Homeboy Music, home of Norman Howard, Earl Cross, Joe Rigby and Arthur Doyle

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Homeboy Music, home of Norman Howard, Earl Cross, Joe Rigby and Arthur Doyle

 

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About homeboy music

homeboy 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.

So welcome 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

Joe Rigby (with Ted Daniel, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi) : Praise (homeboy music 5)First, 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 music.

 

Also available 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.

 

Joe Rigby (with Ted Daniel, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi) : Praise (homeboy music 5) 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.

 

Joe Rigby : Music (homeboy music 6) 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.

Milford may 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 earthy dynamism.

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 !".

Joe remembers 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."

Joe, however, 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."

"At that 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 Davis."

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 that !".

Joe Rigby, Scotland 2009

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."

Unfortunately, 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."

"The most 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."

Milford played 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."

"Milford 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 the period."

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."

"I had 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."

Although Joe 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."

"I have 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.

Ted Daniel's 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."

Charles Tyler's 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 a co-leader."

Finally, thanks 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 leases."

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."

"I graduated 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".

Nowadays, Joe 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 my boat."

And outside 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.

Speaking of 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, the blues".

"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."

"I came 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 the fall."

"I'm working 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."

In conclusion, 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."

"I want 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."

AMEN

 

Below the Radar
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 outfits."

"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 much fanfare."

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."

 

Arthur Doyle

Arthur Doyle (with Charles Stephens and Rashied Sinan) : Nature Boy (homeboy music 4)Arthur Doyle, 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.

 

Alabama Soul
An interview with Arthur Doyle

How did 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 records.

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 of him.

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.

You went 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 jazz.

Then you 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 other musicians.

When did 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 time ?
I feel it all went hand in hand, the free jazz movement and people wanting to be free.

And Vietnam ?
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.

How did 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.

Milford 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.

But Milford 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 teaches.

You called 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.

In 1972 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.

Did you 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 concerts.

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.

You went 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 and music.

Then you vanished.
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).

Has your 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.

What are your interests outside playing ?
Cooking health food, and listening to music. playing handball and looking at baseball and basketball. I like boxing too.

Are you religious ?
Very religious.

 

Postscript:-

This short interview took place around 1994 to 95. The following will fill in some of the gaps.

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 from Cadence.

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 it.

 

Earl Cross

Cross Words
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 [1973], 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.

He'd assembled 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."

"But there 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.

"If you've 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 playing altogether.

Although Cross 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 to me."

Thirty-nine 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 Waters.

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."

"There's 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."

"I'm not 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."

 

Earl Cross
talking to Keith Knox at Fasching Club, Stockholm, October 21, 1981

Tell me Earl, where were you born ?

I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. That was December 8th., 1933.

And you 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.

Tell me , 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 special.

I don't know how I did that, because......

When did 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.

A tenor player ?

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.

That was 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 immediately.

You were 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 twenty pieces.

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.

That Alan 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.

That 'Voyage from Jericho' I seem to recall was done at Studio We.

Yes, Studio 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.

That's a 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.

Tell me 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.

This is 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 though.

Roughly 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 thing.

I can believe it, i mean, when music as education is up to par with doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs, you know.

I'd like 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.

I don't 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.

"Just for 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.

Now tell 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.

 

Postscript:-

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.

 

 

Order

From Roy Morris at:

berendeson@yahoo.co.uk

 

Catalog

How to order.

Arthur Doyle (with Charles Stephens and Rashied Sinan) : Nature Boy (homeboy music 4)

Arthur Doyle Trio
Nature Boy

1972.
Arhur Doyle: tenor saxophone
Charles Stephens: trombone
Rashied Sinan: drums

"furious apocalyptic blowing, half sung half screamed, remains unequalled in the history of free jazz"

"a half hour outpouring of passion"

Joe Rigby (with Ted Daniel, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi) : Praise (homeboy music 5)

Joe Rigby
Praise

2007
Joe Rigby: tenor saxophone
Ted Daniel: trumpet
Ken Filiano: bass
Lou Grassi: drums

"really cool, he's an amazing sax player. Knows exactly what he wants to play and how
to play it. Very heavy"

"Joe Rigby is a great pleasure to discover, wonderful"

Joe Rigby : Praise (homeboy music 6)

Joe Rigby
Music

2008
Joe Rigby: flute, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, sopranino saxophone

 

Joe Rigby Quartet : For Harriet (improvising beings ib05/Homeboy Music), 2011

 

Joe Rigby 4tet
For Harriet

2011
Joe Rigby: flute, tenor saxophone, sopranino saxophone
Calum MacCrimmon: bagpipes
Scott Donald: drums
Billy Fisher: perc.

 

homeboy 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.

 

Past catalog

Norman Howard: Signals (homeboy music 1)

Norman Howard, Signals
Norman Howard: Burn, Baby, Burn (homeboy music 2) Norman Howard, Burn, Baby, Burn
Earl Cross: Trumpet (homeboy music 3) Earl Cross, Trumpet (unissued)

 

 

Projects

homeboy 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.

 

Links

http://web2.clarkson.edu/projects/jumasarchive/ to see short videos of Arthur Doyle, Joe Rigby, Earl Cross and many more heroes from the 1970's

www.sonnysimmons.org for everything about the great survivor and visionary Sonny Simmons

www.ayler.co.uk for all things Albert Ayler

www.50milesofelbowroom.com for all sorts

www.improvising-beings.com for Joe Rigby's stunning new recording and other wondrous music

Praise be to music.

 



 

 

Joe Rigby (with Ted Daniel, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi) : Praise (homeboy music 5) Arthur Doyle (with Charles Stephens and Rashied Sinan) : Nature Boy (homeboy music 4) Joe Rigby : Music (homeboy music 6)