Norman Connors & the Starship Orchestra - 5/31/17Wednesday, May 31 2017 6:00 PM Doors / 8:00 PM Start
- Front Premier
at City Winery Chicago
For Norman Connors, music was a matter of destiny, not choice. It is the kismet that allowed the multi-faceted and dynamic musician at the tender age of 16 to perform alongside legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and travel to NY with nothing but his drum sticks and $20 in his pocket, only to end up landing a full scholarship to the prestigious Julliard School of Music. Destined to leave his indelible imprint on the music scene, Norman Connors would go on to discover such revered vocalists as Phyllis Hyman, Angela Bofill, DeeDee Bridgewater and Jean Carne, produce a track for the iconic Stevie Wonder and create of R&B’s greatest ‘Quiet Storm’ anthems with Michael Henderson’s, “You Are My Starship.” This 1976 chart-topping single, that has been sampled by everyone from LL Cool J to Snoop Dogg, went on to spawn an entire genre of music fusing the worlds of jazz and R&B. Never one to sit still, Norman Connors is at it again with a new project that is destined to further endear him to critics and fans alike as one of music’s greatest treasures. Star Power, the multi platinum-selling producer’s Shanachie debut and first recording in seven years (due out on February 24, 2009) is a momentous occasion that joins Connors with some of his dear friends and some new ones including vocalists Peabo Bryson, Howard Hewett and Christopher Williams, bassist (and vocalist) Michael Henderson, saxophonist Marion Meadows, keyboardists Herman Jackson and Bobby Lyle and guitarists Ray Parker Jr., Norman Brown and Paul Jackson, Jr. among others.
“Throughout my career, there have been certain singers that I have always wanted to work with and on this new project I get to do just that,” Connors relates. His affinity for singers goes back to his youth. “I used to take my drum lessons on Saturday and there was a theatre called the Earle Theatre in Philly. They used to show a Tarzan movie and after the movie they would have people like Duke Ellington and Count Basie perform and I would make sure to be there, right in the front row. I was like a kid in a toy shop. Right after the band played, the singer would come out in a gown. Hearing people like Sarah and Ella at a young age made me fall in love with great voices.”
The opening track on Star Power, “Used to Be,” features keyboardist Bobby Lyle and vocalists Christopher Williams, known for the R&B hit “I’m Dreamin’.” “This is the first time Christopher Wiliams and I have ever collaborated with one another. I had heard about him and I had seen him in the film New Jack City. His singing reminds me of a young Teddy Pendergrass. When I got this song, he came to mind. I felt like Christopher would be the best person to pull it off.” Lyle and Connors have worked together for years and Connors considers him a vital part of any recording he does.
Vocalists Howard Hewett and Antoinette Manganas join forces for Manganas’ sultry ballad “Where Do We Go From Here,” which Connors cites as one of this favorites on the album. Antoinette is also features on Sade’s classic “The Sweetest Taboo and the Bacharach/David hit “Walk on By. Howard and Antionette sound great together,” say Connors. “I have always wanted to work with Howard Hewett, who I have loved since his Shalamar days. His voice is magnificent.”
In 1976, Norman Connors and Michael Henderson (long time bassist with Miles Davis) got together to create what is now one of R&B’s most covered and highly sampled ‘Quiet Storm’ classics, “You Are MY Starship.” The duo returns to this gem on Star Power and enlists the help of Grammy-winning vocalist Peobo Bryson. Norman Connors says he can’t play a show without someone requesting this song. He said he knew it would be a hit from the very beginning. “Michael had the sound, right concept and flow, and there was something mystical about the song. I was the only one who thought it was a hit!” Grammy-winning vocalist Peobo Bryson shines on Star Power’s new version of “You Are My Starship.” Norman Connors says, “ I have worked with Peobo a number of times in concert and on recordings and he is one of my all-time favorite singers along with Donnie Hathaway and Marvin Gaye.”
Through the years, Connors has had a keen ability to discover and nurture new talent. He has been instrumental in so many musicians’ careers including Phyllis Hyman, Angela Bofill, Michael Henderson, Glenn Jones, Norman Brown and countless others. “I consider myself not just an artist and musician, I am an ambassador of the music. A lot of people call me up and I give them advice,” shares Connors. On Star Power, Norman is proud to feature and up-and-coming singer that he says will be the next big thing. His name is Danny Boy. He has such talent that he is sure to be successful. He is incredible. He is my ace in the hole at my live shows. He has a beautiful spirit and can sing anything. He’s like a young Peabo Bryson and Donnie Hathaway all in one. Has great range and can dance. He is all over the stage and sings his heart out!” declares Connors. Danny Boy is featured on the Stevie Crissette and Max Frank song “You Take My Breath Away.”
Star Power also features several memorable instrumental tracks including a funky version of Michael Jackson’s 1979 hit “Rock With You” featuring guitarists Ray Parker, Jr., who has garnered scores of hits including “Ghostbusters.” “I have known Ray Parker Jr. since he was fresh out of high school. We were label mates on Arista years ago and I always admired his way of singing simple things and being able to take them and make them hits.” Herman Jackson, who is the keyboardist on American Idol and who has served as music director for both Aretha Franklin and Jessica Simpson, penned the cool and breezy “Stormin’ Norman” for Connors who says he does not do a record unless he calls Herman. Jackson also joins guitarist Norman Brown on “Shades of Brown,” which he also composed. “I love Norman Brown,” says Connors, who produced Brown’s first album “Just Between Us,” which hit #1 on the charts. He is one of my favorite guitarists along with George Benson. I call him one of my hero children. I usually don’t do an album without him either.” “He is one of my great discoveries.”
Born in the City of Brotherly Love, Norman Connors has the luxury of being immersed in the City’s rich jazz and R&B tradition. When he first started out, his dream was to be John Coltrane’s drummer. As fate would have it he performed with Trane at the famed Peps in Philly one night when Elvin Jones could not make the gig. Connors ended up playing three nights in a row! Connors’ early jazz aspirations did not keep him from following many of the great R&B groups of the day. “I have always loved the Delfonics and Stylistics,” says Norman. “Deep down inside I always wanted to be a Delfonic. When we used to play jazz gigs at places like the Jazz Workshop in Boston, during my break, I would go check out the Delfonics who might be up the block performing at The Sugar Shack. I always told myself that if I ever got a record deal, I was going to include some of this great R&B tradition in my music. My early albums were more fusion but as I got into my fourth and fifth albums I started bringing in the R&B element.”
Norman Connors illustrious resume includes work with saxophonists Pharoah Sanders, Jackie McLean, Archie Shepp and Sam Rivers and organist Jack McDuff along with a list of other jazz luminaries. He has produced for everyone from Angela Bofill, Phyllis Hyman, Peabo Bryson and Howard Hewett to Lonnie Liston Smith and Bobby Lyle. Connors signed with Buddah’s Cobblestone record label in 1972 and recorded a body of critically acclaimed albums that reached multi-platinum selling status. Among Connors recordings in this period are Dance of Magic, which featured the all-star lineup of Herbie Hancock (who appears on Norman’s first five albums), Stanley Clarke, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws, Gary Bartz, Carlos Garnett and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Connors also made the recordings Dark of Light, Love from the Sun, Slewfoot and Saturday Night Special, featuring the number 10 soul hit “Valentine Love.” In 1976 Connors struck gold with the hit “You Are My Starship,” from the album of the same title, which also included the chart-topping Thom Bell and Linda Creed classic “Betcha By Golly Wow” featuring Phyllis Hyman. In the late 70s Connors was courted by Clive Davis who signed him to Arista Records. His debut for the label, This Is Your Life (featuring Eleanor Mills) made a splash with the title track and eventually the album went gold.
He also enjoyed success with his album Invitation (featuring Ada Dyer), which featured his celebrated Starship Orchestra that included Bobby Lyle, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Marion Meadows, Jacques Burvick, Duke Jones, Buzzy Jones, Tony Jones, Billy McCoy, and Jean Carne among others. He recorded five more albums for Arista before signing with Capitol in the late 80s and the Motown’s jazz label, Mojazz, in the 90s. He recorded a top ten jazz album Eternity on the Starship/EMI label in 2001.
Norman Connors is still shooting for the stars and his musical universe just gets better and better with each passing year. Star Power affirms Norman Connors presence as an incredible musical force who knows how to make music for the heart, mind and soul.
“This record feels so good,” exclaims Norman. “All of these guys who join me on the album are my boys. We have experienced a lot together both personally and musically. It’s like one big fraternity.” It is this brotherhood heard on Star Power that makes for one thoroughly enjoyable recording and cohesive set of music that never lets up from beginning to end. A Billboard top 5 jazz album 2010 and is still selling. Norman Connors continues to tour the U.S. and the world. He is currently writing a book on his life and legacy.