by Alex Henderson
Like Roy Ayers, George Benson, and Patrice Rushen, Norman Connors is best known for his major R&B hits but started out as a jazz improviser. The drummer/composer was born and raised in Philadelphia, where he lived in the same neighborhood as Bill Cosby and became interested in jazz when he was only a child. As a kid in elementary school, Connors was exposed to jazz extensively thanks to such schoolmates as drummer Lex Humphries and the younger brother of bassist and Jazz Messenger-to-be Spanky De Brest. Connors was in junior high when he began sneaking into jazz clubs and sat in for Elvin Jones at a John Coltrane gig. At 13, he first got to meet his idol, Miles Davis, and started expressing his admiration for the famous trumpeter by dressing like him. Connors went on to study music at Phillys Temple University and the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Gigs with Jackie McLean, Jack McDuff and Sam Rivers followed, and he was first recorded as a sideman when Archie Shepp employed him on his 1967 Impulse! session Magic of JuJu.
After touring with Pharoah Sanders and playing on several of his albums, Connors signed with Buddahs Cobblestone label in 1972 and recorded his first album as a leader, Dance of Magic. A few more jazz-oriented Cobblestone and Buddah dates followed, and it was in 1975 that Connors made R&B his main priority with Saturday Night Special (which included the number ten soul hit Valentine Love). The rest of the 1970s found Connors featuring R&B singers prominently (including Michael Henderson, Jean Carn, and the late Phyllis Hyman) and scoring such R&B hits as We Both Need Each Other, Once Ive Been There, and the lovely You Are My Starship. Connors, who signed with Arista in 1977, wasnt as popular or as visible in the 1980s, although, in the 1990s, he would make a comeback by signing with Motowns MoJazz label and focusing on both urban contemporary and crossover.