KEEFE MARZELL AND VINTAGE
Keefe Marzell and Vintage insist that the music they create have two crucial elements -- a spiritual connection and a high emotional content. On their debut album, DRAWN WINDOWS, they play smooth jazz like it is seldom heard by fusing it with an eclectic mix of various styles including funk, R&B, hip-hop, fusion and gospel.
“The group is called Vintage,” explains Marzell, “because underneath the smooth jazz melodies, all of our music has an old-school funk feel. Everything we do is groove-based – not just rhythmic, but groovin’. In addition to that, most of the musicians on the album have played with contemporary Christian acts and gospel artists as well as in church, so there is a lot of spirituality in this music. But no matter what our backgrounds are, we all know that to really connect with listeners we have to play with emotion. That’s what makes all the difference.”
For more information on Keefe Marzell and Vintage, go to www.keefemarzell.com Their CD, DRAWN WINDOWS, is distributed by RED/SONY and can be purchased at record stores nationwide or online at various sales sites such as amazon.com and cdbaby.com.
DRAWN WINDOWS is Marzell’s vision. He played drums and keyboards, produced, arranged and engineered the album along with co-writing most of the material. Marzell’s background includes playing drums on tours with such top smooth jazz artists as Bob James, Kirk Whalum and Marion Meadows; R&B act New Birth; and Christian groups such as Edwin Hawkins, Commissioned, Donald Vale, and The Clark Sisters.
On DRAWN WINDOWS, Marzell surrounded himself with top musicians. The other half of the Vintage rhythm section is bassist Terome “T-Bone” Hannon (Jewel, The Judds, Amy Grant, The Boys Choir of Harlem), who played with Marzell regularly for the past two decades (including their own wild’n’funky R&B group, Raw), but who died of a brain aneurysm the day after they finished recording DRAWN WINDOWS. The album ends with a tribute to him, “Goodbye Terome,” a studio jam featuring his bass playing. The other core member of Vintage is keyboardist Marcus Abernathy (The Winans, Tim Bowman, Virtue). In 1996, when Marzell was hired as the musical director to put together a touring band for the group Commissioned, he brought in Hannon and Abernathy. During that two-year tour, the three musicians began writing their own music and developing the sound that became Vintage.
Also on DRAWN WINDOWS are some of Detroit’s finest smooth jazz musicians. Guitarist Tim Bowman (The Winans, Ben Tankard) also played with Commissioned and is a successful recording artist in his own right, as are saxophonists Randy Scott (Grover Washington Jr., Ronnie Laws, Hiroshima) and Norma Jean Bell (Parliament, Narada Michael Walden, Frank Zappa). Also making appearances on the recording are keyboardist Kevin Crosby (New Birth, Alicia Myers, KC & The Sunshine Band, The Dramatics), bassist Jimmy Ali (George Clinton, Parliament, Funkadelic, Earl Klugh) and bassist Prince Edward Tate (he and Marzell grew up together and have performed in their church for many years).
Perhaps the best example of the band’s sound is the tune appropriately titled “Vintage.” “We were definitely going with an old-school rhythm feel that mixes P-Funk with a little reggae and then in the middle lays some Chick Corea-type soloing over the top,” explains Marzell. The CD also contains an extended second version of the tune subtitled “My Prospective” that features a bass solo. “This tune was inspired by a friend of mine, Wayman Tisdale, the former NBA star and now a major jazz artist, who often critiqued my music and encouraged me.”
DRAWN WINDOWS begins with “More Is Pleasure,” a take-off on co-writer Morris Pleasure’s name. Pleasure (Janet Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, Boney James, Michael McDonald) handed Marzell the basic structure of the tune which Keefe crafted into a solid smooth jazz production. Randy Scott penned “Now & Forever” and Keefe brought in his cousin, Tim Slaughter, to sing on it. Marzell first learned the old Christian song “Love Thinking of U” when he was with Commissioned, but here he arranges it as a jazz instrumental. The title tune, according to Marzell, “was meant to be an eclectic but melodic grooving tune with a John Scofield-type of crazy harmony at the ending.” On “New Jack Swing,” Marzell laid down a melodic drum solo and then brought in two rappers to match his cross-rhythms with funny lyrics for “a new take on jazz.” With “Through The Night,” Keefe took an R&B vocal tune by Norma Jean Bell, who is queen of the house sound in Europe, and rearranged it into smooth jazz. The strongly melodic “Enter Slowly” is an attempt to create smooth jazz with an inherent erotic feeling.
Marzell, who also owns and runs Ultra Sounds Studio in Detroit, has written and recorded music for numerous national radio and television advertising campaigns including companies such as Jeep Cherokee, Dominos Pizza, Plymouth Neon Voyager and Red Lobster restaurants. He also engineered recordings for 112, Virtue, Commissioned, Rance Allen Group, Shelby Brown, Marooned and Dennis Coffey (Jackson Five, The Temptations, Rare Earth). Working with Coffey completed a circle for Marzell begun when Keefe started playing drums at age ten and his father insisted he memorize the entire rhythm performance of Rare Earth’s epic 20-plus-minutes-hit “Get Ready.” The next year Keefe made his first public appearance (at a school talent show) and performed Coffey’s “Enter The Dragon” along with Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.”
Marzell was born in Chicago and lived there until he was seven-years-old when his family moved to Detroit. His father also was a drummer. Keefe grew up listening to church music first, jazz second (The Jazz Crusaders, Jimmy Smith) and then R&B/rock (Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Santana, Buddy Miles). As Marzell got a little older, he was influenced by George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic, Jean-Luc Ponty (“his drummer Rayford Griffin was one of my early idols”), John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Narada Michael Walden, and Mint Condition.
Several noteworthy occurrences left their mark on the teenaged Marzell. When he was 16, he joined a group of older musicians playing all summer in clubs. “They taught me to be sensitive to the music and to play dynamically with the music and not just mindlessly keep the beat.” But Keefe broke his neck in gymnastics class, had to learn to walk again and was unable to play music for a year while he recovered. Eventually he studied piano at the local college before getting back into drumming. He became a fulltime professional musician when he toured the United States for two years with Christian act Donald Vale which led to other touring gigs.
After his group Raw was unable to secure a record deal (“they said we were too wild, too undisciplined, too funky”), Marzell felt he hit bottom when he was driving a cab for 12-hour shifts. But he returned to the church, developed his faith and spirituality, “and my life turned around in dramatic fashion.” He was hired by jazz act Marion Meadows (Joe Henderson, Eddie Daniels, Norman Connors) and toured with him for three years (“a very enjoyable and inspirational time”). This led to tours with Bob James, Kirk Whalum (Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones), New Birth (who had a big hit in the Seventies with “Wildflower”) and Commissioned (whose album was produced by Boys 2 Men). Marzell regularly plays in front of 4,000 worshipers at the Greater Grace Temple pentecostal church in Detroit (founded by his late uncle and now headed by his cousin), and performed (with Marcus Abernathy) on the Greater Grace Temple Choir’s GRACE-N-PRAISE album.
“Vintage is a loose grouping of great musicians that came together for this recording and can perform live too,” Marzell says. “Despite the fact that we all have played many types of music during our careers, none of us are specifically singers, so we picked the smooth jazz genre because it is primarily instrumental music and there is a history of R&B and funk incorporated into it. We believe we bring our own particular twist to the whole thing. We start with a deep groove, and then the songs develop through spirituality and emotion.