(Editor’s Note: Cosmo Baker is one of our favorite DJs. Widely considered one of the top party-rocking DJs on the planet, the Philly native cut his chops alongside contemporaries like ?uestlove and Rich Medina, and helped found the internationally known DJ / remix collective The Rub. Now as a solo performer, Cosmo is bringing his show to larger audiences around the globe. Dude’s a rare breed of DJ that bridges the gap between new and old and does so with impeccable taste. We’re glad to have caught him for this fine guest post. Peep game. – DM)
By Cosmo Baker
As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia, jazz was this omnipresent force that weaved its way through all of my musical experiences. Some of my earlier memories are of my mom playing Coltrane records on Thanksgiving and me having this unreal magnetic attraction to his version of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue.” When kids my age were packing West Philly basements to see underground hardcore shows, I was heading out by myself to see lions like Sonny Rollins or Elvin Jones play their souls out. At some of my first DJ gigs, I would be quick to throw some Gary Bartz or Herbie Hancock into my sets, trying to draw some obviously (to me) direct correlation between jazz and the boom-bap that I was a part of. Let’s put it this way: with every visit to the record store, the jazz section was always the first destination. It was on one of these visits that I discovered Norman Connors “Love From The Sun.”
With the death of John Coltrane in 1967, there was a shockwave that reverberated throughout the jazz world and, amidst the rise of the Vietnam War and the faltering civil rights movement, the groups of artists set forth to redefine their community. What came about post 67 was a new sound – more importantly a new feel – within the music that was more contemplative. Fitting right within those confines comes Norman Connors’ third album “Love From The Sun” in 1973. The North Philadelphia born and raised drummer penned the title track, a smooth ballad featuring a sublime vocals by Dee Dee Bridgewater, accompanying an atmospheric treatment of bells, percussion and flute, and although it seems the song is about solar worship the subtext is much deeper. It was one of those songs that I would listen to incessantly, during the summer of a new love that held so much promise through the following fall, when that love had crashed and burned and I was left to make sense of it all. But even today, I listen to this song and it causes a wave of tranquility to was over me.
Norman Connors “Love From The Sun”
In the mid 90s I worked at Eightball Records in New York City and the shop became an oasis of some of the biggest house DJs in the city (and vicariously the world.) We were tasked to help pick out records for some of the scene’s top guys, who in turn went on to play these records and turn them into monster hits, launching the careers of many artists and remixers. We always got the big records and the exclusives first and one of these records was from Tribal America, one of the biggest domestic house labels at the time. It was the first single off the debut Danny Tenaglia album. Now I always considered Danny Tenaglia one of my favorite DJs, and he was also one of the nicest people as well. But as a DJ he successfully bridged the gap between his Paradise Garage influence and the dark, futuristic soulful sound of New York of the mid to late 90s. The song was “Look Ahead” a romping, driving vocal with messages of empowerment and a bright future. It instantly became a favorite of mine. Not 2 weeks later, and old DJ came into the store to sell his old vinyl collection. One of the records I grabbed was by Norman Connors Aquarian Dream. Aquarian Dream was a soul and funk outfit that Connors took under his wing to produce their first album for Buddah Records. They failed to score any hits big, and went on eventually to a sleeker disco sound (and it’s worth to note their one-time lead singer was none other than Sylvia Striplin.) But back to their first record, in listening to it I discovered that the original version of “Look Ahead” was on it. I became so enamored of this song and started to play it in my sets incessantly, always getting a great response. Still to this day, it remains in my “Finishing Off Strong” crate as a wonderful song to end a night with.
Norman Connors Presents Aquarian Dream “Look Ahead”
Much like many jazz artists of the 60s and early 70s, like Roy Ayers or the Mizell Brothers, Connors branched out in the latter half of the 70s in a more smooth R&B direction, resulting in his biggest hit – the 1976 slow jam anthem “You Are My Starship.” Now I don’t know what made him blast off into the intergalactic dimension with his prose, but likening a woman to an interstellar spacecraft never sounded so sexy. Perhaps it’s Michael Henderson’s silky vocals instructing the object of his desire to not be too late, “but not to come too soon” or perhaps it’s the smooth sweeping keyboard introduction, that ended up becoming the backbone to many a rap record. But either way, this late night Quiet Storm staple has aged well, standing the test of time and still inducing many panties to drop when it’s played at the right place and time.
Norman Connors “You Are My Starship” feat. Michael Henderson
* Take a look & listen HERE for more of Cosmo’s work.