GURU | “JAZZMATAZZ, Vol. 1” | 25 years later

Here Are The Original Liner Notes To Guru’s Jazzmatazz Volume 1: An Experimental Fusion of Hip-Hop and Jazz‘ – With an original essay by Bill Adler.

This week, Urban Legends will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Guru’s Jazzmatazz Volume 1 with the release of a 3LP Deluxe Edition vinyl set with the original 12-track album, an instrumental LP and a third disc featuring rare, unreleased remixes and B-Sides. Housed in a custom slipcase with new artwork, each LP is packaged in its own unique sleeve and will include a 12-page, 12×12 glossy booklet with photos by Thierry Le Goues.

In celebration of its release, read the original liner notes to Jazzmatazz Volume 1 below, including an original essay by Bill Adler, below:

Guru, vocals;
Carleen Anderson, vocals;
Roy Ayers, vibes;
Donald Byrd, trumpet, piano;
N’dea Davenport, vocals;
Ronny Jordan, guitar;
Courtney Pine, alto & soprano saxophone, flute;
Lonnie Liston Smith, acoustic & electric piano;
MC Solaar, vocals;

Also featuring:
Gary Barnacle, saxophone, flute;
Zachary Breaux, guitar;
DC Lee, vocals;
Simon Law, keyboards


1. “Introduction” [1:20]

2. “Loungin’” [4:38] With Donald Byrd on all trumpets and piano. Co-production and featured performance by Donald Byrd.

3. “When You’re Near” [4:02] With N’dea Davenport on lead vocals and Simon Law on Keyboards. Co-production and featured performance by N’dea Davenport.

4. “Transit Ride” [3:58] With Branford Marsalis on Alto and Soprano saxophone and Zachary Breaux on guitar. Co-production and featured performance by Branford Marsalis.

5. “No Time To Play” [4:54] With Ronny Jordan on all guitars and DJ Lee on vocals. Co-production and featured performance by Ronny Jordan.

6. “Down the Backstreets” [4:47] With Lonnie Liston Smith on acoustic and electric piano. Co-production and featured performance by Lonnie Liston Smith.

7. “Respectful Dedications” [:54]

8. “Take A Look (At Yourself)” [3:59] With Roy Ayers on all vibes. Co-production and featured performance by Roy Ayers.

9. “Trust Me” [4:27] With N’dea Davenport on lead vocals. Co-production and featured performance by N’Dea Davenport.

10. “Slicker Than Most” [2:36] With Gary Barnacle on saxophone and flute.

11. “Le Bien, Le Mal” [3:21] With MC Solaar lead vocals on French rap. Co-production and featured performance by MC Solaar.

12. “Sights In The City” [5:10] With Courtney Pine on alto and soprano saxophone plus flute, Carleen Anderson on vocals and Simon Law on keyboards. Co-production and featured performance by Courtney Pine and Carleen Anderson.

Though Jazzmatazz represents one of the very first full-fledged attempts to fuse rap and jazz, jazz has been adding flavor and elegance to rap ever since the first rap deejays began cutting and scratching up in the Bronx in the early and mid-’70s. Grandmaster Flash remembers mixing “Bob James, James Brown, Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers to John Davis & the Monster Orchestra” back in the days before there were rap records. As time’s gone on, jazz has remained a consistent part of the mix. Herbie Hancock, in collaboration with the Bronx’s own D. ST, scored a Grammy Award-winning hit with “Rockit” in 1983. Run-DMC built “Peter Piper” on the percussion break from Bob James’s “Mardi Gras” in 1986, by which time James’s recording had acquired the status of a classic rap break beat. LL Cool J’s “Goin’ Back to Cali” was sexified by growly Dixieland trumpet in 1987. Stetsasonic’s “Talkin’ All That Jazz” sampled some cool acoustic bass off of a Lonnie Liston Smith record in 1988. The “acid jazz” scene took off in England in the late Eighties, producing the Brand New Heavies and Ronny Jordan (represented here on “No Time To Play”) and other friends, and influencing Canadian imports the Dream Warriors, who not only fitted slamming new beats to antique Quincy Jones TV themes (as on 1990’s “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Thing”), but actually recorded with Slim Gaillard before he died.

Of course, your typical jazz purist might insist that that was what killed him. No matter that the “hip hop is the child of be-bop” theory has been endorsed by no less an authority than Max Roach, nor that Quincy Jones mixed jazz and rap on 1989’s Back on the Block, nor that Miles Davis’s last album, Doo Bop, was cut in collaboration with rapper Easy Mo Be (nor much more recently, that the title to Miles’ Birth of the Cool was bitten to good effect by Digable Planets for their “Rebirth of Slick”). A neo-conservative jazz musician like trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis will sail straight on ahead and beat up on rap for its “vulgarity,” insist that “every element in rap is derived from jazz,” unfavorably compare rap’s greatest practitioners to Shakespeare, Mozart, Louis Armstrong, and Charlie Parker (not stopping for a moment to acknowledge the shock and horror a Euro-classical purist would feel to see Parker deified alongside Mozart), and rhetorically wonder: “What rap has the emotional fortitude to draw any American to tears through its honesty?”

Amusingly enough, Delfeayo’s own brother, Branford, might be able to provide him with a number of answers. Branford first collaborated with Guru, the producer and rapper of Jazzmatazz, on “Jazz Thing,” which was recorded by Gang Starr (comprised of Guru and DJ Premier) for the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues in 1989. He’s performed live onstage with Gang Starr several times since then, and collaborates again with Guru on this album’s “Transit Ride.”

But the jazz-rap synthesis has never been troubling for Keith Elam, aka Guru. Claiming that he’s always been in search of “an alternative to James Brown samples,” and that jazz’s “mellow tracks, along with the hard rap beat, go hand-in-glove with my voice,” the Brooklyn-based rapper built a sample of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia” into “Words I Manifest,” his very first single in 1988. As a youngster in Boston, Keith had been introduced to jazz by his godfather, who would “take me and my whole posse and sit us down in front of these big speakers and make us listen to jazz.” Sonny Rollins, Errol Garner, Mingus, Monk, Miles, Betty Carter, the big bands. Growing up in the ’70s, Keith absorbed the pop-jazz of Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, Ronnie Laws, Grover Washington, Ramsey Lewis, and Herbie Hancock.

Even given his longstanding affection for jazz, Keith proceeded with caution when presented with the opportunity to make Jazzmatazz, a full-length jazz-rap experiment. “I was leery. It had to be done right,” he says. “My main concern was to maintain my street credibility and to represent the hardcore rap crowd because they’ve got me to where I am now.” As it turned out, making the album was “a very spiritual thing. It was so easy, as if it was meant to be.” Already familiar with the music of all of the artists, Keith followed the same basic method with everyone. He’d record the basic rhythm track, choose a title, have the jazzman come in and solo, and write his lyrics in studio as the instrumentalist played. “Doin’ the tracks with the older guys was like doin’ a track with my father: They accepted me and I accepted them.”

Track by track, Keith’s collaborators include:

Donald Byrd: Born in Detroit in 1932, the trumpeter and educator started out as a pure be-bop virtuoso, debuting in New York with the original lineup of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at the age of 23, in December of 1955, and going on to play and/or record with Max Roach, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Lionel Hampton, and Thelonious Monk. He began recording for Blue Note as a leader in the early ’60s and, on the strength of records like Black Byrd (which became the largest-selling title in Blue Note history) and through the production of albums for the Blackbyrds—comprised of former Howard University Students of his—helped to found the jazz fusion movement in the early ’70s. By the close of the ’70s, he had more than 40 albums to his credit.

N’dea Davenport: Atlanta-born N’dea rose to prominence as the voice of England’s Brand New Heavies. She and Keith go back together to the early Eighties in Atlanta, when she was attending Clark University and Keith was at Morehouse College.

Branford Marsalis: The saxophonist and composer began branching out of his jazz background when he joined Sting’s band in 1985. Currently, he gets nightly national exposure as the bandleader for the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. Branford’s latest album is called I Heard You Twice The First Time. His next album may be done in collaboration with DJ Premier, Guru’s partner in Gang Starr. “The thing I like about hip-hop—if it’s good music—is that it has that really hard sound,” he says. “Whether you like it or hate it, it’s music that forces you to choose.”

Ronny Jordan: The top jazz guitarist in England is of Jamaican extraction, a student of American jazzmen Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Wilbert Longmire. His 1991 version of the Miles Davis classic, “So What,” was a huge pop smash and spearheaded the acid-jazz movement, a fusion of jazz, hip-hop and ’70s funk. His latest album, The Antidote, was well reviewed in The Source, which said: “No, it’s not hip-hop, but it’s hip-hop influenced – it’s contemporary jazz at its best and no hip-hopper can or will ever come close.” His next album includes one track produced by Guru.

Lonnie Liston Smith: Born in Richmond, Virginia in 1940, the ace keyboardist/composer/band leader recorded with Pharoah Sanders, Gato Barbieri, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Miles Davis and other giants of jazz before busting out on his own as one of the premier jazz-pop fusion stylists of the ’70s.

Roy Ayers: Born in Los Angeles, the vibraphonist played as a young man with all of the great figures of the L.A. jazz scene—including Teddy Edwards and Chico Hamilton—before he was taken under the wing of flutist/band leader Herbie Mann. His popular ’70s records as the leader of the fusion-oriented Ubiquity continue to influence the hip-hop generation today. (The Guru grew up loving Ayers’s “Runnin’ Away.”) He’s said: “I’m into some of everything. I play R & B, jazz, pop, bossa nova, blues, Latin. My music is a combination of many different musics.”

MC Solaar: The largest-selling French-language rapper, 23-year-old Solaar was born in Senegal and lives in Paris, where he is poised, according to England’s Hip-Hop Connection, “to be one of the first French rappers to cut in on the world stage.” He says, “I want to make the music more intellectual, not just boom boom bap and a hardcore rap. I have the attitude cool.” His appearance on Jazzmatazz returns a favor; Guru produced a track for him last year. “It was the first time someone important had told us, “It’s not bad. In fact, it’s good!,” he recalls. “The guy from the land of rap music likes us! We were proud inside.”

Courtney Pine: The blazing, young London-based saxophonist has been favorably compared to his particular heroes, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, which is high praise indeed. He has recorded six albums of his own for the Antilles label, and recorded as well with Branford and Ellis Marsalis and for Soul II Soul.

Carleen Anderson: As the daughter of James Brown alumni Bobby Byrd and Vicki Anderson, and the sister of a keyboardist who plays with Maceo Parker’s Roots Revisited, it might be said that Carleen was born into the music. The former featured vocalist of England’s Young Disciples, she’s now signed as a solo artist to Virgin Records.

Jazzmatazz, then, is designed to please partisans on both sides of the jazz-rap divide. “It’s ‘jeep-ready’,” Keith swears. “I tested it in the jeep and the beats are there.” The young experimenter smiles, adding. “But at the same time, I can give this to my father and my godfather and I know they’re gonna feel it.”

—By Bill Adler

Guru Special Thanks:

Special thanks to all the magnificent musicians and vocalists who worked with me, all the best and God bless. To my man Jeru Davis for creative input, “You know the time, baby!” To Patrick Moxey and Neale Easterby at Empire for finally trusting my judgement and for pushing to get things done although I never get a moment to breathe. Just kidding. To Velinda Webb at Empire, thanks for your help sis. Peace to Gordan Franklin and Dino Delvaille. To Mark Levinsohn and Jim Arnay. To Nick and Jake for following me around with that “bloody” camera and radio mic, we did it. To Neneh Cherry and Carmeron McVey. To Charles Koppelman, Fred “No More F*cking Soundtracks” Davis, Daniel Glass, Ken Baumstein, Jane Berk, Sue Drew, Richard Sarbin, Duff Marlowe, John Sutton Smith, Frances Pennington, Shari Siegal, Marco Quirini, Michael Leon, Stephanie Feldman, Glynice Coleman, Walter Dawkins, Alison Bandier, Henry Marquez, Drek Thompson, Jeff Wagner, Amy, Fulton, Harry Fobbs, Lindsey Williams, Cindy and the whole posse at EMI Records Group, North America.

Plus to Ken Grunbaum, Jody Simon and Mike at Cool Tempo in the U.K. and Ashley, Rob and my boy Simon at Circa in the U.K. and to everyone at EMI Records in Europe for your support and faith. To Dave and Doug at D&D Sudios for lookin’ out for me big time. To Howard Comart and Hazel Duncan for working with me through hectic times and keeping things in order. To Mark Humphrey for cool vibes at the photo sessions. To James McQuay & Family for much support. To Fab 5 Freddie and everyone at MTV America. To Traci and my man Tony at Masterdisk. To Lisa I’Anson and Hetti Los at MTV Europe, Thanks. To Patricia and Amelie at Polydor, Emmanuel at Virgin France and Regis. To Spike Lee, for giving me the opportunity to record “Jazz Thing” for “Mo’ Better Blues” which for myself and many others marked a movement of bringing hip hop and jazz together. To DJ Premier, Patrick Smith, Big Shug, Lil’ Dap, Melachi (stay strong), Big Gary & Kurt and my entire crew (too numerous) for inspiring me to work hard and to expand my creative limits. To Gilles Peterson, and the entire Talking Loud Posse. The Giant Step Posse and last but not least my Posse, worldwide known as The International Rudeboy Network I say peace and respect to you all.

Dedications From Guru

TO DONALD BYRD: You are truly a jazzmaster, I used to party off all your jams, man. Thanks for showing me how to hold the trumpet like Miles. Oh, also, your voice is so dope, can I sample it for some other stuff? You’re the best, so much class and cool!

TO ROY AYERS: Brother, you’ve got more energy than me. Can you lend me some? Man, you know you’re a legend and I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it was to get to know you.

TO LONNIE LISTON SMITH: I love the way you’re just so mellow and smooth about everything. Especially when you play, you just have this cosmic vibe, man. Yo, what’s your secret, brother? All the women seem to flock to you.

TO BRANFORD MARSALIS: You and I go way back like spinal cords. Even though you’re an “L.A. Dude” now, Brooklyn is in your heart, I can tell when you play that horn. Thanks for that cheap rent last year, and sorry if the neighbors thought we were too rowdy. Stay on top, Bro!

TO N’DEA DAVENPORT: We came a long way from the school days in Atlanta at Clark and Morehouse, so I guess we did something with our education, right? Say peace to Brady for me. You are indeed a wonderful person, stay intense because it comes through when you sing. Yo, can I borrow your red Kangol, sis?

TO COURTNEY PINE: Man, you rock your shows harder than a lot of rappers. I’ve never seen anything like it. I guess it’s a spiritual thing. You are one bad brother. Stay in effect. Big up, rude boy. Oh, thanks for putting up with all the chaos in the studio.

TO RONNY JORDAN: Your sh*t is dope. You’re on the cutting edge, bro, and it’s been a pleasure working with you and of course there’s more to come. Oh yo, sorry about that morning you called and I sounded out of it. I was up all night. Know what I’m saying? You’re the man, rough and rugged for ’93 and beyond.

TO MC SOLAAR AND CREW: Solaar, you are too smooth with the lyrics, money. I want to thank you and the whole posse for your hospitality. You fellas made me feel at home even though about all I could say was, “Comment ca va.” Stay in effect and long live hip-hop!

Guru dedicates this album to the memory of my grandparents Mr. & Mrs. E. Edward and Leslie Clark and Mr. & Mrs. Robert and Blanche Elam. My grandfathers represented the true essence of fatherhood and of black manhood and achievement. My grandmothers were no joke either. Also, to my Uncles Kenneth Clark and Clarence R. Elam, Esq. and my cousin Sidney Clark Jr. Rest In Peace, always.

Last but never least, all love to my entire family, Hon & Mrs. Harry J. Elam, Patricia, Coles, Justin, Denzel, Nile, (The Ruffs), Harry Jr., (Jay), Jocelyn Blanche (Jocie), Tamani (my darling) & Neko (my little man), Lynette Ewing, Jabali, Hasani & Lay Lonnie, (my new family), my cousin Rich, my cousins Russell & Laura, my aunt Eva (my God Mother), Uncle Charles and Aunt Jerry, George & Mabel Kohnson and everyone else. Peace, Respect & Love.

Carleen Anderson appears courtesy of Circa Records Ltd. N’dea Davenport appears courtesy of Delicious Vinyl. MC Solaar appears courtesy of Polydor France. Ronny Jordan appears courtesy of Island Records Ltd. Branford Marsalis appears courtesy of Columbia Records.

Additional vocals on “No Time To Play” by Big Shug. Scratches on “Transit Ride” by DJ Jimmy Jay. Live drums used on “Down The Backstreets” by Lil’ Dap. Additional vocals on “Slicker Than Most” by The Cutthroats. Songs with special arrangements: “No Time To Play” includes portions of “Satin Soul” written by Barry White and published by Savette Music Inc./Unichappell Music Inc. (BMI). “Satin Soul” performed by Barry White, used under license from Polygram Special Markets. “Slicker Than Most” contains portions of “It Feels So Good”. Material performed by Grover Washington used under license from Sony Music Entertainment

All songs produced, arranged and mixed by Guru for Guru Productions, Inc. All lyrics and tracks by Guru except “When You’re Near” and “Trust Me” lyrics co-written by N’dea Davenport. “Sights In The City” co-written by Courtney Pine. All songs published by Ill Kid Music/Gifted Pearl Music/EMI April Music Inc. (ASCAP) except “When You’re Near” and “Trust Me” published by Ill Kid Music/Gifted Pearl Music/EMI April Music Inc. (ASCAP)/My Dog Luna Music (ASCAP) and “Sights In The City” published by Ill Kid Music/Gifted Pearl Music/EMI April Music Inc. (ASCAP)/LeoSong (PRS)

Concept development by Keith Elam and Patrick Moxey.
Executive Producers: Keith Elam, Patrick Moxey and Duff Marlowe.

All tracks recorded and mixed at D&D Studios, New York, NY except “When You’re Near”, “Trust Me”, “Sights In The City”, and “Slicker Than Most” mixed at EMI Studios, London. “Transit Ride” mixed at Hollywood Sound, Los Angeles, CA. “Le Bien, Le Mal” mixed at Studio Ferber, Paris, France. Engineered in New York by Kieran Walsh, Joe Quinde and Craig Marcus, assisted by Luke Allen and David Carpenter. Engineered in London by James Bell, assisted by Tracii D. Shermon. Engineered in Los Angeles by James B. Mansfield, assisted by Doug Boehm. Engineered in Paris by Zdar Cerbonschi, assisted by Phillipe.

Mastered by Tony Dawsey at Masterdisk, New York, NY

Art Direction: Henry Marquez
Photography: Humphrey Studio
Design: Dianne Cuddy
Styling: Navia Nguyen

You can pre-order the deluxe edition of Jazzmatazz on Urban Legends now.


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