Marvin Gaye came to Jason Miles two years ago, on Martha’s Vineyard. Not a bad trick, considering Gaye died in 1984, after being shot by his father.
Gaye, of course, came to Miles in the metaphysical sense. The jazz musician and producer was on vacation, “sitting this little restaurant there, eating a nice piece of fi sh, and they started playing Marvin Gaye, ‘(I Heard it Through the) Grapevine.’
“How can you ask for anything more — a beautiful night, Marvin Gaye. ... And then the next tune started playing, and the next, and it was all Marvin Gaye songs. I’m like, ‘Whoa ...,’ and all of a sudden this idea came into my brain.”
The idea is “What’s Going On?,” Miles’ new album of Gaye songs and a concept he’ll perform live this weekend to close out this weekend’s Smooth JazzFest in Southfi eld. Working with guest artists including Herb Alpert, Marcus Miller, Spyro Gyra’s Jack Beckenstein, Bobby Caldwell and DJ Logic and several up-and-coming performers, Miles has recast 11 of Gaye’s favorites in jazz hews, embracing a range from pop hits such as “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” to deeper R&B fare like “Distant Lover” and “Heavy Lover Affair,” plus instrumental treatments of “Grapevine,” “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Sexual Healing”
“What I wanted to do was bring Marvin’s music to a place of originality that was my originality,” explains Miles, 54, a Brooklyn native whose credits include work with Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson, plus TV and fi lm work as well as similar tribute projects dedicated to Davis, Weather Report and composer Ivan Lins.
“I started hearing Marvin as bossanova electro-groove. This guy, man, he went through so many different machinations, what you could do with it was completely wide open.”
Miles considered nearly 90 songs from Gaye’s songbooks, but quickly realized he had to successfully straddle the line between wellknown songs and cool, more obscure tracks.
“I realized I can’t do a whole album of ‘Here, My Dear,’ ” he says, referring to Gaye’s emotionally charged 1978 double album about his bitter divorce from Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr.’s sister Anna. “People would freak.
“But I did throw stuff in there like ‘Heavy Love Affair’ and ‘Distant Lover’ and still gave people ‘What’s Going On?’ and ‘Grapevine’ and all those songs.”
And while his previous tributes have been filled with bigname stars, Miles decided to go light on that list this time.
“It was important for me to introduce new artists on this record,” says Miles, who enlisted the likes of Andy Snitzer, Nick Colionne, Mike Mattison and Chiara Civella for “What’s Going On?” “I took it to different places rather than Smooth Jazz Artist A on Track 2, just to get radio play.”
Since “What’s Going On?” came out in February, Miles has been most invested in turning it into a live experience. Not surprisingly, when the offer to play this weekend’s Smooth JazzFest came, “I said to myself, ‘We gotta make this happen. We’ve got to play it in Detroit. We’re going to the church, man! I’m a spiritual cat; maybe the vibe will be strong enough to conjure up a little of Marvin’s spirit.’ ”
The Motown spirit is certainly running through Miles these days. He’s already eyeballing another project he’s dubbed “Mo’Chill,” which will be “Motown tunes done vibey, groovy, funky, a little bit more 2007.” He’s been working on it for seven months and is finishing demos, with hopes to start recording before the end of the year.
“I really believe in the music,” says Miles, who recently produced an album for Nashville Singer Suzy Bogguss. “I believe these songs are timeless and can be covered in many interesting ways.
“I think that the compositional level of contemporary jazz has really dropped a number of levels. Something like (Motown) music can get people into jazz a little more. If I’m going to help do that, I want to bring out the songs I think I can really create something with and make some sense out of, and (Motown) songs are pretty fertile territory.
“But you’re in Detroit, so I don’t need to tell you that.”
The Eighth annual V98.7 Smooth JazzFest is Friday (June 23rd) through Sunday (Jund 25th) in front of the Southfield Civic Center. Tickets are $30 per day, $75 for a weekend pass, with Gold Circle seating at $40 per day and $105 for the weekend. Friday's p
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