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A Blend of Jazz, Soul & Pop from Jane McNealy's Original Reel-to-Reel Tapes
Sampling

A Blend of Jazz, Soul & Pop from Jane McNealy's Original Reel-to-Reel Tapes

Pianist, songwriter & composer Jane McNealy hit a creative peak with Los Angeles in the late-'60s/'70s as a vibrant backdrop. Together with jazz great Harold Battiste Jr. (who worked with Dr. John, Sam Cooke, Sonny & Cher, and more) and songwriter Alice Kuhns, McNealy took her genre-bending fusion of jazz, soul, classical, and pop to new heights. For the last five years, she has been preserving and releasing her music from the '60s to '80s through her own imprint, Lo-Flo Records.

By Tracklib
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3:19
Sidenote: "Turn Away From Darkness" features the late great Dr. John on piano

Your music on Tracklib is part of an album of previously unreleased material, called ‘Running Around.’ How did the selection from the (I assume many?) original reel-to-reel tapes come about?

All of the songs come from a vault full of reel-to-reel tapes: from 1/4” 1/4 track quad to 1/2” 8 track masters. So deciding what to choose has been challenging. But the main goal has always been restoring and preserving my archival work. This is not only an art in itself; it’s part of defining my musical legacy.

Many of these tracks are some of my favorite songs, written during a very exciting period, from the late 60s to the 80s. "Turn Away From Darkness" came at an emotional time in my life. That was my first gospel song, recorded by Joyce Dunn. The highlight of this period, however, was having Sarah Vaughan perform "Running Around," "Make It Happen," and two other songs in concert. Unfortunately, she died in 1990 before she could record them, which was her next project.

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4:12
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3:51

“A Good Thing” featuring Lydia Marcelle is a truly beautiful and powerful track! Can you recall anything about recording this song and/or working with her?

When I wrote "A Good Thing," Lydia, saxophonist and composer Harold Battiste Jr., and I put together a series of demos at Hollywood Central Recorders in the late 60s. It was an outrageous and energetic time with lots of improvisation and creativity going on. I had written about five or six songs for Lydia who had a 2 and 1/2 octave range with a ridiculously powerful voice. Working with Lydia and Harold was infectious, always inspiring me to write challenging material. Lydia loved "A Good Thing" because it was funky and driving at the same time. Harold showed the demo to Al Bennett at Universal who liked it so much he signed Lydia to a three-record contract.

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2:35
Lydia Marcelle & Harold Battiste Jr. (archive photo courtesy of Lo-Flo Records)
Lydia Marcelle & Harold Battiste Jr. (archive photo courtesy of Lo-Flo Records)

Speaking of Harold Battiste Jr.: he was somewhat of a mentor to you, right?

I met Harold in the late 60s through Lydia Marcelle’s manager, David Ezell. At the time, Harold was mostly involved with Sonny and Cher. Although we were starting to make demos together at Hollywood Central, Harold was also negotiating with Erwin Garr at Mercury Records to start a jazz label: Blue Rock, in Los Angeles. My collaboration with Harold was very laid-back. We never wrote anything together specifically, but a lot of his interpretations of my work came from us grooving extemporaneously together. One of his first instrumental recordings was "This Can’t Be The End." This was originally on an album he recorded with his closest friend, Melvin Lastie. It was the beginning of many more incredible projects.

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4:45

You previously described this song as “a soul torn apart only to be saved and reinvented.” Can you please elaborate on that?

The creative mind works in mysterious ways. The subconscious takes feelings like enduring and overcoming emotional adversity and turns them into a musical tome. Like a musical lyric from the heart, you learn to survive.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from seeing Harold Battiste start his own label, All For One (AFO) Records, that you now still put into your own label?

I hadn’t yet met Harold when he started AFO in about 1961. He was basically building his own coterie of artists like Sam Cooke, culminating with Barbara George singing her hit "I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)." AFO was a way for Harold to put Black musicians on the map as a producer, arranger, and orchestrator.

Probably the most important thing I learned from Harold was to be true to myself and to be honest. “Eventually,” he told me once, “Whatever you create will find an audience.”

Jane McNealy (photo courtesy of Lo-Flo Records)
Jane McNealy (photo courtesy of Lo-Flo Records)

Needless to say, a whole lot has changed since Battiste Jr. started his own imprint in 1961. What do you love most about new and modern-day opportunities as opposed to those times?

There was a time when you could walk into any publishing company off the street, sit down at the piano, and play a song. The first time I met Harold, I went to his studio, which was an enclosed screened porch area behind his house. He had a funky upright piano with cigarette burns all over the keyboard. I thought that was very cool as I sat down to play, and Lydia belted out about four numbers. He signed me on the spot to his publishing company as a contract writer, and I worked for him for about five years. We continued to work together for many years after that. Among other things, he orchestrated and arranged two of my musicals that were being produced in Los Angeles.

Today, millions of people have access to music platforms that no one had dreamed of in the '60s. Musicians and non-musicians can interact, anyone can have his or her music heard anywhere because of the Internet. It’s phenomenal! And although analog music will always be warmer to me than digital music, digital music and sampling can make composing more accessible to a wider group of people. Particularly producers, arrangers, and even unmusical people. The artistic opportunities are limitless.

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4:31

As a musician and composer yourself, do you consider sampling to be an art form?

I definitely think sampling is an art form. But I think it’s slightly more manipulative: the dream of engineers and producers who want something commercial and ear-catching. To me, sampling is a vessel for artistic expression which has been among the most important techniques in the music industry for decades. But it is one that has been mostly gatekept in the mainstream to artists with backing from major record labels due to the difficult legal hurdles it tends to raise. It is changing the essentials of composing. I believe that Tracklib’s mission is to facilitate sampling in the wider music community with its accessible and affordable library. This has the potential to bring creative freedom to musicians everywhere. The artistic possibilities are limitless.

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4:37

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