The Mizell Brothers
On a list of the hottest jazz-funk producers of the 70s the name Mizell has to be right on top. With their Sky High Productions the Mizell Brothers gave us some of the finest jazz-funk and R&B records ever produced. Their distinctive, unique style gave music a whole new quality, resulting in a fascinating groove that has always held its appeal.
Larry (b. February 17, 1944) and Fonce (b. January 15, 1943, d. July 5, 2011) were born and raised in Harlem, New York, and Englewood, New Jersey. At college, they formed a singing group known as The Vanlords, with the other members being Freddie Perren and John Butler. Some years later, Larry and Fonce both graduated from Howard University in Washington DC. Among their teachers was Dr. Donald Byrd, who recognized their talent and played an instrumental part in the inception of their careers.
Fonce Mizell started off as a member of Motown's famous production team The Corporation. Together with Freddie Perren, Deke Richards and Berry Gordy Jr., Fonce helped write and produce many of the Jackson Five's early hits, such as 'I Want You Back' and 'ABC'. Fonce also wrote and produced for other Motown acts, including Marvin Gaye, Martha & The Vandellas, and Bobby Darin. Some years later, Fonce and Freddie Perren would write and produce Edwin Starr's soundtrack to the blaxploitation movie 'Hell Up In Harlem' (Motown 1974), on which brother Larry appears on Arp synthesizer.
Before that, Larry had worked with Donald Byrd on his Grammy nominated 'Black Byrd' album, which became the biggest-selling album in Blue Note history at the time. From then on, having moved to California, the brothers were working together, producing a string of fantastic records with their company, Sky High Productions. Most of them were released on Blue Note, Fantasy and CTI. They include classic jazz-funk like Donald Byrd's 'Street Lady', Bobbi Humphrey's 'Blacks And Blues' and Johnny Hammond's 'Gears', deep soul-funk and R&B like Gary Bartz's 'The Shadow Do', L.T.D.'s 'Love To The World' and Rance Allen's 'Say My Friend', as well as huge disco hits like A Taste Of Honey's 'Boogie, Oogie, Oogie'.
On most of the Sky High Productions records, the Mizell Brothers accompanied the artists (Byrd, Humphrey, Hammond and Bartz) on their own instruments. While Fonce plays clavinet and trumpet, Larry can be heard on piano and synth. In addition, Larry and Fonce often provide the backing vocals and vocal arrangements, which are a distinctive feature of many Sky High Productions recordings. Obviously, they hadn't forgotten the vocal harmonies from their college time.
Younger brother Rodney Mizell (b. August 16, 1957, d. December 30, 2013) was a top-notch drummer and bass player. He joined his brothers in songwriting on L.T.D.'s 'Love To The World', Rance Allen's 'Say My Friend' and other albums.
By the end of the decade and after some A&R work with Elektra, the Mizell Brothers disappeared from the scene. They kept writing songs occasionally, but became much less prolific than during the 1970s. Today, they still run their publishing company Alruby Music in Pasadena, California (named after their parents Alphonso and Ruby).
The Mizell Brothers' 70s productions have become popular sampling objects for today's kleptomaniac DJs. But there's no doubt: The originals just can't be beat! So look out for the Sky High Productions label and get into the groove! You're gonna love it!
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