From Donald Byrd to Jackson 5, the Mizells are responsible for some timeless moments in music history. Larry Mizell shares his story.
The Mizell bloodline is thick: two prominent early 20th century black leaders, Andy Razaf (the composer of “Ain’t Misbehavin”), The Ronettes, Don Mizell, and the great Jam Master Jay. Success seems to run in their genes. So here’s a story of family values. It begins with a little hit by a little boy and his four big brothers. The boy is named Michael Jackson, the brothers are the Jackson 5, the song they are about to record is one co-written by Fonce Mizell called “I Want You Back”, and, in a last-minute bit of Motown intrigue, it’s plucked from the hands of Gladys Knight in their favor. (Larry says Gladys still may not know the song was meant for her.). Born in 1944, Larry Mizell grew up with his brothers Alphonso (“Fonce”) and Rod between Manhattan and Englewood, New Jersey. Together, they went on to have a profound impact on the sound of ’70s American R&B and jazz. When Fonce’s Motown days ended (after a series of #1 Jackson 5 hits he got no writing credit for), brothers Larry -
leaving behind a career as an electrical and aerospace engineer at NASA’s Apollo Program and as a researcher into early LCD technology - , and Rod joined him in Los Angeles and the magic continued with Sky High, the brotherly production unit that pushed the jazz fusion sound forward and produced albums for Blue Note artists like Donald Byrd and Bobbi Humphrey, to name but a few. This time they kept the publishing.
Inspired by Irving Berlin’s style of transposing the keys to fit his limited knowledge of piano tuning, Larry Mizell’s grandmother only played in the key of B.
As a college student, Mizell recruited a freshman Donny Hathaway to play keys in his band the Vanlords.
Alphonso Mizell, Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren and Deke Richards wrote Motown hits as the Corporation, most famously for the Jackson 5.
Here, Larry Mizell recalls being inspired by a young and and cutting edge Gary Bartz.
Before he passed in 2011, Alphonso Mizell sat down with his brother Larry for a RBMA lecture.