Hear a 19-Year-Old Prince Crushing It on Every Instrument in an Early Jam Session (1977)

It’s near­ly impos­si­ble to com­mu­ni­cate musi­cian­ship in words, though there are rare, suc­cess­ful lit­er­ary attempts by greats like James Bald­win, Jack Ker­ouac, and jazz crit­ic Ira Gitler, whose phrase “sheets of sound” so well cap­tured the expe­ri­ence of Coltrane’s impro­vi­sa­tion­al style in the late 50s. Maybe the free move­ments of jazz are eas­i­er to write about than oth­er forms.…

When it comes to recent­ly depart­ed funk/pop/rock/R&B great Prince, it feels like there’s enough writ­ten about his prodi­gious tal­ent that it begins to sound like over­praise. The most inter­est­ing trib­utes come from fel­low musi­cians. Yet even their com­ments seem exag­ger­at­ed.

Prince “played every­thing,” said Ste­vie Won­der soon after the Pur­ple One’s sud­den death – every style, every instru­ment – which seems like an impos­si­ble feat until you read the notes for his debut album and real­ize that, yes, he did play every­thing, before he hit 20… and lis­ten to the full range of his out­put to see that, yes, he “could play clas­si­cal music if he want­ed to,” as Won­der said. “He could play jazz if he want­ed to….”

Prince’s drum­mer Han­nah Wel­ton, who joined him in 2012, had sim­i­lar­ly overblow-sound­ing praise, say­ing in a recent drum instruc­tion video, “I don’t know that I ever heard an off note.” Every­one has an off day some­time, right? Too lit­tle sleep, a head cold, too much to drink… or what­ev­er…. No musi­cian could always be a hun­dred per­cent on, could they?

Lis­ten­ing to the funk/jazz jam ses­sions above record­ed in 1977, when Prince was only 19 and on the thresh­old of releas­ing his first stu­dio album, I’m inclined to cast off any remain­ing doubt that he was as untouch­ably dis­ci­plined and tal­ent­ed a musi­cian as they say all of the time, even in behind-the-scenes rehearsals and jam ses­sions when, as Wel­ton jokes, he seemed more inter­est­ed in play­ing ping pong. If any­one embod­ied genius…

But there is a prob­lem with that word (a word leg­endary music teacher Nadia Boulanger and one­time Quin­cy Jones men­tor dis­liked). Prince might agree. Musi­cal greats come out of great musi­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Prince may have been the most pro­fi­cient mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist of his time, but he con­sis­tent­ly played with those who had no trou­ble keep­ing up with him, includ­ing ear­ly bass play­er André Cymone and long­time Rev­o­lu­tion drum­mer Bob­by Z.

Cymone and Z joined Prince in the Lor­ing Park rehearsal room of Owen Hus­ney, Prince’s first man­ag­er, to record these impromp­tu ses­sions. They are indeed “a must-lis­ten for any fan!,” as Live for Live Music writes, and any­one else. “These eight instru­men­tal tracks sound more like well-craft­ed com­po­si­tions rather than the impro­vised jams that they are.” Prince, of course, switch­es up instru­ments, play­ing keys, gui­tar and bass and drums at times.

That it’s hard to tell when he’s play­ing what speaks not only to his own prowess but to that of his fel­low musi­cians. As Bob­by Z says in an inter­view for the Gram­mys, the biggest mis­un­der­stand­ing about Prince is “that he wasn’t human. That he was this myth­i­cal, immor­tal char­ac­ter. In the ear­ly days, he was a band mem­ber. He was the leader, of course, but he had to be in a band.” He was vocal in inter­views about how play­ing with the hottest musi­cians in Min­neapo­lis as a teenag­er gave him his ear­ly train­ing.

Prince learned as much from oth­ers as they learned from him, says Z, soak­ing up every­thing he heard. “He was a fan. He loved being impressed by songs. He loved music. He loved oth­er people’s tal­ent.” But at the same time, he was still Prince, a rare tal­ent with­out real equal. The Lor­ing Park ses­sions may fea­ture “instru­men­tals only,” notes Okay­play­er, glanc­ing at Prince’s com­po­si­tion­al bril­liance and show­ing off none of his vocal chops. Nonethe­less, “it’s an inti­mate and ter­ri­bly funky lens into P’s pro­fi­cien­cy on damn-near every instru­ment,” before he’d even begun “his path to bonafide star­dom.”

via Live for Live Music

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch a New Director’s Cut of Prince’s Blis­ter­ing “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” Gui­tar Solo (2004)

The Lit­tle Prince: Footage Gets Unearthed Of the Pop Star at Age 11

What’s It Like Drum­ming For Prince?: Drum­mer Han­nah Wel­ton Describes the Genius of His Musi­cian­ship

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (25)
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  • Mandy says:

    from ear­ly this man knew how to catch peo­ple’s ear in .

  • Freda J Alexander says:

    Awe­some Man

  • Valerie says:

    The first time I heard Prince, I thought it was an unre­leased Jim­my Hen­drix record­ing. Such tal­ent.

  • purple fam says:

    Miles Davis is jam­ming up in heav­en with him now!

    He was a genius and this just shows that he was much more than the Pur­ple Rain era.

    RIP to the GOAT.

  • Chuck Hughes says:

    As far as I know, he did­n’t play Chap­man Stick.

  • Derrick says:

    Hands down great­est ever.

  • Lawrence J Nevils says:

    These is the kind of jour­nal­ist Prince stayed away from. It’s so easy to talk about the dead, I bet you don’t even have his 1st album.

    Isn’t this just like a hater to be mad at you for doing your best,. Liv­ing up to your poten­tial.

    (Atti­tude tone & sar­casm)

    Now that he is gone I guess he knew, they would nev­er respect him in ☠️ cuz the nev­er did in 🧬.

  • Brian Flemons says:

    He is great. My dad Wade Fle­mons co founder of Earth Wind and Fire. When I would play a Prince inst­sru­men­tal he would say that’s Prince. I know Prince when I hear him! Lol

  • G miller says:

    Hard work­er and good musi­cian but hard­ly a Genius. But def­i­nite­ly worked extra hard .

  • The Soul Soldier says:

    G Miller what’s a genius? And hard­ly?!!
    Beethoven, no wait Elvis? Hold on, Bud­dy Hol­ly? Who is genius and com­pare the art and work!!!
    Betcha ya whole fam­i­ly has a favorite song from this Man,!!!!

  • Peter Taylor says:

    Ask Eric Clap­ton

  • Krh156 says:

    A jour­nal­ist asked Clap­ton once how it felt being the great­est gitu­raist of all time. Clap­ton said “I don’t know ask Prnice.”

  • Tim Fleming says:

    I love this quote from Eric Clap­ton, no pre­am­ble or pause to think about his reply, just an hon­est albeit hum­ble answer to a loaded ques­tion.
    Stick this in your dit­ty bag Prince haters !!!

  • Tim Fleming says:

    Thanks Krh156 for shar­ing this !! Would­n’t hap­pen to have the name of the jour­nal­ist or mag­a­zine he/she was writ­ing for by any chance ?
    Would love to obtain a copy.

  • rstar jordan says:

    The man wrote a com­plete bible of music !!! Thee great­est musi­cal artist ever oh but there is great com­pa­ny and Warn­er bros had him to and iron­i­cal­ly it was this label Mate “ROGER TROUTMAN ” also played every dam instru­ments too and still no one hits the vocorder like he did !!!

  • Franklin Henry says:

    The human voice box is doing a damn good Roger Trout­man. I saw Zapp with ROGER open for The Time, and Prince in 1981. Dur­ing Con­tro­ver­sy tour. I was a fan from Soft and Wet, curi­ous from the moment I heard he self con­tained. Unheard of them days espe­cial­ly for pro­duc­tion on a new artist, of any age or abil­i­ty. I left that show in Awe I had nev­er seen any­thing like it. When he passed the world react­ed in a way I’ve nev­er seen react. NASA had pur­ple neb­u­la on their web­site. I think gift­ed artist, and genius are often inter­change­able. But add to that the save in which he fought, changed the master_slave artist rela­tion­ship basi­cal­ly dis­abling many then pow­er­house Labels. Shows his skills went far beyond music, and that’s where genius becomes appro­pri­ate!

  • Steven BAISE says:

    Pret­ty bor­ing

  • Anto says:

    Gone too soon.. 😢

  • Stanley Dunlap says:

    The great­est of all time end of sto­ry.

  • Stanley Dunlap says:

    Maybe not the only one in his class but def­i­nite­ly won’t take long take the role call.

  • Awsome says:

    He fid­nt get the recog­ni­tuon he deserved till he passed

    Very wrong

  • WhatAboutBonny says:

    Philip Lynott.
    Prince and Cymonè were influ­enced by this oth­er black great poet, bassist, singer, band leader

  • Ladislao Yañez says:

    All about untouched cre­ativ­i­ty and no one can ever be com­pared to him and his library of music…led alone his musi­cian­ship as a multi­n­stru­men­tal­ist, Haters hate all you want and let’s see what you’ve got! You ain’t got Jack!!!

  • Roy Oglesby says:

    Unequiv­o­cal­ly, The best to ever do music! Point,blank, peri­od!

  • Tino Rosemond says:

    Some on here dare to hate on and dis­cred­it Prince as not being the musi­cal genius that he was. But those who dare to go that non­sen­si­cal route. Please go find a clip of him leav­ing so call greats like Tom Pet­ty, Jeff Beck and the like awestruck with his gui­tar play­ing at The Rock and Roll induc­tion cer­e­mo­ny by his mas­ter­ful solo on “When my Gui­tar slow­ly Weeps”. Case closed!!!

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