Ines Kaiser
Maceo Parker playing at the KOLN Philharmonie in Germany. Parker will perform in Salt Lake Friday.

OK, saxophone legend Maceo Parker has played with James Brown, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins.

But Ray Charles was his man for leisure listening.

"No matter how I was feeling, he would always do the job," said Parker during a phone call from his home in Kinston, N.C.

So, it's no surprise that Parker pays homage to the late Charles on the new CD "Roots & Grooves."

The two-disc CD will be released Tuesday on the Heads Up International label.

Disc one is Parker's tribute to Charles, and the disc two is comprised of revisions of Parker staples. Both discs feature the Grammy Award-winning WDR Big Band from Germany.

"Music is their work," Parker said. "They get up in the morning and go to rehearsal. They take a break for lunch and rehearse some more. They play shows, go to bed and wake up in the morning to start the whole thing all over again.

"To break up the monotony, the big band calls in guests. And I was one of their guests."

After a few shows, the band's and Parker's managers decided on a collaboration between Parker and WDR.

"I new then and there I wanted to do some Ray Charles songs," Parker said.

Parker wanted to see what he could do with Charles songs and a big band.

"The thing that was different for me was the fact that I actually had to count where I came in on the songs," said Parker with a laugh. "With my regular group, there is room for improvisation, but with a big band, you have to stick to what's on the music sheets. All the time I had to count. And then I would look at the band leader to make sure my counting was right before I started in after someone's solo."

"What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," "Georgia on My Mind" and "You Don't Know Me" are a few of the Charles covers on "Roots & Grooves."

"There was so much to choose from, but I wanted to get a nice slice of his songs," Parker said.

Reworkings of Parker's "Off the Hook," "Uptown Up" and "Shake Everything You Got" are full of life with the big-band treatment on the second disc.

While those songs get the groove going, Parker knew he couldn't leave his and James Brown's collaborative trademark "Pass the Peas" off the list.

"No matter where I am, I cannot leave a venue without playing 'Pass the Peas,"' said Parker with another hearty laugh. "I hear people screaming for us to play that song when we're just starting the live set."

Even though he's coming to Salt Lake City without WDR, he'll be here with his regular jazz ensemble.

Parker always makes it a point to tell the audience members how much they mean to him and his band.

"I always say, 'On behalf of the band and myself, we love you,'" Parker said. "I'll tell you why. I know many people feel that they are at the end of their rope and feel there is no one that cares for them. And they feel no one will miss them when they are gone.

"I try to help people feel like they are needed, because, they are," Parker said. "I remember one show we did in Europe, and this is a true story that's dear to my heart.

"We were playing like we always do and having a great time. Anyway, I noticed this woman in a wheelchair, slowly making her way to the front. She moved to the side of the venue. And I see her eventually get herself onto the stage and in the wings. My manager came over to me and told me she wanted to say something in the microphone.

"This is what she said: 'Last week I thought about killing myself. But then I came to the Maceo Parker show. And I don't want to die anymore.'

"I almost couldn't let the show go on," said Parker. "It was such an impact on us. And that is the main reasons why we keep doing what we do."

If you go ...

What: Maceo Parker

Where: The Paladium, 415 W. 600 North

When: Friday, 9:30 p.m.

How much: $22.50

Phone: 467-8499, 800-888-8499

E-mail: [email protected]