A few artists seem to hover over this blog, touching down, like angels, every now and again.
William Parker Ensemble (William Parker, bass, with [among others] Hamid Drake, drums; Dave Burrell, piano; Amiri Baraka, voice)
“Move On Up” (Curtis Mayfield), live, Italy (Milan), 2008
“It’s All Right” (Curtis Mayfield), live, New York, 2008
William Parker on his Curtis Mayfield Project:
This is the first project, in my 30-year career, that I have devoted to the music of someone else. It grew out of “Sitting by the Window,” a homage to Curtis Mayfield that I wrote for my band In Order To Survive. The current project develops this inspiration while trying to call upon the spirit in which Curtis Mayfield wrote his songs. We are trying to let that spirit find its voice today through musicians who not only know Mayfield’s songs, but more importantly, know themselves. They are familiar with the language of a music that includes Curtis Mayfield as well as Sun Ra.
I grew up listening to Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Martha and The Vandellas, Gladys Knight and The Pips, and Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. In my mind, their music was not separate from Marian Anderson, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Don Byas, Sarah Vaughn, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, and Louis Armstrong. All this music is part of an African American tradition that comes out of the blues. The roots of the jazz known as avant-garde are also in the blues, the field holler, and the church. Avoiding artificial separations is the key to understanding the true nature of the music. All these artists ultimately speak using this reservoir of sounds and colors that we can use to paint our own music.
The music that passed through the life and work of Curtis Mayfield cannot be duplicated. The question becomes, how can it then continue? I also ask myself this question in connection to Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk. It always seemed to me that when Ellington died, the music physically died with him. We were left orphaned, with just the recorded part of his work and all these notes on paper, but that is not the reality. Once you realize this truth, you can find a different way to proceed to re-create the songs. Paradoxically, you can only find a way to play the music by initially affirming that it cannot be done. Let us imagine the Creator: part of his voice was expressed through Duke Ellington, a part through Albert Ayler, another part through Curtis Mayfield. The method doesn’t consist in following or imitating anyone’s style; the method consists of plunging into the Tone World, which is the source of all music. You can’t counterfeit a music. One can only collect strands and begin to weave a new tapestry out of them.
Curtis Mayfield was a prophet, a preacher, a revolutionary, a humanist, and a griot. He took the music to its most essential level in the America of his day. If you had ears to hear, you knew that Curtis was a man with a positive message—a message that was going to help you to survive. He was in the foreground, always in the breach, both soft and powerful at the same time. For these reasons, his music still resounds in my heart.
More from the Albertina Walker Musical Tribute
Joe Ligon (Mighty Clouds of Joy), “I’ve Been In The Storm Too Long,” live, Chicago, 10/14/10
Like a lot of impromptu performances, this starts a little shakily; but then it builds, builds, builds.