Yusef Lateef: Roots & Routes
Another cross-cultural insight came when, during rehearsals for the Queen Amina production, Lateef discovered that the chorus was spontaneously reharmonizing his composition. "They taught us in the Germanic schools of music that minor keys denote sadness. So I orchestrated a minor chord for the chorus, like C, Eb, and G. And I noticed, each time in rehearsal, it would start out sometimes with the minor chord, but would revert into a quartal chord, like it'd be C, F, Bb. And so I just let it stay that way because, innately, it was a quartal sound that denoted sadness to them. So that was a learning thing for me. A quartal chord in America is some type of contemporary chord."
His sojourn in Nigeria also stimulated Lateef's interest in making his own instruments. "I started making a lot of flutes of my own, because they made their own instruments. They didn't go to the store to buy an instrument, like a Selmer saxophone, etc.; they made their one-string fiddles out of goatskin and horsehair. And the structure of the instruments, like the xylophone, is different than the xylophone in North America. The lowest note the North American xylophone is on the far left, but you may find the lowest note right in the middle of the xylophone in Nigeria. They put spider fibers inside some of the flutes, at the aperture; it gives it a certain resonance. So the structuring of the instruments and the psychological effects of a certain sound were different."
Inspired by the Nigerians' industriousness, Lateef has developed some unique ideas of his own. "I tried to acquire their understandings and feelings of structure and formation of music which has led me to things like what I call endophyte composition. It comes out of biology; it's something that lives inside something else. Well, I applied that endophyte condition to, say, a vertical chord, which is made up of certain intervalsit may have a minor second, a perfect fourthand so I delegated each note of that chord to move horizontally in one of the intervals that are in the vertical sonority. Like if you have a quartal sonority, like C up to F#, an augmented fourth and then maybe above the F# is an A, a minor third. If I kept those notes as the verticality, then I would let each of those notes move. One would move an augmented fourth intervalfor example, the F# would move to Cand the A would move down a minor third to F#. And then it would continue and I, by intuition, choose the rhythm that they move in. There's a definite order and you hear that order because it is ordered. [I got that] from wanting to find my way to do composition as they found their ways to play their music."
Yusef Lateef has traveled many roads since his formative years in Michigan, making fascinating discoveries along the way. He'll have colorful stories to share, musical and otherwise, when the gang from Detroit gathers this January.
· Yusef Lateef - Morning: The Savoy Sessions (Savoy, 1957)
· Yusef Lateef - Cry!...Tender (New Jazz-OJC, 1959)
· Yusef Lateef - Eastern Sounds (Moodsville/Prestige-OJC, 1961)
· Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's, Vol.1&2 (Impulse!-MCA, 1964)
· Yusef Lateef - The Blue Lateef (Atlantic, 1968)
· Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph/Go:Organic Orchestra - In The Garden (YAL-Meta, 2003)