Soul Man Maceo Parker
At 57 Years Young, He's Just Getting Started

 

For Maceo, time is but a state of mind.
For Maceo, time is but a state of mind.

Heís played with everyone from George Clinton to James Brown. As if thatís not already plenty for an epitaph, the veteran sax man just kicked off the grand opening of the Experience Music Project, a $240 million interactive rock 'n' roll museum bankrolled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and designed by postmodern architect Frank Gehry. Doing some of the best fusion work out thereósoul, jazz, hip-hop, Latin rhythmsóMaceo Parkerís got a little something for everybody.

How could modest minds like ours even begin to understand the creative process of a seasoned sax man with 40 years of blowiní under his belt? Maceo makes it sound easy as humming one of the horn licks off his smokiní new platter Dial: M-A-C-E-O. "It was time to write another album and Iím saying, ĎGoodness, what am I going to do?í and staring at a blank sheet of paper," the cheerful Parker explains. "OK, well letís see, brain, what can we do this timeÖgotta have a slow oneÖmaybe something Latin because Latinís kind of in now. Itís just filling in the blanks. Pretty soon you got what you got."

The Artist Forever Known as Maceo
One of the bad things about playing with big names and legends is the baggage you end up with. On the one hand itís a great resume builder, but you never escape the association: You become the guy that played with so-and-so, leaving the husk of your identity behind like so many discarded peanut shells. Does it bug Maceo that heís seemingly doomed to be a partner rather than stand on his own? "No, no, no, it doesnít bug me at all," he says. "Itís all part of my trip."

From the room of his Minneapolis hotel, Parker confesses heís a little worn out, having jammed with none other that Prince the night before at his famous spread, Paisley Park. Theyíre budsó"Not like we go and get a hamburger or something," Maceo adds, but buds nonetheless. But more important than the actual music is whether Parker calls him Prince or just The Artist. "I didnít call him anything," he says. "I just start talking, and if he sees you looking at him I guess he assumes youíre talking to him."

Flexible Digits
In addition to a strict workout regimen, Maceo doesnít smoke or drink and he walks four miles a day. You have to remember that with these old-school horn players, their lungs and fingers are the source of their magic. "You try not to play as much basketball as you used to," he chuckles. "You got to be careful of the things youíd love to do, skating or riding the bicycle or whatever, because you might mess up a finger. You canít take those sorts of risks because cats in the group depend on you for their livelihood."

Maceo is lucky to be working in a style of music where age is respected, rather than frowned upon as it is in popís of-the-moment sensations. Alive and kicking (ass) in his 50s, Parker is just beginning to do all the playing heís going to do: "I remember older people saying Ďage ainít nothing but a number; make anything of it you want.í Iíll ride this wave just as long as I can hold out."

So is the Experience Music Project a good idea? Clevelandís already got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, full of rocker memorabilia indistinguishable from the stuff hanging on the wall at Hard Rock Cafes the world over. Isnít it possible this grandiose monument is actually going to cheapen and commercialize the legacy of Jimi Hendrix, the original axe god? "I donít get into why people do what they do," Maceo explains. "I just channel my thing into what I have to do and make the best of that."

-- andrew lentz
06.21.00