TSJR’s Featured Smooth Jazz Artist

A profile of our selected smooth jazz artist of the month

Because we appreciate the talents and hard work of all of the many artists in our beloved smooth jazz genre, TSJR has made it a standard practice to highlight and honor one artist each month who has established himself or herself as an integral part of the smooth/contemporary jazz “engine.”

This month, we honor:

Pieces of a Dream – Integral Pieces of a Musical Culture

If ever there was a band that needs no introduction, it would be the perennially funky Pieces of a Dream, now a more than four decades-old legend and icon. Still, for the newly arriving c-jazz/funk fan, allow me to open the door and introduce you to funk personified.

Pieces of a Dream emerged out of Philadelphia’s music scene in 1976. Keyboardist James Lloyd, drummer Curtis Harmon and former bassist Cedric Napoleon, were (and still are) managed by the drummer’s father and uncle, Danny and Bill Harmon, respectively. The group based their name on Pieces of Dreams, a cover tune by Stanley Turrentine that the group performed.

The late, great, legendary Count Basie once proclaimed the band to be “a tough act to follow.” However, it was another jazz legend, the late saxman Grover Washington Jr., another Philly giant, who helped Pieces become the internationally known c-jazz/funk luminaries they are now.

After quickly becoming popular around Philadelphia, the trio landed a regular gig as the house band for a local television show called City Lights. Their experience widened as they played backup on the broadcasts to a wide variety of artists. It is there where Washington first heard them. One day while the teenagers were playing at the Bijou, he sat in with them to play his classic “Mr. Magic.” Washington soon announced that he was starting a production company and that Pieces of a Dream would be his first act. Lloyd was only a senior in high school when his first record was released.

From 1981 to 1984, Pieces built their reputation with three albums on Elektra that would come to define the musical essence of the smooth jazz radio explosion: Pieces of a Dream, We Are One, and Imagine This. Those albums yielded some of their earliest hits, including “Warm Weather,” “Mount Airy Groove” and “Fo Fi Fo.”
Soon after completing Joyride, their last effort for Elektra, the band moved to EMI/Blue Note and went on to record seven more albums. During this period, they amicably parted ways with long-time friend Cedric Napoleon.

In 2001, Pieces signed with Heads Up International and celebrated their 25th anniversary with what was truly a monster release, the hot & funky Acquainted With the Night. This silver anniversary release featured UK guitarist Ronny Jordan, vocalist Maysa Leak, and saxophonists Gerald Albright and Kenny Blake. The album generated two top-five singles on R&R’s NAC chart.

The follow up album, Love’s Silhouette, also enjoyed top radio chart positioning and Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart top 10 status.

Their April 2004 release, No Assembly Required, proved to be another hit album in their long and illustrious career. Pillow Talk, released in March 2006, marked the band’s 30th anniversary with a satisfying set that showcased the band’s trademark catchy riffs, infectious grooves and compelling vocals.

Though support personnel have come and gone, co-founders and long-time buddies Lloyd and Harmon have maintained the youthful exuberance that defined their youth in the ‘70s. It’s very much alive in their voluminous discography which includes (in addition to the previously mentioned releases) 2009’s Soul Intent, 2013’s All In, 2017’s Just Funkin’ Around, and their latest release On Another Note. Pieces of a Dream’s latest effort on Heads Up.

It’s that kind of innovation and eclecticism always on display with these guys that keeps them fresh and authentic in a jazz world that’s ever-changing and, sadly, often redundant and somewhat unimaginative. “We will always be true to ourselves and our roots,” says Lloyd, “and at the same time try to stay in touch with the times.” One listen to anything Pieces will assure one that this is surely one kept promise. — Ronald Jackson

Many thanks to Last FM and the official Pieces of a Dream website for contributing to the content here.

For a comprehensive look at the Pieces of a Dream discography, click here. This list does not include the latest release On Another Note, which can be found on Amazon.