A mixtape of curious jazz sounds curated by John “L.A. Jay” Barnes III
With L.A. smog playing its peculiar magic on the afternoon’s permeable sunshine, a metallic Volvo Wagon cruises down one stem in the city’s myriad of roads and freeways, off-tempo jazz playing as looming palm trees approach and inconsequentially pass by. Like a Black Jean-Paul Belmondo, the man behind the wheel is a lesson in effortless and inimitable style.
Born to notably creative parents, our driver John Barnes III, aka L.A. Jay, was surrounded by fine artistry from the earliest age. His father, established musician John Barnes, worked extensively with Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, and Bill Withers, amongst many others. His mother, painter Sharon Louise Barnes, is a stunning visual artist and gifted songwriter in her own right, having penned lyrics and melodies for artists such as Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, and New Edition.
Starting his own career early, Barnes secured his first major label production assignment at eighteen with Motown Records, producing the debut album All for Your Love for ’80s R&B trio the Good Girls, including their debut single “Your Sweetness (Is My Weakness).” He also worked with Motown’s first female rapper, the sadly departed MC Trouble, including producing her hit “(I Wanna) Make You Mine.”
Written divinely in the stars of L.A.’s underground was for Barnes to then cross paths with alternative West Coast rap heroes the Pharcyde, long before they were even called so. Hooking up through various mutual contacts in the city’s music and dance scenes, as well as a multitude of serendipitous connections, Barnes became friends and began working with the members of the legendary group in the late ’80s.
Developing an enduring relationship with fellow producer J-Sw!ft, L.A. Jay assisted with production on the Pharcyde’s debut Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde. His most known contribution to the album is the Herbie Mann sampling masterpiece “Otha Fish,” SlimKid3’s fluid solo full of raw emotion and heartbreak. The song nearly didn’t happen. Studio time and budgets had already run over and tensions were mounting at the time, but, the artists stood their ground and created a classic. The pairing of L.A. Jay’s smooth production style and SlimKid3’s melodic delivery provided the perfect final addition to the unique album. Barnes also co-produced and produced several other jazz-infused tracks for the group, including the “Passin Me By (Fly As Pie Remix)” and “Pork.”
Barnes began working with the label Delicious Vinyl once again for the twentieth anniversary celebrations of Bizarre Ride, and since last year has been touring the world as part of Bizarre Ride Live.
On the side of all this, Barnes took the time to put together a mix of jazz records that are best described as “anomalous.” Full of beguiling melodies, subversions, and unexpected directions, the Anomalous mix conjures up a multitude of emotions and feelings, impossible to fully articulate and somehow sublime. So, we spoke a little in depth with L.A. Jay, the man with classic records in the boot and anomalous jazz on the stereo…
Explain the concept, or theme, of the mix?
The mix consists of a variety of jazz recordings that, in their own ways, embody the spirit of all the brilliant, somewhat quirky and curiously elegant people I’ve seemed to know and attract as far back as I can remember. Playful, one of a kind individuals with deceptively high intellect and extraordinary intuition. I imagine the musicians and composers featured on this mix are that way, as well. It isn’t ‘experimental’ jazz per se, outside of the one Eric Dolphy track, perhaps. It’s a pretty accessible playlist featuring some of my favorite jazz anomalies, primarily Mingus, Monk, and early Sun Ra.
Was there one particular song that sparked the train of thought or inspiration?
I’ve been a fan of this kind of jazz for a long time. Over twenty years. I’ve made plenty of mixes mainly for my own pleasure over that time. These days, I’m in more of a sharing mood than I’ve been in a long time. So, recently, I was listening to Sun-Ra’s “Paradise,” a really dope song. I started thinking about other similar personalities in jazz and decided to put something together.
Do you feel that the subversive nature of the music is intentional?
I could really only guess, but I’d say it seems to me like the expression is neither intentional nor deliberately nonconforming. I think these artists are just pure originals.
Do you have a personal favorite song in the mix? If so, which one?
I’m not a favorite picking kind of guy. “Paradise” is great though. It’s weirdly romantic and I love the use of electric piano that early in the game. That song was recorded in 1956. I can’t remember hearing any other jazz recordings, from that era, with electric piano. He’s playing the Wurlitzer 112 which had only just gone into production in 1955. This was during a time when many ‘purists’ were avoiding non acoustic instruments like the plague. Sun-Ra obviously embraced progress immediately.
How did you first discover and start listening to the artists on this mix?
Well, Thelonious Monk was definitely my gateway. I’ve loved his music from my very first listen. I was about nineteen, hanging out at a girlfriend’s house, and I found a CD called The Best of Jazz Pianos in her parent’s collection. It had Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Teddy Wilson, Chick Corea, and Monk on it, and she said I could borrow it. Monk had a recording of “Light Blue” on the album. When I heard it, it just stood out. [There is] so much personality in his playing.
I was exposed to the other artists in this mix over time. I’ve bought a lot of vinyl and CDs over the years and certain things just resonate for different reasons.
I have plenty of other favorites who have very different styles: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ahmad Jamal…too many to name, really. Artists that convey emotion with such depth, skill and coherence. But, when I’m in the mood to honor the quirky parts of my personality, many loved ones and plenty others I’ve come across and/or admired, I listen to jazz like this.
Responses from Facebook
Leave a Response