Sax legend Maceo Parker likes to clear up any misperceptions when he performs in concert. Don't expect a jazz concert, he informs folks, because they're about to experience some serious funk.
"Sometimes people are confused when they see the instrument, and a lot of times we're invited to jazz festivals," Parker explains. "I love jazz, I'm not knocking it. I'll play an up-tempo section of 'Satin Doll, with the keyboard player, real fast, and out of that we'll go into some funk."
Fronting what he likes to call "the tightest little funk orchestra on Earth," Parker's signature sax style has ignited some of the greatest soul/funk tunes and albums, from James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)," to Parliament-Funkadelic's "Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk!)," and more recently, Prince's brilliant "One Night Alone Live."
When Prince introduced Parker in December at the opening of the "Welcome 2 Canada" tour, he hailed the saxophonist as "the baddest man in show business." And back in the '60s, he was immortalized by the Godfather of Soul, who would often call out, "Maceo, I want you to blow!"
So how does this musical legend rate his stature in the halls of funk royalty?
"I'm recognized by saxophone players who are interested in playing funky," he says humbly. "I've influenced a few."
* Maceo Parker performs with his band at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Yokouchi Pavilion Courtyard. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 show day (plus applicable fees) with open seating. Call the MACC box office at 242-7469 or order online at MauiArts.org.
Raised in a musical family, Parker was studying at the University of South Carolina when he was hired by James Brown. The soul great had first been impressed by Maceo's brother, Melvin Parker, a drummer who was offered a job once he completed college.
"The night he met my brother, he said, 'When you're not a student I'd love to have you play with me.' About a year later we decided to get out of school. We met him in Greensborough, and the first thing James Brown said to me was, 'Do you play baritone sax?' I knew you could answer the question negatively or positively. If I said no, he would forget about me so I had to say yes to whatever he asked. At the time tenor sax was my major, but I said, 'Yes sir.' Then he said, 'Do you own a baritone sax?' 'Yes sir.' 'Then you can have a job.' We were very proud that night, two people from the same family about to join James Brown. We were both overwhelmed."
He went on to contribute to a stream of legendary soul songs from "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" to "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine."
"It was an amazing experience and there was a lot of pride too," he says. "I had wanted to play on that level and travel and be part of something that big."
From Brown's soul train, Parker then jumped aboard George Clinton's funk extravaganza and grooved with Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band.
In the 1990s, he began concentrating on his own projects, releasing the successful solo albums "Roots Revisited" (which spent 10 weeks at the top of Billboard's Jazz Chart) "Mo' Roots" and the amazing live "Life on Planet Groove," featuring a reteaming with former James Brown Band horn players "Pee Wee" Ellis and Fred Wesley. On his most recent album, "Roots & Grooves," recorded live with Germany's renowned WDR Big Band, he paid tribute to Ray Charles.
Prince first invited the saxophonist to collaborate with him on the "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" album in 1999. Since then, his tours with Prince include "Musicology" in 2004, "The Earth Tour," "21 Nites" in London in 2007, and he played the historic Prince concert on Maui at the MACC in 2003.
"It's very exciting and I feel very honored to be in his company and be that close to him onstage," he says. "Sometimes I can hardly believe it. Out of all the sax players, to be touring with him whenever I can, gives me the green light."
Performing on Maui with a seven-piece band, including two back-up singers, the veteran saxophonist continues to enthrall audiences around the world.
"Parker led his red-hot group through nearly three hours of blazing funk music," praised a recent JamBase review. "All of the band's illustrious players had a chance to showcase their talents with dynamic solos by the time Parker and the band launched into a frenzied finale, a medley including 'Pass The Peas,' 'Soul Power' and 'Sex Machine,' nearly everyone in the audience was dancing about the venue."
After close to 50 years of recording and touring, Parker still delights in playing that funky music.
"I chose the funky side because there's no restriction. You don't have to be quiet and sit there and listen," he concludes. "If you feel like getting your dance on and clapping your hands and just party, party! It's really good with that funky music. It's for the people, not to the people. And it's love that really keeps me going. I still love performing and playing in front of people."
The MACC's Solo Session series features Na Palapali's Kuana Torres Kahele at 7:30 tonight in the McCoy Studio Theater.
Last year he released his first solo album, the extraordinarily beautiful "Kauanaloa." It was inspired by a promise he made to his hanai mom, his late grandmother, who had wanted him to record a solo album before joining a group.
Raised in Hilo, he began composing, arranging and playing traditional Hawaiian music at an early age, and was inducted at 15 by kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho as one of the musicians for Halau Ka Ua Kani Lehua. Kahele formed the multi-award winning Na Palapalai with Kehau Tamure in 1995.
His superb solo album features a primarily original collection of Hawaiian compositions celebrating his family heritage. A multitalented artist, he played almost all the instruments and sang most of the vocal parts on the recording.
* Tickets are $25 standard and $45 VIP, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC as above.
For years Blackie and Sara Gadarian provided a venue for jazz fans at Blackie's Bar in Lahaina. After a hiatus of 17 years, the couple are once again featuring straight-ahead jazz in Lahaina, during January and February. The first event will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Timba nightclub, 505 Front St. Gene Argel on the B3, heads a six-piece band, with Michael Buono on drums, Shiro Mori on guitar, Marcus Johnson on bass and Shea Argel on vocals. Special guest, Chicago saxophonist Eric Schneider, will sit in.
A former member of Count Basie's Orchestra, Schneider recorded three albums with the jazz legend, including the Grammy-winning "88 Basie Street," and backed such great artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett.
"Sara and I have been musically starved for real straight-ahead jazz as it was played in our Blackie's Bar from 1981 to 1995," says Blackie Gadarian. "So we are bringing it back ourselves."
* Admission is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For tickets, call 667-7979 or visit www.mauiblackie.com online.
Among other funk and jazz events this weekend, the Four Seasons Resorts on Lanai will host the free second annual Lanai Jazz Festival Friday through Sunday, with singer/trumpeter headliner Skip Martin, who was one of the highlights at the Grand Waileas's jazz fest last year.
Other musicians performing include the jazz ukulele duo Benny Chong and Byron Yasui, saxophonist David Choy, guitarists Benny Uyetake and Robbie Ray and the Jazz Alley TV trio featuring Sal Godinez, Doug White and Paul Marchetti.
A former lead vocalist with Kool and the Gang, Martin won a Grammy for his work with The Dazz Band. He currently tours with two all-star ensembles featuring the lead singers of top-selling bands - from the funk era in United We Funk and the classic rock group Starship & Friends with Starship's Mickey Thomas, Survivor's Jimi Jamison and Toto's Bobby Kimball.
Among the Lanai events, the musicians will play the Manele Bay from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and The Lodge at Koele from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday.
Performing tunes from their CD "SoulFire Radio," the Freeradicals Projekt brings its funky hip-hop grooves to Stella Blues Caf on Friday evening. The night also features renowned British DJ Paul Gotel spinning the latest dance tunes from 9 p.m.
* Tickets are $15 advance, $20 at the door. Presale tickets available at Request Music, the Wine Corner and Choice Health Bar.