Bobbi Humphrey tells John Abbey how Stevie Wonder came to play harmonica on her "Home Made Jam" single in return for help she had contributed to Stevie's "Key Of Life" album.
ALTHOUGH only 4'11" tall, Bobbi Humphrey has established herself as one of the biggest names in jazz since she first recorded back in 1971 for the now sadly defunct Blue Note lable. However, the general concensus of opinion is that her career is about to enter a new and even bigger phase via her new Epic album, "Freestyle".
Produced by the genial but frighteningly talented Ralph McDonald, it also features the musical services of Eric Gale, Richard Tee, Anthony Jackson, Steve Gadd and a special guest appearance of Stevie the Wonder.
"We have a kind of long standing brother-sister relatonship," Bobbi explains when one enquires how she managed to have Stevie add his harmonica solo to the "Home Made Jam" track — easily the most discofied cut on the whole album and already climbing the charts in single form.
"I had done a spot on "Another Star" for Stevie on the "Songs In The Key Of Life" project and he said he would either write me a song or play for me. His schedule has been so hectic so he couldn't write the song but he was in New York for the funeral of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and showed up at the studio the next day. He really is a wonderful person and a great friend."
Another close and long-standing friend is Ralph McDonald and that friendship is the background to their collaboration on this album.
"We have been the best of friends — both personally and musically — for many years and the chemistry was so good that it really didn't feel like work," Bobbi enthuses. "The arrangements are simple but effective and Ralph has even got me singing seriously.
"In the past, any vocals have really been throw-offs to the melody but singing is something I have wanted to really get more involved in. I was always into singing long before I took up the flute — back in my high school days back in Dallas. Yes, I guess it would be great to follow the same parallel that George Benson has pursued. I was a guest at the recent re-opening concert for the Apollo Theatre — on which Ralph headlined, by the way. And the public reaction to my signing was very favourable.
"In fact, we are so confident of this album that Ralph and I have already had our first meeting concerning the next album. Obviously, we can't really get into the main concept until we see this album succeed but we have already talked over musicians, material and general ideas."
Bobbi is also quick to cite writer/arranger Bill Eaton for the disco acceptance of his "Home Made Jam" composition.
"I had told Bill to come up with one really strong disco track and he said it would be hard because he never goes to discos but that he would come up with something! Next day, we had "Home Made Jam" — can you imagine what he would come up with if he did frequent discos!"
Between 1971 and 1976, Bobbi was one of the main reasons why Blue Note re-emerged as a major force in fusion jazz. "But I knew I had to leave when I did," she explains. "It was time to bounce on to the next stage and to a more major company, where bigger budgets were available to put my career into the next category.
"Sure, the money was better for me, too, but that wasn't the main reason. It was a natural progression but since Blue Note has since folded and the whole company taken over by Capitol, it seems I made the right decision."
However, the move to Epic was far from an immediate success. The first album release was "Tailor Made"; it was produced by Skip Scarborough, of Earth Wind & Fire fame. But it was not a commercial success and Bobbi is the first to admit it.
"I was very disappointed because I really liked the album — although admittedly I always feel that my last project is my best. But the material seemed good and the only fault is that maybe the mixing wasn't as good as it could have been and the public only hears and judges the finished product."
During her career, Bobbi has been bestowed with more awards and citations than she can even remember herself. However, in the past year, she was for the third time running given the Ebony Award for the best flautist(apparently the word 'flautist' applies more to classical players, by the way). She was also given the Key to the City of New Orleans.
"I did a concert there for a friend and he knew the mayor very well and arranged the presentation as part of the concert. And since New Orleans is the acknowledged home of jazz, it means a great deal to me. I'm now going to get the key to Dallas, too, and that means even more to me since it is my home town. My family is still there so it will make them proud, too.
"Yes, I guess I could go back to live there but I would need to retain an apartment in New York because that's where all of my business is done. One of my goals is to have a house in Dallas so that I can be closer to nature — I find it so relaxing. And once I become established, it really doesn't matter where I live as long as I can get to my shows and to New York for my business."
That 'established' situation could so easily be rectified with the almost guaranteed success of "Free Style" for the amiable Ms. Humphrey.