John L. Nelson was born in Cotton Valley Louisiana and raised in Minneapolis Minnesota. He was the first African-American hired at Honeywell in Minneapolis, and for 35 years he was off to work at 7 AM. At night he would compose, and play his music on the piano. The kids would head to bed upstairs at 7:30, and they’d drift off to sleep listening to their father’s piano playing.
John L. Nelson’s passion for music and performance lead him to become known around the city’s clubs and burlesque houses as the band leader who’s stage name was Prince Rogers, the leader of the Prince Rogers Combo.
Years went by and John L. Nelson divorced and remarried, it was during his second marriage where they had a son who he named Prince Rogers Nelson. His love for music persisted, and somehow his emphasis on family connection did as well.
At the start of the history we all know, his eldest daughter Sharon ended up hosting her brother Prince, in Rahway NJ and shopped his talent around to major record labels, however, they all declined. Sharon showed Prince around New York during this time, and at one point, found themselves standing in front of Madison Square Garden and Sharon told Prince,"This is where you will be when you are famous."
John L. Nelson collaborated with Prince and was credited for songs like Computer Blue, Scandalous, and the original instrumental of Purple Rain. But the back-story is one of family roots. Sharon quotes her father "Your money is in your melody", as she reflects on her ability to pick out the melodies from his songs. Sharon and her father spoke about releasing an album of his music as early as 1978, but time passed by.
John L. Nelson passed away in 2001, and the force that held the siblings together was gone. In 2017, Sharon L. Nelson was cleaning out a cabinet and the sheet music for seven of John L. Nelson’s unreleased compositions were discovered. It was at this time where the concept that originally began in 1978 to release his music was brought to fruition.
Sharon L. Nelson speaks of her father in great detail and with great respect. John L. Nelson was a Jazz Man; a self taught player who leaves a legacy of his own. To honor that legacy on what would have been his 100th birthdate, she produced this album in a straight up Bebop way, so she brought in the best. Louis Hayes needs little introduction in the Jazz world, and just happens to be the nephew of John L. Nelson. The band met at Paisley Park, which Hayes describes as ‘…a very unique experience, like going to the great Pyramids."
The band is beyond seasoned – Hayes on drums, Rick Germanson on piano, Vincent Herring on sax, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet. They hit the studio with little advance knowledge of the music, and got down to business. No playbacks, no overdubs – one take to stay true to the full intent and legacy of the man and his compositions. The result is pure and timeless, providing a clear image of the composer’s time and the feeling of a present day performance.
When Prince was asked about his father during an interview, he was quoted as saying,“Our personalities are a lot alike, but his music is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s more complex. A lot of beautiful melodies are hidden beneath the complexity.” (Prince)
As producer, Sharon L. Nelson has properly carried forward the intent and legacy of John L. Nelson and his compositions. The best musicians let the music play without getting in the way, and her choices of musicians, setting, and method deliver a recording that fully stands as a dynamic historical work of art and a fitting tribute to a man who left a legacy of both music and family.