Maceo feels the funk, even in thin air
Saxophone maestro Maceo Parker’s brand of party-friendly funk always fit in well with the skier’s ethic in Aspen.
“Once you finish your ski day, you just want to party,” the funk veteran said. After a long day on the slopes or even just toiling away at the office, everyone needs to let loose a bit ” and Parker’s fusion of “2 percent jazz and 98 percent funky stuff” is just the way to do it.
“Funky music fits that mode of party better than any of those other forms,” Parker said. “Funky has an element that says party, party, feel good.”
The Kinston, N.C., native returns to Aspen today for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival, where he played for several consecutive years. But the past few years, Parker has been noticeably absent. It’s nothing personal, Parker said ” it’s just that Aspen’s thin air isn’t the easiest place for a saxophonist to play.
“My breathing up there isn’t that good anymore,” he said. “[But] somehow you get through it.”
Parker also recalled making the trek through the mountains in the snow to play shows in Aspen. But that’s an idea he doesn’t relish much these days.
“Then it got kinda crazy” slipping around on snow and ice, he said. “I don’t want to do snow driving, snow stuff anymore.”
Parker got his start in music with the iconic James Brown ” known for his on-stage cry of, “Maceo, I want you to blow!” ” and later went on to play with other funk legends such as George Clinton. He heard tons of different music from an early age ” but none quite made him shake like the funky stuff could.
He listened to jazz, swing, ballads, gospel and a bit of everything else growing up. But he always listened a little closer when the saxophone would take over a song. And the special feeling he couldn’t always find in jazz or swing music he found in funk.
“You can learn to play jazz, but you can’t learn to play funk. You have to feel funky,” Parker said. “It’s almost like dancing … you either have a rhythm for dancing or you don’t. I think funky is a little more close to feeling than anything.”
After playing for years with other funky fellows, Parker decided it was time to form his own group in the 1990s. As he got older and his old bandmates were replaced with younger ones, Parker said, it just made sense to lead his own band.
“I kind of felt like that was the way I was supposed to go,” Parker said. “It sort of just falls in place, like a domino effect.”
His experience allowed him to appeal to a wide range of fans who followed him as part of other bands. But Parker has always loved what he does, which is why he continues to dazzle fans even beyond the age of 60.
He said many people are told what they should do because they’d be good at that particular profession or they’d make a lot of money. His decision was motivated by passion.
“I chose it out of love,” Parker said. “I really do enjoy and love performing.”
His live show is a long one, filled with sounds from the mini-orchestra he puts together on stage. Parker says he works hard to make sure people hear the practice his band of 15 years puts in.
“That’s what I tried not to do … is seem like we’re just getting together for this concert,” he said. “They didn’t just rehearse today to do this concert.”
There are many sounds working simultaneously to create that funk on stage, but Parker says he’s able to keep it organized because he can lead, and his band will follow his cues. And he credits his musicians for being able to work as a cohesive unit.
“When you have a group … you have to be able to show that you’re not just a great group of musicians getting together,” Parker said.
But Parker also knows how much he relies on the fans, and he doesn’t hesitate to mention how much he hopes they enjoy his shows. And how he feels about them can be summed up with the words he uses to close every show:
“On behalf of all of us, we love you.”
Greg Schreier’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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The city of Aspen and Pitkin County are partnering to buy a 274-acre tract of land off McLain Flats for $10 million on property owned by longtime residents Carolyn and Tom Moore.