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Interviews

Rashied Ali

By Published: March 31, 2003

AAJ: So, you had never heard the music on Interstellar Space before you recorded it?

RA: No; first time meeting it, first time playing it, and a lot of times it was a first take thing, and then I never heard it again until like twenty-five or thirty years later when they put it out.

AAJ: Did you ever play live duets with Trane?

RA: Well, no, but in the songs sometimes everybody would lay out and just John and I would play for a little bit, and then the rest of the band would come back in. And then on some tunes like 'Ogunde' and some other tunes, the whole band was playing, and then they would all just lay out, and then John and I would go and solo and play, and then the whole band would come back in to close it. So it was that kind of duo thing I did with him before.

But, like I was saying, I was pretty much versed into duos because that was one of my fortes, and it still is very much. I really do dig playing with a duo because I have a lot of freedom, and when I get with a good cat who really knows what's happening up there with the changes and everything, it works out really good.

AAJ: You were one of the first drummers to break away from timekeeping in jazz. How did you come up with your free style of playing?

RA: I came up with playing the way I play by listening to the top drummers of the world like Max Roach, Art Blakey. I say those two cats first because I listened to them a lot as a kid, but they wasn't really my main influences. My main influences was right in my family. Charlie Rice and his brother Bernard was really my main influences because they were really hell of a drummers; they were my second cousins, my father's first cousins.

But I listened to 'Philly' Joe Jones, and although he was playing straight ahead without the avant-garde groove - like Andrew [Cyrille], and Milford [Graves], and Sunny [Murray], and myself ' there were segments in his playing that he broke time up, and that interested me in his playing. Because he would go sometimes like five or six bars just breaking up time before he would go back to his time thing, and I was like, 'Damn, what would happen if you could just extend that?'

So I heard 'Philly' Joe Jones breaking up the time like that, and then I got into listening to Elvin Jones with Coltrane and, wow... I heard 'Philly' Joe Jones with Coltrane first with Miles Davis's band, and there would be times when 'Philly' Joe Jones and Coltrane would just take off ' the rest of the band would just cool out; Miles would go somewhere ' and those cats would just play for like a half-hour, forty-five minutes.

Then I heard John play with Elvin Jones in that same kind of situation, you know. So I was pretty much mesmerized by the sound of the drums and the saxophone, by looking at that. And I think that's where I started trying to find something else to do instead of just trying to play time. Because I was a Max Roach freak, and I love that period in my life because Max Roach turned me on to melodies and how to play the drums in a melodic sense and [how to have] a feel for the structure of the music you're playing and the tune and knowing the tunes and all that. I came up with that, so I had that kind of under my belt.

But when I started hearing these cats play all this free shit in between phrases, that sort of prompted me. Then when I heard Elvin Jones with Trane, I was like, 'Wow, man; I got to get my shit together or find another instrument to play' because it was that kind of a serious thing.

And I just went in to 'shed, and Sunny Murray, who was also in Philadelphia, we was all just trying to play open and free. He split to New York, and he met up with Cecil Taylor. I'm still in Philadelphia, and Sunny comes to New York and fucks people up with this free shit he was playing. Cecil got him and pretty soon I said, 'It's time for me to leave Philly.'

Trane actually told me to leave Philly, and I left Philly and I came to New York and I started playing with people like Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, and I met people like Beaver Harris and Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves, and there was a whole different kind of a music out here at that point: Don Cherry, Albert Ayler, Archie- they called us the avant-garde 'New Wave' players, you know what I mean?

And we were actually trying to play a different kind of rhythm, and a lot of the drummers started homing in on each other and trying to steal licks from each other, and we just sort of stayed in here with it, and a few of us are still here. And I think it meant a lot because I hear a lot of players playing this type of avant-garde music.

AAJ: Could you talk about your background in R&B?

RA: Well, that was the beginning of my whole drumming thing because that was the first kind of stuff I played as a drummer- rhythm-and-blues and playing backbeats and playing for blues singers: Dick Hart and the Heartaches; Big Maybelle, I played with her a little bit; I played with Muhammad Abibala [sp.?], [who] was kind of a Louis Jordan-type saxophonist, or an Arnett Cobb-type of saxophonist.

I played with a lot of those kinds of rhythm-and-blues groups around Philadelphia; Philadelphia was that kind of a place. In fact, I followed Coltrane in one of them bands because he also played with Abibala, I heard before me.

I mean I was sort of just right there trying to learn how to play and watching and just going through the same grooves like the cats ahead of me went through, just learning how to hold how to hold myself up with the rhythm-and-blues groove, and trying to practice how to play time and listening to Bird and listening to my cousins- they used to play. In fact, actually Bird played at my high-school dance, and my cousin, Bernard Rice, he played drums with Bird at the high-school dance because Bird used to come to Philly, and he wouldn't bring a band; he'd just come and just bring his horn, and he would get a band there; that's how that stuff was there.

So I seen bands like that at my high school; I seen Stan Kenton's band, he played at my high-school dance; Woody Herman's Third Herd with the Four Brothers: Brew Moore, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Allan Eager- they played at my high school dance too! Check that out, right?!

R&B was a hell of an introduction to the drums for me because you've got to use a lot of strength and shit... In the seventies I had a group called the Funky Freeboppers, and we was sort of integrating electric instruments with acoustic instruments. And we was doing a lot of funky things, singing and stuff like that with that band in the seventies actually. And I kept the Funky Freeboppers alive for a couple of years, two or three years; a lot of different guys came through the band.

And then I didn't get tired of the groove, but I wanted to get back into really playing what I felt. And I didn't really feel Funky Free-bop like I did playing open. And so we did that; we did a lot of funk shit, and I played as open as I could; I played as far out as I could take it. Then I said, 'Alright, that's it; let me go back to what it is I really love to do.' [The Funky Freeboppers have] never been recorded, but I do have tapes; one day you might get a chance to hear the Funky Freeboppers.



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