rhythms.”

Parker says when he gets to a new city, the night he performs usually comprises two separate 90-minute sets. He readies himself with a regular routine.

“I exercise, I walk and then I try to find a place to play saxophone for at least an hour-and-a-half,” he says. “While I play, I don’t stand still; exercise and playing are vital to keep me in shape.”

Pacing is also important. Despite his slogan of “2 percent jazz, 98 percent funky stuff,” Parker has developed a diverse and sophisticated repertoire, embracing many aspects of funk, soul, jazz and even a little gospel. His excellent 2007 album Roots & Grooves had a funk side and a Ray Charles tribute side as well. This variety brings its own challenges.

“It’s hard to satisfy 100 percent of audiences — I found that out,” he says. “Everyone has a favorite tune. Once you start the show, after an hour or an hour-and-a-half all the time has gone, so hopefully in that time frame you have managed to satisfy as many people as you possibly can.”

Colin Liddell
Japan Times
1st April, 2014
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