Part 5: Where Do We Go From Here: The Ouch Band, Some of This and Some of That (1982-1990s)
Okay, well, I think we can just get right into the concrete questions and last week we finished talking about touring with Teddy and what that experience was and what it meant. And today we want to ask about what life was like when you came back to Philadelphia. So we wanted to begin by asking, when did you come back to Philadelphia? You know, and for what reason?
Well, it was because Teddy Pendergrass had an automobile accident. So everything shut down, you know? So we had no place else to go, you know, that was like, I don’t know how big the organization was — Teddy Bear Productions — and it was like, let me see: three female background singers, maybe about a seven or eight piece band. The road manager, the valet, the two bodyguards and the concession people that toured with us, the people that accompanied the trucks that drove all the equipment and the staging. So this affected a whole lot. It affected the record company, Philly International Records. All that. When Teddy hit that tree, that shut down a whole lot for a whole lot of people.
So you came back to Philadelphia in 1982?
82. Because we were about to go to Columbus, Ohio and we got the call the night before Teddy had the automobile injury and so those of us who worked with Teddy were blessed to be on unemployment for a little while. You know, maybe six months. And after that we were on our own to do whatever we could work out. You know.
So when you came back to Philadelphia in 1982, what were you thinking? And what were the decisions that you began to make in order to move forward?
I had no idea because everything shut down. So we had to figure out how we’re gonna go from here. It wasn’t anything planned. So we just had whatever we could do. I knew one of the background singers, a female background singer, she had taught school. So, I think eventually she was able to go back to teaching school. My roommate, Greg Moore, the percussionist, since we had been working with Teddy and we hadn’t, some of the gigs we had done prior to this were canceled. So, like especially when we went over to London prior to that we weren’t working that much. And Greg had a family and he had to work. So he was substitute teaching and so he didn’t go with us to London that last time. So it shifted a whole lot of people’s lives, you know, and Philly International Records had a big staff they had, they had the record promoters. They had the promotion department. They had the distribution, they had a whole lot of different people involved that Teddy’s automobile injury affected, you know. So it was like, we did whatever we could do. You know, it was this crash course. And you know, doing whatever. Well one thing that happened was eventually, our guitar player, Robert “Wawa” LeGrand and Norman Smith, our bass player who’s deceased now, and myself — members of the Teddy Bear Orchestra — we formed a group called “Ouch”. It was a band, a self-contained band, and we wrote songs, original songs. And we had a guy named Lawrence “Wease” Newton who was our main lead singer and we had another musician who sang and played drums. Lonny Barry was one of my writing partners so we wrote material, we were able to work things out and go into the studio, we cut like four tunes. Also there were different opportunities that came on board like the “Star Search” TV show. We got auditioned to do that. We did an opening act for Ashford and Simpson at Robin Hood Dell East. And we were blessed to open an act for Phyllis Hyman and at the Chestnut Cabaret in West Philadelphia. And so I up-stepped my songwriting with a lot of people during that time including James Solomon and Lee Garrett. So it was a feast and famine time and we did what we could do to survive.
So in what year did you form Ouch.
So we were you primarily finding work through ouch at the time or as a member, as the leader of —
Well, what we did was, see we really weren’t working. Say like at the time, electronic drums, drum sets, they were becoming in vogue. So we would rent on a monthly basis, drum sets for our drummer, right? A PA system to practice on from Sam D’amico Music Store in South Philly. And so the jobs that we got, we reinvested into what we were doing. So none of us was really getting paid, you know? And we also hired business affairs management, a lady named Glenda Garcia and her partner, Sidney Francis. And Glenda was the personal manager for Phyllis Hyman and she got us a connection with doing an opening act with Ashford and Simpson, and I believe her and our manager were able to secure the Ashford and Simpson and Nanva Owens connection, you know, to do that Ashford and Simpson opening act at The Dell East, Philadelphia. So, it wasn’t a time of really making money. We made money however we could.
If it wasn’t about money, then what was it about for you? What kept you committed?
Well, it was what we did, you know? We had talent and we believed in our music and other people and we were building an audience.
What would you say something significant that you learned from that experience of forming this group and leading it?
Well one thing that I would say that helped us was working with Teddy Pendergrass because Teddy was a great organizer and perfectionist and quality control guy for anything that his name went on for us, a performance or anything, so we took that model and tried to have the top when we recorded it the best we could do it — perfection — we strived for that in everything we did. We had uniforms and professional publicity photos and everything, because we had been out on the scene while working with Teddy, we’d open up for the Isley Brothers, you know, on their tour. We were opening up for Marvin Gaye. We’ve been with a whole lot of famous top flight people so we know what the model was. We couldn’t, you know, put ourselves in a position of being less than the top quality that we could shoot for and strive to be.
So after the group broke up, did you continue, you know, what was your musical focus during that time? Were you focused mostly on writing?
Well, I was playing, you know, a so-called jazz trio. Some time had a saxophone player, my cousin Bob Pollitt, sometimes a vocalist, you know, just playing little gigs around the city and sometimes, you get called to play wedding receptions or sometimes concerts, different things. You know, we did that kind of stuff. And so my answer is no.
And did this continue into the 90s?
So when did you become a piano teacher, Alfie?
Um, I really don’t know. Sometime maybe, I don’t know. Maybe 80s, 90s, perhaps. I dabbled somewhat with it. Because I studied with different people, I studied with a guy named Dave Burrell, I studied with, I’ll guess his name, it’ll come back to me. But I studied with a number of different people for my own expansion and growth and development. Dennis Sandoli, I studied with Dennis Sandoli, Dennis was telling me he had John Coltrane as his student when John was like 16.
Right. Well, something we’ve been wanting to ask you, as we draw this relationship between your history as a musician, a teacher and a student is, who are the people you studied with? In music, but also in other activities. And if the details are a little hard to recall, we can also come back to it next week. But we would like to hear about who you studied with and when. And also who are the people that you taught. And when?
Okay, well, as I was saying, I studied with Dave Burrell. Dave has worked with Archie Shepp, he’s worked with Phaorah Sanders and I studied with Dennis Santoli. Dennis has taught a lot of people: Pat Martino, John Coltrane, Rufus Harley, Byard Lancaster, a lot of people, the list goes on and on and on. And I also studied dance with a guy named Otis Givens, and Otis recently passed on. He was a dancer — he used to dance on a black dance TV show back in the 1950s called the Miss Thomas Show. It was a black R&B dance show that came on television from Wilmington, Delaware, and he always wanted to feature dancers. He was known for a dance called “The Strand” and he was known for Cha Cha, you know, very fancy cha cha steps. Also, he was part of the cha cha dance team, you know. And I used to watch him on TV and so eventually, years later, I was able to study with him for about 10 years. I’ve also been periodically showing other people some of the things that he showed myself, and I’d come up on some dance partners. They informed me with what my anatomy can do with the influence of Otis’ teaching on my anatomy of what I do as well. Also, I’ve had students, I was blessed to have students from Camden, New Jersey. Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone player, Daoud El Bakara, trumpeter, Jonathan Blake, drummer; they’re all famous guys now,you know? And I also was blessed to teach at Creative Arts High School as a consultant with Robert and Wanda Dickerson’s son. Robert and Wana are the founders and directors of Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble and Unity Community in Camden, New Jersey. I was blessed to aid their sons, Jamal Dickerson and Nasir Dickerson, with their students, to help cultivate some of them. One of the students is a lady named Arnetta Johnson and Arnetta plays the trumpet and she is currently with and has been with Beyonce for some years now. So she’s doing quite well, and there are other students who are part of that as well. A Creative Arts High School Camden, and Unity Community in Camden, New Jersey.
And you when you first began teaching, who were your students and how did you meet them?
Robert and Wanda Dickerson came to me and said if I could help out their sons who were music teachers in the Camden, New Jersey school system.Then the sons asked me to help out their students that they were developing. Some of the students were — really all of them, really great students. And when they did auditions for schools like Oberlin, University and Berklee College of Music and other different schools as music majors, they had me help them through their auditions. And then also you can play on some of those auditions videos, too, and all of them were given scholarships, you know, full scholarships to the different schools they attended. That was a blessing. And also other folks, you know, come to me periodically, you know, so that I can teach them, I aid them as well, you know, young people, older people. Some musicians I sit down and I do exchange with, like other piano players like Fareed Baron, Kenny Gates, Oliver Collins, and other pianists, you know. Also, I studied and still study with Dr. Barry Harris on occasion as well.
Why do you think they sought you as a teacher specifically?
Well, it’s probably what I could provide as well as what piano information they were looking for. I just experienced playing with people because I’ve worked with people in so-called jazz too. I worked with Hank Mobley, Archie Shepp, Lex Humpries and Edgar Bateman. I’ve worked one time at a concert with Amiri Baraka. I’ve worked with Byard Lancaster, a number of different people. Ruth Brown — I did a performance with her one time. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Trammps featuring Earl Young. A number of different people, you know? Cause’ with writing at Philly International Records, when I used to write there, you know, that experience helped me to, you know, really get familiar with the sound of Philadelphia music and so people have sought me out for you know, help with sound of Philadelphia music and R&B and with straight ahead jazz too and with theory and harmony etc.
These experiences also develop you as a musician?
Oh, definitely! It expand me, the more I teach. I notice whenever I’m teaching, even when I’m working with somebody who’s a first timer and never had no experience with a piano, what have you, I’m learning by sharing with them, because I’m, I’m learning from that because that experience is teaching me how to be more patient and how to, you know, break things down more simplistic. Some teachers stray away from taking on a quote unquote beginner but I you know, I enjoy you know helping out people who are just first time, people starting out and people with intermediate skills, experience, and also advanced folks as well.
During the 80s and 90s, what would you say were some of the turning points of that time or some of the commitments and projects which define those years for you? And also who are some of the people that you met during the 80s and 90s?
Well, during the early 80s, I met Nina Simone and we became good friends. And she came to at least one of Teddy’s shows in London and I hung out with her. One time we went to African Liberation Day Weekend in Washington D.C. and we went to the after party and some of her friends were there. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Miriam Makeba. And she was like a big sister to me and supporter of the music I did. She showed up, maybe a couple of times on gigs I was doing in Philadelphia, just like, so called local gigs. You know, and she — as a supporter. And she invited me to a show; we went to see Ray Charles and Joe Simon at the Locust Theater that no longer exists. It was on Locust Street right across from the Academy of Music. And while after the show, she took me backstage and introduced me to — I met Mr. Ray Charles. She’s one of the people I’ve met — a lot of people, radio personalities and politicians. I met Mr. Sam Evans, who formed the organization called AFNA. He lived to be 105. And he had AFNA, an organization that helped young people, some of them at risk with academic schooling and different things, you know, support finances to help them to be able to achieve greatness. And I was introduced to him by a lady named Phyllis Simms who was a photographer and got him Charles Bussey who was a singer and songwriter. And when I went to meet Mr. Evans, Charles took me there and Mr. Evans knew that Charles wrote songs. So he charged us with writing a song called “Save the Planet”, which we came up with and Mr. Evans gave us information on what to put into the song. So we wrote this song called “Save the Planet” and we got it copyrighted with Charles Bussey, Mr. Evans and Charles Bussey with all of our names on the song. And Charles took the song to demo after we recorded the demo with Charles singing on it. And I was blessed to compose the music on the computer. And so Charles was talking to a friend of his, Paul, who was a videographer, and he did a video with an atom bomb and all these different things in it. Really great video, supporting “Save the Planet”, you know, so, and the person who did a video after he completed it, we couldn’t reach him. We don’t know if he’s still, you know, with us, you know living or not. So this is one of the people that has impacted upon myself, you know, in recent times, Mr. Sam Evans. Also, Will Smith’s father, we became good friends and he produced our first CD through his company called “Philly Through My Ear Records” and that was like in the late early 2000s, I guess. Yep. Also, Bunny Sigler, I met Bunny Sigler and Bunny and I have written songs together, just been blessed to meet a lot of people.
And during this time you were also a musical director right?
I think that in a previous conversation we talked about you directing a celebration, some different celebrations for I think Joe Frazier was one of them?
Oh yeah. Joe Frazier’s 50th birthday– the 20th anniversary of the Joe Frazier, Ali, Muhammed Ali “Fight of the Century” at the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia. And I was, you know, appointed as the musical director for that. And there were a lot of famous people there. Howard Cosell, Sherman Hemsley, John Amos, Jim Brown, you know, a lot of famous boxers. And then also when Joe turned 50, I was asked to be his musical director for his 50th birthday party at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, and work with the Blue Notes, Benny King and Chuck Jackson as well.
Alfie I wanted to actually ask you a question relating back to our previous interviews. But it seems like you were really influenced by the civil rights movement. And I wanted to ask you, how has the civil rights movement or the black freedom struggle shaped you as a musician?
Well, I’d say one influence is like, James Solomon is my main songwriting partner and he and I composed two songs that are directly, well, three songs directly connected to the black freedom movement and the Civil Rights Movement and Black Arts Movement. First one is a piece called “Malcolm X”. And that’s a piece that tells a story from our perspective about Malcolm’s life and who he was and his impact on the world and his legacy. And so it’s with words and music, you know, lyrics and, and music as well. And when we cut the demo, the lady named Monnett Sudler is a great guitarist and vocalist here in the so-called jazz community in Philadelphia, she sang on the demo, “My Lord”, which is a piece that was influenced by the Negro spiritual music, and is a so-called musical Negro spiritual piece. And it speaks to the servitude and the enslavement of Africans in America and how we, our foreparents didn’t really enjoy that experience. So this song reflects that in the lyrics also James Solomon and another great writer named Walter Sorey. We penned a piece called “No Longer Bound”; the theme of the piece is the Juneteenth celebration. So there’s three pieces. Yeah. Influenced by the Black Power movement, Black Arts movement, Freedom Movement. So on and so forth.
It seems like during the later 80s and 90s, you faced a lot of challenges, especially after Teddy Pendergrass got into the accident. And you could have just abandoned you know, music and did something else. But what made you stay committed? What kept you on track?
I guess it’s a part of my DNA, music, you know. I mean, as one of the things I knew how to do: do music, do songwriting, dance, research, play music. You know, it kept me going.
So when did, what are some of, well, I think this would actually be a good time for us to talk about your album “Alfie” which I believe was produced in 2003. And I wanted to ask you what, what were the circumstances that led up to you composing and producing that album and what was the significance to you as a musician?
Okay, well, I was not a producer, I did not produce. Will Smith senior was the producer. I was the composer and band leader. I met him through my cousin, a guy named Donald Welsh, and Donald Welsh is a playwright. He has written for Will Smith son’s company Overbrook Entertainment, and he’s written a lot of different plays. He lives out in California and he knew Will and his father and gave a — I think it was like a surprise 60th birthday party for Will’s father at the Philadelphia Ethical Society right off Rittenhouse Square, downtown Philly. And he hired me to play, you know, instrumental music, background music. So while there I met Will’s father, I met Jada and Will junior, you know. And eventually, Will’s father asked Donald to ask if he could get in touch with me to ask me if I knew, ’cause the father had bought a used synthesizer, an M-1 Korg, an M-1 synthesizer. And he asked Donald to reach out to me, and asked me if I knew where he can get a manual for the used synthesizer and it just so happened I did have a manual ’cause I had the same synthesizer, you know, one of those too. So after that, Will probably had me coming down to his place. And, you know, his father was like a, like an amateur guitarist, and he had me come and play along with him while he was playing some different songs, some so-called jazz and some R&B songs, and then out of that experience, and us, he and I spent a lot of time together hanging out, besides us playing music together. And he came to some of my gigs, sometimes he would transport me with my keyboard, in his vehicle. And so he was inspired to start a record label and he said, I want to start a jazz label and I want you to be the first artist and what I want you to do is do original pieces. So we did 10 original, of my originals, so-called straight ahead jazz pieces and he put it, put the CD out, you know?
Is there anything else that, is there anything else in the time period from 1982 up to the present that you think we should discuss or hear about?
Well, I was blessed to spend a considerable amount of time at Philly International Records, building 309 South Broad Street — going there and writing with some of the writers, songwriters and producers. During that time was the infancy of programming music. First, people would do like a four track cassette, and compose music onto a four track cassette, and then eight track cassette, and also the advent of sequencers, like sequencing music, being able to compose music electronically. So, through the Philly International experience when I was writing there, if we were writing a song, we wanted to pitch it to an artist. We tried to make it sound as full as possible. You know, like say, we didn’t have a drum machine back then. So we would say, some of my partners would use their palm of their hand and they would pound on the wall to simulate a bass drum or maybe hit on a table with some paper to simulate a snare drum type sound. So eventually when MIDI came into existence, which is a Musical Instrument Digital Interface, you could take computers and sequencers and, and samplers, electronic music samplers, and drum machines and, and sync them together and have them communicating with each other. So I was introduced to composing on the computer using a sequencer. So I’ve been doing that since, almost since its inception, that has been great. First I was using a program called… oh man… Creator, Creator Notator, also, called Cubase, Cubase right I was using Cubase. And I met DJ Jazzy Jeff, who was a partner of Will Smith, I met DJ Jazzy Jeff through his brother Jimmy Townes. He and I played in a band called Soul Brothers LTD. And we would do, you know, play covers of songs and stuff. His brother was Jazzy Jeff, so I met his brother and his brother was working with Cubase and Notator Creator on the Apple Mac computer and then I eventually was blessed to be able to get the program I’m working with now, which is called Logic Pro X. And so, I’m able to compose music from home using my computer and using a keyboard to be the controller of the music. All the music sounds are in the actual program on the computer, you know, like the strings, the drum sounds, a lot of them. So I’m grateful to be able to do that and show other people how to do that as well.
Right. Well, we have around twenty, a little more than twenty minutes left for our interview today and in this last section Brandon and I wanted to ask you one or two questions that begin to work toward a synthesis of everything that you’ve shared with us in the past three weeks. So, yeah, I mean, these are questions that we really hope will begin to tie it all together. And I wanted to share this quote from James Baldwin that I think really inspired us when we were developing the idea for this interview and how, you know, it could guide people forward in society during a time like this. And it’s, it’s, it’s in Baldwin’s writings about the role of an artist in society, and he writes, “It seems to me that the artist’s struggle for his integrity must be considered as a kind of metaphor for the struggle, which is universal and daily of all human beings, on the face of this globe, to get to become human beings.” And in the theme of that, we wanted to ask you, what does your art strive toward? And seek to reflect about the human experience?
I mean, what you just read, that answers it, that answers it all, really, you know. I mean not as a cop out, but really, that sums it up.
(Laughs) Well, what motivates you know why and how you’ve chosen to play music? And like Brandon mentioned earlier, this lifelong commitment that you’ve made to really live artistically?
Yeah, well, I mean, I guess from the beatnik experience and all that, and my early on so-called jazz, experience, you know, I was just around, I just grew, gravitated toward the lifestyle of you know, my whole thing, my craft, revolving around music, and you know, when I can, make a living off of doing my craft, you know? And not doing other things or having to do something else non-musical to survive, you know. And, you know, like some people say it’s, you’re blessed to be able to do your craft and when you can realize finances from it, doing something that you love. So that’s, that’s an answer
What do you think that your music is striving toward? Given what we see in society today and the conditions of Black America, you know, and the fact that racism is not over and that, you know, so many people are still struggling on a daily basis. What do you think the role of art and your art is in a time like this?
Well, hopefully it will influence people to want to listen to it. And even hire us, to create and perform in the modality of music for healing, you know, as it helps people to think. And you unify people through the music and the healing from the music to be able to help with the environment: the physical environment, you know, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, all the mineral kingdom as well.
Alfie, I wanted to ask you about the criteria for art and how it’s changed over the years. Because from your experiences that you’ve told us about, jazz was clearly shaped by the Black Freedom Movement and part and parcel with it. But music today, popular mainstream music doesn’t seem to have that same connection to a concrete struggle. And over the years, with the decline of jazz music in mainstream popularity, how have you seen this affect the lives of Philadelphians?
Well, I would say worldwide, not only Philadelphia but people throughout the whole planet, you know. And since the, hip-hop that had became negative and toxic, has influenced and taken over and it’s like, and people have, some people, they don’t, they don’t go to school, they don’t study music in depth like John Coltrane did or they’ll just sample somebody and some people will sample people’s stuff that people have done and put a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears into creating, and won’t even give them credit and go out and start making money off of, you know, capitalizing off, you know, what other people have struggled for, you know? Yeah, well, yeah, I feel that the music just needs integrity, you know, Needs to be known and, and people should respect it, you know. And so, and then also, with, with my teaching, not only do I teach but I’m a student as well because I’m always open for learning more, newer things and being re-corrected, re-introduced to things that I thought were a certain kind of way, and being open to change from what I’ve been clinging on to, playing for a long time and for a better way, like say for example, Barry Harris, and he takes the music of, you know, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, a lot of those folk, and shows how, how strong that music was and still is very deep music. I’m gravitating toward claiming it myself, a classical composer, not a jazz composer but classical, and aligned with, you know, not unlike Mozart, or Beethoven, or Bartok or any other of those folks, so you know, it’s like a, and Miles called the music social music, because it’s social music — dancing. You know, dancing to it. One of my songwriting partners, Kenneth Salaam, now he and I were blessed to compose a piece called It’s A “Family Reunion”. And Russell Tompkins Jr, the lead singer of The Stylistics, who was also one of my piano students, blessed us with recording the song by singing lead on it, and he’s also part of the background as well. And it’s a song that we visualized and we hope it will become an international theme song for family reunions anywhere. So back to Barry Harris; Barry, you know, like, they have musicians who are contemporaries with myself, who have been playing things a certain kind of way. And Barry shows us the way from his perspective that it should be and that we’re like, we’re not utilizing our left hand the way we could, that when we play our chords, that it should be supported by the left hand, as opposed to just playing a baseline, or just playing left hand voicings on chords, that it all be supported and like inner fingerings and inner melodies to really give a more, musicality as a piano, as, as a, the entire orchestra right there can be felt rhythmically, harmonically and melodically and solid, you know, so I’m learning more things. And also, I get together with other piano players. And we do an exchange, they show me some of their stuff, I show them some of my stuff, and we collaborate together. And also, some of the older musicians have been playing things, including myself, the quote unquote, so-called the wrong way for a long time. But I like to be able to help bring folks along, bring myself along. Not only just young people, but people in general, regardless of age, who are hopefully expanding on playing the best music we can play, the best kind of way.
Right. Alfie so we’ve been talking about, you know, the artist and this unique experience in history but also this unique responsibility that comes with being an artist in society. And, you know, the way that Baldwin or Du Bois writes about the artist is really unique. And, you know, because the artist is meant to reflect the conditions and the history and the truth of a society, but also to project the possibilities of what society could become and what is possible in the realm of humanity. So what, what is the legacy that you wish to carry forward as an artist?
Well, to provide and present the best music I possibly can, that can come through me, with my anatomy constraints and my intellect and all that kind of stuff, for the whole planet and universe to receive.
So I suppose it comes back to this question of what do you think compels you or drives you to make this commitment to art, which has been so steady in your life. I mean, it really has been a lifelong commitment.
Well, the people whose shoulders I stand on. All the greats, you know, known and lesser known folk, you know, who have kept this or created this whole dynamic and you know, kept it going, you know, and it keeps me going too.
Right, I feel this in the way you speak, Alfie, because you have a very historical way of relating to the world and all these people. And when we talked about your experiences from childhood, we could even see the roots of your affinity for history during that time. And I think this relationship between art and history is really significant because as we’ve been talking about, it’s not, it’s not all happening in a vacuum, but we are a part of this greater legacy and this greater community in history, which we are also responsible for continuing.
Well what do you think?
(Laughs) Well I suppose I wanted to ask if you could you know, kind of expand on this relationship between art in history for you
Well, it’s all interrelated. It’s all part of one big thing, you know what I mean? History, artistic stuff. Because if you cross reference like throughout timelines, you see what’s happening. Like the so-called Ragtime age or pre R&B jump and race music, so-called avant-garde, so-called New Age music. Cool jazz, modal jazz and it’s just all, it’s all part of one, you know, different parts of one collective. A great collective creative composite energy.
Right. And if this is the history and these are the musicians who have inspired you and who continue to live, you know, through you in the art that you create now, then I also want to ask, who do, who are the other people that you feel responsible for? Or the the aspects of society that you feel responsible for in regards to your art. Because, you know, when we talked about your album, you spoke of how your mother and your father, but also the peace mission movement had inspired these compositions. And, you know, thinking about the future, especially as the world continues to change so much before us, you know, where do you think, what do you think you will continue to draw inspiration from and what will you become responsible to?
Well, that I can’t even speak on, but it was probably multiple things that inspired the music, you know, yeah, multiple you know, animal, vegetable, mineral kingdom, you know. Hopefully some of the good music will help to neutralize all the negative stuff that’s going on the planet right now and be, and hopefully make it cease, dissolve the negativity.
That it runs its course and then dissolves.
It’s like being a force for good, right, like Coltrane said.
Okay, yep. I ain’t trying to steal his words but I’ll say yes to that, straight up!
Yeah Alfie, I actually wanted to ask you about, because I don’t feel like my question earlier was specific enough.
But do you think there is a relationship between hip hop and gentrification
Do I? Uh, since hip hop is, in some of its form has became the mainstay and the norm worldwide. And I guess it could be viewed as similar theme for gentrification too, since gentrification is becoming a norm, you know. So, you know. Does that answer your question?
Yeah, I mean because there’s a difference in morality between the artists of, you know, like Coltrane or Lee Morgan and Archie Shepp as opposed to the artists today who are only in it for individual gain and their, the benefit of their careers. And like you were saying earlier, how jazz brings people together and the examples that you use of the white brothers from Bryn Mawr who walked and talked like brothers and, you know, white people who were for the civil rights movement. But I was a student at Temple University and, you know, I think hip hop, which is all about individualism, makes it harder for people to make these moral choices to stand on the right side of humanity.
Would you say all hip hop?
Mainstream hip hop.
Oh, today is mainstream hip hop.
Cause’ people like Professor Griff and K.R.S. One, Melle Mel and other numerous hip hop pioneers. There’s a different message, you know?
As opposed to the so-called gangster rap, and then all the toxic and demonic stuff that has become mainstream because that’s the machine that puts out bad stuff in the world. They put out what they want the people to have, I feel, and in the process created a new norm, if you will.
Do you think if more people listened to jazz specifically, you know from the period of the Black Freedom Movement, that there would be less violence in the city today?
Hopefully so then, not only listen to it but being, but introduced and exposed to it by conversation as to the values of it and the value of it, you know, as well as opposed to just listening but at the same time I was talking with Abiodun from the Last Poets and he was telling me that one time the poets were doing a artist inn residency I think in Brooklyn at a reformatory something. Folks there were like just off the chain, you know, the residents, and so what they did, the Last Poets cats, they just started piping music and, so called jazz and the dynamic of the behavior of the residents changed up for the better. They became more humane and it really cooled them out. So I don’t think it’s just one way. Probably multiple, on multiple fronts, how to, you know, to bring forth and neutralize some of that stuff.
Yeah, I mean, it’s this whole, you know, I think what Baldwin is saying really is that art teaches you how to live. And it teaches you how to live a fulfilling life. And I think that’s what’s missing from music nowadays. Yeah, I mean, do you feel like — well, I think what Baba was saying was that art teaches you how to live a life that’s fulfilling.
If a person listens up to it and gets into it. Yeah. somebody who can’t come to that, or can’t understand it, it won’t teach him nothing, I guess. It has the potential for positive change but the person is going to need to want to be open to that. Accept it and receive it, some people are and some people are not. Over time, you know.
Alfie, I wanted to reflect on the first time I saw you play at the Church of the Advocate. And one of the things that I noticed which is very different from many musicians that I’ve seen live is that you seem to, the way you play seemed to be synchronized with the audience in some ways, and I was wondering if you could explain
I guess, how I paid all of them people off (laughs)
Well, I mean, what is the relationship you have with the audience? And how does that come into the way you play?
Well see, basically, a lot of times, you know, people that are fans of the music, you know, when I’m doing a gig, I let them know. And then oftentimes, a lot of people show up, so they’re like, into the music, you know, into it. So. Yeah, and just like, we musicians are fans of our heroes, you know, we, you know, lock in like that too. But uh, as specifically, I really couldn’t determine why.
Do you think the venue is important, like it affects how you play? Like, would you say you play better at the Church that Advocate during —
I’d say, ideally, if the Church of the Advocate didn’t have that giant echo in there, ideally, you know. But it’s the vibe of the space and the murals and everything and it’s historical, all that stuff, just like, enhances everything that comes out of it.
And the people —
When we get people in there and when we can hear each other playing, you know, musicians, we can bring it, so to speak.
Right. And Alfie, you have this long history of, you know, being guided and mentored by these great musicians starting from the 50s. And, you know, going to see them live and yeah, being affected and influenced by them on a musical level, but also on a human level. And I wanted to ask you how that’s set you up to be, you know, the performer and the artist that you are today?
Well, I guess it was because getting to know musicians, you know, as in how they are, they just influenced me to try to be, you know, like them, you know. You know, a lot of musicians, some of them were, you know, really down to earth and, you know, like that, so we try to be like that. It’s like Muhammad Ali, Billy Paul, they would, and Malcolm too, they would hang with people whenever they’d go someplace. So we, that’s part of our, like we would go to, we would hang in Rittenhouse Square, Norman Connors, Billy Paul, all of us. Lex Humphries, Ron Everett. We hung in square and we would go to South Street, which was, I don’t know, maybe about, how many blocks from Walnut, maybe five blocks, something like that, and we’d go there to supercharge our vibrations to get supercharged from the soul, being around the people, soul people down there, you know. Yeah, so it was like, you know and we did that and it was, ’cause the SNCC office was down on South Street, we’d go there and hang in the SNCC office, meet people and some of the famous people would come be in town. So we would, and there was a club on 16th and Fitzwater called Tally’s Paradise Lounge and it’s no longer there, it’s a parking lot now but like sometime during the mid 60s there used to be, on Tuesday nights, there used to be like, the visitors would play there, the Earl, Carl Grubbs band and the Arthur Hall Ile Ife African Dance and Drum Ensemble and beat poets or like arts poets and speakers and you know, we’d all go there and hang out at The Paradise right off of South, you know, that part of South Street. We supercharged our batteries by being around, or we’d go out to Colombia Avenue, which is now called Cecil B Moore Avenue, we’d go up there and just get the vibes of being there, and in that, around that environment around the soulful people, you know.
Interview conducted and compiled by Michelle Yuan Lyu and Brandon Hai Do.