Dave Burrell: From Ragtime to No Time
an interview with David Grundy

Dave Burrell, 2010 © 2022 Michael Wilderman

Pianist and composer Dave Burrell has one of the more expansive vocabularies in 20th and 21st century American music. In the tradition of total pianists like Jaki Byard and Don Pullen, Burrell’s deep study of and feel for the full range of jazz and beyond sounds absolutely contemporary while evincing a comprehensively historical approach. Tradition – or “the tradition” – is not a fixed style, but a constant interchange and exchange of information, invention and passion, between past and present, present and future: a dialogue of unceasing exploration and excitement, from inside to outside, ragtime to no-time. Growing up in Hawaii, Burrell began his career at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he met kindred spirits like Byard Lancaster, Sirone, and Bobby Kapp, with whom he would form the sadly-unrecorded “Untraditional Jazz Improvisational Team,” Moving to New York in 1965, he opened one of the early jazz lofts and joined Archie Shepp’s band. Playing in Shepp’s group well into the next decade; with Shepp, he performed at the Pan African Cultural Festival in Algiers in 1969, at Attica Prison the year after the 1971 uprising, and across America and Europe. As Burrell relates in the following interview, his constant curiosity to all styles of music saw him listen to and learn from the music of the Touareg groups he played with in Algiers, vodou ceremonies he heard in Haiti, and his students at the Community Thing in Harlem. Along with drummer William “Beaver” Harris, Burrell co-led the group 360 Degree Music Experience, whose name and aesthetic encapsulates his holistic approach to music. Burrell’s improvised free playing, on albums like the phenomenal Echo – one of the loudest and most intense of all free jazz records – has an energy level that few have matched, but he’s equally invested in composition, whether his own remarkable body of pieces or his rearrangements and reinventions of the work of others. Burrell has recorded music based on West Side Story and Puccini’s La Boheme, as well as the music of Monk, Ellington, Strayhorn, and Jelly Roll Morton; with librettist Monika Larsson, he was written his own opera, the self-described “life’s work” Windward Passages; and a series of compositions concerning the American Civil War for the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Burrell’s music and writing archive has just been acquired by the University of Pittsburgh Center for American Music, preserving for posterity the full range of his remarkable career.

The following interview took place on December 3rd, 2021, with some subsequent editing by email. It has been divided into sections.


[The South]


DG: I believe that your first recording is with Marion Brown – am I right on that? 

DB: Yeah, on Fontana, the Dutch label – Juba-Lee [1967, recorded November 1966].

DG: I especially wanted to ask about Marion Brown and the South. Free jazz is often seen as an urban and Northern, city music, but on the scene in the 1960s, you have people like Marion Brown, you have Frank Wright, and they’re bringing this kind of Southern presence to the music. I wondered if you had any thoughts on that.

DB: Oh, definitely, yeah. Both of those artists are, I think. significant from the point of view of flaunting their “Southerness.” What I’m beginning to realize now is that the South was an incubator for just about all of us. I found that the roots of not only Cecil Taylor, but myself and other musicians from the north have generations of “Southerness” in their bloodline.

DG: So it’s almost like it’s in the DNA of everyone making the music, whether they’re from the South or not.

DB: Partly it depends on when you arrive in New York City. A good example of the Southerness in the music is that a bunch of folks came in from Atlanta. Atlanta was unique in itself, because Atlanta seems to be the busiest, most complex, intellectually and otherwise, hub of the South, competing with New Orleans. When you hear that people came from Atlanta, you take a second look at them in the way you do with New Orleans artists. But one of the very first musicians I met, even before Marion, was Pharaoh Sanders, when he was just Farrell, and not Pharaoh. Later, the change enhanced his status as the protege of John Coltrane. He was from Little Rock. The first integration attempt [was]at a Little Rock high school [when] American Negro students – that’s what we were called at the time – were trying to attend school with the National Guard’s help, because white students were spitting on them and calling them names. Pharoah was one of the very first in that bunch of kids trying to get in, and study. So, I think just like the George Floyd phenomenon that happened recently, these clashes were frequent. “Little Rock” was living around the corner from me in the East Village, New York City [in 1966]. We started to practice together on a regular basis. He was already practicing and performing with John Coltrane.

DG: Do you think that people who came from the South like Marion, like Pharaoh Sanders could have made the music they made – let’s call it free jazz – if they hadn’t come to New York? Could they have made it in the South?

DB: I don’t think the South was ready to understand what New York and Chicago in particular were doing with avant-garde art of all different kinds. Canadian musicians and other White musicians from the South – Texas to Kentucky – had experience from Rhythm and Blues and gospel – in California, especially Northern California, the Pentecostal-influenced church, the hit ‘Oh Happy Day,’ that crossed gospel into the mainstream all over the world. Dorothy Morrison was the lead singer with the Edwin Hawkins Singers then.

Musicians that liked the Blues artists in the 1950s that came before free jazz, knew of the connection. The Beatles knew about it. Artists knew that if you were going to join the American 1950s rush in R&B or rock and roll, you were influenced by the Elvis phenomenon. As you know, he came from Mississippi to Memphis. Newcomers listened to Ray Charles, Little Richard and The Big Bopper. Later, the Woodstock scene, “love” children dropping LSD and smoking weed, were experiencing all the different styles together in that culture revolution. When we went through Paris for the first time, I was hearing, “let’s do a Woodstock thing in a Belgian cow pasture.” [Referring to the Amougies Festival in 1969]. In the beginning there were groups in the [US] rural South, that had only a Black drummer or Black backup singers. So, the further north you traveled you heard “oh yeah, this group has Black and White musicians playing together,” and other nationalities. In London, the South Africans came through, Black South Africans, and they were patching onto the avant-garde that was springing up all over Western Europe, in Paris, in particular.

DG: There’s this sense that free jazz develops, let’s say in New York, in the very late 50s, early 1960s and then, by the late 60s, it’s become international: you’ve got the South Africans in London, you’ve got the European musicians, the French, you’ve got Peter Brötzmann in Germany. A bit later you get the Japanese free jazz musicians. And I’ve been thinking about what it means when jazz becomes international. You always had white musicians playing it, but you have more white musicians, European musicians. And they’re developing their own kind of National School, and that gets criticized by some people for moving away from African American roots. I wondered what your sense was of free jazz becoming global and international.

DB: I think as the music became more and more gumbo-like; a mixture of other cultures including White European culture. It became a lot more visible, and therefore a lot easier to digest by the public. You had the record companies, independent labels springing up all over the world, with the university radio stations in America being a hub. “They won’t play your stuff on the big networks, but here we play it all day long all night long”. I remember when Columbia University in New York City started a radio station [WKCR]. I was one of the first musicians to play in their studio on a spinet piano with Alan Silva (bass/cello). I had just come back from Port-au-Prince, Haiti where I visited a vodou ceremony – recorded it, and shared what I had discovered with people like Alan and Grachan Moncur, III.




DG: Oh that’s fascinating. I didn’t know about your study of vodou. I’ve been researching Cecil Taylor’s poetry and its reference to vodou. Did you ever discuss it with him?

DB: Yeah, I did. Even though I was in awe of him all through being at Berklee School of Music – at that time, it wasn’t a College of Music yet, but it was the only place where you could learn about jazz from the Ellington model and a big band model that included Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Basie, all of the big bands, Black and White. Mr. John Hammond had already become the designated authority introducing people like Billie Holiday and Count Basie. Meeting Cecil in Brooklyn around 2015, I was surprised that he was so friendly and accommodating. I was with a man that was his manager for a while in Europe, I think, in Berlin: he was taking photos of us together. Later in that first wave of meetings, Cecil came to upstate New York where friends of mine were letting me and my wife and main collaborator since 1978, poet Monika Larsson, spend the weekends. I found out that CT was a poet. I knew that he had written some stage plays: there was a theater on E 4th St between 1st and 2nd Avenues called La MaMa, which had an underground Bohemian reputation. The Shakespeare Festival Theater over on Lafayette Street was active. Mr. Joseph Papp in particular, was getting Black and Puerto Rican actors and playwrights to mix for the first time. What Cecil shared with me was one of his plays – maybe an essay – he wanted to perform at La Mama, and it was at a time when other Black poets had more literary seniority over him, and in his way of putting it, they pushed him to the side a bit, and he was frustrated. The director there was a very high profile professional White woman, and was particular about whose play or poetry she was going to promote and celebrate.

DG: Did vodou have an influence on your own music?

DB: When we arrived in Port-au-Prince, there was a parade. I had just bought a Sony tape recorder and taped the parade. I thought, let us tape a vodou ceremony. I asked a taxi driver and he said he would take us to one. We just drove off the road and into a kind of desert, like bush. There was a large shack where Dutch tourists were sitting; it looked like they had come on a tour bus and that was one of the stops. It was a kind of secretive place, but you had European tourists present as well.

I put my tape recorder on the dirt floor where there was a dancing ring around a center post. The first thing that happened: “virgins” came out, dressed in white with candles lit. I always heard that the vodou ceremonies in Haiti were more intense than the original rituals in West Africa. When the men entered, everyone was chanting around in a circle. I was watching people leap over my tape recorder, dancing, not knowing exactly what it was. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the Dutch tourists. When the djembe-type drummers increased intensity to white hot rhythms – very, very triple forte, sforzando rhythms, some of the tourists fainted right in their seats. And we were all struck in that trance! The music became hypnotic, and we became part of the ritual along with everyone in the enclosure.

So yes, it did affect my playing. My idea that, oh, you can do anything you want if you have a connection to some kind of internal desire to make your point understood. Then you would have to add that kind of experience to your resumé.

DG: So it was the hypnotic feeling more than the specific ritual or the music – you didn’t go on to study vodou.

DB: I wanted to go further and return to that same situation after I had performed a version of my piece on WKCR. I had gone to Haiti on a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, but I did not have a mouthpiece at that time to muster up any kind of enthusiasm beyond this opportunity.

DG: Was that performance recorded?

DB: Yes, I had it, and it was very crude and primitive. Like I said, when the Dutch tourists started to faint, it was because the percussion was so loud: it was almost like trying to record people singing at a Super Bowl stadium, when you hear all kinds of sounds, and then you hear the marching band come through and it just blurs everything. I never did get any kind of sound clarity.

DG: How about the piece so the piece you recorded for WKCR?

DB: I do not know about their archives. I do not even remember who was in charge, but I know it was among the very first concerts in the new studio. We were pushing in that piano, which was not a good one. Now that you mention it, I do not know if Alan Silva has a better memory of that whole ordeal. I think that he could help. Now I see the importance of the event.[i]




DB: At the end of the sixties, or the early part of the seventies, I worked at Marcus Garvey’s old headquarters in Harlem as a music teacher, under the direction of trombonist Grachan Moncur III’s mother-in-law. It was called The Community Thing. They had a loft building on Lenox Ave and 123rd Street, approximately[ii]. On the third floor there was the old Marcus Garvey office headquarters. Marcus Garvey was deceased, but his safe was still there – and nobody could open it. It was right next to an upright piano where I was teaching. Musicians from downtown came there, like Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri.  Other White and European or South American musicians came, even though people were not mixing as much as they do now, and you needed to have cooperation if you wanted a good cross section of community interest in the new music. We were often on “Live at 5:00” News TV, where the kids played their instruments with all of us.

I participated in a similar kind of public education in the SEEK program at Queens College, and in the South Bronx. Budgets were very slim for these new music departments, or for “African American awareness” programs. They peaked in the ’70s and kind of dissipated, because of a lot of competing priorities that were superseding the original idea of enriching the arts in the inner cities.

DG: So, in a sense it could be a kind of community music because the funding was there, but then when you got into the ‘70s that was kind of pulled away a bit. 

DB: Yeah, that’s well described. For example, when Coltrane played in Philadelphia, people came with their entire families and sat on rugs on the floor in these makeshift venues. They ate sandwiches that they brought from home since there were no concession sites. You slept with friends the way one did at the beginning of the 1900s. Our music was well received with no corporate or government support. I was thinking, at that time Philadelphia seemed to be the top of the South. I felt that “down home warmth in my back yard” vibe.

If you wanted to play in Newark, NJ, LeRoi Jones would have somebody come and pick me and Pharoah up in a truck, take us to the yard of someone who had cooked all day, and we would eat for free, and play for no money, then be driven back to town. That was acceptable. We were quite grateful to get out of Manhattan and go somewhere where people liked us! The Lyndon B. Johnson legislation [The Civil Rights Act of 1964, et al] was not enforced yet, and we felt alienated from the mainstream of New York City at that point.

DG: So, in a way, the music could only be incubated in New York, but the audience was maybe more receptive outside New York.

DB: Exactly, and it was word of mouth: “hey, you know there’s some guys that are really playing good; do they have any records?” “No, they don’t, but they just recorded.” “Where can I buy them?” “You can’t buy them; they are from Holland.” Then Bob Thiele and Rudy Van Gelder became involved. Rudy started his new recording studio in Englewood, New Jersey where they recorded John Coltrane’s Ascension – that was in 1965. When it was released, nobody could play it on mainstream radio, apparently; the music sounded too intense. And now when you listen to it, it sounds very velvety in comparison to what followed. John Tchicai was on the recording, two alto saxophones, Marion Brown of course; two tenor saxophones, besides Trane, were Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders; two basses, Art Davis; I don’t know if he was already playing for the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, but he was not well received with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, nevertheless, he was there playing with Jimmy Garrison, the primary bassist for Coltrane’s regular quartet with Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. There were two drummers. Elvin Jones. Coltrane’s regular drummer, and Rashid Ali, who was playing free, and sometimes with knitting needles, that he had fashioned in a way so that he could execute new original sounding rhythms. Elvin, in the beginning, did not want to play with another drummer. The [Coltrane] rhythm section did not really like the direction Mr. Coltrane was exploring, because they wanted to swing the way they had been swinging. At one dinner party, I was not there, but I heard that Jimmy Garrison and others were saying “I don’t know what’s the matter with John, he’s not swinging anymore.”

The beboppers were not happy with the avant-garde direction, because it was taking away from some of their audience. Masters like Jackie McLean, for example, started to record music that had titles like Destination Out. He would play what he usually played, hard bop, then he would go “outside” and that was considered daring and a breach of loyalty to bebop. Musicians who were associated with Max Roach would sometimes say “OK, I’m gonna play some avant-garde stuff now and do something real wild and crazy. And then I’m gonna change back to my old self, which is secure, respected, that receives guaranteed airplay on major radio stations.”

So free jazz was slowly seeping out and receiving international attention, but hardly any bands had a lawyer or world-wide management. So when Bob Thiele and Rudy Van Gelder started a new trend of bringing the new music to that big dome super recording studio [for Impulse], high profile labels, like BYG, and Denon of Japan, then emerged.

DG: So, there’s this thing where it’s hard to get recorded in America, but the Europeans recording it, they don’t always get the social context it comes from.

DB: Yeah, I think it was impossible for American business to investigate something as radical as free jazz quickly. People like Valarie Wilmer, for example, came in from London. Her book As Serious As Your Life, are you familiar with it?

DG: Yeah, great book.

DB: That was one of the first. I remember that we were pushing integration in 1965. Gil Evans and Elvin Jones came to our loft together. I shared one on the Bowery when we first hit town after graduating from the Berklee School of Music. They sat and listened to us play.

Ornette Coleman inspired us when we were in Boston. We had lots of sessions with experienced musicians like pianist Mike Nock and Tony Williams there. Sam Rivers was teaching me chord progressions – he was as good on the piano as he was on tenor saxophone. We studied Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington and started thinking a lot about Cecil Taylor. How can you take a melody from a standard that’s part of the Great American Songbook, like Mr. Taylor was doing, and elongate it; make it more poetic? Some people in Boston, said, “well, yeah, it’s interesting, but what happened to the chord changes? What happened to the structure? Is it because he does not know? How can we be sure?” They also said that about Ornette Coleman, even though Ornette was one of the only examples we had for free alto saxophone.


[Alan Shorter, Giuseppi Logan, Linda Sharrock]


DG: Can you talk about Alan Shorter?

DB: Alan and Wayne Shorter, brothers from New Jersey were already very accomplished musicians when I met them. I first heard Wayne playing on Grachan Moncur III’s Blue Note debut in the early 60’s. That was the label that was introducing avant-garde and called it “free bop.” Grachan recorded Some Other Stuff featuring Wayne Shorter, Cecil McBee, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock. The concept of free bop was to play within the tradition of bebop and eliminate the chord changes. Let the rhythm of the melody line become free to swing more. That was acceptable to more radio stations.

DG: And Wayne Shorter became famous. Whereas, when I wrote an article about Alan Shorter recently, there was not very much I could draw on. What was your impression of his playing and his personality?

DB: Alan Shorter was very much in the avant-garde when we met in 1966. He had a different agenda. He was in Paris the last time I saw him in the 70s. Wayne seemed to be more business minded than Alan. We recorded Juba-Lee together – my first recording with Marion Brown, Alan put an empty Kleenex box on the bell of his horn to make a deeper and mellow sound. His warm tone made a lasting impression on me.

My parents moved to Harlem, New York after they both graduated from Fisk University in 1938. My mother went back to Middletown, Ohio to give birth to me, and my father drove us back to Harlem, where they lived. To be back in New York as an adult after graduating from Berklee, and to be playing with these professionals that were very much embedded already in the avant-garde phenomenon, was quite exciting. Even though these musicians had come from many other backgrounds, they had been playing professionally for a long period of time. Marion said, when we did the Juba-Lee recording, “the name of this composition is ‘The Visitor’ and I want you to be the visitor.” And I said, “what do you mean?” He said, “well, remember Humphrey Bogart in his movies, wearing a trench coat? Imagine you come in out of the cold, and you are a spy, not Humphrey Bogart, but that kind of imagery. Can you put yourself in the music as if you were in a film?” And I said to myself, “yeah, I can do that.” So, they played this eerie sounding introduction and then I got the nod from Mr. Brown and started to improvise. When I finally looked up, he motioned for me keep going. When I was finished, I listened back to one of the takes and we all said “we got it! It’s good.” I thought to myself, “wow, I can do that kind of improv right off the bat. Maybe that is my thing, to just play freely. I needed to build up my technique and learn more structured playing.” That is what I was after.

DG: Yeah, it’s a great record. So in an interview you did a few years ago you talked about Giuseppe Logan writing music in 5/4 and how you would play a vamp in 5/4 and they would play free over the top, and that that was important for your idea of music. So I wanted to ask about Giuseppi and his importance in general.

DB: Giuseppi was very introverted and mysterious. He was not comfortable around academics, I don’t think. You would see him on the Bowery having a bottle of wine with hobos, bums, and then the next day he could be all dressed up because he had a gig. Sometimes it was with Patty Waters, sometimes it was me, Bobby Kapp and Sirone. The 5/4 that we felt from listening to Mr. Dave Brubeck’s hit with Mr. Paul Desmond was our model: you heard “Take 5” all the time on the jukeboxes in the Village. Eventually you heard Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. Musicians found it challenging to play “Take Five” and swing it the way Mr. Desmond did. Giuseppi was over at my place – I had moved to E 3rd St., between 1st and 2nd avenues [1966] – he was playing 5/4 without any problem, just very relaxed. I would say, “can we just keep going over this 5/4 rhythm swinging”. We would create on top of it.

DG: So, he would play swinging? Because on the records it’s often a bit freer, a bit more rhythmically ...

DB: I would say maybe only a quarter, maybe a tenth of what he actually played, has been recorded.

DG: So, would you say the records were not representative of what he was doing?

DB: No, I don’t think they were representative of what he was capable of doing. When Albert and Donny Ayler once came to New York, they visited me on East 3rd Street. We played together, but there was no follow up. No one wanted to hire us. Once in a while we recorded together. I remember sharing stories with the Aylers.

But coming back to the 5/4, you heard a lot more music like that after the Brubeck model. It is not free jazz, but it has a different hypnotic rhythm that attracted college kids, especially on Midwest campuses. It is very difficult to book gigs when somebody is off the scene, then back on the scene again like Giuseppi was. Most producers do not want to take that risk.

DG: Yeah, I was trying to think about this because you know he disappears for years and then when he came back a few years ago. I think you play on one of the records, is that right?

DB: That is correct, yeah.

DG: The quintet, with Matt Lavelle on trumpet and bass clarinet. [The Giuseppi Logan Quintet, Tompkins Square Records, 2010]

DB: Yeah, Matt just recently moved to Philadelphia.

DG: So, I was thinking that there’s a narrative to do with tragedy and redemption, surrounding artists like Giuseppi Logan or Sonny Simmons or Charles Gayle or Henry Grimes, as well, who disappear, and they come back, and I wonder about that narrative of redemption. I think journalists quite like it, but I wonder if it’s a bit problematic as a narrative.

DB: The process overwhelms performing artists. There is no guarantee on record sales.

DG: Maybe we could talk about Sonny and Linda Sharrock.

DB: Sure. Sonny and Linda came over to my East 3rd Street apartment – $40 a month with bathtub in the kitchen and toilet in the hall – to rehearse. Ted Daniel and Milford Graves came over, we were all pretty much working on Sonny Sharrock’s LP, Black Woman. Linda was unique. She not only had the regular jazz repertoire of people like Sarah Vaughan, or Ella Fitzgerald, she also had opera in her repertoire. She gave me music, that was, I would say, inspired by Romanticism, and some of that music was on that very first record.

DG: So, there is the piece from Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne [‘Bialero’ on Black Woman], but there’s also the more “out” material, where you hear Linda Sharrock screaming.

DB: I haven’t listened to that record for so long, but I know that part of the screaming is frustration; unrest we all felt in the ‘60s. Even if the laws changed, people did not change quickly. When I lived in Hawaii in the ‘50s, nobody was segregated.

DG: So, you’d see the screaming as a protest.

DB: It is definitely a protest. It is rage, similar to what you hear in in Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’, and Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues recording released after the riot at the prison. Archie Shepp had us go up there to perform at the prison to cool down the outrage, you could say. During the Attica uprising they had a manifesto and a list of demands, and they took guards hostage, and some inmates were killed and some guards were killed and the state troopers came in and it was just horrific. This seems to be happening all the time now, that hardly ever happened back then. And when we played at Attica [a year after the uprising], we were all locked inside the prison.[iii] That painful experience made me more aware and determined to survive long enough to live in the America I had envisioned.


[Archie Shepp]


DG: This brings us on to Archie Shepp. Can you remember when you joined his group? I know you met him when he was recording Fire Music, which would have been ‘65, but you didn’t join the group till later.

DB: Right, I was playing with Pharoah Sanders in ‘65 when I first came back to New York, planning my own recording of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. I had been working on it already in Boston, Pharaoh was playing tenor saxophone. When I met Alan Douglas, the producer, he had just left United Artists, where he recorded Art Blakey, Three Blind Mice and Money Jungle with Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach. He started Douglas International and when he met with Leonard Bernstein, my recording project was approved. I kept working on my West Side Story arrangements. Mr. Douglas only wanted my trio. I said Pharoah has been rehearsing for a year, and I owed him something. We put him on tambourine, so he could receive a check from the Musician’s Union.

Right around that time I started to have a little higher profile. Archie wanted to use my piano at my place on East 3rd St. He was recording with Roy Haynes. They could not all fit in the living room, Sunny Murray’s drums were in the corner in the living room. Archie then asked me to rehearse some of his music with him at his apartment. LeRoi Jones, now Amiri Baraka, lived under Archie at 27 Cooper Square. Marion Brown was living there, sleeping on Archie’s couch. Archie and his family lived in the main area. I admired Archie because he was teaching at University of Buffalo, managing his family, and making innovative recordings. I do not remember the complete sequence, but the whole time, Roswell Rudd was teaching me, along with Shepp, to interpret the Sousa marches, and Duke Ellington. I had these excellent teachers, all very knowledgeable. I was also learning from Grachan Moncur, III and Jimmy Garrison. Jimmy started playing with Alice Coltrane after Coltrane had passed. He was living at my brownstone in Harlem – by this time I had moved back to Harlem, where I had lived as a little kid. I got to know Archie pretty well. I was in a student frame of mind when I went to Algiers and Paris for the first time. Archie’s group included Alan Silva, Grachan Moncur III, Sunny Murray, and trumpet player Clifford Thornton. who was already in Mali and traveled up with poet Ted Joans to join us at the Pan-African Festival. We all recorded in Paris for BYG after Algiers.

DG: So, had you played in public with him before you went to Algiers?

DB: Yes, I had played at various Black Studies events at Cornell University, Yale, and at University of Buffalo. A place called the East in Brooklyn that was pushing separatism.[iv] We were performing in Seattle and the Keystone Korner club in San Francisco often (1967-68). In August 1969, the invitation came to perform in Algiers. Jacques Bisceglia, the French photographer we all met in Algiers, invited us to Paris to record for BYG. Our recording contracts were in French and good for one year. I remember walking down Rue de la Huchette on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter. Erroll Garner was sitting at a bar in one of the cafes. Everybody who seemed unapproachable in New York was more relaxed, like Philly Joe Jones, Hank Mobley. Musicians were cordial and happy to be in gay Paree.

DG: So, in a way, the being abroad helped breakdown that kind of avant-garde versus mainstream distinction a bit.

DB: That’s right, Archie Shepp had recording sessions with hard bop masters Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley. I remember one of those dates where Ms. Jeanne Lee was singing, Mr. Shepp had written some lyrics down on a napkin for her to sing. They were pretty deep one-liners and she did an excellent job, then we segued into a Ellington classic.[v] It was a time when there was just so much work in Europe. I was doing my best to keep up! Charles Majid Greenlee started to play with us: he knew all the right chord changes the entire hard bop repertoire and Shepp started to revisit that classic material along with our avant-garde repertoire.

DG: Can you remember when Majid Charles Majid Greenlee joined the band?

DB: Oh, probably 1975. He was teaching at Amherst College. Archie Shepp and Max Roach were at the University of Massachusetts. They were soon all connected with this new phenomenon of Black Studies being more relevant. These jazz scholars became our role models. Later on, in the Northeast, it became easier to have residencies for Black musicians, including Jimmy Garrison at Bennington and Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan.




DG: Coming back to Algiers briefly, I wonder if you can remember who sponsored the visit?

DB: I do not know if it was funded by them, but there was a woman from the US State Department that greeted us when we arrived, and that’s the only State Department connection I saw that I was able to relate to. As far as who was paying us, I never did find that out.

DG: Did the invitation come directly from the Algerian government?

DB: I don’t know. The Pan-African Festival had a growing significance. Fifty years afterwards, commemorating the event, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland held a symposium for three days in November, 2019, where some of the survivors of the BYG recording-manifesto were invited. We attended two days of lectures, where we answered questions from students: myself, Archie Shepp, Grachan Moncure, III, Andrew Cyrille and Jacques Coursil.

DG: And you played with the Tuareg musicians [in 1969].

DB: Yes, we played with the Tuareg nomad musicians, and that was, I thought, as significant as experiencing Haitian rituals outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti: playing with the Tuareg and finding out more about their nomadic style and beliefs. Mr. Stokely Carmichael was present in Algiers; he had been exiled, I think, from America and married South African singer Miriam Makeba. He said to me, “are you going out there with those Tuareg musicians?” I said “yeah, why?” He said, “I don’t know, it seems a little ...”, and he made me think twice about doing that. I was invited into the Tuareg’s dressing room at the venue. We were to start playing after midnight. Of course, it was sold out, and it was over 100 degrees. These master musicians sat on the floor the same way they sit in the desert, and there was one place for me to sit with them. They were friendly towards me. It reminded me of the rituals I witnessed that happened a lot in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. I had already met Maoris from New Zealand with facial markings and piercings, spears and swords and similar costuming that went with their festivals. That was the way it was in Haiti, that is the way it was outside of Honolulu; that’s how it was in Algiers. When I approached the piano that night, they told me: “don’t look the women in the eye, because then you would be cursed.” I went on stage and lowered my eyes. All those beautiful women wrapped in lovely, colorful clothing, were standing around the piano waiting to sing until I had started to play. There was the kind of a tranquil sweetness, a kind of beautiful femininity, that African women, I think, possess. I felt enlightened and somehow rejuvenated. I was honored to be part of the collaboration. I was very much inspired by that entire trip, and then, going to Paris to participate in all those recordings, made it complete.

DG: Did you have a sense of the political position of the Tuareg people in Algeria at the time?

DB: I was just 28 years old, and not overly aware of their political situation, but I knew that the experience of playing music freely came from those kinds of opportunities. I wanted to teach what I learned to my students in the SEEK program back at Queens College, NY. When I came back, I was sitting on the floor teaching my students playing hand percussion. [I was] very much a student myself having felt the magic that came from my Tuareg experience.




DG: That brings me on to Echo [BYG, 1969]. That’s such an intense recording: you have Ascension, but then you have Echo – like you said earlier, Ascension sounds almost velvety when you compare it to Echo or [Alan Silva’s] Luna Surface. Could you tell the story of the recording session? I know that some of it uses the augmented fourth which was based on the sirens you heard in Algiers.

DB: I liked to play in the dark, so I had them turn off the lights in the recording studio. The unstable interval of an augmented fourth was what I wanted to emphasize, it was from C to F# then back and forth, like the ambulances and the police sirens that we heard every night for over a week in Algiers during this huge festival. It seemed like that sound was part of the festivities with the drums that were roaring constantly. Sunny Murray sounded like at least two drummers the way he played at that time: his playing was always very organic, and he was a very strong young man then. Alan Silva had already been on the road with Cecil Taylor, and so had Sunny Murray. Let’s see, Grachan, Archie, Alan, and Sunny. We were all ready to do something inspired by Ascension and Algiers gave us a green light. I wanted to go in Coltrane’s direction and not be afraid that I was doing something wrong by screaming or, as I used to say, gushing particles of sound, motivating all the musicians on the recording to open up and play down from their diaphragms. It took a strong effort from the rhythm section to increase energy to reach that point. Somewhere in the middle of the recording, we became weightless, I don’t think we’d have ever reached that peak if we hadn’t just come from Algiers. The engineers in the room at the recording board said that the gauges were bouncing into the danger zone in the red, then back and forth: they [had] never recorded anything like that.

DG: So, there was this kind of energy: you’ve called it spiritual before, but maybe there’s a politics to it as well – that protest you were talking about earlier.

DB: Yeah, I think that most everybody I had invited to participate on my recording session had been in Algiers, had been part of that stunning experience, and if they hadn’t been there, they heard about it. We became very Afrocentric. As a result of taking part, wearing dashikis and walking around Paris, going to cafés, meeting writers, poets. bohemians and scholars and not being uncomfortable in this new culture. because it seemed to be a lot more compatible to what we were already thinking with the exhibitions of the current painters, experimental classical music and so on. Paris became the place where I could relax. It was better than New York, I thought at the time. There was a sense of maturity in our music now.

DG: It’s like it’s a celebration as well. It’s kind of relief.

DB: Yes, there was a joyful liberation. We all felt a rebirth.

DG: Did you give any instructions before you played? Did you rehearse?

DB: We had a brief soundcheck. Remember that the core of the group – Archie, Grachan, Alan and Sunny and myself – were all there, so everyone that was in Algiers knew exactly what I was talking about. For the side B called ‘Peace’, I started the major scale sequence and slowly ascended up the scale. On side B we played more at peace, I thought.

DG: So everyone could just play freely – you didn’t have written music.

DB: Oh no, that would disturb the nowness of the moment. Spontaneity was my concept during that event. On side B, I suggested any kind of scale movement. We had some Indian ragas and Japanese scales. I was fascinated with different kinds of scales, and a lot of the players shared my curiosity. How would it sound if we played a whole 20 minutes of scale-like progressions that led us somewhere to clear emotion? It was a journey we wanted to experience. I took the test pressing over to a discotheque cafe that played jazz music all the way back from Jelly Roll Morton to the present. These hip bartenders wanted to play our new recordings. Every time I walked into Storyville café, they would play “Peace,” the second side on my Echo album.

DG: I never thought of it playing in a discotheque ...

DB: Yeah, the discotheque cafes – no dancing – at that time in Paris [1969-1970s] on the Left Bank, were personal and staffed with people that were often from the Jazz magazine realm. They would play our new records. We were often there together, hanging out with giants Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones. We were sometimes recording together. The knowledgeable older man behind the bar at Storyville was very much into everything avant-garde. Quite different from New York ...

DG: And then a few days later you were on Luna Surface, which has a similar energy: I think the group’s even bigger, maybe sometimes it’s almost even louder, but there’s something very special about that energy.

DB: Yeah, it was very unique in so many ways. I think as we got further away from Algiers it was not as easy to go where we went on “Echo” and “Peace,” even if we wanted to. There is a stronger intensity in our improvising. There was a closeness of our African experience [in] the weeks after we arrived in Paris from Algiers.

DG: I know you performed Echo at the Vision Festival later on: I haven’t heard the recording, but I read that you re-did it. What was it like doing it again?

DB: Yes, I did. Alan Silva was in the audience. William Parker was on bass. Alan said, “you did it, you did duplicate it,” or at least, we were driving hard, I haven’t heard that recording.

DG: So do you think that that kind of music, that approach – I’m also thinking of records like say Machine Gun by Peter Brötzmann or some of the things in Japan like the guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi …

DB: We inspired artists internationally. Oh yeah, I have heard Peter Brötzmann’s high energy solos.

DG: ... or maybe the Center of the World Group with Frank Wright – that music has that kind of energy too, which you get in Albert Ayler in sections but not for as long, not for half an hour non-stop ...

DB: Oh yeah, yeah. Those musicians are my buddies. Frank Wright was sitting on the piano bench with me most of the time when we were recording Echo. And we played together at my apartment in New York. I think that he was the person who turned on the lights after the initial Echo side was finished.

DG: So he wasn’t playing, but he was there.

DB: Yes he was. If I didn’t already hire Archie and Arthur Jones, I would have invited Frank.

DG: Arthur Jones seems to disappear afterwards: he’s on all those BYG records, but then not much was heard from him. What was that story?

DB: I really don’t know what happened to him. I remember when he passed away, he had been staying at Jacques Bisceglia’s country house outside of Paris. There was no work after that one surge which lasted until 1972. Europeans knew the music a lot better and embraced it themselves. They did not need the New Yorkers and the Chicago musicians for inspiration. Everyone was able to participate. It was difficult to have steady work.

DG: And then I guess in America, there still wasn’t that audience for the free playing.

DB: No. Once I played in a group of Sunny Murray’s in Newport Vermont Jazz Festival [in 1969]. That was the only time I remember being heard by thousands.

Oh, but you know, recently I have been invited to have my deed of gift archives go into the University of Pittsburgh Center for American Music. My music and writing archives will be taught by interested scholars, analyzed and shared with students as the Center develops an international music education agenda.[vi]

DG: Oh, that’s great. It’s great that these archives are being preserved. Henry Grimes’ papers are at the New York Public Library now.

DB: Oh, that’s good. Henry and I were asked to participate in Sony Columbia recording sessions [2013-2015]. We recorded three CDs with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and alto saxophonist Roberto Pettinato. So I got a chance to play with Henry again. You know he was on Pharaoh Sanders’ Tauhid in the ‘60s with me and Sonny Sharrock.

DG: Did you have the same energy? Did it feel like after 40 years you could just connect again through the music?

DB: We had a mature similar force. Tyshawn Sorey provided a strong freshness. I can do that, but now my technique is much better.

DG: So, no clusters and fists.

DB: No, I never used fists, but I did have a sloppy technique compared to the technique that I now have. I never stopped developing. I recently recorded in Rome, Italy [October 2021] for a new label called Parco della Musica in a live solo performance at their main venue.


[Music And History]


But I am now focusing more on rhythms by composing music that is inspired by visualized portraits. I was in residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia for ten years [2006 -2016]. Among the projects I presented from researching their extensive archive collection was an intense five-year study of their American Civil War collection. I wrote music inspired by generals by reading their letters of significance in that revolution, studied plans of the war from both sides, read most of Lincoln’s speeches. I read several interesting books recommended by their staff. The museum director said I brought their collection to life through my music.

DG: So, when you have to write a piece of music that’s about history, how do you think the music can express history?

DB: I was appointed a mentor librarian from the Rosenbach who was helping me understand their collection of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and other interesting individuals, like the American poet Marianne Moore. They brought in scholars to the reading room for me to listen to and learn from. I thought back to my approach with Marion Brown’s music on that first recording on the composition “The Visitor” when I became the “visitor,” then I became a participant. For example, the gun shot that started the Civil War: the museum sent me to New York’s Historical Society Museum to see an American Civil War exhibition. The first casualty of the Civil War, Elmer Ellsworth’s uniform with the bullet hole in it, was on display. I looked at that bullet hole and thought what I could be saying musically. I came home and wrote a melody. I talked with my librarian advisor, and she said, “that sounds good.” I went through that process for the five years I composed from their civil war collection. I invited an opera singer. I invited bassist Michael Formanek and trombonist Steve Swell to participate in my yearly concert presentations. Poet Monika Larsson was writing lyrics for the opera singer the last two years of concerts during my Rosenbach residency.

DG: I was wondering if you think there’s a kind of history in music already, even beyond the commission? For example, when you were playing with Archie Shepp, you were playing the Sousa marches, the standards, the Ellington, the free, and when you were playing your own music, the Bernstein pieces, or Puccini: there’s a kind of interest in history in all of your music.

DB: Well, thank you. Those experiences helped me become a better composer and improvising performer.

DG: So, on the one hand, there’s these compositions where you study something and you think about it and you write it out. That’s one way of dealing with history. And then what you were talking about with the Tuaregs or with the vodou ceremony, or with “Echo,” there’s a kind of spontaneous history or it’s participating in history, it’s happening in history, but that’s also a way that music can be historical.

DB: I’m right with you. I realized that I’m very critical of what I’ve done, and I ask myself if it’s convincing, and if it isn’t convincing, why not? Then I go back to the saying, “if you can think it, you can play it”. That took a long time. The Cecil Taylor interpretation from his version of “It’s a lazy afternoon” with Archie Shepp is a recording I first heard in Boston as a student.[vii] I was inspired to arrange something by elongating the melody of a ballad that was a standard several decades earlier making it a recreating scheme of my imagination. That’s what was done on the “Lazy Afternoon” solo. They play it straight at first. Then Cecil comes back as if in a dream sequence and he starts to have his own signature [where it] doesn’t matter if it’s the same or if it’s more embellished in his own personal fantasy. The rules of normalcy do not apply anymore. You are in the realm of Cecil’s own imagination. He made that impression on me. When we met, I was able to learn more about his likes and dislikes in general.

DG: It’s almost like that standard is the door into the other world.

DB: Yes, it is definitely that: it’s like windows. I wrote a composition called “How Little We Know” based on one of Monika’s poems. I wrote the music that agreed with the content of her thoughts.

DG: How you process that or how you try to understand it.

DB: Yes, how complete is your understanding?  Why is one fish glowing in the dark and the other fish not? What can you interpret?

DG: I wanted to ask about this one record you make with Stanley Cowell, Questions/Answers [1974]How did that come about?

DB: Oh, that was for Trio records out of Tokyo. Stanley had a situation where he and Charles Tolliver had to stay in Tokyo longer than planned. I was able to convince the producers that had given me a recording session to give me another session with Stanley for two pianos. They had a venue with two pianos already, so it was just a lucky break for us. We always wanted to play together. He was a graduate of Oberlin and I graduated from Berklee Academy of Music before it became a college. Some of the material that we recorded became the theme song for the University of Massachusetts nightly FM radio show. We were quite happy about that.

DG: I can’t think of many recordings where there’s two pianos. There are some that Mal Waldron does [with Yosuke Yamashita and Masabumi Kikuchi]. There are the famous Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock recordings. But you and Stanley Cowell play in a freer style: it can get quite dense, so it’s quite an interesting texture.

DB: I’m gonna look at it that way from now on. We were given the opportunity in Tokyo and it just seemed to click.


[The Music Today]


DG: I have some concluding questions about what happened to the music after the ‘60s into the ‘70s? So maybe I could just ask about the loft scene. In the ‘60s you already had your own loft, and in the ‘70s you have the loft jazz movement, which you’re involved with. Maybe you could talk a bit about the lofts and their importance for the music.

DB: We knew about lofts from Boston when we moved into a downtown loft in the business district. We thought it was unique. At the time, musicians came from New York City to jazz clubs in Boston on a regular basis: I saw Monk several times, Coltrane, several times, and Herbie Hancock with Eric Dolphy. Aretha Franklin’s sister Irma was featured at a club called Louie’s Lounge where I was music director of an orchestra of Berklee students. One of our musicians was also working with James Brown’s band, commuting a lot. We moved out of the dorm and into a loft where we took a freight elevator up. We never fixed it up. There was a pile of bricks right in front of the elevator and we thought that was a cool sculpture. I remember one time, both Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan were there at the same time. We had jam sessions with a lot of these professional musicians.

When the 70s loft jazz scene was really peaking in New York, Jimmy Garrison’s wife Roberta Garrison had a big loft. She’s a dancer and choreographer. She now lives out in the suburbs of Rome, Italy. Soho had just started to trend. We had started having regular performance events every Wednesday night at Roberta’s loft. There would be potluck and we invited people from all over the world who were friends with a lot of us. We started charging admission. I remember presenting my Stevie Wonder arrangements with a cello player. I was teaching the Garrisons’ son and daughter piano lessons. Grachan was bringing people like Eddie Jefferson over from Newark. Musicians from Brooklyn came over: Ronnie Matthews in particular, who was very much a hard-bop player. People from California and the Midwest were coming like Henry Threadgill and David Murray, and Stanley Crouch. Roberta’s loft had become a meet and greet, and it had these different perks. It just seemed to be the who’s who of avant-garde. There were filmmaker projects on free jazz. Ms. Isabella Rossellini came one day with a film crew. That was quite significant. I never saw the footage, but she was there!

DG: You were talking earlier about how earlier there was some government money or state money towards teaching and music. But once that had been taken away, the lofts had to come in as like self-sustaining or you had to do it yourselves.

DB: Artists started to fend for themselves more often. “Hey, there is money for your kind of project.” If you write a grant properly, there’s a good chance that you could be partly funded. During the mid-70s, if you were connected to an institution, a university like Temple University in Philadelphia, you heard that they’re looking for a contemporary composer to work with a specific choreographer from the dance department. If you apply, we have money to help you! Everybody seemed a lot more liberally connected: avant-garde wasn’t as scary anymore. But then that gradually tapered down.

DG: Did that change in the ‘80s?

DB: Yes. I remember there were chains of record stores that presented noise music and videos, and then came the upgrade in the electronic revolution: it was OK to hear it in rock. Disco had started, techno, rave. I remember when Blondie had a hit record with a lot of feedback echo and reverb looping. It became maybe the biggest thing in New York City disco. Anyway, you were exposed to these advanced flashy oddities that, to me, seemed to be defiant of the norm. However, more people upgraded their sound systems and included free jazz in their collections.

DG: One of the narratives about free jazz is that in the 1980s, there’s a kind of more conservative approach to getting the money, which goes towards more bop, influenced jazz, and free jazz gets pushed out. Do you think that’s an accurate narrative?

DB: Well, speaking personally, I am having a new 2022 residency for life at the University of Pittsburgh through their Center for American Music; they have already received the archives of Erroll Garner, and I’m thinking that my life’s work will interact internationally with a lot more relevance than I would not enjoy otherwise.

DG: The international connections and the institution helps the music to be heard by more people.

DB: Right: the musicians in contemporary jazz that I know, people like, say, Jimmy Garrison teaching at Bennington. His residency gave both students and faculty a better understanding of our music.

DG: I was thinking of the Jazz and People’s Movement with Roland Kirk and with Archie Shepp and others in the early ’70s when they’re campaigning for Black jazz musicians and Black musicians in general to be hired by commercial TV and radio. Because they were being shut out. They were saying that there had to be the opportunity in the commercial world or in the world of classical orchestras. And until that point, it just hadn’t been there. That opportunity had been denied.

DB: That’s very true. There was a group called Speculum Musicae: they were friends of the New York Philharmonic, and they were avant-garde and classical inspired, I guess you could call them a new music chamber ensemble. When I was in residence at the University of Alberta, Canada I saw that they have regular crossover events. You could be a jazz musician playing with contemporary classical musicians because you had written something that they wanted to play. That is one way of getting more recognition and developing a social connection: if you’re friendly towards them they’re usually friendly towards you. I remember being at Lincoln Center for a special event and meeting a Sicilian avant-garde composer and his delegation, who was previewing some of his work. He does not work with notation as much as he does with graphic scores. He didn’t speak English but had a translator and we talked. I’m saying that, as we go into this decade, you see that everybody is a lot more relaxed with African-American inclusion.

DG: So one can’t talk about the music without talking about the politics of the society around it. You mentioned George Floyd earlier and you mentioned Attica. And I was thinking of the way that all the black studies programs and the programs of hiring musicians in universities they were the result of activism of teachers and students. Like the student protest at San Francisco [in 1968/69], that kind of thing.

DG: Tell me about the 360 Degree Music Experience.

DB: Drummer Beaver Harris founded the 360 Degree Music Experience group and asked me to co-lead and compose/arrange for the band. We started with a nucleus of Ron Carter on bass, Grachan Moncur, III, trombone, and Roland Alexander, tenor sax.

We recorded From Ragtime to No Time and In:Sanity for Black Saint [produced by Timothy Marquand]. Both LPs were excellent. We invited special guest soloist for both records, including bassists Jimmy Garrison and Cecil McBee, singer Maxine Sullivan – Pittsburgh, PA – trumpet master Doc Cheatham, New Orleans clarinetist Herb Hall and Congolese master hand drummer Titos Sompa. Valve trombonist Marshall Brown was also on the first recording and taught some of us advanced theory. Marshall arranged the ragtime pieces.

Our concept was to travel through styles from early jazz into the avant-garde. We gigged in New York, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. We also toured Finland and Norway in 1970.

DG: Finally, I would like to hear about your jazz opera, Windward Passages.

DB: My mother was trained as an opera singer. My parents had toured the United States with The Jubilee Singers, a Black choir from Fisk University while at Fisk in the mid-30’s. After we had moved to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1946 she felt frustrated about not getting hired as an opera singer. The Honolulu Community Theater produced a lot of Broadway musicals in the late '40s, ‘50s. My parents often sang in those productions. My mother started an opera society by herself that she named Windward Opera Company, where she started to produce work by Puccini and other popular composers. As a matter of fact, you can hear my mother’s voice on my 1969 recording on BYG, La Vie de Boheme. While I was in the recording studio in Paris, France my father reached me by phone and told me that my mother was in the hospital in Honolulu, dying from cancer. I negotiated with my record producer in Paris to board a plane to Honolulu with my recording equipment and record my mother, singing some of Mimi’s arias from Puccini’s opera La Boheme. I made it just in time. My mother sang, and it was beautiful. I bid her farewell and went back to Paris. The producer over-dubbed her voice onto my recording just in time for the release.

When I met Monika in Honolulu in 1978, about a decade after my mother had died, I presented the idea of writing a jazz opera together. I told her about my mother and the recording. Monika said, “we will call the opera Windward Passages” before we even got started. The work is a semi-biographical and takes place when Hawaii reached statehood in 1959. I performed the night of the actual statehood celebration with my regular band. In the story line we have a band of youngsters performing in front of a huge, American flag backdrop. My parents have fictional parts, along with a land developer, Mr. Henry J. Kaiser, a South African man who I actually worked for, renovating my old tropical country valley for new housing development. The libretto depicts a socio-economic portrayal of Hawaii during statehood celebration, where some Hawaiians objected to the fate of the islands. Some of the villagers in our story line demonstrated against the development. There is one murder, there is also a love interest, blues and several beautiful arias. There are three acts.

I have orchestrated this monumental work for 21 pieces. I call it an Ellington-inspired arrangement – there are no violins – with 8 improvising voices and dancers. I invited Ellington drummer Sam Woodyard to join me in a two-month long duo-engagement at Campaign Premiere nightclub in Paris in 1979, where we only played my jazz opera score as I developed it. There was a double solo LP recording in Basel, Switzerland, Windward Passages [HatHut Records, 1979]. My Rome Opera sextet presentation with Curtis Fuller, Ralphe Armstrong, Marcus Belgrave and Roy Brooks in ’81, that was not recorded. We worked with several groups of opera singers, one in Oakland, with performers from San Francisco Opera while we were still writing arias in ’82. A student orchestra in Sweden recorded part of the score in ‘83, another presentation at Etna Jazz festival in Sicily and a presentation with American and Italian musicians in Bordeaux, France. I received a $50,000 Pew Fellowship to work on this production in Philadelphia in 1996. Tenor saxophonist David Murray and I recorded at least two-thirds of the music from this work on two dozen recordings during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Singer/dancer Leena Conquest and I performed and recorded selected pieces during our lengthy collaboration in the ‘90s.

We are still working to present the full jazz opera with costumes, sets and special effects. With University of Pittsburgh and their Center for American Music library hosting our archives, we anticipate more opportunities. We may find the necessary funding to our life’s work in its entirety!




[i] In a 1981 interview for Contemporary Keyboard magazine, Dave Burrell recalled that the WKCR recordings based on his experiences in Haiti had taken place around 1971, and were performed by a quintet. (Dave Burrell interview, Contemporary Keyboard, 7:7-12, 1981: 22). Alan Silva did not recall the session when I spoke to him later in December 2021, so the precise details of the session will unfortunately have to remain a mystery pending further research.
[ii] Dave Burrell began working at The Community Thing in 1969. (Interview, Contemporary Keyboard, 22).
[iii] Shepp’s group performed at Attica on Independence Day 1972, sponsored by a National Endowment for the Arts-funded non-profit organization. See Del Ray, “Attica Inmates Get Out in the Yard for a Day,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Wednesday, July 5, 1972: 1B, 3B.
[iv] The East was founded in 1969; it is the subject of a feature-length documentary, The Sun Rises in the East (2022, dir. Tayo Giwa), just released at the time of writing, and of Kwasi Konadu’s A View from the East: Black Cultural Nationalism and Education in New York City (Syracuse University Press, 2009).
[v] Dave Burrell refers here to the recordings of “Blasé” and “Sophisticated Lady” on Archie Shepp, Blasé (BYG, 1969).
[vi] For more information on the recent acquisition of Dave Burrell’s archives, see the webpage for University of Pittsburgh’s Library System. <https://www.library.pitt.edu/burrell>
[vii] “Lazy Afternoon” on The World of Cecil Taylor (Candid Records, 1960)


© 2022 David Grundy

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