John L. Nelson Gets His Closeup: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
We know that John L. Nelson, Prince's father, was a jazz pianist who co-wrote a few songs with his son. But his own compositions have yet to be heard by the public at large. That's about to change with the March 2, 2018 release of Don't Play With Love by the John L. Nelson Project, an all-star group of jazz musicians, You can hear "Heart of Mine" above.
The album was recorded at Paisley Park – the first to be recorded there since Prince's death – and produced by Prince's half-sister, Sharon L. Nelson. The band consisted of Richard Germanson (piano), Vincent Herring (saxophone), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Dezron Douglas (bass) and Nelson's cousin Louis Hayes (drums), a legend who has worked with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Oscar Peterson and many other jazz giants. She chose the songs from a batch of sheet music she discovered while cleaning out a cabinet last year.
"His music is very unique," said Germanson, who also arranged the record, in the promotional video below, "and it kind of moves in unexpected directions. It's really a unique sound. I've never really played anything quite like it. This music is truth. It's honest and it's real."
Prince collaborated with his dad on a few occasions in the '80s: "Father's Song," an instrumental that wound up in the Purple Rain film and formed the basis for the middle section of "Computer Blue," was based on one of John's melodies. John also contributed music to "Around the World in a Day," "The Ladder," "Christopher Tracy's Parade," "Under the Cherry Moon," "Scandalous" and incidental music from the Purple Rain and Under the Cherry Moon movies.
As befitting a man who penned the lyric, "Maybe I'm just like my father," Prince told Ebony in 1986, "Our personalities are a lot alike, but his music is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s more complex. A lot of beautiful melodies are hidden beneath the complexity.”
Prince's legendary work ethic also seems to have come from John, who died in 2001 at the age of 85. As Prince relayed to Musician in 1982, "He doesn’t listen to anybody. And he’s really strange. He told me one time that he has dreams where he’d see a keyboard in front of his eyes and he’d see his hands on the keyboard and he’d hear a melody. And he can get up and it can belike 4:30AM and he can walk right downstairs to his piano and play the melody. And to me that’s amazing because there’s no work involved really; he’s just given a gift in each song. He never comes out of the house unless it’s to get something to eat and he goes right back in and he plays all the time. His music ... one day I hope you’ll get to hear it. It’s just — it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard."
Prince's relationship with his father was tempestuous in the early days, with Prince being thrown out of the house at the age of 12. But once he became famous, Prince was able to forgive him. Still, the public perception of John was largely reinforced by Clarence Williams III's portrayal of The Kid's father in Purple Rain. But Prince told Rolling Stone in 1985 that a lot of it was fictionalized for the sake of the story. "My dad wouldn't have nothing to do with guns," Prince said. "He never swore, still doesn't, and never drinks."
"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," Sharon said when announcing the album. "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 and guided by the spirits of my father and brother Prince."
Watch a Promotional Video for 'Don't Play With Love'
Hear "Don't Play With Love" Underneath a Scene From 'Under the Cherry Moon'