Prince is universally regarded as one of the most prolific and creative musicians in the world. While fans know that Prince was inspired in part by his father, the late jazz musician and composer John L. Nelson, few have heard the elder Nelson’s music—until now. In honor of his 101st birthday, June 29th, Sharon Nelson, Prince’s oldest sister, is releasing a single of his original instrumental composition “Heart of Mine,” recorded by an all-star jazz collective dubbed The John L. Nelson Project. The classic jazz tune, which features a warm horn melody over a bossa nova groove, is available on all digital platforms, including iTunes and Amazon. The track is featured on the upcoming full-length release of Nelson compositions titled Don't Play With Love, due October 27, 2017.
Surprisingly, this marks the first studio recording of any music written solely by John L. Nelson, who died in August 2001 at age 85. Conceived and produced by his oldest daughter, Sharon Nelson, and recorded in January 2017, the project also marks the first studio recordings made at the world-renowned Paisley Park complex in Chanhassen, Minn., since the untimely passing of Prince on April 21, 2016.
During his lifetime, Prince acknowledged his father’s influence on his life as a musician, and admiration for his musical vision. “Our personalities are a lot alike, but his music is like nothing I’ve ever heard before,” Prince told Ebony in 1986. “It’s more complex. A lot of beautiful melodies are hidden beneath the complexity.” Prince also shared credit with his father for several songs, including tracks from Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Parade, and the Batman soundtrack.
Sharon Nelson has wanted her father’s music recorded ever since she found a stash of his original handwritten charts back in 1978. “Our dad was a loving, caring, hardworking father and a prolific jazz musician most notably known as the father of the musical genius, our brother Prince,” says Sharon. “Our dad wrote and composed many songs, but they were never recorded until now. He was Prince’s musical inspiration, and this project is very special because it was recorded in Paisley Park.”
The recording features top-notch jazz veterans and notable contemporary players, whose stellar execution will inspire renewed appreciation for the bebop genre and shed new light on the creative originality of Nelson, who performed in the ‘40s and ‘50s under the stage name of Prince Rogers. The John L. Nelson Project band features veteran drummer Louis Hayes, pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Dezron Douglas, saxophonist Vincent Herring, and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. In a promo video for the new project, pianist Germanson notes that Nelson, who wrote and performed primarily on piano, created a sound of his own: “The music is very unique, it kind of moves in unexpected directions. I’ve never played anything quite like it. This music is the truth, it’s honest, and it’s real.”
L. Londell McMillan, the prominent entertainment attorney represented Prince as his manager for more than a decade, notes, “For years, I’ve known and had a profound respect for Sharon Nelson. Her work producing the John L. Nelson Project is extraordinary and now part of music history. Prince was inspired by his father’s musical talents and his eldest sister has produced some amazing musicians to now release a great body of work written by Mr. Nelson and recorded at Paisley Park. This is a blessing!”
Co-executive producer Charles E. Spicer Jr. calls the project “historic” and “monumental,” and adds that he was proud to contribute to the recording. “The John L. Nelson Project defines the prolific talents of a musician who never got his big break, and showcases the songwriting talents that were always a major influence and a catalyst to his son Prince’s musical genius,” says Spicer. “Now, Sharon L. Nelson, John’s oldest daughter, has orchestrated and produced her father’s music for all to hear, by way of the spiritual guidance of her dad and as well as her brother Prince. This jazz album is the epitome of African-American classical music, and I believe it will spark a new resurgence and appreciation for the genre worldwide.”
“Heart of Mine” is the first taste of the unsung talents of John L. Rogers, who made a distinctive contribution to America’s only indigenous musical art form, jazz—a form that still sounds fresh and inventive thanks to skilled players. Rogers’ music also creates a bridge to understanding the musical wellspring that informed the legacy of Prince.
About The John L. Nelson Project
The project was recorded at Paisley Park in January of 2017and was conceived and produced by Sharon Nelson, the eldest sibling of Prince. The single is available on all digital outlets and the album will be released worldwide on October 27, 2017. The musicians who came together to record the music of John L. Nelson represent a who’s who of jazz notables. These include:
Louis Hayes, drums: The original drummer for the late saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, Hayes currently leads the Cannonball Legacy Band. The veteran musician has played sessions with Oscar Peterson, Grant Green, and Curtis Fuller; led or co-led groups with such jazz notables as Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Barron, Junior Cooke, Woody Shaw and Dexter Gordon; and played and recorded with such jazz greats as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Wes Montgomery, Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, and George Benson among many others. He has many recordings as a leader.
Rick Germanson, piano: Also a member of the Cannonball Legacy Band, Germanson has performed with Elvin Jones’s Jazz Machine, Regina Carter, Tom Harrell, Slide Hampton, Frank Morgan, Eric Alexander, Frank Lacy, Marlena Shaw, Donald Harrison, Brian Lynch, Jim Rotondi, Charles McPherson, Charles Davis, Craig Handy, Cecil Payne, and the George Gee Orchestra. He has also released three solo albums.
Dezron Douglas, bass: One of a new generation of talented young sidemen and session players in jazz, Douglas studied at the Jackie McLean Institute of African American Music at the Hartt School of Music, and in college co-founded the New Jazz Workshop of Hartford (Conn.). He is a member of Louis Hayes Jazz Communicators, Ravi Coltrane Quartet, Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirates, and The Cyrus Chestnut Trio, among other associations, and has recorded four albums as a leader.
Vincent Herring, soprano saxophone/flute: Since first touring with Lionel Hampton’s big band, Herring has worked with Nat Adderley, Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, the Horace Silver Quintet, Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition, Larry Coryell, Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, the Mingus Big Band, Nancy Wilson, the Roy Hargrove Big Band, Arthur Taylor, Billy Taylor, Carla Bley, and the Phil Woods Sax Machine. He has appeared as a guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center as well as with John Faddis and The Carnegie Hall Big Band, and also appears with Louis Hayes in the Cannonball Legacy Band.
Jeremy Pelt, trumpet: Respected traditional and contemporary player Pelt has worked with Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ravi Coltrane, Frank Foster, Winard Harper, Jimmy Heath, Vincent Herring, John Hicks, Charli Persip, Ralph Peterson, Lonnie Plaxico, Bobby Short, Cedar Walton, Frank Wess, Nancy Wilson and The Skatalites, to name a few. Pelt has numerous albums as a leader.