My first introduction to the noted jazz flautist came rather late into Ms. Humphrey’s career when I heard her rare groove delight “Baby Don’t You Know” that Roy Ayers produced and made into an instant must-have item. She’s been named “First Lady of the Flute” by the critics and listeners alike and, from the accomplishments in her musical career, deservedly so. For three decades Bobbi has been playing her special brand of music to audiences around the world.
Born in and raised in Texas, Humphrey’s training on flute began in high school and continued through her years at university. It was there that Dizzy Gillespie spotted her when he served as a judge in a school-wide competition, and encouraged her to pursue a career in New York City. Her unique brand of instrumentation has subsequently seen her play with an enviable array of artists from Duke Ellington (on her third day in New York no less!) to Lee Morgan and Stevie Wonder (she was featured on his groundbreaking SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE album in 1977). Between 1971 and 1976, Bobbi recorded six albums for Blue Note Records (she was the first female signed to the label) including the critically acclaimed SATIN DOLL.
In 1977 she switched her allegiance to Epic Records where she would record a trio of long-players including 1978’s FREESTYLE, produced by Ralph MacDonald. Stevie Wonder reciprocated by playing harmonica on “Home-Made Jam”, a funky jazz-infused dancer with Humphrey playing with the zest of a 13 year-old discovering attraction to the opposite sex for the first time! “Sunset Burgundy” is another light toe-tapper with the flute intertwined with some equally funky bass from Marcus Miller and keyboard accompaniment from Richard Tee. FREESTYLE'S stellar cast of musicians also includes Steve Gadd, Eric Gale, Anthony Jackson and David Spinozza, with background vocals from Gwen Guthrie among others.
But like most things, you can have too much of a good thing, and the flute is one particular instrument (along with the harmonica, banjo, accordion…) that, to me at least, is best served in small quantities to make it more palatable and less annoying. “My Destiny” and “Freestyle” are nice enough, sweet and meandering fusion numbers of the Jeff Lorber variety, while I defy you not to sing the lyrics to Sister Sledge’s “Thinking Of You” while listening to “If You Let Me”. Bobbi also handles lead on several tracks, including “If You Let Me” and “Good Times”, but when the vocals come in I can’t help thinking I’m playing the record at 45rpm instead of 33, only to realise it’s a CD! Her vocals are that high-pitched that at times they do sound a little out of sorts. That said, the lady does have a huge fan base that has seen her sell over 5 million albums and continue to sell out venues like Carnegie Hall on a regular basis, and with the attraction of the extended version of “Home-Made Jam”, this should find a large number of takers.
About the Writer
Lewis Dene has been involved in the many facets of music business for over 20 years. As a music journalist he has previously written for Blues & Soul, Record Collector, Music Week and the BBC, in the process compiling and/or writing liner notes for over 200 CDs (including a number for SoulMusic Records). Lewis currently consults for Kings Of Spins and is a resident DJ for Hed Kandi in America.