Before I riff on Master Hugh Masekela, silent K in the pronunciation as instructed by my editor here at Fat Eb, a quick shout out to Albert the Bass Clarinet. Ahh Albert. I'm really gonna miss you man. My first Bass Clarinet, the one I jumped down into the subway tracks to save as detailed in my book New York City Subway Drama and Beyond, was relocated to California after a severe neck injury. I left him in the care of Dave the Jewel Sewelson, so I know he ended up in a happy home. Dave is one of my favorite people on Earth (get ready for his big band to invade the Lower East Side in May). I found Albert, my second Bass Clarinet, at Roberto's in NYC 13 years ago on consignment. I paid way to much for him with money I didn't have, believing we were meant to be together. I named him Albert because he was stamped "Vincent Albert" on the side and Vincent just didn't fit. We went on to make a bunch of records together, traveled to Europe a few times, and spent quality time with each other damn near every night for over a decade. I attempted a true double with my trumpet and tried to dedicate equal time to both. Eventually I needed to take my trumpet chops to the next level and, with a new lady Alto Clarinet in the mix, and Albert having reached his twilight years, I decided to let him go. He ended up in exile on display at Sam Ash, looking at me every day wondering why I had done him wrong. His story wasn't over however, and when Paloma from Argentina arrived to take him away to a better place, we had to endure a painful separation. I thought I was over our relationship and had let go, but seeing him go out the door to never return I was flooded with memories of all the music we made together. Albert told me to remember the good times. Here we are preaching together with my band Morcilla.
God Love Sex
Peace to you my brother. Vaya con Dios.
I may return to the path of the BC someday if I can find a good one. With Lady Alto, I have pursued real clarinet chops, and my trumpet and I have never been tighter. I thought everything was cool, until HUGH MASEKELA AND HIS FLUGELHORN ARRIVED.
I am straight reeling from seeing Hugh at Jazz at Lincoln Center this past Saturday night with my editor. There was a very short but interesting pre-concert discussion about Hugh, in which I learned a great deal about him that I didn't know, especially that he was married to Miriam Makeba and that he was exiled from South Africa because of his public opposition to the evil Apartheid. The last time I was at a JALC discussion, it was about Downtown Free Jazz in NYC. The discussion was led by Dr. Lewis Porter with Daniel Carter on the panel. This really happened! We need more of this stuff. People with beef about JALC being racist need to see the entire hallway dedicated to Dave Brubeck. Seeing his manuscript for a piece called "They Say I Look Like God", sung by Louis Armstrong, really shook me up. It was a profound moment in the music of Pops. People with beef about a block against free Jazz should see the words SUN RA in HUGE letters on the wall. Bottom line is there is big time $$$ going down at JALC, but it's not all bad news. Hugh was good news. Big time good.
Way up in the balcony I could not get over these giant speakers built into the ceiling that enabled me to hear every note with incredible resonance right down to delicate percussion. Hanging down on chains, these speakers looked like something out of science fiction. How the hell did they get them up there?
Finally it was time to get down to business. Not unlike how I saw Billy Bang do at the Vision Festival, I saw Hugh completely own the crown within seconds. Uh-oh..I clearly had slept on his chops. That Flugelhorn sounded radiant, crisp, clear, bright, seasoned, and wise all at once. Months ago I had streamed some of Hugh's early albums on Spotify at Sam Ash and was shocked to hear my own sound! How could I sound like someone who's music I never really sat down with? I had to investigate in person. Hearing myself in Hugh explained me to myself a little more. The only way to really hear a musician is to hear them in person, the internet will never really translate.
Once the groove and vibe were established, Hugh took everybody on a journey, with songs that spoke of unity to one darker one about the coal train which was used to carry migrant workers from all over Southern and Central Africa to work in the perilous South African mines. The song about the train, "Stimela", was profound. The way he performed it, it was as if the song gave the people who suffered a spiritual victory. As if he somehow healed everyone from the experience.
Hugh called people out for practicing politics and holding the whole human race back. Imagine what we could do with the gift of planet Earth were we not so hell bent on destroying it? Hugh delivered his message directly, speaking at the mic between songs.
Straight comedy was also applied. After Hugh got the crowd to sing back to him on a level I have never heard from any audience, he said "Some of you have never screamed like that in your life, not even in bed!"
Then there was the dancing! What? Hugh was dancing and improvising with some traditional African dance moves like a man in his 20's! My knees cringed as he went down low time and time again. As old as I feel turning 44 this Friday (even though I look 33), if I have even half of the energy Hugh has now I'll be satisfied. That life spirit! The abundance! His uplifting music turned stuffy Lincoln center into a musical church. No intermission. Just one long ceremony with a natural ending. I was waiting for Wynton to come out and jam, but didn't see him. Maybe Hugh could get him to loosen his tie, eh eh.
What got me most of all was seeing something that many folks might not see. The reality of the trumpet Shaman. People that come to Earth to heal us and show us the way. They posses the gift of being great trumpet or flugelhorn players. They sing. Their message is an affirmation of the joy of life. I saw Hugh Masekela as the Louis Armstrong of Africa in 2014.
Going deeper, I saw a real connection between Hugh and Roy Campbell. They both have incredible brass chops, they both sing, they both protest injustice, they both affirm the joy of life, and most of all they get down musically in a natural way, on truly deep levels that you can't learn in school. These guys are and were master storytellers about life. It comes through in their horns, those glowing bells. Hugh got me back into my idle Flugel!
Having investigated darkness in music for far too long, I'm now considering how to step into the light.
Thanks to Hugh, Roy, and brother Albert for lighting the path.