|May 2003||Denis Poole offers his view with an english slant on all that's good in smooth jazz|
Welcome to the May 2003 issue of Denis Poole's Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that's good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz.
Observant readers of the column will have already have noted that we have had two March columns in 2003! The real March page featured Willie Hill from Raleigh NC while what should have been the April page showcased the work of Jonathan Butler. Sorry to all for the confusion but here we go, back on track, with our page for May 2003.
During a recent trip to England the Secret Garden picked up on some hot media activity from Jazz FM that heralded the release, on their own Jazz FM label, of a retrospective from the great Paul Hardcastle. Titled Paul Hardcastle 1983-2003 this is not the first ‘best of’ release by him. What makes this latest recording different is that the double CD breaks down the career of this talented musician into two distinct phases. The first disc concentrates on the pop orientated phase of his career while disc two brings back to mind that music that has made Hardcastle such a success on the smooth jazz play lists in the USA.
Paul Hardcastle does not consider his music as smooth and doubts if its jazz. He himself describes his music as adult ambient contemporary but how did it all begin.
The story of Hardcastle goes back to 1981 when he appeared on the single ‘Don’t Depend on Me’ with the up and coming British soul band Direct Drive. From there a collaboration with fellow Londoner Derek Green took him into the emerging dance music scene with the project First Light, a partnership that endured to 1985 and produced a string of successful club hits. However, it was in 1984, when Paul chose to carve out a solo career, that things really started to happen.
The release of ‘Rainforest’ in that year captured the spirit of the dancefloor movement and in addition delivered an enduring fusion classic of cult status. It can be found on the Secret Garden recommended album JazzFusions Two.
When, in the following year, the release of the tremendously innovative ‘19’ put him at the top of the world wide pop charts he at last became a name in the music business that was recognised by millions.
Its this track ‘19’ that really receives some outstanding attention on this latest Hardcastle offering. Those who are not in love with the track may call it overkill but for those who recognise its ground-breaking qualities further analysis is compelling. The original was, at one time in 1985, the fastest selling record in the nation going to number one in thirteen different countries. The original is track #1 on disc one. Play it and the memories of 1985, and of the horrors of the Vietnam war will come flooding back. Track #11 on the same disc brings us ’19 – The Full Story’, an extended play version of the original and the final track on CD one is ’19 (Slow Version). It’s a version of the tune that has not been previously heard and in a smooth jazz context carries with it the most interest. It is a genuine Hardcastle-esque production that blends a whole range of styles into his very own brand of smooth jazz. It will prove to be a real smooth jazz standout of 2003.
Back to Hardcastle history and following the success of ‘19’ a sequence of interesting projects followed. Also in 1985 he enjoyed a hit with ‘Just For Money’ that featured the voices of Sir Lawrence Olivier and Bob Hoskins while a year later ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ with vocals by Carol Kenyon went to #8. Before the end of that year his composition ‘The Wizard’ achieved immortality when it was selected as the theme for the BBC TV show Top Of The Pops and, as a consequence, made #12 in the UK pop charts.
In 1987 he helped pen the score for the animated film When the Wind Blows based on the novel by Raymond Briggs that handled the sensitive subject of a post-nuclear holocaust. In a period where nuclear war remained a genuine threat the entire project was a cautionary reminder of what the folly of global warfare could bring.
From 1988 to 1990 Hardcastle enjoyed success as a remix producer working with such artists as Barry White, D-Train, Ian Drury, Phil Lynott and the original band of Luther Vandross, Change. He was also active in the composition of many memorable TV themes for British television. The shows that his tunes fronted included Watchdog, The Late Breakfast Show and the UK version of Saturday Night Live.
Moving into the nineties and we find Hardcastle’s career taking a subtle change in direction. Early in 1991 he signed for Motown Records and his project Kiss The Sky that featured the UK vocalist Jaki Graham began to make an impact with urban listeners.
The smooth and sultry sounds of Jazzmasters 1 was introduced to the US listening audience on the JVC label in 1992. It had previously been released in Japan the previous year with the record company having no plans to release it to a wider audience. However, US radio stations soon started to play imported copies and as a result of overwhelming requests the decision was made to release the record commercially in the USA. It went on to be the number one smooth jazz album of the year.
This success started a romance with the smooth jazz scene that endures to the present. His first solo album in the smooth jazz format, Hardcastle 1 reached #1 in the US smooth jazz album chart and marked the beginning of a partnership with sax and flute player Snake Davis that has continued through to today.
Jazzmasters II came on the scene in 1995. A tremendous success in its own right it also spawned the track ‘Walking To Freedom’ which was released in the summer of 1995 and became a #1 radio single for a straight fifteen weeks.
Hardcastle 2 was yet another triumph. It was released in 1997 and put Paul back at #1 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz chart. In addition it was the source of a number of radio ready hits including the great ‘Bird Island’ and ‘Peace On Earth’. It is interesting to note that the distinctive groove and rhythm that marks Paul’s solo albums is entirely different to the smooth and sultry feel of the Jazzmasters releases.
In 1998, with the demise of JVC records in the U.S., Hardcastle felt that it was time to head in a new direction. He decided to start Hardcastle Records and it was on this label that Jazzmasters III appeared in 1999. It has gone on to be one of the longest reigning top twenty chart albums.
2001 saw more interesting Hardcastle accomplishments. Among these were Hardcastle 3, and a new project entitled New Dawn. This latter piece of work contains music that was originally incorporated on the album First Light, but never commercially released in the U.S. It also contains music that has been composed for TV and film soundtracks.
Paul Hardcastle is diverse enough to have latterly written and produced for the UK pop band S Club 7 and scored the music for the Spice Girls movie Spice World. It is certain therefore that he will continue to attract criticism from the smooth jazz purists. The new Paul Hardcastle release The Greatest Hits is just a small sample of Paul’s very successful recordings that have generated sales world wide of two million albums. Can two million smooth jazz fans be wrong? The Secret Garden thinks not but check it out and decide for yourself.
One Paul Hardcastle album not yet mentioned is Cover To Cover This 1997 release was a collection of rare and unreleased tracks that, in addition, provided a disc of covers with a distinctly Hardcastle feel. A standout on this album is ‘Walk In The Night’ originally recorded by Junior Walker and the All Stars.
So there we have it. Paul Hardcastle, eighteen years and still going strong. Of course next year it will be Hardcastles ‘19’.