NYPD Jazz Band honors music of Isaac Hayes

On Saturday, I attended the 19th San Jose Jazz Festival, one of the best annual music festivals in the San Francisco bay area. One of the bands I saw there really impressed me by being so very different from all the other jazz, salsa, and blues groups at this event. The NYPD Jazz Band is a big band comprised entirely of police officers from the New York City Police Department. It’s quite spectacular to hear swing music done well with an 18 piece band, and these guys did a fantastic job, covering songs made popular by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Frank Sinatra, and even the lovely Norah Jones. I was so impressed by this group that I had to pull my little pocket camera out to shoot a little video of these performances.

One of the songs I was lucky enough capture on video was a performance of the “Theme From Shaft,” one of the greatest songs ever composed for a motion picture soundtrack.

As fate would happen, within 24 hours of seeing this excellent rendition, the man who wrote this song, Isaac Hayes died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Here’s the video that I shot on Saturday:

Isaac Hayes had an impressive musical career, starting off as a songwriter and producer for Stax Records in Memphis — an R&B label of the 1960s that was often considered the southern counterpart to Motown in Detroit. Some of his best known compositions from this period included ”Soul Man” (recorded by Sam & Dave, revived by the Blues Brothers), ”Hold On! I’m Comin’,” and ”B-A-B-Y” (made popular by Carla Thomas).

Hayes’ breakout as a performer came in 1969 with his Hot Buttered Soul album. In 1971, his ”Theme from ‘Shaft,”’ won an Oscar and his performance at the Academy Awards catapulted him into the national consciousness.

His increased profile led to a career in movies, which included Tough Guys and Truck Turner (1974), Escape from New York (1981), I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), and Hustle and Flow (2005). On television, he wound up as the voice of “Chef” on the controversial animated series South Park, which ended in 2006 when he had a dispute with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone over some religious satire.

Hayes recently finished work on a movie called Soul Men, which also stars Bernie Mac, who passed away on Saturday. The film is scheduled to be released in November 2008.

UPDATE: I posted another clip of the NYPD Jazz Band at the SJ Jazz Festival. Check out the other video clip I posted to YouTube. You can hear some of the jazz standards they performed, and a pretty amazing version of the Star-Spangled Banner. I have a lot of respect for these guys – policing one of the toughest cities in America, and performing really beautiful music. This is the kind of thing that speaks to a higher power of serving others, and I can’t help but admire this kind of service.

I wish more police departments had jazz bands.

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