Classics: Tom Browne – Funkin For Jamaica (N.Y.) (Arista/GRP)
The N.Y. between brackets standing next to ‘Funkin For Jamaica’ has its importance. Therefore allowing us to make the distinction between the famous island and this middle-class neighborhood in the NYC borough of Queens where Tom Browne saw the light back in 1954. But also brilliantly remindin’ us as to how music is first and foremost a language. With its protagonists bringin’ it to the next level upon their ability to express it…
As a matter of fact, stating that ‘Funkin For Jamaica’ is standout track is much of an understatement. As both its flow and a quick look at its video clip tell much about the obvious pleasure its participants had playin’ together. From trumpeter Tom Browne takin’ the centerstage. To Marcus Miller delivering a killer bassline. Not to mention Bernard Wright on synths and Dave Grusin‘ adding his thing on acoustic piano. With female singer Toni Smith (remember ‘(Ooh!) I Like The Way It Feels’) singin’ her heart out.
With as many assets in their sleeve, one would figure the label had given it a Promo 12″ release on its own. But they didn’t at the end eventually issuing a multi-artist 4 tracker with ‘Funkin For Jamaica’ featuring on its flipside. And not even Arista gave it a commerical 12″ release Stateside back then. Which hopefully didn’t get ‘Funkin’ For Jamaica’ from toppin’ the charts though. Meanwhile standing as Tom Browne’s biggest success ever along with ‘Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move)’ although to a lesser extend. If not ‘Fungi Mama / Bebopafunkadiscolypso’…
“Jamaica Funk, that’s what it is. Let it get into you. C’mon, I’ve got a groove… You know where I ‘ll be… Funkin for Jamaica!” Nuff said!
– A native of Queens, NY, Tom Browne originally played piano at the age of 11. Switching to trumpet, he got his first professional gig with Weldon Irvine. Soon after, he would get to play along with Sonny Fortune and Lonnie Smith. This before being introduced to Grusin and Rosen who signed him to their GRP label via Arista.
Browne released his debut-album – ‘Browne Sugar’ – to a critical acclaim in the Jazz scene back in 1979. He would nevertheless reach higher glory with its follow up – ‘ Love Approach’ – the year after. An album which spanned its biggest classic ever by the likes of ‘Funkin For Jamaica’. Meanwhile featuring luminaries such as Marcus Miller, Bernard Wright and Dave Grusin. With Toni Smith in charge of the vocal duties. The following year seeing him releasing the explosive ‘Fungi Mama / Bebopafunkadiscolypso’ as a part of his ‘Yours Truly’ album. Although it didn’t get to the same status.
George Benson eventually highlighting his “believability in any musical style; his ability to communicate!”
Browne never managed to maintain a following comparable to ‘Funkin For Jamaica’though. This despite releasing another 9 albums. With his latest to date – ‘Legacy’ – back in 2016. This didn’t get him from droppin’ a couple of gems quite worh the listen along with time. From ‘Brighter Tomorrow’ along with Carol Woods back in 1983. To the soothing ‘Secret Fantasy’ featuring the sultry Siedah Garrett the year after. And how not to add his 1994 ‘Mo’ Jamaica Funk’ including his cover version of Kool & The Gang‘s ‘Too Hot’ featuring the late Sylvia Robinson?!?
– Despite an undeniable talent as a songwriter and vocal arranger, Toni Smith never managed to get the recognition she truly deserved as a singer, only offered to release a handful of singles on her own. Beginning with the highly sought after ‘(Ooh!) I Like The Way It Feels’.
Quite ironical though in regards to an artist who started to sing professionnaly at the age of 12. And even more, remembering the ones she worked with as a vocal arranger, including Stephanie Mills and Meli’sa Morgan. Not to mention her presence on Tom Browne‘s ‘Funkin For Jamaica’. The twosome teamin’ up once again 14 years after on a cover version of George Benson‘s classic ‘Give Me The Night’.