The mother of all marching band funks
Friday May 04th 2007, 11:28 pm

Willie Dynamite OST

J.J. Johnson – Parade Strut 1974

I first heard the legendary trombonist/composer J.J. Johnson‘s “Parade Strut” on the radio in the 90s.
Probably Kiss 100, London. It was Jazzy Jay of the mighty Zulu Nation cutting up breaks for half an hour.

Maybe I’d heard it before, maybe I hadn’t. I’d never got it on C90 before. With REW and FFD at my fingertips, I could get my head stuck right inside that opening break. Jay made things easier by looping the breakdown again and again before taking me to the Mardi Gras or perhaps off with the Mohawks. I was probably reaching for the REW before they could scream “Champ!”. Got to get back to those military snares and that building brass.
Most of all I fixated on the sounds around seven seconds in. It sounds like they mixed an opening and closing hi-hat from a regular trap set with the snare line underneath. I don’t know, they could be marching cymbals muffled against the chest but I think there’s a funk drummer in there keeping time with the drumline and playing the kick. Either way it might be my favourite two seconds of percussion in all of recorded music. I don’t really have the words to tell you why… …somewhere in those two seconds are the off-beat and open-hi-hat that do all the donkey work in selling most music to me. It’s like a perfect miniature that captures all you admire in painting or that one goal that vindicates a lifetime of watching football.
The whole break is a monster too.

I actually first heard “Parade Strut” in Massive Attack‘s goosebumping “Unfinished Sympathy”. The break is right there with a few new bells (and whistles?) on but still pretty much as J.J. plotted it. It holds up the strings, or rather tethers them down so they don’t float away. Keeps them marching along the street. Makes that song the monolithic fusion of black american styles that it is without letting it get corny, keeping the Hiphop in lockstep with the Soul by taking it back to Nolia funeral marches. Nice one Bristol.

Like many of the best breaks played in the parks and rec-rooms of Hiphop’s genesis there is simply nothing that sounds like “Parade Strut”. In the thirty-odd years since it graced cinema speakers and then MCA vinyl there have been many fusions of the funk and the martial but until recently I didn’t hear a second of music that sounded much like that there break.
One of the reasons Hiphop can go on morphing and spawning new sounds is that it was wrought from hugely diverse records in the first place. It allways took in the full gamut of blackamerican music, it’s just taking it thirty something years to spew it all back out in Hiphop form. Now we have marching bands playing Hiphop, that sounds like a marching band break that rocked early Hiphop jams. Pinky ring shit. Nice one Jay.