The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) will honor songwriter, composer, producer, arranger and entertainment industry legend Quincy Jones with the ASCAP Founders Award during its 25th Annual Rhythm & Soul Music Awards. The invitation-only event will take place on Friday, June 29th, 2012, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
The ASCAP Founders Award is among the most prestigious honors that ASCAP gives to songwriters and composers who have made pioneering contributions to music by inspiring and influencing their fellow music creators. Each recipient is a musical innovator who possesses a unique style of creative genius that will enrich generations to come.
Past recipients include Sean “Diddy” Combs, Rod Stewart, Dr. Dre, Patti Smith, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Smokey Robinson, Paul McCartney, Ashford & Simpson, and Berry Gordy Jr. & Motown Industries.
Named by TIME Magazine as one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century, Quincy Jones’s career in the entertainment industry has spanned an impressive six decades, during which time he’s played the role of composer, record producer, artist, film producer, arranger, conductor, instrumentalist, TV producer, record company executive, magazine founder, multi-media entrepreneur and humanitarian.
Jones has earned a record 79 Grammy nominations and won a total of 27, and the celebrated Grammy Living Legend Award in 1991. One of the most prolific record producers ever, Jones has worked with countless music legends, including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis and Céline Dion, among many others. Perhaps most notable, however, is his work in producing both the historic “We Are the World” charity single and pop icon Michael Jackson’s Thriller. “We Are the World,” which Jones also conducted, went on to become the fastest and best-selling American pop song of all time, with sales in excess of 20 million copies. Similarly, Thriller has sold an estimated 110 million copies worldwide since its release in 1982, making it the single best-selling album of all time. As a record company executive, Jones remains highly active in the recording field as the guiding force behind his own Qwest Records.
Written by David A. Mitchell
Superfly’s Big Score
By Tim Sheridan
Superfly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
By Tim Sheridan
The hero of blaxploitation cinema strutted across the urban landscape of the 70s looking clean and carrying a large can of Whupass. He (or she, in the case of sisters like Coffy or Cleopatra Jones) was usually a streetwise private eye righting the wrongs of the Man, but he would take out a brother or two if they stood in his way. The fire in his belly was eased only by his woman’s love or the inevitable big payback: pumping major heat into some diabolical ofay. Case closed.
Ask the casual moviegoer to name one of the genre’s classics and he’ll probably come up with Shaft (1971), Trouble Man (1972), or Superfly (1972), not because any of them are examples of carefully crafted mise-en-scene (perhaps the only critical hit of the genre is Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) but because they groove. After all, blaxploitation flicks, perhaps more than any other kind of movie, are inextricably linked to a specific type of sound track: stone-cold funky soul. How could our hero hook up with a pimp informer, chase some junkie down an alley, or get righteous loving without a symphony of bongos, brass, and wahwah? At its best the music aided and abetted the hero’s gangsta pose, lending extra luster to his full-length leather coat.
But while all three of these films had great sound tracks, only one of them actually increased the film’s dramatic impact and thematic complexity: Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly. Now a two-CD, 25th-anniversary edition, including alternate tracks and an interview with Mayfield, documents his essential contribution to the enduring myth of the player, that elusive mix of superhero and pimp, devil and savior. Unlike Isaac Hayes’s music for Shaft or Marvin Gaye’s music for Trouble Man, Mayfield’s Superfly reaches past the urban stereotype, exploring the human frailty that gives all myths their power.
Shaft might not be remembered at all if not for Hayes’s Oscar-winning score; its sultry instrumentals and lean grooves animate a weak story: detective John Shaft crashes through windows, shoots a few bad guys, and rescues a damsel in distress. Director Gordon Parks tosses in a few stereotyped hustlers and thugs for “gritty realism,” but Hayes’s ode to “the black private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks” makes the film, cementing the blaxploitation hero’s place in popular culture. But the banal lyrics of this classic theme betray the film’s emptiness.
Trouble Man is a Shaft rip-off: the long forgotten Robert Hooks plays Mr. ‘T,’ another private eye stuck between the mob and a hard place. Again, the sound track is the film’s sole redeeming factor. Marvin Gaye came up with something far more moody than Hayes’s thick grooves, suggesting a depth the film lacks. The single from the album, “Trouble Man” (not to be confused with “Main Theme From Trouble Man,” “Theme From Trouble Man,” “‘T’ Stands for Trouble,” or “Don’t Mess With Mr. ‘T'”), is a soul masterpiece, easing into your consciousness with a gentle cymbal tap before Gaye’s sweetest falsetto tells it like it is: “I’ve come up hard, babe–but now I’m cool.” While Hayes praises Shaft from a distance, Gaye narrates in the first person, offering at least a hint of back story. For Mr. ‘T’ there are “only three things that’s for sure / Taxes, death, and trouble.” Mr. ‘T’ may not be an existential hero, but in Gaye’s song his braggadocio echoes uncertainly.
Yet only Curtis Mayfield’s sound track to Superfly presents a hero in full-blown psychic confusion. It spawned two hit singles, “Superfly” and “Freddie’s Dead (Theme from ‘Superfly’).” Both songs went gold, and Mayfield won a special award for selling more than 840,000 eight-track copies of the album. Mayfield’s knack for the soul hook made hits of the album and the film, but his songs also struck a nerve with audiences, an impressive achievement given his source material.
Superfly is a chore to watch, badly acted and awkwardly constructed. What it lacks in finesse it makes up for in nerve: we first meet our hero, a pusher called Priest, snorting from a cruciform coke spoon with a nude white woman by his side. Hallelujah! But Priest wants nothing more than to quit dealing. His partner, Eddie, can’t understand. “Give all of this up?” Eddie exclaims. “Eight-track stereo, color TV in every room, and can snort a half a piece of dope every day? That’s the American dream, nigger.” But Priest is determined to get away, and take his woman with him (not the Caucasian seen earlier but a sister who loves him for the man he is inside). Ironically, if he wants to escape for good he’ll have to make one last score in the only game the Man will let him play. “Work at some jive job for chump change for the rest of my life?” he asks. “If that’s the way it’s gonna be, they’d better kill me now.”
This ham-handed story plays out far more elegantly in the sound track. Mayfield took his task seriously, working within the idiom to create songs that sound as fresh today as they did a quarter century ago. “You always have to walk that fine line of creativity, what the fad is and what the timely music is,” he says in the expanded edition’s interview. Mayfield got a copy of the script before the film was shot, and rather than develop a theme song and incidental music (as Hayes and Gaye had done), he worked from the spine of the story, writing a song for each main character.
The Freddie of “Freddie’s Dead” is a bagman for Priest, saddled with a habit but devoted to his wife. When the police catch him, he spills his guts. They release him, but Freddie is a marked man; he ends up getting run over by a car. “Freddie’s Dead” is more heartbreaking than the scenario that plays out on-screen. Over a killer bass line, airy flute, and muted horns Mayfield portrays Freddie as a good person who was hoodwinked: “Let the Man / Rap a plan / Said he’d send him home / But his hope / Was a rope / And he should have known.” Mayfield rails against the tragic end of this relatively minor character, left literally for dead in the film. “Why can’t we brothers / Protect one another? / No one’s serious / And it makes me furious! / Don’t be misled / Just think of Fred.” Unfortunately the film uses only an instrumental version of the song.
While “Freddie’s Dead” mines the latent power of a minor character, “Eddie You Should Know Better” offers a revelation about Priest’s partner not found in the script. After Eddie betrays his friend, Mayfield’s lovely ballad brings Eddie’s family into the mix. “Think of the tears and fears / You bring to your folks back home / They’d say, ‘Where did he go wrong, / My Lord?'” With a single verse this cardboard character becomes much more complex.
On “Pusherman” Mayfield pulls out all the stops to dissect the myth of the player. He begins with a boasting rap: “I’m your Mama / I’m your Daddy / I’m that nigga / In the alley / I’m your doctor when in need / Want some coke? / Have some weed.” Priest, as the pusherman, is both salvation and damnation for those he services, and as a result he shares an odd relationship with his customers. “Feed me money for style / And I’ll let you trip for a while.” This is no typical antidrug anthem, especially when the pusherman cries out, “Been told I can’t be nothin’ else / Just a hustler in spite of myself / I know I can break it / This life just don’t make it.” Once again Mayfield creates sympathy where the film offers only flash.
In addition to its musical invention and lyrical power, Superfly reveals the love for humanity that has always distinguished Mayfield’s music. His careful examination of character makes the sound track rather incongruous in the blaxploitation genre. Isaac Hayes offers a slick black detective and Gaye a flimsy Trouble Man, but Mayfield gives us real, vital people filled with anger, pain, and hope. “Remember, Freddie’s dead,” Mayfield reminds us in one of the expanded edition’s antidrug radio spots, recorded during the 70s. There are no heroes in Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, only everyday people trying to get by.
The Guy Behind the Guy Behind Superfly
Whether you know it or not, you’ve heard the work of Chicago’s Soul architect Johnny Pate.
By Bob Mehr
In 1963 Johnny Pate and Curtis Mayfield were flying from Chicago to New York for a recording session. Pate had already arranged a few tunes for Mayfield’s group the Impressions, beginning a collaboration that would eventually produce some of the greatest soul and R & B ever recorded, but he had doubts about his future in music.
“At that point I was still very skeptical about the business,” Pate says. “I wasn’t sure where the next gig was going to come from. I didn’t know if the telephone was gonna ring again. And Curtis predicted it, he said, ‘Hey man, don’t worry. You’re gonna be making money a long time.'”
More than 40 years later, Pate–now 81 and semiretired in Las Vegas–is still supporting himself with royalties from the enormous catalog of recordings he had a hand in as an arranger, composer, producer, or session bassist. He produced B.B. King and Jimmy Smith, played with Sam Cooke and the Staple Singers, and of course arranged for Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Wes Montgomery, and others too numerous to count. He was one of the chief architects of Chicago soul, and his imaginative horn and orchestral arrangements influenced the sound at Stax, Motown, and Philadelphia International, among other labels. But Pate has stayed out of the spotlight, never angling for acclaim, and as a result he’s been all but forgotten since he left the music business in 1983.
Hip-hop, rap, and acid-jazz artists have been carrying a torch for Pate for years, though–he’s been sampled or name-checked by everyone from DJ Premier to DJ Shadow–and lately he’s been getting some overdue recognition from music historians and record labels too. This winter Rhino released Mayfield: Remixed, where Pate’s arrangements get the dance-floor treatment from the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Mix Master Mike, and Louie Vega. This spring the Hip-O Select reissue label released Pate’s soul-funk sound track to the 1973 film Shaft in Africa, considered by many to be as good or better than Isaac Hayes’s music for the original, and Pate’s theme song for the movie appeared on the companion CD to Jeff Chang’s recent hip-hop history, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop.
Born and raised in Chicago Heights, Pate took up his first instrument–the tuba–in sixth grade. “I was such a scrawny little kid, my mom had to carry the tuba for me,” he says, laughing. In 1942 he was drafted into the army, where his musical training immediately paid off. “The band at the infantry training center where I was stationed needed a tuba player. When I found that out, I thought, ‘Hell, this looks better than toting a rifle around,'” he says. “So I honed up on it real quick.”
Pate also picked up the bass in the army band, and after his discharge in 1946 he briefly kicked around in a few Atlantic City jazz combos, then returned to Chicago to study at the now defunct Midwestern Conservatory of Music. “But I never finished school, because every time I would get a call to go play out on the road I’d leave,” he says. Fortunately he didn’t need much formal education to master his trade. “Anything that I hear I can write down,” he says. “I suppose I was born with that.”
By the late 50s Pate was gigging and recording with his own jazz trio. In 1958 the group had a top-20 R & B hit with a version of Moe Koffman’s “Swinging Shepherd Blues,” which helped Pate get work as a session bassist. His first job as an arranger was an especially auspicious collaboration: “The Monkey Time,” a 1963 hit for Major Lance, was written by a young Curtis Mayfield and produced by future Chicago soul kingpin Carl Davis, who’d go on to run the Brunswick and Dakar labels.
Pate would have his longest and most significant working relationship with Mayfield. Their first hit together was the Impressions’ 1963 single “It’s All Right,” and for the next nine years Pate would be Mayfield’s regular arranger. Their last collaboration was the smash sound track to the 1972 movie Superfly, for which Pate also wrote two instrumental cuts.
In 1964 he was hired as in-house producer at the new Chicago offices of ABC-Paramount, the label handling the Impressions, and his first assignment was to come up with a project for B.B. King. “He’d never done a live record and I just thought that would be an ideal setting for him,” says Pate. The resulting LP, Live at the Regal–the first of a series of hits King and Pate would have together in the 60s–is now recognized as one of the greatest live blues albums ever.
In the late 60s, after more than 40 years in Chicago, Pate moved to New York and returned to his roots in jazz, working for MGM/Verve with artists like Stan Getz, Jimmy Smith, and Phil Woods. MGM’s film studio was producing the “Shaft” series, and the company approached him to do the sound track not just for Shaft in Africa but for a short-lived TV series spun off from the movies. Pate also composed music for several lower-profile blaxploitation films in the 70s, and two of the sound tracks–to Brother on the Run and Bucktown–have been reissued in the past four years.
In the mid-70s, attracted by the prospect of more sound-track work, he moved to Los Angeles. By the end of the decade his client list included the Bee Gees, Muddy Waters, Peabo Bryson, and Gil Scott-Heron–but Pate decided to slow down. Though his three children from his first marriage were grown, he had a young son with his second wife, and the couple didn’t want to raise him in LA. Pate was also wary of the changes overtaking the music business. “Things were getting electronic,” he says. “I’ve always been very loyal to musicians, and I like to do things acoustically. So when they began putting guys out of work with synthesizers I decided it was time to get away.”
Pate moved to Las Vegas in 1983 and took up the quiet life of a retiree, only occasionally picking up an odd job with an old friend like Jimmy Smith or Joe Williams. In 1996 the manager of NPR outlet KUNV, Don Fuller, coaxed him into hosting a weekly radio show called The Mellow Moods of Jazz, but Pate doesn’t even identify himself by name on the air–the station bills him as “the Maestro.” In 2000 the jazz ensemble at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas approached Pate about recording a CD of his work, and the project ballooned into a live concert and recording session in March 2003, which doubled as an 80th birthday party for Pate. An all-star cast of friends and collaborators, including jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell and singer Shirley Horn, performed at the gala, and the recording was released on the TNC label last year.
Currently Pate’s teaching a course on film scoring at UNLV, but after his long and fruitful life in music he doesn’t need to work to get by. “Someone once paid me a hell of a compliment. They said they couldn’t believe that I’d put four kids through college being a musician,” he says. “But I’ve been very fortunate in the business, I really have.”
Extracted from the Chicago Reader