David Axelrod, Blending Jazz, Soul, William Blake & Hip-Hop

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David Axelrod (April 17, 1931-February 5, 2017) was a composer/arranger/producer who came out of the LA jazz scene in the late 50s. He was a prolific producer in the 60s. Among his notable projects were a Lou Rawls cover of the Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and an album with Man from U.N.C.L.E. star David McCallum. (The above live performance features the title track from that album.)

Axelrod began putting out albums under his own name in the late 60s, beginning with Song of Innocence, an album inspired by the poems of William Blake.* The album featured notable LA-based musicans, such as Carol Kaye, the bassist you may remember from the documentary The Wrecking Crew. Kaye was among a group of super talented session musicians (Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, etc.) who were behind the sounds of our favorite hits. Were it not for Kaye, we wouldn’t have the memorable opening to “The Beat Goes On” or the sophisticated bass lines in The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations.”

Axelrod’s albums have become a go-to resource for an impressive lineup of hip-hop artists in search of samples. Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, De La Soul and Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) are among the artists who have sampled Axelrod. In the above video, Axelrod expresses his conflicted views of this aspect of his career: he hates sampling for putting musicians out of work, but is grateful for how it’s personally benefited him.

*Not to be confused with U2’s Songs of Innocence, which was forced on millions by the band and Apple.

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