Providence gripped by funk shortage
By PHILIP EIL  |  December 29, 2008

James Brown’s long-time saxophonist, Maceo Parker, once described funk as “happy music.”

“When you hear it,” he explained on his 1992 live album, Life On Planet Groove, “You start movin’ and shakin’ something automatically. And you smile a lot, too.”

So Maceo surely would be saddened to learn that the Hi-Hat, the jazz club at 3 Davol Square in Providence, recently discontinued its weekly Old School Funk Jam. There’s going to be a lot less movin’ and shakin’ on Monday nights in Providence. Fewer smiles, too.

From its beginning in January 2008, the Funk Jam presented an “all-star” group (a changing cast of local musicians, headed by CC, the bassist from the World Premier Band) playing bass-slapping, booty-wiggling standards like Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” and Parliament Funkadelic’s “Flashlight.”

Monday nights at the Point Street bar — which formerly housed a Talbots store and the City Lights nightclub — were a haven for cubicle-dwellers looking to, in the words of the Godfather of Soul, “get up offa that thing and try to release that pressure.”

“I work with a lot of miserable people and I can’t wait until Monday nights,” explained Kelly Alves, a self-described regular who used to drive from Raynham, Massachusetts, every Monday. “I pull in to the parking lot and I hear the music and it all just melts away. For two or three hours, I just dance.”

If there’s disappointment after this funk fallout, the Hi-Hat’s management isn’t to blame. With a modest cover ($5) and a commitment to the classics — covers of Rick James, the Staples Singers, and Earth Wind & Fire — the club did everything in its power to fan the Ocean State’s funky flame. But, alas, as general manager Joe Barone explains, “It just wasn’t supported in the community. We didn’t get a good turnout.” He adds, somewhat warily, “We’ll try it again soon. Maybe after New Year’s.”

Until then, local funkophiles will have go elsewhere for their weekly funk fix: cruising yard sales for Herbie Hancock LPs; supporting new torch-bearers of funk — bands like Soulive and the Greyboy Allstars — when they pass through town; and, if all else fails, heading to the library for more funk-inspired research (according to the New Groves Dic-tionary of Music, funk “features syncopated interlocking rhythm patterns based on straight quaver and semiquaver subdivisions . . . The use of the term for a musical style inverts the negative colloquial meaning of strong aromas, particularly of a bodily and sexual nature.”)

“As far as this kind of music, there’s not too many places to hear it live,” says John Vaughn, a professional musician and producer who played keyboard during one of the Hi-Hat’s final Funk Jams. “It’s been forgotten. You got your rock and roll clubs. You got your jazz clubs. You don’t really have clubs where you can hear this kind of music.”

Hi-Hat owner Larry Friedlander, a proponent of funk in Providence, says there’s no substitute for the real thing. “I really believe there’s a karma that comes from the stage and infiltrates the room,” he says, as the band played Lakeside’s “Fantastic Voyage” during one of the final Funk Jams. “On a Monday night, I can’t believe there aren’t 100 people who want to hear the funk.”

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