Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Jade MacRae – Donny Hathaway, Extensions Of A Man(1973)
It was almost as if we were meant to be – you were introduced to me by my parents at the tender age of 10 – we had their blessing from the very start.
I still remember walking into the dining room at Crescent Rd, after dinner, a couple of empty wine bottles littered across the table, and a candlelit atmosphere in the room that was what could only be described as mellow. Mum and dad had a couple of friends over, dad dropped the needle on the record and called to me, “Jade – come and listen to this”. My ears pricked up and I was immediately immersed in lush orchestration – as a young violinist myself at the time, this was not entirely unfamiliar. The gentle caress of the harp and the flourish of flutes all sitting atop a deeply resonating string section. There was one colour that my young ears did not identify instantly – what I would discover to be the mighty Fender Rhodes, quivering in stereo with its signature tremolo, drenched in delay. A pure delight to my innocent mind, I had no idea then just how intrinsic that instrument was to become to my own musical life.
Your overture gathered momentum and marched in 5/8 towards what would truly blow my mind, still to this day, in my opinion, one of the most glorious songs ever created; ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’. “Hang on to the world, as it spins around..Just don’t let the spin get you down” – not a day goes by when hearing you sing these words doesn’t comfort me and relieve even the deepest anxiety or heartache. That night, my dad asked, “who is the singer?” In my naivety, I answered boldly “Is it Stevie Wonder?” – not a bad guess at ten, but I was wrong. This was the first of countless nights I was to spend with you – Donny Hathaway’s Extensions Of A Man.
The rich beyond rich tone of your voice and your enlightened lyrics struck me so deeply, even as a young girl. I can pinpoint that night exactly as the dawn of my deep love affair with soul music. Over the years I have returned to you in every different chapter of my life, and you continue to connect me to a conduit to a higher power. Something divine is channelled through your vocal delivery. It cracks me open and pours something into me that makes everything meaningful, and makes even the darkest of times bearable.
I have had other loves along the way – although I would never say that I’ve been untrue to you. I’ve spent a great deal of time with your brother – Donny Hathaway Live, and to be honest, we had our moments. To me, that is still the pinnacle of live albums and I will forever strive for my live gigs to reach the rapture of that immaculate collection. I ran away with Stevie more than once – please forgive me but our time together was deep. Innervisions and Fulfillingness First Finale taught me about humanity and opened my heart and mind. Aretha Live at The Filmore – certainly more than just a fling – taught me about a woman’s power.
But there were so many things about you – the easy integration of more complex jazz harmony (yes to those 11 chords) – the odd time that doesn’t feel like odd time – the wizardry of the rhythm section that was Willie Weeks, Cornell Dupree and Grady Tate – the infinite textures of the orchestral components – the funk of ‘The Slums’ – the weight of ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ – the sheer joy and dedication to love that is ‘I Know It’s You’ – and the constant; the expressive, earnest, soaring vocals that embody pure love and float and weave so effortlessly, and articulate the complexities of life with passion and power.
You were the last studio album Donny created, it’s as if he crammed all his wisdom, genius, heart and guidance into you before he had to leave us. Within you are the lessons of my life, and each and every day I live by your credo to, “Sing Your Greatest Song”.
Forever in your dedication,