Home Rule Mag.Zine Issue 1.

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10 ESSENTIAL DC LABELS Learn about the most coveted labels the city has to offer.

WHAT IS HOMERULE?

“How do I use records to be part of the community, to be in the community?”

BLACK FIRE RECORDS The ouput of this label is legendary. Find out more about the history.

SUMMER 2022 | ISSUE NO 01

Home Rule magzine Music Festival Edition


Home Rule Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jackson Sinnenberg Creative Director Jamal Gray Art Director St. Clair Castro-Wright Jr. Publisher Home Rule Foundation/Charvis Campbell Printer Heritage Printing, Signs and Displays Assistant Editor Abe Mamet Contributing Writers Kevin Coombe, Tommy Gartman, Marc Minsker, Leon Spinner, Dr. Thomas Stanley, A.M. Wolfe


SUMMER 2022 | ISSUE NO 01

table of Contents 04. Sponsors 05. Editor‘s Letter 06. Festival Map 07. Fesitval Schedule 08. Introduction to HR Records 12. 10 Essential D.C. Labels 36. Sounds, Kids and Records 40. Black Fire Records 48. Doug Carn 54. Plunky 57. David Murray 61. TCB 62. Malik Edwards 66. Askia Muhammad 70. Andrew White 74. Sun Ra in D.C.

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Letter From The Editor The Home Rule Magazine is two things. First, it is a comprehensive guide to the Home Rule Music Festival, which you hopefully attended dear reader. Rather than create a simple brochure with a map and some scant information about the artists performing, the vendors supplying food, beverages, merchandise and shiny vinyl records, we wanted to stick to our goal as the Home Rule Foundation of educating attendees and tying together the history and the reasons for why we are all here today. As such, you will find articles that explain what our foundation is, background to the documentary short that premieres tonight, profiles on record stores selling at the record fair, and a profile on closing act TCB. You will also find articles on our three other performers: Doug Carn, David Murray and Plunky Branch. However, this trio of articles, collectively title as “Sparks of a Revolution: The Environments of Progressive Black Music That Gave Rise to Black Fire and Home Rule Music, 1971-1977” seeks to explore nearly a decade of Black music history – and the cutting edge of Black music at that – over nearly a decade, providing context for the kinds of music these three make and tying it all back to the environment that gave rise to Black Fire Records and the music that our headliners make. Second, while we hope this is merely the first issue of this publication, we wanted to use this platform to, like our work with the Black Fire documentary, highlight other narratives and histories of music and culture in D.C. that were often marginalized. Kevin Coombe, a historian and authority on D.C. music history, has a fantastic survey of ten of the District’s pre-1980 record labels, showcasing hidden talents and neighborhood music making. Marc Minkser – a local teacher, promoter, DJ and historian – takes us to “The Other White House” in D.C. and a legacy of musical scholarship by one Andrew White that is unequaled. Artist, author, and activist Dr. Thomas Stanley, an assistant professor at George Mason University, closes our publication with a deeply personal testament to the cosmic majesty of free jazz pioneer Sun Ra and his intersections with the D.C. jazz scene; another reason we are all here today. I want to acknowledge Jamal Gray for his vision for the magazine, St. Clair Castro for his herculean effort to design and push this out, and Charvis Campbell for his support and entrusting me to shepherd this newborn into the world. I also want to thank Michael Wilderman, Kevin Coombe and Mike Bernstein for their considerable contribution of graphic and visual elements to this publication. Lastly, thank you to Abe Mamet for playing editor to the editor, since we all need one.

Jackson Sinnenberg 05


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What Is Home Rule: An Introduction to Our Store and Foundation By Jackson Sinnenberg, Director of Programs for the Home Rule Foundation

“How do I use records to be part of the community, to be in the community?” That question is fundamental to both Home Rule Records, one of the few Black-owned record stores both in the DMV and the USA, and the Home Rule Music and Film Preservation Foundation, the 501c3 non-profit spun out from the store that is presenting this music festival and other programming in D.C.

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Both Charvis Campbell and Mike Bernstein, co-owners and co-founders of HR Records and foundation, were longtime music and record obsessives before they came to run their current operations – for those who don’t know, Mike is one of the more prolific experimental musicians of the last 20 years and a collector of so much music-related ephemera like fliers, posters, etc.

The two met in 2015, conveniently and prophetically, because Bernstein responded to an ad on Craigslist by someone selling records, which turned out to be Campbell. Shortly thereafter Cambpell acquired the inventory of Baltimore’s East-West Records, which was going out of business. On weekends and whenever else he could, he would slowly begin to sell the contents of those 100 boxes of records at various places around the Petworth neighborhood and under various banners. First through Gumbo’s Records for six months, then under the banner of “Petworth Records” at a now defunct antique shop on Upshur Street called Bentley’s. As Bernstein would frequent Bentley’s, the two got to know each other; then he invited Campbell to participate in a regular record show he organized called “Record Rats,” hosted at Rhizome D.C., a venue for all kinds of experimental and passionate art and artistry in Takoma Park District. After several of these shows, the two began plotting to open their own store. As soon as they walked into 702 Kennedy Street NW, Campbell could immediately picture the design of the store, how bins and bins of records would fill the space and how the large wall could hold the shelves to showcase the premium product. That was in March 2018 and they signed

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“I always intended for it to be a community space – always had a sense that this is more than a record shop,” thrown into uncertainty like never before. But the store’s emphasis on jazz, soul, R&B, go-go, African and blues music – the true sound of the ever-disappearing Chocolate City – endeared them to the predominantly Black neighborhood of Petworth and Brightwood, as well as critics, Charvis Campbell and Mike Bernstein in front of the shop

the lease shortly thereafter. Bernstein lifted the name from a piece titled “Home Rule” on saxophonist Lloyd McNeill’s Washington Suite, the title track of which was originally commissioned as a piece for the Capital Ballet Company. The name is meant to be an homage to that deep jazz root and love, as well as make a strong political statement about the governance of the District of Columbia.

However, disputes and citations with the Department of Consumer and Regular over certificate of occupancy issues kept the doors closed until late 2019; and then, well, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and all of our lives were

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writers, musicians, DJs and producers in the area. HR Records responded in kind, offering musicians a place to play and broadcast to a wider following through its “Tiny Stage” showcase of 14 local artists on Instagram; then through the video podcast I host, “The Collector’s Corner,” a program that interviews musicians and other figures in D.C. music about their influences and careers. “I always intended for it to be a community space – always had a sense that this is more than a record shop,” says Campbell. To him (and many others) the records in a store like HR contain and tell so many stories of Black history, and reflect the aural tradition of Black history that goes back to traditional African modes of preserving and disseminating information and practices.


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Left Home Rule records premiere logo

Along those lines, Campbell and Bernstein launched

D.C. community, preserving cultural heritage through mov-

the Home Rule Music and Film Preservation in 2021 as

ies and music and promoting the stories of the Black D.C.

an extension of their work supporting the local commu-

that disappears more and more every year due to the forces

nity. Campbell, who also operates the website Blackfilm.

of gentrification and City Hall policies that work against the

com, saw film as another avenue of promoting and sup-

Black community.

porting Black history and storytelling on the same level

The foundation’s work continues this summer with a second

of music. The partnership of music and film first crys-

installation of its film series, an oral history project cente-

talized in the summer of 2021 with a series of three film

red on Westminster Presbyterian Church and its Friday jazz

screenings of family-friendly Black films – from Chad-

series and other projects to come. In the meantime, HR

wick Boseman’s stunning portrayal of James Brown vin

Records is open on Kennedy Street for anyone wanting to

Get On Up to the African sports drama Queen of Katwe

plunge deep into the sound of Chocolate City and the aural

about a Ugandan chess prodigy – preceded by live mu-

history of Black America.

sic or DJ sets from community-based figures. The production on the documentary short about Black Fire Records – Radio, Rhythms & Revolution – allowed the foundation to truly dig into its goals supporting the

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Capital Cuts:

10 Essential D.C. Labels From Days Gone Past By Kevin Coombe

Between 1960 and 1980, Washington D.C. was flush with starry eyed but underfunded soul, funk, and jazzcentric record labels. This culture of sound would inevitably begin its decline as go-go shepherded a generational take-over. But before that sea-change was complete, the following ten imprints dominated the District’s underground scene, presenting original works reminiscent of Carolina Reapers on a sonic Scoville Scale — whether said projects captured the public’s ear or not.

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INNOVATION RECORDS

Political science major Burt Rosenberg had been handling entertainment bookings for The University of Maryland when an opportunity arose that he couldn’t refuse. Via his outside agency, “Sound Innovations,” he signed an exclusive agreement to promote, book, and co-manage a local band called The Young Senators. Working closely with their original manager, Harry Young, Rosenberg financed the band’s third release, “Ringing Bells” (released in two parts), on a label named for his promotions company. Part one rocketed skyward with primal fuzz guitar, reaching the exosphere with unrelenting drums, precise horn stabs, and driving vocals. Part two maintained the same general direction, but allowed the guitar freedom to roam unchecked over drum loops that waxed hypnotic.

Sound Innovations The Young Senators promo photo. Circa 1970

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As The Young Senators had been heavily influenced by Sly and The Family Stone, channeling from the psychedelic was the norm. “Ringing Bells” received some notoriety in the city, but nothing substantial.

Young Senators, “Ringing Bells”, pressed on Vinyl.

In early 1970, the group tried again in the studio, but this time the results would be different as “Jungle” diverged from the band’s prior formula. Gone was the fuzz and unbridled power, replaced by a controlled burn that rode carefully underneath Latin percussion. As a result, the song was a hit on area dance-floors and radio alike, driving demand, and attracting the attention of a regional Warner Brothers rep, who, at the time, was also pushing Earth Wind and Fire. But the band opted to break contract and hit the road with Eddie Kendricks rather than discuss a record deal, so Burt was forced to begin anew, this time with The Mixed Breed. He followed the same formula, pressing a picture sleeve single and sending it to Schwartz Brothers for distribution. But despite both sides being undeniably exceptional, neither was well received by the DJs or the general public. Vexed but unwilling to try again, Burt quietly retired from the music business to pursue a spiritual path.

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“Mixed Breed”, original album sleeve.


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CAPCITY

Johnny Barnes, “It Must Be Love”, CapCity Vinyl

In 1966, a seemingly innocuous liquor license filing was approved for a bar in D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood. Ownership of said bar, known as The Part III nightclub, allowed proprietor Foster Johnson Jr. to pursue another one of his dreams, that of record label ownership. The label in question, initially named for the club, would be rebranded as Capcity within a year. Frenchy & His All Stars had gained favor on the local mambo and Afro-Cuban scene that cultivated such talent as Chuck Brown, so they were a logical start for launching the revamped imprint; as was Ruby Johnson, and The Maskman and The Agents. All were battle tested, but notably older, so Johnson began to scour the city for ripe young talent that would appeal to the new generation.

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His first wins were with vocal groups The Fawns and The Chancellors, for whom he secured a team of talented arrangers that included Howard University student Freddie Perren (yes, the future Motown star). While Perren handled The Fawns and The Chancellors, Johnson journeyed to Pittsburgh in order to recall one of his Part III label talents, The Lovations. Things were looking up for the label Perren’s fine work had burnished their reputation, resulting in a distribution deal with NYC based Scepter Records.

Johnson’s scouting efforts continued to land more talent, the last of which was a youth named Michael Washington. Foster’s A&R man Joe Tate personally handled the young man’s transition, but despite a significant marketing campaign and a brief, but promising surge of positive local press, Washington proved unable to secure a hit, and Foster’s reserves ran dry. Rumors began to circulate that the man owed significant seed money to the kind of people you don’t want to be indebted to, and on the evening of April 10th, 1973, Johnson was shot to death in the stairwell of his apartment complex — terminating both his life and that of his labels.

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DONTEE RECORDS

The Blendels, “Beware”, on Vinyl, Dontee Records

Born and raised in Northeast, D.C., Joe Tate was an avid musician by the time he entered high school. When he turned eighteen, the young saxophonist was drafted into the Howard Theatre Band at the behest of band leader Charlie Hampton. It was there that he honed his chops, worked arrangements, and began to carefully craft original compositions that were debuted via labels such as Captown Records, a business partnership with D.C. cab driver Al Haskins, and DePlace, a Tate owned entity that issued self-contained bands (meaning soul musicians that handled their own vocals, rather than the pairing of vocal groups with rotating backing musicians, as was the era-norm). The work was rewarding, but something was missing. It was then that the young entrepreneur had an epiphany — why not apply the all-in-one Motown formula to fully develop his own sound?

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To provide the platform for the concept, he launched Dontee Records, then assembled a reliable studio outfit by hand-picking from his own band, Mickey & The Blazers, as well as vocalists who doubled as musicians from the groups he’d been signing. For the initial offering, Tate returned to a Captown success story, The Blendels. Although both tracks featured on The Blendels single eschewed brilliance, they failed to garner attention. Tate followed with two more gems — a track by The Contemplations, “Alone With No Love” for which he used the instrumental as the B-side, and one for The Summits, “I Can’t Get Over Losing You”, implementing the same formula. Both were more or less well produced demos, cast out

Joe Tate performing, (on right), circa 1971

regionally for distributors to eye. But again, no offers materialized. Luckily, outside work for D.C. girl group The Fuzz resulted in a sizable hit (see “I Love You For All Seasons,”) and with the newfound notoriety, Tate was able to achieve a higher level of distribution for a single by Rock Candy featuring “I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Love Another” b/w “Alone With No Love”. That being said, the Blendels single that followed, “Beware”, didn’t benefit from the same wave of distributor interest, and was permitted to sail quietly under the radar as Tate moved on to larger and (ultimately) more financially rewarding opportunities. Rare, “Rock Candy” global poster

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SMALLWOOD

Of all the independently funded D.C. labels founded during

for entertainment, and he was on a path to becoming a

the pre-go-go era, few were as remarkable as Smallwood.

professional singer when, in 1968, an unfortunate accident

Its eccentric nature certainly wasn’t attributable to its

rendered him fully blind. But rather than choosing to wax

logo — that being a solitary tree — or, for the most part,

nostalgic about days gone past, George picked himself up,

the sound — although it was rather distinctive. Instead,

redoubled his efforts, and successfully formed a support

it was the man pulling the strings that made it one of a

group consisting of local acquaintances with an affinity for

kind. George Franklin Smallwood grew up with a thirst

live music.

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“Lady Disco” by George Smallwood, on vinyl

That group, known as The Marshmallow Band, recorded and pressed the first of Smallwood’s originals, “Touching is My Thing” b/w “Overheard,” in 1976. The obvious interpretation of the lead track

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George Smallwood performing with The Marshmellow Band

aside, Smallwood’s deeper intention was to reach, or “touch” people through music. Built upon honest vocals, psychedelic synthesizers, and a smooth sax line, “Touching” weaves an alternative reality that invites listeners to take a journey within. He followed with a plethora of quality (but unnoticed) singles, until his repertoire allowed for the crafting of a full length. Just 4 You boasted a wide range of sounds, but-ever smooth, even while channeling the disco madness that had taken over the airwaves. For that end, he wrote and arranged the exceptional “Lady Disco” which featured both himself and his sister, Valda, on vocals. George determined that if the girls were so stuck on the disco beat, he might as well provide it for them. Post LP, two other singles were presented, the last of which was the phenomenal modern-soul treasure “You Know I Love You”, but they ultimately fell on deaf ears.

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SHRINE RECORDS

The Epsilons, “Mad at The World”, Shrine Records vinyl

In 1958, future Motown boss Berry Gordy was doing fairly

That all ended in the early 1960s when an incident involv-

well as a songwriter, but it was the entrance of Raynoma

ing the pressing of a Marvin Gaye single drove her from

Mayberry which really kicked off his career. Raynoma or

the successful enterprise. Miss Ray relocated to Northwest

“Miss Ray‘‘ had a strong ear and well developed under-

D.C. with her then business and romantic partner, Eddie

standing of music theory, so it should come as no surprise

Singleton.

that, once she and Berry were wed, her contributions became integral to the development of the Motown sound.

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There, they implemented a new plan, with the first step being the creation of a publishing company, Ramitary Music, and the second being the pressing of original music by (primarily) locally-sourced groups. To achieve the latter, Shrine Records was formed. Unfortunately, word of the new label reached the ears of the infinitely more powerful proprietor of Motown.

Shrine Records, 7” mailer

Jealousy and fear drove Berry to threaten DJs and distributors who’d agreed to carry Shrine, informing them that they’d have to choose between carrying the unproven enterprise’s stock, or that of Motown and its subsidiaries.

Gordy’s sudden vitriol scarred and starved the new label, and by the close of 1966, the building they’d leased at 3 Thomas Circle was vacant. All remaining back stock was either trashed or burned as a result of the April 1968 riots. Yet the music lived on, if only in the form of the handful of singles that had seen distribution. Efforts to document Shrine’s history, as led by overseas historian Andy Rix, would reveal that the label had issued a total of nineteen singles during its short life. The only effort that saw wide distribution was that of The Epsilons — “Mad At The World” had thoroughly impressed local DJs prior to Gordy’s involvement.

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MAINLINE RECORDS

Bobby Thurston, “This Can’t Be Happening To Me” on Vinyl

Childhood friends Rodney Brown and Willie Lester had

locating capital from the sale of her business. Al Johnson, a

been writing and performing music together since early

D.C.-based singer, musician, writer, and arranger that had

high school (see The Chancellors), but it wasn’t until 1975

formerly performed with The Unifics, was brought on as

that they monetized their relationship with the establish-

a third partner, allowing Willie and Rodney to restructure

ment of Diamond in The Rough Music publishing. Local

their business as a one stop shop.

recording studio co-owner Monica Nesbitt saw upwards potential in the pair, and agreed to finance their work by al-

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Main Line Records had arrived. The partners auditioned a gifted singer named Bobby Thurston, and by 1975, they’d signed him for the label’s first release featuring “This Can’t Be Happening To Me” b/w “You Got Talent.” A total of ten more singles would follow, including projects by Gayle Adams (picked up by Prelude), and Khemistry (picked up by Columbia).

The Mainline Gang, L-R - Willie Lester, Rodney Brown, Unknown, Al Johnson (partially visible in chair), Engineer Bob Dawson

There were also a number of painfully obscure releases that failed to cross the borders of the District, but even the quietest wielded power. Take, for example, the one sided promo for Ricky Irving’s “Show Me Your Appreciation”. You can count the number of known copies on one hand, yet the sound is as vivid and orchestrated as any Mainline success story. In 1980, the production, writing, and arranging conglomerate earned their first international hit (see Bobby Thurston’s “You Got What It Takes”), providing them with the opportunity to begin contracts for the majors. That work continued until the mid ‘80s when demand for their sound had lessened, prompting Brown and Lester to go their separate ways. Photo of Bobby Thurston

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DC INTERNATIONAL RECORDS

Skip Mahoaney, “Your Funny Moods”, LP, 1974

To this day, industry veteran Stan Bethel’s arrival in D.C. is

ing to stiff a mobbed-up casino. But one thing could be

still shrouded in mystery. His un-official business partner,

agreed upon by all parties — Bethel’s arrival in the District

Robert Hosea “Jose” Williams, once stated that the Pitts-

was undeniably a breath of fresh air. More specifically, his

burgh native had been in Chicago, but was run out of the

partnership with engineer and entrepreneur Jose Williams

city by a gang he’d turned into the police. Former label and

heralded a significant change in the way the local industry

promotions executive Harry Coombs insisted that Stan

operated.

had traveled to D.C. by way of Las Vegas after attempt-

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Coombs had been the one to introduce Bethel to Williams, who’d been trialing a number of local groups with potential. Once Bethel made it clear that he’d cover all costs for release, Williams pooled together a studio band and recorded two aggregations over the course of a year; Skip Mahoaney & The Casuals, and The Summits. As session keyboardist James Purdie happened to double as a writer and arranger, his opinion carried weight. Thus, the name for the label, DC International, was, on the surface, based on Purdie’s love of Philly International Records. But I suspect that Bethel’s inner desire to compete with Coombs, Jules Damian (front), and Jose Williams (rear) at the DB Sound mixingboard

who’d been steadily rising in the ranks at Philly International Records, contributed to the final decision.

Each record presented by the conglomerate was exceptional. Bethel’s connections and access to capital allowed for a fairly large regional distribution network, thus mid-east markets were saturated with copies. But a growing rift between Jose and Stan threatened their future. Jose resisted signing Skip Mahoaney over to Atlantic, leading to a fallout that saw the engineer sever all ties. Recognizing defeat, Bethel abandoned DC, eventually accepting an executive level position at Source Records in Los Angeles. In an intriguing twist, Source’s first hit (Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose,”) was produced and arranged by none other than James Purdie.

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HILTON’S CONCEPT, INC.

Hilton Felton, “Spreading Fever (Part 1), LP

Although Hilton Clay Felton Jr. had spent a good chunk of

lounges. Though the work was financially rewarding, he

his childhood on a piano in the south-eastern city of Nor-

began to desire something more, namely, a chance to re-

folk, V.A., the bulk of his musical education occurred while

cord the original compositions he’d been bouncing around

attending D.C. ‚s Howard University. Post college, he could

in his head. But there were substantial challenges associ-

usually be found either teaching music at H.D. Woodson

ated with his ambitions, none more pressing than the fact

High School, working the organ at Hughes Memorial

that he lacked a band. That problem was ultimately solved

United Methodist Church, or freelancing at area bars and

by the formation of The Three Of Us.

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Together with two accomplished white musicians, Felton recorded enough material for an album, but an extended touring and recording obligation (for Fats Theus) put the project on ice. Upon returning in ’71, he was anxious to pick up where he’d left off. Felton began by forming a label — “Hilton’s Concept”. Fully armed with the means for sharing his work, Felton issued a fittingly titled gospel single “The Creation” b/w “Crying, Lord Jesus,” featuring his brother, The Reverend Leonard Felton, followed by the previously recorded album for The Three Of Us. Hilton Felton sits below an image of Duke Ellington

Finally, he hand-picked musicians who personified professionalism, and organized a new band to record the soul jazz classic, Family & Friends. Over the decade that followed, Felton labored over various solo piano works, gospel pieces, a comedy album, and additional soul jazz projects, including the highly collectible A Man For All Reasons, which included the track “Bee-Bop Boogie” — pined after by many a hip- hop producer. Although deeply gratifying for Felton, his projects were anything but desirable for the mainstream listener, thus resulting in boxes of unsold back stock that has only recently been re-discovered.

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ASHA RECORDING COMPANY

Asha Recordings, rare LP, 1970

Lloyd McNeill was a true renaissance man, dominating

which transpired on the National Mall during April of ’72;

in any arena he chose. Take, for instance, the visual arts:

he’d been commissioned to design the official poster. One

Lloyd partnered with renowned screen printer Lou Stovall

of his other passions, arguably his primary, was music —

to breathe life into event promotions for various D.C.

specifically, jazz compositions featuring the flute.

haunts, affairs that were often focused on musical events. One of his most prestigious contracts was for the first Human Kindness day, also known as Robert Flack Day,

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Operating from 1969 until 1970, Asha captured Lloyd’s musical prowess when it was at its most intimate and serious. The first album was, in fact, named for the label. It was followed by Tanner Suite — a testament to the musician’s technical abilities, being that the entire LP was improvised and recorded live at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Lloyd’s final offering (before transitioning to his second label) was, at its core, a love letter to the home that had doubled as his muse.

Photo of Lloyd McNeill

Washington Suite directly addresses home-rule, a hunger for Black representation in the political sphere (Walter Washington was then only Mayor-Commissioner), the Black population in the district, the Dupont Circle fountain — a haven for local musicians back in the day, including the track’s arranger Andrew White — and even a treasured residence. But culturally significant titles aside, what stood out most was his firm grasp of how to transport flute heavy fusion jazz to a higher elevation, a spiritual plane, and believe you me, it was a plane he regularly visited. Lloyd McNeill & Lou Stovall Screen Print, 1972, Human Kindness Day (Roberta Flack Day)

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BLACK FIRE RECORDS

African Rhthyms, Part 1, “One ness of Juju”, Black Fire Records, 1975

Black Fire boasted a sizable catalog, with releases stretch-

“The Bottle” led to challenges at Strata-East, Gray, sens-

ing all the way from its 1975 introduction to a multitude of

ing opportunity, stepped in. Scott-Heron and Jackson were

recordings dropped within the past decade. Its story is fas-

flush with cash from their Strata-East sales and primed to

cinating, and deeply intertwined with the demise of Strata

finance future pressings.

East, the arrival of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson to the District, and the left field jazz promotion efforts of one Jimmy Gray. When demand for Scott-Heron & Jackson’s

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The subsequent influx of product allowed Black Fire Distribution to act as D.C.’s premier one-stop for jazz music, but in order to stay on track, Gray needed a helping hand. For that he turned to Richmond, VA friend James “Plunky” Branch. Together they would craft a look and feel that would become the Black Fire imprint. A number of fine artists were brought on to supply Afro-centric visuals for covPlunky performs with Oneness Of Juju

The next eight releases continued the pattern, with covers

er art. Plunky and his band, Oneness of Juju, jump-started the release process with African Rhythms.

that reflected the black experience, and music that gave it deeper meaning. Arguably the most notable (after the Oneness catalog) was an album by Experience Unlimited. At the time, Experience Unlimited had just begun emerging from a black rock centric shell, having only recently embraced much of the funk, soul, jazz, African, Latin, and horn driven sounds that permeate the final product. They’d not yet gone through the personnel changes necessary to develop their future sound, that of the go-go band E.U., but the foundation for the transition was already being laid. Overall, it’s hard to go wrong with any Black Fire project, whether it be one of the original releases, ie: Experience Unlimited, a ‘90s CD (which housed much of the previously unreleased material), or one of the recently discovered

Jimmy Gray in his home office with Pages from his Black Fire Magazine on the wall

tracks that have been liberated to high praise in a series of issues by Strut. Disclaimer: This article was written totally independently of A.M. Wolfe’s article on Black Fire Records and independent of the Black Fire-centric celebration at the Home Rule Festival . Kevin Coombe was given complete editorial freedom to choose the labels he did for this piece.

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Sounds, Kids and Records: Meet Three of Our Record Fair Vendors By Leon Spinner

SOM RECORDS: A gem for record collectors and music lovers of all types,

turntable, if you need anything and they are always able

Som Records is owned and operated by Neal Becton, who

to help you make those difficult decisions on those myste-

is (as most, if not all shop owners) a collector and music

rious LPs that you are a little unsure about. If you plan on

fanatic himself. Som has been around for as long as I can

making it a full day of digging in the shop, don’t forget to

recall and is home to everything from country and gospel

look down and check out the bins below the main attrac-

to soul, jazz and hip hop. Becton has been on 14th and T

tions and the “dollar bins” scattered throughout the store

Street since 2006, and as he tells it, that was well before

corners, where you will find a couple must haves priced

the vinyl resurgence gained traction in the nation’s capital.

at beautifully low cost of one dollar (they add up though).

Som also has a bunch of 45s, cassette tapes, and books;

Of course, Som has the awesome wall pieces as well as

making the cramped shop worth a visit for all who love dig-

the notable rare gems (adequately labeled, “Expensive

ging through music history and all things related to good

S***”), and world music vinyl closest to the register, includ-

sounds. Becton and staff grade every record that comes

ing an excellently curated collection of Brazilian records,

through the shop and if you truly love flipping through ev-

a favorite for Becton. Much like all the shops in the DMV,

ery dusty bin possible, you are bound to find some “cheap

you won’t likely leave Som Records empty handed.

heat,” fairly priced must-haves, and a few decently priced rare gems as well. Even though the shop is small, almost every inch of the place is covered in vinyl. Becton and his knowledgeable staff are steps away from the listening

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Address: 1843 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 Hours of Operation: M-Sat; 12pm – 7pm, Sun. 12pm – 6pm


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COOL KIDS VINYL: The lo mein here is exquisite! That’s not something you

as you will find some dope books, comic books, and a

typically hear regarding a record shop, but it is safe to say

random assortment of archived hip hop magazines from

that this record shop has the best food in the DMV! Seri-

the Source to Vibe. Cool Kids sells it all, including CDs,

ously though, Cool Kids Vinyl is everything the name sug-

tape cassettes, VHS, and DVDs; it’s like going to a super

gests. The hip atmosphere is a decent reminder of how

cool antique shop that focuses on the 1990s (good prices

cool vinyl has become, but it’s not just a stylish spot to

too). With drinks and delicious food below, you’ll hang out

grab some tasty lo Mein and enjoy the vibes. The shop is

here for a while. According to the staff, “Talley supplies

located on H Street on the 2nd floor of the Cambodian and

the goods, and the people come in to buy them up.” What

Taiwanese fusion restaurant Marketto, whose mission is to

goods are those, you ask? Talley shares his love for all

“build a sense of community through quality, consisten-

genres in the shop and you can find a little bit of any-

cy, and accessibility.” According to their Instagram page,

thing from Soul to Jazz to classic R&B and Hip Hop. It’s

Cool Kids Vinyl’s purpose is “a place where like-minded

a cool, yet simple place to grab some must haves. Fair to

individuals gather to promote the free exchange of ideas,

say, keeping it simple is how the Cool Kids do it. Strongly

over records,” When you enter the spot from downstairs,

encourage you to hop on over to the H Street Corridor,

you feel like you’ve stepped into a hip hop/urban museum.

sample the cuisine at Marketto, and browse the wide as-

The walls and shelves are covered with memorabilia, art,

sortment of awesomeness that the spot offers.

and books and records, many of which are available for purchase. Owner Matthew Talley created the shop after housing the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar shop after hosting a series of record/DJ pop-ups in the DMV. Those

Address: 1351 H Street Maketto Upstairs, Washington, DC 20002 Hours of Operation: Monday-Sunday, 7:00am – 10:00pm

pop-ups featured some notable names in music, like hiphop producer 9th Wonder and D.C. pioneer DJ Alizay, to name a couple. The shop’s focus isn’t exclusively vinyl,

37


ISSUE NO 01

SONIDOS MUSIC & MORE:

Sonidos is Spanish for “sounds,” and as Claudia Mendio-

Ask what sets Sonidos apart from other area shops, and

la-Duran tells it, it‘s all about the sounds at her shop out

it‘s the „all killer, no filler“ philosophy of curating a collec-

in Beltsville, MD. Sonidos opened in 2019, months before

tion that Mendiola-Duran and staff use to complete the

the world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic; but

work of bringing vinyl to the neighborhood. A long-time

the shop is resilient and remains atop the list of the DC

collector, Mendiola-Duran strives to find the best quali-

area‘s places to go digging for vinyl. Attribute this strength

ty records to sell to the folks in College Park/Beltsville,

to whatever you will, but Mendiola-Duran says that it likely

and this means being serious and always ready to find the

had something to do with her time learning the ups and

next great haul of records to bring home. The shop may

downs at Joe‘s Record Paradise and spending so much

be small, but patrons value the team‘s efforts, claiming

time around the vinyl industry. Tower Records and Joe‘s is

that they always find what they are looking for (and much

where she studied the business and learned the ropes, but

more) at Sonidos, which makes it a place collectors must

what can prepare a new record store owner for a pandem-

check out. Just bring your mask as the store has a mask

ic? A native of the DMV, Mendiola-Dunn opened Sonidos

requirement due to the ongoing pandemic.

with the high hopes of serving the community and turning the tiny space into a valuable hub for the area, not just a spot to grab precious vinyl. That idea may be on hold for now, but the music still flows out of Sonidos Music & More. All genres can be found in the crates here, but R&B tends to always be the top commodity. No complaints here, but the shop prides itself on having some rare gems and ‚cheap heat‘ that keeps customers coming back for more. They also sell a few books, comics, and band tees.

38

Location: 11011-B, Baltimore Ave, Beltsville, MD 20705 Hours of Operation: Closed Monday and Tuesday Wednesday – Friday, 1:00pm – 6:00pm Saturday, 12:00pm – 6:00pm Sunday, 12:00pm – 5:00pm



ISSUE NO 01

Black Fire Records: A Flame Rekindled By A.M. Wolfe

40


ISSUE NO 01

The history of Black Fire is more than that of a record label putting out a handful of LPs and disappearing. Rather, Black Fire has, from the outset, been a grassroots movement dedicated to empowering Black artists of all modes with an unfettered degree of freedom and support.

Jimmy Gray initially conceptualized Black Fire in the late 1960s as a DJ on Howard University’s WHUR radio station, when he employed the name, dripping in reverb, as his characteristic DJ moniker throughout his set. Gray’s use of the name “Black Fire” quickly grew into his commercial identity, and he would go on to found a distribution service and cultural magazine of the same name by the early 1970s.

On Left Jimmy Gray, Black Fire Records Office

According to an industry trade publication, Black Fire Distribution was one of only three companies, along with Kinnara Distributors in Detroit and New Music Distribution in New York City, dedicated to the purchasing and distribution of the handful of independent Black-owned spiritual, funky, and free jazz labels of the era, such as Strata Sound, Strata-East, Mbari, Ujamaa, Nodlew Music, and others. This put Gray in the driver’s seat when Strata-East burst into the national consciousness with the Gil Scott-Heron hit “The Bottle.” Suddenly, Black Fire Distribution became the point of contact for record stores, radios, and DJs across the East Coast searching for that Gil Scott sound.

41


ISSUE NO 01

Promo shot in front of The House Of Peace front window, mid 1970s

This bottleneck, at which Gray and his fledgling cultural movement were at the center, pushed him to seek a more equitable way to create, record, and release music with a similar message – in other words, unify the artistic and commercial process. J. Plunky Branch, whose band Oneness of Juju had at that point become staples of the New York free scene, had similar goals after noticing that the band’s label, Strata-East, had run into financial trouble. Together with Gray, the new partners formed Black Fire Records, releasing the label’s debut product, Oneness of Juju’s African Rhythms, in 1975. Even before their first record debuted publicly, Gray and Branch had built the idea of a Black Fire Records into an institution which served as a conduit through which creativity and social thought flowed in D.C. Mary Mudiku, who served as an integral artist involved in the production of Black Fire’s many influential record covers, recalled that she “didn’t know anybody” when she arrived in D.C. from Memphis in 1974. So, using the contact information on the back of Gil Scott-Heron’s Winter in America (which Black Fire distributed), Mudiku eventually connected with Jimmy Gray, who introduced her to Scott-Heron, who would later become her mentor in the world of poetry. doing all these album covers for Jimmy Gray, and then I expanded to doing art for so many people in the city.”

42


ISSUE NO 01

The early years for the Black Fire movement were heady and filled with promise. Armed with such a grand purpose of unity, the outward facing statements that Black Fire made were bold, loud, and full of power. One of those statements came in the signing of a young group out of Southeast D.C., called Experience Unlimited – better known today as go-go powerhouse E.U. “When he approached us, it was interesting, because we were a funk, R&B kind of band, and at that point, [Black Fire] had mostly jazz, and a lot of Black nationalist, Afrocentric music.” Charles Stephenson, the band’s long-time manager, said in an interview. “But he wanted us. And we said ok.” That signing turned out to be a stroke of luck, as the record label not only scored a hit-making group with the potential to reach a broad audience in D.C., but also one deeply in line with the grass-roots, community supported contours of Black Fire’s mission.

“Our rehearsal space was in Valley

on at the same time,” explained Ste-

Green,” explained Stephenson, ref-

phenson, who originally relocated to

erencing the now-bulldozed Public

D.C. from New York City in the late-

Housing Development then located

60’s to be closer to Black political or-

in the Anacostia neighborhood. “That

ganizing in the wake of Vietnam and

was good, because folks in the com-

contemporary civil rights struggles.

munity rallied around the band. They

“You had me and my contemporaries.

saw them grow.” Eventually, Stephen-

We were social justice activists. But at

son formed a small record store, called

the same time, we were working with

E.U.’s House of Peace, which not only

young people, we were working with

gave their music a dedicated com-

E.U., the band, and they were young

mercial outlet, but provided a stable

brothers who were just trying to make

source of income and employment to

a career in music. So our job was to

the musicians involved with the band,

work with them, and give meaning

for whom steady income and work

to their music. So working with Black

was a formerly unknown luxury.

Fire, that was the best move for us at

The union of Experience Unlimited

that point in time. Listen to that album.

to Black Fire was an obvious fit, and

Suddenly, they had the freedom to

raised both organizations’ profiles and

compose what they wanted to. Jimmy

furthered their missions. At the same

Gray did not hold them back. There

time, it worked to bring unity to a DC

were no limitations. They wouldn’t

community riddled with the stresses

have been able to get that from any

and growing pains of the social move-

other record company in the country.”

ments of the late ‘60’s. “You had all those different pockets of the Black community in D.C. going

43


ISSUE NO 01

“Connecting with Gray and the Black Fire world, Mudiku said, “was the most exciting thing that happened to me when I got to D.C. I started doing all these album covers for Jimmy Gray, and then I expanded to doing art for so many people in the city.”

Though Black Fire entered a lull by the end of the 1970’sthe

the same situations happening today. When I think about

mid-1990s saw a resurgence in interest in Black Fire’s early

George Floyd, and the many movements of 2020, you’re

releases, with many out-of-print records receiving lavish

trying to have a voice with those emotions. You’re trying to

reissues, and many archival releases finally, and deserv-

release those emotions, and deal with what it does to your

edly, seeing the light of day on the compact-disc format.

mind, your psyche, and your inner self. [In the 1960’s], DC

Black Fire is once again on the rise. By today, in 2022, al-

was looking for an answer, and in a lot of ways, they were

most the entire original catalog, including archival and un-

answering that through creativity. I see the same thing to-

released recordings, have received intensive reissues. In

day.”

addition, a full-team of filmmakers, historians, and other

That documentary explores not only the Black Fire that

artists involved with the Black Fire story teamed up in early

was, but the Black Fire that can, and potentially, must be

2021 to produce The Black Fire Documentary, premiering

for the D.C. region to contextualize itself and its historical

publicly at the inaugural 2022 Home Rule Music Festival.

moment. One focus of the documentary is on today’s art-

Kia Freeman, who directed and co-produced the film, says

ists, like Jamal Gray, Jimmy Gray’s son and one of the new

that the timing of the documentary was prescient. Noting

standard-bearers and lead organizers in the Black Fire

that Black Fire was birthed, largely, from the struggles of

movement, who are pushing for altogether new modes of

the social movements and push for Black empowerment

self-expression and political liberation.

in the ‘60s, Freeman said that “it’s interesting to see a lot of

44


ISSUE NO 01

Black Fire Records, Album Art

“To see the evolution from Jimmy Gray to Jamal Gray, and Jamal’s creativity and his approach to music, is super dope,” Freeman said. Serving as a turning point from activity focused on reissues and towards new music and gatherings, the documentary not only looks to that imagined future, but takes an initial step in crafting it.

45


ISSUE NO 01

Sparks of a Revolution: The Environments of Progressive Black Music That Gave Rise to Black Fire and Home Rule Music, 1971-1977 Organist Doug Carn and saxophonists Plunky Branch and David Murray all released their first records within roughly five years of each other during the 1970s. While Plunky was the only one, at the time, directly associated with Washington, D.C. and Black Fire Records, all of them came up professionally and contributed to the culture of performance, composition, and record promotion and distribution that would shape Jimmy Gray, Black Fire Records and its artists, as well as the cutting edge of Black music in the 1970s. As such, rather than present more generic, career-overlook pieces on these three legends, each of the three following articles presents an entry on a timeline, painting an image of the vibrancy and truly novel worlds they helped create in that period.

46



ISSUE NO 01

Western Sunrise Doug Carn on Black Jazz, Infant Eyes and Progressive Black Music at the Dawn of the Seventies By Jackson Sinnenberg

“I wanted to take it as far as I could.” That’s how Doug Carn today describes the spiritually-charged, piano-and-organ-driven brand of jazz that he was making in the early 1970s.

Carn’s music – especially on Infant Eyes, his 1971 debut

Carn explains. “There’s these young people who want to

album for the Black Jazz label – bridges the straight-ahead

hear Motown, there’s older people who want to hear jazz,

sound of the early 1960s, the cosmic music of pioneers

who knew who Lou Donaldson and Dexter Gordon was,

like John Coltrane and Sun Ra, and the Black pop, soul

and then if Deacon Johnson came in....he wanted to hear

and R&B released by larger labels such as Motown, Atlan-

‘Danny Boy’ and he didn’t want to hear it with Theloni-

tic and Stax; thereby creating his own vision of progres-

ous Monk changes. I learned from an early age: to try to

sive Black music. There’s the relentless drive of hard bop

please everybody you’ve got to please grandmama and

pushing the band; Jean Carn singing with inflections of

the baby, you know?” All of that came from Carn’s years

the church, the juke joint and the jazz club all at once; and

of experience on the road and learning from his mother, a

Doug Carn’s organ and piano ringing out heavenly or funky

public-school teacher and choir director, herself a dyna-

depending on the tune. “In a small town like I came from

mite pianist in St. Augustine. She even shared the stage

[St. Augustine, Florida] there were no jazz clubs, so we

with Dizzy Gillespie on two occasions. His mother greatly

had to play in like juke joints, the American Legion Halls,”

influenced Carn’s approach to music, with particular im-

48


ISSUE NO 01

Doug Carn, “Infant Eyes”, LP

pact on how he treats jazz standards. “I had come home,

ing Coleman Hawkins put on it, that’s sacrilege!”

already played at Carnegie Hall, had three albums on the

To fulfill his musical vision, Carn combined that sense of

Billboard chart, and I was back at home playing ‘Body and

feel for instrumental, cutting edge of jazz with an equal

Soul,’” recalls Carn. “Mama was in the kitchen saying ‘That

sense for the broad appeal of Motown appeal and the

ain’t right!’ I said, ‘Whatchu mean that ain’t right? I’m play-

comfort and familiarity of his church upbringing. “Here’s

ing the right changes; you know I can interpret the song

the thing, I grew up in the church,” says Carn. “Because of

any way I want.’ She said, ‘Don’t tell me, when that’s what

the church thing I was used to playing for singers. I didn’t

Coleman Hawkins was playing the last time I walked down

hate singers like a lot of more progressive jazz musicians.

the steps of the Savoy Ballroom.’ What she was telling me

I had run into Jean and she had spectacular range, and

was that I didn’t have the feel of it. Now it’s not a Coleman

good ear, and good pitch and she didn’t mind experiment-

Hawkins song; ‘Infant Eyes’ ain’t my song, neither is ‘Little

ing with different things because it was still swinging – it

B’s Poem’; but Bobby Hutcherson started playing it the

was still beautiful.”

way I play it because that version took precedence. So, if you’re playing ‘Body and Soul’ and it don’t have that feel-

49


Carn had settled with Jean in Hollywood by the start of

Maurice White, was originally slotted to be the drummer

the 1970s. In addition to their regular gigs performing their

on the Infant Eyes album. “But I didn’t like the way he was

take on Black music of the day – as captured in Infant

playing ‘Little B’s Poem,’” Carn today recalls with a hearty

Eyes and other Black Jazz releases – both Carns would

chortle. It was through another drummer, Clarence John-

end up in the orbit of Earth, Wind and Fire just as they

ston, that Carn got the catalyst to put out the Infant Eyes

were beginning to build up their boogie wonderland

record. Johnston introduced Carn to fellow organist Larry

of sound. Doug would go to play organ on the first two

Young, then a staple of the Blue Note label with albums

Earth, Wind and Fire albums. While Jean would sing on

like Unity, who would attend one a rehearsal for the In-

the second, The Need of Love. Such was the bleed be-

fant Eyes material at weekly band practice. “He [Young]

tween the jazz world and more popular styles of Black

said, ‘Doug, whatchu waiting on man? ...Man that’s some

music then – and to a degree always – that Carn’s style

bad shit, man. You need to put that out, man.’ I said that

fit neatly into the funk and grooves of Earth, Wind and

I didn’t know if it was ready yet and he put on a big face

Fire (he would also cover their song “Mighty Mighty” on

and said ‘It’s ready, man. It’s ready!’”

Adams Apple). In fact, that group’s founding drummer,

ed the album thinking it was more of a demo tape, want-

Carn record-

“He, like a lot of other people, thought that the demo was fine,” says Carn. “It was great the way it was. I wanted people to hear that just to see what I could do...When it came out the people loved it. After a while every radio station in L.A. and other places was playing that record every day.”

50


ISSUE NO 01

Asante, Plunky, and Doug Carn, Sept. 7, 1992

ing to capture his vision and style and band but not necessarily his own improvisational prowess; hence why there are next-to-no solos by him. After shopping it to labels like Blue Note, Impulse!, Milestone and Columbia, Johnston put him in contact with pianist Gene Russell, who was forming a new label called Black Jazz as a subsidiary of Dick Schory’s Ovation Records. “He, like a lot of other people, thought that the demo was fine,” says Carn. “It was great the way it was. I wanted people to hear that just to see what I could do...When it came out the people loved it. After a while every radio station in L.A. and other places was playing that record every day.” Infant Eyes was the third release on Black Jazz, following Russell’s own New Direction album and pianist Walter Bishop Jr.’s Coral Keys. Infant Eyes would be the first of five album’s that Carn released through Black Jazz, making up a full quarter of the independent label’s catalog. While each release on the label was unique, they made up a cohesive collection of jazz that ranged from traditional sounds to more spiritual, free and experimental music, all while maintaining a balance of accessibility for listeners. As Aaron Cohen writes in Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power, “...it seems like there was a conscious effort to find artists who engaged with the manifold and diverse expressions of African-American music at the time, whether it was more popular leaning or more experimental. Indeed, Black Jazz showed that those impulses need not be mutually exclusive.”

51


ISSUE NO 01

Though Black Jazz’s catalog is relatively small, the kinds of sounds the Carn and his label mates created have been deeply influential to everything from the most jazz-inflected movements in hip-hop and house, to the likes of Kamasi Washington and other modern jazz artists who seek to engage in similarly manifold expressions of Black American Music. Carn continues to put out new work, recently recording for the new “Jazz Is Dead” label, an effort spearheaded by with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad (noted sampler of Black Jazz) and producer Adrian Younge. Carn even recently recorded with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad (noted sampler of Black Jazz) and producer Adrian Younge’s “Jazz Is Dead” recording series that seeks to highlight the influence of jazz on other strata of Black American Music like R&B and hip-hop, and how that influence feeds back into that more improvised form.

That label’s output is, similar to Black Jazz, a conscious effort to highlight the influence of jazz on other strata of Black American Music like R&B and hip-hop, and how that influence feeds back into that more improvised form.

Carn is quick to note, however: “Jazz Ain’t Dead, that’s one thing I want to say to you!”

52


ISSUE NO 01

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ISSUE NO 01

Make Your Own Revolution Now Plunky Branch and the Ascent of Juju, 1973 By Jackson Sinnenberg

“After a barely audible, gentle and seemingly standard balladlike opening of several bars, JuJu exploded in sound with squeaks, squeals, wails and thumps without warning and sustained this high level of musical energy for an unbelievable 20 minutes or When the number, “Sunspot,” was over, the echoes of the music still hung in the hall until drowned out by the loudly, applauding and cheering audience that realized it had been present for an unusual and exciting musical event.”

Those words, written by Les Ledbetter in the July 2, 1973

It was the sort of proclamation the group was looking for

issue of The New York Times, heralded the arrival of the

as it sought to embed itself in the free music scene.

group Juju, led by one James Plunky Nkabinde Branch, to

“We came to the attention, somehow, of Ornette Coleman,”

New York City and the wider avant-garde music scene in

recalls Branch in a recent interview. “[He] had a gallery

America. Plunky and Juju had just arrived to the East Coast

at 131 Prince Street. He lived on the third floor, he had a

to play this show, performing as part of the New York Mu-

gallery on the first floor and he would do exhibits and also

sicians’ Five Borough Jazz Festival at Alice Tully Hall in

have live performances and he invited us to play at his

Lincoln Center, presented that year in partnership with the

gallery after that Lincoln Center performance.... A couple

more widely established Newport Jazz Festival.

of weeks later,” Branch says, after Juju had performed at Coleman’s gallery, “he said to me he was leaving town for

54


ISSUE NO 01

New York Times, article, speaking on Plunky

six weeks and he wanted me to run his gallery and stay at

Through Music -- and Archie Shepp, whose album The

his place. I don’t know if I was shocked, but I was amazed.”

Magic of Ju-ju gave the group its name. Although there

Branch’s journey to Coleman’s loft began in 1969 when he

are elements of the first incarnation of Branch’s Juju band’s

moved from Richmond, Virginia to San Francisco to pur-

sound on African Rhythms and other early Oneness of

sue his music in the more welcoming, elevated-thinking

Juju releases, the compositions and improvisational ap-

of that left-wing bastion. He joined exiled-South African

proach of that original Juju band were much more in line

bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Ndikho Xaba and

with the kind of experimental, confrontational, and bound-

his group The Natives, learning the music of South while

ary-pushing music that arose from Coleman, Cecil Taylor

expanding his own jazz vision with those new elements.

and John Coltrane.

Branch founded Juju with members of The Natives in 1971, blending Xaba’s musicality and African rhythms with the more abstract sensibilities offree-and-spiritual jazz pioneers like Pharoah Sanders -- with whom Branched played on the former’s 1972 Impulse! album, Wisdom

55


ISSUE NO 01

“We were a part of that avant-garde, straight-ahead scene,”

ple playing avant-garde jazz over this African, locked-in

says Branch. “There’s a lot of debate about what that mu-

rhythm section. We created a niche for ourselves.” Howev-

sic was called: It was ‘avant-garde jazz;’ it was ‘creative

er, beyond the loft scene, Branch also wanted Juju to stand

music;’ it was ‘The music;’ it was ‘Cosmic music;’ ‘Spiritual

up and be counted amongst the 1970’s exciting, new, and

jazz;’ it was all these names. We moved to the Lower East

in-demand artists of progressive Black music and to be

Side and were part of the loft jazz scene. Sam Rivers had

further embedded in that community. Coming to New York

a place called Studio Rivbea, the singer Joe Lee Wilson

provided Juju ample opportunity to do so, and they soon

had a place...Frank Lowe, Rashied Ali and many others. We

took a step towards this goal by joining the ranks of the

were a part of that really vibrant scene.” The loft jazz scene

burgeoning Strata-East label, founded by trumpeter Char-

was a time in New York City’s history – coinciding with

lies Tolliver and pianist Stanley Cowell. Juju had recorded

white flight and the recession of 1973-1975 – when many

its first album, A Message From Mozambique, back in a

established and newly-arrived musicians to the city began

friend’s living room and could have self-released it. “But

presenting music outside the jazz mainstream within DIY

aligning ourselves with Strata-East was one of the smart-

spaces such as galleries, apartments and lofts that they

est moves I’ve ever made,” declares Branch. “It gave me a

themselves owned, operated or rented. Branch would later

kind of credibility that I might not have had if it was just

draw on this experience of the scene to open an artists’

this group called Juju and we put out a record; but if you’re

gallery and artists’ house similar to Colemans in his native

a group called Juju and you’re on the same label where

Richmond after he moved back in 1975, opening the first

Pharoah Sanders just released Izipho Zam, Gil Scott-Her-

Black arts gallery in the state of Virginia as a result.

on, and Mtume [Umoja] had his record Alkebu-Lan...And

Juju stood out in that loft scene, which would really take

I can name all the rest of the people and they were all

hold in 1975 and foster the artwork of fellow Home Rule

a step above us in terms of career development. So, for

Music Festival headliner David Murray (more on that later).

us, that was the second reason: We’re going to align our-

In the midst of a wider upheaval of time, tempo, timbre,

selves with this very progressive group of people, some of

melody and harmony, the group’s strong roots in African

whom we looked up to and would be happy to just have

diasporic musical tradition gave them an edge. “Our music

our name associated with them.”

made an impact when we got to New York because it was very different,” states Branch. “There were not a lot of peo56


ISSUE NO 01

Tomorrow Is The Question David Murray, Loft Jazz and the Avant-Garde, 1975-1977 By Jackson Sinnenberg

David Murray was 20 years old when he arrived in New

tening spaces, such as, galleries, apartments, and more

York in 1975. Still a student at Pomona College in Clare-

often than not, lofts, all with a DIY spirit, owned and op-

mont, California, Murray crossed the country to do an in-

erated by other musicians or passionate fans of this new

dependent study on the impact that Ornette Coleman’s

music. Such music was rarely welcome in the traditional

1958 arrival on the jazz scene had, and to understand in full

jazz clubs of New York, so these lofts were created to give

the dawn of what was called “free jazz,” “creative music,” or

the music a home. The loft scene was also bolstered by

“fire music” depending on your terminological preference

the arrival of both young, new musicians, and older, estab-

and mood. “I did this study where I interviewed Ornette

lished artists from across the United States: from Chicago,

Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Cage and McCoy Tyner,” re-

musicians aligned with the AACM, like vocalist and pia-

calls Murray. “I was writing articles, and Stanley Crouch

nist Amina Claudine Myers, saxophonist Henry Threadgill,

was my professor, and Bobby Bradford was also my pro-

and trombonist George Lewis; from St. Louis, members

fessor at Ponoma College. I guess what I was actually do-

of the Black Artists Group like saxophonists Oliver Lake,

ing was moving to New York, but my parents didn’t under-

Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett (all of whom would

stand what I was doing. There was a small window for me

co-found the World Saxophone Quartet with David Mur-

to crawl through to do what I was doing because if I had

ray); and from California, the likes of David Murray himself

gone back to college and graduated in ‘77, I would have

and Arthur Blythe. Those artists would nearly-nightly fill

missed the whole loft jazz and would have been like a lot of

the apartments of the Lower East Side and pack into the

other saxophone players that didn’t make it in New York.”

lofts and galleries to perform and learn from each other.

The loft jazz scene that Murray references was a phenom-

These musicians and the many others that arrived are now

enon in 1970s New York where new, often challenging,

regarded as the key architects to free jazz and creative

avant-garde, music was presented in non-traditional lis-

music.

57


ISSUE NO 01

“I got a loft down the street from Sam Rivers’ place and

and title track is Murray’s tribute to the free jazz pioneer

lived there with Stanley Crouch and we called it ‘The Top

Albert Ayler, a musician so influential that even John Col-

of the Ten Palace’ where there was a poetry series that

trane considered him a mentor in the late ‘60s. “I wrote

transformed into a jazz series. CBGBs was right down the

the song ‘Flowers for Albert’ because Sunny [Murray] was

street,” recalls Murray. He also remembers the kind of hus-

telling me about Albert and what he was like as a person

tle he and other dedicated loft musicians put into making

and the strange circumstances of how he died,” says David

the scene. “[I] put up posters and everybody else’s posters.

Murray. “I was just thinking about him one day while I was

Then the World Saxophone Quartet started buzzing, en-

walking along the Hudson and I just started whistling this

sembles were jumping up around town. [We were] trying

tune that ended up being ‘Flowers for Albert,’ and came

to get the Village Voice’s ‘Voice’s Choice’ to get people to

home and wrote it down.

our concerts. [Then] Loft Jazz started drawing a crowd. I stopped playing 45-minute solos and sort of truncated the music to fit the people a little bit.” Murray’s own music at the time was un-anchored by conventional ideas of melody, harmony and rhythm or what could be considered pleasing to the ear. It was and remains deeply personal to his vision of the world and his vision of self-expression. “Playing straight-ahead was something that you studied,” Murray explains. “To me, playing bebop was something that you studied. As far as jazz, bebop is the ultimate study in jazz. I always thought that bebop you have in your back pocket, then you go on to create creative music or whatever music is personal to you.” Murray’s first album, called Flowers For Albert, was released in 1976 via the independent New York jazz label India Navigation. The first cut

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David Murray, District Curators DC space


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“To me, playing bebop was something that you studied. As far as jazz, bebop is the ultimate study in jazz. I always thought that bebop you have in your back pocket, then you go on to create creative music or whatever music is personal to you.”

David Murray, Album cover for “Flowers for Albert”

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After that everybody assumed I was an Albert Ayler clone; but I just wrote a song about him like I wrote a song about Ornette.” Just as the inclusive and artist-first atmosphere of the Loft jazz scene made it possible for David Murray to flourish as a performer in 1970s New York, labels like India Navigation and Black Saint/Soul Note allowed Murray and many other loft scene artists to present their recorded music as they wanted. “I feel very fortunate and lucky to have been able my music in the way I wanted to put it out,” states Murray. “Most of the records, I can say, I had my hands on all the way up to the mastering of the records. It was all my ideas and concepts; I used the musicians I wanted.” These labels wanted musicians to fully execute their own concepts for their own art, while proactively trying to avoid exploiting those artists’ vision and talent. “Bob Cummings was like an angel,” Murray fondly says.

“He was a big lawyer for Western Union and India Navigation was his hobby. When he passed away, he told his wife and daughter to give all the masters back to ‘My darling jazz musicians that I recorded.’ ...He wasn’t interested in making money that much; he just loved jazz and was a good soul. Same for Giacomo Pelliciotti,” who founded and operated Black Saint/Soul Note in Tribiano, Italy. ”It was more of a business, but he recorded all of us and the label was his hobby that became his business.”

With such a wide degree of artistic agency, “I think I pretty much put my own personal mark on my career in terms of what I wanted to get out of it and how I did it,” Murray sums up.

Footnote: David Murray’s Brave New World Trio released its new album Seriana Promethea on May 20 through Intakt Records; he is releasing a forthcoming album titled Necktar with his octet; that music will be the feature of his set at Home Rule Festival.

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Meet TCB: The Kings of the Go-Go Bounce By Leon Spinner Total Control Band (TCB) is a crucial piece of the go-go

2011 release. Those not in favor of the go-go shift called it

music story, dating back to the 1970s and the legacy of

noise and labeled it a phase and not a movement. Much

hometown jazz legend and go-go pioneer Chuck Brown.

like naysayers of the first styles of go-go, who called go-

TCB’s chapter in the history of go-go is the story of the

go musicians amateurish, it was a lousy attempt to down-

birth of the bounce, and pioneering the sub-genre known

play a city’s music and a generation in that city. Bo Smith,

as Bounce Beat. To understand the progression of the

TCB’s lead vocalist, recalls the go-go scene’s response to

go-go sound, you will have to understand the sound of

hearing their sound back in the summer of ‘03, claiming

bounce. It’s less about the melody and more and the

that the grassroots love, in the beginning, is how the band

rhythm of the heavy drum kicks, baselines, and guitar

kept going against the odds. “The response from the [city]

riffs that ignite the crowd. It’s in the name, bounce beats.

natives once the heard bounce beat motivated us through

Up-tempo, chaotic, and energetic, the genre is not for the

the adversities of introducing a new wave to the genre

idle listener, demanding attention during live performanc-

of go-go,” Smith recalls. Many thought that bounce beat

es and requiring attendees to move and dance without

would only serve as a temporary wave as go-go was ex-

pause. The genre is respected and widely recognized as

panding beyond the backyard, jam session funk that it was

the natural progression of the go-go brand, but it wasn’t

known for by so many. Smith claims that he remembers

always viewed as such. In the summer of 2003, TCB lead-

when other bands, clubs, and promoters tried to stop TCB

er and founder Reggie “Polo” (or “Lo”) Burwell decided

and the Bounce Beat sound by “calling club owners falsi-

to showcase something new with the band. That ended

fied information to keep us from flourishing and pushing

up being the signature bounce beat, and fans welcomed

the sound.” Summing up the perspective during that time

the introduction of this fresh sound. The group went on to

from “the industry standpoint bounce beat wasn’t consid-

record some of the genre’s best sets ever recorded with

ered GO-GO music, so, therefore, wasn’t accepted by the

songs like “Wipe Me Down,” “Bait,” “Bust it Wide Open,”

leaders” of the culture. In the end, TCB prevailed, and a

and a host of other jams that solidified their place in the

whole generation of music followed behind and alongside

go-go scene. Bait was a classic and even got the band a

them. Bounce beat is go-go refined, deconstructed, and

nod from D.C. Rap icon Wale as they collaborated on the

packaged for their time for their generation.

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Funky Consciousness: The Art of Malik Edwards By Jackson Sinnenberg

While the art of Mary Greer Mudiku and Muzi Nkabinde Branch will always be the heart and soul of the Black Fire look and style, Malik Edwards’ designs for Experience Unlimited helped define the look of the iconic go-go band, added a new element to the Black Fire spirit. But even before his days as Experience Unlimited’s unofficial in-house artist, Edwards’ work was helping to define and enliven the progressive Black politics and cultural movements that would inform the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Jimmy Gray and many of the movers and pushers in the new jazz movements of the 1970s.

Edwards grew up with a father that sketched and was sent me downstairs to their ministry and I never left for the taught at an early age more refined techniques like shad- next three years. I ended up in California working on the ing. By age 12, he was being paid by college students in newspaper.” Edwards spent a couple years working with his town to do their projects for them. He joined the Ma- the main branch of the Party in the Bay Area, doing art rines in 1962 and spent eight years working on murals for the Panthers’ newspaper – the politics may have been and other art for the Corps, in Vietnam and also stateside. part of his style moving forward, but not the Party’s sense Edwards came to D.C. in 1970 and found his way to the of art. “What I was doing in the party, I was basically follocal chapter of the Black Panther Party within a month of lowing Emory Douglas [Minister of Culture for the Black touching down. “I came there with my portfolio,” Edwards Panthers] and doing things that were riffing off his style.,” recalls on a recent call from his home in California. “They says Edwards.

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There was magazine called Communications Art that “I didn’t really get my thing until I came back to D.C. and

would come up with these super, super album covers.

started doing what I was wanting to do. If you look at the

Like Bitches Brew was one of the best album covers ever

art I did in the party and the art I did in D.C., there’s a

done. So, I was in that vibe with it. I didn’t have the time

big difference. In the party, you’re drawing for the newspa-

to get down like he [Abdul Mati Klarwein, painter of the

per and it’s basically within the party’s guidelines of what

Bitches Brew cover] did and our styles are different. E.U.

art is.” However, it was through his work in D.C. with the

had this positive, sexual energy and most album covers at

Panthers that he met Experience Unlimited’s first manager

the time had a sexy woman on it. Part of my style was the

Charles Stephenson, who was an organizer in the anti-war

long necks, which meant elevated consciousness, but only

movement during the early ’70s. And D.C. was not only

people that knew me knew what that meant. It had my

politically but stylistically a major source of inspiration.

own little symbols and flowers and stuff like that, that I was

“Being in D.C. was very liberating because there was the

really into. That’s no particular woman; as a matter of fact,

AfriCOBRA at Howard and all these different art groups

it was a combination of about four women whose faces I

that had philosophies and ideas about the world,” Edwards

used and bodies. The little guy floating on the egg is sup-

recalls. “My political stance had not changed - I embraced

posed to be Gabriel blowing the horn - and I redid it again

the Party’s ideas - but I opened myself up to the idea that

as its own, stand-alone piece. The reason why that’s there

we didn’t have all the ideas. That’s what I liked about D.C.,

is because I have a tendency when I’m drawing to shake

there were such brilliant artists there: Ed Love, Sam Gil-

my pen, sometimes the ink would fly and hit the paper.

lian, Elizabeth Catlett and her husband Charles White in-

So, I had to come up with something to cover that big-ass

fluenced me the most.” All of those influences, including

spot; and a couple little birds I think I threw in there to

other influences in the then-contemporary art and design

cover that up. Some of the best things, some of the things I

scene fed into Edwards’ designs for Experience Unlimited:

get the most compliments from, were the mistakes I made

the group’s first logos, it’s early posters and the iconic cov-

that I was doing a cover-up. The birds above the sun and

er of the group’s debut album for Black Fire, Free Yourself.

the butterfly on her chest, that was a mistake! That‘s why

Edwards detailed the design process like so:

you only have birds above the sun!

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Experience Unlimited, artwork, by Malik Edwards

And so, Malik Edwards created the physical, visual representation for Experience Unlimited’s funky music for elevation consciousness, drawn from the secular and the spiritual; the male and female; sex and religion and sound. His work elevates consciousness to this day in D.C. and beyond.

Malik Edwards currently lives in California, where he is an artist and teacher. You can see more of his art from his days in the Black Panthers as well as more contemporary work at zhibit.org/Malik

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Vibrations, Themes and Serenades: How Askia Muhammad’s Record Collection Tells His Life Story By Tommy Gartman

The first thing that strikes you about Askia Muhammad’s record collection is the sheer size – four to five thousand LPs and 45s in estimation. But then you start flipping through and the collection begins to speak, with each record representing a story, a part of life, or a piece of his perspective.

There’s an autographed copy of Muhammad Ali’s “I’m the

destined to be part of his story.

Greatest,” a few original Sun Ra recordings purchased

Muhammad spent most of his childhood in Los Angeles,

firsthand at Arkestra shows, one-of-a-kind 45s containing

subsequently attending San Jose State University and the

poetry and songs of protest; one of the most comprehen-

Navy’s Officer Candidate School before entering journal-

sive collections of jazz recordings that you’ll ever find. If his

ism as an intern with Newsweek in 1968.

record collection is any indication, no one has lived a life quite like Askia Muhammad’s. Askia Muhammad was born Charles Moreland on March 28, 1945 in Indianola, Mississippi – just a few miles down the road from the Mississippi Delta town of Berclair, birthplace of legendary blues guitarist B.B. King. You could say, then, that music was always 66


ISSUE NO 01

Speaking with radio journalist Kojo Nnamdi on WAMU’s “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” in 2018, Muhammad recounted his move to Washington, D.C.: “Louis Martin, the scion of Black politics in the 20th century, sent me here in 1977, after Jimmy Carter was elected.

He said, ‘You know, Black people put Jimmy Carter in office, it’s going to be a new day for Black people. Why don’t you go down to Washington to see what you can do for the Chicago Defender?’” Askia Muhammad never left, becoming a White House correspondent for more than two decades and a leading figure in the region for

Black community. Muhammad came at the ideal time to

multimedia journalism. That same year, 1977, Muhammad

not only help shape and grow this station, culminating in

found his way to the nascent public radio station WPFW,

his decades-long stint as News Editor, but also to grow

which had only begun broadcasting that Feburary. Think-

with this station, especially in regard to music.

ing back to his start at WPFW in the same interview with

“Jazz and Justice” was and is the station’s mission state-

Nnamdi, Muhammad recalled, “Simeon Booker told me,

ment, and after nearly two years volunteering Muhammad

‘Get into radio, young man. It’s the future – it’s the medium

was given his own show, “Yardbird Sweets,” that realized

of Africa.’ So I went and started volunteering [at WPFW]

both. Muhammad liked to tell the story that before getting

licking stamps, stuffing envelopes and what have you.” It

his own show he only had a small collection of jazz: a dou-

was a perfect coalescence, as WPFW was charting its

ble album by Charlie Parker was one of the few recordings

own course away from other Pacifica stations by creating

he owned. However, he immediately recognized a kinship.

a primarily Black-staffed station specifically serving D.C.’s

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“My name given by my mother was

Moreland describes “Your Daddy

“He always had his antenna up for

Charles... then I discovered his sig-

Loves You” as a “hug” from her dad

music,” Rivero says. “He was buying

nature song ‘Yardbird Suite’ was re-

– something warm and comforting

Whodini and Run-DMC in the 80s

corded on my birthday,” Muhammad

that was always there when the two

before anyone else was getting that

explained in a 2019 interview with The

weren’t physically together.

stuff, and all my friends thought I was

Final Call, commemorating 40 years on the air. “So I said it’s natural. I’ll have a yardbird show.” “Yardbird Sweets” hit the airwaves on Tuesday, March 27, 1979, becoming a touchstone for the station over Muhammad’s 43 years of host-

so cool having those records in the Throughout his years in D.C., Askia

house.” Yet music seemed to be part

“Journalism and music were like two halves of who he was,”

of the fabric of Askia Muhammad’s being even when there wasn’t any playing. “If he was working on something, in the groove, it was like he had this

ing, every Tuesday morning from

engine inside of him,” Raafi

5am to 8am. “Journalism and mu-

Rivero recalls. “He would tap

sic were like two halves of who

his foot and bob his head and

he was,” Muhammad’s son Raafi Rive-

Muhammad’s record collection grew

jut out his chin just a little like he was

ro recalls. Through “Yardbird Sweets”

far beyond that Charlie Parker dou-

listening to a good song. That’s how I

and his work with WPFW, then, Askia

ble album – everything from Brother

knew he was really in it, and I just love

Muhammad could share the whole

Ah and Funkadelic to rare albums

thinking about him that way.”

of himself with the city of D.C., and

by the poet, activist, and musician

Over the course of his 45 years in

with all who listened. vNadirah Mo-

Haki R. Madhubuti. Saturdays in the

the city, D.C. itself also became an

reland, Muhammad’s daughter, re-

Muhammad house were always full

increasingly important part of Askia

calls a special relationship to “Yard-

of records spinning, son Raafi Rivero

Muhammad’s life. “It was all about the

bird Sweets” growing up. On many

remembers, creating a sort of sonic

community for him.

broadcasts, Askia Muhammad spun

background to his childhood. Though

Gil Scott-Herron’s “Your Daddy Loves

jazz and the blues were Askia Mu-

You” as a message to his daughter.

hammad’s primary genres of interest,

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found out the name stood for ‘Home Rule,’ and the fact that they’re doing this uptown on Kennedy Street – it just felt like the right thing for my dad’s legacy.” In going through the collection’s thousands of records, HR co-owner Charvis Campbell was continuously struck by the “breadth and depth” of the collection, both within jazz and spanAskia Muhammad

ning multiple genres. There were classic Blue Note releases, some bigger blues artists like Howlin’ Wolf and B.B.

People like Dorothy Height and Duke Ellington – there was

King, but also stacks of obscure and elusive spiritual jazz

this legacy in D.C. that he connected with and put into his

records from artists like Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane,

own work,” Nadirah Moreland says. Rivero also keyed in on

Byron Morris and Unity – music that nourishes the soul

this idea of community in thinking about his father’s rela-

and transcends established possibilities for change. It’s the

tionship to D.C.: “My dad loved and felt connected to the

collection of a man for whom music was one of life’s great-

Chocolate City aspect of D.C. culturally - in the music, the

est treasures, and who saw immense power in it as a force

food - a Black aesthetic was just coming out of the pores

for education, communication, change, preservation, and

of the city...There was also this Black, progressive, activ-

as an expression of love.

ist community that was like home turf for my dad. That

As he went through the collection, there were also a few

was his world, and he loved being in that world.” Above

records that Moreland asked Campbell to look out for and

all, both Moreland and Rivero offer up just a single word to

return to her and the family for sentimental reasons. Gil

describe their father’s relationship to the District: “home.”

Scott-Herron’s Real Eyes, featuring “Your Daddy Loves

After Askia Muhammad’s passing, Moreland contacted HR

You” was one of them. As for the rest of his collection, Mo-

Records about purchasing her father’s record collection: “I

reland says, “Knowing that his records are nearby at HR

knew Charvis and HR Records from some past interac-

Records makes it feel like a library for me.” Flipping through

tions, but the decision was really a joint dialogue between

some of his records still in the shop, Moreland can still visit

my brother and I. We looked more into the mission and

with her dad. By listening to his copy of Gil Scott-Herron’s Real Eyes, she can still feel one of his hugs.

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Andrew White: Chasin‘ the Trane By Marc Minsker

The legacy of John Coltrane will forever be connected to the geographic coordinates of his boyhood home in Hamlet, N.C., his house in Philadelphia where he honed his craft, and his final home on Long Island, where he built a family and a studio with his wife Alice Coltrane.

And while Washington D.C. may not have particular relevance in Coltrane’s story, there’s a small row house in Northeast D.C., just down the street from Fort Totten, where the spirit of Coltrane burned bright for decades after his death. The other “White House” (as some have referred to it) is where D.C. jazz musician and icon Andrew White spent 50 years running his independent record label and music business, Andrew’s Music Incorporated, and where he meticulously documented, by hand, 842 John Coltrane solos, note by note.

For the uninitiated, Andrew White was a force of nature in the music world who transcended labels and who refused to be pigeonholed. A classically trained oboist, White was one of the few African-American musicians in the 1960s who was repeatedly invited to play at revered Tanglewood summer series in Massachusetts. At the same time, he was also providing an invaluable role on electric bass for Stevie Wonder on an equally revered stage (see his riveting performances documented in the 2021 documentary Summer of Soul).

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Andrew White in the headquarters of Andrew’s Music Inc. (circa 1985)

But his formative musical journey began in 1960 as an

Lounge, located at 1928 9th Street NW. As White recounts

18-year-old freshman studying oboe and music theory

in his epic 900-page autobiography Everybody Loves the

at Howard University by day, while performing nightly on

Sugar, “I remember going to hear Trane’s band at Abart’s

saxophone at the legendary Bohemian Caverns. It was

for the Sunday matinee...and it was really comical to hear

there, with the JFK Quintet, that he dazzled audiences with

someone play so well. Trane was simply incredible.” And

his technical brilliance and dexterity on the horn. On that

Coltrane saw Andrew White on the bandstand: at one

bandstand, he and his musical colleagues were recruited

point in 1961, Trane entered the Caverns to see the JFK

by Cannonball Adderly, who brought Andrew White and

Quintet. White remembers, “During one of our ‘Jazz after

the group to Riverside Records and who produced two

Midnight’ gigs, Trane came and heard us play. We were

highly successful albums for the label: New Jazz Fron-

playing “Giant Steps” and I played his solo from the record

tiers From Washington (RLP 396) in 1961 and Young Ideas

AT HIM! At the end of the gig, Trane came up smiling and

(RLP 424) in 1962. And it was during this time that White

said, ‘I hear you playing all those hard tunes’ and slowly

met John Coltrane, who would often perform around the

walked away.”

corner from Bohemian Caverns at Abart’s Internationale

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ISSUE NO 01 What is not mentioned in that section of the autobiog-

hope that [Coltrane’s] own folk, black people, will one day

raphy is that Andrew White was only able to play Col-

be able to love, respect, learn from, and appreciate the

trane’s spectacular solo from the Giant Steps LP because

marvelous efforts that went into his craft.” While Andrew

he had painstakingly transcribed each and every note by

White’s dexterity on the alto saxophone and his musi-

hand. It was a labor of love for Andrew White that would

cal voice shares some similarities to Coltrane’s, White

eventually lead to the monumental task of documenting

saw himself as the “Keeper of the Trane” not through

842 of John Coltrane’s expansive solos in standard no-

his saxophone sound or style but rather through his se-

tation. Some of these transcribed solos come from stu-

rious scholarship and musicology. As White told me in

dio albums while others are from live performances of

a 2007 interview at his home, “People might say that I

Trane’s endless waterfalls of notes and bursts of joyful

sound like Trane but that was never my intention. I was

expression. All of them required tireless work, hours of

so immersed in studying his lyrical genius and his intri-

hard listening, and meticulous attention to detail. It is

cate solos that some of his power may have rubbed off

fair to say that no one else has dedicated themselves as

on me!” White was always quick to add that his work in

much to preserving the legacy of John Coltrane as White

promoting the legitimate and serious scholarship on Col-

did, which has led to his self-identified role as “Keeper

trane’s music was a natural part of his business model –

of the Trane.” And in addition to the 842 Coltrane tran-

something that he kept wholly separate from his work as

scriptions, White transcribed an additional 400 plus solos

a musician. His transcriptions, which White sold by mail

by Eric Dolphy and Charlie Parker. As a steadfast musi-

for over 48 years through his Andrew’s Music business,

cologist, Andrew White’s herculean efforts prompted Dr.

demonstrates his diligence as a businessman interested

Mark Gridley, author of Jazz Styles, to identify him as “the

in promoting “great black music” while sharing with the

most dedicated of all solo transcribers” as well as the “un-

world his stellar ear for transcribing and his meticulous

disputed master of jazz transcription.” White’s mission in

approach to writing out musical notations. In Everybody

transcribing some of the most memorable solos in jazz

Loves the Sugar, he shares a significant anecdote about

history was part of a larger mission, which he articulates

American universities and interest in his transcriptions

in his self-published book Trane ‘n Me: “I hope to inspire

and work:

other works of the same nature in order to help preserve the authenticity of certain forms and styles of jazz...I truly

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“My transcriptions, compositions, chamber music, jazz en-

open window (due to COVID restrictions). With a wireless

semble music, phonograph records, treaties, books, edu-

speaker, we listened to some of Andrew’s music includ-

cational aids, and services have all been presented to the

ing his epic 1973 Who Got De Funk? album and his funky

Black community FIRST and/or but, they have all had to

bass work on Weather Report’s Sweetnighter, which has

find solace, refuge, a home, business, love and life in the

made its way into hip hop realms courtesy of The Phar-

non-black communities of the world FIRST. Even as today

cyde and DJ Shadow.

(September 1, 2000), more than 25 years after the sale of my first Coltrane transcription to a white school in California, one can still not find a “Coltrane solo” on a black college campus...” And while White was clearly disappointed by this, his Coltrane transcriptions have thankfully been preserved for posterity’s sake in the collection at the Library of Congress as well as at Syracuse University. After losing the love of his life Jocelyn in 2011, Andrew White continued working, albeit at a slower clip, with his Andrew White, Black Fire Music, Vol. 1-3

yearly concerts at Blues Alley, an amazing Love Supreme concert at Washington Adventist College in 2014, as well as a handful of performances in New York and Europe. And his dedication to transcribing continued through 2019, until a stroke impacted his health and he was forced to move into an assisted living center in Silver Spring. In the final year of his life, Andrew’s mind was clear and cognizant, as he made plans to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Andrew’s Music with an event at the Library of Congress (which was postponed due to the pandemic and eventually canceled altogether). The last time I visited him in Aspen Hill in October 2020, we had to speak through his

As he reminisced on his time working in diverse musical settings, Andrew made it abundantly clear that he could never be defined as simply a jazz saxophonist, a classically trained oboist, a soulful bass player, or even the most “voluminously productive self-industrialized musician in history” (his words). And while Andrew White was certainly proud to serve as “Keeper of the Trane,” he refused to be defined by any one role. He was a man of immense talent, charm, and wit, and his legacy in the world of music is unparalleled.

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Sun Ra in DC: A Personal Reflection By Dr. Thomas Stanley

This essay is not the comprehensive journalistic (or ethnographic) chronology of the late jazz eccentric Sun Ra’s working life in and around this nation’s capital. It is one listener, one fan, fondly mining memories of Ra formed in the little bourgeois town (see Lead Belly’s “Bourgeois Blues”) that has been my epicenter of operations, my de facto hometown, even after migrating to its rural exurbs. I, therefore, can only mention in passing some of the most legendary of Ra’s landings in what we fondly remember

Sun Ra DC Space, October 11, 1986, NOTE: Jimmy Gray in upper right corner, Photo: Michael Wilderman

as Chocolate City. I never, for example, heard Sun Ra at dc space. I did not hear him at Ed Murphy’s Supper

with demonstrations on flute, drum, conch, and bull-

Club on Georgia Avenue in 1973. Nor did I hear Gaston

roarer. He dropped the name Sun Ra with a rock-solid

Neal host Sonny at the New School of African American

sense of the authority that this name should carry with

Thought near 14th and U St. I also missed his 1977 contri-

a roomful of young undergraduates. I, for one, was thor-

bution to Fort Dupont’s long running free summer series.

oughly clueless. But I was intrigued. Brother Ah, who

I was in college in Rhode Island in 1978-79 when I first

played French horn in the Arkestra for about a decade

heard the two syllables that would radically alter my

beginning in the ‘60s, started teaching at Washington’s

earthly life. They fell from the mouth of none other than

Levine School in 1982 and was the host of a popular

long time D.C. resident Robert Northern, a/k/a Brother

weekly program of collectible vinyl on WPFW-FM be-

Ah. His non-credit course, taught out of Brown Univer-

fore he left the planet on May 31, 2020.

sity’s Third World Center was my formal introduction to the indelible mark of Afro-Diasporic (i.e., Black) culture on music and other world cultures. He peppered his lectures

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Sometime after Ah had infected me with the Sun Ra

‘60s, started teaching at Washington’s Levine School in

meme, I purchased my first Sun Ra albums, two bought

1982 and was the host of a popular weekly program of

at the same time from a Haitian grocery store that used

collectible vinyl on WPFW-FM before he left the planet

to be one of the hubs of old H Street. I, therefore, can

on May 31, 2020. Sometime after Ah had infected me with

only mention in passing some of the most legendary of

the Sun Ra meme, I purchased my first Sun Ra albums,

Ra’s landings in what we fondly remember as Chocolate

two bought at the same time from a Haitian grocery store

City. I never, for example, heard Sun Ra at dc space. I did

that used to be one of the hubs of old H Street. In addi-

not hear him at Ed Murphy’s Supper Club on Georgia

tion to being a broadcaster, concert promoter, and record

Avenue in 1973. Nor did I hear Gaston Neal host Son-

producer, Jimmy “Black Fire” Gray was also a vendor of

ny at the New School of African American Thought near

Black vinyl, maintaining a series of wire racks that would

14th and U St. I also missed his 1977 contribution to Fort

display all the hippest liberation jazz LPs in the checkout

Dupont’s long running free summer series. I was in col-

aisle of that shop on H Street and many similar stores in

lege in Rhode Island in 1978-79 when I first heard the

the community. To my mind, this is one of the most inno-

two syllables that would radically alter my earthly life.

vative ways to introduce advanced musical cvulture (I got

They fell from the mouth of none other than long time

my first Arthur Blythe and Archie Shepp off a Black Fire

D.C. resident Robert Northern, a/k/a Brother Ah. His

record rack) to grassroots audiences ever, and it didn’t

non-credit course, taught out of Brown University’s Third

involve any tobacco money. My first live experience with

World Center was my formal introduction to the indeli-

Sonny and his organization was a disquieting concert in

ble mark of Afro-Diasporic (i.e., Black) culture on music

a nightclub in the Midwest. At the time I couldn’t imag-

and other world cultures. He peppered his lectures with

ine anything being as performatively extra as P-Funk’s

demonstrations on flute, drum, conch, and bullroarer. He

best-honed stage show, but there it was, sometime late

dropped the name Sun Ra with a rock-solid sense of the

in 1981, the weirdest shit I’d ever seen on a stage. It didn’t

authority that this name should carry with a roomful of

quite register as a concert as much as sensory overload.

young undergraduates. I, for one, was thoroughly clue-

A little too strong a dose for a neophyte; so I backed off,

less. But I was intrigued. Brother Ah, who played French

to reflect.

horn in the Arkestra for about a decade beginning in the 75


ISSUE NO 01

There was a lot more listening, but a pause on space travel. I don’t have a clear recollection of the date of my next ride on the strange celestial road, but I’m sure it was after I had started volunteering at WPFW in the mid-80s and that it was in D.C., quite possibly at the 9:30 Club when it was a much smaller, balcony-less venue on F Street. What is important is that my engagement with the Arkestra, its Captain, and their collective and irresistible gravitational pull began in earnest with the very next go. It was at the 9:30 club that I would meet Sun Ra. Lured backstage by the destiny-jacking antics of Ras Kwabena I, I discovered the leader at the center of this swirling astro Black vortex speaking into space like it was his audience. He seemed to occupy space in a way that I didn’t understand. I had never met an angel before, and that, too, was initially a confusing situation.

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Sun Ra poster for show at The African Heritage Center Gallery in D.C.


ISSUE NO 01

If you study Sonny’s concert history, you can see that

of 1991. My wife Paula Ballard and our friends planned a

as he aged and the economic realities of touring a large

party, a good ole-fashioned southern cookout to be wait-

Black ensemble in the racist U-S-of-A deteriorated, dates

ing for Sonny and the band at our friend Alan Madison’s

in D.C. and New York made a lot more sense to consider

house in Brentwood, Maryland. When the band’s bus fi-

from Philadelphia, than bookings in more distant parts of

nally found a way to park its bulk outside Alan’s fenced

this country. Unless well-supported, it made more sense

yard without blocking the street, the band crawled from

to book domestic gigs along the east coast or take the

the vehicle looking less than impressed to have some-

more lucrative jobs available in Europe if they must fly any-

thing else to do before they could go home. But we had

way. There was a stretch in the late eighties when Sun Ra

the right kind of potato salad. We had yams, coleslaw, and

played 9:30 Club at least twice a year. I tried to make every

we had Jackie’s chicken. (I’m vegan, but I heard it’s mean

show I could. It was comfortable to me, and their music

chicken.) We had plenty of cold beverages on a hot after-

sounded very good in that room, and did I mention, I met

noon. None of us who had set up the party had gone to

him there? Sonny played in the suburbs, too. In April 1990

the show. The Sun Ra that came off the bus was not the

he played a show at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center in Vienna,

same Sun Ra who had twirled on that stage at Freedom

Virginia. It happened to align with our youngest daughter’s

Plaza. Sonny (like Ali) had earned a period of enforced

second birthday, so we took her to the show. She rocked

silence towards the end of his life. This Sun Ra, quieted

to Arkestra music on legs still learning the ins and outs of

by a series of strokes, exuded bitterness in a way that the

walking. Six months passed and we were together again,

Sun Ra of only eight months earlier could still captivate

this time at Freedom Plaza, where Sun Ra and his band

you with his childlike belief. The band felt it, and this might

from outer space played a District Curators sponsored free

have been what we were feeling in them. But, hey, Alan

show. It was October, overcast and threatening rain. This

always knew how to throw a nice party and before you

would be the last time that I would ever see June Tyson

knew it, trombonist Tyrone Hill and bassoonist Jac Jac-

and Sun Ra dancing together, refulgent in susurrations of

son were a little drunk and trading jokes. Sun Ra wanted

sheer, heliotropic light. My sole recorded interview with

chocolate ice cream and iced tea, not the best snacks for

Sun Ra was conducted at his hotel room in the hours right

a geriatric patient with high blood sugar, but that is what

before this show. Sun Ra played Wolf Trap again in June

he wanted. It was beautiful.

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ISSUE NO 01

It was bittersweet chocolate ice cream. On April 11, 1992, Sun Ra played at First Congregational Church at 10th and G Streets. It was the last time that he would be well enough to play before a D.C. audience. Ra was uncomfortable about being seen by the audience during the effort that it took to move his wheelchair-bound body onto the part of the church altar that served as the stage. Actually, I believe that as soon as the gravity and direction of Sun Ra’s health problems were obvious to Sun Ra, he became extremely self-conscious about being publicly bested by Death – the target of his most scathing attacks. The Last Angel of History’s mortality was showing and for it not to have embarrassed Sun Ra would have required him to break character, and maybe he thought he owed us more than that. After pleading to Bill Warrell and Katea Stitt, it was agreed that the audience would be kept out while Sun Ra was positioned at his keys, preferably on the piano bench and not in his chair. There was a flight of stairs leading up from the back of the church to the sanctuary. I can remember Katea crying as Sun Ra’s wheelchair was hoisted from one stair to the next. There was nothing retiring or morose, however, about the joyful noise summoned by the Arkestra that Saturnday (sic) afternoon. The band ripped through their material in top form and full energy. The formal set ended with a pumpingly insistent “Theme of the Stargazers” sung by John Gilmore. As a thunderous ovation dissolved, a bandmember (on tape, it sounds like 78

Sun Ra, April 11, 1992, 1st congregational church, Photo By Michael Wilderman

drummer Thomas Bugs Hunter) introduces the band and pushes the records and t-shirts -- merch. The band leaves the stage, the entire ensemble, except Sun Ra who was rather stranded on the rostrum. The audience didn’t move. In fact, we weren’t going to move while Ra was still sitting there. Sonny had a keyboard (if memory serves, a Yamaha DX7) that he was fond of. He loved new technology and it was one of the earlier digital synthesizers that was actually playable. Sun Ra started to playfully tease its keys to life, filling the awkward silence with a slowly building cacophony of electronic slashes and dense walls of synthesized harmony. When Sun Ra’s solo electronic recital had reached something of a climax, his crew scrambled back onto the deck of the ship to close out the show and cap off the most amazing encore I had ever experienced to the most amazing life that I have ever caught a glimpse of.


ISSUE NO 01

“Music is a universal language. That is, it goes out to the whole universe. Everything played on this planet goes straight up. It does not stop. It goes on out forever. Sound travels. It goes to other universes, other beings. And they listen to the music to see what you’re doing. They can tell by the music how far you’ve developed. That’s how they tell. They can tell by the music how far you’ve developed.” - Sun Ra, October 1990, Washington, D.C., Earth

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