TIR 29: James Mtume Talks Juicy Funk & All That Jazz


Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on the One: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in this two-part series: Jazz, R&B and funk percussionist, composer, producer and activist James Mtume. From 1971-1975, he was a member of Miles Davis’ group that also included bassist Michael Henderson, organist Lonnie Liston Smith and guitarist Reggie Lucas, whom Mtume would work with on numerous future projects. Among his albums with Miles was 1972’s funk-jazz landmark On the Corner, later reissued and expanded as a fantastic six-CD collection. Mtume also worked with many of the jazz giants of the era, including McCoy Tyner, Don Cherry, Art Farmer, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Gato Barbieri, among others, and also released three avant-garde jazz LPs under his own name in the 1970s that included collaborators like Ndugu Chancellor, Gary Bartz, Jean Carne and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

As a transition into more mainstream music, in 1978 Mtume and Lucas teamed up to write the No. 1 R&B duet ballad “The Closer I Get to You” for Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. That same year, they released Kiss This World Goodbye, the first of what would be five albums credited to Mtume as an R&B-funk band. They scored their biggest hit with the throbbing mid-tempo funker “Juicy Fruit,” which topped the R&B chart in 1983. Fronted by the powerful presence of singer Tawatha Agee, Mtume notched 11 charted singles between 1978-1986, including “Give It on Up (If You Want to),” “You, Me and He” and “Breathless.” Along with that were deeper, funkier tracks like “Just Funnin’,” “Green Light,” “I Simply Like” and “Hip Dip Skipped a Beat.” Concurrently, the Mtume-Lucas combination produced and wrote hits for other artists including Phyllis Hyman and Stephanie Mills, winning a Best R&B Song Grammy for the latter’s 1980 hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before.”

James Mtume subsequently became involved with film and TV music, including “New York Undercover” from 1994-1999, and went on to become a talk radio personality and public speaker. Here he reflects on it all and shares countless unforgettable stories.

Recorded November 2017