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 (24)
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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!

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