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Yusef Lateef's Secret Garden

By Published: December 24, 2013
AAJ: Certain people in the 1960s jazz community might have felt you were traveling down a musical dead end, whereas the pop music of the 1990s most emphatically proves you were not.

YL: Oh, I see what you mean. Well, what they're calling "world music" now, I started in 1956, '55. It came about because when I got my first contract with Savoy Records, I realized that if I was to continue recording that I had to expand the canvas of my presentations. So I started studying the music of other cultures in the middle ‘50s. If "world music" is incorporating instruments of other countries with American instruments, well, perhaps I was one of the first, maybe the first, to do it in America.

The first album I made for Savoy Records, I used a rabat which was made for me by a Syrian in Detroit. The origin of that instrument is over five thousand years—it is recorded that King David played the rabat as he said his prayers. I also introduced during this same period the argol, which is a double bamboo flute that's made in Syria. So it was a means of diversifying my presentation that I started studying music of other cultures.

AAJ: Are you aware of plans to reissue that Savoy material on CD?

YL: I talked yesterday to Orrin Keepnews. He's now in the process of packaging some of those Savoy records that I've done. So they should be on the market in the near future.

AAJ: Have you seen any of the 32 Jazz repackages of your Atlantic material?

YL: Yeah, in fact I got one of those yesterday. The one that's called Separate But Equal (editor's note: Rahsaan Roland Kirk's The Case Of The 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color packaged with Lateef's Part Of The Search).

AAJ: Their three-CD set The Man With The Big Front Yard—which compiled The Complete Yusef Lateef ('67), Yusef Lateef's Detroit ('69), Hush N' Thunder ('73) and The Doctor Is In…And Out ('76)—was a well-executed and well-received collection.

YL: Oh, yeah, I think that was a nice packaging job that 32 did.

AAJ: Do you remain in touch with Joel Dorn?

YL: Oh, of course. We're lifelong friends now.

AAJ: Are you teaching during this current semester?

YL: Yes, I'm teaching at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Smith College.

AAJ: Would you discuss how a song like "Opus Parts I & II" (from Hush N' Thunder progresses in conception from sounding like a classical duet to a swinging, funky piece?

YL: I don't share that adjective you just used, but I think it's a delightful composition by Kenneth Barron. I don't approve of those words, "f-u-n-k-y" (he spells). They're not appropriate.

AAJ: How would you describe "Opus" then?

YL: It's platitudinous, you see? Well, I just said, it's a delightful and heartfelt, intelligent composition. It has a deep aesthetic. That's the way I see it.

AAJ: How did the band with Barry Harris come together in Detroit?

YL: Alvin Jackson formed that band, Milt Jackson's brother. He plays bass. He organized the band that was Barry Harris, I think it was Jack Townes on drums, and myself, we played this place called The Bluebird.

AAJ: Were there many outlets to play jazz in the 1950s?

YL: Well, I've never played jazz, so… and, please, if you write an article about me, please don't write that I play jazz. Please.

AAJ: What does the word "soulful" mean to you?

YL: It means something expresses deep feeling.

AAJ: Have you ever thought about writing an autobiography?

YL: Yes, I've thought about it but I haven't done it. I have written a short novella, it's called "Night In The Garden of Love." And I've also written a book of short stories called "Spheres."

AAJ: Do you feel like your more classical suites present a different sort of music to your listeners?

YL: The reason is to utilize the training that I've had. I have formal training, a Bachelor's in Music, majoring in flute, and I have a Master's in Music Education. So I've studied the various forms beginning with the Middle Ages, the Baroque, Impressionistic, etc., at the Manhattan School of Music. I've just utilized what I've been trained to understand.

AAJ: Do you hear any similarities between your suites and, for example, suites by Duke Ellington?

YL: Well, perhaps we've utilized some of the same forms, but we hang different hardware on them. I mean, that's what all composers do. Like symphonies are written in the sonata/allegro form, but a Brahms symphony doesn't sound like a Berlioz symphony because they hang different hardware on them, if you will—different harmonic structures, different rhythms, different harmonies. But the form is basically the same.

AAJ: What have been your most recent projects?

YL: Well, for the last six years I've been recording my own music for my own label, called YAL Records. I've produced, I think, about 21 CDs in the last six years.

The first one of the last three is called Five Bagatelles. The drummer, his name is Kamir Sabir, the percussionist is Adam Rudolph. A bagattele is a short musical piece with character. I myself play woodwinds and Matthew Abidh Waugh played guitar.

The one after that is called Like The Dust. It's a combination of woodwinds and electronic instruments. Oh, I'm sorry, it's Like The Dust For Woodwinds and Guitars. There are two guitars on it.

The very last one is at the factory, it's called Live In Seattle. It should be on the market within a week. It's myself and Adam Rudolph. I have plans for it; I hope it reaches a wide audience, of course.

I think my label, you'll find, is not the status quo music. I think it's unique, it has this uniqueness. It's not ordinary music, if you will.

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