Norman Connors: The Underrated Jazz-Funk Artist

Norman Connors. This name stands for so much. During the 50 years he has been active, especially since the late 1970-s, he should have been celebrated a lot more than he was, and he should have been more famous in Europe and Asia. “Captain Connors” is one of the last great Jazz-Funk and Soul pioneers alive.

It all started 72 years ago today, on March 1st, 1947, when he was born in Philadelphia. Some years down the road, his interest in Jazz was big. So was his ambition as a young drummer. When Norman Connors was only 13, he met his big idol Miles Davis. Early on, he played with John Coltrane, once. It did not take long until the future Jazz and Funk guru studied at Temple University. From there he moved on to Juilliard in New York City.

In 1967, half a century ago, Norman Connors recorded with Archie Shepp, before joining Pharoah Sanders. Finally, in 1972, it was time for his first own album, entitled “Dance of Magic”. This Contemporary Jazz project featured brilliant pieces as well as fellow artists with big names, at least from today’s perspective. The Brazilian percussion hero Airto Moreira was part of this album. So were Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Gary Bartz and Eddie Henderson.

By 1974, Norman Connors had recorded his fourth album while moving towards Fusion a bit more. And Soul. DeeDee Bridgewater is the one who sang “Love From the Sun” on this brilliant piece of work. Another two years later, Connors recorded some of the most beautiful Soul tunes ever. “We Both Need Each Other”, a romantic tune sung by the late Phyllis Hyman and Michael Henderson, is the most wonderful Soul duet ever recorded. Period. And it wasn’t the last time those two vocalists cooperated on a Norman Connors album.

By now, Norman Connors had come out of the pure Jazz corner. Some of the tunes he had recorded during his Jazz phase were not easy to digest or understand to some. His work now appealed to the much larger Soul community too. The beauty of his compositions and productions proved he was in this for the love of music. Recording Soul ballads was far more than just a strategic decision.

In 1977, when the album “This is Your Life” was released, the Jazz-Funk fever had hit Connors. His brilliant interpretation of “Stella”, the Jazz-Funk instrumental “Captain Connors” and more breathtaking Soul tunes were the ingredients of this one. The album made him one of the big masters of this genre.

Yet another killer Norman Connors album came out in 1981: “Mr. C”. Dammit! What a recording! The title track became an American Jazz-Funk anthem of the most funky kind. It almost sounded like a U.K. import. Beggar & Co. or something like that. “Love’s In Your Corner”, sung by Jean Carn and Derrick Hughes was one of the many Soul highlights on this one, along with “She’s Gone”, sung by Beau Williams.

There is more. With Aquarian Dream, Norman Connors recorded some stunning tunes, including the Disco hit “Phoenix”. And let’s finally get to The Starship Orchestra, another side project. In 1980, at the peak of this planet’s Real Music times, he produced their album “Celestial Sky”. There is one word for this one: brilliant. “You’re a Star” is one of the most convincing Funk tunes ever recorded.

The Starship Orchestra was produced by none other than Norman Connors.

Also they interpreted one of the most breathtaking Fusion pieces ever: “The Genie” by Bobby Lyle, who was even part of the endeavor. Let’s not even mention “Serious Business”, an unconventional tune, which incorporated Jazz, Funk and Disco elements as well as a choir. Priceless. All of it.

Whether it is “Samba for Maria”, which Connors recorded with Freddy Hubbard, the soulful Funk tune “Be There in the Morning” or interpretations such as Steely Dan‘s “Black Cow” or Quincy Jones’ “Tell Me a Bedtime Story”, all with the most “expensive” arrangements, it is all more than awesome.

A happy and funky 72nd birthday to Norman Connors.