Amina Claudine Myers: From Mozart to Miles and Beyond
I went to college to be a schoolteacher but then this girl came up to me and said "I got a job for you playing in a nightclub." I said, "Girl, I can't do that." I knew "Greensleeves," "Misty," a few other things. But I went down there and I learned the blues. And the people kept bringing me in and it was like God was hitting me on the head and saying, "You're supposed to be a musician." And my family was always very supportive. Here I was, 18 years old, and I had a rhythm and blues band. One time Rahsaan Roland Kirk came in. I didn't know that, but then years later we were playing in one of the clubs in New Jersey and he came up and said, "Are you Claudine Myers?" He remembered me by my voice. I couldn't believe that.
I got jobs with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. I worked with Dexter [Gordon]. And this guy came in, Cozy Eggleston and we got together and [drummer, AACM member and Sun Ra Arkestra alum] Ajaramu heard me and he said he wanted to form an organ group. So I got with Ajaramu and Cozy always said he stole me away! But that's how I got to the AACM.
AAJ: You've recorded piano duos with Muhal Richard Abrams and then you've recorded songs that could be done by Alicia Keys. How do you balance those different approaches to writing and performing?
ACM: It can be very hard, but it's a system. First I was writing poems and those songs came out of those. The first songs I remember doing were in [her stageplay] I Dream, around 1975. It was supposed to be a story told just with songs.
I never thought of my music as avant-garde, but other people do. Now I'm writing this piece for viola, piano and voice and I'm concentrating on how to showcase the full range of the voice. I purposely want those kind of operatic voices for the kind of sound I want. I was raised around the gospel, the country and western, I love John Lee Hooker, the rural blues. But then I was in love with Miles [Davis]. I fell in love with Mozart's Requiem and all that choral music. I've been fortunate to be exposed to a lot of forms of music.
Jim Pepper, Afro Indian Blues (PAO, 1991)
Amina Claudine Myers, The Circle of Time (Black Saint, 1983)
Frank Lowe, Live From Soundscape (DIW, 1982)
Muhal Richard Abrams, Duet (feat. Amina Claudine Myers) (Black Saint, 1981)
Amina Claudine Myers, Salutes Bessie Smith (Leo, 1980)
Amina Claudine Myers, Poems for Piano: The Piano Music of Marion Brown (Sweet Earth, 1979)
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