IN 1991, London-based producer Geoff Wilkinson sampled an old 1960s jazz-funk theme, guitarist Grant Green’s ‘Sookie Sookie’, and the result was a massive jazz-dancefloor hit, ‘The Band Played The Boogie’. When Kiss FM playlisted the single, Geoff Wilkinson was invited to the EMI office in London – which he thought would mean trouble, since he hadn’t cleared the rights to using the Grant Green sample, originally on Blue Note Records. But EMI wanted to hire Wilkinson and his partner Mel Simpson, believing they had the key to giving their old back-catalogue material an entirely new life for a young audience.
The result was 1992’s ‘Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)’, a Herbie Hancock sample that made it into the US Top Ten. Wilkinson’s album Hand on the Torch became the first Blue Note album to sell more than a million copies in the States. As Wilkinson says, ‘By sampling classic jazz tracks, mixing them with beats and raps and having younger jazz cats playing on top, I was acknowledging the past, staying rooted in the present, and looking forward to the future, all at the same time.’
Gareth Williams played with Us3 on the Hand on the Torch tour in the early 1990s – one of his earliest professional jazz experiences. He explains how it worked out, and what messages this album had about jazz and pop.