Philip Bailey, the brilliant falsetto voice behind Earth, Wind & Fire, is an American music legend. The 8-time Grammy Award winning recording artist, songwriter and producer has influenced music artists and a popular culture over the past five decades. Growing up in Denver, Colorado Bailey listened to R&B, gospel, rock and pop alongside what he refers to as real jazz: Miles, Coltrane, Art Blakey, immortal jazz singers like Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and Dinah Washington.
Love Will Find a Way, Bailey’s newest solo album on Verve Records (June 21) is a continuation of his musical exploration and another step in his solo career. The album features trusted friends like bassist Christian McBride, iconic jazz pianist Chick Corea and drum legend Steve Gadd. Bailey also tapped several of the brightest contemporary lights in jazz, R&B, pop and more as collaborators: keyboardist Robert Glasper, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, rapper, musician and producer will.i.am, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, singer-songwriter Bilal, singer-saxophonist Casey Benjamin, guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Kendrick Scott and bassist Derrick Hodge, among others.
Bailey says the album, “There was a flow to the project that was reminiscent of back in the day, when we used to do those records with the Fire and we had what I call our A-team. This record is opening up real vivid possibilities of where I’m going from here. I see a runway that will allow me to build on this vision.”
On Love Will Find a Way, Bailey proves that the atmosphere and ideas that made Earth Wind & Fire possible—a respect for genuine musicianship, a conviction that all music matters—are alive and well in 2019.
“It was a mutual admiration society—for real,” says Bailey, 67 At the same time, Bailey was struck by the sheer newness he heard around him: “Artists like Robert and Kamasi and Christian, they embrace the nuances of jazz and its historical value, but they’ve really infused the game with new possibilities. And I’ve been the recipient of infusion.”
Above and beyond its genre-bending, cross-generational musical synthesis, Love Will Find a Way also addresses these troubled and divisive times. In Bailey’s poignant interpretations of songs like Curtis Mayfield’s “Billy Jack” and “We’re a Winner” and the Abbey Lincoln/Max Roach-associated “Long as You’re Living,” he addresses pertinent themes of social justice and self-empowerment. At its core, rather than becoming mired in politics, Bailey’s message is one of optimism for all humanity. “That’s in keeping with my philosophy and Earth Wind & Fire’s philosophy,” he says. “It was something that is a continual thread of what we’ve done over our almost 50-year career. So that’s just staying true to who I am.”
Love Will Find a Way came together over a two-year period, and was initiated after Bailey started becoming aware of this forward-looking, all-embracing jazz generation. “I’d heard Rob Glasper was giving jazz a facelift,” Bailey says, and after attending the keyboardist’s live show, he was sold. Not only was the music hot and progressive, but the crowd was hip, diverse, youthful and passionate. Bailey quickly brought Glasper on board to play on and produce some tracks, and he became invaluable to the singer in recruiting musicians and other decisions. But Bailey also continued with his own research. At Jazz Fest in New Orleans, he made a point of catching Kamasi Washington’s set and had a small-world moment. “Lo and behold, he introduced his father, [the woodwinds player Rickey Washington]. Me and Rickey had known each other for years!” Bailey recalls, chuckling. “We went to the same church! Kamasi went to bible school with my kids.” A who’s who of musicians, producers and arrangers became involved over time, including keyboardist-arranger Herman Jackson, vocal producer Harvey Mason Jr., jazz-piano stalwart Kenny Barron, drummer Teddy Campbell and Bailey’s wife, vocalist Valerie Bailey, to name just a few.
The album kicks off with a West African-tinged take on Mayfield’s “Billy Jack,” a perfect opportunity for Bailey to pay homage to perhaps his greatest falsetto influence. Bailey and Corea look back to the heyday of jazz fusion with a sweetly grooving rendition of the Return to Forever classic “You’re Everything.” Bilal provides gorgeous vocal backing for Bailey on Mayfield’s “We’re a Winner,” before Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, on plangent trumpet, and will.i.am, laying down a tribal beat on drums, highlight the mostly instrumental “Stairway to the Stars.” On “Brooklyn Blues,” Bailey uses his Kalimba to create a meditative ambiance atop simmering 21st-century jazz rhythms. Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” is reinvented here as an atmospheric slow jam, with spoken word by Bailey. “Just to Keep You Satisfied” is a beautifully reverent tribute to Bailey’s idol Marvin Gaye. Kamasi Washington’s robust tenor saxophone is an impeccable match for the ’70s-tinted spiritual vibe of “Sacred Sounds.” On the title track, Pharoah Sanders’ “Love Will Find a Way,” Bailey’s falsetto finds a sublime complement in Casey Benjamin’s saxophone and Vocoder. And he looks to famed bassist and collaborator Christian McBride to properly funk up “Long As Your Living.”
McBride says of Bailey and the Earth, Wind & Fire legacy, “I can’t think of any other group that did such a masterful job at combining all these different elements of jazz, the avant-garde, African music, Brazilian music, funk and rock.”
Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson continue to carry the torch for the group’s late founder, Maurice White, at packed halls and amphitheaters around the world. The group thrives today as Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award winners, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees and one of the best-selling bands in the history of recorded music.
Away from Earth Wind & Fire, Bailey has also found tremendous success. His 1984 duet with Phil Collins, “Easy Lover,” became a worldwide No. 1 smash, and he’s recorded acclaimed albums in gospel and jazz. In the latter genre, Bailey released Dreams in 1999 and Soul on Jazz in 2002, in addition to collaborations with Stanley Turrentine, Dianne Reeves, Fourplay, George Duke and Stanley Clarke, Nancy Wilson and others. Still, nothing has compared to Love Will Find a Way.