Melvin Sparks, a legendary figure in the Acid Jazz movement, died peacefully in his Mt. Vernon, NY home from heart failure yesterday. He was 64 years old.
Sparks made his name in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s as a soulful guitar player (or “gittar” player, as he called himself) accompanying Jack McDuff, Sam Cooke, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy McGriff and countless other soul stars. But for the last two decades, it was the jamband scene that cherished him as a hidden treasure. As the acid jazz style he helped to pioneer enjoyed a revival in the ‘90s, its new generation reached out to Sparks with heartfelt reverence. He made regular rounds at venues around the Northeast, including multiple shows at the Wetlands. He was a father-figure and a groove guru to music lovers and musicians alike, mentoring Karl Denson, Eric Bolivar, Eric Krasno, Jen Durkin, Robert Randolph and Eric Kalb, to name just a few. His heart-pounding boogaloo style was fundamental to the super groups he formed with Mike Clark, Idris Mohammad, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Rueben Wilson and more.
With a ferocious approach that was nothing short of a phenomena, Melvin could play notes faster than imaginable, yet he never lost his stoic stature. Then, every so often, he’d lift his head, look at the crowd and let that huge signature smile light up the room. It was a natural gesture that paid off in instant smiles in return, not unlike his signature teasing of the theme from “The Flintstones” in the middle of a jam. Simple, yet packed with joy no matter the situation, Melvin’s catch phrase was, “It’s All Good.” His status on his MySpace page was permanent: “Blessed.”
Sparks not only leaves behind a large traditional family, but an immeasurable musical family that will forever be better off for having been touched by his inspiration.
This piece written with love by Annabel Lukins. Annabel and Melvin befriended each other in 1997 and went onto support each other’s lives in profound and meaningful ways. Not only did Annabel help plan Melvin’s 55th birthday party at Wetlands in 2001, but he returned the love years later by playing her birthday party at The Lion’s Den. Those are just two of the countless moments they shared. Annabel’s life is better because Melvin was in it. She says, “While medicine will tell us that his heart failed him, spirituality will tell us that it simply took him to a place where it could beat free. Melvin’s heart was simply too big to be bound by the confines of this Earth. We grieve his loss, but his memory and music live on and, truly, it’s all good.”