music has been dormant for many years. It was originally
created to present the music of Norman Howard,
lost genius of the trumpet.
In the twenty-first
century it would be better if there was no need for such an amateurish
non-profit (in fact loss) making enterprise. However, how else to
praise and promote the music of some of jazz' lesser known but hugely
gifted artists. Exponents of the new music, free jazz, avant-garde,
the new thing, ecstatic music, call it what you will, but still
music that follows on naturally from Charlie Parker, Hank
Mobley, Booker Ervin and the whole of the jazz tradition.
to the new dawn of homeboy music and the new and
old sounds of some wonderful musicians.
Here we have two heroes, Joe Rigby
and Arthur Doyle, who were
part of Milford Graves sound explosion which spread
the message through Brooklyn and Harlem back in the day.
Joe Rigby, long-time friend and partner of Milford,
playing tenor saxophone and soprano, just two of his many instruments.
Hear Joe's own music on Praise for the
first time with this moving picture of his quartet featuring another
long-time friend, Ted Daniel on trumpet. Hopefully
this will be just the start in the presentation of Mr. Rigby's extra-ordinary
now is a stunning solo recording simply called Music,
made in Scotland in the middle of Steve's 2008 European tour. It
includes Joe's version of the Scottish lament The Dark Island
and a transcendant Lift Every Voice And Sing.
On Joe's next visit to Scotland he got together with a gifted young
bagpiper Calum MacCrimmon and two local drummers for an ecstatic
spontaneous communication. Called For Harriet
in honour of his lovely wife, and available on Improvising
Beings. We are proud to present this startling new sonic exploration,
the whole music exactly as it was performed.
There is a special
signed edition of 50 copies which includes Joe's second solo statement
More Music, made just two days before.
If you miss it, More Music will be
available later separately on Homeboy Music.
From The Chantels to Milford Graves
An interview with Joe Rigby
Does the name Joe Rigby ring any bells ? You may have seen him playing
without knowing it. Maybe at a wedding in Brooklyn, or perhaps on
a cruise liner sailing out of Miami. On the other hand, if you'd
seen him playing with Milford Graves, you'd most certainly remember.
not perform in public very often, but every single gig is an unforgettable
experience. And Joe has been by his side, on and off since the 60's.
Milford has always believed in connecting with his audience. In
a way, that's not unrelated to playing for the people on a cruise.
But Milford's performances are a little more unpredictable ! His
forays into the crowd, the atomic blasts from his enormous multi-coloured
drum-kit. His hand signals, switching on and off the intense screaming
from his side-men, usually 2 saxophonists. Usually Joe Rigby and
his alter-ego Hugh Glover. Playing music which at first shocks,
then overwhelms, and finally converts the audience. Hugh providing
a raucous bridge between Joe's often stratospheric sounds and Milford's
But it's not
only music that links Joe and Milford. "I met Milford in my
junior year of high school, although we went to different schools.
We had a mutual friend who had an idea of forming a social club
of guys primarily to meet girls. That was the birth of the Zeusinians.
I was the only non-jock. Everyone else was very athletic, including
Milford, who was on his school's track team, as were most of the
Zeusinians." Milford remembers Joe, who is well over 6 feet
tall, as "a great high jumper", and thought "we were
the hippest cats in New York with our blazers !".
their first musical gig together "was a Latin gig where I was
playing flute, and Milford was one of 4 percussionists. I couldn't
hear myself on flute, and that might have started my interest with
the tenor sax."
But let's begin
at the beginning. Born in Harlem on September 3, 1940, Joe is a
Virgo. His family history is fascinating. "My mom's name was
Catherine Fedder Harding. Her father, my grandfather, was the illegitimate
son of President Warren Harding. My mom was born in New Bern, North
Carolina. My father, Joseph Benjamin Rigby, was born in Haiti. His
father was Haitian and his mother was Dominican. The word is that
my father came to the U.S. with his mother, where they met an Englishman
named Rigby and adopted the name. I've two sisters from my father's
first marriage, but they aren't musical to my knowledge."
began music young. "My first musical memory was playing at
a piano recital when I was 6 years old. I wasn't too bad !"
There were lessons at the New York Schools of Music with a Mrs.Fuchs
for 35 cents a time. Joe's father loved jazz. "He played boogie
woogie piano by ear. I don't think he was too happy when, as a teenager,
I was into R'n'B. I was in the neighbourhood where a lot of R'n'B
acts started, like the Moonglows, the Chantels, Frankie Lymon and
the Teenagers, the Valentines, the Charts, the Paragons, the Harptones
and Leslie Uggams. I played piano for the Chantels. We won 3 Apollo
amateur nights. If you won 4, you got a week's engagement. The fourth
week they threw a young Jerry Butler at us and we lost !"
But there was a lot of jazz in the house and Joe remembers hearing
Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Meade Lux Lewis, Art Tatum and
Frank Sinatra. The Sugar Hill section of Harlem where he lived was
also home to Duke Ellington and most of his band, as well as Count
Basie and Billie Holiday. "And Billie Strayhorn stayed for
about 2 years in my aunt's house. Dad also worked on the Pennysylvania
Railroad as a waiter at a time when most people rode the rails,
so he met the celebrities of film and music."
Surrounded as he was by music, it's no surprise Joe was smitten.
"I went to high school at Power Memorial at the same time as
Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and soon to become
a New York [basketball] legend. When I walked there, I would often
hear Thelonious Monk practicing the piano because he lived near
the school." It was there that Joe picked up the flute and
played with the marching band and orchestra, "so the piano
was out ! I was drawn to the saxophone because I had started playing
flute and then I heard such great saxophonists as Johnny Griffin,
Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Johnny Hodges, and I decided I'd
be better on saxophone. My best friend Paul Kappes also played tenor
sax. This was after high school, but he didn't play professionally.
Around 1965 he moved to Mexico where I heard he became a drug dealer
and a millionaire. Anyway, there was a music store on 48th. Street
in Manhattan called Jimmy's. I was able to try 5 Selmer tenor saxes
and make my choice. During the Beatles' invasion, the store stopped
selling wind instruments and concentrated on selling guitars. The
owner made a lot of money and moved to Florida. I played the clarinet
before the saxophone, and traded it when I got my tenor. I wasn't
very good as I recall."
time, other musicians I was listening to included Sonny Stitt, Stan
Getz, Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Lennie Tristano, Paul
Chambers, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans and Miles
But it was one
musician above all others who inspired Joe. "I knew I wanted
to be an improvising musician when I heard John Coltrane with the
Miles Davis sextet at the Apollo Theater. He was playing harmonics,
and the crowd actually booed him. I thought he was fantastic, and
wanted to play a saxophone like him."
This was the
start of a long journey. "Improvising is very hard work, and
I don't think I got it naturally. It's a part of your life's experiences,
and I've had a long and interesting life. I've lived in New York
all my life. I've been married 3 times, and I have 4 sons and 2
grand-children." Fortunately for Joe, "my wives were all
very supportive of my musical career. It was my womanizing that
they didn't like. Old age, or better yet maturity, has kind of changed
In a time of
civil rights agitation, there was little enthusiasm for America's
colonial pursuits. "I was in an age sense too old for Vietnam,
but I was drafted during the Korean War. I got married to keep from
going in. I was also going to live in Canada, and had met a family
I was going to stay with, but it didn't come to that."
it was impossible to survive from music alone. "Through the
years, to support my family, I've been a postal letter carrier,
a bus driver, a United Parcel carrier, a liquor salesman, a New
York City taxi driver, a garment buyer, and a nursery school teacher.
Then I was a music teacher for the New York Board of Education for
14 years until I retired in 2004."
relevant thing about my artistry is that I've had a fantastic life,
and I hope when people hear me they can get a little, actually a
lot, of my life experience in my tone. My tone on my respective
instruments is what makes me, me. I developed my own approach primarily
because Milford Graves was my friend, and he was always searching
himself. I learned from him."
But Joe Rigby
played a significant part in Milford's development too. Milford
remembers how "I didn't get into jazz until 1962. It was John
Coltrane who did it. There was this place out here on Merrick Road
called Copa City. A little Queens club. Joe was a Trane man. He
said 'hey man, get your head out of the sand, the greatest saxophone
player who ever lived is playing out in Queens, right by your house,
and the greatest drummer is with him.' We went down there, young
guys, got a front seat. That was the first time I ever saw Elvin
Jones, he was so loose ... and I said to myself, that's it. I went
out and bought myself a trap set."
some gigs with Giuseppi Logan, and the New York Art Quartet, and
then withdrew from the commercial scene. He decided to play the
New Music for "the people on the block". Joe remembers
their first real job together "was with Don Pullen on piano
and Arthur Williams on trumpet at the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem.
I think Arthur Doyle was playing tenor sax on the gig too."
The group, always with a core of at least 2 saxophonists from Arthur,
Joe and Hugh Glover, who Milford met at 1964's October Revolution,
confined their activities to the Black community, winning over ordinary
listeners to a music that was regarded as "way-out" and
"extreme" in the jazz world. Sometimes all 3 saxophonists
played together producing a sound that can only be imagined. Unfortunately,
no recordings of this awesome gathering have ever emerged.
Even when gigs
were thin on the ground "we rehearsed 1 to 3 times a week".
And "Milford didn't like band members fraternizing with women,
and I always went against that rule ! But he's always coming up
with something to keep you interested. He connects with stuff you
didn't know was there, then you hear it and that's like the way
it's always been."
These were volatile
years. The music seemed inseparable from the politics of the time.
"Milford's groups played for a lot of political events. I met
leaders... H. Rap Brown, Ron Karenga, Stokely Carmichael and others.
Angela Davis was also around a lot of the music. A little later
I dated a woman who was a Black Panther. I met Eldridge Cleaver,
Bobby Seale and was in the audience when Huey Newton was released
from jail. There was a party for him in North Philadelphia. All
I remember is that he wasn't such a good public speaker, but he
did have some very good ideas. In 1969, I was president of the Black
Students' Union of Bronx Community College. When Kent State University's
security guards killed a student, we were the 2nd. college to close
in sympathy, after Kent State itself. This caused a ripple effect
that closed most schools across the country. I'm very proud of my
involvement in that protest."
played a lot in the community. We played a lot in Harlem. Rockland
Palace and the Renaissance Ballroom were just some of the venues.
The people were very receptive, and we were playing music that fit
By 1972, Arthur
Doyle was suffering anervous breakdown. "We were friends when
we played with Milford, but we never really hung out together. Milford
tried to make it a competition thing and, to a degree, he was successful,
but Arthur and I were always ok. At the time, Milford seemed to
prefer him over me. I think the fact that Arthur could be unstable
is what did him in with Milford." Don Pullen had long since
left to play in organ trios. The group had shrunk to a duo with
either Hugh Glover or Joe. Then Milford played with Arthur Williams,
Hugh and Joe at the Newport in New York festival in 1973, and in
Europe, before returning to the shadows. There was the occasional
gig, one in 1976 at Fordham University with Joe and a recovered
Arthur Doyle, but mostly they were in the basement of Milford's
home in South Jamaica, Queens. In 1997, Milford, Hugh and Joe emerged
into the light, once more, to great acclaim. Nevertheless, "to
this day, Milford has always told me that I sound too much like
Coltrane. But he was my influence, and I'm proud of that. Until
recently, he wanted another saxophonist along with me." Joe's
not too sure why Hugh's no longer part of the group, but "he
had obligations with his family, and it was hard for him to rehearse."
Lately, Milford has been recording his and Joe's heartbeats and
incorporating them into the performance. Even now the group hasn't
been recorded, "Unfortunately, the record people haven't been
knocking the door down." Joe is a man who lives for music,
but these occasional gigs with Milford, albeit unique and incredibly
stimulating, could never be enough. Playing with Milford is like
the icing on Joe's musical cake.
When asked to
name his heros, Joe replied "my parents, Milford, John Coltrane,
Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner, and, although I'm a Catholic who doesn't
go to church often, I do believe in a higher being". And if
he could pick just one musician he would most like to have played
with, "that would be Louis Armstrong".
Joe was once
described as "the spectacularly ambitious Mr. Rigby with his
myriad reeds and flutes". Perhaps, not surprisingly, Mr. Coltrane
had something to do with this too ! "I started exploring the
saxophone family almost immediately after hearing Coltrane play
the soprano. I was attending Hartnett School of Music in Times Square.
I didn't hear Trane's first night at the Jazz Gallery after he left
Miles. Some of the students went, and the word was that he was playing
soprano. I did go the second night and I was blown away ! I got
a soprano. and then I wanted to play the alto. The baritone and
sopranino followed. I think each horn has its strengths and weaknesses,
my weaknesses of course. I feel that there's a time and place for
each sax. I got the sopranino when a music store salesman made me
an offer I couldn't refuse, because he wanted to move the instrument."
someone give me a C-melody but then, in a couple of days, they realised
that the instrument was worth something, and they took it back.
I've never had the desire to play the bass sax. I did try to trade
my then Selmer baritone for a bass clarinet, but it wasn't an even
trade, so I declined. I tried a bassoon for about 3 months, but
my heart wasn't in it. I would like to try the bass clarinet again."
And which of
all the instruments is his favourite ? "I would say the tenor
sax is my favourite, but at times it can be the alto or, when I
was playing the blues, it was often the sopranino". Of course,
Joe isn't the only afficianado of the whole saxophone family, "I
talked briefly to James Carter, who might just be my favourite saxophonist
at the present time. I think he's fantastic. I only know Michael
Marcus through Ted Daniel, but I'd like to meet him too."
Living in New
York enabled Joe to immerse himself in the music. "My most
memorable concert-going experience is between seeing Trane at Olatunji's
in Harlem, and Freddie Hubbard with Herbie Hancock at the Beacon
Theater. I also can't forget seeing Coltrane with Booker Little
at the Five Spot. It was in between his leaving Miles and forming
his own band with Steve Kuhn, Steve Davis and Pete LaRoca. I was
fortunate to see John Coltrane perform at least 200 times, and most
of those performances were noteable. And I must include Ornette's
first New York concert appearance at Town Hall. Carmen McRae opened
the concert, and Ornette and Dizzy played together. Sonny Rollins
playing live at Lincoln Center was also tops."
grew up surrounded by the sounds of hard bop, he couldn't miss the
emerging new sound. "I became aware of the New Music, probably
because of my associations with Milford, Pharoah Sanders and Steve
Reid. The Cleveland contingent was happening. There were the Ayler
brothers, Mustafa Abdul Rahim, Charles Tyler and some folks I've
probably forgotten. I remember playing with Norman Howard once at
a jam at Steve Reid's house, so I have fond memories of the days
with the great Cleveland musicians. During his association with
Milford, Albert Ayler showed me how to play harmonics in a room
at the Theresa hotel in Harlem, while Fidel Castro was staying there
too. Pharoah had a big band in which I played, with Frank Lowe and
Frank Wright as well. During Pharoah's early, scuffling years, he
and Joe even played together behind the wicked Mr. Wilson Pickett.
And speaking of powerful performers, Joe also played beside David
S. Ware in Andrew Cyrille's Maono. Little wonder he developed his
own sound, strong enough to stand with anyone. Ornette's
music had virtually no impact on me originally. I did, however,
know how important he was right away, but I didn't really listen
to him until the 80's and the 90's." Joe first heard Sun Ra
with his Outer Spacemen in 1962 while working as a waiter at the
Cafe Bizarre on 3rd Street." I was not really a Sun Ra fan,
but John Gilmore was excellent. If he had left the Arkestra he would
definitely have been one of the innovators of the music. I remember
in the 60's how some of Ra's musicians like Marshall Allen and Pat
Patrick were recruiting people to come to Philly to live in Ra's
brownstone and just play music. Ronnie Boykins in particular made
a concerted effort to draft me. Ronnie was a terrific bassist who
I played with a couple of times with Steve Reid. I also liked Booker
Ervin a lot. I always thought he had his own distinctive sound.
I was exposed to him before Trane and Rollins."
Joe feels his
major artistic achievement to be "my friendships and musical
sharing experiences with Milford, Pharoah, Carlos Garnett and Eric
Dolphy, who turned me on to one of my teachers, Garvin Bushell."
While a major performance achievement was with Ted Curson's band
where he was able to develop more continuity in his phrasing. "Playing
with Ted, who hired me over David Murray, made me concentrate more
on my phrasing because I was playing alongside legends like Bill
Barron and Nick Brignola. It's called growing up or, better yet,
the maturation of the Rig ! Both Bill and Nick played with such
beauty and drive, I had to listen more to what was coming out of
my horns. Bill Barron was sensational, and a very nice person always
willing to help in any way."
worked with some dynamite drummers, amongst whom have been Andrew
Cyrille, Mohammad Ali, Rashied Ali, Milford, Billy Hart, Beaver
Harris, Barry Altschul, Rashied Sinan, Steve Reid, Lou Grassi, Rashid
Bakr, William Hooker and probably a few I've forgotten. And I would
have liked to play with Edgar Bateman, Al Foster, Denis Charles,
Paul Motian, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Max Roach !"
The so-called "Loft Era" opened up many opportunities
for the practitioners of the New Music to play, even if there wasn't
much money involved. Sam River's Studio Rivbea opened in June 1972.
"I did a lot of gigging there, and Sam gave me all the freedom
I needed. I had the pleasure of playing with Sonny Sharrock there."
Other musician-operated lofts incuded Artists House, the Tin Palace,
Studio We, Ali's Alley, the Brook, the Ladies' Fort and Studio Wis.
Not only were the lofts leased by the musicians, they also made
up a large part of the audience, supporting each other, even working
the door. And if one musician got a grant by filling in the right
bits of paper, others would benefit too from the gigs that followed.
Sometimes a group could last for years, sometimes just the one gig.
And, of course, rehearsals were abundant. Besides the names Joe
has already mentioned, there were other important associations.
Third World Energy Ensemble, "Ted gave me the opportunity to
be one of the main contributors in his band. Very often, he had
close to 20 musicians in the ensemble. We have remained good friends
ever since, and I can say Ted is probably my closest friend, along
with Milford Graves."
The Master Brotherhood
included Steve Reid, Ahmed Abdullah, Les Walker, and Arthur Williams,
"my best musical friend until he died of what was called a
drug overdose. Whether that was true is a matter of speculation.
Arthur had distanced himself from his friends and even his family.
I remember talking to his sister, who didn't know the extent of
his addiction until his death. The Master Brotherhood was a fantastic
group of young musicians. We played a lot of Brooklyn gigs. We all
got along very well with no ego trips. One of the group that didn't
record with us, but was an important member was bass clarinetist
Mustafa Abdul Rahim."
Carlos Garnett's Universal Black Force, "Carlos and I were
friends too, in the 70's to early 80's. We had a mutual admiration
for each other. I think he's back in New York now [from Panama]
and sometimes performs at the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, though I haven't
seen him yet."
New World Ensemble, another big band, but "it was more usually
a sextet when I was in it. The only time I had a problem being a
sideman, was with Charles. He tried to tell me what instrument to
play, and when to play it. We almost came to blows. As you know,
musicians aren't fighters... We talk a good game... I don't usually
have a problem being a sideman, but a lot of leaders don't really
know the intricacies of what it takes to lead, so you have to be
to Rashied Ali, early in 1978 Joe got the chance to lead his own
group, which he called Dynasty, at Ali's Alley. He brought in a
powerhouse band with Marty Cook, trombone, Amina Claudine Myers,
piano, Jerome Hunter, bass and Steve McCall on drums. No less than
Stanley Crouch reviewed a subsequent gig, saying "Rigby plays
a lot of saxophones but the tenor is his instrument. He played solos
that swung, shouted, made brilliant uses of harmonics and built
with an ordered and swelling passion that let you know he is an
important voice, in any direction.... I will always remember the
way Rigby walked off the bandstand and remained audible as he traveled
through the audience, inventing and swinging with an ecstatic mastery."
But somehow Joe wasn't able to break through with this group. "There
were no recordings with Dynasty. I didn't really know how to do
a press kit etc., and that cost us some bookings. I never applied
for a grant, although I should have. A change in personnel also
happened with Joe Bowie on trombone, Sonelius Smith, Brian Smith
and Rashied Sinan coming in."
By the end of
the year, the golden era of the lofts was coming to a close. As
suddenly as the lofts had opened, they began to shut down. "I
think a lot of the lofts got tremendous increases in their rents
when they became popular, so the musicians who ran them lost their
But as one set
of venues disappeared, others emerged. Soundscape, the Squat Theater,
Tier-3, Hurrah, Irving Plaza, CBGB's, though some of them were aimed
at the new sounds of punk, funk and No Wave that were emerging on
the pop scene. There was also a short-lived new synthesis in the
New Music. Just as 25 years before, when bop musicians had looked
for a closer connection with the blues and a soul feeling and hard
bop had been born. This time round it was the turn of the New Music,
perhaps influenced by Ornette Coleman's electric Prime Time or the
emergence from James Chance's backing group of Joe Bowie and Defunked
(soon to be Defunkt). The connections were blues, funk and rock,
reflecting the influences of James Brown and George Clinton, as
well as a desire to reach a bigger audience. Major players included
Joe Bowie, Luther Thomas, James Ulmer, Oliver Lake, Ted Daniel,
Henry Threadgill, Steve McCall with LeftHand Frank on a blues tip,
Arthur Doyle and Beaver Harris with Rudolph Grey riding No Wave.
But only Joe
Rigby did it for real, and did it for keeps. "Johnny Copeland's
manager Dan Doyle got in contact with me because he wanted a saxophonist
who didn't sound like most of the blues saxophonists, whatever that
means. And Johnny gave me all the freedom I needed too. I think
that the experience working with the blues bands of Johnny, and
briefly with B.B. King, was fantastic in making me the musician
I am today. B.B. hired me to replace his baritone sax player for
3 gigs at jails. I didn't want to just play the baritone so I left."
Through the 80's, Johnny Copeland, who played a searing guitar as
well as singing, enjoyed a surge of popularity. But this was not
a good time for jazz musicians, and there were many casualties.
Some managed to survive by entering the education system. And Joe
eventually followed suit, going back to college and slipping almost
completely off the jazz radar screen. There had been some good gigs.
Playing with Jaki Byard was a highlight. At one point, "Hannibal
talked about getting a group together, but it never happened."
in 1989 and a major turning point for me was when Russell Simmons
of Def Jam Records offered me a job with his company. It would have
involved a lot of travel, and I was a newly-wed, and chose to become
a New York City teacher instead. For basically 14 years I diminished
my individual goals while I was teaching. I was pretty much off
the scene in terms of performing. Even though the Def Jam job was
hip hop, I would have been more connected with the music scene than
I was as a teacher of grades 6, 7 and 8. I don't regret the decision,
but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened."
Well, Joe might
have become a millionaire, or he might have ended up in jail, or
both, like Death Row's Marion 'Suge' Knight ! His boys would most
certainly have been impressed. "My sons, all four of them,
are into hip hop. At the time that I might have worked for Def Jam,
I wasn't into hip hop, and I'm not now, although I listen to it."
Not that that's prevented a lot of people making money out of it.
But Joe adds that "one of the reasons why I left the teaching
profession was because I felt I couldn't reach my students as effectively
as I should, because I couldn't relate to their music."
There was still a little happening during these years. "I was
gigging around with a woman harpist called Karen Strauss. And I
was part of a group called 'the Teachers'. We were all teachers,
and not too bad. I also worked with a couple of pop singers who
had high hopes but didn't manage to reach stardom. And before appearing
at the Vision festival in 1997, Milford, Hugh and I performed at
the Knitting Factory. Over the years, I've played a lot of wedding
gigs. They paid the bills very often, but I can't sing at all. I
was never tempted to be a studio musician. I've known a few who've
made an excellent living, but I never explored it".
can dedicate himself totally to music. But what does he do for relaxation
? "I relax by practicing my horns, especially the flute. The
other week I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Yusef Lateef
and his wife, at a wedding. The man is 85 years old and has all
his faculties. He is a beautiful human being. Things like that float
music, "my passion is animals. I love cats and dogs in particular.
But when I was in Florida, I was extremely troubled by the amount
of construction in the State. That means animals are being displaced
and that really bothers me. Also my passion is my sons and their
children. And my cat Jazzy, who's the keeper of my house. She's
the boss !"
Sports are another
interest. "I've always liked boxing, but I don't follow the
lighter weights. I'm disturbed that the Heavyweights aren't as exciting
as I would like. I also like football, basketball and baseball.My
favourite teams are the New York Giants, the New Jersey Nets, and
both the Yankees and the Mets, but if they're not winning, I turn
on them ! I actually like the New York Jets more than the Giants,
and I've been a Net fan since they had Julius Erving".
If he couldn't
be a musician, Joe says "I'd be an actor." But Samuel
L. Jackson needn't lose any sleep, Joe's commitment to music is
total. And his passion isn't just confined to jazz. Ask him about
Bettye LaVette, and he'll speak about this great "forgotten
diva". Try him on Bjork and he'll tell you he "likes her
music and her style". He'll listen to the most minimal Detroit
techno of Monobox (aka Robert Hood). "It's all music. I wish
there weren't the divisions between, say, hip hop, salsa, world
music etc." It's doubtful there's a more rounded musician in
New York, Joe is one of surprisingly few jazz musicians actually
born in the city, though most make the trip eventually. "I
love New York... Saying that, and the fact that I've been there
most of my life is all the more reason why I would love to live
somewhere else ! I would like to live in Paris, or possibly Amsterdam
or Copenhagen. The avant garde seems to get more notice than it
does here, but the fact that I don't speak the respective languages
would stop me. That gets me to think the U.K. would be more feasible.
In the U.S., California might be an option, but I was disappointed
in the jazz scene there."
It seems unlikely
Joe could ever leave New York. He has a voracious appetite for music.
Not just playing, but attending concerts and gigs. He could be seen
at most of the recent Vision Festival. And, of course, he listens
to records. His current favourites include "a lot of 60's Miles
Davis, new stuff from Sonny Rollins, Gary Bartz, Antonio Hart, Roy
Hargrove, James Carter, and George Adams. I also love Arthur Blythe's
sound and ideas."
As far as his
own music is comcerned, the different approaches he uses, depending
on whom he is playing with, are a constant stimulus. "The contrast
of playing spontaneously [with Milford], and playing a more structured
format is something that I really like. I don't hardly think of
myself as a be-bopper, but one of my favourite play-along Jamey
Aebersold books is a Tadd Dameron volume that I really enjoy playing.
That is full of be-bop, and I find my alto sax can handle the up-tempo
tunes. The tenor is ok, but the alto is faster. I do think that
the fact I like to play both [free and structured] is, or could
be, a way of critics saying I don't really have a definite style.
But I feel that kind of [open] approach to my music. And playing
with Johnny Copeland made me really appreciate, and like to play,
"I am trying to
develop my own sound. I've always concentrated on [having] my own
sound. It comes from playing alongside Bill Barron, Arthur Doyle,
David S. Ware, Pharoah and a few others I'm forgetting ; Carlos
Ward and Carlos Garnett too."
Moving on to
recent events, "I'm trying to get a working group that are
willing to stick together through thick and thin, much like David
S. Ware's quartet. It won't be easy, but I'm optimistic. I've played
a couple of gigs with Roy Campbell. One was the closing of CBGB's
jazz series. I also played with a quartet of Ted Daniel on trumpet,
Ken Filiano, bass and Lou Grassi, drums. We had a few gigs. I want
to add a piano. Then I went to Florida to play on a cruise ship.
I belong to a web-site, Musicians Contact, and I was contacted on
a trial basis by a cruise line. But they want you to sign a six
month contract... that's out of the question."
back just in time to fly to London and play with Steve Reid at a
club called Cargo. The gig went well. We were warmly accepted by
a primarily 20's to 40's age group. That comes right behind a Newport
Jazz Festival performance with Milford Graves in 1968, and a Bard
College gig with Beaver Harris, Dave Burrell and Jimmy Garrison
as my most memorable performance ever. I guess I prefer performing
in concerts, but in November 2005 with Steve we toured the UK playing
rock clubs, and that was a very positive experience. We played on
a couple of occasions for more than 1200 people. I'll be in Porto
and then Milan with Steve, and he's planning a trip to Africa in
with a pianist, Chris Chalfant, playing with a trio of Ken Filiano
and Lou Grassi, a singer who has a recording contract, and Milford.
I'm also working with Rashid Bakr's group with Mark Hennen. Roy
Campbell and I have talked about playing some more together, but
that hasn't happened so far. I'm also playing with drummer William
Hooker's group. I might even be doing some things with Cecil Taylor,
who I saw recently. And there's my own group, which now looks like
being Charles Eubanks on piano, Hill Green, bass and Warren Smith,
drums. Maybe there'll be a trumpet too. I've just had a rehearsal
with Ted Daniel and Charles. It went well. I'm going to rehearse
my group at a studio run by Nasheet Waits, who went to school with
my oldest son."
All that says that there could be a couple of recordings this year.
"For quite a while, I've wanted to present my own music, but
I haven't found the right opportunity. My success would be to be
able to be heard. I just found out that there is a record on Utech
of a performance I did at the Stone in January. This is an unauthorized
recording as far as I'm concerned, since I didn't know it was happening.
It was with Ras Moshe. You might have trouble telling us apart.
Ras has just appeared at the latest Vision Festival, and I wish
him well. He seems to be on his way, and I feel very good for him."
It would seem, after all these years that Joe must have a lot more
than one recording in him. "I've written a few new tunes. You
know I'll have to do one [recording] focussing on the New Music.
And definitely a blues. I absolutely love ballads and standards.
I would love a live recording. I'm okay with focussing on all my
instruments. The baritone and the piccolo are the horns that I don't
have as much confidence as I do in the others. I try to practice
every day. I keep a record so I don't neglect any of my instruments.
I'm also working with all these different groups. Right now, I think
my music is stronger than ever."
Joe wanted to say "what sustains me both artistically and personally
is that through my life, I've had people who have shared their love
with me, not necessarily in a romantic sense, but that helps too.
Love is what propels us all. That has kept me going, and will in
the future. I have never given up hope in a musical sense. The artistic
achievement I feel best about is in the future, but I am very glad
to have my health and my ability to play the music that I love.
I am a strong individual, and I thoroughly believe in my ability
to reach people musically, and I will do that."
"My ultimate goal as an artist is to play music that makes
the listener want to hug the person next to him or her and tap their
feet. If everyone were exposed to music, I do believe the healing
aspects of music could take over our doubts and fears. The bottom
line is that people can save people... We just have to want it,
but war is big business, at least in the United States."
to lead my own groups, playing music that I choose, but also open
for any of the band members with their input. I want the public
to know that I am a survivor and a world-class musician who needs
to be heard."
The liner-notes to For Harriet
Joe Rigby's first gig
of the new decade was an intriguing one. On the bill at the Brecht
Forum was young saxophonist Ras Moshe's group including cellist
Joel Freedman who brought the sound of strings to Albert Ayler's
music back in the day. Then there was Giuseppi Logan's Ensemble,
another small step in the return of the multi-instrumentalist from
a near 40 year absence. Finally there was the reappearance of Chris
Capers, one-time trumpeter with the Arkestra and close friend of
John Coltrane. Now playing oboe, clarinet, and a just purchased
French horn, and supported every step of the way on his return by
another old friend from back in the day, Joe Rigby. "My association
with Chris goes back to the 60's. We played in many groups together.
There were so many places to play, that you had gigs, jam sessions,
rehearsals, and just a positive atmosphere to learn and grow as
a person, and as an artist. Chris and I go back, as do Steve Reid
and I, and also Milford Graves.... a long time."
Joe, himself, has never
really been away from the music. And this little concert was an
example of the determination and resilience of these men who were
part of the jazz revolution in the 1960's. The essence of the avant-garde
isn't just the ability to break the rules, but also the openness
to accept and absorb everything that's happened before as well.
And if anyone has demonstrated the universality of this music, it's
Joe. As he says, "the avant-garde is a lot more mainstream
than we ever thought it would be. World music is finally getting
its due respect. A mix of everything is what's happening. Steve
Reid's ensemble was trying to bridge world music and the so-called
avant-garde." Joe's most frequent work in recent years was
with the recently deceased and much missed drummer who brought his
rhythm mix and world view to a young and enthusiastic audience.
Many of whom must have wondered just who was this rockin' rollin'
amiable looking saxophonist lighting up the music.
Joe's most recent recordings
took place in November 2009 in Scotland, following a gig with Steve's
Ensemble at London's Jazz Cafe. He wanted to play with some local
musicians, though this proved a little harder to arrange than first
imagined. Plans to use an experienced bebop pianist and then an
Angolan bongo player both falling through. So Joe duly recorded
solo, and at the end of the date engineer Kenny MacLeod casually
asked if he would be interested in playing with a (bag)piper.
Two nights later, two
young musicians shuffled into Dundee's Showcase the Street studio.
While Scotty Duncan put together his drum-kit, Calum MacCrimmon
assembled his pipes and asked Joe what he should play. Joe replied
"Hit it. Play whatever you feel. You follow me and I'll follow
you. Just hit it." The tapes rolled and the rest is history.
At the end of the first piece Calum,exhausted from continuous blowing,
had to switch to penny whistle. Though he did express astonishment
at how his severe hangover had miraculously vanished. The session
proceeded, percussionist Billy Fisher arrived, and the spontaneous
communication continued, with Calum returning to the pipes for the
third and last segment. An hour after it began, the music reached
a natural conclusion. The pipes subsided, everyone grinned and slapped
hands. They had created something fresh, something different.
Of course, way back in
1973, Rufus Harley had played with Sonny Rollins. But this was a
Scottish piper. Calum stands to become "12th. Hereditary Piper
to the Chief of the MacLeods", no small distinction in the
piping world. This is the real deal. World music if you like, but
not as you've heard it before. This was also the very essence of
jazz, musicians from diverse backgrounds coming together as one,
to create new music. "It was a joy to play with an authentic
bagpiper like Calum, whose family tradition goes back years and
years. The combination of instruments didn't pose any problem. When
you're playing with instruments and instrumentalists that you don't
come in contact with normally, just play, and let your God-given
talents take over."
Joe's love of music began
very young. "There was a piano in the house when I started
taking lessons at the age of 6. My father played it sometimes. He
was self-taught, and could play boogie woogie very well. I remember
he was into Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Meade Lux Lewis.
There was also a lot of blues. Got to mention Louis Jordan too.
He was very popular in the Black community when I was growing up.
The first music I remember hearing was 'Open the door Richard'.
Both my Mom and Dad encouraged me to get involved with not only
music, but also dance. I had tap dancing lessons at an early age.
The golden age was happening in Harlem. There was music everywhere.
There were clubs all over, including Minton's. There seemed to be
a club that had live music almost on every block in the Sugar Hill
section that I grew up in. Dad and Mom loved music. My first live
experience was hearing Billy Eckstine's band and Fletcher Henderson.
I think it was at the Harlem Renaissance, and I was too young to
be there, but Dad knew someone, and I kept a low profile drinking
Coca Cola. Most of my early going to hear music was with my Mom,
because Dad was a waiter on the Pennysylvania railroad, and was
gone for days at a time. Mom was the one. Music was everywhere,
in the clubs, on the radio, i guess in the juke boxes too, although
I didn't get into that until the R&B days of my teens. Doo wop,
singing groups just about everywhere. The Drifters, Frankie Lymon
and the Teenagers, the Valentines, Louis Lymon and the Teenchords,
the Harptones, the Channels, the Paragons all were within earshot.
I was also aware of the modernists like Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean,
Kenny Burrell, Johnny Hodges, King Curtis. A lot of famous artists
lived in Sugar Hill. Duke Ellington and a lot of his band members
were there, as was Count Basie, before he bought a house in Queens,
so it was a fertile neighbourhood to be exposed to the arts. I wouldn't
trade the era that I grew up in for anything."
Joe, who was born on
September 3, 1940, was very close to his parents and very precious
to them. "The fact that I lived after being only 3lbs 4 ounces
at birth was their main source of pride". Joe's roots are partly
caribbean. "My Dad didn't speak too much about Haiti. I know
he left when he and his elder brother were very young. He had a
group of friends he would get together with, but to my knowledge
he was glad to be in the US. He was very aware politically , as
was my Mom. I don't know if he was a follower of Marcus Garvey,
but I grew up being very conscious of who he was , and his importance
in the community." Brought up in an atmosphere of positivity,
Joe avoided the down-side of the busy music scene. "I came
from a strong family unit, and I don't ever remember being even
slightly induced to try hard drugs by the neighbourhood elder musicians,
so it wasn't hard to avoid at all. The whole community was responsible.
There was a lot of support, period. A lot of very good artists never
received national attention, but in the 'hood they were legends."
"In the inner city
schools, there were mostly drum corps, if there was anything at
all. You learned an instrument on your own or took lessons at a
few music schools that were around like the New York Schools of
Music which was located in Harlem, and a number of spots in Manhattan.
It was an inexpensive way to learn music. A lot of my neighbourhood
friends studied there, when they couldn't afford to study with a
private teacher. I studied piano with a Mrs. Fuchs, whose crowning
glory was a recital of her students at Town Hall. I was lucky enough
to play there 2 years in a row, although I wonder what became of
my piano prowess. In grammar school, there were talent shows, but
no real musical instruction. That happened in high school, some
of which had music departments." It was as a teenager in high
school Joe picked up the flute and began playing as a member of
the school's marching band and orchestra. "As a music major
in college, I studied flute with Paula Robison. She was very tolerant
in her approach, and I learned from her that I should concentrate
even more on the tenor saxophone." Anders Paulson was a performing
saxophonist that I studied with in college. He helped me a lot with
my tone, and approach. He encouraged me to perform in front of people,
not to practice only for myself. Get those ideas out. There was
Harold Jones, an excellent flute teacher, who I learned a lot from,
and the Hartnett School of Music in Times Square was a bebop institution,
where I studied piano.
And later Eric Dolphy
turned me on to Garvin Bushel. Unfortunately, I wasn't as serious
as I should have been when I studied with him."
But for Joe, the most
important school of all, as it was for so many aspiring young musicians
was the school of John Coltrane. Of course, he shared his mother's
affection for Art Blakey and Horace Silver. But then Miles led to
a love for Trane, who Joe caught at every opportunity. "When
he left Miles' group, his first gig with his own group was at the
Jazz Gallery. My friends caught the first night and came back raving
about Trane and his playing the soprano sax. The next night I caught
him and I was blown away." So began Joe's love affair with
the soprano and then the entire saxophone family. "Eric Dolphy,
Roland Kirk is definitely an influence. The avant-garde brought
in a lot of musicians who played more than one or two instruments.
There are quite a few dynamite multi-instrumentalists out there."
And Joe's affection for Trane's music through all its changes never
faltered "because all his groups had an identification that
covered their own particular period of time".
Joe's experiments weren't just confined to woodwinds. "A bass
was available at college, so I tried playing it for 2 semesters.
I lived in Greenwich Village at the time, and I was going to the
College of Staten Island, so I would lug the bass on the ferry,
sometimes along with the saxophone. I was a liability during rush
hour on the subway getting to the ferry. Though maybe I should have
stuck with it, bass players always work !". But the saxophone
took precedence. "I felt it would be an extension of my flute
playing at first. It did become evident that the sound factor, being
so much louder than the flute, was the early hook that made the
tenor sax in particular so intriguing." Over time Joe developed
an enormous sound and unique tone. And he needed it to stand beside
such powerful figures as Bill Barron, David S. Ware, Pharoah, Arthur
Doyle. "For years I started each practice with long tones on
all the instruments I played. I also love a vibrato. I'm sure I
was influenced by Albert Ayler, and Sidney Bechet on the soprano.
Age has a very defining way of changing an embouchure. Physical
changes, life changes, all temper my sound. It just happened that
way." Joe absorbed all the new sounds. He was an early witness
to the cosmic explorations of Sun Ra. "I worked as a waiter
at the Cafe Bizarre on Bleeker Street. A friend got me the job.
The Arkestra was playing great music. John Gilmore, Pat Patrick,
Marshall Allen were all there every Sunday night for about three
months. Sometimes they were in regular clothes, sometimes in space
"Listening to music.
Playing music. Gradually it all came together. When I started to
realize that I was a better musician than I'd ever dreamed I'd be,
and the learning process was slowly turning into actual fruition.
I could compete with other musicians, and hold my own, and sometimes
excel. That was the product of jam sessions and rehearsals with
my peers. Rehearsals can be so important, whether there are gigs
or not. When I was growing up, there was a band that rehearsed about
five or six times a week. My father knew most of the musicians,
and I remember him telling me that they didn't gig every night,
but just got together to play, and perform compositions that the
individual members had written. That's what it's all about."
Gigs could be a decisive
influence too. Joe took his friend Milford Graves, with whom he'd
played in Latin emsembles, to hear John Coltrane. And Elvin Jones
altered Milford's life forever. He took up trap drums and never
looked back, becoming a key figure in the New York avant-garde scene.
After a brief period in the limelight he returned to making music
in the community with an explosive group featuring, variously, Joe
and two more saxophonists, Hugh Glover and Arthur Doyle, and trumpeter
Arthur Williams. They played venues large and small throughout Brooklyn
and Harlem, in the open, at political functions during the heady
years of Black Power and hope. "Milford is a very strong person,
and playing with him was a lesson in being yourself, and not worrying
or even being concerned with what others think or do. It's what
you do that's important. Milford believes that you should be compensated
for what you are doing, not only in music, but in life. The Black
consciousness movement was very necessary, and a long time coming.
I feel that the music might have been a close second to the actual
art of protest. Music was the element that fused thoughts and processes
that were so necessary at that time. I feel at some point(s) that
music indeed was the movement. It was a great time to be on the
planet." Times may have changed, some dreams have not come
to pass but, as Joe says "the music is always dependable, through
the years." Hope lives on.
A second important association
of Joe's was with another drummer, Steve Reid, "who often had
some of the best musicians playing in his basement. Some of the
artists were Pharoah Sanders, George Cables, Charles Tyler, and
a lot of very good musicians that lived in the borough of Queens.
Talking about Steve's basement, that's where I met the members of
the Master Brotherhood. Arthur Williams, Ahmed Abdullah, Les Walker,
Joe Falcon and, of course, Steve. The Master Brotherhood was a union
of some young, up and coming musicians, and 'Nova' (released on
Mustevic and more recently SoulJazz) is not representative of the
Brotherhood experience. It's not bad, but as is the case with many
bands, the live experience is what's happening. That was the case
with the Brotherhood. We rehearsed quite a bit, and we shared a
humor thing that made our music happen. We liked each other, and
we were having fun." Ahmed remembers the group with fond memories
too, "music was really flying, cats were really taking chances.
We were very understanding of the fact that what was considered
the avant-garde was the music that was dealing with the political
and social realities of change, and that was the music we should
be experiencing and learning how to develop. We did lots of performances
at political rallies, lots of things associated with the Nationalist
movement." And Les Walker agrees with Joe, "you should
have heard that group live, particularly with the full ensemble
of joe and Mustafa Abdul Rahim on reeds, Ahmed and Arthur on trumpets,
Luis Angel Falcon on bass, me on piano and the Farfisa mini-organ,
and Steve all over the drums ! That was the golden era of the music
we called 'outside'."
Joe remembers one particular
gig, where the music made a strong impression. "We were performing
at the Countee Cullen library in Harlem, and my Mom got a group
of her friends, about eight or ten in all, to come and hear our
music. Remember, she was a fan of the Messengers, Horace, Lee Morgan,
and after she heard us, I don't think my Mom and I really had a
conversation about music ever again, and she never heard me play
after that to my knowledge."
But like Milford's groups,
the Master Brotherhood, co-led by Steve and Joe, shocking some and
exciting others, were functioning well under the radar of the jazz
world as represented by DownBeat magazine. Friendships were made
in those days that endured through the years. Sadly, Arthur Williams,
like Steve is no longer with us, "but Mustafa Abdul Rahim is
fine. He looks great, and sounds good, we had a nice gig together
not so long ago. I just talked to Les Walker on the phone a couple
of days ago. He's in California and doing well. Ahmed Abdullah is
the musical director of Sista's Place, which is a good venue for
the arts in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Joe falcon is still playing
a mean bass. I played with him about two years ago in a Latin band."
Another enduring friendship
is with trumpeter Ted Daniel. Joe's first release 'Praise' on the
Homeboy music label is from a rehearsal in his apartment with Ted,
ken Filiano and Lou Grassi. "It's a good representation of
what was happening on that particular day. I think if it could have
been a concert situation , it might have been even better. I'm never
satisfied, but it was cool." When Joe and Ted rehearse together
anything can happen, not just avant-garde. If you heard them playing
hard bop, you would wish they could make it happen in public. Their
association goes back to Ted's wonderful Energy big band, a dynamite
ensemble which also, unfortunately, flew well below the radar of
the jazz world. This wasn't the only large ensemble that escaped
notice. "Energy was the house band at Rashied Ali's club, Ali's
Alley. I remember playing with Pharoah Sanders' big band at Slug's
Saloon, that included Frank Lowe, Frank Wright and Benny Maupin.
I think Carlos Ward was there. Also a band with drummer Harold Smith,
that included Arthur Blythe, Ahmed Abdullah, Chico Freeman, Dewey
Redman and a lot of other artists that I will probably omit due
to the power of forgetfulness." From within the ranks of Energy,
emerged the bare bones of Joe's own group, known as Destiny. "Marty
Cook on trombone played in Ted's band, and we decided it would be
a good fit. Later I had the pleasure of working with Joe Bowie,
a fantastic musician and a good friend. Dynasty got good reviews
across the board, but there were no offers of a recording, so it
never happened." As the loft era came towards its end, work
dried up, and the promising group couldn't survive.
Joe continued to play where and when he could. When asked if he
had any musical regrets, apart from not recording, he could only
think of one. "I had a chance to go with Cecil Taylor when
he was artist in residence at Antioch College, but my wife was pregnant
with our first son and I wound up not going. I don't regret it,
but it would have been interesting to go. Jimmy Lyons was there."
Over the years, Joe has
had to take many jobs to support his family. Some for a short while,
some a little longer, including a 13 year stint as a school music
teacher. "Whenever I had a gig or a rehearsal that was important,
I just took off. Bus driving to Atlantic City was good if there
werre no gigs. The passengers got six hours in the casino. The bus
drivers and their buses had to go to a holding lot after dropping
the people off., so it was a good time to practice on the bus for
a few hours. Teaching was good too, since you had off after 3pm,
so you could make gigs and rehearsals. The only drag was being tired
that next day." Incidentally, Joe's first group may have been
called Dynasty, But his four sons have not followed him musically.
"Each of them has played a musical instrument at some point,
but they're all into other types of expression. Hassan was the first
trombonist in the Mount Vernon high school band. The school was
known for its basketball team, so he got to travel with the team
and see the USA. My other sons played in high school bands, without
Joe's love of music isn't
confined to the avant-garde. Beside his love of John Coltrane, if
you ask Joe his favourite trumpeter, he will unhesitatingly reply
"Lee Morgan", and for alto sax he will name "Charlie
Parker and Jackie McLean". So it's no surprise Joe has played
the occasional bop and hard bop gig, and "yes, I did play with
a few mainstream groups as well. I want to be able to express myself
in all kinds of music." Not just jazz. A gig on a cruise liner
out of Miami where "the music was played straight, but every
once in a while I'd have room to improvise on maybe the last tune
for the night. I've played in disco bands, and backed up a few singers.
Playing funk is ok with me." Joe appreciates the contributions
made to popular music by innovators from James Brown and Jimi Hendrix
to Michael jackson. "It's all music."
One gig with singer/guitarist
Johnny Copeland lasted years, while one supporting BB King lasted
three nights. And another with Pharoah Sanders backing Wilson Pickett
was one night only. But the principal focus was always on developing
his own sound, be it on tenor sax, alto, soprano, sopranino or baritone.
Not forgetting his flute and piccolo either. Each horn with its
own character and feel. Joe's sound has been described as "spiritual,
even religious", terms he is a little uncomfortable with, but
he will admit there are many occasions when the music "takes
off" and levitates, transcending the normal. "I've been
in that situation many times, when the music had mystical properties,
and was extremely overpowering."
One recent association
Joe has really enjoyed is playing with Sabir Mateen's orchestra.
"Sabir writes like Cecil for the most part. He doesn't use
manuscript paper, and has graphs indicating the notes but it seems
to work. The gigs went well. The music was powerful and serene.
The trick is to see if Sabir can keep this band together. 17 musicians
is a big undertaking. It was great playing with his band, and especially
being a part of the today scene in the new music with some young
musicians like Ras Moshe, Darius Jones, Sabir, Matt Lavelle and
others." Joe represented the older generation along with Ted
Daniel, and another legendary saxophonist from below the radar,
Will Connell Jr. Astonishingly their paths hadn't crossed for more
than 30 years ! "But it's always good to play. Evereyone learns
from each other. That's the beauty of music. Thank goodness they
don't throw you under the bus when you age. In private industry
that would be your butt, but even that's changing. People are realising
that you don't have to be young to be a burner. If you take care
of yourself mentally and physically, the sky is the limit."
Now Joe has retired from
teaching, he is trying to focus on his own music. In rehearsals
and the gig with Chris Capers, Joe thought "the rhythm section
is smokin'". It was Chris Sullivan on bass and Michael Wimberly
on drums. "They groove. Michael may be the best drummer I've
played with, which for me is saying a lot." For piano, Joe
enjoyed playing with Walden Wimberley, and would love to use Boris
Netsayev, who played keyboards with Steve Reid. "Boris is fantastic.
His lady is first violinist with the Hamburg symphony," so
he spends most of his time in Europe. Then a duo gig with Billy
bang's pianist Andrew Bemkey went like a dream, so Joe's hopes are
coming together. "My whole direction is a quartet, I would
only add another horn if it was the right fit. Hopefully in the
near future we will go into a studio, or record a gig."
Of course, many times
in the past, joe has played with another sax in a small group. Hugh
Glover with Milford Graves, Mustafa Abdul Rahim with the Master
Brotherhood, Bill Barron with Ted Curson to name a few. "When
it's happening, it's great. But there ain't no guarantees, it could
be a bust." There was talk of a saxophone choir with Charles
Gayle, Ras Moshe, Sabir Mateen, Daniel Carter, Hugh Glover, Joe,
and maybe even Arthur Doyle for a Qbico night, but it came to nothing.
And Joe is at a good
point in his life at the moment. There's been a big change in his
life. In October 2007 he played only spirituals in a chuch in Philadelphia
with his old friend from Dynasty days, Jerome Hunter, on bass. Mrs.
Hunter brought her friend Harriet along, and introduced her to Joe.
The happy couple are now married, and Joe has relocated from the
Big Apple to the City of Brotherly Love. "Harriet is a classical
pianist, and she's progressing nicely." Joe is rehearsing weekly
in Philly with percussionist and master of the didgeridoo, Harold
E. Smith, who plans to put together a group featuring three baritone
saxes. "I've stopped drinking and smoking, and I really like
how I feel." And Joe has no time for regrets, "I know
some things that may have made a difference, but I very much believe
that you should accept whatever happens in your life as a gift and
an experience. The future of jazz is very bright. The young musicians
are fantastic, and it's good to see how diverse the artists are.
We're gonna be alright."
who plays tenor saxophone is perhaps better known. But not much
survives from his ground breaking days. Until now. His first group,
a trio, was created in 1972 with Charles Stephens
on trombone and Rashied Sinan on drums. This cdr
is dedicated to the memory of Charles, a schoolboy-friend of Arthur's
who passed away so sadly in 2005.
An interview with Arthur Doyle
you get into music ?
I was first inspired by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to play
music. They was some of the first faces I saw on television and
had records by. When I was a kid, I wanted to write Satchmo and
ask him to send me a horn so I could play and sing like him.
I heard a lot
of music around my house. My father would get his pay check on Friday
and always buy one or two records, mostly soul music. And there
was also the radio. And there was a lot of jazz in Birmingham, that
I got hip to later. There was this lady called Thereline that had
a few thousand records of all the jazz artists. She cut hair on
Sunday. I would go to her house around nine o'clock and stay to
around six or seven o'clock getting my hair cut and listening to
The sound of
the saxophone fascinated me. As a kid it was something about that
instrument's sound that stuck in my head. The popular music in my
neighbourhood at that time was soul music. But there was a few peoples
like Thereline, and Otto Ford that was into jazz.
The first time
I heard Trane was on the records 'Milestones' and 'KInd Of Blue'
by Miles Davis, and I knew that was the way the saxophone could
sound. My brother Carserlo went to college before I did and he came
back with records by Sonny Rollins. That was the first time I heard
My first love
was alto saxophone. We called it the lady of saxophones, and I wanted
a man's horn. That's why I changed to tenor saxophone.
My first gig
as a musician was with Walter Miller and Otto Ford at a place called
'Four D.Jones', and it paid six dollars. I was around fifteen or
sixteen years' old. I don't know what happened to Otto Ford. I left
and went on the road with bands after I finished college. I don't
know what happened to him, his mother died and too many years have
passed. I would go to his mother's house, and she would tell me
how to get in touch with him. The last time I saw him was in 1967.
I didn't know, until I went to New York, that Walter Miller played
with Sun Ra, just that he played with Ray Charles. I don't know
if people was hip to Sun Ra then, but later he played Birmingham
and became a big star there.
to Tennessee State University.
I found studying in Nashville very interesting. There was people
around like Dr. T.J. Anderson and Louis Smith. I studied with them.
There was a lot of jazz clubs there, and jazz musicians around.
One of the musicians was from Detroit and he founded a band. His
name was Aaron Neal. It had people in it like Bob Reid, Frank Walton
and myself. We played in the public school system, and at places
like Fisk University. We was very revolutionary and took a lot of
gigs in the Black movement, and played a lot of clubs playing free
went to Detroit.
This was my first trip up north. I found Detroit a very dull and
backward place. All of the young kids wanted to be pimps and get
their hair fixed, and drive a big car. There is always another side
to the revolutionary side. I found somewhat a jazz scene. People
like Aaron Neal who I was living with for a time. There was Charles
Moore, Leon Henderson, Joe's brother, I worked a few gigs with.
Then I got tired of that scene and I went back to Nashville. Went
on the road with a rhythm and blues band, that carried me to Boston.
I left the band and went to New York in 1967. I first went to New
York in the summer of 1964, looking for work while I was still in
school. A summer job. I went to Birdland to hear Miles Davis and
you get into the New Music ?
I played bop first. I only played rhythm and blues when I was in
college to make money to help me along. My first love was bop, I
was a pretty good bop player if I say so myself. I became aware
of the changes in the music around 1966. Aaron heard Coltrane and
Pharoah in Detroit and came back to Nashville talking about them.
He had heard them in Detroit at a club. And he had records of Eric
Dolphy. But I was playing bop at that time. I did not want to give
up all the music I had learned at bop to play free jazz. But little
by little I made the move.
Did it feel
like it connected to the whole Black consciousness feeling of the
I feel it all went hand in hand, the free jazz movement and people
wanting to be free.
The only time I got caught up in the Vietnam war was not to go.
Because I feel as my fight was with trying to free Black people.
All of this had an effect on me as a man and as a musician. The
children killed in a church in Alabama, and the killing of civil
rights workers. Dr. King and Malcolm X.
you meet Milford Graves ?
A friend of mine was in uptown New York. His name was Leroy Wilson
and he saw Milford Graves on the street. He said he knew some people
from Nashville playing music like him. Milford gave Leroy his number
and told me to call him. I did call him and went to his house. That
is how it all got started. We rehearsed the music a lot, about once
a week on Sunday at Milford's house, until we could think as one.
The musicians that worked with Milford was very good and strong.
The people in the movement in Harlem was listening to what we called
the New Black Music.
was playing in the community, outside the jazz world, but the scene
seemed to disappear, and the musicians along with it.
I think now Hugh Glover is out of music and working a day gig. he
had a few children and wife. The last I heard of Joe Rigby, he was
working with rhythm and blues bands, and Arthur Williams is also
working a day gig and playing sometime. And Frank Lowe. I know I
was one of his influences. He told me how much he dig my playing
back in 1972 when we used to hang out together around about the
time of the New York Musicians Organisation jazz festival. I didn't
play with him in Milford Graves' band but I did play with him in
other bands. I haven't seen Frank in a while.
found his own way.
Milford has his survival together. He has his own record company,
gives lessons at his house. Gives concerts there, sells herbs and
your unique sound the "voice-a-phone".
The voice-a-phone is something that happened by accident. I had
this reed on that was too soft, and my voice came through my saxophone.
I liked the sound, so I began singing and playing at the same time.
I hadn't heard Dewey Redman until later, but I had heard Roland
Kirk. They was not an influence on me. My invention began accidentally.
Pharoah Sanders was an influence on me. I had a few records by him.
I also went to Slug's to hear him play a few times. Plus with Milford
we played opposite him a few times. Milford Graves showed an interest
in my sound, along with Sun Ra, Dave Burrell, Bill Dixon, and Noah
Howard. Frank Wright was a good friend of mine. We played in New
York together, and in Paris. Sometimes in Noah Howard's apartment
in Paris we would sit down and talk music.
you formed your first group with Rashied Sinan on drums, and Charles
Stephens on trombone.
Charles Stephens and I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama together.
We went to the same high school so we have been playing together
for a while.
have much to do with the lofts ?
Only the beginning and the end of the loft scene. I was one of the
first to play Studio Rivbea, and I played in Ali's Alley and the
Brook, where I recorded 'Alabama Feeling'. I first met Charles Tyler
when I rented the Brook to do the record for my DRA productions.We
became friends after that. 'Alabama Feeling' was my band although
it was almost the same band I was working in with Ahmed Abdullah.
I worked as
a case worker for the Department of Welfare for a few years. Then
I found other ways of making money. I liked teaching in Bennington
the little while I was there, but it is not something I would like
to do all my life. It is okay for a while, but I like to play as
much as I can on the jazz scene. I am trying to get my survival
together. I still teach music in Endicott, in the public school
system. I don't get much of an opportunity to play up here. I just
sub-teach here. I have my own record company plus I also produce
I had a brother
that lived upstate New York. I visited him a few times and I liked
it. At that time the rat race of the city was getting next to me.
Just the day to day surviving, and I wanted a change. So I moved
up there and got a day gig, and just practiced and wrote music.
I must say I still like the big city, and I plan on living in New
York or Paris again.
to Paris in 1980.
I first got the idea of going to Paris when Noah Howard went in
1969 or 1970. I found Paris very different from the New York scene.
People was friendly, let you in their house, do anything for you
because you was a musician. Talk to you, and they love musicians
When I disappeared from the scene, I was in jail in France. I spent
five years trying to prove my innocence, which I did in 1988. I
spent from 1983 to 1988 in jail. Then I took two years off to get
myself back in the frame of mind to play again.
I returned back
to the scene in 1992 at the gig with Rudolph Grey at CBGB's, although
I was trying to do things upstate before then. The reaction was
very good when I came back to the city to play with Rudolph. People
showed up and wanted me to sign my record. And the place was packed
with people. The Cooler was the same. I also did a concert at New
York University with my own band, which consisted of Rudolph Grey,
Tom Surgal and William Parker. Nice crowd and a good response.
I think the
scene has gone backward from where Trane and other people left it.
But there are people like Cecil, Milford, Rudolph, Gayle and myself
still playing at that level. The big problem is they (other musicians)
never played bop or rhythm and blues, then they go as far as they
can (toward) playing free jazz. then they discover bop changes and
blues and want to learn to play that. But people like Rudolph, Gayle
and myself have already played that and do not want to go back.
And also the concert and record producers don't want it (free jazz).
music changed at all ?
I have modified my music somewhat, where in the past I was only
playing those things that was on the cover of 'Alabama Feeling'
(a new way of notating the music) because that was what Milford
wanted. But now I am playing scales, chords, melody, and singing.
I practice about four or five hours a week. Sometimes more, sometimes
less. I listen to all music, mostly jazz but also soul and blues
because I like all music. I plan to sing more and do more recordings
and concerts. I am working on doing two records, one with Rudolph
Grey as the Blue Humans, and the other with my own band. If I do
the record with my band, it will have in it Rashied Ali, Charles
Stephens, Richard Williams (the bass player known as Radu) and Rudolph
Grey. Some of the other musicians I would most like to play with
if I could choose any-one, maybe Milford Graves, George Brown, Beaver
Harris, Wilber Morris, William Parker, Arthur Williams, Ahmed Abdullah.
Don Pullen, Dave Burrell. I have also written a string quartet,
with guitar and saxophone. This was for Silkheart records. I don't
know what they are doing. I may not make many tours, but I do sell
records and I do work in New York.
Is the protest
still there ?
There's still protest in my music because things haven't really
changed that much. In my singing and playing there is still protest.
your interests outside playing ?
Cooking health food, and listening to music. playing handball and
looking at baseball and basketball. I like boxing too.
This short interview
took place around 1994 to 95. The following will fill in some of
Arthur Roy Doyle, sometimes
known as Omjeje or Arthur Ali Mohemmed was born in Birmingham, Alabama
on June 26, 1944, the second of five children to Arthur Lee and
Margaret. He was attracted to jazz music early, and was given a
French horn to play at school. This wasn't quite what he wanted,
and his parents saved hard to get him an alto saxophone for his
twelth birthday. Over the next 3 or 4 years, he learnt the basics
from an old friend of his father's called Otto Ford, who he felt
was a genius of the saxophone.
Arthur jobbed around,
switching to tenor sax and playing mostly rhythm and blues gigs,
but also bebop whenever he got the chance. He tested the scene in
Nashville and Detroit before eventually landing in New York in 1967.
Soon after he arrived,
he met the revolutionary drummer Milford Graves. Arthur's raucous,
rough-hewn sound was exactly what Milford was looking for. He put
together a group with Arthur, multi-saxophonist Joe Rigby, and trumpeter
Arthur Williams. They were outside the commercial jazz scene but
very much part of the Black Nationalist mood of the time. The group
performed mostly in Harlem, to rapturous receptions, soon adding
a third saxophonist in Hugh Glover. Arthur had left bebop far behind,
and was playing with a boiling intensity barely contained or controlled.
His was music of unparalleled ferocity, his sound instantly recognisable
from the very first note. And Arthur was absolutely clear his music
was part and parcel of the Black man's struggle for equality in
the United States of America.
Late in 1968, Arthur also began to play Monday nights with alto
saxophonist Noah Howard at LaMama Theater until Noah left for Europe
in the summer of 1970. While Milford's group remained un-documented,
Noah made a record called 'The Black Ark' which has become one of
the seminal, if little-heard, gospels of the New Music. It was recently
re-released on Bo' Weevil.
1972 proved a critical
year for Arthur. He worked with the New York Musicians Organisation
in putting together a 9 day-long alternative to the mainstream Newport
in New York Festival. Its success signalled the beginnings of the
so-called 'Loft Jazz' era. Arthur introduced his own group, a trio
with Charles Stephens on trombone and Rashied Sinan on drums. Fortunately,
'Nature Boy', available on Homeboy music cdr or Qbico lp, survives.
Arthur's uniquely uncompromising sound, an unremitting scream on
both tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, with a little flute thrown
in, was finally out there. But before he could make any real impact,
he suffered a nervous breakdown. It was around 1975 before Arthur
felt strong enough to play again.
By then, Milford Graves
was down to just a duo with Hugh Glover and was happy to welcome
Arthur back to the fold. He released a live recording in 1976 on
his own IPS label. Although impossibly rare, Babi Music is another
corner-stone of the New Music legacy.
After a few gigs in 1977
with Ahmed Abdullah, Arthur put his own group back together and
recorded them at the Brook, Charles Tyler's loft, releasing the
music on Charles' own Ak-Ba label. 'Alabama Feeling' showed the
New Music just about as far out as can be, yet touched with a bottomless
deep blue soul feeling, close to the roots of all Black music. This
has also been re-released on Arthur's own DRA label and can be obtained
Unfortunately the lofts
were beginning to close down, with opportunities few and far between.
Arthur left the scene for a day job in upstate New York. There was
one highlight playing with his own group, including Charles Stephens,
as supporting act to Sonny Rollins at SUNY. Soon after, Rudolph
Grey, a young iconoclastic guitarist who vividly recalled hearing
Arthur's ecstatic music, invited him to join his duo with Beaver
Harris They called themselves the Blue Humans and Grey got them
gigs in rock venues like CBGB's, Hurrah, and Tier 3. Their mix of
free jazz and searing electricity formed the most extreme edge of
the short-lived 'No Wave' rock phenomenom. A brilliant snap-shot
of their sonic collision emerged years later as 'Blue Humans Live
1980 NY' on the Audible Hiss label. They played to great acclaim,
but there wasn't much work and Arthur left for Paris late in 1980.
He discovered a more sympathetic scene there, stopping for six months
before returning home to Alabama. Rudolph brought him back to New
York for one last outing of the Blue Humans at the notorious Noise
Fest at the White Columns art gallery.
But, again, nothing followed,
so it was back to Paris. A little trio with Fuji and George Brown,
a few gigs with Alan Silva, then disaster. Arthur was wrongly imprisoned.
During the five years he was inside he began work on his Songbook
and latterly had access to a saxophone. On release he spent two
years recovering his health back home in Alabama, before returning
to New York. He recorded two songs on a boom-box which were released
as a 12" one-sided single called 'More Alabama Feeling' on
Ecstatic Peace. Thanks to the help of Rudolph Grey and another radical
rock guitarist, Thurston Moore, Arthur was back on the scene. The
music was as fierce as ever, and he had introduced a new instrument,
his voice ! As the 90's progressed, there were more of Arthur's
vocals, which cannot easily be described, and less of his saxophone,
probably because he no longer had the physical strength to play
as he had twenty years before.
There was a new version
of the Blue Humans with Rudolph Grey, then the Electro-Acoustic
Ensemble, a few solo gigs, and a well-received Japanese tour. In
1999 he returned to Paris, but the scene had changed for the worse.
There was an occasional gig with Sunny Murray. And one recording
in particular, 'The Basement Tapes' . Made in 2001 with Dan Warburton
on violin and Edward Perraud on drums, this incorporated all his
varied approaches to the music to best effect, and can be found
on the Durtro label.
Arthur is still
the most outside of outside musicians, as cofirmed by his latest
recording 'Bushman Yoga' on Ruby Red. Back in the day, a saxophone
equivalent to Jackson Pollock, now closer to Ellsworth Kelly with
a little Andy Warhol thrown in. In the 21st. century, Arthur Doyle's
music is still shocking, and still shocking the people who hear
by Val Wilmer
In his evocative
notes to Noah Howard's album "The Black Ark", Mal Dean
suggested the Walls of Jericho wouldn't give Earl Cross, trumpet
player much trouble. "A big bold brassy tone and fierce attack,
a sound that is a good deal older than jazz itself." was how
he described the trumpeter's music, and in doing so, ably summed
up the strength of one of New York's underground talents.
In the New York
Musicians' section of the Newport Jazz Festival this year ,
some of the music was pretty disappointing. Milford Graves amazed
those who had never experienced him before, but with the exception
of the spiritually refined Byard Lancaster and the intelligent interaction
of the Melodic Art-tet, the best music came from Earl Cross's Nine-tet.
a rugged crew of mature men who'd obviously paid their dues. People
like Monty Waters, Benny Wilson, Norman Spiller, and Art "Shaki"
Lewis had all been part of the San Francisco-based Waters-Lewis
big band with whom Cross played for some time, and he'd written
the music with the individuals in mind. He even produced that fantastic
comping pianist Gilly Coggins from out of nowhere, and if that ain't
hip, I don't know what is. "It can take a while to find those
people who can play and fit the concept." Earl Cross was once
told by an elder musician "before you can find three musicians
that you can lay out and play with, and hang out with, you can go
through a thousand."
Just as important,
if you are lucky enough to have it, is a wife's support. "It's
one of the most enlightening things you could have, somebody who
loves you and cares for you and all that stuff. And maybe, somebody
that can go out and work so that you can play your music, because
if you have to work a job and then come back and practise, it's
different. If you can wake up, no matter what time it is, and pick
up your instrument and go to practise without any hassles, it's
altogether different. So that's why musicians try to get a lot of
things established before they get a lady."
are wonderful ladies in music, in life, period, who'll help them
get their instrument fixed, or buy them an instrument or whatever,
just for the pleasure of the music. But these kind of women are
rare, they're not everyday things. When you don't have to worry
about money, it makes it much easier for you to get up in the morning
and actually think music. I could pick up my instrument right now
and blow a whole bunch of notes without thinking about it. But if
I was free to think about it, I could produce something every trip."
The ideal is
to work on one's own music. "I recently refused to read too
many people's music," explained Cross, whose book includes
music for six, nine, sixteen and seventeen-piece bands. "You
could be into a hundred bands and not make a quarter - just go down
and rehearse everybody's music. When I write music, I write for
a certain type of people, but you take that cat who's a professional
arranger and composer, he writes it generally for anybody that can
read. I mean, that way is proper, but..."
Earl Cross is
a mature musician whose main concern is with the music itself rather
than its effects. He is one of the true artists, both as instrumentalist
and writer. To some ears his music might not be as polished as what
is being laid down by the more fashionable bands that all the hip
young musicians from Tokyo to Toronto are trying to copy, but it
has in it the spirit and urgency of the early bebop days. Above
all you feel it is being truthful to itself.
got a band that's going to be around, you want to write for their
capabilities," he said. "Ellington does it. You don't
just write stuff so that Joe Blow can play it. I mean Quincy Jones
can write music and anybody can play it, but to be truthful, I couldn't
do it. Certain people might sit down and say 'Hey this is a wrong
note,' but it's not a wrong note, it's a note that I hear - you
dig ? Sometimes I put wrong notes in there just to create excitement,
put all kind of things in there as obstacles, just to see if they
can be recognised. That's wrong, I know, you're not supposed to
challenge people like that, but sometimes it works."
And Earl's tactics
do work very well. He has decided to devote most of his energy to
exploring his own musical concept. It was not an easy decision for
a man with no real fame and with the rent to pay, especially a man
approaching forty. At that age the musician who has not achieved
notoriety generally graduates to safe commercial jobs or gives up
is not involved in the lucrative New York studio world he did at
one time earn a living playing background on blues records and could,
presumably, always find that kind of work again. "But you don't
get a chance to explore, you just play the same thing over and over
and that's just like having a job, that's not music. I'm not any
perfect person, I just know how I like to do things, and I've played
enough blues and rock and roll to know that a blues band can't hire
me right now. Maybe next week, but right now they can't do that
years old, Cross has been playing music for a long time. In California
he made money in the clubs and studios to support his family without
leaving town. For a while he worked with Larry Williams, singer
and author of such epics as 'Dizzy Miss Lizzie'. Rock and roll bands,
jazz groups, and unknown blues singers have all had the benefit
of his big, fat sound which makes good use of the slurring and half-valve
effects that feature prominently in the work of trumpeters from
his home town of St. Louis, Clark Terry, Miles Davis, Lester Bowie
and Floyd LeFlore among them.
As a child,
Cross had wanted to be in the airforce, and that was where he headed
on leaving high school. During his teens, he listened avidly to
records, and whenever he and his friends wanted a little amusement
they would carry a handful of Gillespie, Parker, Kenton and Tristano
sides to a weekend party and slip them on the turntable. "That
was one of the things. If you wanted to break up a party, you'd
stick a jazz tune on the record player, then sit down and listen
to records and smoke reefer." Where his family was concerned,
though, jazz was alright in its place, on record or in the nightclubs.
But when he went home to announce his plans to make it his career,
"they said 'you can't play no music in here, you'd better get
a job' and so I had to cut out."
The family reaction was not unusual. Entering the music world would
provide a precarious existence at best, and there was the unsavoury
picture of the lifestyle. But there was still the suggestion that
Blacks could only succeed in white society as entertainers or athletes.
"It's demoralising to think about it, and then you say hey,
what's wrong with that ?" said Cross. "And so you take
up something and you defend it with everything you've got. And the
only way you can defend it is to produce something good out of the
music. You can't fight nobody and tell them you're a good musician,
you have to play and show them. And so far, I've done pretty good."
Earl Cross received
his early training in the airforce, where he associated with pianists
Freddie Redd, Boo Pleasants, saxophonist Frank Haynes and trumpeter
Richard Williams. When Haight-Ashbury was the place to be in San
Francisco, Earl had his own band, the Bay Area Quintet, on Haight
Street. Personnel included Monty Waters, Dewey Redman, trumpeters
Norman Spiller, Alden Griggs, pianist Sonny Donaldson, bassist Benny
Wilson and drummer Art Lewis. This lasted for a year and a half,
and in 1967 he came to New York where he joined Sun Ra, whom he
refers to as an "institution".
At the time
he was the only trumpeter aboard, and every Monday night they would
play at Slug's on the lower East Side. "One night they didn't
have nobody but musicians in the audience," he recalled. "Jimmy
Heath was there, and Cannonball, Herbie Lewis and everybody, and
when we walked around the room playing, they just started following
us around, listening to each individual player."
With Sun Ra, he played at Carnegie Hall and toured around, then
worked for spells with Archie Shepp, Robin Kenyatta and with Sonny
Simmons, where he played mellophone because Simmons' wife, Barbara
Donald, was the trumpeter. "She's great, she's fantastic"
says Earl. A spell with a rhythm and blues band in Woodstock followed,
and during this time he would commute the 100 miles to New York
to play with Noah Howard.
In 1970, the
National Endowment for the Arts decided to support the country's
only indiginous art form and established their Jazz/Folk/Ethnic
music program. The grants were quite small, in the neighbourhood
of $1000 for composers, with the onus on the artist to produce a
work for community consumption. "Things have opened up,"
said Earl. "If I get the right things together on paper, I
can apply for a grant, supposedly to present something to the community.
Whatever the community is, I have to present something to the people."
So in the past
couple of years, Cross has limited his appearances outside his own
group to the Rashied Ali Quintet and the units led spasmodically
by his alto saxophonist colleague from San Francisco days, Monty
Cross, in company
with many other New York-based musicians, is concerned with the
lack of ability demonstrated by musicians around the fringe of the
new music. "In New York, there are a lot of good instruments
for sale for cheap in pawnshops. Somebody can just go in and pick
up a horn or drums or whatever, and if he doesn't have anything,
anyway, he'll still go ahead. I've seen it happen quite a few times.
I didn't do it when I first got to New York, and I'd been playing
before I got here. But now, with that different kind of style, they
just bite down on their reeds and blow, they blow through the trumpet
just flagging the valves, and don't try to make any music at all
! I mean I know about a trumpet, you can't just pick it up and blow
it. It's impossible to do that, but I've seen cats pick 'em up,
have 'em for a week and then jump up on the bandstand with a bunch
of other cats. And a lot of spectators are deceived, too. They relate
them to jazz or the new music and they don't belong there yet."
nothing like learning to play, believe me, because I stayed in the
house week after week, and week after year, as a matter of fact,
learning to play. What I was learning to play might have been old,
but I learned how to play it and it made learning how to play something
else in the future much easier because I knew how to manipulate
my instrument, just some I mean."
a Master yet, but that's what I'm after - to be able to play whatever
I hear at any time. Then I won't have anything to say at all, all
I'll be able to do is play. I would like to get everything down
that small where that is all I do. When I become my instrument,
and my instrument becomes me. I'm not a person any more. I would
like to walk around the street looking like a trumpet if possible,
because that's what I am."
talking to Keith Knox at Fasching Club, Stockholm, October 21, 1981
Earl, where were you born ?
I was born in
St. Louis, Missouri. That was December 8th., 1933.
went to school there ?
Yes, until I
was sixteen, and then I left and went to California. Then I had
to go into the service and when I came out I went back to California.
I left from California and went to New York in 1967, and I left
New York for Holland in 1977. I stayed in California for my military
service, actually I was in California in 1952 but I didn't come
back there until 1955 and I was in the military in California until
1967. And that was a nice growing up too, I managed to catch me
some great musicians.
, who are your idols and original teachers on trumpet ? I mean,
how did you get into playing trumpet the way you do ? It's quite
I don't know
how I did that, because......
you start playing ?
Oh I started
playing when I was about fourteen years old maybe, I guess. And
then I stopped playing during my military career for a minute, and
then I picked it up at the last part of my military obligation to
the serving of the United States government. This was early 50's
that I enlisted, I had to enlist, 1951 or something. And then I
got out in 1958 and was called back again in 1959 or 1960, but anyway
that was over with. But by that time i had gotten back into my music
again, and the guys I kind of liked at that time were Kenny Dorham,
Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, they were the hot trumpet
players. So I don't really know how I got involved in the New Music
situation, because I always wanted to be a bopper, a bebopper. I
love Bebop today and I still play some of it every now and again
when I get a chance. But I think it was my association with guys
like Sonny Simmons, Prince Lasha, Ornette Coleman, Bobby Hutcherson
and some more people that are unknown, that music changed around
for me in the 60's. And one that I didn't mention was Frank Haynes,
he was a very close friend of mine, and he died in New York.
Yes, tenor saxophone.
He was on Kenny Dorham records, and he made records with Dave Gelly.
And I think he made some with Les McCann. There's not many records
with him on. But to me, I can't say he was the best musician, but
he was the best musician playing at the time I was around.
on the West coast you were playing ?
Yes, I lived
out there for quite a spell and the music changed, it totally changed
for me. It just wasn't so easy to play Bebop any more because a
lot of people didn't want to hear it at that particular time. Bebop
was stale and there just weren't any new people with the voice to
make it powerful. Like after old cats like Miles and Kenny Dorham
and these guys who were still there. It was very popular all over
the world and I would break my neck to go see Miles for instance,
if it was possible to listen to him. But then Ornette came round
and Cherry and these cats, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Simmons and then Trane.
I got a chance to meet Trane and play with him once or a couple
of times. Very enlightening. And then the introduction to new musical
studies, like in the early 60's there was a book going around that
everybody had to study. 'The Thesaurous of Scales and Melodic Patterns'
by Nicolas Slonimsky. Then just about everybody had this book, and
to me it was very very interesting. You could tell by listening
to a player if he'd ever played on that book. The passages in it
were uncommon, but to a person who'd seen the book they were very
memorable. You'ld know that someone, ok Pharoah Sanders, he was
there and we always used to play with phrases out of this book.
man, he's constantly playing these figures and patterns out of this
book, this is before he went into his flutter-tonguing thing. he
was also one of my idols, I'm older than he is but he could play
talking about this book.
Well yes, it
was during that time. But it was quite a different approach to music.
It was the one that I think maybe introduced a lot of scales into
improvised playing, more so than it used to be. Before that it was
a lot of chords and melodic, different kinds of patterns, but now
a lot of different kinds of scales and things are introduced, you
you could really kind of figure out then whether this person had
been studying this book a little bit. Well, like I said, darn it,
in the seventies you really had this thing going. I remember I made
a record with Noah Howard called 'The Black Ark', that was in 1969
after I moved to new York. At the time we were making it for Alan
Douglas records but it didn't happen so he sold it to,
I think it was,
the freedom division of Polydor records, or something like that.
It came out then. Well I had a nice tape from the session that sounded
good, but I lost it in some form of fashion and I never had a record,
so I've always wondered how it sounded. I was in Amsterdam and a
guy played it for me and I didn't even recognize myself. I didn't
know that I reallly played like that, but the point is that I was
actually playing a fluegelhorn on the date so it sounde like i had
a big fat tone and different things, so I was excited too. And after
that I started working with Rashied Ali. I worked with him for three
or four years and I recorded with him for his Survival records.
Then I started working with Charles [Tyler] and at the same time
I was dealing with my own nine-piece band, which I happen to have
a great desire to have. I mean, I always write pieces with that
in mind. The first time I usually start out to compose music for
nine pieces, then I can make it for six pieces or five pieces or
But then, I
don't know. I mean, things just started to happen then. I was involved
in the middle of a loft scene in New York at one time. And the musicians
were very ambitious, I mean, you saw some of the other skills these
guys had. You know that some guys were public relations men, some
were carpenters and some were office personnel, typists, coordinators
and different things. Anyway, we all got together and made a festival
of experimental music one time.
Douglas thing ?
No, that was
later. This was like 1972, we made a New York musicians' festival
and we had a loft that we operated out of, Studio We. And since
then, it's become a yearly thing in the way these guys give a five
day festival every summer.
from Jericho' I seem to recall was done at Studio We.
We it was. It was actually supposed to have been a demo recording
for Prestige records, but they didn't like it. So Charles decided
to put it out on his own and he did.
damn nice record I think. Frankly I can't understand Prestige.
Well they didn't
care for us too much. We were a little bit too avant garde. But
not really because, I mean, Ronnis [Boykins] was a bopper and Arthur
Blythe was in the band at that time and he can bop, and so could
everybody else. Charles [Tyler] can bop and Steve [Reid] can bop.
We had a nice group but it just wasn't the type of music that was
what they wanted. At that time music didn't, well you know how jazz
music is,it never stands in one place. Ever since it's been born
it's progressed. It keeps going and going but you can't take away
from it anything that is there, I mean, you have to have those cats
because... I remember seeing Dizzy [Gillespie] and he is still like
one of the greatest people to me. But I mean, he had a abnd and
everybody in that band was a soloist. It was always amazing to see
how all these cats would support each other and, I mean, he had
Billy Mitchell, Billy Root, Lee Morgan, Joe Gordon, Charli Persip,
Wynton Kelly and all these different people in his band, man, and
all of them were very very good. I mean it was just boogaloo with
soloists and it was about an eighteen piece band. He had a trumpet
section with Lee Morgan and Joe Gordon and then Dizzy too. I mean,
you'd think he'd have this big band to support him but he didn't
do that. It's like with Miles [Davis] and Art Blakey and a lot of
the other guys, Mingus and everybody, they were schools, institutions,
for great musicians. Darn it, you can't count the number of musicians
who've played with Miles and Dizzy and Art Blakey and guys like
that, who are now very popular on their own. that had also been
one of my ambitions, to maybe get a chance to play with this guy
or that guy. Well maybe I didn't get a chance to play with all those
people, but I did get to play with a bunch of nice folks in my lifetime.
something about your horn, like technically about the mouthpiece
and the trumpet. You have a very special sound Earl, and people
are likely to be curious about this. I know I am.
Well, I don't
know about that. The reason why I sounded so different right now
is that the minute I got to Stockholm it was so cold my lip split.
That's all, I mean, I'm really scuffling right now. I really am.
I can play much better than I've played so far on this session,
but I don't intend to really damage this thing, because the brass
when you've got an open split like this thing here is kind of dangerous.
So I'm sort of like being cautious and stuff and trying to keep
from damaging it too much. But it happens every time I go to a cold
country, even to come across the North Sea. When I go to Denmark
it's the same thing, it splits right here as soon as I arrive. I
came from Holland and it's wet down there, and then immediately
we were dealing with all this fresh air and no smog in Stockholm.
your first time here and I have nothing to compare, but it sounds
fine Earl. Tell me about your horn.
I always use
a large-bore horn and a pretty deep mouthpiece, normal size. I use
a 7 and a half or 7, 7C or 7B, like that. Just recently, the last
three or four years, I went back to that. For maybe ten years I
used a Shoki mouthpiece. But then again I only started playing trumpet
again in the last five or six years. I've always had one, but I'm
normally a cornet player. But I mean, the sound is actually different
from the cornet, it's a little sharper on cornet. I need to have
that trumpet sound too though. Then the mellophone, I picked that
up in school. I mean, we had a large school band and the guys had
a lot of trumpet players and the bandmaster wanted me in the band,
so he just said - you play the baritone horn, or ... you play the
Eflat horn, or ... you play the mellophone. I could play it so that's
why it wasn't so difficult. But I didn't like the mellophone so
much until later on in life. I always really thought it was a bastard
and I didn't want to play this bastard instrument. But then I had
to add it to my repertoire and then it came out pretty good. As
a matter of fact, when i was in San Francisco I worked more with
the mellophone, the Eflat one actuallly, because they had a lack
of trombone players. So I did a lot of work with the mellophone,
the Eflat horn in the trombone section. That was also nice. We had
a band once, got it together in San Francisco and had it out there
for about six or seven years, the Monty Waters /Dewey Redman big
band. And then we all moved to New York and organised the band again
in new York. In 1977 it was still going and then we all split up
and most of the members went different ways, because we had to live.
This was a voluntary thing and we nebver made hardly any money with
the band. We just kept it together for ourselves and then we found
out that this band was also like an institution too, in that we
would always have new members and new people coming in the band
to play. I have so many flyers with different names in the band
at various times. it was actually supposed to have been about a
nine-piece band in new York and at one time we had something like
eighteen pieces in the band. That meant that Monty and I, we did
most of the writing until we had a Japanese guitar player called
Sheryl Moy [?] who came in and started doing some writing too. That
took a lot of pressure off us because we were getting new music.
If you play with the band every day, every week, and you play the
same old music over and over again it gets a little boring and you
have to have something new. I mean, it was difficult to compose
music and then play the music and at the same time be responsible
for having new music so these guys wouldn't get bugged about having
the same things over and over again. That band got to a nice point
how many compositions have you written ?
About 70 compositions.
But I've written about 35 arangements for groups from 9 pieces on
up to 18 or 25 pieces. I have about 35 tunes or pieces of music
like that. We did one of them for the seminar here.
Yes, I think
I walked in when they were playing it.
They have a
nice tape recording of that piece so they could memorise it, and
they did another one today that I had used before in a workshop
that I did in Holland one time. I had a workshop in all the different
towns in Holland and stuff like that, and i used some of that material
then. That's what makes it a little easier once you've used the
material and you know how people can get to it and stuff like that.
So you choose between all your music as to what pieces you use to
introduce to people who are not familiar with your music. you shold
never take the most difficult pieces, but had i known that these
swedish musicians were the calibre of musicians that they were,
I would have brought a little more music. I mean, I didn't know
that we were going to have such talented guys. man, they can read
and they can interpret exactly what you say, very well.
There's a lot of education in this part of the world, that's the
I can believe
it, i mean, when music as education is up to par with doctors, lawyers
and Indian chiefs, you know.
to ask you if there are any special things you would like to express
through the medium of this text ?
Yes, well I
didn't know that it existed in Stockholm and i'm pretty happy to
be part of it because I think, I mean, it shows me that the music
I like to do is popular all over the world. I did know that it existed
in some of the other countries and cities in Europe, but I didn't
know that it was up here. I didn't know that. And it's nice to just
be here because I get a chance to meet you and all the people and
to know that there's a little bit going on.
know yet how many tunes of yours are going to be on the record,
but at least one i guess.
At least two
of them are going to be played anyway, so that's good. We play another
one tonight. One of them is called "Just for Two", that
was on another record of Charles, 'Voyage from Jericho', and the
other one is called "Train 178 to Stockholm". It's about
a train, the train that we tok coming up here was coach 178 and
ugh all the turmoil. We tried to express all the turmoil and everything
that happened to us musically. So this is a new piece that we are
having on this trip, ".. 178 to Stockholm". I have "
177 to Copenhagen" that I did some years back, but it so happens
that the wagon that we got on was 178.
Two" is a thing that you worked out with Charles some years
ago, I take it ?
Oh yes, about five or six years ago. We used to play in the lofts
in New York, in Sam Rivers' place, 1974 or 5, something like that.
And Charles had this group and stuff, and this was when Ronnie Boykins
was in the band. So we used to play some of my things and some of
his, Ronnie's things, and this is one that kind of stuck. We played
a few more but we never really elaborated on them, they were kind
of difficult, so this one stuck. "Just for Two" is a nice
rambling tune, we could play on it good and get some nice grooving
going, but this ".. 178 to Stockholm" will be even better.
It is nice too and it has that kind of, it has more of a rhythmic
feeling and more melodic tones in it the way the instruments develop
the music, so we get a lot more expressions in it.
me about some of the things that you would personally would like
to happen as far as you are concerned, the sort of things that you
would like to be the case.
Oh yes, I hope
to get involved, later, to get involved in having my compositions
played just about any place that I can go. I've been doing a lot
of writing for large groups, smaller groups, and that's the one
thing I'd really want to happen and that's to have other people
play my music and to have my music as popular as anybody else's
music that does really consistently and have it out in a big run
of show hits.
Sadly this never
happened. Lack of work drove Earl back to America. He was last heard
in New York in 1984 playing only standards with C. Sharpe, who he
had known for many years. There was a last recording from the Shuttle
Theater with Jackson Krall, released on a Stork cassette. Then nothing.
Word was that Earl had health problems and returned to St. Louis,
where he passed away in 1987. These are only the bare bones of his
story. Earl was a fresh and strong voice on trumpet, joyous and
human. Picture the wide open space between Don Cherry and Donald
Ayler. Maybe Hannibal inhabited similar territory.
From Roy Morris
Arhur Doyle: tenor saxophone
Charles Stephens: trombone
Rashied Sinan: drums
"furious apocalyptic blowing, half sung
half screamed, remains unequalled in the history of free
half hour outpouring of passion"
Joe Rigby: tenor saxophone
Ted Daniel: trumpet
Ken Filiano: bass
Lou Grassi: drums
cool, he's an amazing sax player. Knows exactly what he
wants to play and how
to play it. Very heavy"
Rigby is a great pleasure to discover, wonderful"
Joe Rigby: flute, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, sopranino
Joe Rigby: flute, tenor saxophone, sopranino saxophone
Calum MacCrimmon: bagpipes
Scott Donald: drums
Billy Fisher: perc.
music has also co-produced most of the albums of the official
Sonny Simmons fan club, Hello
World! : Live at the Cheshire Cat, Ecstatic Nostalgia,
Fourth Dimension, Introducing Black Jack Pleasanton
and True Wind.
music has a long-term and heart-felt desire to present
the music of Earl Cross.
There is a recording
of the Denis Charles trio from 1988 featuring the
legendary Clarence C. Sharpe on alto saxophone,
which Denis very much wanted to be heard.
And so many
more musicians, still out there to-day, like Will Connell,
Hugh Glover, Ken Simon, Yosef Mumin Phillips and, of course,
Norman Howard, still ignored by the industry.
to see short videos of Arthur Doyle, Joe Rigby, Earl Cross and many
more heroes from the 1970's
for everything about the great survivor and visionary Sonny Simmons
for all things Albert Ayler
for all sorts
for Joe Rigby's
stunning new recording and other wondrous music
Praise be to