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5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Jazz Flute

5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Jazz Flute


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“Love child, falling off your cloud, for just a minute. Running around love, and then you’re in it.” I keep coming back to this line as a reset for life in general: The first half contextualizes our existence. We’re all here, floating around and doing stuff for a little while. Now take the whole bar: You’re so focused on said stuff that love sneaks up on you, reshaping your focus. I’ve always loved this song because it exemplifies the tenderness that Bobbi Humphrey must’ve felt in the moment. The way it morphs and slowly ascends, building utopia. While Humphrey was a flutist, the song conveyed her aptitude as a singer and arranger, and introduced her as a well-rounded musician, not just an instrumentalist. That’s not to deny the flute solo here: Around the song’s midpoint, Humphrey arises with upper-register chords that bend around the track, almost nudging the piano and percussion to intensify. A great song on an excellent album, “Just a Love Child” is a master class of entry points and emotions. Not quite soul, not quite funk and not quite jazz, it synthesizes all these genres while accentuating Humphrey’s singular voice.

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I started playing flute as a student in high school on Long Island, and under the guidance of Eddie Jefferson (a close friend of my mentor, the tap dancer Little Buck) I was instructed to travel to New York City for my first “jazz” flute lesson. When I arrived at a hotel in Midtown, I was greeted by none other than Master James Moody! Having an obeisant attitude toward my elders I listened quite ebulliently as Moody spoke with encyclopedic erudition of jazz performance and all its major innovators. Though he was quite prosaic in his approach, he shared tremendous insight regarding flute improvisational technique. This experience changed my life forever! Please check out Moody’s rendition of the standard “Cherokee” from 1968. It’s nothing short of splendiferous! Moody’s warm tone, impeccable articulation with execution, creative ideas, high velocity, and dexterity on the flute puts him on Mount Rushmore! Not to mention he was the very first I heard use the circular breathing technique on flute, which is a herculean task indeed!

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The flute is a diverse voice, in my eyes. Through various genres and settings, the flute can be utilized in any capacity. It can paint pictures in classical, jazz and Latin jazz, for example. And that’s what Dave Valentin has done. He has managed to draw a connection between melody and percussion through his expressive approach and soft tone. From quite literally singing into the flute, to his piercing notes that cut through the octave, to his crisp flutter-tongue technique — Valentin’s ideas have been endless, always reshaping the perception of how a flute can be played. These concepts can be heard in this rendition of “Obsession” from the duo album “Two Amigos” of Valentin and another wonderful flutist, Herbie Mann.

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As half of one of the most meaningful musical duos of the 1970s, the flutist, pianist and composer Brian Jackson co-wrote many of Gil Scott-Heron’s famous songs of social awareness and resistance. Not “Winter in America” — the poet-singer penned this one himself, in spring 1974, as the Watergate scandal dragged toward a close and major American cities went bankrupt — but Jackson still made it complete: with a somber-yet-graceful arrangement, coasting on a pair of quivering flutes. Jackson’s and Bilal Sunni-Ali’s trills become “the robins perched on barren treetops,” or maybe that “noble piece of paper,” the Constitution, fluttering in the wind as it “died in vain.” After Scott-Heron sings his devastating chorus for the second time (“Ain’t nobody fighting/’Cause nobody knows what to save”), Jackson’s flute solo emerges, dug into the groove but rising, tracing a strand of hope through the bleak panorama.

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Anything Elena Pinderhughes touches turns to golden velvet! You can hear her play with fellow greats from jazz, hip-hop and R&B like Common, Terrace Martin, Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah, Terri Lyne Carrington, and this track’s collaborator, Taylor McFerrin. Pinderhughes’s sound, melodic sense, phrasing and feel are perfection over every and any blend of Black American music. Although her flute flourishes are often in the background behind vocals, a la Erykah Badu and Dwayne Kerr, this track features her front and center over a lush bed of warm, enveloping synth sounds and delicious, grooving drums. I especially love the moments where it breaks down to drums and flute, giving her velvet tone and rhythmic melodies a chance to shine.

This song is a gorgeous display of everything I love about both Elena Pinderhughes and Taylor McFerrin. They are a dream team for your day dreaming! I could listen to it on repeat no matter what the vibe — soaking up the sun shining through the leaves on a nature walk, sipping drinks and swaying to the beat in a dimly lit bar, or sitting down with a fresh notebook and a hot coffee to dream and scheme for the future.



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