Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Jean Carne: A revelation reunion

Jean Carne Pic
Jean Carne Pic Jean Carne Pic Jean Carne Doug Carn & Jean Carne

When a couple split up and divorce, both their lives move on, then they have no contact with their ex for several decades, it's be a pretty safe bet to rule out the chances of a reconciliation, wouldn't it?

So imagine this. Soul legend Jean Carne and her then husband, jazz star Doug Carn (Jean added an e to her name) parted company almost 40 years ago, and had not set eyes on each again until seven years ago.

Then, last year, their attorney daughter Jeanine who managed Jean's career, came up with the idea they should re-unite for shows together. They talked it over and decided to try a one-off concert last year, which was such a resounding success, half a dozen one-nighters were booked. They then get the offer to appear together on stage here in the UK, for the very first time outside of the US.

Fans of Jean's timeless work for Motown, Philadelphia International Records, Omni and her earlier jazz recordings with Doug are now ticking the days off on the calendar for the UK shows, billed as: "Doug & Jean Carn Revelation Reunion Tour." Doug is a pianist, composer and sublime arranger. He first made his name with a series of remarkable albums for legendary '70s jazz label Black Jazz. Mixing the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders with a post Blaxploitation fusion vibe, Carn's albums featured amazing horns and deft vocal arrangements (with new lyrics by Carn) of jazz classics such as "Revelation" and "Power & Glory." The vocalist was his then-wife Jean Carn, and, the duo's unique vocalization of jazz classics such as "Peace" (Horace Silver), "Infant Eyes" (Wayne Shorter) and "Little B's Poem" (Bobby Hutcherson) won them many fans around the world.

Doug won a huge cult following among the acid-jazz crowd. The vocalist was his then-wife Jean Carne, who would go on to enjoy success with Earth Wind & Fire and her very own legendary '70s soul anthem "Don't Let It Go To Your Head".

Doug and Jean fly into the UK next week, for one show at Manchester's premier live music venue, Band On The Wall on 21st June. They then take the train to London for five shows over three nights at Ronnie Scott's, on 21st, 22nd and 23rd June. Jean's first ever appearance at that iconic venue. Speaking from her grand-daughter's Philadelphia home, Jean tells me how excited she is about the UK shows and how she has been re-acquainting herself with some of the earlier material she has not sung for a good while. She promises her fans will hear all her big hits and songs spanning both sides of her entire career in jazz and soul.

She revealed that there are already discussions about future UK shows, and that she and Doug are recording a New York show in July for a possible live album release. Telling me she also has other recording projects in hand, for a "sacred" album and a soul album.

"I had not performed with Doug for about 37 years until last year, and we split up about the same time as we last performed. I had not seen him since then, until seven years ago when we were both appearing at a tribute evening for McCoy Tyner. Then my daughter had this idea, we spoke about it and said we would see if it worked, and it was very successful and gratifying for us both. So we said let's continue".

Jean Carne was born March 15, 1947, Sarah Jean Perkins. Doug and Jean Carn were college sweethearts, performing together in night spots in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, and Ft. Valley State University. Ditching her invitation to attend Julliard, Jean ventured to Hollywood with Doug to begin their musical life together. She did three early albums with her husband Doug,"Infant Eyes", "Spirit Of The New Land" and "Revelations". Her work with his band brought her to the attention of the soon-to-be mega-group Earth Wind and Fire. Her voice graced their first two albums, "Earth Wind And Fire" and "The Need Of Love".

Her debut album on PIR, "Jean Carn", merged '70s soul and jazz with solid song-writing and tight instrumental support (MFSB, Instant Funk). "Happy To Be With You", her second album for the label included the smash single "Don't Let It Go to Your Head". Carn's third Philadelphia International album "When I Find You Love" was produced by Dexter Wansel. She was switched from the Philadelphia International label to the subsidiary TSOP imprint for her final record, "Sweet and Wonderful".

She hopped over to Motown Records in 1982. By 1986, Carne signed to Omni Records. Her work with producer and iconic saxophonist, Grover Washington Jr. in the mid '80s earned her a number 1 hit "Closer Than Close". Her 1988 album "You're a Part Of Me", included a hit cover of Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way". Carne later signed with Place One Entertainment, which reunited her with former Omni Records president Steve Bernstein, for the "Love Lessons" album.

Jean now based in Atlanta, Georgia, is currently not signed to a record label but gives "first refusal" to her friend Ralph Tee's Expansion Records label for all her UK releases. (Ralph a fellow Blues & Soul writer, of course.

So, what do we get at Jean and Doug's UK shows? "There will be jazz tunes that Doug and I recorded, and my solo songs that the UK loves. It is such a broad repertoire, including "Bet Your Lucky Star", "Closer Than Close", "Don't Let It Go To Your Head", "We've Got Some Catching Up To Do", "I'm Back For More", which is a duet so I may have to call someone up from the audience for that! From the stuff Doug and I did, we will do a Coltrane acknowledgement "A Love Supreme","Contemplation", "Time Is Running Out". Many more..."

Jean Carne is one of the select artists consistently held in great esteem and loved by soul music fans across the UK, who stay loyal to her over several decades. I ask her why she thinks she is shown so much love by British music fans.

"I have never been able to figure it out. But I am so appreciative of it. I saw Kenny Gamble at a funeral and he had just come from the UK, and he said; "you know they really love you over there. You are big". I said yep, it is a phenomenon that I am so appreciative of, but I really can't explain it. I guess I have to attribute it to the music. Especially the Gamble and Huff music, it is just timeless. I get reports of how many rap and urban groups have sampled my songs, it's amazing. I give all the credit to the music, I'm just the harbinger".

Talking of Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International Records where Jean recorded from 1976 to 1981, she has very warm memories of those days and what she calls her "musical family". She recalls the first meeting with Kenny Gamble to discuss signing her to the label.

"Kenny Gamble had followed my career while I was with Doug, and keyboard player Eddie Green told him I was a free agent. I was recording and performing with Norman Connors at the time. Kenny via Eddie asked me to come see him at PIR offices and studio. I went there on the night of a big Mohammed Ali boxing match."

"I am there at PIR and all the producers and writers are leaving to catch the train to go to the fight. Kenny and I were going to talk for 15 minutes and he was going to catch the train to go see the fight. But we ended up talking for hours until the match was over, and he missed the fight. I was very apologetic and he said: "oh, this was far superior. That was truly my musical family at PIR, and I am Godmother to Kenny Gamble's three children today. "Jean's favourite track she cut for PIR? "Don't Let It Go To Your Head".

Still on the subject of boxing, Jean knew Joe Frazier well, and used to speak to him on the phone as he was good friends with Teddy Pendgrass. "He used to put me onto Joe. Joe always wanted me to come to his gym but I never went, as I am not a boxing fan". But Jean was an undisputed knock out at PIR and at Motown, where she cut one album, the critically acclaimed "Trust Me". The hot news is; Jean revealed there are a handful of her unreleased tracks in the Motown vaults AND maybe a dozen new tracks at PIR.

While I get her to choose her personal favourites of all the tracks she has recorded over the years, she says other than the one she names for PIR, it would be a toss up between "Closer Than Close", on the Omni label or the Motown tune "If You Don't Know Me By Now", which was "so much fun, as it had Temptations singing background vocals".

Her Motown anecdote concerns the great Rick James, a close friend: "Norman Connors produced my Motown album in their LA studios. Rick James was a good friend of mine...he did an album, "Rick James presents Bobby Militello", a fabulous saxophonist from Buffalo and I sang "Let's Stay Together", which was big in UK. Rick and I were in the Motown office in LA and Rick was really perturbed by the fact they did not ask him to be involved in the production of my product. So he got on the intercom and he talked about Norman. He would say, "well why did they just ask Norman Connors, she's my friend too! He said Norman Connors can't get arrested. He went on and on over the intercom, and it became the joke of the company. Such a riot, everyone took it like 'yeah, that's Rick'".

Jean's singing began in church. In fact, it began earlier than that, at home. "I gave concerts to anybody who came to our house when I was little. I would stand there with my hands folded and my feet in a ballet plie, and give a concert at three years old. Then I started in the church choir at four". So will you give me a free concert if I visit your home, Jean? "No, but I'll cook for ya! I like healthy cooking". OK, that's a deal! I'll bring the wine. But, Jean does not touch alcohol she tells me. Not since an incident in church when she was 19 years old! "I played piano and organ for the church choir. During communion on Sunday that church served grape juice. I remember taking my communion glass and they had changed to wine. I drank it and was playing on the organ and my stomach starts to rumble, I had the strangest feeling and I almost got ill sitting there. It is an acquired taste which I never learned".

But, give Jean a beer and she will take a swig. But, she'll mix it with salt first. Strange behaviour? For all the singers out there, beer with salt in is good to gargle! "If you have sung too hard at your first show, gargle with beer and salt between your shows and it helps to heal any fissures in your larynx. It is very therapeutic". That is the vocal coach in her coming out. Apart from recording and performing on stage, Jean is a sought-after vocal coach. Record companies, managers and producers hire her to coach their singers. She works with new singers and experienced vocalist like Mary Wilson. She has been working with two veteran stars who have suffered strokes, to get them back on stage. Jean is proud to be working with a huge choir, "105 Voices Of History", 105 choir members from the historically black colleges and Universities around the country who recently gave their first ever show. She knows just what it is like to be faced with the nerves of a big performance in your early career. The highlight of her career, she says, was working with the late, great Duke Ellington in 1974 when she was 27, but that was not without its pressures.

"Duke Ellington was looking for a high Soprano to perform on what was his last spiritual concert. I remember coming to the church, his road manager and percussionist were from Atlanta and they had heard me sing in Atlanta. They contacted my mother and I was in New York at the time touring with Norman Connors. I came to the church, St John's The Divine, to audition for Duke for that role. When I got there and came down the nave of the church, he was sitting at the piano. My knees were shaking and I was hyper-ventilating. I was really a wreck and he said "Oh Miss Carn, I'm a big fan", so I instantly relaxed. I exhaled for the first time since I got inside that building. He proceeded to interview me, about my up-bringing, about my musical training, how long I had been in church choirs, which instruments I played. We sat there for at least half an hour with me answering his questions, before he even told me about the piece". Duke passed away that same year.

So if that was the best moment of her career, what is the worst? Jean giggles with embarrassment at the vivid memory of her worst moment. "It was Constitution Hall. Michael Henderson and Jean Carne about five years ago. I am in my dressing room getting ready to sing "We Both Need Each Other", and I am changing. We had visited a school's music department at a local High school and invited some of the musicians to play at our concert. One of the parents was in the dressing room and she was talking to me while I was trying to get changed in time to get on stage to sing the duet with Michael. I guess I was distracted, went out on stage and my top on the left side, ll never forget it, wasn't covering my left mammary. When I came out on stage, Michael spied it of course, he pulled my top up, and on the mike he said "Got milk! ...from a humorous TV commercial for The Dairy Board". Whoops! So Janet Jackson and Madonna didn't get there first!

Jean is a regular visitor to these shores, appearing at the annual Blackpool soul weekender on a few occasions, to rave reviews. Her name on the bill and that's a kind of implied warranty of quality and great music. So what sets her apart from other singers? What is her main objective when she is singing a song, on stage or in a recording studio? "To make sure my interpretation of the song reflects me. My likes, dislikes and soul. Giving a little piece of my spirit in the song. I have never recorded from the perspective that if I do it this way we sell so many pieces, and if I do it that way it may not be commercial enough. I make sure a little of me goes out in that song, communicated and received by the listener. As an artist and as a person, "I'd say Jean Carne was a truth-seeker".

The movie Precious, released in November 2009, produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, starring Mariah Carey and comedienne Mo'Nique, features Jean Carn's disco single "Was That All It Was". In 2011, Jet Life, rapper Currensy's hip-hop group, sampled her song "Completeness" in their song "The Business".

So who is Jean Carne? "When my children were young, I would tell people I was a mom who happens to be a recording artist and performer. Now I am a grand ma-ma who just happens to be a singer and performer". Jean has five grand children and she is teaching one of them to count - in Russian! Jean speaks fluent Russian, and tells me of one of her visits to The Whitehouse, where she met Condoleezza Rice and they spent the evening conversing in Russian - and giggling!

Jean plays bassoon, clarinet, oboe, English horn, glockenspiel and piano. But admits she has not played for years, and would go back to those instruments "if I ever retire".

Well, I think I can speak on behalf of Blues & Soul readers and probably every single soul fan in the United Kingdom, in response to 65-year-old Jean's mere mention of the "R" word: Don't You Dare!

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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