Growing up in Philadelphia, like many artists, Norman Connors began exploring music at an early age. He learned how to play the drums, exposing him to jazz music in elementary school and eventually becoming a prodigy on percussion. In middle school, he met his idol Miles Davis and developed his skills further, leading him to sit in for Elvin Jones at a John Coltrane performance. After graduating from high school, Connors went on to study music at Temple University and later Julliard. Shortly after, he recorded with Archie Shepp for several years before signing with jazz label Cobblestone Records — a division of Buddah Records.
Click on the player above to hear “5 on 5: Norman Connors” and get a feel for the composer’s unique smooth jazz/R&B hybrid sound with these five essential tracks:
The Progressive Underground’s 5 on 5: Norman Connors.
1. Valentine Love (feat. Michael Henderson & Jean Carne)
On his fifth album release, “Saturday Night Special,” Connors finally met success adapting his style to a more R&B sound that could mesh with any vocalist. He released “Valentine Love” with Michael Henderson and Jean Carne. “Saturday Night Special” would propel Connors to success as he would become a regular feature on the pop and R&B and jazz charts.
2. You Are My Starship (feat. Michael Henderson)
Connors’ success on “Saturday Night Special” set him up nicely for his next album release in 1976, “You Are My Starship.” His song “You Are My Starship” featuring Michael Henderson would again feature a high-quality balance between the world of R&B and jazz.
3. Butterfly (feat. Eleanor Mills & James Robinson)
From his 1977 album, “This is Your Life,” Connors collaborates with Eleanor Mills and James Robinson on “Butterfly.” By the late 1970s, Connors had gained a new audience, unfamiliar with his earlier jazz efforts, but more familiar with his jazz and R&B/soul releases.
4. Invitation (feat. Ada Dyer)
Connors’ mix of R&B and jazz was a formula that worked well for his 1979 album, “Invitation.” As a producer, Connors was unabashed about his R&B skills and the execution comes across more confident and defined. This album finds him showcasing another great vocalist Ada Dyer, also known as Miss Adaritha, and the two collaborated on the song “Invitation.”
5. I Am Your Melody (feat. Michael Henderson)
From his 1988 album, “Passion,” Connors reunites with Michael Henderson on “I Am Your Melody,” which would be one of the last high chart successes he would reach on the R&B, jazz and pop charts.
Connors’ sound would evolve into more of a smooth jazz/R&B hybrid with less of an emphasis on trying to get a chart hit, and more of a concentration on the musicality and providing a platform for artists that he mentored. With over five decades in the music business, Connors’ professional career continues to be noted by a legacy of stellar musicianship, peerless skills as a producer and songwriter and an unquestionable ability to marry great material with great artists. The legendary arranger, composer and producer has built a global cadre of fans and continues to inspire a new generation of artists and musicians.