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Growing up in Denver, Colorado, Philip Bailey wasn’t exposed to a great deal of black music. However, the Earth, Wind & Fire vocalist and percussionist was fascinated by his parents’ jazz records, as well as those of a family friend, the latter of which contained albums by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. This led to a life-long passion, and, along with EWF founder Maurice White, Bailey, 68, helped craft a soul-funk-jazz hybrid that vaulted the band to the top of the pop and R&B charts. Bailey has embraced his jazz roots before — notably on 2002’s Soul on Jazz, which included reads of tunes by Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea and Freddie Hubbard, and in recent performances with Ramsey Lewis — but his latest release, Love Will Find a Way (Verve), looks as much to the music’s future as its past.
While the imprimatur of 1970s soul-jazz remains prominent — Bailey covers two songs by Curtis Mayfield, as well as Pharoah Sanders’ title track — the presence of younger jazz stars Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Kendrick Scott and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah provides a fresh approach to the music. “Robert Glasper’s imprint on the record is huge, because it kind of helped to shape the timbre of the project,” Bailey says by phone in late May. “Robert is the new face of jazz. I went to one of his concerts, and to my surprise, it wasn’t people my age; it was the ‘grown and sexy.’ And I was pleasantly surprised to see that happening with [saxophonist] Kamasi Washington when I went to his show in New Orleans. I immediately knew that was the lane that I wanted to travel in.”
Bailey also recruited pianist Corea and drummer Steve Gadd, on whose 2018 recording, Chinese Butterfly, he sings. Unsurprisingly, Corea’s music left a mark on Earth, Wind & Fire. “I was a huge fan of Return to Forever,” Bailey says of Corea’s seminal fusion group. “Our whole band was.”
Bailey didn’t get to meet the late Mayfield, but he acknowledges the influence of one of soul music’s greatest falsettos. The selection of “Billy Jack,” a song about the tragic shooting of a black man, and the uplifting “We’re a Winner” were not arbitrary. “We were gathering songs to have a real purpose and a meaning for the times we’re living in now,” he explains.
The album’s blend of jazz with soul and funk seems totally organic, a natural mixture of tones and textures with a shared heritage. “They’re especially natural,” Bailey says, “because rhythmically and harmonically you can go so many places.” —Bob Weinberg