As 2018 draws to a close, I have found myself not reflecting on the past year, but on all the music I’ve been involved in since 1978 when Mr.Natoli told me I was a trumpet player. I’ll be 49 next year. I’ve spent the last several years researching music when I’m not working on it or playing it. With the rain coming down yesterday and a break from work, I was drawn to research my own music. Something told me to go find that box of mini-discs. I put on Monk and Sonny Rollins playing Reflections, and the next thing you know about 5 hours had passed. What follows is more for me than anyone reading, I’ll admit my selfish nature straight off. I need to document myself, and can’t explain why. (2018 was heavy, from the 12 Houses playing Beacon, the release of Retograde on ESP, and recording my next quartet record coming out in the Spring on Unseen Rain called Hope)
Roy Campbell used to carry an old school tape recorder around with him, and place it right below him, recording hundreds, if not thousands of performances. I did the cassette thing too. Then mini-disc came out and was a big deal, for me anyway. I could upgrade my recording game pretty easily. Some of my records were made on mini-disc. CD-R was next, and when those first TDK CD burners came out, that changed everything again. Francois Grillot had one burning night and day. With the advent of the digital age, all of my recordings became relics overnight. I tried a ZOOM, but now I record video on my iPhone of most performances, mostly so I can hear it. Sometimes I stream. That’s just my method. Going back through the music I was involved in was a trip and a half.
Surely you remember Sam Goody? Goody was number one when cassettes were king. They even had a make your own mix-tape machine, I still have a few tapes I made. In high school, when I got turned on to jazz, I went to a Sam Goody and asked someone where to start. He sold me a cassette of Miles called You’re under arrest. I don’t remember what tape recorder I had, maybe a small boom box, but I found these:
1990 A 4 trumpet jam session at Berklee with Brad Mason and Gilbert Castellanos. I was out for blood on Have you met Mrs. Jones? It’s just the 3 of us trading over an Aebersold tape, but we were going for it. Brad and Gil have had extremely successful music careers.
A 1990 mix-tape tape I labeled “Lavellism” that I dedicated to Roy Hargrove and Marlon Jordan! This tape contains my earliest playing in the 80’s, playing standards live, in the Suny New Paltz big band, and in a workshop with Warren Bernhardt. I even wrote on the case “One side of this tape may be longer to produce continuity”
1991 a cassette of my first gig as a “leader” at the Hudson House in Nyack New York, a trio without piano!
1991 a cassette of an incredible live jam at the Hudson House with my first mentor, Sir Hildred Humphries, Larry Cohen, and Eric Lawrence. This one is special, because on Summertime, I went totally out, going for my out blues sound squeeze and slam, and Hildred had my back, publicly supporting me. In other words, right went I went off the rails he shouted out “YEAH!”
I have FIVE cassettes of Hildred and I playing at his house down by the river. These tapes may be my greatest possession. They’re like lessons, but most of them are us playing blues that we would listen back to. Maybe 20 different takes, so we could see what different stuff we could come up with. Afterwords Hump would provide advice such as “start off your solo as exciting as possible!” We often ended up laughing. I’ve written about my time with Hildred.
The Speaking Seeds! In 97 I was living in NYC and was in a band led by revolutionary Sharrif Simmons. I remember the bass player was named Tree. Seeds had a family vibe, and we played protest music all over Manhattan. I played a lot of plunger. I remember Sharrif singing “The Portuguese fall on their knees”, and Tree saying “I pledge defiance to the United Snakes of America.” I sure miss them.
In the summer of 99, I experienced my free jazz awakening. After a self-imposed exile to upstate New York (from straight-ahead NYC burnout) I had given up music and pursued extreme spiritual and relationship exploration, buy me a drink to talk about this. I met drummer Ryan Sawyer on his way to NYC from Texas, and we played at a place called the Rhinecliff Hotel. I have a cassette of this! Ryan turned me on to the out scene in NYC and then called me to play live on a radio station in Brooklyn called Free 103.9
Live on the air, I played about everything that had happened the past few years, and may have never played better. I was truly free. Ultimate fast and extreme high notes just poured out of me like never before or since.
Other cassettes include an attempt at a free orchestra with Daniel Carter called NY Symphony, and hits in Boston at the Zeitgeist, and in Philly at the High-Wire.
CD-R and Mini-Disc
The biggest find for me has been documentation of NY TRUMPET NEMESIS. What happened was, Roy Campbell and I thought about the trumpet section of William Parker’s Little Huey Orchestra being a band, with William himself on bass. We had several drummers. The first hit at the Pink Pony was lost, but I have 3 CD-Rs and 2 Mini-Discs. Incredibly, one of these also has Raphe Malik! We also played Tonic without a rhythm section. Our last concert was at the Bohemian Caverns in Washington DC. Afterwards Roy said “Thanks for everything” as we parted ways and gave me a big hug. It was the last time I ever saw him.
Eye-contact was a free trio with Ryan Sawyer on drums and Matthew Heyner on bass. Ryan and Matthew were into music all over the map, and I was the free jazz guy. We really came together and threw down hard. I miss playing this way. It was unabashedly and unapologetically spiritual music. I have 8 CD-R’s and 23 mini-discs of EC playing live! We did one tour of the Midwest, and released 3 records, and played Scotland. EC had a fourth album in the can that was never released. We held court at Zebulon in Brooklyn.
Morcilla started as an attempt to bring latin rhythm into a free jazz context with Andre Martinez playing congas, replacing the drums. Chris Forbes was on piano, and Francois Grillot was on bass. It really became a quartet with my compositions. We had a different vibe though, and had bright moments. Andre allowed me to use his paintings on the self-produced release. We made a live recording at Tower Records that never came out. We were dedicated, and I have 13 CD-Rs and 10 Mini-Discs of us playing live. Francois and I had been together since my straight-ahead days, and this was my first band with the great Chris Forbes, who I met at a workshop by Sabir Mateen. Raphe Malik was at that workshop and he loved that I told him “Anytime I go below middle C or above high C, there you are!”
Sab, or Ribas, was my second mentor, and he was extremely generous as I was in at least 4 of his bands over a course of 10 years. Omni-Sound was a quartet with bass and drums that played Sab’s compositions, he had a huge book. We toured Europe and also did a tour of the States. I have 6 CD-Rs of Omni and 3 Mini-Discs. Shapes, Textures, and Sounds was a quintet that played Sab’s music with Steve Swell on trombone. I have 2 CD-Rs of Shapes. The East 3rd Street Ensemble was an improvising group that met weekly at a rehearsal studio rented by drummer David Gould. It had a rotating personal for something like 10 years. I was in there for 3 or 4 years, and we never formally recorded. I have 3 CD-Rs and 6 Mini-Discs of East 3rd. I also found a large ensemble piece that Sab wrote called Movement of the Future Ark-Symphony of a lifestyle. Incredibly, I found 3 duo performances with Sab, and a trio of us with William Parker that went down! I also found a clarinet hit we did with Charles Waters, I think at Tonic.
Spiritual Power was a trio with Hilliard Greene and Michael T.A. Thompson that made one record on Silkheart. This was what I hoped would be my breakout band, and moment. I wanted that band to basically announce that I was a real player on the scene. I don’t know what, if any, impact it had, but I gave it every last ounce of my spiritual being. I played mostly flugelhorn and bass clarinet, and wrote all original compositions. I’ve railed against top 10 lists, though I’ll admit that I recall that the record made several of them. I found 3 mini-discs, 2 CD-Rs and best of all, a DVD.
Saturn Return with Mat Maneri
One of my biggest finds was a trio I was in called Saturn Return with Ryan Sawyer and Francois Grillot, we played free. We had that telepathy thing going down and it was more jazz than spiritual free jazz. Saturn Return is where Sabir heard and then hired me. I have 9 mini-discs of us playing live. The killer is I found TEN Mini-Discs of us playing with Mat Maneri! At a certain point I got deep into the music that he and his father Joe played, and I sought Mat out. I had no idea we played together that much and that I had the documentation. I have pictures somewhere of us at the legendary CBGBs Gallery curated by Dee Pop that featured the musicians hang bar in the back, where I used to have soul discussions with Tazz.
The list goes on and on, all bright moments..
Summer Snow (my quintet) multiple recordings
I Will Bring My Music to the World (my other quintet) multiple recordings
Sanctified (a band with Ras Moshe)
Grandpa’s Rainbow (12 houses before the 12 Houses)
Election Rejection (12 houses before the 12 Houses)
The Music Now! Big Band
Duo with Daniel Carter (3)
My interview on the BBC when Tower closed
Playing with an actors improvisation group
My improvised soundtrack to a play called The Midnight Caller
The Sparks Trio with Ras Moshe and Todd Capp
Tower Records with Jemeel Moondoc
The compositions of Daniel Carter (2 live)
Playing solo (3) Before streaming!
A trio with Giuseppi Logan and Francois Grillot!
Duos with Francois
A conduction led by Roy Campbell
CD-R of work with rapper Maximum Grime
CD-R of work with a Dominican Heavy Metal band called Law Biting Citizens
Mini-Discs with Stars Like Fleas
2 concerts at Tower Records with my quintets
Morcilla at Roulette expanded with Sabir Mateen and Roy Campbell Jr, and Ras Moshe.
Manifestation Drama (12 houses before 12 houses with 2 singers, Andrea Wolper and Lola Danza, 2 tenors, Ras Moshe and Catherine Sikora, Ras Miguel, Chris Forbes, Michael Thompson, Hilliard Greene, and Michael Wimberly on Djembe- what a band!
And maybe best of all..
A DVD playing free with Bern Nix and Francois Grillot
There’s more, but my shoulder hurts, and I’ve got a thesis to write today. Once the iPhone era started, all of my stuff has become mostly videos on YouTube. There something like 200 videos of me floating around on YT of all kinds of things. My focus really sharpened in the last 5 years or so on my quartet with Lewis Porter, Hilliard Greene, and Tom Cabrera, Retrograde with Reggie Sylvester, and my beloved 12 Houses. Those and playing under my beloved bridge in Astoria. There’s a discography of my official releases on my Wikipedia page.
I may not have much loot in the bank. I’ve never gotten one of those grants. I’ve had a day-gig since 1988.
I’ve never stopped giving everything I have to music.
I’ve never given up.
Dedicated to every musician I’ve ever played with and HERE’S TO MUSIC IN 2019.