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Kind of Purple: Jazz Musicians On Prince

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Are you familiar with Prince's "jazz" project Madhouse? What did you think of it?

I've heard a bit of Madhouse and while it's of little interest to me musically, I'm happy he has an outlet to explore in that area. Prince's music seems to always include elements of jazz and specifically jazz piano stylings, so a project exploring that idea more deeply seems reasonable to me.

Any thoughts on Prince cleaning up his act, so to speak?

While I appreciate and miss the Prince of the "Computer Blue" era, I certainly appreciate growing and changing as an artist. I would certainly not want to have to perform any of the explicit Prince tunes that he wrote back in the day.

Do you think Prince is past his prime?

No I do not. And while it's ten years old now, I think Musicology had many elements of a modern masterpiece.

What sort of project or direction would you like to see Prince take on that he hasn't?

I'm all for a Prince and the Revolution reunion with Wendy, Lisa, etc.

Craig Taborn: "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"

You picked a song that some people might not know, or at least remember. What is it about "Ballad of Dorothy Parker" that grabs you?

"The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" is a great combination of electro funk kind of quirky stiff groove, smooth dark harmony, and an almost off the cuff free associative kind of song writing. It has a great vibe. It is also a good example of Prince doing things completely on his own (as is most of the Sign 'O' the Times album). It is just so funky and yet sophisticated but one gets the feeling that he composed the thing in a very extemporaneous way. I imagine a night in the studio alone and he is compelled to track this idea. Plus any tune with a Joni Mitchell shout out and quotation is always a cool thing from my point of view.

The rhythm track has a stiff and quirky machine funk to it. Those fills alone are priceless. I believe Prince was working with a Linn LM-1 machine here which is one of the earliest sampled drum machines, 8-bit samples and a limited beat resolution, but he is working with this stiffness in the rhythm and finding the funk within. He used this drum machine a lot back then ("When Doves Cry" is another track that starts with it) but he is really working it hard here. The other instrument parts are played by Prince, I assume, on synths of the day and it is his more organic and off-the-cuff playing set against the drum machine that gives the track its appeal for me. I also like that he sticks with pretty synthetic sonics here in terms of production which marry well with the drum machine i.e., everything is tight and dry and a little cold and machine like but end up sounding warm and playful in his hands. Even the close voicings he plays on the chords keep everything right in the middle register with that dark synthetic electric piano sound that has a modulation that is detuning it slightly. This whole sound is set against the story and the vocal lines which are just the opposite, very soulful and stylish. That vibe was the progenitor of an entire genre of electro funk tracks that engaged with an almost lo-fi machine groove without losing the soul. Detroit and {{jny: London music are the best examples of this into the '90s and '00s.

I find it fascinating that Dorothy Parker died on Prince's 9th birthday. I wonder if he knew her then, or indeed if the song is supposed to be a reference to the poet. Any thoughts about the Prince / Dorothy Parker connection?

Well because of this song I have often wondered about Prince's interest in or affection for Dorothy Parker's work. Certainly lines about the titular Dorothy's quicker wit suggest that the literary figure was at least a reference point. I remember reading somewhere that this song was recounting a dream he had had and the narrative is certainly dream like and stream of consciousness.

When did you first become interested in Prince's music?

I am from Minneapolis myself so I had an early introduction to Prince's music. He was a ubiquitous figure in the Twin Cities music scene and having had his biggest successes when I was in middle school and high school he was a hero for us all. He was a big source of inspiration for everyone in town as a local talent becoming a global phenomenon but still repping the Twin Cities. And he was and is still living and making his music there.

Prince is one of the biggest selling artists of the last 30 years. That would suggest a "lowest common denominator" effect to at least some people. Do you think his music is understood for what it is by most people?

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