At times Seals & Crofts were definitely jazz adjacent, but I can understand readers who only know them from the radio smirking at this statement. Let's return to 1974, specifically to Ontario, California to what was then one of the biggest and financially most successful music festivals in historyCalifornia Jam. The crowd present was estimated to be between 300,000 and 400,000. Additionally, the audio was simulcast on FM radio in Los Angeles, and the video was shown on ABC's late night "In Concert" series a few months later. In the video below you will see what I mean about Seals & Crofts being jazz-adjacentin front of 400,000 rock fans. That is followed by a concert two days later in Seattle
, Washington playing another jazz piece to a rock audience.
Before those clips you can experience a bit of sweet irony. Jimmy Seals, a self taught saxophonist, was not allowed to play in his high school band because he couldn't read music. That very same Jimmy Seals appeared on stage with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie. This happened in 1971 at a Bahá'í Conference in the Caribbean. Dizzy Gillespie and Mike Longo
, his decades long band mate and collaborator, were also Bahá'ís. Interestingly, their spiritual awakening mirrored Seals and Crofts.'
In his autobiography To Be or Not to Bop
Dizzy wrote: "When I encountered the Baha'i Faith, it all went along with what I had always believed. I believed in the oneness of mankind. I believed we all come from the same source, that no race of people is inherently superior to any other. I became more spiritually aware, and when you're spiritually aware, that will be reflected in what you do...What is more appropriate than a musician being in tune with nature and with our Creator? The best example is the way that they perform; how do they come up with things that have never been played before? Where did they get it? They have to have some kind of divine inspiration."
Seals & Crofts' lyrics were at times remarkably sophisticated for a pop duo. Here, for example, are the lyrics of the song "Ledges" from the 1974 Unborn Child
album. They read them aloud as a poem on the 1973 late night television concert series mentioned previously. They explained to the audience that they liked the poem, but doubted they would ever be able to put it to music. They didit's is included in the jazz-adjacent playlist in the credits. "Do not scoff at love's bitter edges, for they in themselves bear witness
To an age of bygone fancy, where tear-stained forests rushed into their evening to pout
For they were without the grass they love to touch, they love to touch"
"Glistening in the sun, rainbow betrothed to the sky.
On mystic wings I have soared past ledges
And in myself I bear witness, to an age of bygone fancy
Where burn-out stars hid their faces in shame.
And planets turned their backs and were unholy
And without reason and love"
Calling it Quits
MTV launched the "Unplugged" series in 1989 after a decade of big hair, synthesizers, drum machines, and heavy guitar effects. Twenty years after Seals & Crofts released their first album, the public embraced the purity and authenticity of unplugged music. In 1992 Eric Clapton revived his career with an appearance on "Unplugged," and the accompanying album sold an amazing 26 million copies.
Seals & Crofts' early appeal to audiences had been based upon the "human touch" that made "Unplugged" so popular. There was, however, one very important difference. In 1969 they weren't established stars performing their hits on acoustic instruments to adoring fansthey were unknown, unplugged, and unstoppable.
Their final album for Warner Brothers in 1980 was a far cry from their early years. They seemed to be struggling to find their way in the changing musical landscape. It's telling that their final album was the first and only one without a single writing contribution from Dash Crofts. Jimmy Seals wrote two songs, and collaborated with keyboardist Brian Whitcomb on six songs.
I'm not the first to note that the lyrics to a song they covered, "If and Any Day" by Michael Sembello, Marietta Waters, unintentionally fit their situation: "Tell me how did I lose my way? Isn't there a door that leads to yesterday? Oh, how did I lose my way? Isn't there a door that opens into another day?"
The production and performances were not the problem, rather the material and arrangements, with a couple of exceptions, simply didn't fit them. Nonetheless, a few of the songs had potential and with a bit of grit and funk could have worked well for artists like James Ingram and Michael McDonald
. For jazz fans there was a noteworthy highlight on their final album, Chick Corea
and Stanley Clarke
came in for the track "Stars" which you can find in the jazz-adjacent playlist below. Looking back, Jimmy Seals shared this with the LA Times: