Prince Lasha's Inside-Outside Story
“ Love has a long tradition...you have to have that in spiritual music, Love. Music is the very song of the universe itself, the symphony that is. The soul of the universe is united by the concord and we recognize ourselves as united by the likeness of music. ”
Alto saxophonist, flutist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Prince Lasha was born in 1929 near Fort Worth, Texas, and came up with Ornette Coleman and Charles Moffett, but his travels have taken him both far away from and nearer to that tree. During the 1960s, after moving to New York from California, Lasha associated regularly with Eric Dolphy and reedman Sonny Simmons, and recorded a slew of sessions throughout the decade with such notable figures as Bobby Hutcherson, Clifford Jordan, Don Cherry, Woody Shaw and countless others. He released two albums of live music from the Berkeley Jazz Festival under his own Birdseye imprint in the middle 1970s, and though he had not recorded as a leader for some time until this year's meeting with the Odean Pope Trio (on CIMP), he has been involved extensively in music and spiritual philosophytoday, the pace of Prince Lasha's "Inside-Outside Story" shows no signs of abating. Writer Clifford Allen has had extensive conversations with Lasha over the past year; what follows is a result of some of their discussions.
All About Jazz: Well, let's start from the beginning. You were born in September 1929 in Fort Worth, right? How did you come to music?
Prince Lasha: My grandfather was a clarinetist from the plantation next to the Johnson Ranch, down in Barnum, near the Oklahoma border. His son was Don Jones, and I wrote a song on The Cry about him; he was a tenor man that was spending a lot of time with Count Basie's band. Herschel Evans and him were very good friends, like Simmons and I. The first time I saw a saxophone was when my mother took me over for a visit with her brother, and I saw this thing lying on the bed, and I thought it was gold! I said "wow, what is that and my uncle took the music stand, set it up, and played Coleman Hawkins' "Body and Soul, all the music, every note. I said "damn and finally said "I got to have one and she said "well, you gotta get a job.
Ornette wanted one at the same time I did (we were both in school) so we both got a job being a waiter at the Texas Hotel for [golfer] Ben Hogan, and every time he'd come in he had ten or twelve guests, so we'd always have the table set. These were the early years, we were waiters, and that's how we bought our first horns. We were early teenagers, just getting into high school after grade school. We bought our saxophones and were going to school, playing in the orchestrawe got kicked out a couple of times, but they always called us back for doing the John Philip Sousa marches. We formed a combo that could work the different nightclubs, and we were making a hundred dollars a week, more than our parents or the schoolteachers. We did that for about two or three years, and we had a great leader by the name of Red Connor. We had Weldon Hagan and a group of strong musicians there. Moffett and Ornette used to come over to my mom's house; I cooked for us, and started transcribing Louis Jordan's music off of the records. I gave Ornette the tenor part, which was trumpet, and I kept the alto part because I used to carry Louis' horns every time he came to Texas. I'd ride with the producer so I could meet him at the train station. I started transcribing all that music, and I was also singing like Billy Eckstine, real close to the original thing.
It happened like that until I left the combo and Ornette moved to New York to study for a year while I stayed in Texas; then he came back and moved on to California. I was in Texas working with Jimmy Liggens, while my friend [saxophonist] Harold Land was working with Joe Liggens's Honeydrippers, and that's how we met and became friends. Anyway, I was traveling all over the South, and I was working as an understudy for Buster Smith, the alto player that Bird loved so much. Buster Smith was my director, and that's where I got most of my stamina for playing the saxophone. It was so frightening standing next to him, because it seemed like the sound was coming up through the ground, up through the bottom of the horn and out through the bell. Being a young man, I was standing there [frightened] next to him for a couple of years; prior to that, we had jam sessions every Sunday in Fort Worth with James Clay, David "Fathead Newman, and Leroy Cooper.
AAJ: That's the Texas sound that you, Ornette, Booker Ervin and others have, where it just feels like it's coming up through the floor, and at least from my perspective, out through the speakers. It's a really forceful thing.
PL: I did the same experiment with Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Eric [Dolphy], standing next to these men it seemed like it was coming up through the ground, up through the bottom of the horn and out the bell, and that's one of the most mysterious, magical and frightening [things]. I stood next to 'Trane that way, and next to Rollins that way (we worked in the Jazz Workshop, went to Boston; we were all over Chicago and at the Plugged Nickel, way before your days). Those are some of the things that used to take place, and this is why I suppose you'd said that about the Texas sound.
AAJ: It's unmistakable for anything else, and it seems like you can tell where somebody is from by how they sound on their horn.
PL: Illinois Jacquet was from Texas too. There used to be a great player I traveled with named Scotty, and he could play with one arm tied behind his back he really could play tenor, and he was from Houston also. Arnett Cobb, all those guys came up out of there.
After I came off the road, I went directly to New York. When I went to New York I was in paradise. Big Nick [Nicholas] was having jam sessions, Bird was in there, Monk was in there, and Diz was in there, and there was a magazine publication called Ebony Magazine. Billy Eckstine was on the cover with his foot in a swimming pool, and in that issue I'm [pictured] inside playing at the Paradise Club, because they were doing an article on the club. I was living in Sugar Hill with Freddie Spencer, right under Sonny Rollins' mother, and I think Rollins mentioned something about that in his write-up of how everybody was living there at that timeDuke and everybody. I was staying with Freddie, working on people's horns, and he was working out on the island where the Tuberculosis cases were [sent]. Fats Navarro and other musicians also worked day jobs there.
I took Rollins' horn up to him, as he had just got back from his first accident, and we became lifelong friends after that. I later traveled with him to different areasBoston, Chicago, in New York we worked the Vanguard, and I worked off and on quite frequently with Rollins. When I first went to New York though, I worked around and met Bird and Max Roach, and I went into New York with the band that was Duke Ellington's band [minus Duke] with Jimmy Grissom, and he took Al Hibbler's place. They were playing the Band Box next to Birdland, 52nd and Broadway. One time, I was going up to the Apollo Theater to hear one of my former students, King Curtis (I had taught him at home in Texas), and my student was playing, and there was this place to jam under the theatera little bar or somethingand I went down and was jamming with this tenor man. He was playing and I was playing, and I found out in later years that it was the tenor man who was with Count Basie, Eddie "Lockjaw Davis, and if I had known who he was at the time I'd been out in the audience listening to him. I didn't know it at the time, so I was standing right next to him. I just got nervous in later years after I knew who he was, but we were jamming together quite frequently at that time. King Curtis was working upstairs before he was with Aretha Franklinwhen I left Fort Worth, I left King Curtis there (he'd been studying saxophone with us), and when I got back, he was playing piano, tenor, and doing everything.
AAJ: Did you encourage Ornette to go to New York at all?
PL: No, I didn't. I went to New York and went through all that, and I met Skeeter Best and all these guys who were with Duke, because they were all living in that building, and Rollins was living there with his mother. That's how I got the horn to him, because I was living on the next floor down, around the corner from the Savoy Ballroom.
I came back to Texas and Ornette was already gone; he'd moved to California. So I decided, I think I'll leave Texas and see what's happening in California. I got to California and met Coleman again, and he's doing his first album and telling me all about it (Something Else, Contemporary, 1958). We were talking about the New World Society, because he was studying that at the time. I took up that philosophy, and I practice it today. It's coming under the banner of Jesus Christ's father, Jehovah, and it is
Coleman did his record, and he and Don Cherry went up to New York, and I went up to Oakland and I met a guy named Huey Simmons. We started playing and fooling around, and I had brought some music with me from Fort Worth. We started playing, just two altos. I was in the record store one day and heard this alto player, and Simmons was with me, and I said "who is that? He said "that's Eric Dolphy and I said "Eric who? Is that Eric Dolphy in New York? I knew Ornette, my school band mate, was supposed to be the greatest in the world and so I heard this and said, "Simmons, look. You gonna be ready to go in a couple weeks? I was going to New York to meet Eric Dolphy. I had this eight-cylinder Chrysler, overhauled it, and we went down through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and I introduced Simmons to Moffett (I named him Sonny Simmons then, because I didn't want him running around named Huey Simmons. I gave him a real aristocratic namePrince Lasha named Sonny Simmons, okay?), and that's how Simmons came to knowing the Moffett family and Coleman. I didn't want to take "Huey Simmons to New York, because he is my friend and my worthy constituent, so I had to dress him up a little.
Prior to that departure, Miles Davis was appearing at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, and they had a concert in Oakland for the police ball. He had John Coltrane with him, and there was a reviewer named Russell Wilson who gave John bad write-ups all over San Francisco. They were doing this concert and I arrived early, and John's horn wasn't working. Simmons and I were backstage, and I said "give me the horn, man. I worked on it for about twelve or fourteen minutes and I fixed the leaks and all that. Coltrane said "I just got it from the music store down on 47th before I got here. There was something they didn't do to it, and I fixed all the discrepancies on the horn, gave it back to him, and John went out and played so much beautiful music while this little ugly motherfucker with brown suede shoes was looking at me [Miles]. I was looking at him because I'm pretty too, and he was happy that John was playing so much. He was wondering who I was! John and I became lifelong friends after that.
After I left Texas, taking Simmons with me, I went to New York, and the only way into New York was on the New Jersey turnpike. I had Eric [Dolphy]'s phone number with me, so I get out and dial the number, and what do I hear playing over the circuits? The Cry! The first thing he said was "hey man, where are you? I'm listening to you now. I said "yeah, I can hear it in the background. He said "come on over, so I took Simmons with me and went over and met him and he was drinking a lot of honey [Dolphy was a diabetic]. We used to have a lot of sessions over at his loft with Moffett, Clifford Jordan, and Tony Williams (I named him Ninety-Nine. It's always good to give everybody a new name to go along with the old one!). I had to meet Eric because, hearing him play alto, I knew that my band mate Ornette Coleman was "Captain Hornblower and I wanted to find out who the Horn of Plenty is! I got on the phone on the New Jersey Turnpike and heard The Cry!
AAJ: It had to be so wonderful to hear that your reputation had preceded you in New York. They were ready for you.
PL: Yes, that's really strange because the only other time that I heard myself on the telephone was back in LA with Harold Land, and I was driving down from Northern California to meet him. I get down there and he said "I've been getting phone calls late at night. They never say anything, but they just play music. We were sitting there and all of a sudden the phone rings and he said "hey man, this could be them. So he answers the phone and he's listening for a while not saying anything. He hands me the phone and what do I hear? "Nuttin' out Jones and I said "hey man, this is me on clarinet playing with Elvin [Jones]!
AAJ: Was that written for Don Jones?
PL: That was written for Elvin Jones. It was written for him because everybody in the band had to write a tune, and the best tune they were going to put first. They put "Nuttin' Out Jones first. When I met Lee Morgan I was hanging out with Freddie Hubbard and Art Blakey up in Canada, and Lee Morgan said "look, Prince, when I first heard that I thought it was 'Trane on soprano. That's what he told me about my playing clarinet. I said "wow, that's pretty deep because when I got back to New York, I was with Ornette at the delicatessen and he said "I heard you on clarinet [imitates Ornette in gravelly voice, laughing]. I wrote that for Elvin because at that time in New York, people were saying "I didn't get that gig because so-and-so was nutting out on me. Everybody was talking about nutting out.
I had a friend in New York named Fred Lyman, who I recorded in 1963 It is Revealed with Clifford Jordan and Don Cherry [Lyman was the "RWF referred to by Valerie Wilmer, who may have recorded the only known tape of Ornette and Albert Ayler jamming]. I had a loft there and an apartment with Lyman, who played flugelhorn, and I had him and Don Cherry, Oliver L. Harris on bass, bassist Bill Woods, Moffett on drums, Clifford Jordan, Simmons on alto, and I was playing flute and leading the group. He had what they call a Paraguay Inheritance, meaning he had an inheritance but was the black sheep of the family, and was very eccentric. He became my best friend, because he spent hundreds and thousands of dollars to see that I was comfortable in New York, and I was able to buy Simmons an English horn. He put me up on the sixth floor of a building half a block from the Five Spot, and that's where Trane used to come during intermissions, and he said "I can't walk these steps, I have to run 'em! Rollins used to come around too, bringing fruit for us. I had Mike White living with me, Simmons and Moffett too. I had been going about New York getting all these datesI got Illumination [with Elvin Jones, Impulse, 1963] and I got one for Audio Fidelity [Jazz Tempo, Latin Accents, 1963], and I got a gig at Birdland on Monday nights with Mike White, Richard Davis, Gary Peacock, Moffett and Simmons.
AAJ: I was actually interested in how you met Charles Moffett. He seems like such an important figure in your life.
PL: I met him in high school and he was playing trumpet and drums. I had a combo called the Tympani Five with Moffett on drums and Ornette on tenor, and [that was when] I was transcribing the music off of Louis Jordan's solos. Moffett was playing trumpet with us too, as he was such a brilliant musician. His sons are very brilliant too, and I had the pleasure of spending the week with Charnett Moffett recently. [Charles] Moffett went to New York with Coleman, and he made Coleman because he was the greatest drummer in the world. He'd been playing with me for a long time in Texas before that, too.
AAJ: How did the front line come together for Illumination? It was such an interesting group of horn players.
PL: I asked Trane if I could use his rhythm section and he said he would have to think about it, so he thought about it for a week or so, and Elvin was going to do an album, so I thought I'd go over there on that side. I had gotten that date and took Simmons with me. I got that date with Eric Dolphy [Conversations, FM, 1963; Iron Man, Douglas, 1963] too, and I told him I wouldn't record unless I could have my publishing. He went back and talked to Alan Douglas, and I told Alan to go fuck himself and he said, "okay, you can have your publishing. I put "Music Matador in there, which was a calypso. Eric was very upset because I wouldn't record with him; he was bringing me groceries and stuff for my apartment, and he was my dear friend. I said "fuck it, I'm not going to record and I'm very pleased that I was able to keep my publishing because I'm now collecting on that piece. I went to New York playing futuristic music, and I had been playing futuristic music out here with Simmons and Gary [Peacock].
AAJ: There wasn't anything like The Cry coming out of New York at the time; it was a very different approach to composition.
PL: If you read the reviews of Nat Hentoff, he'll say the same thing you just said. I think it was in Atlantic Monthly, that I had a very warm and invigorating sound that most jazz players on the flute couldn't do. Of course, Simmons was getting a sound that you couldn't believe unless you heard it.
AAJ: There was just so much empathy between you and Simmons that it almost sounded as though you were of one mind. If you have two Eric Dolphys you still have two Eric Dolphys, rather than two different players similarly complementing one another. It's not always that common in a front line. That's the way I'd characterize it total empathy.
PL: There's quite a bit of talking about The Cry still going on today, but I have twenty some titles that I'm still sitting on today that haven't been heard yet.
AAJ: When did you go to England?
PL: It was somewhere around '65 to '67. I used some of the Queen's Royal Orchestra for that record. I had a friend named John Hammond at CBS, and he always liked my playing and John Handy's playing. He said "I'm going to set you up a date for CBS in Great Britain [which resulted in Insight, CBS UK, 1966]. I went over with a friend of mine, the bassist John Hartt, and I lived in Kensington for about a year on Russell Road, and Yusef Lateef used to come over and he wrote some of the parts for the harp. I lived with a millionaire who went on the road with Philly Joe Jones and later lost his life. John was a great bassist and sat up all night playing like Bud Powell on the bass. He had drums and everything, and I used to have Yusef come over because he was playing Ronnie Scott's club at the time. I played a concert in Cambridge, one in Brighton and recorded there. I was living with Hartt and we rode around in Bentleys; they didn't have minks, but chinchillas for their ladies! We were staying at a mansion and built a big bonfire at night. The mansion had so much land to it, a great big place, and we had a baby grand piano inside so we'd play throughout the night. We built a big bonfire and smoked a lot of hashish, did whatever we wanted. Having an invitation to come to this place, I took Moffett with me and Chris Bateson, and we'd do gigs at night. I think the family that owned it was out of the country; John was a relative of the owners. We could do what we wanted, but we had to have discipline. We weren't close to anyone, and the music has always been very well-mannered; it's not like rock, you don't hear this next door. We did music inside at this mansion with three or four floors, ten or twelve baths, just all kinds of beautiful areas.
AAJ: When you put that band together for Insight, did that band work at all, or was it just for the record date?
PL: It was for the record date; Stan [Tracey] was working Ronnie Scott's as was Yusef, and the other cats were working clubs too. I just went over there for CBS because John Hammond got that together. Joe Oliver was the drummer, and he was the only other brother in the band. He was in New York at some point, I think.
AAJ: Coming from New York to that environment must have been something else.
PL: Yeah, because most millionaires live in Kensington. You look at the house and you can see who built it in what year, and we don't do it that way here.
AAJ: Right, we just want things to be thrown away and they're not connected to any history.
PL: Right, but they keep up with everything in the European countries. They keep up with the music, and they know.
AAJ: How do you feel your music was received differently on the other side of the pond? From what I see, you had great reception and great luck here, and apart from your stay in England, what were some of your experiences with both audiences and musicians you played with?
PL: In the early years I went to France and then down to Holland, and I got a great reception there. I played the Thelonious Monk club that was down in Rotterdam and I played a concert with Woody Shaw. We played Paris at the New Morning Club, and then went on and played other areas. I went to Nancy, France with a unit with my son [the "other" Prince Lasha] on drums and a Dutch pianist whose name I can't remember.
AAJ: Misha Mengelberg?
PL: No, but I'll think of it. We played the Magnetic Terrace (that's where everybody, and I mean everybody, played in Paris) and in Nancy. Ornette was in Nancy as well, and that turned out to be very successful and I'm going to release it in the near future.
AAJ: What about the local musicians? Did you have much chance to play with French musicians or Dutch musicians?
PL: I did a gig at a place in Holland where a lot of cats went, the BIMHuis [Amsterdam], and I had Wilbur Little on bass, Clarence Becton on drums, Carl Boehle on piano, and this was the group I recorded there, so I have a master of that too.
Niko Bunink is the person I was trying to think of, and my son was on drums and that was at the Nancy Jazz Pulsations. This was a wonderful set, and my group went on second and we won the five star prize. My group followed Oliver Lake's group, and I'm going to release that as Wall of Sound. I think it's one of my best. Ornette and I were together there, so it was happening.
AAJ: How did this tenure in Europe compare to when you were in the UK during the '60s? How did the different countries compare, both in reception and playing situations? I suppose things are probably a bit better organized now than they were then, but was there much comparison?
PL: I cut that record there in 1966, and I'll quote the liner notes [by Les Tomkins]:
"There was a time when American jazz musicians were automatically accepted to be the best in the field. That seems a long time ago now. Over the years, a growing number of opportunities for British and American musicians...to play jazz togetherconcerts, clubs, pubshas provided a wealth of evidence that there are no nationalistic, or racialistic barriers or boundaries...
Word of mouth accounts and press write-ups have been the only media for publicizing these important happenings. No more than a minute fraction of the evidence has found its way onto commercial recordings. Now CBS have taken a significant step in the right direction by producing the enclosed album, which combines the talents of the American exponent of the alto saxophone and flute, Prince Lasha, and a group of British players..."
For Elvin Jones he wrote "Nuttin' Out Jones, one of the two Lasha originals performed here.
AAJ: Right, where Stan Tracey takes that real Monk-ish solo.
PL: Yeah, right!
"Apart from having occasionally ventured into free form, Prince has one other affinity with Ornettehis use of the plastic alto. Although he attributes this to an earlier innovator "Charlie Parker played it firston the Jazz at Massey Hall album. He used it on some beautiful ballads.
AAJ: But didn't he pawn his usual horn and all they could find him was a plastic one?
"Not hearing the metallic sound of the saxophone interested me quite a bit, so that's why I play it. Then I chose the wood flute to go with that. All wood instruments seem to have a warm feeling to them. And I like the gentle sound of the flute, plus the range that it has. You can reach out and do so many things with it. It's so flexible. All the possibilities haven't been recorded yet, because there haven't been too many musicians using it [One year later, Don Cherry would record on it for MPS (Eternal Rhythm), and cement his stature as one of the primary exponents of wood and bamboo flutes].
"I really enjoyed making it. From the beginning, everybody played extremely beautifulright up to the top standard. For a studio album, it was excellent. It was close to being alive to me. They all seemed to express the right feelings on the right tunes at the right time. This was a labor of love.
"I like Stan Tracey's chord structure, and that ringing-bell sound that he gets. Chris Bateson has a round, full trumpet tone that reminds me of Idrees Sulieman, who I used to play with in New York. And John Mumford played wonderfully relaxed trombonehis conception is very individual.
"As for having the two basses that's something I do whenever I can, I feel that when one bass is playing arco and the other pizzicato, and they're switching from time to time, you have so much background, like in paintings and movies. When you get ready to build, you do it from the bottom, and string instruments are very important.
AAJ: You did that too on The Cry, and Coltrane would use Art Davis and Jimmy Garrison together. It would stop time and expand it in this circular, allover way that's really interesting. The music expands much more than it might otherwise; it's not so linear.
PL: Right. I did that Matt Dennis tune, "Everything Happens to Me, that way and I enjoyed playing "Just Friends on that record; we really took it someplace else, playing it with that group.
AAJ: It's funny, when I think of standards I often think ofwell, with "Alone Together, I can only think of Eric and Richard Davis playing it.
PL: Didn't they play "Just Friends too? I seem to recall that.
AAJ: I think so, yes.
PL: The theme of Eric Dolphy belongs to that CBS record, because he was a good friend, and I wrote that tune ["Impressions of Eric Dolphy ] that Yusef Lateef contributed the tempo section with the flute playing the birds-eye cadenza. Playing "Just Friends, I took it way up there.
I had a recording date in Pisa, Italy. I've got two masters made of that, and one from Florence where I had about five hundred people sitting in the stands, and out on the rocks and bricks they make streets from I had about another thousand. The sun was going down and all of a sudden, the moon was coming up at about six or eight times the size of the sun. I'd never, to this day, seen the moon that large, and I was playing a flute solo called "Eric Dolphy Remembered, and then I did the baritone which was my longest-ever baritone solo. Then, I did "Divine Message, on soprano that was dedicated to Coltrane. This was in 1980. I'm naming the CD Il Manifesto.
One of the main festivals I did was "Prince Meets The Shaw, and that was Last Train to Yugoslavia. I did "Nuttin' Out Jones, "Oriental Flower by McCoy Tyner, "Music Matador, "Church House Blues by myself, "You Stepped Out of a Dream, "The Gypsy, "What's New, "Last Trane to Yugoslavia, and "Two Colors of Bird. I had Walter Smuggles on bass, Robert De Jarno on piano, Woody Shaw trumpet, my son Prince Lasha on drums and myself on alto and baritone sax. This was in Novosard, Yugoslavia. There was an article called "Seeing Coltrane and Dolphy Prince Lasha and the Firebirds about it.
AAJ: Do you think you were more familiar to European audiences at that time than you were with American audiences?
PL: Yes, yes, and even now. This country is built on political lines, and they have yet to find the classical music of America and appreciate it. But there are a lot of young people now who are coming out to find this music. Some of them were there when I was performing with the saxophone choir at the Blue Note. We had this young man James Carter who had some following, and I had a followingthey holler your name out at the club, you know? I signed all the records and CDs, and that told me something about the youth, who are trying to embrace this workit's very important that they do.
AAJ: I'll jump back a little, but going back to your experience in Texas, how well was the music that you and Ornette were playing received by your peers? I know Ornette had some difficulties with public reception, but did you encounter anything like that?
PL: I was with the alto player Buster Smith, and I think we moved on another level. Ornette was on a different, lower level of the blues than we were. He was with Pee Wee Crayton, and Harold Land was with Joe Liggens and I was with Jimmy Liggens, so we were on a different level. I didn't have to go through that. In the high school band, I was playing alto, Ornette was playing tenor, and his brother James Jordan was playing tenor. The band director came to me after about a year and said "I'm gonna move you up on the other line and you can play the alto clarinet part on your alto because you read so well. Ornette moved up to first chair, and I moved up to playing the alto clarinet parts on my alto saxophone. In later years I found out that I can really read! Now, I'm getting ready to deal with this saxophone choir, and Odean Pope sent me out the music to memorize and I did that already.
AAJ: As far as the group with Simmons, how did that dissolve? What were the circumstances for your not working together anymore?
PL: Lack of being able to participate in work. I just got a few gigs at the time, one at Shelly's Manne-Hole and here and there, and it just wasn't enough to keep us doing what we needed to do. He left New York before I did, and joined his wife Barbara [Donald, trumpeter in Simmons' own group] and recorded with her and Cecil McBee. I was traveling with Rollins and 'Trane all over the world. I introduced Simmons to Rollins one day; I was walking down 2nd Avenue going to Clifford Jordan's rehearsal hall, and I looked across the street and saw this dude looking and pointing at me, and it was Sonny Rollins with his horn! We all went over to Clifford's rehearsing spot, and that's the way Sonny Simmons met Sonny Rollins. One person came down to where we rehearsed and said, rather than that the music was too loud, that it was too fast!
AAJ: What happened next, after the California jazz festivals [released on record by Lasha's Birdseye imprint]?
PL: What happened with the Monterey festival was that Duke Ellington was hosting the stage and John Lewis wanted me to play there. I think he wanted Coleman to play there too, when Coleman made his debut. He told Jimmy Lyons about me [Monterey Jazz Festival artistic director], and so I played there. The most ironic thing about that was that I finished my set and was walking backstage, down the grass, and this guy keeps hollering "hey, wait a minute, hey! and just keeps on hollering, and so I asked Simmons "who is this guy? He looked and said "I think... I think it's... Sonny Stitt! Stitt said "let me ask you this. How long you had this group together? I said "about seven or eight years. He said "I thought so and turned around and went back. That Monterey session is one I really love, because that's the one that Down Beat said I played on with an Eastern flavor.
AAJ: What have you done since the '70s and '80s?
PL: A lot of people are unaware about what I did during that period, because I kept it underground, just staying out in the sun like Herbie [Hancock] with my circular driveway. I'm a self-made millionaire with real estate. I've had this house in Oakland and all the cats came to visit me from New YorkSonny Rollins, Ornette, Richard Davis, Johnny Coles, Harold Land, Freddie Hubbard, Miles, Trane, Cannonball, Joe Henderson, Dewey Redman, and Moffett. All these people came up the thirty-two steps from the street to my house, like thirty-two bars in music. I live on 24th Street, because there are twenty-four bars in the blues.
AAJ: How did you come to being involved in real estate from music?
PL: Herbie Hancock introduced me to a lady from Great Britain, and that's how I was able to live behind the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California. I'm the father of five boys and four girls, and all of the boys are musicians.
AAJ: Right, I was aware of one of your sons being a drummer [the "other Prince Lasha].
PL: Yes, and another one is also a drummer, and one is a flautist over in Sacramento. They're very well-mannered and easy to talk with, and I'm like their brother. It's like the Moffetts; we're all brothers and I don't know no sons, dig?
AAJ: How does spirituality factor into your music? I know it's a very important part of your work, and I'd like to hear your take on it.
PL Right now I've been preparing to work on some things with "His Holiness [saxophonist] Odean Pope, and my thing is that I think, speaking of his Holiness with the reeds, many reeds unite to create a harmony. In some manners concerned with the divine human relationship, I think about the saxophone choir. In listening to a piece of music, at first we do not hear the deep, fundamental tones, the surest stride of the melody on which everything else is built. After we have accustomed our ear, we find the order, as if one magic stroke a single unifying musical world emerges from this. We realize that with delight and amazement that the fundamental tone was always resounding. The melody, order and unity [are ongoing], and this is called the eternal harmony. The human existence needs music, because of all the arts music may be the most spiritual and meaningful. Music is absolutely necessary... as a means of communication and consolation, and it is interesting that it defines the highest mathematical study of arts and the relationship of other art forms, and it is the closest connectionnot with drama or with painting, but music. I find it easier to compare music because of the feeling that goes to some deeper level of communication, which emphasizes equally the role of performer and the listener.
AAJ: Right, because though it's harder with the written word, with music you can have several emotions going on at once, and you don't have to parse them you can have a synthesis in real time. You can hear it and say "this is a model for how I feel, the complete range of my emotions. It encodes everything you feel over the course of your life, and how do you express that? Music.
PL: Music proves the existence of the soul, that humans are made in the image of the creator. The soul of the universe is united by that musical concord, and we ourselves are united by music. My title is "Harmony That Is the very song of the universe itself. Music is the human outlook; we're engaged in a process, we encounter the world and its undefined source of meaning. It's that subliminal action in our course of meaning for life, which is hidden from view of consciousness.
AAJ: It reaches you on another level.
PL: Those are some of the things I think about concerning the spiritual part of the music. There's a story that sticks with me very well, and it's the story of the sun, when it didn't go down for an extra day. It was during the days of Joshua when the walls came tumbling down, because all the voices and instruments were so powerful, and this is the only time during creation that the sun stayed up one extra day. It's in the canon, the Penitudes. Music crumbled the walls of Jericho; there was no army and no way to bring those people to defeat. They had something inimitable to mankind, and that is sound. Keep that in mind as long as you livemusic is the only thing I've come across that will save your life.
AAJ: How would you say improvised music differs from written music in this context?
PL: My answer is this: we are guided by the unseen angelic force of the creator, and we're guided by our mental consciousness. There are special people that have this attribute; Nat King Cole was one, Trane was another. That's the way I define improvisation. There are certain DNAs that can deal with this thing, because this is what the Creator had set aside, and nothing would keep peace under the canopy any more than music. From what I understand, the only way that mankind would get together and grow groceries to feed the world would be if he was attacked by an extraterrestrial force.
AAJ: We have to have something completely foreign to our sensibilities before we'll come together.
PL: Right, so there's no way that we could have the high talk of our Creator, who we are created in the image of, because I would say that he has a name for every grain of sand. We are created in a manner that, when we are perfected, we would know the name of every man on earth. This is very deep, and that's the way the music takes me. We are created not to die, but to live for an infinity. Just look at the creation, man!
AAJ: It's so complex, but so simple too.
PL: So simple too, that's right. He loves us. The angelic force of the covering cherub challenged the Creator. That's why we're in this state; I don't think it'll be long, but I'm keeping on the watch now, and I'm looking forward to seeing Trane and all these other brothers in their youth, living for an infinity, including you. This is the way I'm thinking about music, and I hope it makes sense. That's why I write from the Canon, and why I love speaking with people like Yusef [Lateef], because I taught world music for Yusef in New York in the '60s, and he lived with me in Great Britain. He wrote some of the music for my harpist, you know.
I got an invitation from the Trane Stop in Philadelphia, and every year they have had an annual recognition for John Coltrane, so they invited me to do it. They said the Trane Stop will be securing the date of September 22 every year as the official day to recognize the John William Coltrane jubilee.
AAJ: When did they start doing this?
PL: It was right at the end of the '90s as a presentation of the promotion of America's treasure, African-American Classical Music. I've also been doing the Eric Dolphy tribute gig at Yoshi's every year. Mingus said "Eric Dolphy was a saint in every way, not just his music. Buddy Collette said "Mingus was so distraught, he tried to jump down in the hole off the pulpit, and we had to pull him out of there. "If they killed Eric, I don't want to live. So he just jumped down and you wouldn't believe it. What I talked about was the story of hearing my recording on his turntable, you know. Eric's comment was this: "at home in California, I used to play and the birds would whistle with me. I would stop what I was working on and play with the birds. To me, jazz is like a part of living, like walking down the street and reacting to what you see and hear. Whatever I react to, I can say immediately in my music. This human thing has to do with trying to get as much human warmth and feeling into my music as I can. I want to say more in music than I can in ordinary human speech.
AAJ: That phrase "jazz life, and the title of that book As Serious as Your Life [Valerie Wilmer, 1980, Serpent's Tail Press], it really is music and experience.
PL: I'll tell you a story. I've never played when people are standing up and clapping, but I have this on video [at Eddie Moore's Berkeley Jazz Festival, 1997]. Odean told me why he wrote what he wrote; we've both got standing ovations [before], but not while we were playing together! Another thing happened in Austria; I had Woody Shaw and all those cats with me, and we started playing "Music Matador, the people started clapping and I almost dropped my horn, I hadn't said a word we just started playing and I couldn't believe it. I haven't even gotten over it today; these are some of the things that happened to me.
I just finished rehearsing with the singer Liz Dolphin and Rudy Mongose (he's the pianist and arranger for what we're doing), and I'm working with a tenor man that I met through Eddie Gale and the Peace Orchestra down in San Jose. Carl J. C. Garrett is playing so much tenor, like Trane and Odean Pope, because they all sleep with their horns I sleep with four or five because I can't let 'em get away. He's got a new album called New Standards at Nouveau.
AAJ: I'd like to discuss what happened in the recording industry, stories both good and bad, that led you to form Birdseye.
PL: Well, I recorded for Contemporary and ABC-Paramount and on down the line, and I just decided to hold onto my tapes because I couldn't get a recording date for $250,000 or $200,000 or even $100,000 at the time. I thought I'd hold on to all my work and see how it goes in the future. I had become successful in real estate and decided I would start pressing LPs for Birdseye Records. It had the head of the bird on it with the all-seeing eye, and from that point forward I had about thirty titles on tape. [What follows is Lasha's reading of the original Birdseye Records salutation] "Dear Jazz Listener: The artist's label, Birdseye Records, is pleased to release the Firebirds legendary jazz series. It covers the entire spectrum of jazz and the persons who play it. The true voice of serious music has come of age and represents a mature look at the chronological order. It should be a must for the student and the listening audience of the art form. It is one way to keep up with what is going on in the jazz world; festivals, concerts, radio performances and clubs, etc., an all-jazz bible for the working musician and listener. Impetus is on the state of acoustic jazz music in our time. We love itthe music represents a personal friendship to all humankind. Here it is by popular demand. We are pleased to have been a part of this from the beginning; it is a labor of love and as you and your friends play it, we hope you feel the same and enjoy playing it as much as we enjoyed putting it together for you. Birdseye wishes to close with one note, just one little note: give music as a gift to your friends. Musically Yours, Prince Lasha.
The therapeutic value of this music is very important, you know. It's just something I've always wanted to do; I started it very early and traveled around the world and kept all my tapes, and I'm mastering them now. I had mastered about six prior to departing to New York. As a matter of fact, I called the mastering room to see if I could get about ten more done in the next week or so. Birdseye is a great title for a label, though...
AAJ: I immediately think of Charlie Parker, but there are obviously other levels to it that you were thinking of.
PL: Right; when you look at a dollar bill, you see that pyramid on there? You know what's lying at the bottom of the pyramid?
AAJ: Well, I can't remember I don't have a dollar bill on me right now [laughing]...
PL: You'll see the eye on the top, but at the bottom you'll see all these spots lying around there. Those are all bodies from a war at the base of the pyramid. The bird's eye is the symbol of the pyramid; it's an all-seeing eye looking night and day. It has never closed or opened; it's always there, and this is very strenuous for the mind to take in.
AAJ: That's Osiris, right?
PL: Right. It's been there and will always be there. I'm putting the music under that, because I know it will always have its protection, in the collector's guide book or whatever. I thought I might as well get a good emblem for Birdseye Records, and that's what I came up with.
AAJ: This might be the first connection I've thought of between Charlie Parker and Osiris.
PL: If you look at it, around six or seven years BC, man was living much longer than we are today. They were closer to perfection than we are today, even though we're going to the moon. It's a different kind of perfection, because they were living almost a day because one thousand years is equal to one day for the Creator. It took him seven days, or seven thousand years, to create the earth. Not a twenty-four hour day. I've been studying the canon and writing from it all this time; listen to the Journey of Zoar, look at 607 BC and when they were building to go to outer space. What happened was that they got so high they confused their languages, and had to come back down to earth and disperse into different dialects. The only communication that man has at this hour that is universal is music.
I was performing with some musicians from South America; I was with Clifford Jordan and Sonny Simmons, and the other musicians were the Bossa Tres. We couldn't talk like you and I do, but we'd put the music there Monk's music, Trane's music, my music, all this music, but we couldn't communicate with the same dialect at that time. We did a beautiful album called The Bossa Tres [Jazz Tempo, Latin Accents, Audio Fidelity 1963]. We probably shared in some other things that they brought from South America [laughing], but you know...
AAJ: And you probably learned some things musically from them that you wouldn't have been able to otherwise. Of course, with improvised music incorporating so many different types of music or dialects, it makes perfect sense. People outside of improvised music often view recordings as a commodity, but when you're producing something yourself, it's an art object. Not only the art that's contained in the record, but the piece itself is an art object. When you take it to this strongly therapeutic, spiritual level, it has so many different artistic connotations. But every artist's label is a unique story, and it's interesting to hear how different people came to that conclusion.
PL: Ornette and I were talking about that today; James Jordan used to play baritone and I play baritone, and Ornette played alto. We know those sounds are still in the canopy, and he was talking about playing some trumpet and my playing flute against that. He wants to do the liners for the recording we did in New York [with the saxophone choir]. I thought that was quite remarkable, because he almost never comes out of his studio.
[In New York] I took Odean with me for a little while, and Ornette wrote out some theories. He and James Jordan were sitting right there in front of the bandstand when we played, and the opening evening was awesome. I got tied up with Michael Brecker, and we really did play some music. The second night was with James Carter, and we owned the bandstand with our tuxedo coats below our knees, like Wyatt Earp! Odean had his tux, and we all looked beautiful, ten or twelve of us on stage.
It was just the right time for me to come back to New York, though. I'd been working with "His Holiness for some time; we've been working and writing for over two decades together. I had no idea he was composing a tune called "Prince Lasha, but a different guy would call [Odean Pope] every week to say he wanted to solo on that song. Michael Brecker called one week to say he wanted to solo, then James Carter the next week, and after that, Joe Lovano called, and they all wanted to solo on "Prince Lasha. Odean said he couldn't believe it, because they aren't in touch with each other about these things. Sure enough, we all got tied up on that song and really went out. There was another one, "Coltrane Time, and a love theme that was beautiful.
AAJ: As far as the canvas of music in New York, since you left that second time a lot has changed. A lot of people have come to New York to play, as well as those who have left AACM folks came from Chicago and so forth, and the whole sound of music in New York changed over the 70s and 80s until now. It's probably a completely different climate and a different vibe when you go back.
PL: Well, I was there a bit with Odean in the '80s, so I come prepared I've got my iron suit, you know, because I'm "Iron Man, like Eric Dolphy. I love that dear brother; I wrote that piece called "Impressions of Eric Dolphy while I was in England. What happened when I was just in New York was that each night I signed all these records and CDs, and Odean said "wow, you've got a lot of fans. I'm so happy that I have so many people interested in my music now.
AAJ: Well, obviously this gig at the Blue Note was a high point in your career, but what are some others that stick out in your memory?
PL: Working with Sonny Rollins was an experience; like I said, I was coming out of the woodwork at the time, and we had Ron Carter and [drummer] Roy McCurdy at the Jazz Workshop gigs. He had his Mohawk on and we had our bow ties, you know, and I have photographs of that. Trane sticks out in my mind, working with him in New York and with Rollins at the [Village] Gate, and Trane at the Gate. Also my work with Eric Dolphy, and I did some work with Ornette Coleman and the San Francisco Symphony here two and a half decades ago.
AAJ: How did that come together with the Symphony and Ornette?
PL: It was very good; he had a contract to do a gig with Symphony at the place he always plays here, up over by the hotel on Knob Hill. I also did some work at the conservatory down in San Jose, with the World Peace Orchestra under the guidance of [trumpeter] Eddie Gale, and I was a featured artist. I did some baritone work with the violins and alto with the cello and harp, and all kinds of things at the San Jose State University conservatory. It was very frightening stuff! I was playing baritone on one of my compositions, "Take Time to Feel, and Eddie Gale played a beautiful trumpet solo. Those are some of the things that stick out most in my mind.
When I took Woody Shaw with me on some gigs in Eastern Europe back in '88, we played quite a bit with baritone, alto and trumpet, and I had my son on drums, and it was just beautiful. Woody called me "Uncle Prince all the time, and he thought we should go back to New York with this [band] and see if it went over. Woody had his first gigs with me and Eric [Woody Shaw appears on both Iron Man and Conversations]. I have a CD of this band that I'm going to release as Last Train to Yugoslavia. I played a lot of my own tunes, some standards that Woody called, and "Oriental Flower by McCoy Tyner [originally recorded on Illumination!]. We played "Gypsy and "Stardust and just some beautiful music! I was listening back to it, and I thought "is this me or is this Miles and Bird? I was listening to it over and over, it sounds so incredible, and it took me way back in time. It's kind of mystic, because he played his first gig with me, and he passed away when we came back from this tour. But the concert was videotaped as well, and I also videotaped the gig with Odean and I where I got the standing ovation at Yoshi's. It seems like any time Odean and I get together, something mystical and magical happens!
Most people haven't heard my baritone, which is one of my major instruments. I wrote this composition called "Henry Selmer Suite, for me and Carl J.C. Garrett the tenor man, and Chris Amberger on bass (he lives across the street from me, and I taught him and Charnett Moffett how to use the instrument like a big rubber band). My son Eddie Charles Lasha is a bassist too, and he played a bit with Sun Rahe lives in Fort Worth, Texas now.
AAJ: It seems, though, that you've also involved yourself in a number of situations that bring in European classical elements. How did you get interested in exploring those forms?
PL: I heard "If I Should Lose You and things with Charlie Parker and strings and the harp, and I went to Great Britain and did Insight with the harp.
AAJ: So that was the impetus for organizing that band?
PL: Yeah, right, that led me right into it. Now I've been thinking, and the reed section is always on my mind, all of a sudden I'm standing in front of a rhythm section with nine saxophones, and all of these giants are coming out each evening. That's why I wore my Wyatt Earp suit!
AAJ: It sounds like this gig with Odean has really spurred you on in many ways.
PL: Yes, it definitely has. I have a duo called the World Duo with Sam Rivers; he's playing piano and I play soprano, and it's dedicated to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. It's in the vaults, but I think I'm going to call it Wall of Sound. We had never played before, but if you listen to it, it sounds like we have played together many times.
AAJ: Well, you'd probably left New York before Rivers got there, because he was teaching down in Boston. It would be interesting to hear him play piano, because he doesn't do it often.
PL: I composed about three tunes while we were playing, as well as "Just Friends and standards like that. If I ever thought it was beautiful music for two people to play, this is it, because we were into zones of music that were uncontrollable, then we'd come out of it and go into this beautiful ballad, you know?
AAJ: You would have obviously picked up something from watching Eric and Richard Davis play those beautiful duets at the Douglas sessions, too. You can make so much music with so few instruments.
PL: I like to get a disciplined and powerful sound out of soprano and all my instruments, and I learned that from standing next to John [Coltrane]. Playing on the bandstand at the Gate and different places with him, it was really a learning experience for me.
AAJ: Well, the spiritual weight of his sound must have had a very great effect on you.
PL: That's why I try to play the soprano different from him and anybody else in the world, and I try to play it with that type of approach. That's what I heard standing next to this gentleman and it's still in me. I'm going to play "Take Time to Feel in Philadelphia at the Trane Stop and dedicate it to John.
AAJ: And he was always experimenting with different sonorities, investigating flute and bass clarinet later on.
PL: Yeah, and he wanted me to teach him flute. He was talking to me about that at the Jazz Workshop; he'd fired Billy Higgins and had Roy Haynes come out, and he was late, so... the thing that really turned me on was later on when he called me from New York, talking about opening up a club, and he wanted me to open the club!
In improvisation, you have a starting line, and it seems very easy when you're going to start and improvise, but you have to have a lot of materials that you can capture mentally and work with that. You have to be able to have the energy to finish at the finish line.
AAJ: The thing I always think about, though, is that it's not always a lineit can be kind of circular, because you have an unending sphere of influences and experiences coming into it, informing the improvisation. I think of it as a continuing process.
PL: Well that's great, too, and we've got to give a theory to the non-believers. It's not merely expression, but you have to hear at the starting point. Music occurs at the point when you start hearing, the lingering of music with the experience of love. Love has a long tradition, you know? You have to have that in spiritual music, Love. Music is the very song of the universe itself, the symphony that is. The soul of the universe is united by the concord and we recognize ourselves as united by the likeness of music. Those are some of the highlights of what I'm thinking about at this time.
Playing with the saxophone choir gives me a lot of spiritual insight; I composed a piece titled "The Book of John. [Lasha plays the piece on clarinet] It's a sermon, and you can kind of hear it in the music. I want to do that with the choir, preach from the clarinet. Also, another one Odean was talking about was "John the Gospel, and it's one of my favorites. We try to keep it as simple as possible in order to have those lines to work with as you're creating. The Saxophone Choir is something altogether different; because of the combinations of tones, it builds.
AAJ: When you were working with Dolphy, Simmons and Clifford Jordan, did you have any concept of something like a saxophone choir? It seems to me like something that's not far off from that bandit doesn't take much to conceptualize adding five more cats to the lineup.
PL: I'd been thinking of being in front of a reed section, and I played with a 20-piece orchestra for about four years, and I used to bring Freddie Hubbard to the rehearsals every Monday night. I used to bring Freddie, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Tony Williams people that were off on Monday nights that were working in the Bay Area. The music was like a Concorde ready to take off from a tarmac, and the trombones were right behind me, the trumpets were behind them, and the reeds were behind the trumpets, and it seemed like a jet was taking off! It was just taking off into orbit, and I'd get these spiritual feelings about how heavenly the music sounds. Buddy Rich even got his book from us, and we had some wonderful musicians in the band. I was the only brother in that group; it was all Caucasians and I was the only African-American. Sometimes [when we'd play] I'd wear my African stuff. We did a beautiful recording, too, of "Bird's True Colors. I recorded it in Japan with the 20-piece Sony Orchestra, and that was on flute.
AAJ: I wanted, in talking about spirituality, to know what spiritual experiences you had when you were younger. Did you play in church bands?
PL: I would go and sit with the band and listen to the tambourines and the piano. People were shouting and the floor was moving, and it had that hypnotic rhythm that would go on for a while. I transformed that into an Eastern flavor [based on] that form of rhythm. It was the SF Chronicle that wrote about "Hypnotic Jazz from the Prince. They said it sounded like I was calling people to prayer.
AAJ: If you listen to Appalachian mountain music or traditional Church music from the South, there is sort of a hypnotic droning quality that girds the music from underneath, which is very similar to eastern music. Even if the tonalities aren't quite the same, there is a similarity.
PL: Right, it's all modal and there is a droning quality, continuously there even if we are not conscious of it. It's angelic and mystic.
AAJ: And in jazz, when you're using two bass players or two percussionists, what happens in between those two players is what creates the drone.
PL: It's hidden from view of the consciousness, because music is an element of the human outlook that we are all engaged in.
AAJ: We might be engaged in it more than most of society. But if you take it away, you'll notice its absence. And that goes for anything, even that which is higher than music.
PL: It's processed by the very encounter with the world, its underlying source of meaning. It may be seen as subliminal actions within our ongoing quest for meaningful life. Like I said, it is hidden from view of consciousness. That's the way I hear it.
AAJ: How did you get interested in the eastern elements of spirituality and music?
PL: What happened was that I think I found that line through approaching my flute. I found that through playing on those recordings with Eric Dolphy. I heard that in Eric's music and I transformed that into my thing. After hearing the clarinet, and hearing John, it summed up all of my thoughts. I was very interested in that sound coming from the soprano. Do you know how John found out about playing the soprano?
AAJ: I've heard a few different stories.
PL: What did you hear?
AAJ: I heard Steve Lacy was instrumental in that, and that Tony Scott might have come in somewhere too.
PL: May I tell you the real story? Well, there was a time that we used to travel by car and we'd dine late at night. We'd get back in the car and travel another two or three hours to the next destination, and this was happening with John and they went to eat, and the alto man left his alto and soprano in the car. They found out about two hours later that he wasn't in the car, and he'd asked John to take care of his horns. John started playing the soprano, and that's how he found out about it. Those are the actual facts. The alto man left his hornsand this has happened to me sometimes, you've got the station wagon and you stop and eat late at night, and you don't notice that somebody is not there. John just took to that sound, and he got [a soprano] for himself. I thought you should know about that because it's a musical fact.
But back to elemental sounds, there's a musical sound that happens in Egypt when the sands are blowing that's keyed in E, F and G. I don't know at what height it has to be or what's what, but I was pleased because I had found out how they built the pyramids at those different levels, and they used water [as an element] to move those stones.
I was saying that when Joshua was using those instruments and voices, those walls in Jericho were 300 feet high, 87 feet wide and built around the city. Those are the walls that came down, and that's why the sun stood still for one day. Sound is just incredible as it was used by the angelic forces. That's why I'm telling you about the height and width of the walls. What happened was that after the Hebrews returned to Jerusalem and built their walls, they were living in plush, honeyed land and Nebuchadrezzar came and surrounded them for about 18 months, and they had to surrender. I find it very interesting to compare my work to calling people to prayer. Do you know the story of Daniel?
AAJ: I'm still trying to get all of it straight...
PL: Nebuchadrezzar was the king who ruled in 607 BC, and he had Daniel as one of his political advisers; he was a tax collector. Daniel was very smart, and he knew how to have a lot of income. All the other politicians became very jealous, and they told the king that he had made images of him in the kingdom, and would have to be put to death in the lion's den. So they told the king this, and he was very sad because he loved DanielDaniel had made his kingdom flourish, but the king had to go by his decree. And so he had to put Daniel in the lion's den. The king was up all night walking and swearing and the lion's jaws meanwhile were shutthey couldn't open. And so they found in the morning that Daniel was still alive, and the servants had to come and tell him this. The king said that it couldn't be, and that if they were lying they would be put to death. He went to look and sure enough, Daniel was alive and the king was blissful and happy and took him out of the lions' den and back to the kingdom. The king tried to throw the lions into the fire, but they were untouched because the Creator had sealed their jaws in a way that they would not even think to harm Daniel, but he threw the other politicians and their wives into the fire and they burned to death. So this is what I'm writing about in my music, and I did a duet with alto clarinet and Charnett Moffett on bass called "The Tower of Babylon. It's a long story, so we play for about 35 minutes.
AAJ: The spirituality of the music is glossed over by technicality, and not just in America but in Europe and other places too. Spirituality is a universal thing, and you can't say that Albert Ayler and John Coltrane are the only spiritual musicians.
PL: No, because when it rains on me, it rains on you and everywhere on the earth, and that's why the Creator has so much mystic beauty throughout the universe, everything is under his roof.
AAJ: But it's not always seen that the rain is coming up as much as it is coming down.
PL: Right, right. If you listen to the Africans singing, you hear that beautiful sound, and in India and Asiait's a religion in itself.
AAJ: There isn't credence given to the religiosity of music, and not just the sounds but the discipline and education as well.
PL: When reed voices unite, they're bringing together individual tones to create a harmony, that manner is concerned with the divine human relationship and we're getting close to the pulpit or the Wailing Wall. You see what I'm saying?
AAJ: It's interesting how dissonance and the contrasts of sounds are playing into it too. The contrasts of sounds build an even tighter relationship, and though it's not commonly thought, things of great contrast are often more harmonic than things that are very similar.
PL: Right. I think that has a lot of validity; we recognize that we are united by the likeness of music under the creator.
AAJ: And we're united by our differences.
PL: The thing that makes me happy is that we're created in the image of the Almighty, and that is real because you can see that although man is in an imperfect state, he continues to progress as time goes on. We are now dealing with Saturn and the moon of Titan, but there is only one Earth. When I think about the Creator, he created two beautiful human beings, and I only go back about 5,000 years [in history] and it only took 7,000 years for the earth to come into being.
AAJ: What interests me the most is that it's always changing, and there is constancy but it's one of a greater understanding of these relationships. You never get a complete picture because it's always shifting a little bit, and you see relationships differently each day. We're talking about spirituality here, and these relationships with God and the images and relationships we have with a higher power are in constant flux. New people are born, people die, the face of God changes, as does your relationship to itand that's what I think is really beautiful. That's improvisation.
PL: Right, that's true. It's like that beautiful song, "Everything Must Change.
[Lasha stops to play "John the Gospel ]
PL: I've got a gig coming up at one of the universities in Philly, the festival is called the Trane Stop, and then I will be playing at the university in Baltimore, and I'm waiting for a callback from Paris to see if they will be recording the Firebirds on March 27. I can arrange my concerts around that; they're coming here to record me in Philadelphia. It's coming out of Nancy, France; they recorded Rufus Harley as well.
I'll be playing a lot of baritone this year because not too many people have heard that; I did some solo work on it in Italy and some work in San Jose with the World Peace Orchestra, and the baritone is a really beautiful voice. I've been playing it since high school, though I've never recorded it because I found the alto to be such a challenge. I'm really stuck on the flute for some reason, because it seems to guide the other instruments. Then I cut to the alto and it seems to guide the baritone, and the clarinet guides the alto, and the flute guides the clarinet, you know? I learned from Eric that the piccolo guides the flute, and I guess the voice guides the piccolo.
AAJ: With so many instruments you get an idea of the personality behind each instrument, and each one has a different color or range of emotions, and put together they give a semblance of a whole.
PL: I try to get all of my instruments to give off my personality, instead of picking an instrument for its personality. Most people go to the instrument for personality, but I look for what's in my structure of creation.
AAJ: Last week after we spoke, I listened to Insight again, and what struck me about it that time is that, after so many times that we've talked, listening to the solos on that record reminds me of how you talk, your cadences andit's very funny, I guess, that I've never been able to get to know someone well whose recordings I've listened to that I can hear their actual personality on record. That was a really beautiful thing because that's the first time I've ever reacted in such a way [PL laughs].
PL: Well, that was a really inspiring one because I'd had the Queen's orchestra behind me, and I'd never heard whorehouse harp beforeyou know, harpists usually play up and down the line, but I had this fellow all over the place, playing jazz behind me. Yusef Lateef had studied the instrument, and he helped it get that sound.
AAJ: It sounds like a box harp or a wooden harp; the sound is much smaller than the usual harp, almost like a flamenco guitar.
PL: Bird did his recordings with the harp in Paris, and so I said to John Hammond that we'd get the harp and do it in London. I closed it with two basses and "Just Friends. I wanted to change it up and catch the ear, so I took it at a faster tempo than usual. I'll tell you, one of my favorites is Inside Story (Enja/Birdseye), and the reissue is going to have a picture of Herbie Hancock and me on the front, and Herbie did the liner notes for it. The first time I put it out was when I took it to Germany and gave it to Horst Weber [producer of Enja recordings]; John Hammond recorded it at the time [1966, for CBS] and he had both me and John Handy on the label, and he just never got to it because I held onto the masters. Everything I've recorded, I have.
I'm also doing artwork for the releases now, since I can paintI'll paint oils of Indians riding down to water their horses, you know, and I've never studied painting. It's just something in my being that I can do it. They're about three feet high and two across, pretty large, and so now I'm going to do Daniel in the Lion's Den, and I'll put Mandela's face in there too. Every CD someone gets from me they'll know that I did the artwork for the covers. Eventually I'll have a book that will display some of the artwork too.
AAJ: You mentioned earlier Charles Moffett and Charnett; did you have much contact with the Moffett kids as they were coming up?
PL: They were in the lovely home of MacArthur Avenue, right off the freeway. I have a lovely photo of Charnett when he was studying bass and he was playing a quarter bass. I'm playing soprano, and Charles and his son Codaryl are playing drums. I used to do that all the time with then, and he always had his sons playing at different religious places. And then I had [Charles] Moffett playing with me on gigs too, and he had a school too. He and I both taught at the Unified School District in Berkeley for a few years, and we had that trombone player who plays seashells and was in the Saturday Night Live band. So we taught at Odyssey, this school for kids who couldn't get along with their parents we taught music there.
Charnett and I rehearsed for hours, and my mother would come to visit me from Texas and say "you gotta quit that because you're gonna kill that little boy. We kept on going and later on I came to New York with Ornette and went to the Ladies' Fort, and the whole family was playing there.
AAJ: Your kids are about the same age as the Moffett kids, right? Did they play together?
PL: They were a little older. I played with the Moffett family, continued to play with them over the years. That's why I recorded with Charnett, because he told me "I've found the missing link; it took me a while, but I found it, and he was referring to that photo of him and me [Prince had spoken of a photo of the young Charnett on a quarter-size bass standing next to Lasha]. I was really glad to have played with so many great bass players.
AAJ: As far as your sons playing music, could you go through and tell me their names and what they play?
PL: Well, there's one son who has the same name as me, and he plays the drums, and all he did was rehearse with Odean Pope and [Cecil] Bridgewater, and he rehearsed with Max Roach for twenty years. That's why he came here and did a gig to raise money for Max, who isn't very well. Bridgewater is his close friend, and Odean is mine, and he worked with me and Woody Shaw in Europe and California. Anthony Lasha plays flute, and there's William Lasha in Texas, who plays drums and reminds me of Philly Joe Jones.
The Moffetts have a trumpet player, Mondre, and he's the oldest of the boys. He played with me and my son a bit, with Carl J. C. Garrett on tenor. We're going to record my composition "Mandela, Martin and Malcolm together [Lasha pauses to play it on baritone].
AAJ: Did you teach your sons?
PL: Yes, my whole family, brothers and everything. See, I'm older than dirt! That takes me back to Buster Smith, Red Garland and Fathead Newman, back when Ray Charles was learning how to play, and Andy Kirk and the Clouds of Joy. I've already visited King Tut, and now I'm back for another round!
Prince Lasha/Odean Pope, The Mystery of Prince Lasha (CIMP, 2005)
Dennis Gonzalez and Prince Lasha, Witness (Daagnim, 1983)
Prince Lasha and Weber Armstrong, And Now Music (Daagnim, 1983)
Prince Lasha, Firebirds Live (Birdseye, 1974)
Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons, Firebirds (Contemporary-OJC, 1967)
Prince Lasha, Insight (CBS, 1966)
Prince Lasha, Inside Story (Enja-Inner City, 1965)
Eric Dolphy, Conversations (FM-Fresh Sound, 1963)
Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet, Illumination (Impulse!, 1963)
Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons, The Cry! (Contemporary-OJC, 1962)
Related Article: Encore: Prince Lasha (2004)