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James Spaulding: '60s Sideman Extraordinaire

By Published: February 11, 2004
I'm going to register some young people to vote. I'm going to get out there on a registration campaign. We can figure out how to do this; it can be done through the papers, through the media, I see solutions. Hopefully this will shed some light on how to get together with the human race, get through all this madness, empty out the jail cells — we shouldn't have jails today in this society! There's a lot of work to be done, and I'll try to find myself, try to read Trane's writings and listen to his music, and try to find out how to continue on and balance my energy. It's very difficult sometimes, not working and not getting the recognition that you need to work with. Right now as I'm telling you these things, I haven't worked since I worked with David Murray. I was with David Murray for fifteen years, and after that, things started to drop off. All that's faded and I'm out here on my own, so I have to figure out a way to think about some continuity, to have a direct and positive path to follow and make my dreams come true. This is world music; the word "jazz" used to be a nasty word, and now it's respected all over the world.

AAJ: And musicians from all over the world are playing it.

JS: You've got Indians playing it, Hawaiians playing jazz; people hear the word "jazz" and they think it's something else that they don't really know about. They haven't had the time to really analyze and break down the different styles of jazz. We're going to have to open it up; these young people are trying to figure out what's going on, but they're standing back because it's not taught early. [Jazz should be taught] in kindergarten, putting on records while they have their cookies and milk'

I'm so happy I was able to start to understand at my age — I'm 66 — my father, if he hadn't introduced me to this music, I would've been in jail, an alcoholic, or dead. It's stimulated me, and I've always wanted to improve upon it — that's the magic of finding your own voice within that sound, like Trane. I can hear Trane, I can hear Charlie Parker; the first two notes you hear on the stereo, — that's Trane, that's Miles.

AAJ: And Trane never got the chance to finish; he was exploring 'til the very end.

JS: He didn't get the chance to write any method books or anything; we've got some scholars who are doing it, but we should have it from the master, right? It would've been a special treat. He was so beautiful. I met him a couple of times, and the first time was in Chicago. He had Elvin [Jones], and Jimmy Garrison was on bass; the place was so packed you couldn't even get in! It was this place called the Keys Lounge, and it had balloons on the ceiling or something. [Also in Chicago] I got the chance to see Ahmad Jamal with Israel Crosby on bass and the drummer Vernel Fournier. Vernel lived right down the street from me on the South Side of Chicago, down on Lafayette Avenue. He lived two doors down from me. Our birthdays are a day apart; mine's on the thirtieth of July and his is on the thirty-first of July. We played together later on when I came to Brooklyn when he was playing with [trumpeter and composer] Cal Massey.

AAJ: So you toured with Sun Ra, then.

JS: Yeah, we went down south and we played my hometown, Indianapolis, in the YMCA.

AAJ: How did that go over in Indianapolis?

JS: At that time it was great. The place was packed, they were ready for it and they're still ready for it; it's just how it's presented. I think the understanding of the music, the formula for identifying individuals and people into one race, to find out where this thing is coming from — its roots. We're all Africans really, and we're all standing on the shoulders of all these great people from the roots all the way up, standing tall with technology. The information age is getting so fast, we're finding out so many things that could solve this madness. I just hope to find some way to penetrate it, to stop it so we can live like human beings. This music is the center, though; this music we call jazz is right in the middle and if we can figure out a way to get our children involved in it—

I'm constantly thinking about these things, you know, every day I wake up and ask the creator to show me a better way, a new day and an opportunity to correct these mistakes and change things for the better with myself, and then I can share them with others. It's inside of us — all of us have the answer. When I think about music while I'm playing, I start getting into free improvisation — I hear Trane, man, the energy is high and it just feels so good traveling through the universe. Like Sun Ra would say, "Next stop Jupiter!" We can really do some phenomenal things with this music. I'm just finding out now about colors and music. For every note, there's a different color, and for twelve tones there are twelve colors.

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