Reissued by WeWantSounds, funk singer Jaye P. Morgan’s eponymous album marks a meeting of minds: a singer seeking recognition and the young David Foster, future producer of Earth, Wind and Fire (1978) and American music’s greatest stars.
In 1976, Jaye P. Morgan, a singer on the comeback trail, recorded an album between disco, funk, and soul with a young producer. It was an opportunity to bring together some highly sought-after musicians. Without anyone knowing why, this album was reduced to private pressing — and thus to an extremely limited distribution — at the time of its release. Let’s look back at this unique creation, which is now being reissued, fittingly, thanks to the WeWantSounds label.
Long before this comeback, Mary Margaret Morgan began her career in the 1950s between jazz and pop, in the style of the singers like Kaye Ballard and Doris Day. Although her repertoire did not include any masterpieces, the performer had a charming voice that stood out amidst more or less interchangeable accompaniments.
The next decade took Morgan on a different path. Without any recordings made after 1962, she appeared in many television shows. It was not until 1971 that she appeared on What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, a record that followed from the tradition of Julie Driscoll, where catchy tracks mixed jazz and pop influences. But it was in 1976 that a truly ambitious project was set up around this talented artist. History was made.
A high quality line-up
To produce the record, Jaye P. Morgan called on an ambitious young man she trusted: David Foster. He lacked experience in pop at the time, but the result proved the singer right, as he knew how to accompany her, calling on his contacts by inviting, in particular, the singer Donnie Gerrard, whom he had met in Skylard’s production.
Although David Foster was the mastermind behind the record (and he was also on the keyboard), and Jaye P. Morgan was the original source of the project, it was by calling on the very best studio musicians that the duo achieved their ambitions.
They included Harvey Mason (Herbie Hancock, Donald Byrd) on drums, and guitarist Ray Parker Jr, heard on Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” On this roster, bassist Henry Davis was as comfortable with Black Jazz records as he was with Smokey Robinson’s intoxicating ballads. Accompanied by the brass section of the funk group Tower Of Power, they gathered in a place that became iconic over time: Sound City Studio, where Neil Young recorded After the Gold Rush and which, during the 1970s, saw stars like Dr. John and Fleetwood Mac perform.
Nine tracks with different approaches encourage curious listening. The well-chosen covers are interpreted with finesse: Earth Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love” becomes more refined, more intimate, and more P-funk; the sparkling ballad “You’re All I Need To Get By” — first performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell — loses its intensity but takes on a new charm here with its disco rhythm.
Not to mention Stevie Wonder’s luminous composition, “Seems So Long,” called “It’s Been So Long” for the occasion, which gains momentum here and allows Morgan to demonstrate her sensitivity and understanding of funk and soul music, between questions and answers and interweaving with the back-up singers.
But we should not ignore the originals, especially the sultry “Here Is Where Your Love Belongs” and its thick, nonchalant bass. The track competes closely with “Closet Man,” a song about ‘coming out’ that reminds us of the jazzy, relaxed atmosphere of Minnie Riperton’s records.
A few details weigh down some of the tracks in places: a cheesy saxophone or electric violin solo, but it is also these elements that situate the album in its time without altering its overall quality.
The album was badly distributed at the time, and Jaye P. Morgan could have permanently turned her back on her career. But instead she recorded a last album, Lately, in 1983, unfortunately less convincing than the one made with David Foster. For his part, Foster embarked on a long and rich career as a producer and performer, working with the greatest stars of American music, including Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Madonna, and Barbra Streisand.
Jaye P. Morgan (WeWantSounds)