Friday, September 26, 2014

Excavation of the Divine

Strutting tall and strutting proud
The needles pierce and twist
Divine dance of the water chords
Snapping and creaking bones

The needles pierce and twist
Yogic edges grasp and grind
Snapping and creaking bones
Devour the light

Yogic edges grasp and grind
The unhinged knee.
Devour the light
The walk of drowning

The unhinged knee
Shedding the grip
The walk of drowning
Quenching transfiguration

Shedding the grip
Pulsating skin and spasm
Quenching transfiguration
Marrow excavation

Pulsating skin and spasm
Destiny migration
Marrow excavation
Treacherous lesson ingestion

Destiny migration
The forbidden stairs
Treacherous lesson ingestion
The cutting descent

The Forbidden stairs
Divine dance of the water chords
The cutting descent
Strutting tall and strutting proud

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Peace On Earth

Sometime during the day on September 3rd last week it came to me that I had to play John Coltrane's prayer called Peace On Earth at an anti-police brutality event in Brooklyn conceived by my friend Matana Roberts. I have a book of John Coltrane's music and proceeded to learn the music in every key in whatever free time I had before the event on Sept 4th. I transposed it on the down low at work and got it together mostly in a park after work before I gave a lesson to my only student. All I knew was that it was important to play this song. The event to raise money for Michael Brown seemed appropriate.

My brother Ras Moshe was there on tenor. I wasn't going there with the music of Trane without Moshe. Tomas Fujiwara had agreed to play drums with us. I mentioned to the folks before we played about how an NYPD van near my job was recently tagged with PIGS and FUCK THE POLICE. I also mentioned how recently one block from where I lived the last 5 years up in the heights there was an almost riot as a crowd of people started throwing bottles at cops and approached them in mass holding up their arms saying "Don't shoot". I had anger at cops in my heart. What I really want is ACCOUNTABILITY. I want people who kill to answer for it. Parts of me call for big time payback. That's where I was as we started to play. It was then that I truly was able to experience the spiritual power of John Coltrane.

As I started to play peace on Earth on flugelhorn I felt a wash of energy overtake me. I felt no anger. I felt like I had become a conduit for forces beyond this world. John Coltrane's piece opened up a door to the other side that allowed Love to flow through. Love that forgave us. Love that asked us to find peace in our hearts. Love that called for an end to violence. Love that called for an end to fear. Love that called for every person on Earth who had a weapon to lay it down. It was just that past Monday that I sold a violin to a man from Belize who declared to me:

"I'm going to take a gun out of a street kids hand and hand him a violin."

As I played the song I felt the presence of Roy Campbell who told us from beyond this world through his sister during his wake:

"We're here to learn how to love one another."

Afterwords I felt a different reaction from the listeners. Some of them knew the door to a Love Supreme had been opened. We have to open it and keep it open. A piece like peace on Earth by John Coltrane is an actual key. A gift that he left to the human race. Long have I studied Trane. I've written about him. So many musicians all over the world deeply resonate with his music and what he was called to do. I know someone who was cured of drug addiction through his music. All of this time I believed I understood him, but it took the experience of playing Peace On Earth in a live event to truly feel it past an intellectual and heart based resonance down to the spiritual core. A place where I acquired a true knowing of the healing and trans-formative power of music. As an 11 and a spiritual messenger myself it was a joy to receive a further message from beyond. The message being that we have to keep going.



The world seems more unstable now than anytime in my living memory. As evil gets uprooted they're making their desperation move. People are surrendering to fear. Ignorance abounds. People the world over continue to act sedated, infested by greed and superficiality. Musicians and artists are locked down all over the globe in survival mode.

We have to keep playing though. We must keep creating.

Nobody can see it just yet.

If you look closely enough you'll see.

You'll know it in your heart.

We're winning.

For Michael Brown and Eric Garner








Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Giuseppi Logan's Final Chorus

I went down to the basement to find a case for an old King Zephyr Tenor sax today. Coming back upstairs Brother Diaz shouted at me saying "Hey man, your friend is here!" I rounded the bend and there he was. Brother G was embroiled in a new piano creation. He was playing those wide dark and ominous chords he enjoys so much. His running buddy and hustle partner Jimmy wasn't with him so I knew something was up. G had a ginger ale and a 7 Eleven danish in a wrapper on the floor. I picked up his food. The danish was still warm. As it usually goes with G, music had taken over the need for food. He stopped playing and gave me a hug. After a little prodding I learned the situation. No reeds and no neck strap had his music for nickels and dimes program at a standstill. It was like that time in the 70's during the gas strike when we waited in line for two hours and then a sign was placed on the back of the car in front of us. NO MORE GAS. No reeds means no sound. That's why at the Ash I'm the connection for notables such as Sonny Fortune, Paquito D' Rivera, and James Carter. Everyone knows I'm the guy to see for reeds at that special price.

G was out of cash. My wallet had nothing but dust in the wind. I told G to get back into his music while I stepped out to remedy the situation. I returned with my friend Andrew Jackson, who promptly made sure Giuseppi's needs were met. G then asked me to show him beginning violin and guitar books, in case he found any music students. Then we listened to some tracks from the great Monk record Underground. The swing on the song Green Chimney's really perked G up as was evidenced by his body language. Eventually I walked him to the bus headed back to Avenue D for destruction. G is walking slower and slower these days. I have witnessed age tighten it's grip on him. I'm truly worried about him. The doctors notes in his room are written with urgency. On the way to his last gig for ESP he caught violent shakes on the subway and really scared me. As I tried to help him calm down I told him in my mind "Not like this man. Don't end your life here." As usual, tenacious G made the gig. A door gig of course. And maybe his last.

Giuseppi doesn't trend on Twitter you see. He has no social media presence. He's been charged with not being able to play anymore by the musical community at large. He can't defend himself without any gigs. Ever since this article in the New York Times ran called Giuseppi Logan's Second Chance, I have witnessed a steady decline in interest in his music. Despite my best efforts, the well has run dry. All those people that book the Stone don't care about an old man that created a free jazz masterpiece before they were born. It's all about them now, or their friends. Nobody from any scene will offer him a gig. Mostly because he doesn't give them any political power or support their agenda. Can he still play? Giuseppi's music comes out in short bursts now. He might be wiped out in 25 minutes, but he's in there. Trust me on that. At a piano he could play a full long set. Doesn't matter now. The NYC he knew back then is a far cry from NYC today. The NYC of 2014 has turned it's back on brother G. They treat him as a relic, simply watching the world go by from his self-assigned busking bench in Tompkins Square Park. The cute little old guy with the sax. What a great way to decorate your NYC experience in a city that has cast aside it's own culture in pursuit of the holy cash.

We went down swinging though. Believe that. I tried to get G a grant from New Music USA. We went down in the first round. I reached out to Music Cares from VH1. The response was bleak as hell. They chose not to even write me back an email about it. Judgement has been served. Brother G, you are guilty of trying to live your final days out as an artist!

The only time the late great master Roy Campbell got mad at me was when that New York Times article came out. Roy said that the article validated the stereotype of the down and out Jazz musician. I was surprised that Roy got mad but have come to see just how right he was. There is a part of the media that expects and wants us to fail. The down and out Jazz man. Perfect for their distorted perspective of the kind of life you lead if you actually dare to let your art lead the way. People like to see that their choice to lead a safer life is validated when they see an older musician living his life out in a super busted little room. The recent New Yorker and Washington Post articles prove that our adversity is actually funny to them. Ha ha.

I get it. Life is all about choices. If you choose to be a cop then you might choose to kill an unarmed teenager. If you choose to be a cop then you might choose to choke hold somebody to death for selling a few loose cigarettes. If you choose to be a soldier then you choose to possibly scar your soul by killing someone in the name of freedom only to then end up homeless in the country you fought for. 

Brother Giuseppi Logan chose to be a musician. Yes. He also chose a life of self-destruction. All of that is over now. He's just a man with a song to sing. No one is listening however, too busy with Facebook.

I'm still listening though. I'll keep listening and fighting for you man.

Every human being on Earth deserves a final chorus.




Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Standing Tall in a Den of Demons

First an apology to all my Fat Eb peeps. I have been remiss in finishing interviews. I have interviews in process with Sabir Mateen and Francois Grillot but they need more work. I might interview myself, being drunk with power in an act of pure gluttonous but gluten free will. Back in my Myspace days I interviewed the Sun, Death, Jazz, Sex, and Love. These interviews were hard to get and are now tragically adrift in the cyber-abyss. Maybe I can get them back during the creative writing course I'm about to take as I try to finish school. I have to get better at writing. I have to be able to at the very least, write something better than the lame ass, supposed-to-be-funny Sonny Rollins piece I just read in the lame ass New Yorker. I can only hope that any audience I have is not sitting back in their $6,000 a month rent Union Square pad finding the adversity Jazz musicians face as funny. I wonder if Giuseppi Logan reads the New Yorker each morning with tea before he hits Tompkins Square to hustle up some nickels. The Village Voice is even worse. The bad part is they still think they're relevant. That rag used to have some cred. The last legitimate question they asked was if Jar Jar Binks was gay.

Point being there actually are some real things happening that deserve far more attention. Things like TRUMPET CITY.

I am still reeling from this impossible experience. Long have I imagined giant music ensembles. Back on Myspace I wrote a fantasy called "How to tune the World," in which stadiums all over Earth would fill with musicians who would all play together simultaneously in an attempt to create a common energy of intent. An intent that would create world peace, and bring balance to the continued adolescent tantrum we continue to spit out all over the globe. I encountered Craig Shepard a month or two ago on FB with his trumpet city project. Craig is really on to something. Something really big and so important.

I didn't know what to expect when I gathered in a Church basement with 92 trumpet players. Right off Craig really surprised me by leading the group in a meditation. This was a brilliant move. Going further in Craig next removed ego from the table by about 97% by having people focus on his composition and his vision. A vision which would have us take over 30 odd blocks outdoors in NYC. Graig also conducted simple but very powerful listening exercises. He created a small army of trumpet players looking to play TOGETHER. Finally in just a few notes I felt a musical power greater than anything I had ever experienced. I felt a vortex of sound form at the center of the group. This was it! I had dreamed of what would happen if a group of musicians this large could focus their power. By playing together we became vastly more powerful than apart. Craig, mad respect to you man. Maybe we can do an interview here at Fat Eb.

My own orchestra the 12 Houses is where I have put all the energy of this dream for the last few years. UNITY is the foundation of this growing musical family. We have no boundaries in regards to gender, race, culture, orientation, style, generation, and especially sound. I want EVERY sound to be with us. The greatest example of this by far was the cosmic synchronicity that allowed a master of the SAW to join us. My new friend from Japan, Hajime Sakita. Hajime had people straight mesmerized. (Links coming asap from Don Mount). Today I went hunting for some big venues for 12 Houses. We even recently almost received a grant. Send us some positive energy today. We need a kickstarter of positive energy and intent.

Up to this point with 12 Houses I've been featuring each member with melodies that are not unlike hymns. They're like William Parker's song called poem for June Jordan. I wrote a piece about Moonflowers that only bloom at night featuring Claire de Brunner on bassoon. Another piece about the power of Faith as represented by my Mom's ability to walk into a third brain surgery like she was headed to a walk in the park. That one featured pianist Chris Forbes. Another piece with no title was named Sleepy Harlem by clarinet player Sweet Lee Odom. I'm deep into what is known as exotic Ellington. Duke validated me and my avant-garde approach when he declared that for the avant-garde he had Paul Gonsalves, my biggest inspiration in music. I have my own version of body language conduction based on seeing Duke conduct in one of his sacred concerts. It's a simplified reduction of the Butch Morris technique. I learned a great deal from master Butch. Butch in fact makes 12 Houses possible, I couldn't do it without his innovations. As the ensemble has grown my relationship to music has deepened. What's happening now is that after listening to Alice Coltrane for many years, I'm really starting to HEAR her. You can spend years listening to somebody before you're ready to hear them. Amazing.

From her piece Wisdom Eye where she actually captures the moment of spiritual surrender and allowance, to Radhe-Shyam where she conjures a futuristic landscape that I can only perceive as being on a beach on a planet in the Sirius system, Alice is truly transcendent. She continued on a very personal journey after her time with Trane. Her music has become a huge signpost as to a direction to travel with the 12 Houses. I'm about to sink into a book about her music that I just found. I've sought out every known record she made that I didn't yet have. Commencing study now. Her music always had a profound spiritually positive energy and always had the LIGHT. I once stopped playing music to pursue an entirely spiritual life. While I came back to music as a primary focus, I have never reconciled the two perspectives. Gratitude to Alice for helping to show the way.               

As usual we need all the positive musical energy we can summon. How else can we turn the tide as the police murder Eric Garner? What else can we do to save the girls kidnapped in Nigeria? What other energy can we summon to stop the entire Middle East from absolute chaos? I still believe that what Albert and Trane believed is true. We have to keep creating, keep playing, keep burning.

I have my own selfish reasons of course. I want the world to take a vacation from itself so I can make the 20 records I carry around in my head. I want the resources to rehearse and record the 12 Houses. God bless them, they have stuck with me up to this point. I want the resources to become a better writer and write stories that expose our true cosmic reality and our true destiny. Until those glorious days when we arrive at the mountaintop however we have to keep on writing, keep on playing, keep on painting, and keep on creating despite whatever adversity reels its ugly head this week. We have to keep creating just to hold on to our basic standards.

It's like William Parker said that one time..

Demons you see, the demons must be BOWED away.

For Eric Garner ****

TBC August 16th with John Pietaro's Dissident Arts Festival.

The Dissident Arts Festival

The 12 Houses meet Daniel Carter

The 12 Houses play at the CSV for Arts for Art

Matt Lavelle and the 6 Houses (first set) - Freddy's Back Room, Brooklyn

Matt Lavelle & the 6 Houses (second set) - at Freddy's Back Room, Brooklyn



Monday, July 14, 2014

Living Stories

Being at the counter at Sam Ash selling reeds is not much different than being a bartender for musicians. I cross paths with musicians from every scene. They often don't know what my allegiances are and I don't know theirs. I can usually find common ground for us to stand on. It gets deeper with people that are involved with music that don't have the need to immerse themselves into attempting mastery of speaking a musical language of their own. It gets deeper still when I have Spotify nearby on a big screen and I stream music not from the mainstream for all to hear. It often ends up being a subtle confrontation of sorts as people are placed outside of their musical safe house where 2-5-1 patters and great voice leading are demonstrated with great mastery.

Why just the other day I was playing the music of a living titan of the tenor saxophone up on the big screen. This musician was not interested in chord resolution by any means. He needed something more. I had the volume not too loud, but loud enough. Two older woman reacted as I rang up their sale. They spoke quietly as if it were a private conversation not wanting to offend someone. 

Karen: "Someone is murdering the saxophone."

Jane: (with a touch of sarcasm) "No...they're telling a story."

Karen: "Well what's this story about? Can you tell a story entirely in metaphor?"

Jane: "Well we're in no position to judge."

Karen: "I'm judging this. I'm sorry but it's just not good. What good is it if you can't understand it? What do you think young man?"

Me: (smiling) "I'm glad you asked that. When someone reaches this level of expression the feeling is paramount. It might be the feeling of what he experienced in his first marriage, or the feeling of trying to become a better person, or the feeling of trying to make the world a better place. It's obviously a very personal thing."
Karen: "But is he playing for himself or for the audience? I need the story to make sense."

Karen had me on the ropes and gave me something to delve into. I'm all about the story myself. I want to tell the real stories, but I enjoy science fiction big time. The line between reality and science fiction is paper thin to me. I like stories when the gloves come off. Stories with no limits. I'm looking for a way to bridge my literary world and my musical one. I came to the conclusion the other day that for me story is what it's all about. In music that's my new bottom line. Are you telling a story or not? I'm not just applying this formula to Jazz, I'm self-righteous enough to apply this to ALL music. Say what you will about rap and pop music, they tell stories. Problem is they usually suck eggs. I'm like Daniel Carter, everywhere I look I'm searching for gold. In Regina Spektor's song "You've got time" from the show Orange is the New Black she sings these lyrics:

"Taking steps is easy. Standing still is hard." I really took something from that. I've had lots of time on the sidelines. Orange is the new Black is loaded with stories. Good ones. It's the new crack but without the side effects. I still remember this guy on 8th ave in 1986 telling me "Got that crack, got that smoke, ain't no joke." He offered me a free hit. If I took it my story might be vastly different. Years later a friend told me at a diner on the Lower East Side at 3am that you can never match that first high anyway. This cat may have won the award for most firings by Cecil Taylor. 

Stories can be where we see something go down that relates to the core meaning and experience of being alive. Do the right thing, or not. The core message of a good story is usually to live life. It's by living life that you get the real benefit. The choices and consequences are where you get into the Nitty Gritty. I feel that music should contain ALL of that. It was Bird who said that music is the story of your life. Here in Fat Eb I have told the stories of Roy Campbell Jr, and Sir Hildred Humphries. They lived lives that are stories and testaments to the power of music. The quest to make music your life. They will always be remembered for living lives of music. Their music is their story. I've set up interviews so people could tell their own living story. More of those on the way. If you're alive right now then you're a living story. What is it? Have you dedicated your life to something or someone? What would you be remembered for if you cut out tomorrow?

That's why I'm at odds with Facebook. If you're a FB user could you stop for a day? Could you stop for a week? If Facebook charged $50 a month would you pay for it? Would you pay $75 a month for Facebook premium? Watching everybody else lead their lives on Facebook it's easy to forget that you're supposed to be living your own. Is it all about people needing approval they don't get in their actual life? There are different directions you can go. I like it when people challenge your perception of religious reality like Lonnie Plaxico. I like when Ras Moshe gets you to think about the true reality of music and politics in the world. Some people initiate necessary discussions that otherwise would not take place. I have dabbled in this in discussions about the Crop Circles and also asking everyone on Facebook to describe a musical experience that made them tremble. Big response on that one. My goal was to prove that those moments were more important than any top 10 list. The other side of Facebook is family photos, cat photos, comedy, tragedy, and lots of superficial crap thrown on top. When you click on "new stories" you're playing roulette with the world.

The other part of FB I'm at odds with is that it's seemingly impossible for us not to invoke the love of our heroes and their music at every turn. I'm just as guilty as everyone else invoking Miles on a dime. We have to focus on the living stories. Some of us try to do just that. I've digested many living stories in many forms on multiple levels and extracted three core things that I think the human being is being asked to do. What we have always been asked to do regardless of where or when we lived.

Clean your body.

Clean your mind.

And the biggest challenge of all..

Clean your heart.


To be continued with the 12 Houses tonight at 10pm at the CSV. Peace.




Monday, June 30, 2014

Sir Hildred Humphries. It's all about the music.

Sir Hildred Humphries

Ahh Hump. My man. Hildred was my first mentor. Unlike most of the young guys today, at 44 I have spent extensive time learning from true masters of the Art. It was legendary music educator Bert Hughes who not only got me to spend a summer getting my chops back in 1986 so I could go to Russia, he would also introduce me to Hildred. Hildred was so much more than a mentor. For a period of about two years he was just about my best friend. This inexplicable relationship crossed all generational and cultural boundaries due to our shared prime directive. Just as Roy Campbell reminded us from beyond this world, the bottom line remains: It's all about the music.

Who was Hildred Humphries? Well Hildred spent 6 months on the road with none other than Billie Holiday.

"Everyone told me not to work with her because she was nothing but trouble, but they could not be more wrong. It was a true pleasure playing with her and one of the great experiences of my life."

Hildred was also someone who went deep with none other than the Count. Count Basie.

"I was on the road with Basie for a few years and we had a good thing going. I got tired of the road however and wanted to stop. Basie bought me a gold plated tenor to get me to stay! I stayed for awhile for the tenor, but eventually I told Basie I had to go."

In his up and coming days Hildred's main partner was trumpet king Roy Eldridge.

"When we were 15 Roy and I would practice Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins solos in the basement of my mother's house." 

Hildred was not alone. His brother Frank "Fat Man" Humphries was an extremely powerful swing trumpeter who could out Maynard Maynard before Maynard existed. I know because I tracked down a recording. I'll never forget when I played it for Hildred and his nephew Frankie, Frank's son.

"That's him!!! That's Frank!!! We all looked at each other with tears in our eyes listening to Frank blow the roof off a Louis Armstrong vehicle called "After You've Gone."

"Young Miles Davis used to come see Frank. He would sit in the front row studying his every move!"

When I met Doc Cheatham playing at Sweet Basil and mentioned Hildred, Doc went off. "Tell Hildred to call me right away!" 

It really started when I was living in Nyack New York in 1990 and I went to Hildred's house down by the riverside. It was a big old amazing house that he shared with his sister, who usually answered the door. I started bringing my horn as Hildred would spin stories about Jazz back in the day. Eventually I started bringing my Aebersold tapes and a cassette recorder. I still have about 5 hours on tape of us playing blues and standards. We always tried to come up with something different. We would always listen back and fall out laughing at some of the wild chances we took. I still remember his core advice:

"Start your solo off as exciting as possible. You'll have the audience hooked. Make sure you can keep it up though!"

Eventually Hildred started bringing me around to gigs and having me sit in. Then I joined an actual band he had. I can remember at least 4 places we used to play. The Hudson House. A place on Main St. A place down by the river, and a church. We played at least 2 festival gigs, one had Bill Crow on bass. Hildred had a great little band. The only time he really got angry with me was when he thought I called double time on a blues. It was the drummer man!

This brings me to a quintessential moment in my relationship with Hump, as we called him. (I nicknamed his big white Cadillac the Hump Mobile) We were playing a jam session at the Hudson House and somebody called Summertime. Erik Lawrence was there and took a phenomenal alto solo. When it was my turn I plunged into what could only be called free Jazz. I was slamming down into the low F# of the horn, playing wild. On the chord change I went into a Sonny-boy Williamson valve squeeze that came from blues outer space. I was playing Summertime on Mars. What would Hildred think?! He shouted out for all present to hear..


This was the most important moment of my musical life. It was the key defining moment. The message was so clear, so loud, so perfect.


Getting validation from somebody from the swing era was the supreme seal of approval. I have never looked back. Hildred gave me an incredible gift that day which I will forever be grateful for.

One day when I stopped by, I found Hildred with 3 music stands lined up. Laid out was John Coltrane's Countdown solo. Hildred said "Watch this" and then played down the whole solo note for note. I was flabbergasted.   

"You know there are people today still not feeling Coltrane. I'm here to tell you that not only is he one of us, but he may the greatest of us all."

Again Hildred gave me an incredible gift, opening the door to the world of Trane. I had been listening to music from all over Trane's history and was perplexed, but so drawn to the spiritual intensity that was always present.

Hildred and I continued to hang out. I used to drive him around in my insane red pickup truck. I took him to the Wiz to buy a boombox. I took him to the barber and the shoe repair guy. I took him to this Blues guy's house so we could jam in his basement. I took him to my house to listen to Louis Armstrong and watch my copy of the Sound of Jazz video. I'll never forget his reaction when Coleman Hawkins appeared.


Eventually I got a scholarship to the Berklee College of music. I wrote Hump letters that said stuff like..

"This is some bullshit man. You can play better than everyone here. Everything you've taught me surpasses this."

Time passed as time does. On a break from school I stopped by Hildred's place on a Sunday around 10 AM.

"It's a good thing you're here man. I need somebody to make breakfast for."

I then got the supreme honor of watching Hump cook up a vicious soul food breakfast. He refused help and made me sit down and tell him about school. It reminded me of a few times we did that at his sister;s house and another time at a church where his wife had made all these sweet potato pies. It was a church where we would play our last gig together. I recall playing "When the Saints Go Marching In." Hildred was also a great singer you see. I watched as he sang the Pops classic "What a Wonderful World." I watched how there was not a dry eye in the house. Hildred had silenced the place and filled it with Love once again.

It was Bert Hughes who called me a few months later to inform me that Hildred had passed on. I was devastated. I played at 2 memorials for Hildred after that. I was playing My Funny Valentine a lot back then.

I often think about Hildred today. His story is where mine begins. I would go on to eventually learn on the bandstand with Sabir Mateen, in the Chamber with Ornette, and then finally from iconoclast Giuseppi Logan who once exclaimed:

"You know you can play right Matt? You can play man, you can play!"

Every note I do play these days comes back to a great gift I received from getting to spend time with a great friend and teacher, the great Sir Hildred Humphries. No you, no me.

I love you man. Peace to you always. I will forever cherish your gift of music.

May God bless Sir Hildred Humphries.