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Artist Profiles

Cleve Pozar: The Web of Percussion

By Published: May 3, 2009
Pozar moved out of New York in the late Sixties, which resulted from expanding upon his percussion studies with Alan Dawson at Berklee School of Music in Boston. "I have two mentors in my life; one is Mr. Salmon from the University of Michigan and the other is Alan Dawson." He woodshedded in a cabin in a stone quarry in New Hampshire during this time, working as a plumber and commuting to Berklee. Eventually he scuttled his commuter lifestyle and settled in the city; the recorded result of this period is a scarce self-released audio-collage LP, Cleve Solo Percussion (he changed his name legally to Cleve around this time), which finds the percussionist overdubbing mallet instruments, drum set, electric piano, guitar and other "found" instrumentation with an echoplex recorder.

Pozar lives in New York today, as he has for approximately two decades, and has spent much of the last decade studying the Cuban bata. "I was still in Boston and I was introduced to the bata, but nobody would tell me a thing about it because it was a religious subject. Over the years I tried to get information about it but I couldn't find anyone to teach me. I had stopped doing my music, but then figured time away was the right setting to understand bata. I found John Arila and started studying with him. I picked up the okonkolo and after five minutes with it, I decided that this was it. I studied for a long time with him—you learn part by part, drum by drum—and while I was still studying I said I would like to find out what a bebop group would sound like with this." And so Pozar recorded Let's Try It Again, the first known collaboration of jazz with bata.

Always a tinkerer—Pozar's CSP record was the result of not only woodshedding, but long hours of home-studio superimposition—he's found a way to approach the bata through electronic media. "I took pieces of wood and glued them on a board, and put two more pieces together for my left and right foot. I decided to see if it would work out mechanically, and I saw it was going to work. I erected three or four drums and began working with it to see if it would be a real possibility. I got cheap sampling software and contact pads, an upgrade of computer memory, and if it wasn't for my son [Mingus] this wouldn't have even happened." Through tireless editing of software samples and tweaking the instrument itself, Pozar has created the first electronic bata. With twelve YouTube videos and thousands of views, it's possible that Pozar's music and his tireless sonic artisanship are reaching more people than a reissue or "comeback record" ever would.

Recommended Listening:

Cleve Pozar, Let's Try It Again (self-released, 1999)

Bobby Naughton, Nauxtagram (Otic, 1979)

Cleve Pozar, Cleve Solo Percussion (CSP, ca. 1972)

Peter Ivers, Knight of the Blue Communion (Epic, 1969)

Robert F. Pozar, Good Golly Miss Nancy (Savoy, 1967)

Bill Dixon, Intents and Purposes: The Bill Dixon Orchestra (RCA-Victor, 1967)

Bob James, Explosions (ESP, 1965)

Bob James, Bold Conceptions (Mercury, 1962)

Various Artists, Music from the ONCE Festival (New World, 1961-1966)


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