When saxophonist Roger Ball first composed the classic funk instrumental “Pick Up the Pieces” in the 1970s, he and his bandmates, in the Average White Band, were not overly impressed with the tune.
“We all thought it was very nice, but nobody was that excited about it at the time,” said Ball, who has lived in Newtown since 1996. He added, “'Pick Up the Pieces' was never meant to be a single, it was just a track on the album.”
However, that “track on the album” struck a nerve with audiences that still resonates today, more than 35 years after it was first released. The instrumental dance song became the number one hit on the Billboard music charts in 1975 and it has been featured in dozens of films, TV shows, and commercials. It's one of the most recognizable grooves in the history of funk music and even if you don't recognize the name of the song, you'll almost certainly know it when you hear it.
“You can't escape it,” joked Ball.
Ball and his jazz and funk band, The Roger Ball Quintet, will perform “Pick Up the Pieces” and other jazz and funk classics on Sunday, June 3, when the group plays in Bethel at Pizzeria Lauretano from 6 to 8 p.m.
A native of Scotland, Ball founded the Average White Band with friends of his, who were also Scottish, in the early 1970s. The group was one of the most successful funk bands in music history and also had an influence on hip-hop music – the Average White Band has been sampled by artists such as Nas, Ice Cube, The Beastie Boys, and TLC.
“At the time we didn't really think about the fact that we were a white band playing black music,” Ball said. He added that when the group first started performing in the United States, the band performed for mostly black audiences which led to some confusion at the beginning of the band's shows.
“They expected to us be black,” Ball said. “When we sauntered on stage there was kind of a gasp in the audience and a silence.” However, he added the audience went crazy “the minute we started playing.”
Ball retired from The Average White Band in the late 1980s, but not from music. He began composing jazz music and has released three jazz albums. In addition, to the Average White Band he has played and arranged for the likes of Elton John, Mama Cass, Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music, and Badfinger. He has also worked with soul stars Marvin Gaye and Chaka Khan, and jazz legends Michael and Randy Brecker.
In the 1970s, Ball moved to Stamford because it was close to New York City, where The Average White Band was frequently recording. By the early '90s Ball was married and living in Norwalk.
“We were living near I-95 and really got tired of traffic and wanted to live in a more rural area,” Ball recalled. “I thought of Newtown as being on the other side of the world. One day, just for fun, we drove up and started driving around Bethel and Newtown and we just happened to stumble on the house we're in now.”
Though the Newtown house needed a lot of work, Ball and his wife fell in love with the property.
“It has a pond and a waterfall, it's a beautiful property,” he said.
At the show at Lauretano's, Ball said that the band will play a mixture of original jazz and funk tunes, as well as some classic jazz numbers. He added that the band will also be “debuting two completely new compositions that have never been recorded or played live before.”
Judith Joiner, the music publicist for Pizzeria Lauretano, said that last time Ball and his band performed at Lauretano they more than met expectations.
“Everybody was jazzed,” she said. “An Average White Band fan even drove down from Massachusetts”
She added, during the show, “the place was electric and at the end – a rare event at the Pizzeria – folks were dancing in the aisles.”
Tickets to Sunday's performance are $20 and in addition there is a $10 ordering minimum. Reservations are strongly recommended. Pizzeria Lauretano is located at 291 Greenwood Avenue, Bethel. For more information call 203-792-1500 or visit www.pizzerialauretano.com