The first time Take 6 came to the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival — or maybe it was the second? It’s hard to know it was so long ago — the guys were still attractive enough to pack a room full of squealing girls who asked questions such as “boxers or briefs?”.
That was in 1999, a time before smartphones, streaming or even much of an internet. These days, Claude McKnight, the founder of the group, knows his place. “Maybe now we will have a bunch of old ladies,” he said in a phone interview.
He said that, however, in a proud way – not just a way to laugh off the accumulated years. Take 6 is, arguably, the most legendary a cappella group still singing. They’ve been together 30 years, they’re still putting out new music, and they’ve only had two changes in their personnel.
“You know, the first one was literally two years in,” McKnight said. “That kinda constitutes only one change really.”
It’s an amazing record at a time when many other groups are forced to bring in new members because, well, time takes its toll. The key, McKnight said, is that the guys from Take 6 still like each other. He knows how cliché that sounds, but that’s a simple truth in music that doesn’t get talked about often.
“A lot of groups don’t like each other,” McKnight said. “That’s just the way it goes.” Nearly every week, the six members gather for a conference call. Sometimes they talk about sports, or religion (the group is steeped in gospel and could easily slide into the Christian category but don’t want to limit themselves), or their families – the conservation staples of many longtime friends. But sometimes they have to work things out. Sometimes that even requires a face-to-face talk.
“We try not to do that before a concert,” McKnight said and laughed. But their friendship and collaboration carries through on every new album. “We ask each other, ‘What do we want it to be about?’” McKnight said. The projects are then decided on by a vote. Take 6 is a democracy, even though Mark Kibble arranges almost all the music (and the dude just won a Grammy for his arranging, to go with the band’s 10 others, so he knows what he’s doing).
In fact, the band’s latest, Iconic, is more proof of that democracy. It is the first Take 6 album that contains only covers. The band wanted to record songs that would be instantly recognizable by everyone who would go to see them around the world. That list was a tough one to put together, and so the six voted on every suggestion. They came up with more than 50. Those songs that got at least four votes made the cut, and then the ones that got at least five made the record. Those songs include Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” “Sailing” by Christopher Cross and “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones. The band also paid tribute to Al Jarreau with a rendition of “Roof Garden.” Jarreau was the first to take the group on a major tour, way back in the late 80s.
Take 6 got a boost when the group emerged in 1988 with their platinum-selling, self-titled first album with hits such as “Gold Mine” during the vocal band craze that uplifted Boyz II Men and Shai. “The thing about it is, we were the only one that was a 99 percent a cappella group,” McKnight said. “That’s what set us apart.”
Their skill as a vocal jazz group allowed them to play anywhere, from jazz festivals such as the one in Greeley (this April’s appearance probably means they’ve played at the festival more than anyone) to pop shows to concert halls. And yet they do have discussions about stopping. It’s been a long time, after all. “We have that discussion every six months,” McKnight said and laughed. “I’m kind of kidding, but we do say to each other, ‘Guys, how much longer do we want to keep doing this?’”
The answer, at least for now, is just a little while longer. The group’s still excited about being on stage, even if the audience may be a bit older now, and that will always carry them through another tour. McKnight knows his place among the hotter a cappella acts. He also knows he’s still excited to be one of them.
“We’re the middle-aged group now,” McKnight said. “But when we get together it’s this magic thing, and we love it.”
The 49th annual UNC Jazz Festival features headliners all three days of the festival from April 25-27.
- Thursday, April 25 — Take 6 plays at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.
- Friday, April 26 — The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, one of the premiere big bands in the U.S., plays at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, April 27 — Jazz legend Benny Golson plays in a tribute to his career with guest stars. Golson played with Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and many others. That concert takes place at 4:30 p.m.
All concerts take place in the new Campus Commons on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado next to the University Center. Go to uncjazzfest.com for tickets.
The festival also features many free educational workshops and performances by school groups, and there are free after-hours sessions every night featuring jam sessions at 10:15 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 7:15 p.m. Saturday at the Moxi Theater, 802 9th St. in downtown Greeley.