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Interviews

Rashied Ali

By Published: March 31, 2003

AAJ: Are you currently composing music?

RA: Well, you know, I haven't really written anything in a long time because, for one thing, a lot of the stuff that I've already written hasn't really been played yet as far as I'm concerned.

But I sit at the piano sometimes, and I get ideas; and I did run across something that I might be doing on my next record. I wrote a couple of ballads. I don't know how I got with two of them; I must have been in kind of a melancholy mode because I am going through certain kinds of weird things in my life right now in my life. I'm having difficulties in certain things, and, thank God [knocks on wood], I'm healthy. I'm just going through different changes and stuff.

So I sat at the piano, and I did some stuff the other night, and I was smart enough to put a tape recorder on so I won't forget it. But then there's a few things I wrote back in the day that I want to record, and I think that's what I'm going to do on my next album. I think I'm going to write all the tunes...

AAJ: Do you listen to other styles of music?

RA: Yeah, man, I like all music. I'm a music freak. I like it all, man, and if I don't like it, it must be bad... You know, I like the cats that's really doing it, and the cats that's bullshitting, hey! [laughs]

AAJ: Are you a teacher?

RA:...There used to be a time back in Philly when I used to teach cats just basics, but actually, man, I teach from the bandstand. Cats come and hear me, and they see what I'm doing. When they do come to my house, I do stress out the fact that you need to try to extend your time. I say, 'If you're playing, you need to extend [time] over the whole set instead of trying to concentrate on beats. Concentrate on what you hear.'

That's how I get it, man. I can play a time, and then I can just take that time and turn it into nothing. The time will still be there, but you won't hear it; you can feel it. I can demonstrate that for you. I can do it right now... [Ali sits down at drums and demonstrates- What a treat!]

And that's what John called 'multi-directional rhythms. He named it; he told me, 'Rashied, what you're playing is multi-directional rhythms.' That's what he put on it, so I just left it there. I guess it means everything going on at once. He said, 'I can pick whatever I want to; I can play as slow as I want, or as fast as I want on the rhythm that you're playing.' And that was some heavy shit when he told me that...

That's the only reason I was [with Coltrane], man. I used to be playing gigs, and Coltrane used to be in the audience watching me. I was playing with Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, Chris Capers, George Coleman ' whoever it was I was playing sessions with. And I would look out sometimes in the audience, and Albert would go, [whispers] 'Hey man, Coltrane!' So he used to scope us out.

But that's not it either. I used to go to his gig and beg, and he'd let me sit in with him; I sat in with the quartet. They had this place, it used to be called the Half Note, it was on Hudson and Spring, and Trane used to play there- if he was off he'd play there for a month, two months, and I would go over there and sit down on the bandstand ... ask them to let me play every day. But I came in there one day when Elvin [Jones] wasn't there, and everybody wanted to play, and [John] said, 'Come on, man,' and that started it. After that, I was playing all the time. I was sitting in on Elvin's drums, and pretty soon I started working with Elvin, two drummers.

But from the beginning, I would just go over there and sit in and just play with the band. And other people would sit in too. I'd bring people like Pharaoh [Sanders]; we'd come together, and we'd both sit in with Trane. And then [John] started changing his band around.

[Playing in tandem with Elvin Jones] was an incredible experience, man; I'll never forget that. Although, it was kind of rough at first, but, whew, man, that was something. I learned a lot from it. That was great. Too bad it didn't last long, but it lasted long enough for me to understand what it was all about.

AAJ: It seems like there has been a resurgence of interest in avant-garde jazz in the past few years. Do you feel like people are starting to come around to your music?

RA: I really do... Trane left us, and that was a big blow to the avant-garde because he was the biggest name, and he had more clout to get it out there than anybody else... And when Trane actually left that music, and Miles Davis and Teo Macero and those cats got the music moved into a different direction with the fusion thing, that just sort of put the dampers on the avant-garde; that just sort of put it out. And I guess that's what prompted me to try to get a record label, get a club because we needed a place to play, we needed a place to record, and all that shit.

But I think now that the music is starting to resurface again. I mean, just like I said, you can't go but so far in it man; you've got to do something else. You just can't sit around and say, 'Ok, let's go to Louis Armstrong; let's play Louis Armstrong for awhile; let's play some Bird for awhile; let's play some Coltrane of the sixties for awhile or some Coltrane of the fifties for awhile.' After awhile, you've got to make a stand, man, and start playing yourself.

And that's what the avant-garde is; it's a very personal kind of a thing; it's stuff that you can do after you learn how to do everything else. You've got to first know where it's all coming from before you can take something- I always call the avant-garde taking absolutely nothing and turning it into something; in other words, just going for it, just start playing... You know, just start! Just do that, and keep turning it over and turning over until it starts making sense. That's the shit man; that's the stuff, man, to be able to play like that.

And I feel like the music is making that kind of a thing because I get with young kids from the New School, from Julliard, and I don't even want to name these kids, but when they come down here to my studio, they don't want to play no 'Scrapple from the Apple;' they want to play some different stuff. They don't just want to hear no time; they just want to play. I'll say, 'What do you want to play?' and they'll say, 'Let's just play! Let's just hit.'

And so I'm feeling like that's where the music is, and it's cool to hear young people wanting to play like that. That's not putting anything on anything because I stress the fact that, hey man, if you don't know how to play 'But Not for Me,' if you don't know how to play 'Cherokee,' or if you don't know how to play 'Giant Steps' ... then you can't play avant-garde because you've got to play that first. You've got to know where that shit's coming from before you can play this.

And that's what motivates me, man, is they learn that shit. I call anything I want to call, and they can play it, ... and if they don't know how to play it, they go learn it. And, hey, that's where the music is to me.

Photo Credit
Enid Farber



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