Combine jazz and dance music, and what do you get? Dazz--no, not Brick's 1976 single "Dazz," which stands for "disco jazz," but "danceable jazz."
Formed in Cleveland in the late 70s, the Dazz Band resulted from merging two local funk groups, Bell Telefunk and Mother Braintree. Led by Bobby Harris, Dazz underwent several personnel changes before settling on a permanent lineup in 1978. Originally called Kinsman Dazz (the word fusing the phrase "danceable jazz"), they charted two minor hits in 1978 and 1979 before moving to Motown in 1980. It took only two years before they scored their biggest hit "Let It Whip," a funky, danceable track that still sounds fresh today.
Unlike their previous material, "Let It Whip" was not composed by the band but by producers/songwriters Reggie Andrews and Leon "Ndugu" Chancler. The track may be driven by synthesizers and drum machines, but Skip Martin's strong vocals, a funky bass line, and interesting chord changes make it a timeless classic. The swirling keyboards immediately draw the listener in, the beat kick-starting the song into dance territory. Next, the bass enters the fray, bringing in the funk. The last element, the vocals, add to the song's overall catchy quality. Along with Martin's lead voice, the band's harmonic blend emphasizes the chorus: "We both are here to have the fun/ So let it whip."
In addition to all these elements, what really drew my attention to "Let It Whip" was its bridge. Here is where the band fully realizes the term "Dazz." The chords transform the track from a disco tune into something more memorable and jazz-like. Listen closely to the band members' close, intricate harmonies on lines such as "There is no time to lose/ You're the one I choose, it's alright." The perfect blend creates a distinctive sound that stands out from typical dance songs; clearly the band and songwriters carefully thought out every facet of the song, from the instrumentation to the vocal arrangements.
"Let It Whip" held crossover appeal, reaching number one on the R&B charts and number five on the Billboard Hot 100. The hit single propelled the album Keep It Live to the top of the R&B Albums chart and number 14 on the Billboard 200 chart. 1982 culminated in the Dazz Band winning a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for Keep It Live, mostly based on their "Let It Whip" performance. While the group continued releasing quality singles, including the fun if slightly dated"Joystick" and "Let It All Blow," both from 1984. But they soon encountered more personnel changes and several label moves, both preventing them from equaling their past success. The group continues to record, releasing their most recent album, Time Traveler, in 2001.
Obviously "Let It Whip" still enchants audiences, as it has lived on in commercials and video games (most notably Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas). Most importantly, the track exemplifies how synthesizers and drum machines need not label a song passé.