The audience was already on its feet before funk legend Maceo Parker appeared on stage.
The saxophonist, known for his solos in James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Cold Sweat,” was greeted by standing ovation Saturday night at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
Under low lighting, members of Parker’s backing band set up a light rhythmic groove. Then, joined by Maceo himself, the group launched full-force into his self-described “98 percent funky stuff, 2 percent jazz” sound.
Parker and his band, the WDR Big Band from Cologne, Germany, paid extensive homage to funk pioneers James Brown and George Clinton with spin-offs of “Make it Funky” and “Mothership Connection.”
Once a sideman to Brown and Clinton in the 1960s and 1970s, Parker went on to pursue a solo recording career in the 1990s. In his multi-decade career as a sideman he was scouted out to play with the Dave Matthews Band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Prince, who even affectionately referred to Parker as “the Teacher.”
Brown also recognized Parker’s technical prowess on the baritone, tenor and alto saxophones with a famous catchphrase: “Maceo, blow your horn.”
In between numbers on Saturday, Parker encouraged the audience to remember the artists who came before him.
“Everyone, please, would you give it up for James Brown?” he said.
Audience member Elizabeth Bartlett said she grew up listening to Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, also known as P-Funk, the psychedelic and dance-focused music pioneered by George Clinton in the mid-‘70s.
“My father was real into it,” Bartlett said. “You feel like you’re entering into another era when you hear Maceo play.”
Unlike George Clinton’s stage presence, which could involve space-suit attire and a 1,200-pound aluminum spaceship, Parker’s was simple and subtle.
“I was just thinking up here, you’ve got to be careful for what you wish for these days,” Parker said to the crowd. “That time you enter college? It comes back to visit a lot. Very, very young, I heard Cannonball Adderly play. I thought, ‘Golly, wouldn’t it be nice to visit all these places like he does?’ Somehow I got kind of lucky.”
The 73-year-old maintains an active touring schedule today. With the WDR Big Band, he plans to make stops in New York City, Chicago and Munich this spring.
Throughout the night, WDR keyboardist Frank Chastenier and trombonist Andy Hunter segued into solo sections. After long spans of hard-hitting drums and pyrotechnical guitar riffs, the two hit a softer and more intimate note.
At times Parker moved about the stage in a dream-like trance, visibly swayed by these solos. His signature move — a robotic shuffle and spin — evoked the P-Funk era.
BCT executive director Danielle McClellan said she had always been fascinated by Parker’s style.
“When I first heard him blow the horn the way he does, I wanted to know more,” McClellan said.
Parker, a native of Kinston, North Carolina, was previously inducted into North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. In 2012 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from Les Victoires du Jazz in Paris.
“It’s all about love,” Parker said of his career. “Love is not rocket science. It comes from the heart.”
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