The Independent Ear

Kenyatta Beasley honors Frank Foster

Trumpeter Kenyatta Beasley has released a record project he’s been considering for more than a minute, an exploration of the compositions of one of his mentors, the late saxophonist-composer Frank Foster. Known as one of Count Basie’s #1 sons, the late NEA Jazz Master Frank Foster, who took over leadership of the Basie band for a time after the Chief’s passing, Foster was an underrated composer whose book will likely yield many gems for musician contemplation and performance as time passes, but Kenyatta Beasley got there first with a full-length presentation of the music of the man some called Papa Fos. Kenyatta’s new recording was captured in performance at one of New York’s liveliest weekly music scenes, the Friday night happenings at Jazz 966, at 966 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, in the heart of the historic Bedford Stuyvesant community. Here’s how he arrived at this project…

Why did you choose to pay homage to Frank Foster’s book?
The idea for the Frank Foster Songbook was conceived while I was a Professor of Jazz Studies at Ohio State University. At Ohio State, like most research universities, certain professors have to fulfill a research requirement in conjunction with teaching there. For musicians the research usually consists of recording a record, writing a book and having it published or variety of other things.

One of my teaching assignments was to teach Arranging for Jazz Ensemble, a class that most musicians that enter jazz school/conservatories have to take. Mind you, I didn’t know how to teach arranging or know much about arranging. I played in quite a few big bands and got the point. So here I am, thrown in front of a bunch of students that are expecting to be taught how to write for a big band. Rather than panic, I kept my cool and remembered that Frank Foster wrote one of my recommendation letters for Ohio State. I got on the phone and asked him for his help. If anyone would know anything about arranging for big band, it would be him.

After getting numerous consultations from him over the telephone (He must have liked me a lot because he always took my calls), I felt like I got a Doctoral degree in jazz arranging. He sent all of the material that he was using to teach arranging at Jazzmobile in New York City. Then it hit me; Why doesn’t Frank Foster have his own jazz arranging textbook that can be used in colleges around the world? He’s one of the defining voices of the art form and has some of the material already put together. So, I told Dr. Ted McDaniel (Director of Jazz Studies at Ohio State) that I wanted to help Frank Foster write a definitive jazz arranging textbook. we both thought that it was a great idea and I set off to do my research.

Since Frank’s health was starting to decline, I felt as if I needed to get down there immediately. Research required flying from either New York City or Columbus, Ohio to Chesapeake, Virginia, which is where Frank was spending his later years with his manager/wife Cecilia. After traveling down there a few times, I started to realize that I wasn’t going to have enough time to get all the information that I was going to need to get a textbook. Frank gave me the idea to just record some of his lesser known songs; with the stipulation that I rearrange the songs and do something “different” with them. Since Frank is more known for “Shiny Stockings” and the other songs that he contributed to the Count Basie repertoire, he gave me some songs that were a bit more progressive. In the end, we didn’t touch “Shiny Stockings”! I’m happy that we recorded these songs, he because Frank’s genius as a composer is terribly overlooked. Hopefully this recording will get more people to check out his larger body of work.

In what specific ways has Frank Foster impacted and inspired you?
Frank Foster gave me my first gig in New York City. He was my first ensemble teacher at the New School in New York City. Funny thing was that I had no idea who he was when I first got to New York City. The founder of the New School jazz program, Arnie Lawrence pulled me aside and gave me a thorough schooling about the history of Frank Foster.

He was just starting his retirement from directing the Count Basie Orchestra for 12 years. When he heard me play, I guess that he heard and saw something. I remember him telling me, “Hey Kid, you’re gonna play in my band.” Frank put me in his Loud Minority Big Band and in his smaller ensembles. I was fortunate to play music and tour the world with him. Since he was such a huge presence in the jazz world, playing with him gave me instant street cred amongst the musicians. At 19 years old, I found myself playing with Slide Hampton, Frank Wess, Joe Williams, Clark Terry and many other jazz legends. At the time, I thought that this kind of thing happened all of the time in New York City.

Frank and Cecilia Foster treated me like a son. No matter what I needed, he would always call me back and ask what I needed. I didn’t realize how truly fortunate that I was to have worked and learned from such a master. Recording and putting out this record was the least that I could do to honor such a great human being and his work.

Talk about the personnel on new this release of Frank Foster compositions.
I was fortunate to amass such great talent for two nights of recordings plus rehearsals. It’s as if Frank was looking down from the heavens and engineering the project himself.

I needed a band that really understood Frank’s music. Frank is one of the rare composers that could write really sophisticated, yet simple music at the same time. In addition, I needed people that were still tied to the dance element of jazz. Most importantly, I just wanted to play with people that could have a good time. Everyone that plays on the recording is considered to be a “first call” musician in New York and it’s extremely rare that everyone’s schedule allowed them to be in one place at one time. Tenor/Soprano saxophonist Keith Loftis and trombonist Vincent Gardner all joined the Loud Minority Big Band at the same time that I did. Frank considered all three of us to be his “children.” They were already familiar with the tunes and understood how Frank conceptualized his music. Mark Gross has always been one of my favorite alto saxophonists out here and I needed his big sound to fill out the front line.

The rhythm section, consisting of bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Alvester Garnett and pianist Anthony Wonsey collectively give the music the pulse and vibe that it needed. They are truly the heartbeat of this recording.

In addition, we were fortunate that Wynton Marsalis was able to come out and perform on the session. He left his daughter’s birthday party and came right over to participate in the proceedings. His energy brought the recording to a higher level.

I’ve been to Jazz 966, interviewed the founder Sam Pinn, and recognize that scene as analogous to other African American jazz scenes, like the Friday night tradition at Westminster Church in DC. Why was that an important place for you to play that project, and why were you encouraged to make your album there?

The main objective of this recording was to capture a live celebration of Frank Foster’s music. I thought that Frank would have liked it that way. I remember Fos’ telling me that his favorite gigs weren’t the more serious gigs at concert halls but rather dance gigs. He was from the generation that still believed in jazz is a dance music. So, the energy, vibe and people of the room where the live recording was going to be critical to the success of the record. Jazz 966 is one of those places where people feed off the musicians and the musicians get energy from the people. Jazz 966 is the only place in New York City that reminds me of my hometown, New Orleans. In short, recording this record at your typical Manhattan venue simply wouldn’t work because we needed a place with some soul

Jazz 966 is really a senior center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn that has a weekly jazz series held on Friday nights. It’s a social gathering of jazz connoisseurs that have a great ear for music but love to get up and dance to some swing and blues. Many of the patrons in Brooklyn had lived around Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Thelonious Monk and a plethora of other musicians who either lived or played frequently in Brooklyn. They’ll tell you stories of how Brooklyn used to have dozens of happening jazz clubs and was home to its own thriving music scene. So when you play at Jazz 966 you have to come correct or get out.

So, the energy, vibe and people of the room where the live recording was happening were going to be critical to the success of the record. The late Dr. Sam Pinn made everything happen. I told him that I’d probably need a second night to record things (better to have a choice of takes) and he made everything possible. It’s as if the skies parted.

Beyond this recording, what are your plans for playing this music going forward?

I’m looking forward to taking this band on the road and festival circuit to bring more awareness to Dr. Foster’s repertoire and legend. Ideally, I would love to perform some of the Loud Minority Big Band material and the smaller ensemble stuff that we recorded on this release.


Posted in General Discussion | 1 Comment

Curator’s Roundtable

As one might imagine, the volume of communication – whether written, expressed in conversation, or merely uttered in brief passings which reach jazz festival artistic directors (or curators) on a regular basis is constant and sometimes dizzying. One of the more interesting elements of those communications is the fact that only a relatively modest percentage of those pitching for performance opportunities (and here I’m speaking not only of artists, but also booking agents, artist managers, and publicists) appear to have a grasp on the relative presenting philosophy, desires, or thematic designs of given festival presenters they communicate with. So with that in mind I decided to conduct a virtual jazz festival artistic director/curator’s roundtable discussion. The goal was to achieve some admittedly small sample size collective sense of how artistic directors/curators make their choices and what factors drive their decision.

The participants in this virtual roundtable include master drummer-educator, artistic director of Berklee College of Music’s pioneering Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice, and curator of Berklee’s former annual Beantown Jazz Festival (and artist-in-residence at last month’s DC JazzFest) Terri Lyne Carrington. Earlier this year it was announced that due to irreversible physical alterations to it’s park/street site, Beantown Jazz Festival was ending, and joining the (June) Boston Art & Music Soul Festival (BAMS), where Carrington now serves as co-curator. Terri Lyne is joined by Paul Carr, tenor saxophonist-educator and artistic director of the DMV’s annual mid-winter Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival; John Gilbreath the director of Seattle’s year-round presenter Earshot Jazz, and curator of their annual Earshot Jazz Festival; Tim Jackson of the Monterey Jazz Festival; Danny Melnick of Absolutely Live Entertainment who curates the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, and formerly the Newport Jazz Festival; and Janis Burley Wilson of the fast-growing Pittsburgh Jazz Festival. I posed the following two questions:

What are the factors that guide your artistic choices?
Terri Lyne Carrington: Creating value, creating awareness, creating impact. Along with honesty, authenticity and quality.

Paul Carr: There are a lot of things/factors which shape my artistic choices. We espouse a mantra of real jazz at Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, so (A) I try to consider artists that have a history of playing or have played classic jazz in their career. (B) I take into account the artist’s marquee value as it pertains to ticket sales, however many of our patrons trust our programming, so I have built up some credibility in that area, I hope. (C) At MAJF, jazz education is a huge part of our event, so I also consider artists who would resonate with the many High School and College jazz bands that perform at the festival. I also book artists that I think they [student musicians] NEED to see as well.

John Gilbreath: Service to the art form. Honoring the heritage and the creative legacy of jazz as a primarily Black American cultural treasure. Showcasing emerging and lesser-known artists who are notable in the field. Highlighting the constant global expansion of the music as well as its intersections with other cultural expressions. Striving for racial and gender equity. Supporting tours in our region by working cooperatively with other presenters [ed. note: Gilbreath is a founding member of the Western Jazz Presenter’s network which meets to discuss ideas and collective tour opportunities]. Keeping abreast of developments in the field through print media, recordings, and peer consortia. Presenting our own resident artists and student ensembles in a world-class festival setting. Showcasing returns to our community by artists who came up here and have established themselves in New York and beyond. Finding relevant collaborations with other presenting and educational organizations in our community. Developing special projects and commissions with our own local artists. Finding promotional harmony with local jazz radio and other media. Input. Input. Input.

Tim Jackson: First and foremost I look to curate a joyful event that reflects what is currently happening in jazz as well as honoring the legacy of the music with the intention to inspire, thrill and create moments of reflection for our audience. On a practical level, a festival of our size (40,000) needs strong headliners as well as a compelling arc to the weekend’s narrative that will create the interest and excitement that will generate ticket sales. A well-balanced, stylistically diverse program works better for us than an annual “theme” to the festival, although it is inevitable that several smaller themes emerge each year, sometimes by design and sometimes by happy coincidence.

Danny Melnick: There are numerous factors that go into my programming work, but the primary issue is to make sure the artist(s) and their music appropriately fit into the series/festival/venue, etc. For example, I can’t and won’t book an artist who can’t/won’t sell tickets in a theater of a certain size. When programming a benefit event, which will draw a certain audience, I have to make sure the artist is someone who might be related to (or at least has an appreciation and respect for) the cause, whom the audience wants to see and hear, who is affordable, cooperative, etc.

Janis Burley Wilson: Style, professionalism, respect for jazz tradition with commitment to innovation. I try to curate with a well-rounded approach. Straight ahead, global links, fusion, r&b… I try to give my audience music they can feel, that feels familiar, but also to expose them to what is new and fresh on the jazz scene.

Is your market the biggest factor in determining your artistic menu, or is it the overall design of your event (or series) and the mission/artistic philosophy (guiding principles/history) of your organization?

Carrington: I consider the market, but it is not the most important thing because it is an opportunity to stretch peoples imaginations and penetrate their psyche with provocative thought. The event or series matters of course, especially if themed. I am partial to themed events as it creates a border of sorts that can be expanded. Freedom and boundaries can create something interesting. And of course an organization’s mission statement or guiding principles should be considered. I would hope that if I am involved then I am in alignment with those anyway…

Carr: I would say our market is our biggest factor in determining our artist menu. We receive very little subsidy to produce our event. Therefore our market has to come first. This is not entirely a bad thing because it forces you to exercise objectivity in booking artists that appeal to your audience.

Gilbreath: Service to the art form. We see our mission and guiding principles as inseparable from the cultural fabric of our city. Like jazz, Seattle builds on its cultural foundation with a focus on innovation, expansion, hard work, self-expression, and a social structure that recognizes individual accomplishment in the context of the whole. Within its remarkable overall music and arts scene, Seattle has a long-standing value system around jazz; from award-winning high school jazz programs to a diversity of regular performance venues, and an enduring respect for its own established masters. Yes, there are struggles, but in a city like this, it seems that a forward-looking annual jazz festival that stretches its own definitions each year is the only way to go.

Last year, our 30th festival, we put up 70 concerts over 30 days, in 22 different venues all around the city. This year’s [Earshot Jazz] Festival will be October 4-November 6. Get out here!!

Jackson: I start with our mission which is, in part, to celebrate the legacy of jazz and expand its boundaries. As we are a festival I like to keep the word “festive” foremost in the conceptualization of our event. MJF is also unique in that it is the world’s longest-running jazz festival and to me that instills both a historical imperative to celebrate and a sense of adventure for the future to explore. Unique programming is important to me and I try each year through our commissioning program, artists-in-residence, and showcase artists to create special moments that will evoke that “Monterey Magic” and leave our audience with a special feeling and a sense of discovery that invites a long-term commitment to the Monterey peninsula every September.

Melnick: It depends on the event, but for the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, which started in 1978 and I have been programming since 1999, the overall design of the festival and the guiding principles/history are equally important factors into how I program the festival. This festival has a deep history of presenting a diverse lineup, including numerous musical styles so that it attracts a wide audience. We do not attempt to define what Jazz, or any other musical style, is. We seek to entertain, illuminate, and educate.

We have two stages: a 5200 seat amphitheater and a smaller stage on the festival grounds, so the programming must fit those two stages properly and must be balanced between the two stages, each stage in itself, and throughout the weekend.

I have always looked at programming a festival like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has to stand on its own and fit into the rest of the picture.

Wilson: My market is important in my decision to book an artist, booking the artists that have a connection and respect for my audience, but I try to expand their jazz palate with new sounds. Our mission is to stay true to jazz roots while exploring jazz influenced music, so we will always be (at least while I’m around) a true jazz festival, not an R&B fest with a jazz tent.

So what’s your take? Please leave a Comment…

Posted in General Discussion | 1 Comment

Fab 5 Freddy – rap & hip hop pioneer with a jazz pedigree

With the recent news of early hip hop and scenester Fab 5 Freddy’s collection going to the Schomburg Center, Fred Braithwaite Jr. had once again struck a pioneering chord, by helping to establish hip hop and rap as an archival pursuit for future generations. Several years ago as part of a Central Brooklyn-focused jazz oral history project for the Weeksville Heritage Center, cultural anthropologist Jennifer Scott and I visited a loft space in Soho to interview one Fred Braithwaite Jr. Mr. Braithwaite, better known to the world as Fab Five Freddy, was the first man to deliver hip hop to the television airways via his then-revolutionary program “Yo! MTV Raps”. Fab Five Freddy is the definition of a scenemaker, not only as the man who delivered “You! MTV Raps” to the television airways via the then nascent MTV music video channel, but also through his graffiti-based visual arts activities, and hanging out with figures such as Jean Michel Basquiat, and Fab’s influence in bringing the hip hop sound to crossover figures like Debbie Harry (aka Blondie).

Our interest in including the legendary Fab Five Freddy as part of a series of jazz-based oral history interviews was based largely on his upbringing in the home of a devoted Brooklyn jazz activist and scene maker, his father Fred Brathwaite Sr. The elder Brathwaite had been an ongoing figure in my interview sessions with Randy Weston for the grandmaster’s autobiography African Rhythms (Duke University Press, 2010) whenever the subject turned to Brooklyn, Randy’s development, and specifically the powerful influence of his friendship with another great jazz master, the immortal drummer-bandleader Max Roach. Max, Fred Brathwaite, Jimmy Morton and other jazz enthusiasts and scene makers often gathered at Max’s and other of their homes to play chess and talk jazz. Max Roach is the godfather of Fred Brathwaite Jr. (aka Fab Five Freddy), and it was Fab who first introduced Max to the burgeoning hip hop scene. The prescient Roach instantly saw connections between the development of hip hop and the development of modern jazz, having been one of the pioneers of what was labeled bebop.

Our conversation began with Fab displaying photos of his dad, Fred Braithwaite Sr.

Fred Brathwaite: This is one of a collection of about 20 photos that were given to me by a man named Jimmy Morton. This is part of a series of photos of my dad in Chicago about 1953 at the Beehive. My dad was real close to Max Roach, so this was the trip to Chicago – my dad was accompanying the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet and this was the trip before the next trip, which was the fatal trip where Richie Powell and Clifford [Brown] died. This was way before I was even an idea. Here’s a shot of my dad at my aunt’s wedding in the late 40s, that Brooklyn-West Indian thing.

Since your father was so heavily involved in jazz, what was your earliest recollection of jazz music?

FB: My earliest recollections were jazz being played all the time in the house, along with fiery discussions about everything affecting us as a people – in America and globally – my dad was a big fan of shortwave radio and he would tune in literally to what was going on around the world. I was an early adapter of the Internet and all that stuff and I knew he would have been all over this digital information thing. I continue to understand more and more about what they did as young men, I’m working on the pieces for my memoirs, and I realize what was going on then.

I’ve got vivid memories of jazz being played in the house going way, way back. The jazz station that I can recall was WRVR with Ed Beach, which was the radio station for jazz at this time. Ed Beach was a hipster with a massive collection of the music. I remember as a young kid wondering how could they know whom a guy was just by the instrument that was playing; I would later learn to do that myself. My dad and Max Roach were friends from teen years at Boys High School. Max played in drum & bugle corps, as a kid and then he became this young whiz kid drummer playing with big bands. He quickly rose in the 40s and Max rose to be one of the architects, and my dad was right along with him. There was a group of friends who had formed a little social group that referred to itself as the Chessmen; they developed a love of chess during World War 11 so when the war ended they were avid chess players. And they would gather and hang out a lot.

Max lived in a big, kind of old mansion at 212 Gates Avenue. This house, I understand, had a huge living room and a huge baby grand piano and they would give these sets. As Max became prominent he would bring other Brooklyn jazz guys to come and hang with my dad and his friends. Hence that became a scene of jazz hipsters and frontrunners in Brooklyn, a little known slice.

Was it your sense that this group of guys, the Chessmen, was hanging in clubs in Brooklyn?

FB: Yeah, they were hanging at clubs in Brooklyn. There was the Putnam Central, which I heard a lot about and had been a really big establishment, kind of a premier venue for dances and stuff. Along with having these gatherings – sets as they called them – at the house on Gates Avenue, there was a period of time where my dad and his friends were promoting their own things at this place called Tony’s Grand Dean, which was on Grand and Dean Streets in Brooklyn. I’ve got a series of photos, which I let Robin Kelley use for his Thelonious Monk book, which document that scene.

The interesting thing about these pictures, as with this one – which was in color – it was [using] one of the first 35mm slide cameras, the beginning of that technology and Jimmy Morton had one. It’s very rare to see color shots of jazz guys from the early 50s, everything is always black & white. These slides that Jimmy has given me over the last 20 years document this scene, which I’d heard stories about countless times when the vibe would hit the right pitch at our house and the music was right, my dad and his friends would always go back to things that happened at Tony’s. It was always exciting to hear these guys get really geeked up talking about what happened and I would often times be a little kid playing in the room with my toys and things but would tune in to those stories.

During a critical period for Monk when they had taken away his cabaret license, which as you know was his ability and legal right to play in clubs, so he couldn’t feed his family. So these particular gigs were gigs that helped keep Monk alive during a period when they had taken away his legal right to play [in Manhattan clubs]. Robin even found a little ad in the Amsterdam News archives of one of those gigs at Tony’s that Jimmy Morton blew up and I framed.

A few years ago when I caught back up to Robin as he was about to release the [Monk] book he was telling me all these stories about my dad and I hadn’t recalled telling Robin all this stuff about what happened at Tony’s and my dad’s whole group of friends, later when I asked him he said that Randy Weston had told him all those stories. Randy is still really lucid and remembers everything. Robin was asking me… he said ‘damn Fab, its funny’ – because the photo in the book, which is the greatest of the photos I have [from collection Jimmy Morton gave him] is a photo of Monk in the foreground, Miles, Max, Mingus on bass…

Yeah, I’ve seen that photo from Jimmy’s collection; he has that hanging on his wall and he showed it to us when we visited him, and the original is in color.

FB: People that are aficionados – I’ve got one buddy who is a Miles fanatic – say ‘man, I’ve seen every photo of Miles, what the hell is this?’ Of course I’ve got all these heavy stories… What we found out, which is an extension of the great work that Robin Kelley did, was the reason Robin couldn’t find an ad for the performance that the photo depicts… the reason was because what Robin and Jimmy Morton figured out is that they didn’t take out an ad because it wasn’t to be public knowledge that Monk was performing this gig. Having your cabaret card taken away was like driving a car without a license; if the cops found out you were going to jail.

Having heard the stories about Tony’s and Monk and just dozens of different stories growing up, Robin went in deeper because he interviewed one of Monk’s siblings about the fight that almost broke out between Miles and Monk or Monk’s brother. They were rehearsing for this gig at Tony’s and Miles was trying to tell Monk how to play it and in the book Robin writes about how Monk had to check Miles, it was about to go to fisticuffs [laughs].

You talked about these sessions these guys used to have at the house at 212 Gates Avenue; what were they like?

FB: That was more like jam sessions, the musicians would come and play, and it was just like a scene… I guess the thing that was infectious to me was the enthusiasm and the energy they would have when they would get into those conversations. Jimmy Gittens, who I should say was such a huge, huge influence on me and what I even do now, Jimmy was like a big brother/uncle to me… It was Jimmy Gittens, Lefty Morris, my dad, Willie Jones (the drummer; a major activist)… It was Willie Jones, my dad and them that were together when they assassinated Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom. Willie Jones was very active in community politics in Brooklyn and also in Harlem at that time and Willie would always have – the reel-to-reel [tape recorder] was what real jazz aficionados had back then, which I always remember in the house; but Willie Jones had a small portable one, which I thought was really cool.

He would record Malcolm’s speeches, because Willie had a relationship with Malcolm at that critical point in his life. I remember Willie would record those speeches and give a copy to Malcolm, and these speeches would also be circulated amongst their friends so I’d hear a lot of those as a little boy. When Malcolm was killed Willie was recording. One of the first bullets went through the microphone of Willie Jones’ tape recorder and the microphone activated the recorder. I remember them many times playing that over and over and discussing that tragedy; you literally hear Malcolm coming into the room and [greeting] the crowd, and then you hear a commotion in the distance, and then you hear somebody stand up and yell “get your hands out my pocket…” and that was the diversion and the other guys got up and shot Malcolm. My dad and Willie saw this go down, panicked and ran to the back of the room to hide.

I should also point out that along with all this music being played, and this energy around this music which was always being played around the house — the jazz stations, the music, the tapes, a whole span of music — a discussion of world politics, where we were as a people was also of paramount importance.

Were musicians part of those discussions?

FB: From time to time; Willie [Jones] was always there, and Willie was an activist… He was at my house three days of every week until I was an early teenager; he was like a fixture at my house, along with at least three other guys.

At what point would you say that you became more conscious of what they were about?

FB: I was always conscious, as a little boy I was aware of these things and I would hear these tapes, but I was pretty much still a kid and playing with army men and stuff that kids would do. As I think back to a lot of those things I realize I was more aware than I probably was at the time; I can remember things very vividly and can understand in a broader sense what their main concerns were. I’m a kid with all my issues being taken care of by my parents, so I didn’t get to experience what they knew as a black man you had to experience at that time. Especially when musicians went on the road and how they had to live, the situations these young, intelligent men were forced to deal with when they went out into these different environments and were very actively concerned with making change.

I’m saying all that to say that I also realized later in life that my dad was a big part of Max [Roach]’s consciousness and awareness at that time.

How so?

FB: You hear it in music, it was all further explained to me more when I grew up and as an adult Max would explain these things to me himself. One of my earliest remembrances of a Max Roach record is the “Freedom Now” suite, “We Insist”, that record. One of those records has a photo on the corner of Max and some men sitting at a lunch counter and as a very small boy I always wanted to know what this was about. My dad and them would explain this to me. I destroyed a lot of my parents’ records as a kid playing with them, but the images on those records – there was great photography at that time, abstract art, etc. I would later see those records and I’d be like ‘oh my God’…

My mother had all the jazz singers – Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, etc., etc., and my dad had a nice collection of a lot of the bebop records and they would listen to them both. But my mother was always into the singers. My mother hung out a little bit with Dinah [Washington], she hung out a little bit with Etta Jones, and I remember the imagery from these records. So if I see them now I’m like ‘Oh my God, I’ve seen this, I know this’. I have a little collection of photos and I think I was developing my visual sense at that time through looking at and playing with these records, but particularly the “Freedom Now” suite. As I grew up and got to understand a little bit more about Max I realized that was one of the first protest records; the beginning of the 60s, the beginning of anti-war protests, the whole cultural revolution that transpired at that time. I realize that Max was at the forefront and my dad’s influence, because when they came to my house my dad pretty much held court. He had read the complete works of Mao, Marx, and Lenin, all of this stuff… He got onto this stuff while he studied economics to be an accountant.

As a black man realizing that we’re not getting a fair shake, nor have we gotten one, he was exploring and looking at these other possibilities before they became the foundations for these other movements. He had absorbed and had an understanding of all this ahead of the curve.

When you say that your dad had an influence on Max Roach as far as his consciousness about movements, explain that.

FB: As I said, my dad had read all the works of Mao, Marx, Lenin, also African nationalists – my dad wanted my middle name to be Lumumba, but my mother wasn’t going for it [laughs], but I later learned who Lumumba was and how incredible these guys were and how a lot of my dad’s ideas were right in terms of alternatives that were much more viable – whether they worked or not in other countries, 30 or 40 years later we can see that those things didn’t pan out as they were sketched out in those books… But that’s what went on at my house. These guys would roll up and do their thing, listen to music, and have these intense discussions and debates. Often my dad would have the most insight because he had read the most and had this kind of broader understanding of what was going on in Africa, what was going on in China… as all these African countries were getting their independence… I guess it was a really buoyant, exciting time if you were an intelligent person who was aware and concerned. If your father had been down with Garvey and that whole [sensibility]…

What is your sense of how the music interacted and spurred some of that discussion?

FB: My sense of it was this… I spent a lot of time sitting around the kitchen table where a lot of these discussions would happen…

…Because the music was obviously more than a soundtrack…

FB: Yes, absolutely… My dad’s den/study was in the basement, where the real shit would go down. Thelonious Monk – as I’m growing and becoming a young teen – I’m beginning to now discern whom the musicians are that I like, that I’ve been hearing forever and ever. Monk becomes that musician; I became fascinated about this whole thing with Thelonious. One day I looked in my father’s phone book and I see Thelonious’ phone number and I call his house and I speak to Nellie [Monk, Thelonious’ wife]…

How old were you?

FB: Twelve, maybe a little younger, I’m not much older than that. Remember, I’m still kinda little boyish because when I think back to that I think ‘God, that’s such a kid thing to do…’ She could tell it was a little boy calling and I said ‘hi, I’m Freddie Braithwaite’s son and I want to talk to Monk, I know my dad knows you.’ She was really sweet and I started talking to her and I guess I was telling her that Monk was a musician that I really liked and in the course of discussing that she said ‘you know Freddie, jazz is like a conversation, and in the beginning of the conversation somebody makes a point and then they go on to explain this point.’ That’s the main thing I remember from this conversation.

I’d been listening to this music all the time and from that I now get what’s going on: the song starts off, the theme is stated, and then these guys all go off and do their own interpretation and you could still hear the theme going through there, like that’s the point. And I got it now, this became really apparent to me and I was like ‘wow, yes…’ and now when I’m hearing songs I could understand them and see how different guys do their thing as they get into the improvisation and all that stuff. But I guess I also began to understand that the guys making this music were really intelligent and really smart and they were really aware of their times, so the music was a reflection of this, therefore the music was an articulation of the intelligence and the point of view of these very sophisticated and modern musicians.

I knew that Max and my dad were in synch with a lot of the same thoughts and the same stuff, and then once I got older I figured out a lot of these things for myself. You just realize that these are very intelligent men and they’re very concerned – although the music wasn’t always about the lyrics, the feelings and the vibes that you could get – I’m not trying to say that all jazz music had this protest, let’s make revolution thing, but it clearly was an affirmation of us as these modern individuals, which I guess is the thing that had the most impact on me because I always saw them in that light. Those conversations that went on, I realize that these particular individuals had a lot of conversations like this. It wasn’t just my dad and his friends, which was happening with a lot of other guys at that level.

I remember later, when I would become a young man and spent a lot of time with Max and things that we would do together, I remember Max telling me how when Olatunji first came over [from Nigeria] how him and Dizzy were so excited about this new thing going on. And I remember Max explaining this to me because Max was a very big, early supporter of me being involved in hip-hop music and culture. So Max essentially instigated us having gigs together.

The way I read it is that some of Max’s early consciousness of what was going on in early hip hop culture was from you.

FB: Oh yeah. One day Max came to visit my dad and asked what I’m into and my dad said ‘oh, he’s into some rapping thing…’ This was before [hip hop] blew up, this was the early 80s when we were having street block parties and what not. I was already making my moves on the arts scene and I was never trying to be a rapper but I had a few rhymes that I could get on the mic at a block party and do my thing. I was not trying to be a rapper. There was a DJ across the street that had built a nice system in his crib so I would go over there and rap a little bit. So my dad was aware of this, unbeknownst to me – and my father was never into much, if any, contemporary music – with the exception of James Brown.

So one day I came home and my father said Max had been there and “I told him you’ve been doing this rap thing with your man across the street…” Right away I get kind of nervous because I never at that point considered anything music with the developing rap scene. I knew we weren’t playing instruments, we were making sounds and we were energetic and I knew this was a new thing that I dived into full speed ahead, but I didn’t consider it music – as in musicians. My father said Max wants to check it out, so I said OK. So we arranged a time a week or two later and he came through, on my block on Hancock Street between Lewis and Sumner – which is now Marcus Garvey Blvd. which is very appropriate.

I prepped my DJ and we worked out a little routine… Once again the music is not formulated – the four-minute rap song is not developed, it’s just in the streets equivalent to just jamming, no real structure. Max comes by and I’m rhyming and my DJ is cutting up, he’s scratching. Max just peeped it. We did a little 20-minute thing and when we’re walking back to the house I’m thinking ‘what the hell is Max gonna think of this shit.’ Max said ‘Let me tell you guys something, that shit that you and your man were doing was as incredible as anything that me, Bird, Dizzy and any of us were doing…’ I’m thinking to myself [skeptically], ‘that’s so nice, trying to placate a young teenager…’ But that’s how Max was, always very encouraging, but I’m thinking to myself ‘yeah, right…’ because I’m not seeing this as music, this hip hop thing…

“Rapper’s Delight” was probably out as a big record at that point, nothing really breaking crazy like it is now. It wasn’t long after that through me now making moves on the art scene and people knowing that I’m doing my thing on the downtown scene in New York, with graffiti, introducing people to the beginnings of this hip hop culture that a guy who promotes a lot of things with performance artists says ‘man, I found out that Max Roach is your godfather… We were talking with him with this M’Boom group…’ And he says, ‘man I feel like why don’t you do something with Max together…’ And I’m like thinking ‘huh, how the hell?
MUNICH/GERMANY – JANUARY 19: Torsten Schmidt (Red Bull Music Academy, l.) talks with Fred Brathwaite aka Fab Five Freddy (Creator) on the podium during the DLD15 (Digital-Life-Design) Conference at the HVB Forum on January 19, 2015 in Munich, Germany.

Next thing I knew Max says ‘yeah, let’s do it…’ So then I started to have these conversations with Max and Max says ‘yeah, you’re in charge, put this stuff together…’ This is the kind of enthusiasm and how eager they were to check out something new, which is the point that Max made to me. He explained how Bird and the guys were about checking out new things, about how when Olatunji came around they all jumped into the African thing and they were the first [generation] to take African names. He was saying this also to explain how a lot of cats wanted him to continue playing the stuff that they architected back in the 40s and 50s but Max was always saying ‘I’m always about checking out that new thing…’ Obviously Miles was able to put that in full effect. Max had hipped Miles to my show “Yo MTV Raps” and he was checking it out. This was an extension of how Max would always bring me up when the hip-hop thing came up.

Another key thing that Max said to me after I gave him that demonstration with DJ Spy, Max said “…you know music, western music, has for a long period of time been a balancing of three different things: melody, harmony and rhythm in equal ways. As black folks have been involved in music we’re added an increasing emphasis on the rhythm element throughout the development of this music.” And Max, when he would have a conversation like that would always say ‘from Louis Armstrong up until…’ He said ‘what you guys are doing is just totally rhythm…’ Now that’s one thing that when he broke it down I said ‘…oh shit, yeah…’ just grabbing different sounds and cutting & scratching, just grabbing a piece of the music and having a way to manually manipulate the record to have this extended rhythm was something Max heard clearly. He also told me ‘man, if you don’t know it this is so big what you guys are doing…’ I’m like ‘yeah Max, great…’

It wasn’t until like 10 years later when I’m hosting “Yo MTV Raps”… this was ’92 now, and it was the early 80s when I had this conversation with Max. By 1988 I’m the host of the first nationally televised show to focus on this rap music and go around the country interviewing the different people who were defining this culture, everybody from Tupac and Snoop to Will Smith and Run DMC, etc., etc. It would all become so much bigger than I ever, ever could have imagined… I’m talking like on a global basis… where people who speak other languages could adopt this thing and make it theirs in a unique way.

I thought back to what Max had said and how he was right, and how when we get into it we were just gonna embrace this whole rhythm thing, and how just the verbal, this whole rapping thing was interesting.

At what point did the light go on and you realized that this was part of a continuum – that what your father and Max and these guys were into, there was a straight-line continuum to what you and your contemporaries were getting into?

FB: It was during the time that it blew up. I’m hosting “Yo MTV Raps”, which just came out of nowhere, that was never an intention of mine to be on camera doing things, I always wanted to do things culturally to help stir it up and create these bigger platforms… A lot of my ability and understanding of that were things that I absorbed around my dad and his friends; knowing that Max Roach and these musicians were loved more so around the world than here… The fact that I knew people who were big in Paris, and Italy, and Japan was just amazing to me, it gave me a sense of the world as a very young kid.

Hence key things that I would make happen or launch or instigate in hip hop were motivated by those ideas – knowing that, wait a minute, this stuff that we’re doing in the hood, in the Bronx or Brooklyn, is not happening anywhere else in the world. To me that was interesting and I knew it would be at least accepted in other places around the world because these people had embraced and understood the music we were making and put musicians like Max and them on a pedestal on a par with the greatest European musicians ever and I felt that these people would at least appreciate the things that we were doing, because at that time it was not in any way appreciated by mainstream culture here in America. And that led me to then do things which would become very significant.

The first film on hip hop culture, “Wild Style”, I star in, I do all the music for, I collaborate with a guy named Charlie Ahearn on the film… The initial idea I had was to make a film that showed that there was a link between this music, this rapping and DJ’ing, this break dancing and this graffiti art… there were no links prior. I felt they were all very similar and if we could put it together in a movie in a story that depicted it as such, it would create a much more cohesive cultural picture and a look at what we were doing in the streets and the ghettos of New York. There was no positive press or mentions of a young kid with sneakers on and his hat to the side… you were made to look like you were one of those criminals that was destroying the city. So “Wild Style” the movie became this first look that many people around the world had and a spark that ignited them to get busy, and I’m proud of that. Those ideas come directly from the experiences I had being around those kind of individuals [like Max Roach] and knowing that they made global moves.

OK, you were sitting around as a young kid doing your thing and these elders were doing their thing, what was it about what you heard or experienced that inspired you?

FB: I don’t know the specifics, but I just attribute it to… Jimmy Gittens had a huge influence on a lot of that because he was an artist, he was a sculptor and he started this program called the Sculpture Workshop that was a community organization that you could work as a kid and teach people sculpture in the Bed-Stuy area, and Jimmy just loved doing that. So these are my beginning feelings…taking a big chunk of clay and seeing Jimmy carve busts of Malcolm, and King Tut, and just making amazing images of us and things, and then me making something and anything I did Jimmy and all those guys were just encouraging and enthusiastic about. There was no idea or no kind of thing that was beyond at least discussing in my household. Not so much with my father, but with Jimmy and those guys that were kind of an extension of [his dad].

It was Jimmy who taught me how to play chess when I was 8 or 9 years old. I felt like their little think tank if you will. They would be talking about big moves the same way I’m sure Obama and his cabinet talk. They were just the most intelligent men… they were very articulate, they were very hip, they were very slick, they were street, all these things and I guess as those things synthesized in me it was just how I thought. It wasn’t always apparent how connected these thoughts were to what I grew up around, but as I grew older I would realize… and I would constantly think of what I was around as a kid and realize what effect these things had on me. Just knowing that Max was there…

I can remember when I first began to put two and two together and to figure out what I wanted to be a part of, which was the mainstream pop art world, where there was no real precedent of black folks being key in those spaces… It was really like ‘how do I do this…?’ As I began to make inroads and began to get a little exposure… The first art show that I would have… because that was the main thing, not trying to be a musician, but really became the main thing significant for me… I wanted to be a painter… Like the work of Andy Warhol that I had seen as a little kid in a magazine, he looked cool to me… I would find some stuff in art books that made me realize that these guys were inspired by the same stuff that inspired graffiti artists, a lot of us that were painting on the trains… so what’s the difference? I mean we’re getting stuff from comic books and ads just like they did, so what’s the difference? I just had to figure a way to get into the galleries so that people could see me on the same walls they would see like a Warhol or [Roy] Lichtenstein and what not, I wanted to do that the same way that they did.

Through this whole period whenever I would have meetings with Max I would download all this stuff and he would be so encouraging and enthusiastic. The first show that we had, the first press, was at a real prestigious gallery in Rome in ’79. I’m like 19 or 20… it’s crazy.

Did you and Max collaborate onstage?

FB: Yeah, this story I told you about earlier where the guy put us together, that happened at The Kitchen [NYC]. If you go on YouTube you can find a little clip of it, just a piece of it. I’m like, I’m no musician and Max Roach was one of the biggest figures in my life, he’s a musician, how do I even talk music with him? I’m not a musician, but I could make sounds with my mouth. I was so nervous about giving Max instructions, like how do you tell this great master musician how and what to play. I remember at one point we had a conversation after we were rehearsing some stuff. He said ‘man listen, I know its kind of difficult for you to be able to tell me what to play, but man don’t even worry about that, you’re in charge.’ It was unbelievable that he would say some shit like that! I’d have to get my shit together and then figure out how to express it to him.

The one regret was… there’s a recording that I’ll dig up, one of the things that we recorded, and I wrote a rap… You see it was hard for me to instruct Max how to keep like one beat as simply as the backbeat for any one of a million rap records that have been made since then. How do you tell a guy that plays the drums and makes it sound like there are three people playing at once [vocalizes a basic backbeat]… I don’t even know how to do that, it just seemed awkward to say just to do that. What I thought about doing, which we did and I found a recording of that… And this was before sampling was a big thing. I said well what we’ll do is we’ll record and then we’ll loop a recording of what I hear from what you played and I’ll get the engineers to loop that up and make a track of that, and from that track I made a rap over that, which I totally had forgotten that I made this rap: “Max Roach he’s an architect, a pioneer, on the drums he’s an architect, an engineer…” I had fly shit that I just wrote up about Max. When I played it back recently I was like “Oh my God, that’s nice… yeah! But once again it was just unstructured, because the whole song structure [of rap] hadn’t developed and it was just me rapping and Max playing. I think it had a hook and it would have been very interesting had we released it.

It’s hip hop in the sense that… Hip-hop is more like… I mean people call Kenny G jazz, but you know and you would have a problem saying that, right?

WJ: Yep…

FB: Good, me too. Along that line we could differentiate between… like Blondie, something else that I helped make happen, Deborah Harry making “Rapture”, which was the first rap record to go #1 pop, she’s rapping, but that’s not hip hop. Hip-hop bespeaks many things, particularly being part of the culture, adhering to all those things that are just… you know what I’m saying? Like there’s white cats… not to dismiss Kenny G because he’s a white boy, but there’s Gene Krupa, there are a lotta white dudes that you could just feel by how they articulate what they do on their instrument, you’re like OK, dude gets a pass…

I used to love hearing my father and them listening, when I was a young boy… ‘aw man no, that’s so and so, no that’s not him, that sounds like blah, blah, blah… no, that’s an ofay…’ They weren’t dissin’ white people, but it really meant most of the time that they weren’t as up to snuff as most of the official cats. I know that Gene Krupa got some love and there were some white musicians that my father and them would OK, but not that many…

What we did you could say it was hip hop, but yeah I was just rappin’, because it’s me because anything I do is officially hip hop because I’m one of the creators of the brand and what not [chuckles].

One of the things that Max always said about the development of rapping relates to yours being the first generation that was denied the opportunity to pick up any instrument they wanted to learn in school, as a result kids created rap and hip hop.

FB: Great point, key point, yes Max would bring that up, instruments are gone from the schools… Its funny I do a lot of work with VH1 and they have this big initiative called “Save the Music” which is a big charitable initiative where they raise all this money to put instruments back in the schools because kids from this generation are not aware for many generations that [the availability of instruments to learn] was a standard thing in schools, almost a requisite. So you’re right, Max and them would speak to that. It is in a roundabout way one of the things that gives birth to hip hop, this form, this new thing was because kids were not able to develop and become proficient on instruments like many would have wanted to or would have dabbled in to a certain extent. That would be a discussion we would have with Max. He was very aware of things going on as they connected to a historical lineage. A lot of this shit didn’t click then, but I’m glad I remembered it because it all fit into place as the years went by.

Jimmy Morton told us that you have a lot of photographs from back in the day when your father and his friends were active in Brooklyn jazz.

FB: He gave me the actual slides of his color transparencies, and from those I’ve made a few prints; none have been published except for what’s in Robin’s book [Thelonious Monk bio].

What memorabilia do you have from your dad?

FB: I’ve got a lot of his books and stuff, not a lot of stuff. Unfortunately we were not great memorabilia keepers, but I’ve got some things. I actually got to visit Shanghai, China last year and I often tell people to sum it up that Mao was like Jesus Christ in my house, the symbol of him, what he would later mean for a lot of people looking for alternatives… When I went to the big tourist souvenir places where they make everything look old… there was a period after Mao’s demise after the Gang of Four. It was ironic after going to China and seeing that China was able to adapt capitalism while still remaining a communist country, a buddy of mine gave me a BBC documentary and I was able to see the whole story, so it almost took it back to where my dad was still following it. To be there and be able to buy some of the red books and some of the posters that my dad and them had all those years ago, thirty years later, was just incredible for me, it was like coming full circle.

Is there any chance of getting a look at those photos?

FB: Sure, there is only a small grouping of photos, I’ll show them to you, I didn’t know you guys wanted to see them. There are only about twenty and I’m just glad over all those years they still survive. I always thought of something along the lines of what you guys are doing, to kind of tell this story for cats in Brooklyn that most people don’t know about. My dad and his friends were very Brooklyn-centric. It was a campaign about how bad Brooklyn was.

When I was coming up, living in Brooklyn and coming into the city doing the shit that I did was literally no different, except for the living space and Miles of course, than going to California, Manhattan was literally that far away. When you grow up 100% Brooklyn, you might make a couple of forays into the city, or New York – which is how people would call [Manhattan] back then – to see a movie, go to Times Square, or to the Village, was like literally a big deal, that’s how it was when I was growing up.

When I branched off and ventured into the city and connected with the Blondies and the punk rockers and began to set my shit on fire I was one of the few people on the scene who were literally New Yorkers. Most of the people on the downtown scene were from everywhere, like on the art scene; they would come to New York to make it. Me and Jean Michel Basquiat were the only two people that were New Yorkers, which was really cool. When you really know the history Brooklyn was at one time quite a prominent, full on city – a much bigger landmass than the rest of the city. Fulton Street used to mirror 125th Street [in Manhattan]. There a lot of clubs on Fulton Street, which was like our 125th Street; we had the Baby Grand, the Blue Coronet…

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

Celebrating Randy Weston

Sunday, June 9th, 8:00pm at the Kennedy Center Family Theatre promises to be a very special evening as part of the 15th annual DC JazzFest. Celebrating Randy Weston will honor the rich and peerless legacy of the man for whom the African essence of jazz music was absolutely paramount in his approach to the piano, to band leading, and to his recording session exploits. For what promises to be an amazing evening we have assembled a trio of distinctive pianists, each of whom count Randy Weston as an absolute influence and inspiration on their work: Marc Cary, Vijay Iyer, and Rodney Kendrick. They will join, be accompanied by, and interact with a trio of musicians from Randy Weston’s African Rhythms ensembles, each of whom spent over two decades as members of Randy’s various bands: bassist Alex Blake (who can forget his unforgettable solos on Randy’s band performances!), saxophonist-flutist TK Blue, who spent 38 years as Randy Weston’s music director; and African percussionist Neil Clarke.

In response to Randy Weston’s ascension to ancestry on Saturday, September 1, 2018, at the age of 92, the classic French jazz magazine Jazz Hot solicited an incredible array of artists to testify in print on the meaning of Randy Weston, his artistry and his enormously underrated influence. Here’s what the participants in this stellar June 9th Celebrating Randy Weston concert contributed to that beautiful memorial dialogue.


We always in the group said playing with Randy was not just a journey but an adventure.
His music and his writing was amazing. I loved working with him.

I met Randy when I was working with Dizzy Gillespie. I was either 16 or 17 years old. So I’ve known Randy for many, many years.
Randy was very consistent about his beliefs about the contribution to the world of African American Classical music that we have given the title “Jazz” to, and the influence of the music of Africa and its once past great civilizations the many rhythms of Africa in so much of the music we hear today, such as Latin, samba, rock, reggae, calypso, blues, and so on; and how it’s influenced so many great musicians, such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others.

Randy was a giant as well as a historian when he talked about the music to his audiences. He never talk down to them. He drew them in, in the sense that when he finished he made you think and you wanted to go and possibly research what he was talking about, like when he would talk about James Reese Europe, the first African American to introduce jazz to France in the early years of World War I, back in the early 1900s with his infantry, the 369th, and others that came after him. So he would get your curiosity going to find out about the different people that had a very heavy impact historically and development in the history of this music, and many times people you may never have heard of.
I would recommend getting his autobiography, African Rhythms, very much to tell you whom Randy Weston was and his incredible life and musical journey.

Randy’s music touched everyone. It didn’t matter where you were from or who you were.
Myself and members of the group traveled the world with Randy and everyone loved his music.
Yes, Randy was an incredible person. He left a lasting impression on whomever he met around the world.
I feel I’ve been very blessed to have work with him and known him. A person that I will very much miss.

May the Great Spirit bless him always. Thank you Randy for the musical journey


On Saturday Sept 1, 2018, we lost a true musical giant, innovator, NEA Jazz Master, and a warrior for the elevation of African-American pride and culture. His compositions disseminating the richness and beauty of the African aesthetic are unparalleled. Randy was born during the era of extreme racism, segregation, and discrimination in the United States. His life’s mission was one of unfolding the curtain that concealed the wonderful greatness and extraordinary accomplishments inherent on the African continent.

I am super blessed and honored to have been a member of his band for 38 years. Baba Randy was a spiritual father and mentor for myself, and so many people. Our last public performances were in Rome, Italy, July 19th, and Nice, France, July 21st, with Billy Harper (ts), Alex Blake (b), Neil Clarke (perc) and T.K. Blue (as, fl).

I will always remember his extreme kindness and generosity. My first four impressions of Dr. Weston reveled who he was and what he cherished:
– Early 1970’s, Randy in performance at the East in Brooklyn with his son Azzedin on African percussion (a clear demonstration of his love and mentorship for his children. I also remember Randy inviting the great James Spaulding to sit in on flute)
– Late 1970’s, I performed with South African legend pianist Abdullah Ibrahim at Ornette Coleman’s Artist House Loft in Soho, NYC. Randy attended this show with his father Frank Edward Weston and his manager Colette (his profound love, respect, and reverence for the elders and his admiration for other artists, especially from the continent of Africa)
– Late 1970’s, I had the first opportunity to perform with Randy at a fundraiser for SWAPO and to raise funds for support against Apartheid in South Africa (another demonstration of his commitment to struggle for civil and human rights world-wide)
– During the summer of 1980, I was overjoyed having my first hired performance with Randy and his African Rhythms group at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, which again displayed his support and commitment to keep jazz alive in black community and his in-depth love for the African-American church.

Lastly when my mom Lois Marie Rhynie passed in 2014, there was a last minute issue with the church piano. Dr. Weston paid for the rental of a beautiful baby grand piano and performed gratis.

Randy Weston is the last pianistic link between Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. His forays into improvisation are clearly a manifestation of the highest tier regarding a creative genius with astounding originality. His compositions are in the pantheon of renowned jazz standards.

Words are inadequate to express my love, admiration, appreciation, and gratitude for such an incredible human being.
May his spirit rest in paradise for eternity. We will miss you Baba Randy!


I was impacted by Randy Weston’s artistry from the first time I heard Little Niles. Randy’s work gave me access to Africa and inspired my own adventure and exploration into the west African rhythms . Randy was also deep into the understanding of the business and spoke heavily about ownership of Intelectual property.
I give thank for the times I spent with him in Senegal at the music festival where they honored Randy and all the Black or African American artists as well as offered an apology for their part in the slave trade.


In seeking to speak of Mr., Dr., “Chief” Randy Weston, as we referred to him, words seem to fail me as never before. Not so much regarding the emotional impact of his departure from this physical plane, which is enormous to say the least, but rather the absence of the expanse of his presence, like a great Baobab tree on the landscape of our lives musically, culturally, socially and spiritually, that is now definitively barren. Hopefully as a global community we will come to terms with Randy Weston’s physical departure and nurture the seeds that he planted, looking toward a better world for everyone. He left so much behind to which we can continue to refer. Randy Weston was/is a “Font from which one’s Soul is continually nourished”.


Randy Weston showed us all how an artist could take action with one’s community in mind, carry oneself with dignity and self-respect, and remain true to one’s art – all for an entire lifetime. Mr. Weston’s consistent, self-assured vision of music in the world emphasized the African roots OF music in the West, the folk roots of all art, and the human truths that communicate across geographies, cultures, and generations. He was a legend, hero, and king to many of us, and yet he was also a supportive elder who genuinely cared about us all as human beings. And he was a truly visionary pianist and composer, whose musical language must be studied and discussed in the years to come.

There was great power and subtle mystery in his rhythms, melodies, harmonies, timbres, and textures. His artistry has served as a tremendous inspiration to me since I first heard him perform in the mid-1990s. His influence is clear in much of my work, including my album Tirtha, which was essentially an Indian version of his African Rhythms Trio!

The music world has lost a giant, and it is time for us all to meditate on his legacy. I am fortunate to have the chance to work with my colleague at Harvard University, Professor Ingrid Monson, to study his personal archive, which he donated to the Harvard Library in 2016. We invite music scholars around the world to join us in this important endeavor.


I have been blessed to be exposed to the masters of my time – Barry Harris, Gilly Coggins, Chris Anderson and others – and I learned countless musical secrets from them. In the early days, they had all been trying to teach me a specific approach to improvisation – the approach that Duke, Monk, and Bud Powell had implemented – but it wasn’t until I took a lesson with Randy and listened to him play for 2 1/2 hours that I understood what they all had been trying to teach me and it changed my life. Randy’s approach to the music had no limits.

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

A Jazz Life: Rusty Hassan (Part 2)

If you missed Part 1 of our oral history interview with Rusty Hassan, just scroll down. Part 2 picks up at the dawn of Rusty’s now 50-year stint as a jazz radio programmer.

Willard Jenkins: After this guy you met at the bar … With the records. What prompted him to say, “Why don’t you come over and do some radio.”
Rusty Hassan: It was our conversation about the music. I don’t remember the guy’s name. I never saw him again. He went and did his class, but he got me into doing the radio.

So, when he said that, “Why don’t you come do radio?” What’d you do about that?
I went that following Monday, he showed me what to do, and at that time they had somebody engineering the show and you were behind a booth. You’d give the engineer the records. I had records to bring, but then there was a library. They had jazz albums as a part of the station’s library.

So this guy actually trained you?
Yeah. Well, he did one show with me and said, “You’re on your own.” There was that initial nervousness when you think about people out there listening and stuff like that.

How did you become a permanent part of the station, it’s not like you can walk in off the street and do a radio program.
Well, I took over the spot that he had. He said, “This is my successor here. He’s doing my show.”

So that’s how he introduced you to the station management?
Yeah, and they said, “Fine.”

Did you have to be a Georgetown student to produce a show?
At that time, yes, but there was a transformation that occurs with GTB, which is why it went off the air, and I’ll get to that. But at that time, it was a student-run station and it was off the air in the summer time. I had graduated from Georgetown and I had no vision of doing radio anymore in 1967, but when John Coltrane died, there was no WGTB on the airwaves. I didn’t even have a working record player at that time, so I went over to a friend’s house to listen to all my Coltrane stuff. At that time, WGTB had a jazz show every afternoon from about 4:30 to 6:30, called Emphasis on Jazz.

So this is how you got started in radio?
Yeah. I did mine [show] on Monday, somebody else was doing the other days. So I started my Junior year, and I went back to it when school started my Senior year.

What was the duration of your program?
Two hours. When I graduated in ’67, oh God … 1967 was an incredible time. Vietnam War was at its height. I had been living off-campus, so there was a mixed group of people, students, people who’re involved with SNCC, older African Americans who lived in the neighborhood. These were my circle of friends in ’66, ’67. The summer right after graduation, a friend of mine, John Reddy had been involved in SNCC, a white guy working in Southwest Georgia in the Summer of ’66. He had met Mrs. Fanny Lou Hamer. He said, “Look, me and another friend of ours, Ed Seizer, we’ll be in Louisville. Can you drive down? We got clothing and other articles [to donate].” One of the friends in the circle of friends was this guy named Willy Kretcher. He’s in his 50’s at that time. Real street person, you know. He and I were gonna drive down to Louisville, and then John’s father had been a writer for the Reader’s Digest. He ghost-wrote Jack Paar’s books and stuff like that. So the other person going to Louisville with me and Willy, was Randy Paar, Jack Paar’s daughter.

We drove from DC to Mississippi, stopping in Chattanooga to hang out. We were drinking. We had a stash of liquor. We stopped and got some more along the way, and Willy liked to press the needle, so it was the scariest ride I’ve ever had. But in Louisville, Mrs. Hamer was still registering people to vote. Conversations in her living room were things like, “Well, you know I know why Stokley saying what he’s saying in terms about Black Power and the revolution, but that’s not gonna happen here. What we have to do is register people to vote, and vote these other people out. We gotta do this for the long haul. It’s not gonna be any quick transformation.” Stuff like that. Gave me a perspective. It was one of the most telling moments of my life to meet someone like Mrs. Fanny Lou Hamer.

We rode back after a couple weeks of knocking on doors and stuff like that. Registering voters and doing some things. Back in DC that summer … ‘67, when John Coltrane dies and I’m not on the radio. Wondering if I’m gonna get drafted, because I was 1A. By the end of that summer, a friend of mine, one of the SNCC folks, said, “Well, you know the National Student Association’s got this program called Campus Community Organizers. Talk to them.” So I did. I became involved in the Vista Program that would involve students in community programs, still tied to Georgetown University. So when the semester started in the Fall, and I was in this Vista program, which was kind of screwed up because I wasn’t getting money yet, but I stumbled back into doing my radio show. I’m a graduate, WGTB’s back on the air, well here I am. They said, “Okay. Keep doing your show.” So I kept doing the show as a Vista Volunteer.

One of the community organizations that I hooked up with as a Vista Volunteer was called the New Thing Art and Architecture Center. Its Director was a guy named Topper Carew. He later did a TV show and a Hollywood movie called DC Cab. I interviewed him on my ‘GTB radio show. I’m a Vista Volunteer doing radio. I interviewed [saxophonist] Noah Howard, who I met up in New York. I started getting into the more avant-garde music of that era.

Were you programming the so-called avant garde on WGTB at that point?
Yeah, absolutely.

Talk about a typical program that you’d do on WGTB.
A typical show on GTB would be playing albums that I was really into at the time. John Coltrane’s “Live at Birdland” with Afro Blue, Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson, with stuff that he was doing. Then I discovered an album called “As If It Were The Seasons” by Joseph Jarman. So I’m getting into the AACM Recordings, also playing those on the air. Older stuff, Lester Young, Count Basie, I’d do a variety of those.

Did you have any particular influences on your programming style?
I don’t think so, quite honestly. Symphony Sid and that type were more personality driven. I was listening to Felix Grant on the radio here, but I was sort of counter. Felix would talk after every tune. I would segue stuff. I’d play way out stuff that he would never touch, because I’m able to do this. No program directors telling me not to do it.

The legendary Symphony Sid

There was no program director at WGTB?
Well there was, but he didn’t tell me what to do. Then when WAMU came up with the airtime in ’69, it was called the New Thing Root Music Show. Simultaneous to doing the radio, being a Vista Volunteer at the New Thing, I met Sandy Barrett. Sandy was teaching African dance. She was part of Melvin Deal’s African Heritage dancers and drummers, so she was part of the New Thing. One of her close friends at that time was [ancestor poet] Gaston Neal. So we had kind of a rocky introduction, and then we became very close friends after a while, but it was a testing period for all of us.

So that’s when you met Sandy, in ’68?
Another guy friend of mine, Will Majors from New York, was an African-American who was really into music, and for a while there, Will and I’d be going back and forth between DC and New York to catch acts up there and down here. We all went out to see The Graduate, and then Sandy and I just went together after that.

What did you study at Georgetown?
I was an English major. Yeah. It makes me very literate and able to talk well on the radio, I guess, but it worked well. I graduated from Georgetown, met Sandy with Vista Volunteer. In ’68, we have the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the insurrection here in DC, we’re living through that. Sandy got involved with the founding of the Drum and Spear Bookstore with her friends who were involved with SNCC, and I’m on the edge of that. I’m kind of the white outsider, but then [I was] finally gradually being pulled in.

Then we got married in August of ’69, and we went to Europe. Went first to England and stayed with my English roommate and his then wife. We bought an old van, we went and drove down to Dover, took a ferry to Dunkirk, and visited Amsterdam. Then we got to Paris. I had an address for Ambrose Jackson. This is at a time before cell phones, people in Paris were on a waiting list for telephones. You didn’t have a phone. Carolyn said, “No, he doesn’t have a phone, but here’s his address.” Five floor walk-up. We walk up, knocked on the door and nobody was home. We’re sitting there atop the steps, and we hear somebody coming up, and it’s Ambrose. We just hit it off. He just said, “Well, the Art Ensemble’s playing at the Museum of Modern Art. Come on up, I’ll take you there.” He introduced us to all the musicians. It was like an entree in many ways. While there, I borrowed a tape recorder from a reporter from TIME Magazine. I don’t remember how we met him, and I interviewed Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins

On your GTB radio station, you mentioned interviewing Noah Howard.

Did you interview other musicians on your show?
Not frequently, but one of the other first interviews I had was [saxophonist] Byron Morris, and he had performed at the New Thing. In fact, I interviewed Byron before I interviewed Noah. We started the New Thing Root Music Show, and Sandy and I went to Europe. While we were in Europe, Art Ensemble, Anthony Braxton – there was the Actuelle Jazz Festival that mixed rock with avant-garde jazz – Grachan Moncur, Archie Shepp was there. But also, while we were there, on a double bill presented by George Wein, were Miles Davis and Cecil Taylor. Miles had Dave Holland on bass, I think Wayne Shorter was still with him, and Cecil… At a time when Miles was putting down Cecil [Taylor], but they were on tour together! So I got to see this.

Back at this jazz festival in a circus tent in Belgium, I met a guy, an American who was writing for Jazz Journal and doing advertising copy in London. His name was Fred Bouchard. Fred gave me his address in London… We were there with hardly any money, this old Bedford van. It was December driving from Paris back to London, and my friend Andy was in the process of buying a house or whatever. When I tried to make a collect call to find Andy, his father refused to accept the call, and when we got to London running out of gas, I got ahold of Fred. He answered the phone and he said, “Well, take a cab if you don’t have no money, and we’ll cover it” and Fred put us up.

While I was staying with Fred, we saw Duke Ellington, his orchestra at the big concert hall over there, and when he took us to Ronnie Scott’s, I saw Bill Evans on a double bill. So, musically, with all the other stuff that was going on in our lives at that time, musically, it was incredible. We got back to the states in 1970, looking to get a job.

What were you doing professionally at the time?
Vista Volunteer carried me into ’69. Then we came back to the states, stayed with Sandy’s parents for a little bit. That was not too comfortable. We found an apartment at 18th and Columbia Road. Other than that, I’d be at a friend’s apartment on Florida Avenue. He would listen to me on the radio, he’d say, “Well, it was a pretty good show, but I didn’t like that thing of John Coltrane in Seattle, Washington.” He wasn’t into the way out stuff. I took the Federal Employee entrance exam, and I got a job with the Redevelopment Land Agency, the Urban Renewal Agency for the city. It was a federal agency transferred in DC government. I worked as a family relocation counselor in the ’70s. I became active in the union at the job, became the local president and by 1978, when an opening came on the staff I applied for it and got a job with the Union. All that time in the ’70s I’m doing radio on Sunday afternoon, doing the New Thing Root Music Show at a time when things were really happening in many ways.

This is still at WGTB?
No. This is WAMU.

Let’s go back to WGTB for a moment. Talk about some of your more memorable experiences programming at WGTB.
I’m interviewing Noah Howard, interviewing Topper Carew, playing the music. It’s when I get onto WAMU in the early ’70s, and I have friends who are doing things elsewhere. This guy named Yale Lewis and a guy named Ron Sutton –

What kind of station was WGTB, otherwise?
WGTB was in the ’60s a mix of jazz, classical music, some talk stuff. Pretty rigid…

Besides yours, how many other jazz shows were there on WGTB at the time?
Every day 4:30 to 6:30 with emphasis on Jazz. In the ’70s, after I left the station, it became really radicalized. During the ’70s, Royal Stokes was doing a show there called “I thought I heard Buddy Bolden Say” doing traditional jazz. I was doing bebop and beyond. There was sort of radical programming on WGTB in the ’70s. They had a show called “Friends”. It’s the ’70s and they had a gay show on a Catholic station! They had PSA’s supporting the Georgetown Free Clinic. This drove the Jesuits up the wall! By the late ’70s, they give away the [broadcast] license to the University of the District of Columbia.

WHUR [Howard University Radio] came on the air around 1972; Yale Lewis was one of their first announcers and I visited him with my infant toddler daughter, Aisha in a stroller. Then my other friend Ron Sutton started a show there, and we used to trade off on Charlie Parker specials on each other’s shows. We were very wide open, in terms of not competition, but sharing. WHUR’s playing Jazz… Out of a basement or back room in a record store, [Ira] Sabin’s Discount Records, I received a paper called Radio Free Jazz [ed. Note: the early incarnation of JazzTimes magazine].

So how did you get on WAMU?
Topper Carew’s New Thing Root Music Show, putting a show on the air for him…

And what year was that?
It’s like July of ’69. Sandy and I got married in August, and in September we’re gone. I come back, there’s a guy named Ralph Higgs doing the show, Brother Ralph. He was teaching karate at the New Thing. Ralph started another show, like a midnight show. He said, “Why don’t you do the afternoon show, because I’m gonna do the midnight show” and the station management had no problem with it, because it was an organization doing the air time.

What kind of station was WAMU at that time?
WAMU at that time was very eclectic. There was a Black collective show on Saturday afternoons, same time slot, called “Spirits Known and Unknown”. They had a Latin show, they had a variety of music. Bluegrass was really big on the station at that time.

Were you free to play whatever you wanted to do within that jazz context?
Absolutely. I could play free jazz and [John Coltrane’s] “Ascension” back to back. So, on WAMU in the ’70s, I had about four hours of airtime on a Sunday afternoon, play whatever I want, and things happened. It was really great stuff, personally. When I had these ladies on the show for an interview about their event, they said, “Well, do you wanna come to the dinner dance?” I said, “Sure, it’s my birthday.” So, Sandy and I go to this evening at the Shore Hotel, Count Basie and his orchestra playing. So many empty seats, it’s the night before Thanksgiving, I guess the timing wasn’t all that good.

So at that concert, during the intermission, I’m out in the lobby talking to Hollie West who was then the critic for the Washington Post. We’re out there talking and Sandy comes out, “You’re missing it, you’re missing it.” Count Basie’s orchestra played Happy Birthday for me. Well, at the after party, I had my cigar. You could be obnoxious back then, 45 years ago. When we were leaving, Basie’s sitting by himself in the lobby, they were about to take the bus up to Boston. They had another show, a Thanksgiving Day show or whatever. We go up and talk to Basie. Now, I noticed he had a cigar in his hand, and I said, “Mr. Basie, you wouldn’t happen to have a light, would you? My cigar went out.” He pulls out this big Ronson, lights my cigar, looks at his, and said, “Well, this damn thing’s useless. It’s broken.” So I reach in my pocket, I said, “Here, have one of mine” and gave him the other cigar that I had gotten for my birthday. His eyes lit up and he said, “Boy, do you have great taste.” My best birthday… giving away a cigar to Count Basie!

So what were you doing professionally at the time that you were affiliated with WAMU?
I was working for the Redevelopment Land Agency as a relocation counselor, while I’m doing the show on Sundays.

Relocation counselor; what did that involve?
It involved people being displaced either by overcrowded conditions from the code enforcement section, or by urban renewal of the 14th Street Corridor. That whole area right now that’s been gentrified, big malls with the Target. That was all desolate area in the 1970’s. So I’m doing that during the day to make a living, and raising two girls, and doing the radio on Sunday. Interviewing people like Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, all these folks on Sunday afternoons.

What time of day were you on?
In the afternoon from like noon to four. One time, it was five when they were shifting. I had a whole afternoon, really stretching it, and had everybody come through. It was great. I mean Dexter Gordon coming in when the Homecoming album was just coming out…

Where was Dexter playing in town at the time?
Blues Alley, primarily.

Was there much of a jazz concert scene in DC back then?
The Kennedy Center was presenting jazz, but it was very sporadic. It wasn’t until Billy Taylor, who really solidified that jazz program there. Sometimes there were concerts at the Lisner Auditorium or [Howard University’s] Crampton Auditorium. I saw Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan playing at Crampton in ’71. That was just an incredible concert, sponsored by the Left Bank Jazz Society.

WAMU was a student station?
No. It was a station run by the University… with actually, very little student involvement. Lee, and Russell Williams were Black students involved, and they did workshops. They had people coming through to do training and stuff like that, so that was one of the student components on that [station]. Otherwise, they’d have the Diane Rehm [talk] show, and predecessors to that. While I was there, Rob Bamberger came on the air with his Hot Jazz Saturday Night.

Did societal elements influence your programming at WAMU?
Yeah, yeah… Playing music that expressed the civil rights and Black power struggles and things along those lines. Playing the music of Archie Shepp would be a part of it. Then having the opportunity to meet my heroes. Things were wide open. I already mentioned, WHUR played jazz during this time. There were meetings to set up WPFW. I participated in those. After ‘PFW went on the air, I participated in events, but I didn’t wanna leave the airtime on WAMU. I felt that more stations playing this music was better for the music. Why would I give up WAMU to go to WPFW?

WAMU… where you have four hours.
…in the afternoon. WAMU expanded the jazz programming around 1980,’81, to do an overnight jazz show.

Did you do that?
They offered it to me, and I was already working. I shifted to work for the Union, and the pay was so awful, it was a no-brainer. I said, “I’ll do Sundays. I’m fine with Sundays. I got a career, I got a job paying the bills and stuff like that.”

Were you paid at WAMU?
Yeah. Ultimately, I was given a quarterly stipend.

What was that like?
Rusty Hassan: A couple hundred bucks a couple months… It was beyond volunteer, it was some money.

Where’d that money come from?
The University. I wanna get into another aspect of my jazz life, because long after I left Georgetown, they offered a course and I could have gotten an A. At Georgetown I took a music appreciation course with the music critic Paul Hume and I didn’t get a very good grade in the course. What happened was that he had a gazillion students and he decided to make it real hard. He was really pissed, and I deserved the D+ that I got, but years later when I’m on a music panel with Billy Taylor for National Public Radio, there’s Paul Hume. I told him how I took Music Appreciation at Georgetown when I was there, but I didn’t tell him what kind of grade I got. He said, “Oh, yeah, well you know Paul Anthony also took that course.”

Somebody started teaching Jazz History at Georgetown, and I said, “Well, I’m gonna go check this out.” The guy was a bassist with the National Symphony. His name was Dick Webster. I had just got a bass, and so he gave me a lesson. I checked out the class, so we developed kind of a friendship. At some point he said, “Look, Rusty, I’m in a bind. The symphony’s going on tour. Can you do the class for me?” He said, “By the way, if you like it, the Continued Education Program is looking for someone to do a class at night. My day job’s at night and I can’t do it. We’ll do a proposal.” So I did his class, and I did the proposal, and I started teaching at Georgetown School for Continuing Education, a non-credit class. A couple of months, eight weeks maybe, I started teaching Jazz History.

Who was taking this course?
Adults. Adults wanted to take something. They’re even taking a Shakespeare class, you can take this, take Jazz Appreciation …

So it was like Continuing Education?
It was Continuing Education. Georgetown School for Summer and Continuing Education. So I started teaching there…

A No credit course?
No credit. Non-credit, no term papers, no tests. It was fun. Somebody from GW calls me and says, “Well, can you do the Jazz History class? We need somebody to take it over.” I said, “No, I’m working during the day.” Somebody from American University calls me up. It’s the early to mid ’80s. “Can you do the class?” I said, “Well, I’m working during the day. If you can switch it at night.” They said, “Yeah, what night?” “Mondays.” So they scheduled [the class] Mondays at 5:30.

In the ’80s and ’90s, I taught at AU on Monday nights, did Georgetown another night, somebody asked me at the Smithsonian. I did a couple of courses at the Smithsonian over the years. Did one course where it involved musicians. I had Andrew White talk about improvisation, I had Keter Betts talking about his career, I had Paul Hawkins talking about Latin Jazz. I had all these musicians come in… That was fun. From the early to mid ’80s to the early 2000’s, I was at AU every Monday for Fall and Spring semester.

How long were you affiliated with WAMU?
I was with WAMU until 1987.

What brought about your departure?
Change in the format, new management at the station.

Were they no longer broadcasting jazz?
The only jazz they kept was Rob Bamberger’s Hot Jazz Saturday Night. By that time, WDCU was well-established, and [GM] Edith Smith contacted me –

Back to WAMU for just a second. What was the local jazz scene like in DC when you were at WAMU? And were you a part of that scene?
Oh, absolutely. You got the clubs I mentioned, One Step Down bringing in musicians. Ann would bring in Benny Carter. People of that stature, it was just amazing. Blues Alley had the Heath Brothers, Rahsaan Roland Kirk… There was just an incredible thing going on with the clubs. More of the area artists playing in [DC’s] Northeast clubs… Wise and Moore’s Love and Peace. I was interviewing people, I was emceeing… One of the neatest times in the early ’80s, was when George Wein took over the Kennedy Center as part of whatever his festival was called. Kool Jazz or something like that… They took over the whole Kennedy Center, and I was the emcee in the Opera House.

What year was this?
’80, ’81, I’m not sure. I have to check that out, but the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard… That night, the last act was Lionel Hampton. He didn’t wanna stop, we were told.

Couldn’t get him off the stage, right?
I was making connections with the musicians. We would do crab feasts over at the house, and I’d have Roy Haynes come over when he’s playing at the One Step Down. The Heath Brothers, when they were playing at Blues Alley. Jaki Byard…

How long after you left WAMU did you become affiliated with WDCU, and how did that affiliation come about?
It came about right away.

You said that basically what caused your divorce from WAMU was the change in format.
Absolutely. They were changing the format… and WDCU had been on the air then about six, seven years. [Station GM] Edith Smith called me up, said, “Why don’t you come over? You can have Sunday afternoons.”

Was it 1987 when you started at WDCU? What kind of station was DCU at the time?
All jazz. They did a talk show, and they did rhythm and blues and gospel.

WDCU was known as Jazz 90 at that time.
Jazz 90. It was really, they had consistently the same announcers every day during the week: you had Candy [Shannon], Gwen Redding, all these folks. Bill McClure doing the evening shows. Whitmore John. It was very, very focused on the music.

Here again, you find yourself at another University affiliated radio station. Though, in the case of WGTB and WAMU, you characterized that those universities had a benign kind of relationship with those stations. Was it similar at WDCU?
Absolutely, the station was self-contained, they had all of the programmers doing the music.

Was it a training facility at all, for students?
They did some things like that. They tried to pull it in, trying to develop an interest in stuff like that, they did some workshops and things like that. It was more along the lines of being a professionally run radio station. They paid me, a stipend, more or less.

Who was the WDCU program director at the time?
Wiley Rollins came in.

Did the program director at WDCU exert any influence over what you played until Wiley came in and tried to make things sound professional, and give advice in terms of choices.

So now you’re doing Sunday Afternoons.

What time of day were you on the air?
One to four.

How would you set those three hours up, in terms of your production?
I would focus on who’s coming into town, birth dates, cover the artists that way… By the time I was with WDCU, it was switching from LP’s to CD’s. I’d take a bag of CD’s and have an idea of where I was gonna program it, and then program while I’m doing it. In terms of what fit.

There was a certain element of improvisation in the way you were putting your programs together?
Absolutely. In fact, it was really interesting to me, because here I had listened to Felix Grant all those years, and now Felix and I are on the same station. Not a whole lot of interaction, but I did sit in with him on occasion, see how he had everything scripted, with a stopwatch, really very precise in terms of what he was gonna say and stuff like that. I continued to do what I was doing when I was on the dial in the ’60s.

Rusty with DC radio legend Felix Grant, W. Royal Stokes, (unidentified), and Bill Brower

Would you characterize what you did as being kind of the exact opposite of what Felix Grant was doing, where his design was to talk after each selection?
Yeah, in many ways. In terms of looking for more of a freeform FM type of sound… Late ’60s, early ’70s, there’s a shift that went on musically, where music was now formatted in a fashion with these so-called “underground FM stations”. As a jazz programmer, I was able to not worry about the length of a cut, and learn how to segue music so that one piece would flow to another. Even within that context, and still be informative about the music.

Did you do a lot of interviews?
Absolutely. On WAMU, one of the best interviews I had was with Art Blakey. The first time he came and he spent the whole afternoon with me, and it had to be about 1977. Art came in, he flipped the question. I said, “Well, you know … ” I’m trying to say what a thrill it was to have him, he says, “Well, what you’re doing is so important to this music.” Art’s saying this to me! I had the material there to do like a musical autobiography of Art Blakey. What was really great was that afterwards… He was playing at, it wasn’t a jazz club, it was a restaurant right on Connecticut Avenue that would feature a variety of music acts, but not jazz, per se. It was really weird in terms of who they booked, because they had Anthony Braxton play there once. I think the place was called “Child Harold”.

Art Blakey was playing there… I saw him Saturday, we had him come on the show and went back to see him Sunday. He was breaking down his drum set, and said. “Hey, Rusty, where can I get something to eat?” I said, “Art, this is DC. There’s nothing, but my house is on your way out of town.” For me, the shocker was here’s Art Blakey, putting drums in his station wagon. For me, it’s, “Where’s the limo? What’s this?” He had Dave Schnitter and Bill Hardman, John Hicks and a Japanese bassist whose name I can’t remember. I said, “My house is on your way. We’ll fix you up.” Sandy fixed a ham for Sunday dinner. What else have we got? We came in the house, and I found out that Art wasn’t that [Muslim] observant. This is great. John Hicks wanted to stay in the car, so I fixed him a sandwich and brought him a beer, and we were friends after that. John and I became very close after that. Art adopted me. He’d come to town and want to hang, and I’ll never forget one time he said, “Where are we gonna get some Japanese?” I took him to a Japanese restaurant, worried about whether it met his criteria, and it did.

What were you doing professionally at the time?
I was working for the Union, as a staff person with the American Federation of Government Employees. I was doing arbitrations, I was doing contract negotiations, playing group therapist to dysfunctional executive boards, investigating … In essence, doing a lawyer’s job without the law degree. In the ’80s, I got a Master’s Degree, a Master’s of Science in Labor Studies from the University of the District of Columbia. So in addition to [teaching] classes two or three days a week, I’m taking classes.

What got you into this labor work?
It was a political philosophy. When I’m doing the social work, the person said, “We have a Union here.” Okay. You join the Union. Then I became active in the Local at the Redevelopment Land Agency, as home rules come into play here in DC. So I’m involved in lobbying the DC City Council in terms of transitioning from the Federal System to a DC System, and then when the staff opening came up, I said, “Let me do this.”

It was always a matter of looking at something I could do with my progressive politics, and be comfortable with the living that I’m making, and yet doing something that’s going to pay the bills for my household, with the kids that we were raising. My daughters went to DC Public Schools. They went to John Burroughs down the street here, Taft down the street, and then School Without Walls. In the ’80s, Aisha went to the University of Maryland, Kenja got into Princeton. That was financial… What we did was put one of the paychecks aside. It’s a pricey thing even with the financial aid she was getting, but it was a concentration on making sure our kids were well educated. We’re doing the same for our grandkids right now.

Speaking of WDCU, you mentioned this with WGTB and with WAMU, but with the progression of time, what was the DC jazz scene like when you started at WDCU?
At WDCU in ’87, it was a rich scene. The One Step Down was thriving in many ways, in terms of the acts they were bringing there. Blues Alley would bring in an act for a week, from Tuesday through Sunday. The Kennedy Center had Billy Taylor setting up the programming there, so that the major artists are coming through there. It was really a rich scene.

One of the people I became really close to was my father-in-law’s best friend. His name is [pianist] John Malachi. John, as you know, was a pianist in Billy Eckstine‘s Orchestra. They had Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey… John, I first heard at a junior high school that Sandy’s mom was teaching at in ’68. He and I really hit it off. He would play at parties at Sandy’s parents’ house. After everybody left, my father-in-law and John would be working on stuff on the piano, and I was like the fly on the wall. Then John would tell me stories that you couldn’t repeat on the airwaves. After that, when I started teaching, John would come particularly to the Continued Ed classes, he’d come and talk about the Bebop era. What it was like to travel with the band, and what [Charlie] Parker was like.

One of the last interviews I did at WAMU was John contacting me to say, “Look, I’m doing a concert at Ellington school. Can I come by and talk about it?” So he came on my show on Sunday afternoon, and he talked about the band touring Florida and how Bird asked him to stay behind. Charlie Parker was working on changes on “Cherokee,” and the two of them jammed on this for hours afterwards. As John was leaving the studio, I said, “Boy, I gotta get more of this stuff on tape. I gotta sit down with you, man.” He was already setting up an interview with Bill McClaren on DCU, and then Bill called me at work two days later and said, “My interview’s off, John passed away yesterday.”

Wow. Huge missed opportunity!
Yeah. I miss him, now 30 years later.

At the time you programmed at DCU, which as you said was known as Jazz 90, what were your thoughts about the fact that given WPFW’s Jazz programming, at that time DC was unusual as an American city offering such a breadth of jazz radio programming. As an active member of the DC jazz community and a WDCU programmer, what was your sense of jazz radio in DC at that time?
I thought it was great, the fact that we still had two stations presenting the music. WAMU was not doing it anymore except for that traditional jazz show with Rob Bamberger. The competition was revitalizing the scene in terms of keeping it vibrant, and it was a friendly competition. I’ll never forget co-emceeing – for whatever reason it was set up this way – but I’m co-emceeing for Ahmad Jamal, with [WPFW’s] Jamal Muhammad out at Ft. Dupont, that kind of thing. Developing a friendship along the way, and making sure that the programming is top-notch, because somebody who’s on opposite you, may be doing something even better.

So there was no sense of competition between WDCU and WPFW?
Well, yeah, it was competitive in a friendly way. Let me tell you. I met [WPFW’s] Jerry Washington when he was living down the hall from Ron Sutton. Then Ron was on WHUR, he was actually doing sports. What happened at HUR was when they shifted to the quiet storm format with Melvin Lindsey, they pushed Ron off the air and made him sports director. Gave him a substantial pay increase, but took the jazz off the evening to change it to the soft R&B that they were gonna do with the Quiet Storm. So then Ron starts doing stuff on WPFW, and upsetting the folks at WHUR a little bit, but then he brings his buddy [Jerry Washington] from down the hall. “Come on, sit in with me. Sit in with me. Now you do it.”

So, Jerry Washington starts focusing on Blues, and creates a persona known as The ‘Bama. WPFW actually didn’t do any counter-programming initially; they had Dorothy Healey on Sunday afternoons, and people mistook the station phone numbers and they’d call me up and say, “Well, how could that lady be saying that kind of stuff? That’s un-American.” I said, “You got the wrong station.” Jerry Washington did the Other Side of the Bama, so he’s doing jazz on Sundays. If ever I had a scratchy record, I said, “Well, this is from the Jerry Washington collection of classic jazz.”

I met [WPFW’s] Nap Turner at a club on 14th and Rhode Island Avenue NW when the hookers were going in and out of this club. What happened was John Malachi had been playing there and had asked for more money for the group, and the guy said no. He then booked a woman named Julie and Nap was playing bass. So I knew him as a jazz bass player, and I watched him develop on WPFW to this personality.

How did you make that shift from DCU to PFW?
Well, when DCU went off the air, I had so many friends who were on the airwaves at WPFW…

What year was this now?

So you were at DCU 10 years?
I was at DCU 10 years… and all my friends who had been listening to me, like Larry Appelbaum, all these folks who were on WPFW were saying, “We’ll find a spot for you.” Then I became a sub, the Sunday sub for the Rolling with Bolling show. Sitting in for Rick Bolling, or whomever.

This is ’97?
’97, absolutely… Then there was the infamous blow-up between Brother Ah and the then General Manager…

The late Lou Hankins…
Lou Hankins called me up and said, “Can you do Tuesday nights?” I said, “Yeah, okay.” I didn’t know exactly what had happened, but then I ran into Jamal Mohammad out at the VA Hospital, which is one of my locals, and he explained. He had witnessed what happened between them. So I said, “Well, geeze, I gotta do it. Gotta take over Tuesdays.” I was really … I’ve been friends with Brother Ah for years, but I’m not gonna not do this show. Some time later, [trumpeter] Benny Bailey was playing out at Twins, so a week after I started doing Tuesday nights. I said, “Well, let me go see my friend Benny.” I walk in there, who’s sitting at the bar? It was his old friend, Robert Northern sitting at the bar there.

Brother Ah…
So I walk up to Brother Ah, I say, “How come I’m doing Tuesday nights?” He said, “Well, you know Lou Hankins has a failure to communicate.” I said, “Okay.” He had no hard feelings for me, of course, but he said one day we’ll work it out, and eventually he got back on the airwaves.

When you started at WPFW, was your programming any different than what you were doing at WDCU, WAMU and at WGTB?
Absolutely not. I’m blessed. Here I am after 50 years still doing what I started doing as a student at Georgetown. Never had a program director telling me, “No, you can’t play this.” What I have done is edit a bit. I became more inclined to pick and choose from the cutting edge and avant-garde artists, pieces that would be more accessible to a broader audience. I’m sure it’ll turn them off, but I’m going to pick and choose things that will keep a listener engaged rather than turn them off.

Rusty with fellow WPFW veterans Askia Muhammad, Larry Appelbaum, and this writer at a bookstore panel discussion

Would you say that through your evolution with these four stations, that becoming more attuned to what the listener might be interested in, was part of your growth?

But how did you get that way?
Because of reactions like, “Well, Rusty, I liked everything you played but that [Coltrane] recording from Seattle, Washington.” Then from my own listening tastes, in terms of being very eclectic with it, not afraid to play traditional jazz as well as the avant-garde. To pick and choose what your listener will appreciate. Also, because for all these years I’ve been on listener-supported radio.

It’s also my teaching, the classroom… Playing stuff for the students to get their reaction to it. This is why I can’t do online teaching. I wanna have a face-to-face interaction with the students. One of the things that really made it for me, back in 2010, I was recruited to teach an undergraduate Jazz History course at Georgetown, after participating in a forum that Maurice Jackson had put on in conjunction with a concert with Charlie Haden and they asked me to teach the undergraduate class. I was already teaching at the University of Maryland University College. On Tuesday nights, I’m teaching at UMUC at 7:00, Georgetown it’s four to 5:30 Tuesdays and Thursdays, stealing time from my full-time job to do two classes.

I had [saxophonist] Braxton Cook in my undergraduate class. He was at Georgetown at that time. I’ve had really bright students at Georgetown, really into the music, very interactive with me. University of Maryland-University College is working adults, African-Americans in their 50’s, people in the service and stuff like that. One time I was covering Cool Jazz, playing Birth of the Cool with Miles Davis, with Lee Konitz, and covering that era and [saxophonist-bandleader] Brad Linde had Lee Konitz at Blues Alley with a big band, with Lee Konitz as the featured soloist. I make the students give me performance reports, but I don’t give them specific performances to go to. They have carte blanche. By the end of the semester, they have to give me two performance reports.

So I went to see Konitz, and here’s the Georgetown students coming up, “Oh, great show. I’m glad to see you here.” This African-American woman comes up to me, she’s from the other class. She’s like 50, she works at the post office, I thought she was into neo-soul stuff, whatever. She comes up to me, she says, “Wow, this is great. Do you think Mr. Konitz will sign the picture of him in our textbook?” I said, “Sure, why not?” Now, I meet Lee at the One Step. I re-introduced myself up in the little dressing room. I said, “Would you do me a favor and sign the photo?” He looks at it, “Boy,” he says, “This is an old picture.” I got to see Lee a couple of times since then, and thanked him again.

That really made it for me. That here’s this 50-year old African-American woman coming out to hear this 83-year-old white guy playing the alto sax. It got to her. She became more open with her musical tastes. That’s what I try to do with the classroom, with the radio show; develop an audience for this music that I love.

Up to this point, and I guess throughout your tenure at all four stations, had you worked with any particularly memorable or influential radio program directors or general managers, who were influential on you in terms of what you did on the air?
That’s a great question Willard. The most interaction that I had was with Wiley Rollins, when he came over to DCU.

What made that working relationship so successful?
Wiley, he’d sit down and talk to you in terms of what to do. Earlier at WAMU, there was a guy who sat down with me a while, wanted to tweak what I was doing. Establish the show earlier on, rather than playing a long cut, things that I’d neglected, regressed back to and stuff like that. But Wiley’s point about, “Well, you may wanna play that rare [recording] find and say, ‘Look what I found’ but the sound quality’s so bad that you’re just gonna turn people off. Find the alternative. Find the same artist doing something that won’t turn any of the audience off, in terms of bad radio.”

The thing that I find now is a lot of people just [announce] the main artist. To me, it’s important with jazz as a soloist art form, that you tell the folks who’s playing bass. For a quintet or sextet, that’s not gonna take too much time to run down the whole personnel. You don’t need to name everybody in Ellington’s band, of course, but you wanna be informed about the musicians who are participating in the performance.

What is your overall radio programming philosophy?
I want to just share the music of artists who have been my heroes over the decades that I’ve been doing this. This is an art form that has been marginalized in terms of record sales and audience participation, but it’s an important art form. People should be accessible to it, and open their ears up to it to hear it, so I do the programming on the radio and I do the classroom work to make sure that there are people who understand that this is an important American art form rooted within the African-American community, that has a lasting value and is entertaining, as well.

How else have you combined your radio programming with your teaching?
For years now, I’ve had a listening portion to the mid-term or final exam. I play all of the recordings that are gonna be on that exam, on the radio. Students have an opportunity to hear it on the airwaves, and other folks can take it like it’s a blindfold test in a way. Of course, with your artist identified at the end of the set. I’ve been doing this since the ’80s. I started teaching at American University, I said, “Well, I’m on the air, I want people to identify the artist on these recordings. If I do it a week or so ahead of time, they’ll have an opportunity to listen to these recordings so that they know them.

So it’s optional?
Well, optional in terms of they can listen or they can listen to it elsewhere, but –

When you’ve taught jazz courses, how has the course work interacted with the overall jazz scene in DC?
Because they have to do performance reports, they have to go out and hear artists and come back and do a review… so they’ve been introduced to the jazz scene in Washington. Because they have to identify who’s performing and what they played, and what they thought of it, usually they have to go up and talk to the artist a bit to find out some things. Most of them do.

Willard Jenkins: What would you say is your overall philosophy in teaching jazz courses?
Rusty Hassan: I teach it from a historical, cultural perspective, emphasizing the history of the artists and the roots of this music within the Black community. Rather than being very technical about the elements of the musical performance. A case in point: when I started teaching at Georgetown one semester, this Asian-American woman came up to me. She said, “Well, I don’t know whether I should take this course or not, I see you have a lot of musicians in your class.” I said, “Well, you’re exactly the person I want in the class. I wanna open you up to this music. So, don’t be intimidated, we’re not gonna kill you with technical terms about the music or anything like that.” After she handed in her final exam, she said, “Well, thank you for making this so accessible. I learned a lot and I will continue to listen.”

Willard Jenkins: So basically, your philosophy is cultivating more jazz enthusiasts?
Rusty Hassan: Absolutely.

Down through all these years of being so immersed in the music, what has been your family’s relationship with the music?
When I first met Sandy, she had some fabulous recordings in her collection, including “Ascension” and “Fire Music” that were given to her by Marion Brown, when they were both students at Howard. So she had these recordings, she had Eric Dolphy, one of her favorite recordings. That was an immediate, “Wow, you’re into the music” type of thing, but as I was raising my family, I took my kids out. I took Aisha and Kenja out to hear performances. Both of them saw Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, either at Blues Alley or the Kennedy Center. One time, there was a whole week of performances that we did with Wynton Marsalis at various facilities, and WDCU sponsored him, we were the emcees. At that time, Aisha was working at an athletic shop in Georgetown, she was about 16 at the time. I took her to see Wynton that night.

I was supposed to tape something with Marcus Roberts, we were up in the little dressing room. Aisha and Wynton were on the couch laughing, joking over Jet Magazine. Then this white woman was in the room. She said, “Well, who are you?” Aisha looked and said, “I’m his daughter.” Not to me, to Wynton. This woman believed it. She said, “Oh, have you eaten yet?” Wynton played along with her, he said, “Well, I want you back before the set’s over.” Aisha went over and she said … What it was, was the woman was hitting on [bassist] Reggie Veal and she came back to Reggie, she said, “You gotta lose her.” The woman kept pumping her for information. She would bite into the hamburger, she told me, she said well she’d make up stuff, but Wynton played along with it, and he stayed in touch for a while in terms of how Aisha’s doing.

Some years ago, we were both judges for the Silver Spring Jazz Festival, the year that Paul Carr‘s Jazz Academy of Music won. I got to show [Wynton] the pictures of our grandkids and stuff like that. So, my girls went out to experience the music. I took Kenja to see Frank Wess where we had a conversation with his pianist about some science project she was doing in Junior High School. Then when my grandkids came along, well you saw me with Caine, every place. From the time he’s a year old and I’m holding him while I’m introducing Randy Weston at the Freedom Plaza Jazz Festival. To seeing Randy a couple of times after that or Sonny Rollins, or whomever. I got a great photograph of my granddaughter Truly with Geri Allen at the Kennedy Center. I’ll always treasure that, now that Geri’s passed on.

Has that made a difference for them?
I think so. They listen to the music, and it’s not their main music, but all of them have grown up with it.

Rusty Hassan can currently be heard Thursday evenings 10:00-Midnight as part of WPFW’s M-F Late Night Jazz strip (full disclosure: this writer holds down the Wednesday Late Night Jazz slot 10:00-midnight), at 89.3FM in the DMV, streaming live at Don’t sleep!

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment