Tales Episode 10: Pheeroan akLaff

From his collaborations with the late poet Amir Baraka in the Blue Ark Ensemble, through his voluminous work as a sideman to Anthony Davis, Oliver Lake, Henry Threadgill, Yosuke Yamashita, Mal Waldron, Geri Allen, Don Byron just some of the names you will find in his biography; Pheeroan clearly adds his special flavor bringing to the brew a taste of the transcendent.

Acknowledging his body of work might have very little meaning to those of the pop, R&B or even contemporary jazz world, but for those who are all-inclusive jazz lovers, listeners and players will find this gentleman sitting right here with the innovative risk-takers of this century.

What brief but concise piece of information from a personal perspective can I share about this prolific artist/humanitarian? He’s a musician I’ve known for a very long time, actually longer than I’ve known anyone so far that I’ve had on the show and to chronicle the effect that he has had just on my life, would take more time and space than I have here and besides as I’ve said before the musician’s true historian is the music she plays.

Pheeroan plays a huge part in me trusting myself and doing the music I love. One of the most important thing an artist can do is not to categorize or pigeonhole themselves, but instead, to foster the powerful silence within so that it speaks in unison with the waiting sound you create. He has been and will always be my mentor. He is a beautiful human being that awakens all that is the best in you, at all times.

I consistently tell the students in the workshop series that it’s imperative that they find their voice, embrace it, take care of it, and to stand, alone if necessary, in staying true to its uniqueness. To acknowledge the same qualities in others and support them in their examination.

There is a face we show the world and a face only we recognize of ourselves when we look in the mirror. Before you can be true to yourself, you first have to be honest with yourself. No lies, instead step through the fear of what’s hidden below the surface of the face we show the world and from there, if we can do that, nothing stands in the way of the creative force, which I call love, to move and permeate everything in our lives.

Pheeroan, dynamic creative energy, is a musical time traveler, traversing past and future presenting signals to guide us in the present. He IS the beat of a different drummer.

Time after time clearly he communicates his mastery of the drums, the intonation and fluency of rhythms and his originative precision. This of course is not by pure chance, but through hard work and focused drive and the important point here, the willingness to be truly honest with oneself.

Through his philanthropic work, he continues to inspire and mentor those around him especially young people. His mission to give back prompted him to start his non-profit organization – Seed Artists, Inc. It was started back in 2006 in Brooklyn and now is located in Montclair, NJ.

At the time of this writing I along with my guest from episode 9, Sean Conly, will be performing in a historic tribute produced by Pheeroan’s organization, Seed Artists, Inc. Eric Dolphy: Freedom of Sound. This event will take place at the Montclair State University Auditorium on May 30 and 31 and will indeed be something you don’t want to miss.

“A versatile drummer who has mostly been associated with the avant-garde, Pheeroan akLaff has appeared with some of the more adventurous musicians in jazz of the past 30 years.” From All Music 

About Pheeroan akLaff

akLaff (sic), Pheeroan [Paul Maddox], drummer, composer; b. Detroit, Michigan 27 January 1955. He is the second of seven children of Thelma and Joe Maddox. His youngest brother is Timothy and his elder brother Eric is a classical pianist and choir conductor. He has four sisters: Harriet, Winifred, Eartha, and Hilda, who is married with seven children. His early influences were Eric’s piano playing, and his parents’ jazz and classical records. He played drums in the middle school band, sports in high school. His interest in poetry and in the music of Alice and John Coltrane was encouraged by English teacher Chester Littlejohn.

He studied Speech and Drama – at Eastern Michigan University from 1972-1974. There he encountered his brother’s colleague, Travis Biggs, a young, Motown-educated arranger who tutored and employed him immediately. In 1975 he moved to Connecticut and assembled a Jazz and Reggae band named DeJaVu with Detroit native and mentor Rev. Dwight D. Andrews. In that same year, he met Rashied Ali, sat in at Ali’s Alley in NYC and performed regularly with Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake and Anthony Davis.

His spiritual work (not religious as sometimes reported) with mentors Toni Nathaniel Harp, Akua Audrey Ficklin and her spouse Ad Theotis Holland, prompted his name change to Pheeroan akLaff while residing in New Haven CT. from 1975 to 1978.

He studied drums privately with Billy Hart, and Rashied Ali in New York, N.Y., from 1975-1981. He studied urban popular music, Folk drum and dance, in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire (where he worked with the Marie Rose Guiraud Dance Company), and Lagos Nigeria in 1981.

He moved to New York in 1978 and was married to Deirdre B. Rose from 1983 to 1985 (they had no children). In 1988 he married Luz Marina Bueno. They have raised their one child Kamillah in Brooklyn, where they presently reside.

He has led groups at festivals, concerts and clubs throughout North America, as well as at such major overseas events as the Sju Festival in the Netherlands, the Willisau Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Moers Festival, the Nurnberg East-West Festival, in Germany, and the Montsalvat Festival in Australia. He has performed in Togo, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Swaziland and Malawi in 1982 with Oliver Lake’s Jump Up band and in India, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Egypt and Morocco in 1985 with the Jay Hoggard group, both under U.S. Information Agency sponsorship. He accompanied the Marie Rose Guiraud Dance Company at performances in four Ivorian cities in 1981 and was a member of the Henry Threadgill ensemble featured at India’s Jazz Yatra festival in 1984. Since 1989 he has performed annually in Japan and in New York with the Yosuke Yamashita New York Trio with Cecil McBee. This group has featured guest artists of various disciplines.

His theatrical work includes his own Frederick Douglass Chronicles, a work-in-progress, presented at the Carver Cultural Center in San Antonio in mid-1996. He has performed with poet Amiri Baraka in the Blue Ark ensemble and with bass vocalist Kevin Maynor. He played in the premiere performance of Anthony Davis’s opera “The Life and Times of Malcolm X” at the New York City Opera. He worked with the playwright Oyamo (Charles Gordon) in 1980 and 1981 at the Manhattan Theater Company and the Yale Repertory Theater performing “The Resurrection of Lady Lester.” He worked with authors Thulani Davis, Jessica Hagedorn and Ntozake Shange and director Reggie Life in “Where The Mississippi Meets the Amazon” at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1976 and 1977 and “Mango Tango” in 1978. He has also worked with dance companies and visual artists.

As an educator, he took part in History of Jazz courses offered by Brooklyn’s Youth Development Council during the 1980s. He taught master classes at the New School’s jazz program in 1991-92. Since 1993, he has taught students of drumming and African-American music at Wesleyan University. Since 2001 he has directed the Park Art program for Real Art Ways.org in Hartford, Connecticut.

New York Foundation for the Arts award for music composition, 2000.

Participated in many grant-funded projects, such as:
Collaborations with Rob Fisher (sculptor), Dr. Julian Thayer (psycho-physiologist) and Scott Robinson (musician); S.C.I.

Carnegie Mellon University 1996, University of Pennsylvania, Central Pennsylvania Arts Festival in Bellefonte; Pennsylvania Arts Council 1993, 1992, 1991.

Mickey Davidson Dance Company; Henry Street Theater/Carnegie Foundation 1996, New York City Schools 1996 -1999

House of Spirit: Mirth (1980); Fits Like a Glove (1983); Sonogram (1988); Hanshin Lament (1992); Global Mantras (1997); Drum Color (1998); Hang Pinochet (1998); Brooklyn Waters (1999); Akamidas (2003); Samoa New York [film score] (2003);

As sideperson:
Anthony Davis: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (Opera), Episteme; Hemispheres: Of Blues and Dreams, The Enemy of Light, Hidden Voices; Baikida Carroll: Door Of The Cage, Marionettes, Shadows and Reflections; Oliver Lake: Cloth, Live at Willisau, Virtual Reality, Again and Again, The Prophet, Gallery, Clevont Fitzhubert, Impala, Expandable Language, Shine, Life Dance of Is, Holding Together; Oliver Lake’s Jump Up Band – Plug It, Jump Up; Yosuke Yamashita: Pacific Crossings, Field Of Grooves, Wind of the Age, Canvas In Vigor, Spider, Ways of Time, Dazzling Days, Kurdish Dance, Sakura Live, Sakura, Plays Gershwin, Crescendo; Henry Threadgill: Makin’ a Move, Slippin’ Into Another World, Subject to Change, You Know the Number, Just the Facts, When Was That; Mal Waldron: My Dear Family; Geri Allen: Maroons; Don Byron: Bug Music, Tuskegee Experiments; Tom Pierson: The Hidden Goddess, Left Right, Planet of Tears; Jerome Harris: Algorithms; Anthony Braxton: Revolutionary Quill (2002), Charlie Parker Project, Live Piano Quartet; Sonny Sharrock: “Live” New York, Seize The Rainbow; Carlos Ward: Faces, Live At The Bug; James Newton: Romance and Revolution, African Flower; Fred Simmons: Going Forth; Marty Ehrlich: The Long View, The Welcome; Craig Harris: Shelter; New Air: Live at Montreal, Air Show; Jay Hoggard: The Right Place, Somethin’ Bout Believin’, Love Is The Answer, Riverside Dance, Love Survives; Rob Reddy: Songs You Can Trust, Post War Euphoria; Mark Helias – Desert Blue; Amina Cludine Myers: Song for Mother E; Ray Anderson: What Because; David Murray: Karmen Gei [film score], Yonn De, Quartet Live; Leo Smith: Song O Humanity, Spirit Catcher

taken from http://www.jazz.com/encyclopedia/aklaff-sic-pheeroan-paul-maddox

Tales from the Jazzside