Jackie and Bob

It seems incredible that I could have lived more than fifty years and not have heard ‘Oboe’ by Jackie Mittoo.

But, as I was compelled to stop doing the dishes and turn up the volume when this beguiling instrumental came on the radio this evening, it would appear to be indeed the case.

Something about it sounded familiar, though. That five-note motif (first heard at 0’25”) nagged me.  Where had I heard this before? Who had sampled it?

I scrubbed at a pan and put the kettle on. My son could tell from my manner that I was preoccupied.  He asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t explain. I told him it was nearly bedtime and went through to run his bath, scared that the song would end and I’d miss the announcement that would tell me what it was and the riff would simply evaporate.  For you can’t (yet) sing to Shazam.

And then it came to me. Wasn’t it used in ‘A Touch of Jazz’ by DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince?

Actually, no. While he was splashing and singing the Octonauts theme at full belt in the bathroom, I played the 12″ and realized what I was thinking of was the better known ‘Westchester Lady’ by Bob James:

The motif (first heard at 0’09”) is similar but – played straight after the Jackie Mittoo – is much more distinct. And, of course, more samplable. You can see why it caught the attention of Jazzy Jeff (and several others).

Bob’s tune came out in 1973, Jackie’s three years later. I assume the quotation is deliberate. Roaming online just now I came across one comment that suggested that ‘Oboe’ is a cover of ‘Westchester Lady’, which is pushing it, and only true in the sense that John Coltrane’s ‘My Favourite Things’ is a cover of that song from The Sound of Music.

Let’s face it, Bob James is pretty cheesy. This song, with its cringeworthy title, is a lifetime’s supply of Dairylea. That five-note series is the only thing going for it, unless jazz funk arrangements polished to a dazzling shine thrill you per se.

But embedded in the loose ensemble sound you hear on ‘Oboe’, Jackie Mittoo shows that riff has legs. Its meandering, improvisatory quality, together with those never-quite expected splashes and swells of keyboard and cuts in the rhythm, make it far too interesting to listen to in a lift or hotel lobby.

Its nine and a half minutes deserve your full attention.

3 comments on “Jackie and Bob

  • Christopher says:

    Thank you, that riff’s familiarity was nagging at me and I appreciate your solving the mystery!

  • Jonny Sender says:

    Glad I found your post, I can now claim 60 years that it took me to hear Oboe, a beautiful and subtly mesmerizing tune .

    I discovered it listening to the very excellent show: The Strangeness of Dub presented by Edward George.

    It was nagging me and I realized it was Westchester Lady. The conundrum of bob James is the high performance and sonic value combined with the high amount of cheeze as you said. Or, Fuzack as we called it as teenagers. Take Me To the Mardi Gras is the building block of one of my favorite hip hop records but it also quickly descends into the fondue.
    Jackie Mittoo is always understated and sublime!

  • I first heard oboe a couple years ago when I picked up a copy of The Keyboard King At Studio One. I recognized the riff immediately as being from a 70s light jazz fusion track, but gave up on figuring out who it was…until a few weeks ago when I was playing SongPop. I chose a Jazz playlist for a round, then heard it. After the round was over, and they displayed the artists & song titles, I’d found my answer.


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